In 1999, four years after their previous album, Mr. Bungle released California. My friend George and I were/are slavering fanatics of Mr. Bungle. That shirt that says “There’s a tractor in my balls again”? I had that. I wore it so often I destroyed it, even after it survived a GWAR show in 1997.

This is the same one I had. The big B on the back was once stuck to my skin with GWAR semen and blood. Who amongst you would admit to such a thing?

This is the same one I had. The big B on the back was once stuck to my skin with GWAR semen and blood. Who amongst you would admit to such a thing?

So let’s just say we were very excited about Bungle’s third album. The band’s website teased this excitement, with minute-long samples of each track on California. This was 1999. I was using my first PC, the one I got from Gateway, which came with a set of Boston Acoustic speakers that I now use with my Xbox 360. Good, long-lasting speakers, my point here would be. 

I took a deep breath and started the first sample file; the opening minute of “Sweet Charity”. Yes, yes, good, good. Tight production, typically impressive vocals from Patton. Then the heartbreak of a fadeout just as the chorus kicks in. Oh well. Lucky to get a taste. Can’t wait to hear the whole track.

Another deep breath; on to the next minute. “None Of Them Knew They Were Robots” unleashes a barrage of Bunglian brilliance right off the bat, leaving George and I grinning at each other after the cutoff. Oh my god. This album… would be utterly beyond anything I could even fathom. I spitballed the idea of taking a week off from work when California dropped, to minimize tissue damage. You ever been lucky enough to experience something like this? I hope so.

3 is a very powerful number, I don’t have to tell you that. You’ve probably noticed that the 3rd of anything has a special resonance. The 3rd track on a record album is no exception.

The third cut on California is called “Retrovertigo”. This time, they didn’t fade out at the one minute mark. They uploaded the entire thing.

I vividly remember bracing for the song to cut off prematurely, head down, the skin on my arms alive with gooseflesh just at the sheer power of it. We didn’t know the lyrics yet, but we made out what we could, and it stuck in our heads like amber on the first listen. At the song’s end, I looked up, and both of us were completely slackjawed. It was the cosmic shudder of a piece of art that pulls you by the wrists into a whole new universe.

We didn’t move on to the next preview. We played “Retrovertigo” again. This is probably apocryphal, but I want to say we repeated it until my modem crapped out. I don’t even recall what exactly a modem was. A goblin, maybe. Does that sound right?

Because Mr. Bungle is, technically, one of the Greatest Of All Time, they allowed users to download and print out a lyric sheet for California, since including lyrics with a major label release costs extra to license (this is why so few albums had the lyrics, for the most part). I still have mine; it was one of the first things I printed out with my new computer in 1999, and I fancied myself quite the hoody-do. That’s how I know the correct lyrics to “Retrovertigo”, by freaking heart, and I know exactly how close to home they hit.

Before you advertise
All the fame is implied
With no fortune unseen
Sell the rights
To your blight
Time machine

While I’m dulled by excess
And a cynic at best
My art imitates crime
Paid for by
The allies
So invest

Now I’m finding truth is a ruin
Nauseous end that nobody is pursuing
Staring into glassy eyes
There’s a vintage thirst returning
But I’m sheltered by my channel-surfing
Every famine virtual

Tribute to false memories
With conviction;
Cheap imitation
Is it fashion or disease?
Remains of mouths to feed

Sell the rights
To your plight
And you’ll eat

Now I’m finding truth is a ruin
Nauseous end that nobody is pursuing
Staring into glassy eyes

See the vintage robot wearied
Then awakened by revision theories
Every famine virtual


On a good day I have about a one-in-ten shot of making it all the way through that without getting misty. On a good day. That is everything I’ve ever wanted to say in a song, better than I could have ever said it. That is the anthem of what I do here with BIUL. There are private feelings I’ve never spoken a word of to anyone that are summed up in those verses as though by a knowing yet judgmental god. These words you’re reading? This is the best I can put it. That is my theme song.

“Retrovertigo”- a state of dizziness induced by looking backward. Spinning in reverse. The nauseating sense that everyone is willfully separating from one another. The abuse of nostalgia by corporate entities. And in this fog, this tangible malaise, this betrayal of everything we know to be right, our every need is still met. At the touch of a screen.

Every famine virtual.



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Filed under Bad Influences, Faint Signals, Nostalgic Obsessions, Thousand Listen Club