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100 Formaldehyde Hydro 7"s To Sell: Stanzas From The Ballad Of Buttery Cake Ass
Aug Stone , February 5th, 2023 09:44

In the new book by tQ's very own Aug Stone, two music obsessives embark on a hilarious quest to track down Buttery Cake Ass’ Live In Hungaria, an album as legendary as it is obscure. Their pursuit of one of the greatest bands ever unknown takes them down many a bizarre path teeming with grand ideas and grander egos in this ode to record shopping and what it’s like to be in your first band

Back in 1991, my best friend and I used to make up fake bands to ask for at record stores. Our fifteen-year-old selves thought this was hilarious. And still one of the funniest things I've ever heard in my life was Bri asking the clerk at Cutler's Records & Tapes in New Haven, Connecticut if they had “anything by Buttery Cake Ass?"

The clerk genuinely wanted to be helpful, after all there were a lot of strange band names floating around back then - Poi Dog Pondering, Ned's Atomic Dustbin, Meat Beat Manifesto - and so he asked us "Is there any particular album you're looking for?" Without missing a beat, I said, "Live In Hungaria". At which point he looked even more puzzled. "Do you mean 'Live In Hungary'?" We both shook our heads, deeply serious, "No. It's definitely 'Live In Hungaria'". As he then walked away to go check their stock for this album that did not exist, it was a feeling of utter, absurd, joy.

My new book, The Ballad Of Buttery Cake Ass, is an attempt to recapture the comedy of those days, before irony really set into the culture around 1994, as well as relive the excitement and anticipation one would feel in the pre-internet era, where it could be weeks or months before you got to hear a band or record after learning of its existence. To reclaim the ecstatic joy of first laughing at Monty Python and Kids In The Hall, as well as the similar experience of spending months tracking down PiL’s Commercial Zone, with all that was discovered along the way. Especially that Keith Levene/Hillel Slovak split 7” with Kendra Smith doing ‘Still Im Meine Hamburg’ on its flipside. The Ballad Of Buttery Cake Ass is an ode to obsessive record collecting and what it's like to be in your first band.

This passage kicks off Chapter 3 of the book. Taking place right after founding member Hans ‘Floral’ Nightingale has left the band, obsessed with his own idea that the mythical Ramones free jazz album actually exists somewhere, and the Cake Ass boys are left to find his replacement.

— + + + —

Enter the radical guitar stylings of one Hubert ‘Strings’ Stringfellow, now operating under the name Blish Billings, a perfectly reasonable reaction to someone suggesting he go by ‘Huey Longstraw’. But from the moment he strode into the Cake Ass’ world, he was Blish. That’s not to say we should turn our backs on his original handle as it was what made him pick up the instrument in the first place, though perhaps not for the reasons one might think. If your name is Stringfellow, you might think that your fate is fixed, and Blish, well, Blish was a big believer in free will, from a young age too. That Rush song from a few years back just confirming it to him. He looked on any strings as competition – yo-yo’s, shoelaces, kites – he was no one’s puppet. But it was a constant battle to posit himself as the embodiment of string in this cord-heavy world. Still, Fate is a tricky overlord, a superconductor if you will, to life’s infinite orchestra, and Blish was blinded to that old sense of predetermination as he felt himself drawn to master these things. Considering instead, their very existence to be a direct challenge to his own being. As a preteen he spent weeks locked away in the library, absorbing all he could about Ben Franklin, emerging to then launch kites into the loftiest of positions, unconcerned so much with their colours and shapes than as to what they were carrying, and how far he could fly a piece of string. Soon he was commanding ten yo-yos at once, one for each finger and thumb, untroubled by the great clacking back into his hands. It seemed inevitable that one day he would approach the guitar in much the same way, and it was seeing a photo of Hendrix lighting his Strat on fire that convinced him there was something in this. Growing up in the 70s was a good time for any would-be axemen as their aspirational kind were revered as giants in the music world. Of course Blish’s ear was drawn to a few of them – John McLaughlin, Sonny Sharrock, Zoot Horn Rollo... In the early 80s, now of the same age as the rest of the Cake Asses – you know what I mean, he was always the same age as them, but here he was too – and in the early 80s where we have just been traveling through with the other members, Blish was fortunate enough to get his hands on some of those Birthday Party albums. Rowland S. Howard’s playing blowing Blish’s mind. Well, I guess he was still Hubert then, but same rules apply...

