Hot Chicago Rock that just won't Quit Ripping Your Your Ears Off!
Mark Mosher, Russ Forster, Ron Richter - first three guys in line on front cover, disguised as corporate scumbags on back cover
Live at Chicago Peace Fest 1987 - Russ is overdressed, Ron and Mark are underdressed
Fudgetunnel circa 1985 Judy Johnson, Russ Forster, Jean Lyons
Spongetunnel was a musical merger. Mark Mosher and I had been in the band Sponge for several years until our guitar player quit and moved to Memphis. Russ Forster had been in the band Fudgetunnel, which had had a number of different line-ups, most of which included Jean Lyons, who had recently left to start the all-girl powerhouse, The Barbie Army. Some people have thought that the name Spongetunnel referred to a sexual organ but in reality it was just a practical fusing of two band names. I think we wanted to retain the name recognition and momentum that the two bands aspired to. And this carried over to the music as well - I brought my songs from Sponge and Russ brought his songs from Fudgetunnel - we never tried too hard to create a homogenous "Spongetunnel sound."
A different sound did evolve though because Russ was into noise and garage and some downright dadaist guitar that was so different from the country/blues stylings of Bill Harnden. Add to this the heavy driving 70's hard rock sound that Mark and I were into that was so divorced from the simple Velvet Underground-esque rhythms of Fudgetunnel. Russ wrote all the political songs and tirades of social criticism while my songs were usually more personal scenarios. Russ wrote about CIA operatives and domestic violence and the evils of consumerism. I wrote about a guy I knew who was always cheating on his wife or falling asleep on the bus or a woman who I was advised to avoid because she had a "bad reputation." Mark was never interested in writing songs, he was into muscle cars and driving like a maniac, so I wrote Pure Muscle to give voice to his interests.
We played many Chicago shows and put out the album Morons and Monsters in 1988. We did an East Coast tour with Screeching Weasel, 21 shows in 23 days - 7 guys in one van. It sounds like a nightmare but it was actually a lot of fun. I think we were too busy to get bored and on each other's nerves. Of course, this is my perspective - I was probably getting on everyone else's nerves and I wasn't letting anyone bother me. We had built a sleeping loft over the equipment that held three, then there was a bench seat that held three and two front seats for the pilot and navigator. We played at bars, coffeehouses, basements in suburban houses, huge empty movie theaters, college auditorium punk rock shows to hundreds of people. radio stations in Connecticut and New Jersey(WFMU) and a restaurant in Tallahassee with the tables, chairs and salad pushed off to the side - from Portland, Maine to Pensacola, Florida. The low point of the trip was when we stayed at someone's house whose cats had pissed all over our sleeping bags - the next day we had a fifteen hour drive, the whole van reeked of cat piss and it was too cold to roll down the windows. It was quite an adventure. Ben Weasel was always making comments onstage to bait the straightedge kids and the racist homophobic elements of the audience that punk rock unfortunately tends to attract. There was a couple of times I thought an all-out brawl was going to break out.
After the tour, Mark and Russ were at odds - Mark wanted to make the band a business and make a living playing music and Russ was very anti-business, he didn't want anything to contrive the creative aspect of the performance. Ultimately, Mark quit to joined the band Green because they were touring and selling records and had attained a poverty-level existence as professional musicians.
I wasn't on the greatest terms with Russ either but he had managed to secure a European tour, so we decided we could be civil for the duration. We enlisted Danny Iaello to play drums for us - she'd never played in Europe either - so it was pretty mercenary all the way around. Luckily for me, I got on famously with a couple of the guys in the English band we toured with. I was afraid this tour might be a drag because Russ and Danny didn't drink and were generally rather gloomy music martyr types. Right after Jon Barry, bassist/singer for Filler, who had arranged the tour picked us up at Heathrow airport, he shouted back to me from the driver seat, "So Ron, do ya like beer?" At that point, I knew things would be all right.
This tour it would be a slightly bigger van with eight people, and at one point, eleven people. We had a full-time driver, Ben Corrigan, who had a band at the time called Thatcher on Acid. He was a surly character and I was always getting on his nerves just by being myself. The band Filler was Jon and Bram, who were beer-guzzling fun-loving upbeat jokers, and Dave, who was a really nice guy but tended to be moody and gloomy, always muttering about the poor quality of the food and wouldn't a nice Yorkshire pudding be just brilliant. This was a running joke with Jon, who would shout, "Warning: Misery Ahead!" when Dave would show up. So we quickly split into two camps while on the road, Russ, Danny and Dave wander around listlessly in the lethargic gloom area while Jon, Bram and myself were usually scrambling around like big dumb Labrador Retrievers for beer and whatever trouble we could get into. Danny had brought along a friend under the pretext that she was going to film the band on tour but the very first day in London, she was fiddling with her super 8 camera and then announces, "This camera doesn't work!" and drops it in the waste basket. I have always suspected that the camera was useless beforehand and she just wanted an excuse to tag along on the European Tour. Dave's friend Simon also joined us at some point in England.
