twilight nuclear void:
 xex lost and found

xex was the most mysterious band ever to come from South River, NJ.  Now their sole LP, 1980's group: xex, is considered a pioneering work of minimal synth-pop.  Mike Appelstein tracked down band member Waw Pierogi, who explains how it all happened.

South River is a small borough in Middlesex County, central New Jersey.  It lies along the Raritan River between Sayreville (childhood home of Jon Bon Jovi and Sebastian Bach, and Hair Metal Central even now) and East Brunswick (home of the Brunswick Square Mall and many housing developments).  New Brunswick and Rutgers University are a few miles up Route 18.  If you're feeling ambitious, you can hop on a NJ Transit bus or train and be in New York City in less than an hour.

There has never been anything urbane, hip or cosmopolitan about South River.  It is an old working-class suburb with lots of bars and small homes.  Many of the street signs appear as stenciled white concrete stakes instead of modern-day green overhead jobs.  It's no affluent enclave, nor is it particularly poor or downtrodden.  It just is, like so many other New Jersey bedroom communities.

South River was never known for its progressive music scene.  In the early 1980s, it was a heavy metal town, with local bar the Union Jack hosting Raven, Anthrax and Metallica.  You would certainly never have expected South River to produce a cult synth-pop album embraced by aesthetes from New Brunswick to Europe.  But that's exactly what happened in 1980, when a trio of South River High School misfits with funny names (Waw Pierogi, Thumbalina Gugielmo and Alex Zander) teamed up with some friends from Rutgers, and released an ultra-obscure album now considered a seminal work.  The band was called xex.  The album: group: xex.

Performed entirely on then-state-of-the-art Arps, synths and electronic drums - no guitars anywhere in earshot - group: xex aims for the future, but comes across now like a time capsule from the deepest, darkest Reagan years.  Each song burrows its way into your head with repetitive, undeniably catchy synth lines and vocal chants.  "SNGA" ("Soviet Nerve Gas Attack"), "Cops" and "Delta Five" are doomy evocations of Cold War tension not far removed from very early Devo.  But they were also capable of being quirky and whimsical.  On "Fashion Hurts," "Svetlana" and "St. Vitus Dance" (the latter a series of bad Catholic jokes), Waw and Thumbalina come across like a primitive B-52s, replacing the dance/party vibe with resignation and cynical humor.  Granted, there is a song called "Party," but it's hardly a must-attend: its blase chorus recounts "only parties/just Tupperware parties."

group: xex doesn't sound like it's from South River.  It barely sounds like it's from Earth.  However, there's a certain residual murkiness that subliminally evokes the Central Jersey working-class burbs.  Certainly a track like "Holland Tunnel" could have only been made by subculture-minded Jersey kids.  The Holland Tunnel connects New Jersey with lower Manhattan, traditionally home to the borough's hippest bars, clubs and neighborhoods.  It represents an escape, however temporary, from strip-mall suburbia.  xex must have begun and ended many an evening driving through the tunnel, and "Holland Tunnel"'s honking electronics sound like car horns echoing off the white walls.

group: xex was xex's only missive to the world.  The band hung around for a few more years, recording one entire second album (provisionally titled xex:change) and at least a few tracks for a third.  However, only one track was ever released: "Listen To His Heartbeat" appeared on a compilation entitled The Pulse of New York.  xex played its final shows in 1985, and then vanished into the ether like "Delta Five"'s post-apocalyptic void.

david anderson, alex zander, thumbalina gugielmo,
waw pierogi and jon-boy diode

group: xex was all but forgotten until 1998, when Tom Smith of To Live & Shave in LA discovered it in the WFMU music library.  Smith flipped for it, tracked down the band members, and planned a release on his nascent Flemish Masters label.  The timing could not have been better, as vintage copies of group: xex began selling on eBay for $100 and up.  Delays ensued, but the group: xex reissue CD finally appeared in 2004 on the Florida label Smack Shire, complete with six bonus demo tracks.  The album is now considered a seminal work of minimal synth-pop.

