There are facts, and then there are facts. Yes 2 + 2 = 4, and they tell me sunlight can trigger photosynthesis. But then . . . there are those things that might as well be facts, things you’d just be fucking wise to expect. Things like: when you run your fingernails down a chalkboard, someone in the room is gonna end up with goosebumps. Or: separating two burly Englishmen in a Harringay pub punch-up will get you brained with a pint glass. And so forth. Facts and facts.
Now there was once a group of underappreciated SoCal oddballs who called themselves THE CENTIMETERS. They clawed their way out of a cesspool of obscuro mid 90’s aggregations like THE BOYSCOUTS OF ANNIHILATION and the misleadingly named PARKAS, who I’m fairly certain never did any WHO covers. They were young but attracted patronage & musical support from an aging bunch of certified LA nutcases: Joseph Hammer of DINOSAURS WITH HORNS/STEAMING COILS/SOLID EYE, stinky Michael Sheppard of the old 80’s Iridescence label, and of course ex-GERM Don Bolles, who not only sang vociferous CENTIMETER praises back then, but also produced and played on a number of their releases. All of this can be easily verified.
But there were less tangible forces at work too. To my grave I will maintain that repeat exposure to THE CENTIMETERS does trigger certain odd phenomena with disturbing predictability. Like: listening too closely to their single “I’m Not Exercising Enough” has caused me trip and fall on London Underground escalators not once but twice now. Or when I sing along to “Dracula Gary” I invariably develop a temporary case of the hiccups. And after much research I am now confident that it’s CENTIMETER singer Nora Keyes’ voice, and not poor skin care, that has given rise to an itchy rash in my armpit in recent months.
As unique a presence as Nora is, I always reckoned her CENTIMETER musical partner, Max Gomberg, to be an even subtler musical magician. His was a grounding force in this often chaotic soundworld, providing a calm, Dean Martin-like foil to Nora’s unhinged Jerry Lewisisms. Max was more than capable of matching odd, Syd Barrett-inspired chord changes with assbackwards lyrical content in deeply intuitive, painfully funny ways. And his idiosyncratic performances humanize & alienize quite disparate sentiments, weaving it all into one swirling, tapestried singularity.
People often point out the Brechtian inspiration behind THE CENTIMETERS theatricality. And yes, I suppose they did once do a cracked version of Jacque Brel’s “Next” not to mention a chromosomally-challenged take on “Edelweiss” from The Sound of Music. But it’s actually the dank, dislocating shadow of early LA artpunk that they appear to be channelling – MONITOR’s electro seances and JOHANNA WENT’s wraithlike babytalk come to mind. Bolles, himself once a member of NERVOUS GENDER and the similarly art damaged YVONNES, must’ve recognised THE CENTIMETERS were in this grand tradition too.
THE CENTIMETERS left us three unclassifiably weird, full length studio CDs (German Verbs, The Facts of Destiny, and Lifetime Achievement Awards) one EP, and a live CD that may or may not actually exist. Everything I’ve heard by them is totally great, full of sounds and songs that once succeeded in turning the burgeoning 90’s emo esthetic insidefuckingout, with bloody entrails on display for all us rubberneckers to gawk at. They were then sucked right back up into the ether from whence they came, protoplasm-like.
Nora has since released a solo CD and now “rocks” with Bolles in FANCY SPACE PEOPLE; Max plays with a post PHANTOM LIMBS act out of Chicago called LOTO BALL SHOW. But such facts only occlude deeper truths, the sorts of facts you’d be wise to heed.
THE CENTIMETERS – “Help Is On The Way” (from Lifetime Achievement Awards, Space Baby, 2001)