50) Noisy Children Party
Twenty-three years ago I went looking for an album. Friday night I heard it for the first time.
Mondo 2000 was a strange kind of magazine. It was part techno-utopian visioneering, part subculture sideshow. And that suited me fine because in the 1990s I was a strange kind of teenager waiting for a vision to stroll up beside me in a pair of fetish pants. If you know me, you know I reminisce about Mondo’s glossy pages like the touch of a young lover because our chance encounter changed my life the way objects of teenage virginity metaphors often do. Its over-produced eclectic visual design brought stories on electronic music and smart drugs and virtual reality that made my suburban Midwestern life feel very small and so, so gray.
Someday, I figured, I would go west to be with my own kind, though I wasn’t sure whether that meant Haight-Ashbury or The Castro and the only thing I’m sure about now is that I couldn’t afford to live in either of those places anymore.
You have to understand that only a fraction of a page of a single issue matters to this story. But this story is as much about that magazine as it is any other thing in the universe. Way in the back pages, some digerati point-and-clicked together a review of Silica Gel’s 1993 album 50) Noisy Children Party. It was described as having Negativland’s mega-sampled style and, while I wouldn’t actually hear a Negativland CD for five more years, I knew that glitchy, jerky, Art of Noise vibe would be the perfect soundtrack to my nascent cyberspace adventures.
Sam Goody was the store you went to when you wanted CDs in that time and that place. They had everything from Michael Jackson to Janet Jackson, but there was no Silica Gel in Sam Goody.
“Why don’t you see it they could order it?,” my mom offered, because the last thing she wanted was for this to become some multi-decade obsession.
There were no noisy children in Sam Goody’s catalog, either. Or Blockbuster Music’s. Or at Tower Records. Or even at the ratty little record store on Dundee Road that couldn’t figure out if it catered to metalheads or Zappa fans.
I kept at my search through all of high school. When I’d be browsing CDs, someone in a vest-with-name-tag ensemble would ask if there was anything they could help me find, and I would ask if they’d seen a white whale. Some enjoyed the challenge. If you love music, you can only sell the same ten discs so long before a piece of your soul just dies.
I grew up, and my world got smaller.
The Internet — capital “I” because that’s how it was back then and ever-shall-be no matter what the New York Times says— and I — capital “I” with all apologies to e.e. cummings but we really should just be friends— went through messy growth spurts together.
Eventually I knew people, or at least knew-people-who-knew-people, from the Silicon Valley social scene of the 1990s. I learned to appreciate or at least accept Mondo 2000’s high-tech-qua-performance-art DNA, an in-joke whose punchline flew over flyover country.
Timothy Leary lived his final years in Mondo’s company. They really interviewed Trent Reznor, David Cronenberg, and The Edge. But there weren’t really any artists redefining inner beauty through chatroom nanotechnology chakra balancing.
Every once in a while I’d type “50 noisy children party” into a search box. I accepted I was a rube chasing a MacGuffin. It was all a big culture-jamming prank. Google served me slices of birthday cake, cardboard hats, and pin-the-tail-on-what-have-you.
Then, the original Midwestern post-punk beautiful mutants poked Cyberspace with a missive. Devo Tweeted a YouTube link last week, to invoke our twenty-first century vernacular. But it’s more dramatic to envision them a post-Future Shock carnival barker: See the grey-haired X’er writhing on the floor. Joy? Pain? Your wildest imagination couldn’t conjure up a sight like this.
Mark Mothersbaugh had my fucking album, freshly re-mastered and released on two LPs or a quick-and-dirty Bandcamp download. Mark loved 50) Noisy Children Party as strongly as I wanted to love it. Beyond mere possession of an album, a pretty good one at that, I now have closure on one great twenty-three year mystery. I got to lay there with my son listening to a 1993 North Carolina take on industrial noise, and it was so, so beautiful in its soulful discordance and cacophonic joy.