In what is sure to be this Halloween's tastiest treat, behold the digital debut of the lone Psychotic Norman release! Jon Wurster, the band's drummer, was kind enough introduce the tunes with a PN bio and some reflections on the early days of his eventual Career in Rock. Also, if you encounter Mr. Wurster today, be sure to wish him a Happy Birthday and offer praise for his costume. He spent several weeks (including a three-hour, marathon Skype session with Eddie Trunk) deciding on just the right tanktop/bandana ensemble, which is, of course, the crucial element to any successful Bobby Blotzer masquerade. -- Omar
In June of 1984 I was just out of high school and working the graveyard shift in a toothpaste packaging plant in Harleysville, PA, a small farm town about thirty-five miles northwest of Philadelphia. All I'd ever wanted to do since I was ten-years-old was to play drums in a rock band and hopefully make records and tour the world. So, when my friends in The Dead Milkmen told me about a band they knew called Psychotic Norman that was in need of a drummer, I leapt at the chance.
I made contact with the band, learned the songs on their basement demo tape, auditioned, and by August I was officially a member of Psychotic Norman. My brothers in musical carnage were Tom Bates on bass, Tom Spitzwater on guitar, and singer Theodore Sgrosevelt. (I like to think they used fake names to spare their parents undue embarrassment.) I was very committed to the band, and every Tuesday and Sunday I'd make the hour-plus train/subway trip from Harleysville to Bates's duplex in Drexel Hill (where, coincidentally, my mother was raised), just southwest of the city. By November we were starting to play shows.
Though most of our gigs were with punk/hardcore bands (Suicidal Tendencies, Decry, Die Kruezen, etc.) in basements and all-ages halls, we were a bit of an oddity in that scene. Sure, we took inspiration from The Ramones, The Damned and Black Flag, but we also threw in what we could figure out from the Velvet Underground, The Who, The Fall, and James Brown. Add to that mix a singer who sounded and looked like Canned Heat's Bob "Bear" Hite and, well, I don't know what you'd call it.
What we have here are the three tracks comprising Psychotic Norman's debut seven-inch single. They were recorded in the summer of '85 at a sixteen-track studio located among a bunch of storage sheds just outside Drexel Hill. "Man Meets Fish" is a straight-up melodic punk number, while the other two songs, "Davy Jones Water Cooler" and "Cosmic Rap," show the band's more experimental side. I'd taken a month-long course at a recording school in Ohio that spring, which probably accounts for the semi-produced sound of the finished product.
The single took months to go into production due to a sleeve artist who was both unreliable and worked at the speed of geology. This snag was just one of a number of things that were starting to frustrate me about the band. Morale and enthusiasm were low, gigs were hard to come by, and our newly purchased van died on the way to what would be our final show (a party at a University of Pennsylvania frat house). The final straw for me came one Sunday in January of '86 when our gifted but temperamental bassist didn't show up for rehearsal...at his own house. When my brother, who was attending college at Wake Forest University, called that evening with news that a local up-and-coming roots rock band called The Right Profile was looking for a drummer I decided to give it a shot. I flew down to Winston-Salem, NC, a couple days later and tried out.
I ended up passing the audition and moving to North Carolina a week or two later. Amazingly, The Right Profile (which included future Freakonomics co-author Stephen J. Dubner on keyboards and guitar) ended up getting signed by Clive Davis to Arista Records a couple months later. My insane goal of "making it" by age twenty had actually been reached. The ensuing years provided nothing but heartbreak for The Right Profile (our debut LP was aborted halfway into its recording), and I eventually left the band in the fall of 1991 when I joined Superchunk.
Ted and the two Toms played with a couple other drummers after I left, but I don't think the band ever played another show. I'm not even sure the Psychotic Norman single technically "came out." I did buy a copy for seventy-five cents at a record store in Portland, OR, in 1992, so a few of them did make their way into the world. Tom S. says he still has about 500 copies in his basement.
Ted lived hard and it eventually caught up with him. The two Toms and I were lucky enough to reunite with him at his hospital bedside before he passed on three years ago. Ted was a very smart and eloquent guy who never really found the proper outlet for his talents. My favorite memory of Ted is of he and D. Boon engaged in a heated and hilarious belly-bucking contest the night we opened for the Minutemen in October of 1985 (two months to the day before Boon's tragic death in a van accident). It was a draw.
This is my favorite photo of Ted. It was taken the night we opened for Suicidal Tendencies at a rec hall in Catasauqua, PA. Ted was totally in his element, prowling the floor (there was no stage to speak of) and singing his heart out. I should also mention that he sang a large portion of our set while reclining in a plastic lawn chair.
Special thanks to Brian Varney for technical assistance with the vinyl-to-digital conversion.