We played four shows in England - Bradford, Leamington Spa, London, and Brighton. We played with two great English bands at Leamington Spa - Wat Tyler and Snuff. In London, we played with an English band called Fudgetunnel who had seen a write-up on Russ' old band in the punk rock mag Maximum Rockinroll and decided to use the name too. Occasionally I would freak out when I was in passenger seat of the van because the English drive on the opposite side of the road as Americans. The English guys would always chuckle. When we crossed the channel - the Europeans drive on the same side of the road as Americans and soon it was my turn to chuckle at them. I even enjoyed the ferry ride to Holland - The North Sea was dark and drizzly, drinking pints of Guinness at noon while the whole ship is bobbing up and down like an amusement park ride.
We spent the first night in Amsterdam. Ben, who was a seasoned band driver, knew all the best spots to go to. On the way home after a full night of excess I spotted a poster for an Isaac Hayes concert plastered on a decrepit old wall. We were playing our version of Isaac Hayes' "Theme form Shaft" and I thought if I got Russ this poster maybe he would cheer up. So its three or four in the morning and we're climbing over all these bags of garbage all drunk and laughing our heads off. It was stuck on top of a hundred old posters and it seemed like it took ten minutes to pull it off but I finally got it. We all came stumbling in the apartment and woke everybody up. Beaming with pride, I present Russ with this hard-won trophy and he doesn't even seem grateful. Go figure.
Russ' girlfriend at the time, Kari Busch and her friend, Marcella also met up with us in Holland so now we had eleven people in the van. Our English shows were much like American shows in that you didn't get paid unless you could draw a lot of people and if the club is feeling generous you may get a few free drinks. In Holland and Germany, the government subsidizes a lot of the entertainment venues and it's a beautiful thing! This means if you play a show, they guarantee you money, food and beer - lots of beer! Our first show was in Deventer, Holland at a place called the Burgerweeshuis. When we arrived, the club manager shows us to a big room to relax in with two cases of great Dutch beer in half liter bottles. We figured this was our allotment for the night. Whenever we were down to about half a case, the manager would exclaim, "You're almost out of beer!" and have two more cases sent in. At closing time, there was close to two cases we hadn't got to so the manager exclaimed, "You still have beer, you'll must take it with you!" And every club was like this - we seemed to have at least two cases of beer in the van at all times. One night we didn't have a show so we went into the club we had played the night before and bartenders told us that they needed to drain the kegs so they could clean the lines and that we must drink this beer. They set out twenty plastic cups of weiss beer between the three of us. When we finally got out of there, there were eight people trying to sleep in the van. So we decided that we would fill our coats with beers from the onboard beer stash and walk around the town for two hours and then two other people would have to get out so we could get some sack time. By that morning, some of the glamour of touring had worn off - Simon decided to head back to England and our "filmmaker" announced was going to Paris or somewhere, and left in a huff. We played the Rose Club in Koln, that even provided us with rooms with real beds.
We also played Hanau, Dortmund, Munchen Gladbach and Frankfurt - it was all kind of a blur till we got to Berlin. And speaking of blurs, the Autobahn was a trip. We would be doing 85 miles an hour, which was about as fast as the van could go loaded with eight people and all our equipment, and we couldn't even get into the passing lane - cars were buzzing by us like we were standing still - way way over 100 miles an hour. You would see a dot in the rear view mirror and 30 seconds later a Porsche or a BMW would zoom by. A lot of the curves were banked like a racetrack - and yet you still had to try to maneuver around semi-trailers - it was terrifying at times.
This was about two months before the Berlin Wall came down and you still had to drive through communist East Germany to get to Berlin. There were all kinds of riot cops and armored vehicles on the street and you could feel the political unrest in the air. We played in this large hall that had close to a thousand people in it - insane people. From the stage I could see people getting beer and just throwing it in the air, the ceiling was raining beer, half full plastic cups were flying everywhere. People were all over the stage - there was no security people. A woman with a huge purple mohawk was screaming something in my ear but it was too loud to hear anything. We were continuously pelted with cups and wave after wave of beer. I was laughing so hard I could barely remember what song we were playing. The mohawk woman began molesting Russ and he shoved her right into the monitor and she flipped through the air, disappearing into the mass of screaming, flailing maniacs - it was like a scene from Dante's Inferno.
The next morning we made the long journey back to England. We played
one last gig at a country pub outside of Ipswich before flying back
to the States. Though we were all still on speaking terms, none of us
had any burning desire to keep the band together. The three of us went
off to pursue different projects.
The Life and Times of Captain Ronzo
Ron's Music History Corner