An occasional series focused on cassette tapes I have found impactful.
When you write about a certain Westside crew in Baltimore, you are doomed to failure. More below on that.
When you write about the past, you are already walking in a minefield.
But… here we go! Failure ahoy!
The facts are the facts. I used to spend my Sundays combing the tape racks and CD-R section at The True Vine record shop, finding release after release of local music, freshly consigned. I would sometimes mention my purchase to the artist, who would explain that there were only a handful of those, made especially for the True Vine and for a tour.
Evil Spirits’ 2009 cassette release on Sabbath Reality was such a find. It still sticks out in my mind as a relentless teetering-on-inchoate sludge-riff workout, using the tonal language of Black Sabbath a la “Into the Void” but gone feral. Just a wild and wooly thing, still having the power to move me when I listen to it now, 14 years later. I once had a long conversation with Tonie Joy about the meaning and complicated legacy of being inspired by Black Sabbath. Evil Spirits get it right to these working-class ears.
According to Discogs, I have a fairly large haul of the Sabbath Reality cassette output in my collection thanks to those Sunday trips. Not everything, but a fair amount. This might seem odd since the label was based out of Monson, Maine (population 609). How did those tapes make it 636.5 miles south, 10 hours by car?
The answer hinges on two folks, the members of Evil Spirits, James and Grace. They were in and out of Baltimore in that era, playing shows at America, an underground venue I frequented as often as I could (the “SDF America” era came later). Sure, it was a cold inside as it was outside on winter nights. Sure, shows there began when they began, if at all, often lasting into the wee hours. But when I walked in, James was sure to greet me with a rousing “Welcome to America!” He would then offer me a drink and pass me the boot they were using to collect donations for the bands.
I’d love to share with you some of Evil Spirits’ musical output, but I can’t. I have located a blog that went cold in 2015. There was some music on Youtube, since deleted. And here is the problem… as I mentioned at the top, writing about these folks is hard. They usually don’t want to be written about, wary from the beginning, years of journalists sensationalizing and distorting what they are up to as artists wholly committed to a particular way of living and creating already in the way. If you do write something, you will probably get something wrong. Around 2009, I spoke with someone who ran with this crew, on tour from Iowa City, about how Baltimore was such a fertile scene at the moment, so much good! His immediate advice was to move. “Embrace the bad,” he said.
Regardless, the reason I collect and hold onto so much physical media tends to reinforce itself in the long run. Two folks in this scene made a tape in 2009 that rips. I have it. I can listen to it whenever I want. The exchange is very small, almost “one to one.” But ultimately that is all the transmission that is needed. I will dig no further, make no further inquiries (apologies if this column stirs up anything or anyone that wishes not to be disturbed). I will instead just continue to dig on this music.