This whole story has a personal resonance for me.  I grew up in Monroe Township, NJ in a housing development called Mill Lake Manor.  It was just a few miles down the road from South River.  By 1981, I had become aware of the local music scene.  I saw a review of group: xex in the Newark Star-Ledger (the same review from in the CD artwork).  I was intrigued by the fact that they were so local, and wrote a letter to their PO box.  I began receiving hand-painted postcards advertising local gigs.  They were the first band I wrote to that actually wrote back.  It was a nice personal touch, even though there was no way my parents were going to take me to the Melody Bar or Court Tavern for these shows.

However, I got to see two of their final performances - both in the spring of 1985, at the end of my first year at Livingston College.  One was a dance marathon in the College Avenue gym (same place I saw Devo years earlier, my first-ever concert), and the other was an opening spot for The Cucumbers at a local new wave club called Patrix.  I have vague but fond memories of both shows - I remember that the band members lined up side by side across the stage, and I do remember how catchy the songs were, particularly "It's You" and "Vietnam Vet."

I never managed to score a copy of group: xex while it was still affordable, so I was happy to find out about the CD reissue.  group: xex did not disappoint: it was everything I hoped it would be, and is certainly one of the albums I've listened to the most in the past year.

Once I bought the CD, I entered a mad frenzy to find the band members - any of them - and ask them some questions.  It wasn't easy.  I will say that ASCAP's and BMI's websites are excellent resources for tracking down pseudonymous songwriters.  I tracked down a name in South River that matched one of the members' surnames, so I sent off a letter.  No response.  I kept persevering, found someone with a similar name in the San Francisco area, and mailed off a second letter.  This time I got an email response.  I had tracked down Waw Pierogi.

A fellow Livingston alumnus, Waw's family still lives in South River.  He gets fan mail there every so often.  He'd received both of my letters, and was interested in talking.  We exchanged a few emails; he volunteered an incredible amount of information.  After his last missive in May, he vanished again.  I informed him that I'd be printing excerpts from the emails as an interview, and that is what follows.

-Mike Appelstein, August 2005

1)  synthesizers over south river

Alex and I met at Boy Scout camp in 1968 when we were both 12.  Although we went to school together from first grade in South River, we did not become close until we were paired up as swimming buddies.  I regaled the troop around the nightly campfire with my "ghost stories" -recounting the highlights of my father's mental breakdown over the previous month, which occurred after he lost his job as a Tastykake salesman for extorting a week's wholesale payments from his customers and betting the money on a dark horse at Freehold to pay off a huge debt to loan sharks, who had already overturned the delivery truck with him in it. None of my fellow scouts believed my stories - as they all saw my dad in his Doctor Jeckyl mode - but Alex confided in me that his father had a Mister Hyde side just like mine.

Al's family had a history of famous insanity.  He was named after his uncle, who murdered his wife and mother-in-law before committing suicide a few months before he was born.  (Whenever Al told an old-timer in South River his full name they always responded with a dumbstruck look of horror on their face.) One of his cousins infamously was remanded to the Trenton Hospital for the Criminally Insane several years ago after he killed and dismembered his girlfriend.  Al was very ashamed of his family's skeletons in the closet and wondered how I could cheerfully open the door to my family's for my friends' entertainment.

Similarly, when Alex and I came out to each other when we were 18, had no shame whereas he was affected by internalized homophobia into early adulthood.  I thanked my parents last year for realizing years before my first awareness of human sexuality that their son was hopelessly "different" and foregoing any "correction," instead of trying to force a baseball mitt onto my limp wrists.  All through our school years, classmates didn't dare make any wisecracks about us, thinking we were obviously lovers (which we weren't, but that explained my lack of romance until my college years).  Luckily, I accidentally grew up without shame - a rare occurrence for a small town very Catholic boy.  For years, I thought if I wasn't gay and I was Catholic that I must be an alien who was left behind during an interplanetary restroom stop or purposely in order to observe human behavior, and I looked into the sky at night hoping for my rescue.  Then, like most high school kids in the early 1970s, I discovered that drugs were a great way to escape grim reality and create one's own.

