I listened to my parents’ record collection as a kid, gathered from my maternal grandfather’s business stocking the bars of the Valley of the Sun with jukeboxes, my mother’s affection for those four boys in the 60s who paved the way for rock ‘n roll - I mean, of course, Davy, Mickey, Michael, and Peter - and my father’s intellectual curiosity that as a rebellious Catholic youth had him purchase Black Sabbath’s “Paranoid.” My first vinyl purchase was Black Flag’s “In My Head,” but as an adult, the first songs I played my first born were the same off the “Ramones Mania” compilation cassette I also listened to religiously. Punk rock is what had led his mother and I to meet, and our engagement photos included air guitar jumps at the grave of Johnny Ramone.
I hope it’s safe to say that we all have a team or some fandom that we champion, I don’t much see the joy in this life if there ain’t something or someone to root for. And there’s no devotion quite like the one carried for a favorite band… except maybe for a favorite wrestler. There are some loves that transcend the genre, the medium, or the sport. If you’re CM Punk, Dax and Cash of FTR, or an editor for Meow Meow Pow Pow, you’re an enthusiastic student of the squared circle, but particularly a pupil in awe of Bret “the Hitman” Hart. The stars of AEW sneak tributes to the Excellence of Execution into matches all the time, and Jane Rebecca-Cannarella and I constantly exchange beautiful photos and stirring promos of the Best There Is, the Best There Was, and the Best There Ever Will Be.
To love a Hart means to love the late Owen, too, and his tale was told in a song named after him by Manhattan Murder Mystery, whose live shows have been compared to battle royales.
When I called Highland Park in Los Angeles home, I would ride the Metro to work and listen to Razorcake’s podcast, and that’s where I first heard Manhattan Murder Mystery. They’ve been called folk, maybe because singer and rhythm guitarist Matthew Teardrop plays a harmonica, they’ve been called punk, because that’s the scene they’ve been a part of and ethic they’ve held, and they’ve been called folk punk, which I personally don’t see as accurate (and I used to work at the same coffeehouse as the Andrew Jackson Jihad guys, so, I know what’s up). I tend to agree with a bio I’ve read from the Manhattan Murder Mystery website, which simply states they are “a rock band.”
While the band has had rousing working class rallies like “City Hall” from “Women House,” and romantic tragedies like “Luxury Liner” from “Dumb,” my first listen was specifically a song called “I Always Think About Dyin’” which is as about as bleak a punk song as the title suggests, and I mean gritty yet catchy early East Coast garage punk that would have made GG Allin proud (bubblegum era Jabbers GG, not poop era Murder Junkies GG).
I have danced just off Hollywood Blvd with Spider-Man to “Bathroom Song,” I have drank whiskey with Teardrop at a Lincoln Heights hostel, and I have sung the praises of the band’s performances to anyone who asks me what I listen to. Teardrop’s lyrics have been classified as everything from protest to poetry, but I just think he’s a great storyteller, accompanied by an instrumental ensemble of comrades who I have admired from album to album - bassists Gibbons and Katya Arce, and drummer Laura Velez, are an adamantium backbone of a rhythm section, and guitarist Todd McLaughlin and keyboardist Mateo Katsu solidly hoist the sonic hooks of each anthem.
It’s a kick to the head to realize Manhattan Murder Mystery has been at it across two whole decades, and a pleasure to watch them evolve. There are two videos for the song “Parking Lot,” and the first directed by Simon Cardoza looks like a 1990s college rock artifact that would have been at home on “120 Minutes” (note: this is a high compliment). But the second by Layne Pavoggi is a psychedelic gangsta noir film, like Alejandro Jodowrosky if he directed an episode of “Breaking Bad.”
