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"Lost" Album of the Week: Goldberg's 'Misty Flats'

On January 13, 2016



Each week, we dig in the crates to tell you about a "lost" or classic album we think you should hear. This week's covers Goldberg's 1974 album, Misty Flats. 

This one here was the needle in the haystack, but only after the haystack was dumped in Lake Superior, and then the lake was frozen solid over the course of a brutal Midwestern winter. This was a tough record to find, and the path to its discovery led first through a Minneapolis noise maker named Michael Yonkers. His story, too, isn’t one to be glossed over.

Growing to become something of legend in the Minneapolis rock scene, Yonkers garnered credibility among local musicians by building his own guitars and effects pedals, or oddly modifying gear that was already at his disposal. There was the time when he glued together a Fender Jaguar and a Fender Telecaster to form a freakish double-guitar, or in 1967 when he sawed another Telecaster into a plank shape and wrapped it in duct tape. In an excellent 2002 feature by the Minneapolis City Pages, Steve Longman, a local studio engineer, recalls the first time he saw Yonkers take that very guitar out of its case: "The body was sawed off, and it was silvery, and there were a couple of large knobs on it, and - I swear this is true - some kind of antenna thing sticking out of it. Kind of spronging around, like a prop from a 1950s science-fiction movie. Then he plugged it in and we went for the first take. It was wah-wah-ing even before I knew what a wah-wah [pedal] was! And I started laughing, it was such a shock!" With this odd collection of gear he crafted wondrously strange records influenced by pioneering rock weirdos like Pere Ubu, Link Wray, and the Stooges. Their influence is undeniable on such distorted ramblings as you find on his artful departures into psychedelia, and Yonkers’ influence is likewise undeniable on the age of punk to come in his wake. Most interesting is his seven-song album ‘Microminiature Love,’ recorded in the fall of 1968 but unreleased and lost to the ages until being unearthed by De Stijl in 2003, and reissued by Sub Pop in 2011. According to De Stijl, the entire album was recorded in just one session, in just one hour: “Yonkers recalls: “We just set up in the studio like it was a live show, no vocal or drum booths…. (Engineer) Steve Longman had to put a rubber mat under my speaker because it kept ‘walking’ away from the microphone (since) it was vibrating so much. With the exception of a couple of false starts, we just played the songs in the order we played them live, and used the first take on all of them.”These records play like psychedelic basement tapes writhing with raw energy, each effort trippy, violent, and unpredictable. Yonkers’ discography is loaded to say the least, with years and years of in-house experimentation yielding an impressive catalog dotted by moments of shrill brilliance. Those original 1974 bedridden albums, like Grimwood and Goodby Sunball, now sell for collectible sums between $50-100, although they’ve each been reissued by various small labels, most notably Sub Pop and Drag City.

And then there’s the Goldberg connection, which started when they were still teenagers, but really got good while Yonkers was holding down a steady job at an electronics warehouse. A freak accident there resulted in his being laid-up with several broken vertebrae. Unfortunate as it was, the hefty settlement he received allowed him to record and fund the release of the aforementioned albums. But aside from those solo ventures, Yonkers also recorded, produced, and pressed a new album by his friend Barry Thomas Goldberg.

Now widely hailed as a privately pressed “loner-folk gem,” Goldberg’s ‘Misty Flats’ album received the deluxe reissue treatment this past summer thanks to Light in the Attic. Just 23-years-old at the time of its recording, Goldberg’s band “The Batch” had just broken up, and he was unsure of where he wanted to go musically. His grand vision was to make the world’s first punk-rock album (remember, this was still only 1974), but Yonkers stuck to his guns and encouraged Golberg to keep it all to a mono, acoustic minimum. Recorded rapid-fire over the course of two long nights in Yonkers’ home studio, with only as many production tricks as a two-track Ampex tape machine would allow, they captured a magnificent piece of history, ever-lasting in timeless beauty. It’s done not in the delicate, finger-picked style of Nick Drake’s ‘Pink Moon.’ But rather, sweetly strummed ballads with impeccable melodies, supplemented by the softest bits of vocal harmony or atmospheric instrumentation. Songs like ‘Golden Sun’ or ‘Never Came to Stay’ are cursed by an infinite wanderlust. Each and every track, though, plays like a focused piece to the grand scope of the album, soaked in a dream-like nostalgia that stems from Goldberg’s childhood growing up with a single-mother who worked various odd-jobs to put food on the table, mostly waitressing at restaurants or casinos. This left a young Goldberg with lots of alone time, spent unsupervised often sitting in the dark movie theaters of Minneapolis taking in the big screen for all its revelry. Imagine each song as a hazy projection from the mind of an aimless Midwesterner, enraptured by the skyward dreams and limitless possibilities of American cinema. It’s merely 60 seconds into the opening track ‘Hollywood’ when he confesses: “Lately I’ve been weird, drinking lots of beer, smoking joints in public toilets without fear…” He claims that movies were his “babysitter and surrogate father.” The nomadic childhood wasn’t all bad, though. In 1955, when his mother was working at a cocktail bar in Las Vegas, young Goldberg took in performances by Sammy Davis Jr., Dean Martin, Frank Sinatra, and even once nervously stumbling into one of Jerry Lee Lewis’ practice sessions.

Some argue that if Goldberg’s songs had been fully fleshed out with a band as intended, he might’ve found himself on a plane of fame with Neil Young & Crazy Horse, but instead the “horseless” release found the ears of almost no one. The album’s 500 copies were doomed from the start, receiving neither press, radio airplay, or distribution, overshadowed by their producer and financier’s simultaneous release of four solo albums all at once. Everything seemed to be hashed together as some wild idea by Yonkers, released on a whim simply because the money was there, without much planning or care. And perhaps the final seal of indiscoverability came later that year when a different Barry Goldberg released a self-titled album on Atco Records that happened to be produced by Bob Dylan. This professional low-blow proved insurpassable for Goldberg’s homegrown Minneapolis acoustic venture, and resulted in its 41-year silence. As for the original pressing of ‘Misty Flats,’ there is currently one copy, still sealed, listed on Discogs for $200.

The record closes with Goldberg softly repeating: “Never stop dreaming. That’s the end of that.” But maybe it’s best to close with the very poem in which Goldberg drew his album title from, John Oxenham’s ‘The Misty Flats’: “To every man there opens a way. The high soul climbs the high way, and the low soul gropes the low. But in between on the misty flats, the rest drift to and fro.

Stream the full album below, or get it on vinyl from Light in the Attic.


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