Great Lost Bands No.3: Bongwater

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This week's great lost band are Bongwater, who were essentially a psychedelic noise band formed around 1985 and dissolved acrimoniously in 1992. The core of the band was vocalist Ann Magnuson, a professional actress who had been in such movies as Making Mr Right, starring opposite John Malkovich, and guitarist and producer (Mark) Kramer, who ran the Noise New York studio and was the founder of the highly regarded Shimmy Disc label.
Magnuson's musical adventures prior to Bongwater had involved the band Pulsallama (try to find their song "The Devil Lives in my Husband's Body"), whilst Kramer had formed Shockabilly with Eugene Chadbourne and had toured with a mid-80s incarnation of the Butthole Surfers.
The early Bongwater albums sat fairly close to those of the Buttholes in terms of sound and weirdness, as you can hear on these two tracks from their 1988 double album Double Bummer.
Jimmy/ Lesbians of Russia

Their sound was sludgy, abstract and trippy. I'm not going to overload the page with unauthorized video clips, but you should investigate 'Dazed and Chinese' which is a fairly faithful interpretation of Led Zeppelin's 'Dazed and Confused' except Magnuson's grating vocal is in Mandarin. There was also a very edgy sexual side to their music, and one of their most memorable early songs was 'U.S.O', which features the refrain, "give me a marine and some bloody sex."
Bongwater's masterpiece 'The Power of Pussy' was even more sexually charged. I bought it when it came out thanks to hearing it on John Peel and reading a fascinating review of it by Everett True in Melody Maker. Unfortunately I can't find his review, but in his book Nirvana: The True Story, he writes "The Power of Pussy has an undeniable sadness, as well as a rampant carnality, obscenity and pornography." Almost all the songs are about real or imagined sexual adventures, but any playfulness that rears its head is immediately checked against the spectre of AIDS. Magnuson's brother Bobby had recently died from the disease. In twenty years since it's release I have listened to it maybe more than any other album. There really isn't anything like it, and some days I think it may be my favourite album ever.
The band made a video for the title track, which was funded by the Playboy channel and is therefore age-restricted on youtube. I'm not going to embed it but, unless you are offended by women in lingerie and animated hand-drawn cocks, please watch it here.
I could go on all day about 'The Power of Pussy' and maybe I will retrospectively review it here someday, but time is against me today (this post is part of a January post-a-day mission folks). I'll leave you with two fan-made clips. The first one is for 'Junior' where a woman films herself lip-syncing along with the track,

and the second is Magnuson's tour-de-force, the 9-minute plus 'Folk Song'. There are some howling spelling mistakes in this amateur video, but what an incredible song.

Bongwater made one more album, 'The Big Sell Out' in 1992, but they had a hard act to follow. The duo split acrimoniously soon after, with Magnuson suing Kramer for over $4m, and although they settled out of court some years later, they never worked together again. Some of Kramer's solo records, such as the epic 'The Guilt Trip' are well worth hearing.

Previous posts in this series
No 1: Bowery Electric
No 2: Prolapse

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