The Glass Penguins story from Mr. Michael Cox:
Chrissie Hynde went from writing about music to playing music. I did it the other way around. raspberry, unbeknownst to me at the time—well, maybe partially knownst—was a way station between the kid making no-fi sound-on-sound recordings with a crappy blue acoustic guitar and a Casio keyboard and the somewhat grown-ass man discussing country dancing with Bill Nye and asking James Brown about his prison experience.
This in-between period started with a job as a poorly paid record store employee, spending my free time happily tossing dodgily recorded home tapes with titles like But What Does It Mean?! to Seattle’s The Rocket magazine, to surprisingly good reviews (the press kits were pretty great). The entire crew on the Bellingham sessions were customers at the store, including Jon Auer, a local high-school student who happened to have a studio in his house.
The light bulb having thus lit above my cranium, I managed to convince a raft of others to participate. It wasn’t all that hard; we were all young and just the chance to be in a Real Recording Studio was lure enough.
Those NorSound sessions (like all of them) were ragged and rushed, but Jon’s abilities at the board were already steady, and moments like his solo on “It’s Never Too Late” and the way Robert Roth’s layered 12-strings move “She Moves Me” were shiver-inducing moments.
More than that, we were having fun, which was the whole actual point.
It was about that time that I received a postal dispatch from one Tom Dyer, asking to hear what he’d read about in The Rocket. I immediately complied, and he replied, and before you knew it I was packing up the (roommate’s) truck and heading south.
The sessions at TDS were a whole different kind of fun. The rhythm section for most songs consisted of Curt Anderson and Scott McCaughey, the latter of whom was a co-worker at said record store, and our three entire rehearsals paid off in spades. Contributions from a host of icing chefs, including the late Steve Lawrence’s acoustic on “Your Time” and Kurt Bloch’s swapped-in lead on the Bellingham-tracked “Out of the Rain,” kept the fun alive.
At one point, I had kept Chuck Carroll waiting while working with Kurt to capture just the right performance, then further disappointed Chuck when he nailed his mouth harp in a single take and thus couldn’t enjoy further beverages supplied to our soloists. (Well, he could, but we did have a limited budget.)
From Jeff Kelly adding the appropriate growlings to “Pull Yourself Together” (after I assured him that his falling completely out of time with the rhythm track at the end was indeed the intended circumstance) to Christy McWilson hastily returning to the studio after one of her backing parts was inadvertently erased (in what we in the music business call a “fat finger incident”), I was and still am in awe of not only their talent but also their willingness to help out a young man writing little ditties about girls and fish.
And then there’s Mr. Dyer, without whom this item you’re reading about would not have been possible. I can’t thank him enough for not only enabling most of that fun, but also making sure it went somewhere, even if “somewhere” wasn’t where we had necessarily planned, and now enabling it all over again.
This slice of guitar pop is loosely performed to be sure, but I’d like to think there’s something for everyone, like the college-age girl in the record store who heard “Your Time” and asked about the band, then heard a brisker number and went looking for something else, then heard “Fine to Me” and bought the tape. Or the young couple who were told “he’s the Glass Penguins” and began enthusing about the vocal tic in “Out of the Rain.”
As for my opinion: this is music I liked (and still do), played with people I liked (and still do).
The additional tracks on this release are prime examples of being left to my own devices. By 1988 I had slightly upgraded my recording setup to the latest cassette-tape technology; Tom even had multitracks to mix from! “Strange Thing” is the only studio recording in the batch, albeit an unfinished one in the form of a rough cassette mix. I only wish I could remember the soloist—he was one of several I was auditioning for an actual band, but after the recording we went our separate ways, and the live Glass Penguins never happened.
As you can hear, in the immediate wake of raspberry I was writing about everything but girls, as if I had moved straight into my Revolver period, minus the acid. (Also: behold the return of the Casio keyboard!)
Stumbling forward (mumble) years, just prior to the recent Great Cocooning, as fate would have it, I’d been rehearsing some Glass Penguins songs with my current bandmates, with the intent of performing a few in public for the first time. Then all this happened, and the world is just going to have to wait a little bit longer.
