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Kongress / Blog

The Chronic Ill-Logical His Story of Kongress by Otto von Ruggins

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The Chronic Ill-Logical His Story of Kongress by Otto von Ruggins

One night I had a dream that John Denver had hung himself. The next day I saw his picture in the NY Daily News with a caption “Happiness and then Sorrow,” detailing how he had been at some charity event and received word that his father had died of a heart attack. Another time, I had just missed a train and was so annoyed that I was tempted to walk through the tunnel to the express station two stops away. I mentally listed the logic against this as a) the third rail and where would I go if a train came, b) the sludge built up on the track beds and c) the presence of rats. The first two reasons were enough to deter me and so I waited for the next local and got off two stops later at the express station. As I was waiting there, I was still thinking about how I had never seen any rats when suddenly, out of the corner of my eye, I spied some swirling objects down by the tracks. Indeed, what I saw was two rats darting about!

Around this time, I received a complimentary subscription to the Berkeley Barb. One issue had a review of Robert Anton Wilson’s classic on synchronicity and related fields, The Cosmic Trigger. I purchased the book and somewhere in the middle read about how Aliester Crowley had discovered that all the important words in the Greek Cabala had the numerical value of 93, hence Crowleyans to this day speak of their work as carrying the 93 current. My own Aleister Crowley connection was cosmically triggered and I proceeded to check page 93 of the books I was reading at the time, starting with The Cosmic Trigger, on which I discovered the term ‘cognitive dissonance.’ Wilson described this phenomenon as the complete reversal of one’s reality model. As an example, he cited two supposedly rational detectives in Pittsburgh who witnessed a dog bark and disappear into a puff of green smoke. I made note of this term as an appropriate description of the intended effect of my music. The next week, the Village Voice had an article about David Bowie’s first LP produced by synth wiz Brian Eno,‘Low,’ and the closing statement was ‘cognitive dissonance’ still lives!

The Chronic Ill-Logical His Story of Kongress by Otto von Ruggins

This was the summer of the Son of Sam and I had penned an account of the events to that point, titled “Sam Son.” When we got in the studio and the engineer heard the title of the song, he commented that he had a black labradour retriever by the same name. Ironically, a few weeks later, after David Berkowitz was captured, it came out in the papers that he claimed to be receiving orders from his neighbor’s dog, a black labradour retriever! I expressed the desire to take a picture of the dog sitting in Geof’s electric chair for the record cover, but not only was the tape never released, later I was informed that Sam Son had died, having been run over by a priest!

If this sounds eerie or strange, after awhile you’ll get used to this type of phenomena because this sort of stuff has continually been a part of my life. I tend to categorize these events as some kind of synchronicity, with occasional glimpses of precognition. At this point, I’ll try to give some examples of this, out of chronological sequence, as many times these occurrences have had nothing to do with musical events.

The Chronic Ill-Logical His Story of Kongress by Otto von Ruggins

One of the last nights at the Elgin, Rod Swenson was in the audience with Wendy O. Williams. This was pre-Plasmatics and, as we didn’t go on as scheduled, he was running back and forth to another club to see some other band, as well. Finally, we took the stage, Geof sporting a Mohican haircut and coordinating his pyrotechniques with road crew detonations, all no doubt registered in Rod Swenson’s memory banks for future reference. At a later performance by Von Lmo’s post Kongress Red Transister at Max’s, Rod was also seen observing Von’s chainsaw style, but it doesn’t matter who does it first, it’s who has the most eyes see it done first (or read about it being done first). Still, it was satisfying to hear Lenny Kaye’s description of our Elgin Theater period when I showed up for an audition for the Patti Smith Group, “It reminded me of Berlin during the war!” I didn’t realize Lenny Kaye was such an old soul.

After the Elgin, I wasn’t sure I wanted to continue dealing with the disappointments of the live performance end of the music business. It was time to document the madness, put out a record and stop running around till four in the morning for no pay and little glory. An instrumental acquaintance for later developments, Rick Rosenspire, arranged for some ‘free’ eight track recording studio time and on my 29th birthday (July 24th) we were in Studio 29 on 29th street.

