Friday, 18 September 2015

Jefferson, I Think We're Lost

I’ve been reading about – and listening to a lot of – R.E.M recently; reacquainting myself with one of the finest bands this world has ever seen. It doesn’t really matter if you like them or not, but take my word for it: even if you never got on with their records they were – quite simply – one of the best live acts I’ve ever been fortunate enough to see. I cannot count the number of times I saw that band live, from a pub in London (when they used the pseudonym Bingo Hand Job) to a TV studio in Paris: from a rugby stadium in Wales to the Hammersmith Odeon and a Victorian theatre in Dublin. When R.E.M played live it was a magical, cathartic experience. And I miss them. Although in my humble opinion they should have called it quits a few years before they did, and Around the Sun High Speed Train aside) is bollocks.

Anyway…to the point.

Issued in 1988 on his own Dog Gone Records label, the five track 12” EP Come On In Here If You Want To may be credited to Vibrating Egg but is actually a vanity project from former R.E.M manager Jefferson Holt.

Holt, who was with the band from its earliest days, was dismissed as manager of the world’s biggest act in 1996 – around the same time that they signed with Warners for what was one of the largest deals in recording history at the time: reportedly $80 million for five albums. Both camps have resolutely refused to talk about why he went – in fact the terms of the financial package means that they cannot legally discuss why he was booted out after 15 years’ service, but according to the Los Angeles Times (June 1996)  ‘Holt was asked to leave after members of the group investigated allegations that he sexually harassed a female employee at [their] tiny Athens, Ga., office.

The 42-year-old manager officially left the R.E.M. organization last week after receiving a hefty severance package, sources said. In a phone interview, Holt denied he had ever sexually harassed anyone and said that the decision to part ways with R.E.M. was mutual.

"I've agreed to keep the terms of my agreement with R.E.M. confidential," Holt said. "However, 15 years is a long time, and as time passed, our friendships have changed. I think we found as time passed that we have less and less in common. I've become more interested in other things in life and wanted to spend more time pursuing those interests. I'm happier than I have been in a long time."

Representatives for R.E.M. refused to comment, but released a statement Thursday that said the band and Holt terminated their relationship by mutual agreement. According to the statement, "the reasons for this decision and terms of the termination are private and confidential, and no further discussion of these matters will be made by any of the parties."

Band members were "shocked" when a female employee complained four months ago about Holt's alleged behaviour, one source said. The employee did not file a lawsuit nor register a claim with the Equal Opportunity Employment Commission, but complained to the band that Holt had harassed her with lewd remarks and demanded sexual favours, sources said.

Band members questioned Holt and then spent about three months investigating the allegations, sources said. In May, the band called a meeting and asked Holt to leave the organization, sources said.’ This same story has been repeated in other media, including the New York Times, but Peter Buck, R.E.M’s guitarist, strongly denied that anyone connected with R.E.M had planted the sexual harassment story. Whatever happened, Holt was quickly erased from R.E.M history. Two songs mention him – Little America and Can’t Get There From Here – however whenever they performed Little America live after his departure they changed the lyrics to avoid referencing him.
Reviewed by Trouser Press in 1988, Ira Robbins had this to say about Come On In Here If You Want To: ‘A 12-inch of five cool covers by an unknown band on an indie label would normally rate little notice, but Georgia's Vibrating Egg has more than just the good sense to dedicate its record to Leonard Cohen and Viv Stanshall. Raoul Duplott, the unsteady vocalist on these amiable renditions of Procol Harum's A Whiter Shade of Pale, Roky Erickson's Bermuda, an old spiritual and two of Alice Cooper's finest, is none other than Jefferson Holt, then-manager of R.E.M. and founder of the Dog Gone label, surrounded by a host of pseudonymous players. (Hmm...) Good fun, but Holt had best keep his day job.’  

‘Amiable renditions’? A Whiter Shade of Pale is eight and a half minutes of torture, with Holt’s pointless, artless prose followed by Keith Reid’s equally pointless and tortuous lyrics. Bermuda later turned up on the same Roky Erickson tribute album (Where the Pyramid Meets the Eye) that featured R.E.M’s version of I Walked With a Zombie. The two Alice Cooper covers - Be My Lover and Under My Wheels – even with their rewritten lyrics are plain awful. As far as I am aware, the only member of R.E.M who plays (and adds backing vocals) on the disc is bassist Mike Mills. Holt used the pseudonym Raoul Duplott for the project; Mills appears as William B Carr.

Long out of print, here are all five tracks from Come On In Here If You Want To – the aforementioned A Whiter Shade of Pale, Bermuda, Be My Lover and Under My Wheels, plus Particularly Zeke, a spiritual previously covered by Elvis Presley as Swing Down Sweet Chariot on his gospel album His Hand In Mine.


1 comment:

  1. The dog barking at the end of "Under My Wheels" is bizarre.


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