Chicago's most notorious and elusive loner punk from the golden era, J.T. IV has been evading the spotlight since his first primordial crawl back in the late 1970s that spawned his unearthly brand of psychotic desperation. I became familiar with two compilation tracks that instantly peaked my interest ("Out of The Can" on Homework vol. 1 and "Death Trip" on Staring Down the Barrel), his name was met with blank stares along with obscurities such as The Crucified, The Exit, Razer, and Pistol Whip, when we went over the list of notable late 70s / early 80s band names we'd gathered while researching the Chicago Punk History article a few years back that ran in issue 11 of Horizontal Action Magazine. While "Out of The Can" straddled the fine line between irresistibly catchy strum-along and folky beard-scratching fare, "Death Trip" reared an uncontrollable (and most likely unintentional) punk ugliness that contrasted into the remarkable repertoire of one of the most important underground music figures in the Chicago area at the time. It's evident in these two polarizing styles that John Henry Timmis (aka J.T. IV) was holding onto a delicate balance of twisted internal pop sap with a lashing and bestial ulterior motive, as he brazenly meshed trashy punked-out glam, creepy outsider folk, and noisy basement experimentation into a pattern of controlled chaos that defies all feasible geographical logic. With only one seemingly solid friendly musical relationship in the loosely-knit Chicago "scene" with Sundog Summit's Lee Groban at the time, everything about the J.T. IV saga seem to perfectly encapsulate the "loner/outsider punk" motif, as a poignant example.
As the story goes, Timmis was institutionalized in 1976 at Menninger Clinic for schizophrenia, and from the sound of "In The Can," it's evident that his inner torment from living life in the gutters, struggling with drug addiction and alcoholism, truncated his mental state and he literally has the songs to prove it. His debut single, "Waiting For The CTA" saw the light of day in 1980, and like the rest of the J.T. IV releases, was produced in a tiny run of less than 200 copies, thereby isolating his influence almost by default. The song still rings true as anyone who's ever had to wait on the buses or trains here knows, and plays a cheesy homage to The Velvet Underground's "Waiting For My Man" with a clowny yet perfect sax track. But it's just the tip of the iceberg as tracks like "Monitors" "Out of the Can," and "Song for Suzanne" really cut beneath the surface of the tortured soul at hand and reveal a genuine vulnerable honesty that seems so out of place in today's music. Timmis died in obscurity in rural Pennsylvania in 2002, with very few people aware of his music or his story, yet with the splendid job on this fine reissue package, I'd assume all that is about to change with the new availability of the Cosmic Lightning album.
Underground music detective Robert Manis has been archiving Timmis for the past few years and serves as official curator for the Cosmic Lightning package, and has taken great care to reproduce the original 1987 LP to look sharp and correct. The album faithfully reproduces the original three 7" singles from the early 80s, along with a few live-simulated tracks that delve into the more grotesque song writing style he's claimed as his own. As a bonus, the thick-cut LP comes a collection of home movies, music videos and bizarre "live" performances that are both garish and nightmarish, to say the least.
Well, we are all finally in luck as Galactic Zoo Disk/Drag City have bestowed a proper vinyl reissue, with full-length DVD included, that's deserving a civic award, and offers even more inspiration for all the bedroom loners with impulsive delusions, a trusty 4-track, some whiskey and that ever important case of beer. Drop everything you're doing and buy your copy now before this limited reissue quickly slips through your fingers. The album is released next week, so get in on the pre-order action HERE, you won't be sorry.
check out the trailer for the included DVD right here for a peek into the madness...