Alex and I were joined during our high school years by Thumbalina, who as a resident of Spotswood started attending South River schools in ninth grade.  Al and Thumba were the core of our artistic subtribe.  I survived my high school years by my scholarship, a very odd quality in a blue collar town noted mainly for its football team and intelligence highly suspect.  My mother was called to the high school principal's office in my junior year to inform her that I already knew more than any of my teachers.  I was aware of that since seventh grade, and made several teachers who offended my sensibility by making up statistics in my geography classes complete nervous wrecks by letting the whole class know that as well, for their entertainment. (A productive form of adolescent rebellion that no teacher had the balls to discipline me for, as it would require them to admit their inferiority to a 12 year old student.)  I had my cake and ate it too, while my less bright fellow juvenile delinquents were suspended or assigned detention.

We were defiantly freethinkers who later were seen as unintentionally avant-garde, progressing from wearing pajamas instead of shirts, and flip-flops instead of sandals, and not technically breaking the South River High School dress wearing only a suit jacket and tie to a formal school dinner (the chaperone sent a classmate over to report that I was wearing a bathing suit underneath prior to coming over to greet me) shopping at Consolata Missions for "dead people's clothes" adopting an all-black wardrobe before it became a New Wave fashion and now-perpetual tenet for hip urbanites.  I blacked out designer labels on my clothes with a Sharpie.  Our parents all thought we were a bad influence of their children, although we discarded any idea we developed as soon as we saw any degree of its acceptance or nascent popularity.  But it was easier to be different in the days before tattoo parlors and body part piercing menus became commonplace in suburban malls, admittedly.  It was all a big joke to us, although we regularly said "Don't make me laugh...hah." (This later was one of our song titles, with "Part II" replacing the "hah" during our punk James Brown phase, circa 1980.  Marty Scott of Jem Records told us to "stop trying to pretend to be black" after seeing us at the Golden Spike on Easton Avenue in New Brunswick.)

I was very excited by electronic music when I first heard the early popular hits using synthesizers during my high school years - "Frankenstein" by Edgar Winter, "Fly Like an Eagle," and especially "Autobahn" by Kraftwerk - and the jazz rock of Herbie Hancock and Jan Hammer-era Mahavishnu Orchestra.  I became a big fan of Urszula Dudziak, the wife of Polish electric violinist Michal Urbaniak, who performed a type of scat singing through a battery of sound effects devices.  Other musical forms using synthesizers at the time left me unaffected - I was very disappointed in the composition of Charles Wuorinen (now on the faculty of Rutgers' Mason Gross School of the Arts, but then at Princeton) "Time's Enconium" which won a Pulitzer in Music.  And most "progressive rock" completely bored me.  My nonconformist nature was attracted to synthesizer as the antithesis of the guitar-based dominant paradigm.

2)  the livingston college experimental years

While at Rutgers, I discovered that the music department at Livingston College had a large Arp 2500 synthesizer.  I was an ecology major at Rutgers College, and Livingston was the "hippie school," so the "serious music" Soho beatniks and jive-talking jazz musicians who were the music faculty at Livingston required a year of composition and theory to dissuade any dilettante from casual access.  I spent a year being the only non-music major in my class and spent the next two years as the star pupil of Daniel Goode, the music composition professor in residence, who was grooming as his protege in hopes of me joining the Downtown music counterestablishment in New York.

I spent my hours in the Soundlab constructing synthesizer patches integrated with the Multivox Echo unit I purchased as my first musical instrument. (I later discovered Brian Eno was engaging in similar musical experiments with processing equipment he described as "treatments.").  I soon realized the ability to produce sounds completely unlike Urzsula Dudziak's that had the same effect on me, causing what I described to polite listeners as "chills running down my spine" and to my more earthy friends as "the apparently direct stimulation of the brain using sound to produce a tickling that was equivalent to a non-sexual form of masturbation." 

