Some Call It Pronk: Coping with The Cardiacs
By Matt Neff
Some days I like to reminisce about the ways I discovered the music I now call friend. Today is one of those days.
It was a typical Tuesday morning. I was browsing through the used videocassette section of my local public library, musing over a fifty cent copy of “Hanging Up” when I heard a familiar phlegm-filled cough. My insides full of forebodings, I slowly turned around and faced my old high school nemesis and drinking buddy, Doug “Creosote” Huggins. His rangy limbs had not diminished in size and his shoulder length auburn hair was still flecked with pieces of orange carbohydrate from his job at the Cheezit cracker factory. “So, Neff,” he sneered in the inimitable Creosote way that so drove the women mad, “I see your taste in videocassettes has not improved.” I laughed in a manner that I hoped sounded courageous. “Not improved nothing Creosote. I was just considering purchasing this copy of Yankee Doodle Dandy, winner of three Academy Awards and item number 100 on the American Film Institute’s ‘100 Years…100 Movies’ ranking list.” He appeared dumbstruck but quickly recovered, putting on a contemptuous face. “And is your stomach still as weak as it used to be?” he asked, referring to the many shameful defeats I had suffered at his hands at the drinking table. “No,” I said, speaking boastfully. “Now my stomach is lined with iron unlike yours which is lined with cotton candy.” Once again he appeared flabbergasted but quickly spat out a retort. “Oh? Then perhaps we should test both your taste in videos and your digestional abilities with…a video-watching contest on the popular internet video site ‘You Tube’?”
“But what will be the prize,” I mused, “for the winner of such a contest?” “Ah,” he spoke, noticing a weathered old photograph that had portentously just fallen from my wallet. “Perhaps we have found a candidate. I wager your prized collector’s edition 1992 World Series commemorative Coca-Cola bottles—still sealed of course.” My insides curdled with horror at the thought of such a loss but I kept my expression placid. “I accept.” We retired to the computer lab of the library and began the contest. Creosote came out of the gates hard with a video of a man devouring a live alpaca. I swallowed my surprise and came back with montage of close-ups from the canned-peach eating contests held annually in a certain Madagascar leper colony. He kept his bewilderment admirably under control and showed me a clip of two children writing swear words on their sleeping father’s buttocks with green sharpie markers. I wiped away my forehead sweat and debuted the video of a Cheezit factory burning to the ground. Creosote’s face drained of color but he parried with a well-directed piece on Japanese bukkake/waterslide fetishes.
This continued for some time until finally Creosote cut his hand violently through the air. “Enough. I know the video that will defeat you and possibly hypnotize you into a kind of slavish devotion from which you may not ever escape. Watch.” Trembling, I turned to the video to which he referred.*
It was by a strange band out of England with a name that referred to heart trouble, I think they were the Heart Attacks. They were dressed in curiously shabby dun-colored jackets with shoulder boards and ill-fitting ties and appeared to have pasty, badly-applied makeup smeared all over their grotesque faces. They immediately began pounding and hammering away at their ludicrous instruments and frolicking before the camera like a gang of excited mental patients. The bespectacled, vaguely psychotic guitar player who so ranted and stuttered in his fey English accent was clearly the tyrant of the gang. He subdued the terrified, queasy drummer with several well placed kicks to the back and later applied a sloppy kiss to the saxophone player who may or may not have been his personal sex slave. The bass player looked deeply, deeply angry and the keyboard player seemed heavily sedated. The xylophone player was most definitely suffering from cretinism. This guitar-playing bully kept them all on a close leash and it was frightening to see the fear in their eyes.
Their music was a strange, complex, kinetic mixture of horns, organs, xylophone and overwrought lyrical ragings. The time signatures changed willy nilly and the song’s sections differed wildly. My head began to spin and I heard Creosote chuckle with glee. “Some call it pronk!” he giggled. “A mixture of prog—and PUNK!” I could not believe my ears. Indeed, a passing wag was heard to remark, “Why, that band looks like a whacked-out mixture of Gentle Giant, Gong, Monty Python, Devo, nursery rhymes and circus music, and/or late seventies hi-energy punk rock!!” I marveled at this penetrating stylistic observation.
It was fast and furious, melodic and atonal, fey and overwrought—totally pleasing/grating post-punk Anglo-psych spew! I didn’t know whether to scream with annoyance or die with pleasure. As the video ended I felt all my confidence leave me and I sagged like a deflated weather balloon. He had won, that bastard! Creosote’s triumphant yells quickly got us ejected from the library and I reluctantly drove him to my home where he guzzled down my prized collector’s edition coca-cola, choking on the flat, stale taste of the 15-year-old high fructose corn syrup. My pillow felt the rain of my 98 tears that night.
But one good thing came out of it—I soon became addicted to the Heart Attacks, just as Creosote had foreseen. I investigated further and discovered they had existed since 1977 and were from Surrey, UK. Their music ranged from more organ-driven proggy melodica to louder, guitar-heavy garage-, *ahem*, "pronk" today. They had released a fairly large number of albums, very few of which were available save from their own website (i.e. the Alphabet Business Concern). But who knows, maybe their out-of print albums could be available for download on the internet somewhere...............
Sadly, I don’t think they plan on coming to Arizona anytime soon, so now I must begin the arduous task of collecting glass bottles to save up for my UK plane tickets. And so I begin….with a certain set of coca cola bottles…that I have once loved…
*Here is the link for the video referred to above. Unfortunately I could not embed it here as saboteurs have somehow disabled this feature. At the time of this writing it had been viewed 25,700 times (at least 27 of them mine). With luck this number will soon reach the millions and we will have the mass psychotic freakout that we have prayed for so long and hard. YOUTUBE - The Cardiacs / Tarred and Feathered
From their 1984 album 'The Seaside':
From their 1996 album 'Sing to God Pt. 1':
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