The Secondman's Middle Stand -
Mike Watt and the Secondmen
by Mike D'Ariano
kay, make a quick list in your mind of unpleasant ways to almost die. Nothing major, maybe your top three. Got it? Okay. I'm betting that developing a cyst in the space between your genitals and your ass (Medical term: perineum - who says we're not educational), and having it explode, in turn pumping tons of bacteria and toxins into your system, wasn't one you thought of. That, is exactly what happened to bassist Mike Watt last year.
The first thing Watt did when he finally got out of the hospital was get a quartet together (bass, drums, organ, vocals) and start work on a new album. In the eighties, he played in the Minutemen, Firehose, and more recently has jammed with Gov't Mule and had become the newest member of the re-united Stooges. The album, titled The Secondman's Middle Stand, is a concept album, a rock opera only if you insist, based on Mike's traumatic episode with the cyst. Hey, if it happened to you, wouldn't you write a record about it?
The nine songs on the album are divided into three distinct sections. The first three songs, "Boilin Blazes," "Puked to High Heaven," and "Burstedman" are about the grand old time Watt had when he first became ill. The next three, "Tied a Reed Round My Waist," "Pissbags and Tubing," and "Beltsandedman," are about the equally enjoyable period of Mike's life that he spent getting treated for his ailment. Finally, the third act consisting of the songs "The Angels Gate," "Pluckin, Pedalin and Paddlin," and "Pelicanman," offer redemption and shows Mike getting his life back together again.
Aside from the obvious uniqueness of the project and the personal satisfaction you can derive from learning that someone you admire recently duked it out with death and won the round, The Secondman's Middle Stand has some great moments that would still be there if you didn't know the back story.
"Beltsandedman" sounds like the lighter side of Primus, and is on par with any of Watt's solo work. "The Angle's Gate" is a paroxysmal keyboard-fuelled romp through Mike's quest to relearn to play the bass. There are great lines all through it like "never had to stop bassin' since d. boon's ma got me playin'," "worried that I'd really lost it, worried that the hellride tossed it," and "impossible to get any groove, maybe if I play like a Stooge!" It's really one of the more fun tunes on the record. Surprisingly, "Pissbags and Tubing" is also kinda fun, but only if you have the same sick sense of humor that I do and find the acapella, doo-wop style repetition of the title plus the screamed line "Sweet Melinda, yankin it out and shoving it back in!" quirky enough to go beyond uncomfortable and into humorous. I'm sure that is what Watt was aiming for.
The album is musically all over the place. Some songs are fast-paced rock rallies and some are slower-paced sing along ditties that would be at home on some bizzaro world's version of Sesame Street. In all honesty, it's not Watt's best work, and it's real appeal lies in the look on the person's face that you're playing it for when you tell them what it's all about. On the other hand, it's still better than anything you heard on mainstream rock radio anytime in the recent past, and is definitely worth a listen.