Their fourth album, at a juncture where band members have moved apart and out of L.A., some starting families of their own (my first born was in the womb when his mother was alongside me at that aforementioned hostel show), may be the one that wins them their long overdue global praise. It is in no small part thanks to the powerhouse behind it, Chicago’s Steve “don’t call me a producer” Albini (the man behind Pixies “Surfer Rosa,” Nirvana “In Utero,” PJ Harvey “Rid of Me,” shall I go on?). And fitting for this main event attraction cheered by its fanatic following, this new release is entitled “Baby Wrestlemania,” with cover art in the style of Ghanian pulp cinema.
We get right into it with “Artie Lange,” the first track and a recollection of the comedian’s suicide attempt.
and I know I’m worse for wear
messed my mind up beyond repair
so I stabbed myself in the stomach
There is an intertextuality between songs that is reminiscent of another Albini recorded artist, the late Jason Molina with both his band Songs: Ohia and its album “Magnolia Electric Company,” and the follow up when the band changed its name to Magnolia Electric Company and released “What Comes After the Blues.” Phrases are carried on from song to song, in the title or otherwise, such as a variation on an “Artie Lange” lyric showing up as the second track’s title, “Messed Up Mind.”
Like Molina, whose words were about the demons that he ultimately succumbed to, Teardrop sings about his struggles, surviving poverty and how hard most of us have it under capitalism and an increasingly emotionally detached society - “I’m Alone and Life Is Tough” finds the song’s protagonist without his true love and “covered in dirt and dust… holes in my shoes and shit in my lungs.” But despite the despair, Teardrop seems to find redemption or at least pride at weathering the storm. Where Molina had John Henry, Manhattan Murder Mystery has Jim Cornette at its folk hero, “Greensboro” chronicling the night the legendary wrestling manager fell off the scaffold at Starrcade ‘86.
I got a 20 foot drop
between me and you
And if I ever get out of Greensboro alive
I’m gonna dust myself off, do what a man’s gotta do
The band’s earlier work was often called “literary” - I think even as the cultural references have shifted from James Joyce to Road Warrior Animal (see their video for “Dumb,” which gives a history of the world from Genesis/The Big Bang to “Charlie bit my finger!” to Skynet decimating humanity), what counts is the poignancy of relating it all to one’s personal life (to be fair, I’m an easy mark for this - the band’s video for “Too Tough To Survive” came out after I had moved away from L.A., and the sight of scene queen Karen Centerfold with a tambourine brought me to nostalgic tears).
Other songs’ geography includes Imperial County and East Hollywood, and then we arrive at “Bodybag,” the first single (with an accompanying bloody music video with messianic tendencies) which prompted me to text these lyrics to my family:
forever in a body bag
then he came back
and I’m stuck here in this sack
“Matthew Teardrop is the Bob Dylan of my generation,” I also texted them. (I know he hates this comparison, or at least, isn’t historically a Dylan fan.)
The penultimate track “Me and Brittany” is a haunting story of the narrator remembering a dead friend, driving her to pick up her boyfriend as he’s released from prison, and watching her family cry at her funeral. It’s in this song he mentions having a baby and naming it Wrestlemania.
But it’s the last track that shares the album title, and is ostensibly Teardrop sharing advice with his daughter so she has a happier life than he did before she came into it. (I’m not telling tales out of school, this was covered in a recent interview.) The song even kicks in sounding like Hulk Hogan is about to walk out to beat The Iron Sheik for the WWF title, followed by a more upbeat melody and good life suggestions we could all heed.
try to find someone you could love
when it comes down to push and to shove
you might need someone to kiss and to hug
you might need someone to hold your hand
don’t get stuck with someone you can’t stand
It’s been a long, sad, bloody road, but if this is Manhattan Murder Mystery’s drive into the sunset before Judgement Day, the Polaroid we are left with is as beautiful as an expectant Linda Hamilton. But I still believe in this band as our future.
Manhattan Murder Mystery can be found on their website, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and their Bandcamp where all their recordings are available.
h. is the Meow Meow Pow Pow blog editor, a writer, a wrestling fan, a recovering ex-musician, and a dad. Whatever it is he does now can be found at HubUnofficial.com.
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