Clint Conley is the bassist for Mission of Burma and a producer for WCVB’s Chronicle .
I spent my high school years in Darien, Connecticut–a leafy suburb of NY–ravenously consuming music from all spheres — Soft Machine to Slade, Ornette to Iggy, Beefheart, Bowie, and, always, always, the Kinks. Just about the only person who could keep up with my listening habits was Jeff Conolly, a year younger than me. He was possibly–though I’m loathe to admit it–even more music-deranged than myself. He and I once played in a band, thrown together for a high school talent show. We did Zappa’s Peaches In Regalia and Otis Redding’s Can’t Turn You Loose.
I discovered the underground music scene in New York, and would slip into the Village to catch the NY Dolls at Max’s, showing up the next morning in math class at Darien High School with smeared eye make-up.
Around ‘75 the glitter scene, heavily based on retro-activating primitive rock energies and outrageousness, was evolving into something entirely new,strange, and captivating. Clipped, austere sounds from a RISD trio, hard compact pop pellets from leatherclad cartoon toughs from Queens, and florid guitar ecstasies from a group calling itself Television. You’d see the same 40 or 50 people at these shows in the dive on Bowery
My life was changed. These new sounds utterly upended my world. I’d moved on to college in Rochester, NY but I would regularly make the long pilgrimage to NYC to dose up on the enormous energies exploding out of this small corner of downtown NY. It was the birth of a whole new world, and I would messianically carry this message back to my puzzled classmates at college.
One person who totally got it–my old Darien friend, Jeff Conolly. He was attending BU and had started playing with a band in Kenmore Square at a place called the Rat. He told me they were playing Iggy tunes, and Sonics, and their own stuff. They were called DMZ, and he told me demi-goddess, Patti Smith had even bestowed upon them her bohemian blessing by joining them on stage. Jeff was so excited, so transformed– he’d adopted a new name: Monoman. I was intensely envious. Jeff had taken the first big step, while I was still on the outside looking in.
So I jumped at the chance when a friend of a friend was starting a band in Boston. Erik Lindgren, a quirky record collector friend of my journalist friend, Chip Lamey, had a masters in composition counterbalanced by an appreciation for raw, elemental rock. Perfect. He’d recruited Boby Bear, ex of the Atlantics and prince of a man, on drums.. Perfecter. Lindgren’s parents had a house on the Cape where we could woodshed for a few months in the winter before unleashing what was sure to be a revolutionary sound on Boston. Perfectest.
Let the mad rock life begin…!
Except we weren’t allowed to have our girlfriends visit. And there was no drinking permitted in the house. And we subsisted on huge vats of underseasoned lentils. And if you’ve ever spent a few months in the offseason on the Cape, you’ll know the sunny summer playground morphs into a lonely, forelorn, windswept wasteland, that can be relentlessly corrosive to any sense of well-being and happiness.
It may have been closer to a monastery than the dissolute, crazy-action life I thought I’d signed on for. But Erik was an entertaining and charismatic character–his songs were cool, complex, and challenging. And Boby’s humor and sense of the absurd helped keep the entertainment factor high. We recruited a local Cape guitarist whose unusual style earned him the nickname “The Alien,” put together a dozen songs, and moved to a house in Brighton Center
Moving Parts was finding its way into the nascent art-school wing of the Boston music scene–playing gigs with Human Sexual Response and the Girls and LaPeste — when I had an unfortunate encounter with an oil truck during the Blizzard of ‘78. It was going to be many months of recuperation and we had to stop playing. The Alien decided this might be a good time to sneak back to the Cape and resume playing Joni Mitchell songs.
Moving Parts placed an ad for a new guitarist in the Real Paper. A personable fellow showed up at the door with long hair and a bottle-green velvet frockcoat. There was a bit of confusion. He thought he was auditioning for bass. But he was game for trying guitar too.
He said he was from Ann Arbor and his name was Roger Miller. He played some startling whole-tone solos, and said he wrote music too. The song he showed us that night was called, “Max Ernst.” I felt my life changing again.
Editor’s note: Clint Conley, Roger Miller, and Peter Prescott formed Mission of Burma in early 1979. Their first single was “Academy Fight Song” b/w “Max Ernst”