East River Pipe – “Helmet On” 7”
Sarah Records, 2010
Acquired: Love Garden, Used, 2009
The legend of F.M. Cornog is one of, er, indie rock legend. Dude was drug addled and homeless, busking on the street and sleeping at the Hoboken train station. There he meets a girl named Barbara Powers who takes him in, encourages his music and helps him start a label and after a string of cassette releases, they save up enough money to press a single. His songs attract the attention of English twee-pop label Sarah Records and the rest is history. Cornog and Powers get married and while East River Pipe never achieves any sort of widespread success, Cornog’s output is sort of universally respected and beloved by the people who matter. And despite writing some truly amazing songs he still worked at Home Depot for years and basically just lives a normal life. I have always loved his story because it illustrates how fine the line is between an unheralded musical genius dying in a gutter and achieving lasting success (even if that success is obscure and quarantined to a flock of drooling music nerds). I don’t think he ever went on tour, either. He just lived in Queens and recorded these sad, beautiful pop songs. It’s inspiring as fuck.
So when I saw this at Love Garden a few years ago I flipped and bought it immediately. At the time I was very into his 2003 release Garbageheads on Endless Stun, which I picked up at the Lawrence Public Library tent sale. My affinity for East River Pipe is a sprawling one. Since falling head over heels in love with indie-pop in 2007, East River Pipe had been on my radar. There were a handful of MP3s kicking around on my hard drive from the time I downloaded the entire Sarah Records discography, and through osmosis (i.e. working at a radio station and broadcasting from a studio where I was literally surrounded by CDs) I picked up most of his discography. I must have played “Make a Deal With the City” two-dozen times over three years over three different shows. I just couldn’t stay away from how great that song was. It was on one of those songs I played the hell out of because I never knew when the right person would be listening. There’s something so uplifting about it, something triumphant and just plain fucking winning and it makes me want to cheer. I don’t remember if anyone ever called in, but someone had to have heard it and at least didn’t change the dial. That is my hope.
So I found this 7” and it satisfied two dreams: Owning something East River Pipe on vinyl and owning something Sarah Records on vinyl. It helps that all three songs are real gems. “Helmet On” and “Axl or Iggy” comprised the first 7” East River Pipe released on Hell Gate Records, and it’s amazing how well they fit in with the rest of the Sarah Records roster (considering East River Pipe is one of maybe two American bands on that label). The guitars shimmer and chime, the vocal delivery is flat but tuneful as hell, and the lyrics from the fucked up world Cornog never really left. “Axl or Iggy” is my favorite. Something about that song sounds like a flower pushing through the dirt into the sunshine. It’s bright and kind of grim and again, it sounds like a fucking triumph.
I’m grateful I only had to spend $6 on this, considering it was the first time I’d ever seen a Sarah Records single for sale (the second time came seconds after that where I found this much more appropriately priced Brighter single right behind this one) after looking for about three years. By that time I practically knew the order of the singles the way people know books of the bible (eg. Sea Urchins – “Pristine Christine,” Orchids – “I’ve Got a Habit,” Another Sunny Day – “Anorak City” w/ fanzine I will never ever find, 14 Iced Bears – “Come Get Me,” etc. Once every few months I look online to see if my absolute favorite Sarah single, St. Christoper’s “You Deserve More Than a Maybe” is still selling between $15-$20 and wonder why the hell I don’t just buy it already. And God forbid I ever find a copy of the Field Mice’s “Emma’s House.” That’s on my list of records that would take so much star-aligning to come across, my budget is basically the sideways 8). I keep an eye out for them at Half Price Books, but when it comes to 45s we only get old garbage, Elvis, and Punk 7”s. Soon enough, when we move back to Kansas I’ll be able to troll Love Garden and someday, when I make my millions, I’ll scoop up the entire run and then I guess I’ll FINALLY be happy. Strange, the things we choose to obsess over and collect.
This interview Fred Cornog did with the Quietus back in 2011 to promote his excellent most-recent release We Live in Rented Rooms is a great read if you're interested in the guy and want to become a true believer (if the tremendous strength of the songs isn't enough).