Head Cheese ‘Terrorism’


01 Howth Castle (2:23)
02 Ballad Of Persay O’Earwig (2:29)
03 Irish Ballad (Funeral March) (5:03)

Total time 9:55
7” single released by Headcheese Inc., ca 1985-90

This very curious little yellow single by Head Cheese contains 3 avant-punk songs elaborating on Irish references and influences. The first track is named after James Joyce’s Finnegans Wake, which takes place in ‘Howth Castle and Environs’ (in Dublin) and involves a main character named Humphrey Chimpden Earwicker (both HCE). The song actually starts with James Joyce reading from the last chapter, the famous Anna Livia Plurabelle monologue. Here’s how it goes:

Well you know or kennet or haven’t I told you every telling has a taling and that’s the he and the she of it. Look. Look! The dust is growing. My branch is lofty taken root and my poor chair’s gone ashley. Felour. Feloo. It saon is late. Tis endless now since eye or eyewon last waterhouse’s clogh. I took it asunder I heard them say, when will they reassemble it? Oh, my back, my back! I want to go to Aix-lee Pains.

After the introduction, the song itself starts, a regular punk-rock anthem, though the use of high energy saxophone makes it a killer. The second song on the A side is a straight punk-rock number comparable to Trespassers W’s ‘Macht Kaputt’ e.p. or, for that matter, some The Ex. It ends with an excerpt from a William Burrough’s reading. The flip side is a different beast altogether. Actually an Irish traditional, the song is mostly instrumental after the intitial rendition of the lugubrious song. Instrumentation includes marimba, fifes, horns, mandolin, violin and maracas, for what finally sounds like a plausible Tom Waits number out of Rain Dogs. The song resurfaces at some point, amid a cornucopia of free saxophone blasts and various noises from all players. Totally intoxicating.

There was a Head Cheese band active in Philadelphia at the beginning of the 1980s, but I’m not even sure they are related to the present one. They released a single called ‘Jungle Jam’ in 1981 on their own, short-lived label: Burn Potential Records. The band included Susan Ottaviano, Ted Ottaviano and Jade Lee, among others, mostly students from Philadelphia College of Art. They apparently played the Mudd Club, New York during the 1980s. The band changed name to Book Of Love in 1985.


17 Responses to “Head Cheese ‘Terrorism’”

  1. 1 Dualtrack May 16, 2009 at 6:29 pm

    I have the “Jungle Jam” single … they’re an unrelated band, I think. I can dig it up and post it if you like but it’s really awful. The song “Teenage Idol” makes me cringe.

  2. 2 continuo May 16, 2009 at 7:29 pm

    Oh thank you so much for the info! I should ask you next time before posting any obscure US release. I guess if you say the ‘Jungle Jam’ single is bad, there’s no need to give it a second chance, especially if they’re not related to this Head Cheese. By the way, I would love to have your opinion on the present ‘Terrorism’ single. I find it terrific, personally.

  3. 3 Dualtrack May 18, 2009 at 3:54 am

    Listened to it and it sort of reminds me of the Fugs, if they were Irish instead of Jewish. I liked the chaotic element to it. I posted the other Head Cheese single over at my place if you want to check it out. It’s definitely a different band. I linked the post to your site… I’d heard the James Joyce spoken word track before but it was really nice to hear it again!

  4. 4 continuo May 18, 2009 at 5:46 am

    Nice idea to post the ‘other’ Head Cheese single.

  5. 5 Dualtrack May 18, 2009 at 6:29 pm

    Yeah, I figured “why not?” It gave me an excuse to promote your site…

  6. 6 continuo May 18, 2009 at 11:04 pm

    Thank you. Too bad I can’t manage to leave a comment on your blog – it seems to be “blogspot only” over there.

  7. 7 Dualtrack May 19, 2009 at 12:42 am

    Well, it’s Google only. I set up a Google Mail ID using a now-defunct free mail account a long time ago, and that’s what I use to log in with. If you set up a gmail account you can post…

    I changed it because one anonymous user kept posting insulting and moronic comments.

