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The Mumps at CBGB

CBGB became famous as the place from which serious artists emerged.  But it wasn’t all Talking Heads and Television.  There was real, basic fun to be had and, curiously, it fell to a Californian expat to raise some whimsical laughs.  Any band that calls itself after a childhood disease that puts big swellings under your glandularly-challenged chin, and then integrates music notation in its logo had to have something going to it.

Strictly, the Mumps began in Santa Barbara in 1973 with local born-and-raised boys, but slowly fell apart after promising showbiz beginnings and notice.  Lance Loud, the ‘flamboyant’ front man had already made a mark on TV.  From the PBS page on Loud: ‘An American Family, which premiered on PBS in 1973.  As the first openly gay person to appear on television, Lance was vilified by the media. But the American public loved him.  Lance was an inspiration to legions of young people, both gay and straight, for daring to live his life on his own terms.

In the early 70s, gay wasn’t mainstream (not that it is completely, just yet).  The Stonewall riots, where gays confronted the New York cops after yet another opportunistic macho bust, had broken out less than a decade before.  But at CBGB, it didn’t matter: no-one cared so long as you were sociable and had something to say.  (Another decade on, and a band could call itself Gaye Bykers On Acid.  I never met the Mumps, despite lounging at the bar several nights, but I did bump into GBOA: very civilized people, fitting the CB’s condition, and they were about to play there when hiring gear from my downstairs studio neighbor Scott.  Seditious word play was paramount: on their Wiki site, an associated band is given as ‘Lesbian Dopeheads on Mopeds’.)

Maybe I’m looking back with pink-tinted spectacles, but I don’t ever remember proclivities ever being an issue at the bar.  As BG Hacker, front of house for many years, observes in his interview, it was all about the music.  The crowd was relatively peaceful and tolerant.

Mumps - How I Saved the World front coverBut the New York incarnation of the Mumps was about much more than just the striking front man, who died later at age 50 of (mostly) AIDS.  This was a solid band of very competent musicians with a point of view.  And it simply wasn’t about gay, even though Lance had endured so much on behalf of his peers.  This was a solidly capable and forceful power-pop band (excuse my Brit classification) whose inspirationally skewed lyrical visions always made for a lively set.  Listening back to their collection How I Saved The World, it’s hard to believe that they weren’t the objects of a bidding war after yet another set in the club in its A+R-attractive phase, especially magnetic in the late 70s.  Maybe there was some anti-gay showbiz prejudice at work, although it’s hard to believe since around here the ratio of gay-straight has always been much higher than in the general population.

None of this was known to me when I first saw the Mumps on stage, and I largely missed their song-writing cleverness as they poked around the psyches of interestingly unsettled people, exposing nervous and vulnerable fictional personalities in a completely non-malicious way (I admired and understood the power-pop move on both sides of the Atlantic, but it wasn’t my personal direction).  How else can you place songs such as I Like To Be Clean and Rock & Roll This, Rock & Roll That, which skewer obsessions (often misguided) with body and style respectively.  The Mumps were young, but were observing with the perception of a more advanced age (we all thought we had that, of course, but not everyone delivered).