Despite a fertile proto-punk underground of writers and artists and an early recognition of the styles and sounds of the incipient new wave, the Chicago punk scene of the late 1970s was likely the most disparate and disjointed of any city of its size in the entire U.S. Of its bands and performers who today are whispered about in hushed reverent-tones (The Exit, Sundog Summit, J.T. IV, The Crucified), nobody knew they put out records, nobody even saw them play – outside their local neighborhoods, nobody even knew they existed. So while cities half Chicago’s size could boast trademark sounds, vibrant local indies, entrenched club and bar networks or even major deals with overseas labels, the pre-hardcore, pre-Wax-Trax Chicago bands eked out a solitary, solipsistic existence. You can hear it with your own eyes.
And while this lack of commercial outlets likely proved personally frustrating at the time for the musicians involved, one undeniable benefit wrought through toiling in isolation was the creation of an unfettered interzone outside and beyond the doctrinaire pale of new wave hip chic. In bedrooms, practice spaces or open mic nights, the chances of someone looking askance at a Roxy Music cover or the lengths of one’s hair or the shape of someone’s guitar became negligible. Approval of influences not directly specified within the canon of three-chord thrash also ceased to be a point of controversy. Sounds were allowed to develop and evolve or devolve like overgrown lawns. Inside the bubble, it was musical Amish country; time stopped at whenever the group or groups decided. Which are just some of the reasons why records recorded under such psychologically Spartan conditions often have endlessly more to offer than the most ideologically straight-leg genre release.
And in speaking about records of this ilk, the one that nearly always springs to mind first is ‘Gacy’s Place,’ the 1979 debut by Deerfield, Illinois the Mentally Ill.
Now, I am not here to attempt to act as gate-keeper or regent for a record that requires the imprimatur of no one; not least an anonymous internet bozo like myself. A long-established classic which produces the rarest of things within the music community – consensus – also shows no attenuation of its abilities to both attract and to repel. The band name doesn’t matter, the subject matter doesn’t (though both are memorable). This record could in another language – by a folk band reading the phone book in Hebrew – and it would still make me uncomfortable, in the best ways possible.
Like being trapped inside a one-room corrugated metal hell house with Africanized-bumblebee-in-a-mason-jar-style-fuzz and a singer who sounds as if his summary vocal influences were the echoes from the midnight intake room at some local asylum – that’s around the habitat in which this record particularly slithers and congeals. Comparable to little else outside of early Chain Gang sides, ‘Gacy’s Place’ is the stained and fetid little black dress inside which every record collector so desperately desires to squeeze. And now, thanks (AGAIN) to the one-man wrecking-crew of Last Laugh Records you can finally affordably try it on for size. Mr. Last Laugh also has more than your best listening interests at heart too – he quite obviously values your personal happiness as well, which is why he has made this quality reissue’s street-date February 14th: the perfect treat for your funny valentine. Order your copy HERE.
ALSO, if you’re a gig-going sort in the Chicago-land area, you can do Mr. Final Guffaw one better and CATCH the Mentally Ill – live and in person – tonight at the Ultra Lounge with fellow original Chi-town square-pegs, Tutu & The Pirates. Furthermore, to commemorate the event, the Mentally Ill will be selling an extremely limited hand-full of reissue test-pressings with alternate picture sleeves specifically made up and designed only to sell at this show. Less than 60 will be on sale, with less than 15 on red vinyl and once they are gone they are gone. Don’t risk getting caught without or you could wind up in the collectorscum padded cell.