Today is rare and special. It's a sort of double-whammy day for the Twisted Teenage Plot, the Washington artists' band.
Two of the chief Plotters -- bassist Kevin MacDonald and drummer Michael Clark -- are also among the "American Masters" in the immodestly titled exhibition of that name that opens here this morning (let us hope in silence) at the Corcoran Gallery of Art.
And that's just the beginning. For the Plot's close friends and avid fans (who are often the same people), the rest is yet to come.
Tonight at d.c. space, at 11 p.m. or thereabouts, the Plot, in its full fivery, will reappear, this time live and loud.
The Corcoran's exhibition catalogue compares -- it really does -- the Michael Clark on view to a work by Leonardo. The music that he helps produce is harder to describe.
Part San Franciscan, part Tibetan, entirely unstructured and mostly made up on the spot, it pounds and drones and mystifies, and keeps on keeping on. Joe White, who writes the songs and sings, calls it "psychedelic expressionist moire-pattern music." Singer Judith Watkins says "we're not for the squeamish; we're relentless." Guitarist Robin Rose, who plays an aqua Stratocaster, calls it "deep time music" or "tone-and-texture rock."
"If you had to choose," says Clark, "between Chinese opera -- gyuuuung, gyuuung, gong! -- and the music that we play, you'd probably pick the Plot."
"We're different from other bands," says White. "We get our ideas off paintings. We take an abstract expressionist stance."
All five of the Plotters make their living with the brush. Four -- MacDonald, Rose and Clark, each aged 41, and White, who's 49 -- are painters. They're on almost everybody's list of the best artists in town. Watkins, 28, works on pictures, too, but on other people's pictures. She's a conservator.
One or another of the Plot painters has exhibited at the Jefferson Place, Harry Lunn, Jane Haslem, Middendorf, Henri, Osuna, Baumgartner, Fendrick, David Adamson and other local galleries. They have pictures in the permanent collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the National Gallery, the Philadelphia, the Whitney, etc.
Joe White says, "You can hate our music, but you gotta love our re'sume's."
Painters are soloists. They do their stuff alone. Most rock musicians rock together. When the Plotters get up on stage, each wanders his own way.
"We go for exciting mistakes, about one every millisecond," says Rose. "We'd like to make up our songs as we go along," says White, "but Judith is the only one who can do it, and only when she sings in French."
One of her songs is called "Oo La La."
The Plot has made one record, a most rare 45, circa 1984. The Plot's record is rarer than the Plot's T-shirts (which display portraits done by Clark); the shirts have been spotted in Venice and Hong Kong. The record hasn't sold a lot, but then it didn't cost a lot, either. The Plotters traded pictures (and in Watkins' case, a dinner date) for recording studio time.
On the A side is "Oil in the Soil." It goes:
Oil in the soil
Oil in the ground
Oil in the soil
Stir the mud around.
Dacron shields and aluminum tubes
(Oil's all around)
Twice the speed of sound
Astranoids and paranoids
(Stir the mud around)
The song on the B side is called "Elephants Stomping on My Head." It goes, Do-Re-Me Sa-Far-i, boom, boom. Watkins says, "It's a Republican Party song."
Some of the Plot's songs are topical, "Acid Rain," for instance. The one about the new suicide prevention barriers on the Duke Ellington Bridge is called "Don't Blame the Bridge." The only one that Clark sings is called "Ginko Man." It's a sort of a self-portrait.
Watkins has written a number for the band's sometime manager, David Pickford, a former Treasury Department aide. It's called "I Want to Be Bad, Real Bad." "Pickford once tried to get us a gig at the 9:30 club," says Watkins, "but he failed."
About the only topic Twisted Teenage Plot almost never sings about, but talks about incessantly, is the history of art.
The band is named after a headline in the San Francisco Chronicle. Its music has varied roots.
Rose, a Floridian ("my great-aunt got scalped there"), began by listening to Hank Williams. Clark started painting and drumming in 1958. He says, "I paint and then I go and beat on the drums; it's all the same thing."
White began to play in San Francisco in the far-off beatnik days. "A friend of mine came back West from New York talking of saxophones and jazz and Larry Rivers. First he bought orange juice and bagels. Then we all bought instruments. Then I made myself a sitar."
White has just returned to Washington from China, and his music has about it an Oriental something. That may be because his Stratocaster has been customized. He pulled out its frets with a pair of pliers and filled in the gaps with plastic wood. "Microtonal," he explains.
White sings: I live down by the end of an alley/ My door is by a garbage pile/ There is no phone at the end of my line/ My number at the swim club is S-303-A. It's all true.
Lots of Washington artists would drop into his Northwest studio (it's in an alley filled with garbage), hang around and jam. That's how the band began. Charlie Sleichter, Mike McCall, Steve Ludlum, Robert Goldstein and Jay Burch are among the artists here who've tried their hand at Plotting.
Watkins, when she fixes costly paintings, is, of course, meticulous; Clark is something of a pointillist; Rose paints clean abstractions, mostly in encaustic; White is fond of landscapes, MacDonald of interiors. All of them, when painting, are fastidious, precise.
That's not the way they play.
Rose -- who says he's had more amplifiers than girlfriends -- used to perform with Washington's Urban Verbs. He says, "When the Verbs broke up I decided to play with a band that could never become a commodity. That's the great thing about the Plot. You can stand up there and realize that nothing you play is wrong."