Perfect Sound Forever


Bomb's first two (and best) albums: To Elvis In Hell and Hits of Acid
Plus, how Bomb got kicked off of Warner Brothers
By Michael W. Dean of Bomb
(December 2023)

The first two albums are the best two Bomb albums. Later, when we got Doug Hilsinger as a three piece, then after that we had Jay Crawford back and were a four piece, but those weren't as magic as the two first albums. I think that, and most people who are hardcore fans of the band think that too.

To Elvis in Hell title and art was Tony's idea. Jay and I liked it though and thought it was funny. It didn't work against us. Rock critic Greil Marcus put a pic of the cover in his book Dead Elvis: A Chronicle of a Cultural Obsession.

It was fun too. We actually visited Graceland on tour wearing shirts of that album art. Some people asked us, "So do you like Elvis or not"? We said "We love him, we think he's the king of hell." That confused them, but as long as we loved him, that's fine at Graceland.

I don't care much for Elvis. Tony loves old rock and roll, plus Motown, Muscle Shoals, but also cheesy stuff from the same era, and what I could only call "oldies" music, like what used to be the only radio station you could get in a long drive between, say, Los Angeles and Las Vegas, somewhere in the middle.

I assume Tony liked Elvis ironically, but I know he also listened to that kind of music from a genuine appreciation of it when no one was around.

I was more into punk rock, and Bahuaus, and Pink Floyd. I actually appreciated Elvis for the first time in about 2021 when I listened closely to his song "Suspicious Minds"- it's great. Though a lot of the greatness of it is the playing and the writing and Elvis didn't write it or play the main guitar on it. I like that Donna Jean Godchaux sings backup, I like it better than her work with the Grateful Dead. I saw the Dead nine times in the '80's (after she was gone). The real Dead with Jerry, not the museum show touring now.

Oh, the record label for To Elvis in Hell is sometimes listed as Boogadigga Records, and sometimes as World Records. It was Boogadigga Records, our own one-off label. Boogadigga is an onomatopoeia describing Tony's trademark tribal tom-tom rolling style. Tony invented that sound before Bomb when he'd try to play double bass but could only afford a single bass drum. "Necessity is the mother of invention." The reason it's sometimes listed as World Records...that was the name of the vinyl pressing company in Canada where we had the records pressed. It was cheaper back then for American bands to get records pressed in Canada, so a lot of bands did it. The presser told us that by law, they had to add "Made in Canada" on the back cover. We knew this from talking to other bands, and said "fine."

But World Records did a couple sleazy things. One was they added their name on the back of the record, in fairly big print, in a way that made it look like World Records was the label. They also understated to us how much it would cost to ship the records, and the records were held for several days at SFO airport. I had to borrow 500 dollars from my dad to get our records. It was the only money I had borrowed from him since leaving home at 19, and I never borrowed money from him again. We paid him back out of our Warner Brothers signing years later, though Tony didn't want to pay my dad back.

Richard Carse did a lot of Bomb art before he was killed by police in Jacksonville, Florida (a town only otherwise notable as the home of Lynyrd Skynyrd). Richard's death inspired the title of my later Bomb song, "All My References Are Dead" because I'd used him as a reference before when job hunting, since he was the only responsible adult I knew in San Francisco.

Richard was a good guy, a complex man, had his demons, and was the only really close friend I knew Tony to have, including Jay and I who knew Tony well but were not close. Tony didn't really like me or Jay, and was pretty cruel to me, emotionally and occasionally physically. But he and Richard were very close.

Some people thought Richard was influenced by Pettibon, but he was not. And Richard didn't really like hardcore punk. He considered it kind of boneheaded. Richard liked The Birthday Party and the Bad Seeds, but I never heard him listen to, or mention, Black Flag.

People thought Richard was influenced by Pettibon because that was another band that had an in-house artist that drove the vibe of the band through doing most of the album covers and fliers. Though Pettibon did it all himself. Richard drew what Tony conceptualized and told Richard to draw. Richard had little to no input.

Photo of Richard Carse

Richard was a normal looking guy, a little older than us, wore a suit to work, working as a graphic artist for various corporations. He was the only person we knew at the time who worked in an office. He was kind of intellectual. He once described Bomb as 'Bathetic,' as existing in Bathos. I had to look it up. Dictionary said "In art, a sweeping jump from the sublime down to the gutter, and back up." I could not disagree with that.

