Wind Up Happening: Musoscribe Meets LMNOP (Part 1 of 5)

In one sense, LMNOP is as DIY and underground as it gets. Launched in the early 1980s in Atlanta, LMNOP was – and has remained – the vehicle for Stephen Fievet’s singular lyrical vision, a sometimes disturbing, often unsettling and sometimes wickedly funny approach that all but ensures the music will never break through to the commercial mainstream.

But in stark contrast to those qualities, Fievet writes, sings and plays music that’s stuffed to the brim with what can only be described as classic pop values. In the way in which some writer years ago – I forget whom; sorry – described The Jesus and Mary Chain’s music as sweet confection with a barbed wire coating (or hey, something to that effect) the same is true of LMNOP. On its surface, it’s supremely accessible, fun stuff. Dig deeper and it often gets scary. Intelligent, witty, literate… but scary.

The net effect – as showcased on his early cassette-only releases, maddeningly titled LMNOP, LMNOP LMNOP and LMNO3 – was pop-punk long before the term came into wide usage among musos and other assorted writer-critic types. On those somewhat spare, lo-fi releases, Fievet did everything; in the grand tradition of Paul McCartney, Emitt Rhodes, Todd Rundgren and Stevie Wonder, he engineered, produced, wrote, played, sang and arranged the music. Taking thigs a step further – and hinting at a compulsion to control everydamnthing – he also created the graphics to accompany those tapes.

Listen to LMNOP’s first single, “Forever Through the Sun.”

But LMNOP became for a time, an actual band. Or at least it sort of did. In the mid 1980s I was still living in Atlanta, and I had the pleasure of seeing LMNOP as a trio at the Moonshadow Saloon. Fievet, his eyes bedazzled with mascara, acted like a pilled-up punker (NOTE: no idea if he actually was on anything) armed with some of the catchiest tunes known to humankind. Wielding a white Gibson Flying V, he led his band through a set at maximum speed and volume of a similar intensity. They were great.

“But hey,” I recall thinking, “those cassettes have some great keyboard-centric tunes. They’re not playing those songs; I guess they can’t, at least not with that lineup.” I thought it would be a fine idea to approach Fievet and – as a keyboard player and vocalist of some ability – offer my services.

Alas, I did not. Too scared was I. (Maybe it was those dark, dark lyrics.) Life went on, and I was fortunate enough to see what I believed to be a different lineup of LMNOP sometime thereafter, this time at the legendary punk club 688. (To borrow a quote from rockumentarian Marty DiBergi, “Don’t look for it; it’s not there any more.”)

LMNOP was there for an album release party and show. I bought elemen opee elpee. Still have it. Re-recorded versions of some of the cassette songs had higher production values, but they were missing a certain something, if only in comparison. It’s still a great record, and Fievet still has a few copies laying around, available for purchase. You’d do well to pick one up.

As I recall, the live band was quite good. But I came away with the sense that they were merely conduits for delivering Fievet’s vision, that they were probably carefully instructed what to play and how to play it. That, of course, is fair game for an auteur of Fievet’s stature; consenting adults and all that, you might say. But I didn’t imagine the “band” per se would last. And it did not.

LMNOP continued, returning to its existence as a nom de musique for Stephen Fievet. There would be another vinyl record, Pony, which I found some years later in the stacks of a shop that had no idea of the gem they had. But I finished college, got married, had kids and eventually escaped the smoggy megalopolis for more suitable climes. I never forgot about LMNOP – even when my cars didn’t have cassette players any longer – but I didn’t exactly actively keep up with whatever Fievet was up to musically.

LMNOP’s “They’ll Show You Who’s Won Now” was featured on a 1983 various-artists LP, 96 Rock Home Cookin III. Listen here.

I did, however, pay attention to his babysue comic. If anything, it was – and again, remains – stranger even than LMNOP’s music. Wickedly dada and crudely drawn, I loved it. In retrospect, I often wondered if it had influence upon (or was influenced by) Matt Groening’s pre-Simpsons comic, Life in Hell. “Maybe if I ever interview Stephen,” I might have thought had the idea occurred to me, “I’ll ask him about that.” But I assumed that his weirdness and inscrutability were of the sort that meant he would not grant interviews.

I was taken aback, frankly, when Camera-Sized Life appeared in my mailbox some many years after I had last seen that show at 688. I don’t recall the specific circumstances of how the CD found me, but I was glad that it did. A look at the jacket tells me the songs date from 1996, but I am sure it didn’t arrive in my mail until sometime well into the 21st century. No matter. I thought I had reviewed it, but if I did, that review is one of a handful that’s now lost forever; I have no record of it.

I own a babysue t-shirt, and though it’s starting to wear out from regular use, I sport it proudly. It elicits weird expressions on passersby: “What’s that?” And while I still play the cassettes now and then, Fievet made a CD reissue of the first two available, and I acquired that. (For me, LMNO3 was always the best of the lot, so at some point I burned my own CDR of that, straight off of the tape. Again, still have it.)

A few months ago I was shocked (shocked, I tell ya) to receive a CD and press one-sheet in the mail, sent from a reputable music publicist. No, that’s not the surprising part. The shocker was that she was working a new album from LMNOP. “Egads!” I might have said, if I talked to myself (No, in fact I do. Ask my dear wife, whose office is down the hall from mine these days.)

Titled whatNOP, the latest from LMNOP is – forgive the implementation of this overused yet apropos phrase – a return to form. As fine as some of the latter-day LMNOP releases have been, whatNOP has the DIY character (albeit with 21st century DIY production values) that made those cassettes so irresistible. It’s like he never left.

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