During the heady and pseudo-intellectual college students are known to engage in under certain circumstances that usually veer toward pondering such unanswerables as "What was the state of the Universe just before the Big Bang?" or "What is the Universe expanding into?" we had previously had discussed expansion of multimedia performance, which mainly had been limited to two senses - sight and sound - to engage all five senses, integrating all disciplines of the arts in compositions.  Alex had a concept for the Ultimate Nightclub, which he called the Pleasure Dome (a pre-Frankie Goes To Hollywood allusion to the mythic palace of Kublai Khan in Xanadu a la Aldous Huxley's books Brave New World and Island) where the clientele imbibed in the consciousness-altering substance of their choice as audiovisual entertainments enveloped them (similar to recent VJ/DJ club collaborations).

I composed a first attempt at such a synthesis with "Asparagus: A Horticultural Ballet" incorporating a musical composition structurally based on the growth and branching patterns of the asparagus plant, with the compositional structure exposition synchronously with the projection of an animated or time-lapse film of the process of a representative plant's growth, and introducing arrays of rotating hanging baskets of asparagus ferns (to dispel the reception of the piece as serious art with a lowbrow kitsch reference to the rotating disco mirror balls and fern bars of the 1970s) and pirouetting ballet dancers in green headpieces shaped like asparagus spears, reaching the coda: attendants serving platters of freshly cooked asparagus, their movement through the performance space causing its aroma to spread to the multi-sentient performance attendees (who are not limited to being "spectators" or "the audience.")

Several compositions incorporated ideas from my courses in the sciences, such as natural selection (using the four DNA bases as musical tones for a group of musicians to use as the base of a self-composed musical structure based on the natural selection of the fitness of mutations, in which the mistakes made by the individual performers would be incorporated into an evolving melody, subject to the audience acceptance that the "mistake" improved the music) and relativity (a composition to be performed by the carillons of several churches spaced miles apart played in time to a metronomic baseline broadcast over the radio to the instrumentalists, producing a different sequence of the musical tones produced by the various carillons to be perceived by all listeners, based on their locations in relation to the carillons.  My ecology advisor asked me why I did not change my major to music; I told him everyone needed a day job before their first big hit.  My music professor became increasingly befuddled with my ideas but said they would generate large interest in my acceptance by grant-funding committees.

After offering constructive criticism and moral support for each other's individual artistic endeavors, Alex asked me to compose soundtracks for two short films he created for an Animation course - "Sequence" and "Sunshower" - which were our first collaborative efforts together.    We shared credit for the two film projects calling them "An Integral Art Performance."   I performed several semi-improvised compositions at the opening of Alex' senior exhibition for his bachelors degree in art/psychology at Livingston College in May 1978, which he titled "Punk Art."  At this first performance since elementary school, I created my first "nom de music" calling myself Sung Myung Baczeski.  I varied the musical moods during the evening based on my perceptions of the audience's reaction to Alex' work (which later we put to use in xex to blend elements of performance art into live rock music.)

I produced a collection of my solo experiments and proto-compositions, which I called "Miniatures" and later "Sampler" (an allusion to the confectionary Whitman's Sampler) and tried to interest several European music labels in the summer of 1979.  Sky Records met with me and found my instrumental pieces beautiful but were not in the financial position to support its commercial release.  And the A&R representative of RCA in London accepted my request for an appointment, during which he explained, "I loved your music, but unfortunately it is 20 years ahead of its time."

3)  xex begins

To my professor's dismay, I started dabbling in setting the poetry of several friends to music.  When punk rock created a window of opportunity for nurturing creativity, Alex convinced me to start a band with our friend Thumba singing my music with lyrics he had been writing for some time (and subsequently came to comprise many of the tracks of group:xex). My music professor was heartbroken when I formed what became xex in September 1979 and turned my back on the possibility of a serious career in music composition, albeit subsidized by grants and teaching positions in academia, in my wildest dreams of success

I started working on methods to reproduce the songs Alex, Thumba and I were developing for live performance.  I quickly saw the drawbacks of reproducing music on multiple analog instruments that detuned within minutes, sequencers that required painstaking calibration, and low-fidelity sound systems.  But our fans at Rutgers clamored for a live xex show, the first of which was in the Livingston Soundlab to an audience of 30 at best.  It was well-received despite my complete dissatisfaction with all technical aspects of the performance.  I realized more personnel were needed to adequately reproduce our music, but was apprehensive that with each new person, the personality clashes would multiply.

