Rodan

The One Rule of this project — let iTunes shuffle pick the band from my record collection, then I take it from there — sometimes provides lovely surprises where I’m reminded of performers I haven’t thought about in a while, and get to revisit how they first came to occupy a room in my musical head space. And then there are bands like Rodan, where the iTunes randomizer lands on the one song from them that somehow ended up in my collection, and I have to look up their Wikipedia entry to figure out who they were exactly:

Rodan was an American post-hardcore band from Louisville, Kentucky The best known lineup of the band consisted of Jeff Mueller (guitar/vocals), Jason Noble (guitar/vocals), Tara Jane O’Neil (bass/vocals), and Kevin Coultas (drums).

Okay, that gives me a little more to go on, if not much. I know that Tara Jane O’Neil is Kentucky indie music royalty, being the other Louisville Tara (alongside Antietam’s Key), as well as collaborator with Catherine Irwin on her great solo album Little Heater. The other members of Rodan remain a mystery to me, though presumably they were fans of giant irradiated pteranodons.

How Rodan ended up in my iTunes library is a story both straightforward and not at all. The one song of theirs that I own, “Tron,” is on Half-Cocked, the soundtrack album to a movie that I’ve never seen. The movie (so I learn, once again, from Wikipedia) stars Tara Jane O’Neil and her bandmates as a bunch of high schoolers who steal a van full of music gear and decide to pose as a band called Truckstop (whose fictional members presumably didn’t watch enough Japanese monster movies).

I only discovered the album 20 years after its 1994 release. The proximate cause: Tara Key had been one of the organizers for a benefit show for North Carolina musician and poet Letha Rodman Melchior, who at the time was fighting cancer and writing a blog about it. Tragically, Letha died before the concert, which instead turned into a celebration/memorial, with Antietam and Versus and Thalia Zedek of Come and the Rogers Sisters and Cynthia Nelson (who also appeared in, and on, Half-Cocked) and slideshows of Letha’s life and work. There were a lot of happy memories and tears, all of which I was caught up in despite knowing barely anything about Letha before this.

After the concert, I told my friend Jay about it and how much in particular I had liked the Rogers Sisters, who I’d also never heard of before, and he replied, “Oh, yeah, I think I saw one of them in Ruby Falls once.” So I looked it up, and it turned out Ruby Falls was: Letha Rodman, Cynthia Nelson, Jennifer Rogers, and some drummer who was later replaced by the other Rogers sister, Laura. Plus Cynthia Nelson had formerly been in a relationship with none other than Tara Jane O’Neil, who had been scheduled to play at the memorial show but had to cancel last minute. (Still later, I discovered that Cynthia Nelson was the guitar teacher for the daughter of friends of mine in Oregon. The indie-rock world is inexplicably tiny.)

When I mentioned the Cynthia–Tara Jane connection to Jay, he replied, “Oh yeah, I think they were both in that movie Half-Cocked by Michael Galinsky from Sleepyhead.” Which confused me for a minute because I knew that name from somewhere else, and then realized: Michael Galinsky directed a documentary about the new Brooklyn Nets arena and, after finding me (via Tara Key, if I’m remembering correctly) and discovering that I wrote about sports stadium scandals, friended me on Facebook.

A couple of days later, I was telling this story to my other friend Jamin while listening to Wild Carnation, which had led me to a review comparing them to Flower, Richard Baluyut’s first band before Versus, and got me realizing how many layers of ’90s NYC indie rock I had yet to explore. And halfway through the story I noticed (probably from checking Wikipedia) that that “some drummer” originally in Ruby Falls was the drummer for Flower.

I then tried to explain about the inexplicably tiny indie-rock world and all the bands that involved Sue Garner and Rick Brown (who I saw in the crowd at the Letha Rodman show), and went looking for the email from my other other friend Brandon where he’d sent me the link to an excellent graphic of the many many Rick-Sue bands. But all I found was an email where I mentioned Sleepyhead and Brandon replied, “Looks like Sleepyhead had a song on the great Half-Cocked soundtrack.”

So I bought the Half-Cocked soundtrack. Do I consider it great? That would be stretching it — I like it, but not more than many compilations of a lot of bands of that era. That Rodan song, for example, has some nice crunchy guitars and jerky tempo shifts and chanted lyrics; I suppose I should throw in some more rock crit verbiage here like “lo-fi” or “post-hardcore,” but I don’t know that I’d be using them right, or if they’d tell anyone much even if I were. Mostly the album leans toward the loud and edgy and raw, which are all good things but not especially unique; it does feature songs by my longtime favorites Freakwater (which, now that I listen closely, actually sounds like just Catherine Irwin solo?) and, hey look, Versus, and Slant 6’s “Time Expired” is kind of a pleasant surprise, sort of … proto-riot-grrl? Maybe? There’s a reason I never became a music writer.

Even if Half-Cocked isn’t a must-listen for me, though, it is a must-own, because it helps me understand the lineage — no, the community — that helped create a lot of my favorite music. And who knows, maybe one day I’ll start exploring Tara Jane O’Neil recordings, and discover what was hidden behind Track 5 of one of the many occupants of my iTunes Compilations category. Or even watch the movie, maybe: “What starts as a romantic adventure degenerates into bickering, bad luck, and boredom” sounds like a lot of my favorite movies, actually. And if nothing else, I’ll be able to hum along to the soundtrack.

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