The Chronic Ill-Logical His Story of Kongress by Otto von Ruggins

Security at the Elgin was a problem and at one point, Rone had his Fender Bandmaster amp stolen. Roger Euster, organizer of the shows, took responsibility and paid for a replacement. A few days later, after an on stage rehearsal, I left my amp head on stage thinking Geof was going to secure it in his room in the basement. By the next rehearsal, I discovered it missing, but this time there was no reimburement. It turned the whole Elgin episode sour and I even made some dramatic claims that if it wasn’t replaced, I was through with the music business. This wasn’t my first equipment casualty, as back in the late 60’s, I had my Vox organ stolen from a loft in the Canal Street area of NYC. On that occasion, however, the manager of the group, Norman Kasliner later invited me out to his parent’s house in New Jersey to retrieve compensation for my loss in the form of a Hammond M organ which allegedly belonged to Procol Harum. This was later confirmed when one night, after a live radio concert in A&R Recording Studios in NYC, I overheard vocalist/pianist Gary Brooker talking with some friends state, “Matthew’s lost his organ – he can’t remember where he left it!” And if that’s not enough evidence, there’s a label across the top – The Fish – which coincides with Matthew Fisher being a Pisces.

During one of the rehearsals in the Elgin basement, I got word that my sixteen year old roadie Joe (born 6/6/60), who hadn’t been seen for a month or so, had been found dead in upstate New York with rope burns around his neck (an ironic twist as Geoffrey would later find out). The bearer of these ill tidings was none other than E. Paul Schnug, who introduced Joe to Kongress, and that was the last time I saw him as well.

The Chronic Ill-Logical His Story of Kongress by Otto von Ruggins

As expected, we did not get the gig (we were too much of a spectacle for a grand opening to showcase a new club), but that Saturday, the front cover of the Daily News contained a black and white photo of the purple canopy of the Gilded Grape being removed by the traffic department because they did not have a permit. I’ve always wondered how this rated as a cover photo. Apparently, nothing else of importance was taking place in NYC, so it was with karmic delight that I accepted the front page synchronicity.

Soon after, in May of 1977, we found ourselves in the Elgin Theater on 8th Avenue at 19th street for a two week period during which we helped fill the theater with sound and smoke. Geoffrey took up residence in a room in the basement and Frank Stokes reappeared on bass. We also had a new guitarist, glamor boy Louis Rone who more than looked the part. He is hidden in the bottom corner of the group color cycled picture on my MySpace page (http://www.myspace.com/ottovr), as the main photo is from the Elgin’s back alley. In all the years I’d known him, Rone never sounded as good as he did for his brief soujorn with Kongress that spring of 1977. There was one night on stage when Geof, in a state of exuberance, pulled Rone by his long hair. Afterwards, Lou had talked about getting a baseball bat and going after Geoffrey!

The Chronic Ill-Logical His Story of Kongress by Otto von Ruggins

The next time out, at a midtown nightspot named Le Cocu, we played as Kongress, but the lineup was back to the Stokes brothers and Bobby Burns. Then we had an audition for the grand opening of a gay disco, Starship Discovery I, which was on 42nd street. I had contacted the reigning queen and shown him photos of Geoffrey from his pre-Kongress past. They were enough to secure a 7PM Thursday night showcase at the Gilded Grape at 8th Avenue & 46th street, run by the same crew. When Renate attempted to catch the show, she was denied entry (no unescorted females was the reason, I believe), but the place was packed with transvestites and other odd sights. The queen sat perched on his throne with his court jesters surrounding him and we set up to perform what amounted to a ballet in a bathroom sized space (the stage area was very small).

Geof had the cauldron flames fanned nicely, but about 10 minutes into the set, some Clarabel with his fire extinguisher seltzer bottle sprayed out the flames and bodies converged around my keyboards. Geoffrey had the club employee responsible by the throat and I didn’t think we were going to make it without a brawl. Somehow, Geoffrey got back by the microphone and announced to the crowd that if they wanted us to continue, we would, otherwise we were going to split. They roared their approval and we entranced them for another half hour with water tricks and glitter dust, propelled by some powerful musical accompaniment.

The Chronic Ill-Logical His Story of Kongress by Otto von Ruggins

The next time out, at a midtown nightspot named Le Cocu, we played as Kongress, but the lineup was back to the Stokes brothers and Bobby Burns. Then we had an audition for the grand opening of a gay disco, Starship Discovery I, which was on 42nd street. I had contacted the reigning queen and shown him photos of Geoffrey from his pre-Kongress past. They were enough to secure a 7PM Thursday night showcase at the Gilded Grape at 8th Avenue & 46th street, run by the same crew. When Renate attempted to catch the show, she was denied entry (no unescorted females was the reason, I believe), but the place was packed with transvestites and other odd sights. The queen sat perched on his throne with his court jesters surrounding him and we set up to perform what amounted to a ballet in a bathroom sized space (the stage area was very small).

