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Bongwater

Bongwater

Bongwater was an oftentimes trippy college rock band formed by Ann Magnuson and Mark Kramer (boss of the Shimmy Disc record label) in 1985 and dissolved in 1992. Earlier recordings consisted of psychedelic-era cover songs, sound collages and original songs in an abrasive and/or abstract, dense and sludgy experimental style, which approach evolved into a more normal poppy, sexy approach which still retained an experimental edge as well as retaining the surreal and wicked, often self-deprecating wit which had distinguished the group’s earlier releases. Bongwater had three major college radio hits, “The Power of Pussy”, “Obscene and Pornographic Art” and “Folk Song”, and several chart successes until personality clashes split up the duo.

As much a performance art troupe as a band, Bongwater was the brainchild of guitarist (Mark) Kramer — chief of the Shimmy-Disc label and a former member of Shockabilly — and actress Ann Magnuson, best known to mainstream audiences for her role in the ABC sitcom Anything But Love as well as the feature film Making Mr. Right. Kramer and Magnuson first met at her downtown New York nightspot Club 57, where he engineered the sound for her performances with the all-female percussion group Pulsalamma; after forming Bongwater in 1985, the duo enlisted avant-garde guitarist Fred Frith to record their 1987 EP debut Breaking No New Ground, a crazed neo-psychedelic set typified by Magnuson’s surreal narratives, often inspired by her dreams about major celebrities and fellow downtown NYC denizens.

After garnering a reputation for their anarchic live sets, Bongwater re-entered Kramer’s Noise New York studios with ex-Phantom Tollbooth guitarist Dave Rick and former Shockabilly drummer David Licht to record 1988’s sprawling two-LP opus Double Bummer, a wildly experimental collection peppered by bizarro-world covers of Gary Glitter’s “Rock and Roll, Pt. 2” and Led Zeppelin’s “Dazed and Confused” (retitled “Dazed and Chinese” and sung in Mandarin) as well as media satires like “Decadent Iranian Country Club” and “David Bowie Wants Ideas.” The follow-up, Too Much Sleep — a collection of lo-fi recordings mottled with dialogue fragments, sampled answering machine messages and television soundbites — appeared in 1989.

With 1991’s The Power of Pussy, Bongwater parodied sex in all its forms; a European tour with rhythm guitarist Dogbowl in tow followed, but Kramer and Magnuson’s complex relationship soon began to unravel, and after one final record, 1992’s The Big Sell-Out, the duo parted both personally and professionally. The dissolution of the partnership was acrimonious, and resulted in a protracted legal battle which ultimately resulted in Shimmy-Disc’s bankruptcy; Magnuson, meanwhile, mounted a solo career, issuing The Luv Show on Geffen in 1995.

~ Jason Ankeny, All Music Guide

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