Artists-On-Albums: AOA#19 (Eleventh Dream Day’s Rick Rizzo on Signals, Calls, And Marches)

Eleventh Dream Day’s Rick Rizzo on…

Mission of Burma’s Signals, Calls, And Marches (Ace Of Hearts Records, 1981)

Mission of Burma - Signals, Calls, And Marches

Mission of Burma - Signals, Calls, And Marches

Thumbing through my LPs, which have grown to ball and chain proportions (the Eleventh Dream Day song “Life On A String” chronicles how I once carried “all my records packed in the trunk” of my car), I thought about how many dozens of times I’ve played so many of them and how many have been so influential. None has been played more than Quadrophenia; Zuma made an imprint on my early guitar style; and Radio Ethiopia was a gateway to literature and art. London Calling, Blood On The Tracks, Loaded, and Marquee Moon were all extremely important to me too.  Each of those albums is attached to my college years between 1975 and 1979, where my life was more music fandom than studies. One record though, defines the time that bridges the gap between my college youth and forming Eleventh Dream Day – an EP that to me defines the birth of the American indie scene that has had such a lasting imprint on today’s music. That record is Signals, Calls, And Marches by Mission of Burma.

It was 1981, a year I spent in solitude. 1980 had been crazy. It started with my first band, The Pods playing on New Year’s Eve in Lexington, Kentucky, and took me to South Florida chasing a girl I thought I loved, and ended with me finally getting a real job back in Chicago.  After training for my job as a marketing researcher, I got assigned to upstate New York.  I didn’t know a soul and spent most of my free time reading or listening to music.  I was teaching myself to play guitar (I was a bass player in my punk band) and writing my first songs. I was lonely though and I started losing my mind – 23 years old is not a good time to be without friends. So, I started taking drives down to New York City.  On my first trip I stumbled upon The Clash who was miraculously doing an added show to their run at Bonds. That year I also saw Gang of Four and The Cure at The Ritz. Each time into the city I would go to Bleeker Bobs to pick up another big batch of records. And I bought Signals. I’ll never forget that first listen when I finally made it back to my stereo in Ithaca. The prominence of the bass was the first thing that struck me. At the time I’d have to say I was a total anglophile, and the bass playing of Jah Wobble in P.I.L., Dave Allen of Gang of Four, and Peter Hook of Joy Division was what had drawn me in. I got the feeling that Clint Conley probably liked that stuff too as I listened to the opening of “That’s When I Reach For My Revolver.” This was the post-punk that I was immersed in, but American. The guitar was jagged, Peter Prescott’s drums were powerful, the bass melodic – but once the chorus kicked in I knew I was listening to something that would change me. It wasn’t so much the lyric, powerful as it was; it was more the way the whole band sung it. Part of the greatness of Burma is the democracy of the vocals. Everybody (except Martin Swope behind the board and the loops) sings and everybody sings with passion.

I didn’t know as much what to make of the second track, “Outlaw.” It definitely had the jagged edges of the British post-punk I was familiar with, but there were a lot of moving parts (an inadvertent pun – Moving Parts was Roger Miller and Conley’s first band together).  At the time, I wasn’t hip to Pere Ubu, and Miller’s dada-influenced lyrics even seemed to translate to the song structure.  Still, the shouted lyric, “Now I am an outlaw,” resonated.

“Fame And Fortune” is the third track.  Sing-song rhyme and a driving beat give way to the great three vocal chorus. It’s the break that does it for me though. Roger’s feedback is different to the Pete Townshend feedback I grew up with. This was more like the Patti Smith Group Radio Ethiopia feedback that channeled a different beast. The bass comes in – I’m a sucker for building a song in layers. Then the vocal chant – “The beginning at the ending” and “One goes up, one goes down” joins the fray. The last verse gives way to repeating, “Fame and fortune is a stupid game and fame and fortune is the game I play.” And then the “ohs” carry it out – genius.

“This Is Not A Photograph” has a Gang of Four feel to it for me; Roger shows why he is one of the greatest guitar players ever. Short and immediate – a thrill ride.

“Red” is the song where you notice the looping of Martin Swope that made him a unique member of the band, who didn’t appear on stage.  The way the vocals are used instrumentally is brilliant mixed with the guitars, drums and bass.

The instrumental, “All World Cowboy Romance,” closes the record. The repetition and build-up of energy reminds me a lot of Joy Division – you can imagine Ian Curtis singing at some point.

I lived in an apartment in Ithaca above a store on the part of State Street that was closed to traffic.  I used to put my speakers close to the open windows and play this record really loud just hoping somebody would walk by and think to themselves, “wow, somebody very hip lives up there – wonder if they want to party,” but, alas, I finished my half-year there without ever meeting anybody and eventually made my way back to Chicago.

I saw Burma in 1982 in Chicago at a little club called C.O.D. – a cramped little basement with crappy sound. The opening band had some equipment problems and pushed M.O.B.’s headlining set until way past one in the morning.  They were louder than god.  I love live music for the sheer physical force of it, and standing directly in front of the stage was an amazing experience.  My head was blown off.  I had a new favorite band. I walked home in a daze.

The next time through Chicago, Roger Miller was wearing protective earphones and it was no surprise. The group disbanded after that tour (a lot of The Horrible Truth About Burma was recorded that night) because of Roger’s tinnitus.

Signals, Calls, And Marches was considered post-punk, but it was instrumental in kicking-off the American indie scene.  I don’t think Ace of Hearts Records put out much (The Lyres were great too!), but soon thereafter SST, Down There, and Twin Tone would be ramping up.  Mission of Burma is back now making music and sounding as good as ever. And they’re still loud as fuck.

Notes On The Artist:

Rick Rizzo

Since 1983, Chicago-dweller Rick Rizzo has been the lead singer, freewheeling guitarist and main songwriter of Eleventh Dream Day, a band whose pioneering sonic evolution, life-affirming democratic energy and strong survivalist streak should be recognized with the same love and respect given to still-functioning contemporaries such as Sonic Youth and Yo La Tengo.

With Eleventh Dream Day having switched to a part-time existence in the mid-‘90s – to allow more time for parenthood, day-job career changes, vocalist/drummer Janet Beveridge Bean’s key role in Freakwater and bassist Doug McCombs’ paternalistic position in the Tortoise family tree – Rizzo has generously lent his intuitive and adaptable talents to the recordings of Edith Frost, Smog, Steve Wynn, Califone, Boxhead Ensemble and Plush.

Additionally, Rizzo has built and sustained a long-distance collaborative relationship with Antietam’s Tara Key, which has yielded two indispensible instrumental albums from the twosome; 2000’s diverse Dark Edson Tiger and this year’s divine Double Star.

After another half-decade or so on hiatus from the studio – aside from a truly exceptional contribution to Thrill Jockey’s 15th birthday 7″ boxset in 2007 – Eleventh Dream Day’s rambunctious and alluring new album, Riot Now!, is out also now on the same label.

Eleventh Dream Day – “Satellite”


Rick Rizzo and Tara Key – “Hungry”