xex performs "st. vitus dance" at livingston college,
rutgers university, april 1980

Although we were very close, I recognized friction already between my role as bandleader of a group that required the complete consensus of my friends who were all exhibiting symptoms of Rock Star Ego Fever.  Tension mounted too often for my liking between me and Alex, as well as with Thumba, but I realized that to terminate the artistic relationship would also create a serious personal rift with the people I cared most for.  Being total amateurs, we pressed on, as our musical ideas matured into songs that even impressed my harshest critics.  My parents actually started to compliment our music after years of arguments regarding the music courses I took as electives at Rutgers, and I started to see that my friends' naivete deformed my very esoteric musical ideas in a manner very akin to the adaptation of theory into practice at a research and development laboratory.

In spite of my mixed feelings, I lobbied strongly on behalf of adding David Anderson.  He was my boyfriend a year before I formed the band, and had nagged me repeatedly for the first several months I worked with Al and Thumba (he could play piano more proficiently than any of us). Adding David unfortunately caused a very nasty rivalry for my attention, which manifested itself with episodes of increasing ferocity over the next year, despite his positive contributions to group:xex.  The ego monsters that both Dave and Al turned into rivaled the id monster portrayal in Forbidden Planet.

JonBoy seamlessly ingratiated himself as our fifth member, as my composition classmate, to become our first fan, then to volunteer his duties as our sound engineer, and finally with self-effacing and very non-ego-driven contributions to our musical ideas (while diplomatically deferring from making his first idea for a song until after our first album was released, despite my repeated encouragement).

Our first performance as a quintet was in early 1980 in the Lucy Stone Hall auditorium, collaborating with a 1960s-era hippie who created a psychedelic light show that produced rave reviews in the local papers.  This only increased the urgency for a breakthrough before my graduation in May 1980 (and our resulting loss of access to the Livingston Soundlab and its precious Arp 2500.)

4)  a quick detour through monroe township

Did you know that in our press kit for our album we said we were from Electric City?  Thumbalina grew up in Spotswood, and my family looked at the model homes at that failed subdivision, located on Spotswood-Englishtown Road in Monroe Township, back in the earlier 1960s before we moved from Perth Amboy to South River.  I forgot what the area was called, but Mill Lake Manor was the development that was built after Electric City tanked.  There is still a block of Sputnik Moderne Levittown-style homes just off Englishtown Road that were the model homes built before your parents' faux colonial.  (ed. note: I looked for a link for Electric City but, not surprisingly, found nothing.  I wish Electric City's developers had succeeded.  It is a much cooler subdivision name than Mill Lake Manor.)

5)  behind the pathmark: making group: xex

We spent spring and summer 1879 largely consumed by crafting group:xex.  Although we started to discuss producing a seven-inch single, JonBoy lobbied for a full album, based on the potential for a complete return on our investment should we sell a full printing of 1000 albums, whereas a single was a guaranteed money loser.  We were nearly-starving artists for whom $2,000 was a daunting amount of money to gamble.  We committed to a release of the album by the 1980 Xmas shopping season.

waw: "i wanna wear black."
thumbalina: "it's my favorite color!"

