Relying on the internet as often as we do, it is sometimes disconcerting when we come upon a subject for which there is little or no information.
Such is the band, The Disfigurines.
It is a band name I have encountered every now and again, spoken softly by some members of bands I’ve met. The first time was when I was walking on NW Couch street one morning. I met Mick Collins of The Gories and The Dirtbombs. He had just purchased a juice and was kind enough to chat with me for a few minutes. I had seen the Dirtbombs perform a year or so prior to this chance encounter, at The Satyricon, and complimented him on the show and his band in general. The conversation drifted towards record collecting and he asked me if I had any recordings by the band, The Disfigurines. I could tell from the look on his face he really was hopeful I would reply in the affirmative, but I had never heard of the band. I shook my head, no. Sorry, never heard of them, I replied. Who are they? Just a band I might have heard of he replied, his head sinking a bit as he turned to walk away.
At the time, I was employed by a local Portland record store, and the next time I was at work, I flipped through the “D” section in the Rock records, with no luck. Nothing by The Disfigurines, not even a section card. I asked my manager as he had been working at the store for a number of years, but he also had never heard of this band.
The name really struck me. It was a bit funny. A play on the words, disfigured and figurine. Self deprecating. A bit of black humor. Easy to remember. I assumed the band was punk or new wave, a band that had been around a while, then faded away.
At that time, I was not exactly a computer whiz, but did what I could to search the internet. I found a few message boards on the subjects of either Punk, Post-Punk or New Wave, but in scrolling the seemingly endless threads I never did find a reference to the The Disfigurines.
The next time I was in San Francisco, I headed over to Haight Street and visited a few record stores. In general I was looking to fill some gaps in my collection, but first made a beeline to the “D” section. No luck though. No records, no section card.
In places such as Amoeba Records, due to its size, I felt intimidated or silly asking questions, so I never did approach any of the employees about my search.
Down the street at the much smaller store, Recycled Records, I spoke with my friend, Mike Boul, about the band, The Disfigurines.
Prior to working in this record store, Mike Boul had been the lead singer of the band, Indian Bingo, who had released two LPs, an EP, and a couple of singles, all of which I had and enjoyed quite a bit. He had lived in both Los Angeles and San Francisco and I thought he might be a good resource.
He looked at me across the counter when I mentioned the band’s name, paused in thought for a moment and then went into the store’s basement. He returned a few minutes later and handed me a handful of memeographed fanzines from New York City in the early 80s.
I do not remember where, but somewhere in at least of one of these, I think there is a reference to that band he said.
He invited me to go into the small office in the back part of the store to read through the zines.
I flipped through them, some with handwritten text almost illegible, some with various fonts designed with block printing, a couple with lettering that appeared to have been cut out of magazines and pasted on, in the style of a ransom note. Most of them seemed generically punk, and reminded me of 45’s you find abandoned in used record stores with hand-scrawled black and white sleeves.
About three-fourths of way through the pile I turned a page, and there was the subject line, “Art Gallery Disfigured.” It was a review of a live performance. Not at a club, but at an unnamed art gallery. According to the article, a band set up in the back part of the gallery just as the sun was setting, with no warning or announcement when launching into their set. From what I could gather, the band had four members, guitar, bass, drummer and a singer.
The only song title referenced was “It’s been a pleasure (to forget you).” Seemed like from the article, the band had played for about twenty minutes, and had worn out their welcome after the first five. A sculpture had been knocked over, a few pictures removed from the walls and tossed out into the meager crowd. The band hustled out of the gallery they had just managed to empty, the singer paused at the doorway, reached into his pocket, and tossed a couple of cassette tapes onto the gallery floor.
I tried to talk Mike Boul into allowing me to purchase this zine, but he refused as it belonged to the owner and was not for sale and certainly would be missed. The store did not have a copy machine…so memory is all that remains of the page.
I left the store a little bit elated though. The title suggested that the band had actually played a gig, such as it was, and somewhere out there…there might be a cassette, likely in New York City somewhere, on a shelf or in a drawer, covered in dust, forgotten, or more likely than not, swept up long ago and sent to the trash.
Suffice to say, I never found this cassette.
These days, the reissue mindset of the record industry would seem to be always in pursuit of of some previously unreleased gem. Label owners have turned their attention to tapes from small recording studios, acetates made from recordings by bands hoping to release a single. Also it is no longer odd to see a reissue of a private press record. Even reissues of previously released reissues now happen, as contract time limits expire and albums go out of print.
But nowhere in this vast mass of culture clutch have I seen The Disfigurines. Never to the best of my knowledge, has there been a single pressed, an LP released or a reissue released.
The band name burrows into my memory like a magic mushroom dream. One wonders if I heard it at all.