  8. 8 Jim Flannery May 20, 2009 at 4:34 am

    This guy’s YouTube page has three videos of a band called Head Cheese from Tucson around that time.

  9. 9 continuo May 20, 2009 at 5:10 am

    Uh… thanks for adding to the confusion, Jim. Hard to believe this is the same “Head cheese” as the one I posted, though.

  10. 10 Silent 3 May 29, 2009 at 9:35 pm

    Friend of mine who was active in the Philly music scene told me that the Philly band “Head Cheese” started as an inside joke. The band members were art school chums and “created” a band in theory. They put up arty posters advertising the band, but there was no band.

    Eventually, they got a “buzz” going and people reported that they had seen them and that they were pretty good. The “Band” members then decided to capitalize on their popularity and actually form a band.

    At least, that’s how I remember the story

  11. 11 continuo May 30, 2009 at 7:35 am

    I assume your comment is related to dualtrack’s post.
    “My” Head Chesse is from Tucson, AZ.

  12. 12 Melvin Beastly October 26, 2010 at 4:30 pm

    Howdy all –
    Matt Mairs here, the “M.M.” of the album’s credits. A few things:
    Thanks for pirating this. You keep this music alive long after it’s gone out of print, for all to enjoy. Myself included, I’m grateful to have a copy after all these years.
    You have documented Howth Castle and the Ballad of Persay in reverse. The ‘punk rock anthem’ is actually Head Cheese’s rendition of a piece of sheet music found in the _Wake_. The ‘straight punk-rock number’ is my setting of the opening line of the same volume.
    ‘The Irish Ballad’ is an unlicensed cover of a Tom Lehrer tune so we certainly don’t mind you calling it ‘traditional’ but if you ever want to hear the original, it’s out there.
    A little band history: the original Tucson Head Cheese is indeed the band rswelling shows on youtube. They hired me after that charismatic and creative singer left them to pursue a career in tattooing up Washington way. I proceeded to drag them down with my pedantic conservatory experiments. You happen to have discovered a slice from when I was trying to set ‘Finnegan’s Wake’ and just generally being as annoying as I knew how. Why they put up with me as long as they did is a question best left to them.
    But the question of the Philly Head Cheese is another matter entirely. They have nothing to do with us. While I have, coincidently, lived in Philly since then that has nothing to do with anything. I don’t believe they knew anything about us and we certainly didn’t know anything about them.
    Thanks for the blast from the past and thanks again for listening!

  13. 13 continuo October 26, 2010 at 6:18 pm

    Thanks for first hand information, Matt. It would be nice if you could clarify the release date as well.

  14. 14 Rutabaga the Mercenary Researcher October 23, 2013 at 2:31 pm

    Very bizzaro – this was my husband’s band. I can’t precisely remember the release date but it was probably around 1990/1991.

  15. 15 Rutabaga the Mercenary Researcher October 23, 2013 at 2:36 pm

    Oh and not the same band as Philly as Melvin Beastly states.

  16. 16 Richard Swelling October 23, 2013 at 5:43 pm

    To add to Matt’s reply. We were active 88-early 90’s in a Tucson AZ punk music scene that was pretty isolated (look up What Went Wrong, Slo Deluxe, Cortex Bomb, Haus, Blink Dogs, Feast Upon Cactus Thorns, Black Sun Ensemble for other interesting related bands). That record you have there is one of two we released during that era, I can send you the other one if you want (discovered a few in a suitcase recently) just email me. The sax skronking was provided by the The Old Doctor Bill Sack who is still quite active musically in Buffalo NY…creating amazing experimental music.

  17. 17 Reeners April 11, 2014 at 11:56 pm

    OMG Richard FUCT…I remember hanging out with them at a house party that got broken up by the choppers flying overhead. I think i gave the lead singer a lift somewhere.,,,? My co worker PHil who was from Tucson would sing me the Head Cheese song that started out wake up in dah mornin and me bones be ache ..in, pack me a bowl o me finest jay may can….

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