Walter is of course well aware that the Cake Asses now needed some fresh blood. Hans Floral Nightingale’s sudden departure leaving everyone quite unanchored and Walter sitting on nearly 100 Formaldehyde Hydro! 7”s to sell. Walter is also privy to the knowledge that Hans Floral Anderson is spending more and more time locked up at home, perpetually brooding over his predicament. Getting this info straight from the horse’s mouth, as drummer Max Beta has taken to warming up his wrists at the old pinball machine before rehearsals, asking Walter to throw on The Who’s Tommy and playing along. Explaining over the thwacks and chings how Hans Floral Anderson has been a shell of his former self these weeks since the tornado hit. The trio obviously isn’t working. Any similarities to Cream or ZZ Top are in name only, all sensing something is missing. A something Hans has grave doubts about ever being able to be replaced. He isn’t sleeping much, and writing Cookie long letters as she too left town shortly after Hans Floral Nightingale’s disappearance. Luckily Cookie saved these missives. Their contents are concerning. Consistent throughout the diatribes is the dilemma of how would he ever find someone again who understood the whole Floorists worldview. An additional puzzle piece necessary to help him achieve what Hans Floral Nightingale had saddled him with – the soaring into the horizons illuminated by the legend of the lost Ramones free jazz album. Not to mention someone to fill the musical space underneath when he blazes into an abacus solo. Perhaps in an attempt to entice Hans Floral Nightingale back into the fold via supernatural means, the letters of the BCA logo have begun to bulge again, a quite literal spell. Not the thickset triptychs they once were, but Hans Floral Anderson has been adding lines left and sometimes right.

Walter sees a succession of solutions stretching out before him and begins to make arrangements. Offering the space underneath the pinball machine for Blish’s continued slumber, even giving him employment delivering archery supplies and manning the other counter when the shops get full. With Hans Floral Anderson it would be a little more complex. Walter knows how it is with most creative types, you can’t approach them head on. So like the puppet master Blish Billings both fears and sees himself as in equal measure, Walter sets about orchestrating what in a nineties film about the Seattle grunge scene might be called a ‘meet cute’.

Not having to wait long for an excuse to phone Hans Floral up and get him down to Graph City as, with Blish supervising the shops, at the weekend’s record convention Walter finally scores a copy of Nigel Dinks’ Drinks With Dinks. An LP he knows Hans Floral Anderson is dying to hear, especially as it is the definitive recording of Dinks’ quintet with Alan Wilforn on flugelhorn, recorded at the end of their 1971 stint in Vienna. Having learned from Max Beta that there would be no rehearsal that evening, it being Davey Down’s mother’s birthday, Walter smoothly dials Hans Floral’s number and gives him the news, telling him he’ll be open late that night and to come on in anytime. Meanwhile paying Blish overtime restocking shafts and quivers in the room next door.

When he sees Hans rounding the far bend into the parking lot, Walter calls Blish back into the record shop, dropping the needle on side two of Drinks With Dinks. Knowing that along with everything else, Blish’s ears would be poppin’ to Gus Falloway’s drumming on Malaise Maze, Falloway sounding just like a Minotaur in a chemistry lab, as allegedly were Dinks’ instructions for the track. Blish standing there grooving to it as Hans walks through the door, recognizing it right away although he’s never heard it before, only read a review in an obscure English-language Berlin fanzine, Upstairs At Vince’s.

The music drawing the two young men closer as it would from that point on, and when they eventually do speak, both looking up at the same time to acknowledge the wild fury of Gibby Fitzgregory’s fuzzed out Fender Rhodes, they immediately click. Even more immediately, if such a thing is possible, work then begins on the legendary Live In Hungaria album. Not in any tangible sense of course, the two haven’t even learned each other’s names yet, but again with the mysticism that would wind its way around the band from time to time, it is here – to any discerning puppeteer – that the idea of that monumental record drops its seed into the ether.

Walter soon introducing them after they’ve talked their way through a handful of Dinks-related recordings –1968’s Invisible Dink, Alan Wilforn’s spotlight piece, Wilfully Forlorn, from Dinks’ 1970 follow-up In A Pensive Mood, and Fitzgregory & Falloway’s own foray into rock with ff, a record Hans had only gotten his hands on last month. The two getting further acquainted long into the night. Walter sticking around, pretending to go over the books as he eavesdrops, sporadically tidying up, and when the time comes, nonchalantly moving Blish’s guitar to within Hans’ line of sight. The Cake Ass front man giving a little jolt, ‘Walter, you started selling instruments?’ Walter kindly smiling, nodding towards Blish.

Hans doesn’t ask Blish to play, nor hears him do so that night. Though when he learns that his new friend has been sleeping underneath Graph City’s pinball machine, Hans thinks this might be someone he could get his own place with, so large is their common love of records completely obscure to the rest of the world. With Cookie now gone, Hans is wanting more than ever to find a place of his own. But also with there being no mattress, nothing, Blish bedding down straight onto the hard wood in just a bag, just to be able to be close to the music, Hans Floral Anderson believes this dude might just get the whole Floorists concept. And with his name starting with a B, could symbolise a much-needed new beginning for Buttery Cake Ass...

The Ballad of Buttery Cake Ass by Aug Stone is published by Stone Soup