Geof had the cauldron flames fanned nicely, but about 10 minutes into the set, some Clarabel with his fire extinguisher seltzer bottle sprayed out the flames and bodies converged around my keyboards. Geoffrey had the club employee responsible by the throat and I didn’t think we were going to make it without a brawl. Somehow, Geoffrey got back by the microphone and announced to the crowd that if they wanted us to continue, we would, otherwise we were going to split. They roared their approval and we entranced them for another half hour with water tricks and glitter dust, propelled by some powerful musical accompaniment.

The Chronic Ill-Logical His Story of Kongress by Otto von Ruggins

I walked off the highway and made my way to a phone booth, but along the way I encountered a pack of wild dogs by the booth. One of the dogs was chewing on a sneaker, probably from their previous victim. It’s strange how our fears are often realized in reality, as I was thinking about the previous week and how when I visited a prospective Kongress guitarist from an ad in the Village Voice, he introduced me to his pet Doberman stating ‘Make friends Ceasar’ – and the dog proceeded to take a bite out of my favorite velvet shirt and the arm underneath. So, it was as if some divine source was reading my mind’s worst fears and conjured up a pack of wild dogs for me. Anyway, when I finally was able to make the call, no one would come and get us and I returned to the vehicle not knowing how the night would end. Then, along came a samaritan, whose car smelled of herb, offering us a ride. He pushed my car off the road and we moved the equipment into this stranger’s car. He drove Von home and, thankfully, I made it home, as well. Thanks to the kind person for that ride, wherever you are.

The camp was getting divided into what would become the Shanghai Side Show (the Stokes brothers and Bobby Burns) and the musicians I chose to play with. Around this time, Frank Stokes was replaced on bass by Kip Kuba. While it was music to my ears, Geof had this thing about loyalty and wanting people who were into the ceremony to work with.

The next event was with Kip at Copperfield’s, a basement hole of short lived duration. Von Lmo still had his short leg cast on and the power was surging and throwing my synthesizer and Farfisa organ out of tune. Kip, in his excitement on stage, knocked over a brazier with incense, much to Geoffrey’s displeasure, but when Von Lmo couldn’t get the beat going, he tore down the back curtain and kicked over his drums, finishing the set in under 10 minutes. This widened the chasm between my Kongress troops and Geof and his road crew who were outraged at carrying all the gear for what amounted to a non-performance. If the bad blood between Geof and Von hadn’t started back in the studio with the lines from ‘Berlin Merlins’, it was certainly boiling now.

The Chronic Ill-Logical His Story of Kongress by Otto von Ruggins

Hilly was pretty upset, but I pressed him for his reasons, to which he asked me, “Why?” I responded that I wanted to know what made him tick. He stated the facts, “I don’t like your music and I don’t like your attitudes!” About a year or so later, Hilly welcomed the Plasmatics to CBGBs and they used flashpots and smoked the club worse than Kongress, but they were not barred because, apparently they attracted a larger crowd and made it worth his while. At the end of that Kongress December gig at CBGBs, John Holmstrom, Editor of Punk Magazine, walked in and heard what had happened. Eventually, the legend of that event surfaced in a paragraph of a future issue describing us as, “Kongress, the most dangerous band in the world…”

While CBGBs was off limits, Max’s was a welcome home for Kongress and we returned with yet another guitarist, a Frenchman named Jacques Limage, who was gone by the next show. I think this was the night a band called ‘Bitch’ opened for us. It was indeed a ‘bitch’ of a night, as even though we had actually made a decent profit (I got paid some $70), it had rained so heavy that night that after dropping Geoffrey off at 3AM, I then proceeded down a dark winding road to the highway to take Von Lmo home. I remember Von declaring, “It looks like we’re driving to the unexpected…” or something of the sort. Sure enough, at the bottom of the hill, at an underpass, we encountered several feet of unexpected water, which wet my ignition wires and as soon as we hit the highway, I lost power. There I was with Von, foot in cast and a carload of equipment.