I constructed a home studio in my bedroom, adding a TEAC 3340 four-track reel-to-reel recorder, and then the Korg MS-20 and sequencer that became the major sound source for the album.  Dave bought a semi-functional Farfisa organ (heard only as the circus calliope throughout, and the blaring horns at the end of the demo version of "Saint Vitus Dance" - after which it consumed itself in its own funeral pyre by short-circuiting).  JonBoy spent months soldering together a gargantuan PAIA modular synthesizer from a kit (heard as the ominous white noise underlaying "SNGA," the chewy horn that plays the theme from the Spiderman cartoon show on "Fashion Hurts," the faux toy piano on "Kitty," and the manic jazzy bleeps and bloops of "Don't Blame Me").  Al bought several Syndrum and Synare percussion synthesizers (almost never employed as drums, they provide the simulated Bamberger's public address klaxon on "Fashion Hurts," the screaming bomb and ground blast that ends "SNGA," the assortment of unique spooky sounds he created in real time during a single tape pass that end each verse of "You Think" and also provide the closest thing to a xex solo: the sequence of one creepy sound after another near the end of "Cops," the woops and screeching sounds of "Delta 5," and the Doppler effect of a passing European police car's siren).  I laid down most the basic percussion and bass lines for the album at home on my Korg with some Arp 2500 (the demo version of "You Think" is mainly a single patch incorporating a short analog sequence of an arpeggio that I manually transpose on the keyboard as the output is processed realtime through the heavily-reverbed Multivox set at a long delay approximately-timed to synch with the sequencer clock, but that goes out of synch over the course of the several minutes I managed to keep the system from collapsing, to create a syncopated and very lush sound) and Arp Solina String tracks (the eerie strings on "SNGA" and the mournful horns of "Delta 5") done at the Soundlab.

We gained two days of access to the eight-track studio at Rutgers Newark, where we transferred the basic tracks from my four-track and some preliminary sound reproduction, before having to actually start paying for studio time at a semi-professional setting.  We spent 16 hours, at $25 per hour, at Ziggy Rodberg's studio in the basement rec room of his parents' tract home several blocks behind the Pathmark on Route 1 in Edison.  We spent the next two Saturdays finishing the music and vocals on group:xex.  Ziggy's Prophet 5 was used for "Holland Tunnel's" syncopated trumpet and twinkly melody counterpoint, and the melting horn accents on "Party".  Ziggy quickly adapted to our aesthetic.  He was the only recording engineer that I ever worked with that shared our appreciation of excess to the brink of self-parody: the gradual disintegration of the voice in "You Think," the Andrews Sisters-on-Mars of "Don't Blame Me," Alex' voice of paranoia in "Cops," our barbershop quartet in "Kitty," the mournful sad echoing of the voices on "Delta 5," and Thumba's screams after each call of "Brigate Rosa," which were described as "teeth-hurting" in one review.  She had a sore throat at the end of the song's final take to match.

We took the master tape to have a master copy of the pressing mold at Frankford Wayne in Manhattan.  Tracy Val on Cranbury Road in South Brunswick pressed a first run of 1,000 copies.  We homemade the album sleeves after buying blank white jackets from a cardboard manufacturer on Long Island and gluing the artwork, created by Alex with black spray paint over our individual photos and hand-applied Letraset lettering.  We then used 3M aerosol adhesive to apply the sleeves to the jackets (as a group in my mother's office after hours, getting very giddy from the aerosol propellant).  We received the first run in early December 1980, and I delivered consignments ranging from 10 to 400 copies to record stores in North Jersey and Manhattan.  I was recognized on the subway as I carted a two-wheeled laundry cart holding 200 copies on my way to 99 Records on MacDougal Street; Ed Bahlman was our biggest distributor.

The run completely sold out by xexmas. We were a minor sensation with my professor's fellow composers in Soho, several of which introduced themselves to us during a run of performances in late 1980-early 1981.  In January, 99 and Important Records both called, wanting a total of 600 more copies.  We delivered these in April, by which time David had left the band and moved to California.  His individual credits for "Kitty" and "Holland Tunnel" were a condition for his agreement to allow the album to be released without interference from his attorney, which he demanded just as the finished product was ready for the first pressing...enough said on the subject.  We received fan mail from all over the world through late 1981, and occasionally I still receive them delivered to my parents' address in South River.

6)  the post-waw years

The songs you heard in 1985, with the possible exception of "Vietnam Vet," were composed and arranged in late 1983 and mid-1984, when xex consisted of Al, Thumbalina, Cookie Ruggerio and me.  Cookie made her non-musical debut walking a stuffed cat around the stage while we played "Kitty" in 1981 at the Rutgers Student Center opening for SVT.  She got such a response from the audience we decided to have her join, as we had lost David Anderson and JonBoy Diode to long distance romances in California and Oklahoma, respectively.  Cookie was a friend of Thumba's since childhood.  She graduated a year after us, attended many art classes together with Alex during their years at Livingston College.  Later she received a masters in art history at Columbia and had a career in old document restoration- she's worked at the Getty Museum, the Historic Books Collection at USC,  and now the Huntington Hartford Museum Library in Pasadena.