To Elvis in Hell album songs in detail:

(Download MP3s of To Elvis in Hell)

TRACK 1: "Madness"

"Madness" was the first song we wrote as a group.

Well, second. First song Bomb wrote was called "Liver, Legs and Libya." Tony called it "Lift Her Legs and Lie About It," which is pretty funny. Not sure there's even a cassette recording. No one has ever heard it outside of us, and that's a good thing. Was a throwaway dumb punk rock, just learning to play and write together. Lyrics were a tongue-in-cheek response to the U.S. bombing of Libya that same week. It wasn't a protest song, it wasn't a political song. Was jokey, but if anything, dark humor about how nation states can kill whoever they want. They'd kill a million in every city for you.

Though we did not name "Bomb" after that. Jay wanted to call the band "Mom," told us, and he had a stuffy nose (allergies? flu? speed? who knows?) and we misheard and thought he said "Bomb," and said "That's great!"

"Madness" came together really quickly, in Jay's garage at 1334 Jesse Street in San Fran. I lived in that garage for about a year. My rent was 50 dollars a month to Jay. Good price for Frisko real estate. Next door in the garage that shared a wall was a family, girl named Tonya lived there with her mother and brother. She's the Tonya of our song "GiGi." She's an adult now, has kids of her own, and recently contacted Jay and I on Facebook to say hi. She still plays the song for people and is proud it has a section of the song about her. Tony wrote the part about her, the part that Jay sings. I wrote the high part that I sing ("uttering shuddering madness won't change the day...").

1334 Jesse Street garage (circled in red) on Google Earth 2022. Still looks exactly the same as it did in 1985: Where I've drawn the red X over on the left is where Beau Brashares took this promo photo below of us.

L to R is Tony, Jay, and Me (Tony wrote "Homo Fun" with Magic Marker on my chest)

"Madness" started with Jay playing that guitar arpeggio that begins the song. I started playing the muted bass line. It's really not the "right" bass most people would play for that, but that was a key in Bomb, shoving disparate parts together.

"Madness" by Bomb has the classic intense "loud / soft" thing that was later made famous with Nirvana. Not sure if they got it from us- they say from the Pixies, but Bomb started about 6 months before the Pixies and a year before Nirvana. Kurt, Krist, and Dave from Nirvana are all huge Bomb fans, so who knows. Krist talks about this here in this interview I did with him some years back:

Before Bomb recorded To Elvis..., we recorded a demo tape of 5 of the songs, dubbed about 100 cassettes of it and sold them. We mailed a couple dozen to radio stations, including to ones in Seattle, Portland, Olympia, before our first tour, just the Pacific Northwest coastal towns. That tour was 3 of us plus a roadie plus our gear in a station wagon. So it's possible members of Nirvana heard us before they started, or before they recorded.

Bomb started in 1986 and ended in 1993.
Nirvana started in 1987 and ended in 1994.

I love Nirvana but never saw them live. I had many chances but I was working at a bar, the Covered Wagon, so was burnt out on seeing bands. They played there a few times and I could have seen them free but didn't bother. I never intentionally listened to them until Nevermind came out, and then I was listening more to their Bleach album at that time. Though I love Nevermind now. In some ways it's the perfect rock album.

We didn't invent the loud/soft thing. Pink Floyd does it and so does classical. One of the most famous classical pieces, Beethoven's Symphony Number 5, 1st movement, does it in the first few seconds.

Basically, my love of the loud/soft thing goes back to being 5 or 6 years old and playing the baby grand piano we had in our living room. I remember I was very into the 5th white key from the bottom. I couldn't play piano yet but I would thump on that one note, playing very loud, then very soft, then silence, in different combinations.

Jay and I wrote the music for "Madness." When I say I "wrote the music," I mean in the standard music publishing sense of who wrote the chords and melody. Beat is not usually included in that unless it's very integral to the song, and in this song, while the drumming is solid, it's pedestrian. Unlike say "Vagrant Vampires," where the beat starts the song and we wrote the music around the drum beat.

I wrote most of the lyrics for "Madness," Jay wrote a little on this. It's not about any particular woman, just crazy spooky and spookily witchy women I'd dated in general.