To wrap up and definitively answer the question I posed in the title of that very first tape I sent to The Rocket: I was a kid having fun, full stop. That’s what it means.
Ever your unreliable narrator,
P.S.: COFFEE is still the official beverage of the Glass Penguins.
PRODUCED BY TOM DYER AND JOCK SCOTT
Recorded at TDS Productions, Seattle, 1987, and NorSound Studios, Bellingham, 1986. Engineered by Tom Dyer or Jon Auer.
Girl I’ve Never Met: Vocals, Guitar, Farfisa, Tambourine: Michael Cox; Guitar: Henry Szankiewicz; Bass: Nick Cash; Drums: Evan Schiller
Shadow of a Fish: Vocals, Guitars: Michael Cox; Bass: Scott McCaughey; Drums: Curt Anderson; Backing Vox: Christy McWilson, Riki Mafune, Tom Dyer
Your Time: Vocals, Guitar, Bass, Tambourine, Drum Programming: Michael Cox; Guitar: Steve Lawrence
Out of the Rain: Vocals, Guitar, Bass: Michael Cox; Guitar: Henry Szankiewicz; Lead Guitar: Kurt Bloch; Drums: Evan Schiller
Fine to Me: Vocals: Michael Cox; Guitar: Jon Auer
I’m Sure: Vocals, Guitars: Michael Cox ; Bass: Scott McCaughey ; Drums: Curt Anderson; Harmonica: Chuck Carroll
Number or Your Name: Vocals, Guitars: Michael Cox; Lead Guitar: Hugh Jones; Bass: Scott McCaughey; Drums: Curt Anderson; Backing Vox: Christy McWilson, Riki Mafune
She Moves Me: Vocals, Bass: Michael Cox; Guitars: Robert Roth; Drums: Evan Schiller
Look Out (Here Comes Tomorrow): Vocals, Guitars, Farfisa: Michael Cox; Guitar: Tom Dyer; Bass: Scott McCaughey; Drums: Curt Anderson
Pull Yourself Together: Vocals, Guitars: Michael Cox ; Lead Guitar: Jeff Kelly; Bass: Scott McCaughey ; Drums: Curt Anderson
Never Too Late: Vocals, Guitar, Bongos: Michael Cox ; Guitar: Henry Szankiewicz; Lead Guitar, Mock Cello: Jon Auer
Strange Thing: Vocals, Guitars, Bass, Farfisa, Drum Programming: Michael Cox; Lead Guitar: Unknown (I’m sorry)
Positive Youth: Vocals, All Instruments: Michael Cox
Identical Buildings: Vocals, All Instruments: Michael Cox
Accidents in the Home: Vocals, Guitars, Bass, Drums: Michael Cox; Lead Guitar: Dave Mortenson
It’s a Silly Christmas: Vocals, All Instruments: Michael Cox
Reissue Executive Producer: Howie Wahlen
All songs written by Michael Cox, published by Wall Of Bees Music (ASCAP) except: Look Out (Here Comes Tomorrow) by Neil Diamond; Number or Your Name by Doug Fieger and Berton Averre.
Shadow of a Fish, Your Time, I’m Sure, Your Number or Your Name, Look Out (Here Comes Tomorrow), Pull Yourself Together, and Strange Thing recorded and mixed at TDS Productions, Seattle, WA. Engineered by Tom Dyer.
Girl I’ve Never Met, Fine To Me, She Moves Me, and Never Too Late recorded and mixed at NorSound Studio, Bellingham, WA. Engineered by Jon Auer.
Out of the Rain recorded at NorSound Studio, with additional recording at TDS Productions. Mixed at Reciprocal Recording, Seattle, WA. Engineered by Jon Auer and Tom Dyer.
Positive Youth, Identical Buildings, Accidents in the Home, and It’s a Silly Christmas recorded at home to four-track cassette; freshly mixed by Tom Dyer.
Songs 1-11 released on cassette in 1987 as GM022. Remastered by Tom Dyer in 2021.
Songs 12-16 are previously unreleased.
Photography by Hugh Jones.
Thanks to all who are good and kind.
The Glass Penguins exclusively use whatever they can get their hands on.