It was this group of musicians that made it possible to create the driving yet subtly complex music that drew John Cale and Sandy Pearlman to Readymades.
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It’s not surprising that in the fall of 1977, Jonathan Postal, professional photographer, former bass player in the Avengers and San Francisco Art Institute graduate, helped form a new wave rock band that he and his band mates named Readymades. Beginning in 1913, the French artist Marcel Duchamp used the term “readymades” to describe existing objects that he selected, modified and presented as art, which included a bicycle wheel mounted on a painted wood stool, a clothes iron to which he had attached tacks and a men’s urinal signed and dated “R. Mutt 1917.” Readymades was the perfect name for a band fronted by artist Postal, who wrote or co-wrote most of the group’s songs, was their lead singer and oversaw the band’s aesthetics.
“We chose the name Readymades because we are using something that has already existed,” Jonathan told me during a 1978 interview. “Musically and culturally, we can’t come up with something totally new, because the notes have already been written, all the words have been used. All you can do is come up with different juxtapositions. We’re using stuff that’s already there. Therefore it’s ‘readymade’.”
In 1977, two months after Jonathan left the Avengers, a girl he was dating put him in touch with her ex-boyfriend, Morey Goldstein, an accomplished jazz and rock musician, and Wayne Ditzel, who played bass, guitar and sang. The two were into the Velvet Underground and Roxy Music. Jonathan showed up at the Berkeley garage where they rehearsed with 15 songs. Soon the trio added guitarist Eric Lenchner (who began calling himself Ricky Sludge) and drummer Tom Brown. Brown was replaced by Brittley Black, who had previously drummed in the S.F. scene’s most hardcore band at the time, Crime. Eventually Black was replaced by Paul Zahl who went on to play with SVT and Tuxedomoon.
It soon became clear to a steadily growing audience from 1977 through 1979, Jonathan and Morey were gifted songwriters; those “different juxtapositions” resulted in superb songs, from the anthemic “415 Music,” which leads off this album, to the threatening “Spy” (an homage to “The James Bond Theme” and Johnny Rivers’ “Secret Agent Man”) to “Terri is My Space Cadet,” with it’s beautiful melody and sci-fi romance storyline.
Jonathan was (and remains) a distinctive singer. Influenced by the Velvet Underground’s Lou Reed and the Modern Lovers’ Jonathan Richman, his voice conveys an endearing vulnerability, particularly on one of the album’s highlights, “Terri is My Space Cadet.”
Jonathan is a clever lyricist and “Terri” is a prime example. He keeps the space metaphor running throughout the song: “Terri is my space cadet/ the first one that I’ve met/ She’s my guiding light/ …She’s moving into outer space/ Leaving the human race/ While she’s still winning/ She’s moving out into the stars/ No more singles bars/ A new beginning.”
And then, following the “Terri Terri you’re my space cadet” chorus, Jonathan talk/sings, “I’m your planet,” as if he’s saying, “I love you.” It’s both funny and touching.
During the sinister yet infectious “Electric Toys,” co-written by Morey and Jonathan: “We could have so much fun/ With my soldering gun/ Just you and me.”
In the raging “After the Earthquake,” co-written by Jonathan and guitarist Joe Satriani: “The nuclear reactor blew/ 1991/ All of us are victims/ Living dead/ Brain damage done…/ It’s after the earthquake/ I’m a victim with a gun.”
And in Jonathan’s “Spy”: “He had diamond cufflinks where he kept the cyanide.”
The group’s rise was phenomenally fast. After seeing the Readymades at the first show the band played, opening for the Zippers at the Mabuhay Gardens, rock critic Gregg Turner offered to record and release an E.P on his new label, Automatic Records. The three songs that appeared on 1978’s Readymades E.P. – “Electric Toys,” “Supergirl” and “Terri is My Space Cadet” – are included here and make it clear why the group attracted a large fan base.
The Readymades became what Hugh Cornwell of the Stranglers, during an interview with England’s New Musical Express, called “one of the most significant bands on the West Coast.” England’s Sounds made the Readymades E.P. their “Offbeat Single of the Week.” Songs off the E.P. got heavy play on the top Northern California FM stations of the day: KSAN in San Francisco and KSJO in San Jose. In fact, they were the only unsigned band to get into regular rotation on KSAN. They opened for Patti Smith and Blondie at Winterland, Roxy Music at the Oakland Auditorium, Devo at the Mabuhay and the Talking Heads at UC Davis; Jonathan says the group could draw crowds of 300 and more at out-of-town venues in Los Angeles and Vancouver.
Why the Readymades didn’t go on to great international success is a mystery. Former Velvet Underground co-founder John Cale, who produced classic albums for Patti Smith and the Modern Lovers, offered to produce a Readymades album for his Spy Records label, which would have instantly made them a band to watch, and brought them to the attention of hipster music fans around the world. Cale told Jonathan, “You won’t make any money, but you’ll have a record.” A record produced by John Cale.
Unfortunately, the band had to choose between signing with Spy Records, and working with Blue Oyster Cult manager/producer Sandy Pearlman, who was producing the Clash’s second album, Give ’Em Enough Rope, at the time. Pearlman wanted to manage and produce the group and told them he was confident he could land them a major label deal. So the band passed on Cale and Spy, and went with Pearlman, who produced demos for them but ultimately failed to get them signed.
Conflicts within the Readymades led to Jonathan leaving the band in 1979, and the Readymades soon disappeared into S.F. punk history. Now, thankfully, some of the great music the Readymades made in the late ‘70s can once again be heard. Hopefully this group that shoulda been a contender will find a whole new audience.
Michael Goldberg is a former Rolling Stone Senior Writer and was the founder/Editor in Chief of the first online music magazine, Addicted To Noise. Over the years he wrote for many publications including Downbeat, the New Musical Express, Esquire, New York Rocker, Trouser Press, Creem and the San Francisco Chronicle. He currently contributes to Rhythms. He has written three rock & roll novels, the most recent of which is “Untitled.”