Never said this before but "Blast a hole into the Garden of Eden" refers to abortion. A gal I'd gotten pregnant in Virginia right before I moved to San Francisco had an abortion. I paid, we had to drive 100 miles round trip. My ex-girlfriend at the time drove.

I've tried really hard to not get girls pregnant and had a vasectomy in 1996. I had one kid (who died of leukemia at age 24 in 2006). I've gotten 2 other women pregnant, one was an abortion, one was a miscarriage.

Isn't a miscarriage God/fate blasting a hole into the Garden of Eden?

I'm agnostic by the way. Only thing that makes sense. Still had a lot of religious upbringing, Tony and I both did, that's why there's so many religious references in Bomb lyrics. Jay was raised hippie so didn't have that guilt to deal with like me, and especially Tony, did.

The ending of this song is a conscious deconstruction (on my part, without saying it) of the classic "Vegas Ending" (think "Freebird" by Skynyrd) where you play the chords long and intense, drummer hitting all the cymbals hard, then end with hitting the root note all together and loud. But it's a Vegas Ending falling apart.

"Ana" is just a placeholder name, stands in for 4 or 5 women who I dated who lived in/drove me to madness. But a few years later, after a Bomb show, a woman named Ana went home with me and fucked me partially because of the song.


Bomb did NOT jam. We weren't a jam band. Jay (and later Doug) would improvise some live on guitar solos or textures (more textures, Bomb didn't have many proper "guitar solos"). But sometimes we wrote while playing together in the same room. Later, it was more someone bringing in a complete song, or part of a song, or a song that was done but needed more lyrics, or lyrics that needed a song. Overall, in the band I wrote about two-thirds of the lyrics and Tony wrote about one-third of the lyrics. Jay and Doug do like to jam, and left to their own devices would jam all night.

But Tony and I usually looked at aimless jamming as a waste of time that could be spent working on songs, or practicing the set. Bomb, from very early on, practiced making the set work as a piece. Starting at our first gig, we went one song right into the next, with no messing around. Didn't usually even talk to the audience. Though sometimes Jay would, being the consummate entertainer he is, and Tony would give him dirty looks.

Newspaper listing for Bomb's first show, July 4th 1986 opening for Flipper and Tex & the Horseheads, at The Farm,
a large club in San Francisco that was located on an actual urban farm with goats and chickens;

Some talking on stage was kind of OK but Tony and I REALLY disliked anything patronizing like "It's great to be here Pittsburg!" unless we were in Toledo, then that's funny.

Nick Cave and Bahuaus didn't talk to the audience much, so why should Bomb? Hell, I don't think the Beatles even talked to the audience much, once they had records out and before they stopped touring.

By the way, I think the only bands everyone in Bomb liked were Bahuaus, Joy Division, and Led Zeppelin. Jay and I love the Beatles. I'm listening to "Strawberry Fields" as I write this.

TRACK 2. "To Elvis In Hell

Jay wrote the music on this- he just started playing it, it poured out of Jay. That's how he is. It is kind of glammy, in the sense of a glam guitarist who can play and write a lot more than power chords. Less Mick Mars/Noddy Holder and more Mick Ronson.

Tony wrote the lyrics and sang. I think this is the only Bomb song where I'm "just the bass player." It's also the last song we let Tony sing lead on. Tony cannot sing, at all, and he does not pretend that he can. But his yodeling kind of worked on this song, for what it is. We rarely played it live, and when we did, Jay would sing it.

One time, we stayed at some bartender's place after a show. Jay slept with her, Tony and I had to listen while trying to sleep. It was a one-room apartment. Jay had given her a copy of this album. In the morning, I woke to see Tony doing his usual silent chain smoking and brooding, but he'd decided to entertain himself by taking his black fingernail polish and drawing an invisible line across one side of her copy of To Elvis in Hell so the vinyl wouldn't play. He was about to do the other side. I was a little amused and a little disgusted. I said "At least leave ONE song playable." Tony looked at the track list, drew a line of nail polish up to this one song he sang, skipped it, and continued to the center groove on the other side of this song.

See Part 2 of the Michael Dean article

Also see an interview with Jay Crawford of Bomb

And an interview with Michael W. Dean of Bomb

Check out the rest of PERFECT SOUND FOREVER