The four of us restarted the group in the living room of the apartment Al and I shared above his parents' house on Main Street in South River, playing my Korg MS-20 and twin Roland SH-101's (played by Thumba and Cookie in handheld-configuration - most likely when you saw the band play) over bass and percussion patterns programmed into a slaved Roland Microcomposer/Drumatix (the standard hiphop sound featured by Afrika Bambaataa - from Trenton! - in his hit "Planet Rock").

The version of the band you saw in 1985 did not include me.  I moved to San Francisco in March 1985 and Al, Thumba and our engineer Dave Jones tried to gig with the tapes I recorded for the songs.  The shows did not recreate the sound we were getting the previous year, and sounded way too derivative of the sound of the Cult circa Sanctuary for my taste.  I never wanted our sound to resemble any other band's nor any music we recorded previously for that matter.  I pretty much despaired of ever achieving a live recreation of our music by the time I left for San Francisco, but made several attempts at recording "Christina's World," "Losing at Love," and "Saturday Night Never Comes" with several engineers in San Francisco studios who didn't quite rise to the level of compatibility we had previously with Dave and Ziggy Rodberg.  I still think of trying to rework some of our tracks, but also am always working on new stuff - not enough hours in the day.

7)  why we're talking now

The album was uncovered in the archive of WFMU in 1998 by Tom Smith, who was then a partner with Nandor Devai, in what he described as a new boutique label devoted to "lost masterpieces" from punk rock and new wave called Flemish Masters.  He introduced himself by asking "Your music was 20 years ahead of its time...did you know back then you were a genius?"  Van Gogh probably knew he was, too.

Tom told me that group:xex was highly sought by both trance music and electroclash composers as source material for the analog sounds I made on the Arp 2500 and the MS-20, neither of which is still in production, and the digital virtual versions available are very poor imitations.  Mark Mothersbaugh became a big fan of ours, after he heard a digital audiotape I had burned for the reissue.

I attempted to also obtain a digital master of the mixed analog master tape for our second album, xex:change, which Al, Thumba and I produced with Ziggy during the summer of 1981 but never released.  The tape had deteriorated over the past 20 years.

I heard from Tom Smith last week and we talked for at least an hour. He told me a pirate version of group:xex had become very popular in Germany, so he released the material I sent him in November without my knowledge, as he had lost my address.  We had an informal agreement that he would reissue the first album, and I did not expect much to come of it, except to satisfy the rare fan, who apparently is more common than I knew, and who revere me as an avant garde genius.  Tom said they now want to pay for the remix of xex:change if Ziggy still has the 8-track and it hasn't deteriorated from age: a random occurrence with metal oxide tapes, apparently.  Tom said a European tour at this time could be very lucrative.  If it pays the bills and gets JonBoy, Thumba and me a European vacation, I'd be happy.

Alex died in September 2003 from a heart attack while visiting his sister in Cherry Hill.

I was entertained by some of the stuff written about us (on the web) - most either musing about the enigma of music they found without any point of reference to musical genre either in 1980 or since, or clearly reflecting whatever personal impressions a listener wanted to hear either in our sound or from our lyrics, which was exactly our intent.  The thought of a PhD thesis deconstructing our lyrics must have Alex "turning in his funerary urn" with asthmatic laughter.

All photos from group: xex reissue artwork.  Visit to purchase a copy.

There is a cheerfully fabricated version of the xex story here.

Note:  I know I got carried away with the hyperlinks.  Was it really necessary to link to the Edison, NJ Pathmark supermarket?  Will even Edison residents care?  Probably not, but I began to feel homesick.

More writing and other projects by Mike Appelstein here.  Blog here.  Email me here.