Kramer photo by Monica McGivern

“SONG FOR EWE” is the feature where artists & music people beloved by VELVET SHEEP choose an obscure song they’ve been listening to that day. Today’s guest is a producer, label boss and musician. He’s played his strapless Hofner bass with The Fugs (1984 comeback edition), Half Japanese, the notorious GG Allin’s Superscum (one gig), Bongwater, Shockabilly, Ween and Butthole Surfers (including their debut European tour in ’85) and most notably as a member of B.A.L.L. where he achieved sounds from that bass like no one had ever heard before.

His label Shimmy Disc (and Kokopop) put out some ace records from the likes of King Missile, Daniel Johnston, Lotion, Damon & Naomi and even Gwar (yep really). And he’s produced many of the aforementioned bands plus Galaxie 500 and his production of the classic by Urge Overkill “Girl, You’ll Be A Woman, Soon” for the Pulp Fiction soundtrack won him the accolade of Producer of the Year in Rolling Stone magazine in 1995. Because I produced three series of a CBBC hidden camera magic show I also find it particularly fascinating that he collaborates with Penn Jillette (in a band called Captain Howdy) and paranormal sceptic James Randi! There is no doubt that this is one interesting fella, an indie legend in his own lunchtime, welcome to Velvet Sheep – Kramer!

I asked Kramer if he had anything to plug and I’m pleased to report this:

“I do actually have something to promote…my new label, SHIMMY-500 (500 limited edition colored vinyl, NO FUCKING CD’s,
and no Download version available til the vinyl sells out. ambitious?

The first release is JAD FAIR & KRAMER – “The History Of Crying”…and here’s the first song on the LP, and the first video: it’s a good one. …the first LP will be out in May, and then 3 more in the autumn, including my first solo LP in about 20 years.”

But from someone with such a rich musical history what has Kramer chosen as his “song for ewe”…without further ado…in full here’s his choice:

“I’ve been asked by an old friend to “pick an obscure song you listened to today and write a sentence or two about it”.

OK. Let’s try that. Sure. I can at least try…

I went to see Brian Wilson’s Pet Sounds tour in September 2016. About halfway through the show, just after a near-perfect rendering of “God Only Knows”, a woman two rows behind me stood up and yelled, “KOKOMO! KOKOMO!”

The crowd almost crucified her. I have seen hundreds of beautiful moments at thousands of music venues and concert halls in my lifetime, but this may have been the single most beautiful thing of all. Never before had i personally witnessed an entire audience turn on one of its own with such murderous, religious fervor. Had the band not quickly burst into the festive optimism of “I Know There’s an Answer” and distracted the bloodthirsty mob, i do believe that this woman would have been torn to tiny pieces in a matter of seconds, her body parts tossed into the swarming horde of joyously homicidal Pet Sounds disciples. She was lucky to get out of there alive. This is the nature and nurture of every last soldier in Brian Wilson’s army. They take no prisoners.

Later that night as I lay in bed with the evening’s impressions on repeat-play in my head, this wholly justified idolatry got me to thinking about the fact that Brian Wilson rarely wrote the lyrics to his own songs. He most often partnered-up with lyricists. So, the things he was singing about, the words that held people so rapturous, were most often not his own. This is something I’ve often pondered without resolve, particularly when writing my own songs, and most particularly when wrestling with an ego that has never stopped telling me that i have nothing whatsoever to say that any man, woman or child would be in the least bit interested in hearing.

Where am i going with this? Ah yes. Pet Sounds, and all those classic songs by Brian Wilson, with not a single one featuring his own words.

There does however exist (in my opinion) a Brian Wilson song, perhaps his most extraordinary, wherein both music and lyrics were written by him, in solitude, about solitude and death and the utter lack of hope he was feeling at the time he wrote it, which he then famously continued to feel for several more decades, and may (for all we know) continue feeling ’til the day he dies.

Not inappropriately, this song is titled, ‘TIL I DIE, an unassailable masterpiece, hidden away at the tail end of the otherwise largely mediocre SURF’s UP (just before the album’s final/title track, which is also as great as anything Wilson has ever done, and perhaps equally ‘obscure’). ‘TIL I DIE is a song that utterly slays me. It literally fillets me to the bone. I can’t even think about this song without weeping copiously. Upon hearing it, I am summarily transformed into a blubbering mound of mush. It takes just a few seconds. I can’t control it. I breathe that song in, and out come the tears.

In the span of barely two and a half minutes, Brian Wilson has expressed, with both music and lyrics working as one, something so sublime and succinct, so transcendent and translucent, so resplendent in its effortless exactness, so accomplished in its intent and pristine execution, that It is nothing less (in my mind) than the PERFECT song. I know of so very few other songs upon which i can confidently attach this same moniker, despite having spent a lifetime seeking them out, in incontrovertible evidence of a life lived precisely as i wished to live it; In search of the perfect film, the perfect work of art, the perfect performance, the perfect moment, the perfect Love, the perfect song. Do such things even exist?

“Strange Fruit”? “Shipbuilding”? “Suzanne”? “Imagine”? “Love Will Tear Us Apart”? “Caroline, No”? Each and every song on “Carrie & Lowell”?

But, again i digress. You wanted two sentences about an obscure song I listened to today. Two sentences. OK. Let’s try again.

Does ‘TIL I DIE really qualify as ‘obscure’? Well, let’s debate that. I’ve talked to people that know a lot about music (and a lot about The Beach Boys) who squint and ask what album it’s from when i mention this song’s title. I watch their faces as their brains go blank, struggling to recall it. So, i think (relatively speaking), within the unparalleled pantheon of Brian Wilson songs, it adequately qualifies as ‘obscure’. It’s on an obscure LP (relatively speaking), its very existence is obscured by its shadowy placement near the very end of the LP, and for years, as Wilson struggled to find the right place for its juxtaposition amongst lesser songs dotting the long and pointlessly winding road of post-Smile-era Beach Boys records, the assholes in the band repeatedly rejected it. One of the greatest songs he ever wrote. In the end, we were probably lucky to have ever heard it. So yeah, i call that ‘obscure’.

Do i listen to it every day? Technically, no, but hear me out. It’s one of the very few songs that’s with me every millisecond of every single day of my life, playing on heavy rotation inside my head. Like Leonard Cohen’s “Partisan Song” (which he didn’t actually write), John Lennon’s “Look At Me”, Paul Simon’s “America”, and perhaps most devastatingly of all, Caetano Veloso’s “Terra”, ‘TIL I DIE is a song at the very top of a very short playlist that just never stops playing. If i were a wealthy man, i’d pay big money to get these songs out of my head even for just one day, just to see what it feels like, but at this point, i’ve resigned myself to the impression that i’ll probably still be hearing them when i myself am dying, and i’m oddly comforted by the conviction that surely there must be far worse ways to die.

-Kramer (1-13-17, Florida USA)”


Here’s more about SHIMMY-500 here…


p.s. i hadn’t bought the Hofner yet when i played in the Fugs. I was playing a Vox Panther bass on that tour.
the Hofner was bought 3 days before the start of the 1985 Butthole Surfers tour,
a week after i joined the band, and about 2 hours before the first rehearsal. cute, right?