Big Dipper played an important part in my young adulthood. They were with me on the day I cut off all my hair. It was the late 80s and I was sporting what could be described as the ‘Duff McKagan,’ a mass of long blonde locks that was obviously manufactured to look more “rockin” than what my coif would naturally attain.
I got tired of the ‘Duff’ look and decided to start over. The night after the big trim, I went to see Big Dipper play in support of their second album, Craps. There was a nice size crowd, bigger than the previous times the band had played. You got the sense that Big Dipper was on the verge of bigger and greater things.
After the show, a few friends approached me while I attempted to talk with the members of the band. In between the comments of “Great show!” and “What happened to your hair!” bassist Steve Michener signed the insert of my Heavens CD and added “Your hair looks good!”
Those aforementioned bigger and greater things turned into a major label deal with Epic Records while my hair transformed into the “Mark Arm.” I’m not sure what Big Dipper transformed into with that album on Epic. Slam was an agonizing mess of polish and half-baked ideas that managed to tone down every goddamn great thing that made them so awesome. Gone were the punchy guitars that occasionally drowned out the sugar-sweet power pop melodies. They were replaced by overweight arrangements and lyrics that pointed to a complete lack of effort.
Not only did that change in direction cause me to lose interest, it secured Big Dipper’s destiny to become one of those forgotten bands that should’ve reached a larger audience than they ultimately did.
Apparently, there are a few nostalgic souls over at Merge Records that remember how good Big Dipper’s first two albums were and made the welcomed decision to re-release them with the obligatory bonus tracks for those of us that still have those original Homestead releases.
The result is Supercluster: The Big Dipper Anthology, a generous 3-cd collection that includes the band’s debut EP Boo-Boo, along with the first two full lengths Heavens and Craps. The third CD (thankfully) dismisses that ill-advised major label album Slam and contains the unreleased material the band worked on after being unceremoniously dropped from Epic.
The draw though is those first two and a half records. After being out of print for some time now, it’s great to have these titles available again, ripe for re-discovery and just as electrifying as when they were originally issued twenty years ago.
Even at a ridiculously low list price (3-for-1! Only $8.99 at Amazon MP3!), I can understand how some readers would be dismissive of a band that has been inactive for nearly two decades and, even during their time of original potential, failed to crack the strata that other indie rockers achieved.
Consider this: the band itself was a veritable “supergroup” formed from a trio of notable bands, Dumptruck (bassist Michener), The Embarrassment (vocalist and guitarist Bill Goffrier) and Volcano Suns (vocalist and lead guitarist Gary Waleik). All of these bands are good enough to warrant additional research (Dumptruck’s For The Country being another lost treasure that is worth seeking out, particularly if you’re a fan of that Rickenbacker jangle rock so prevalent throughout much of the 80s), but the culmination of members of these two bands proved to be a great decision.
Their sound could best be described as power-pop with intense guitar interplay, Big Dipper bridged a gap between the 3-minute single with the guitar heroics of bands that normally like to push the total track time to at least five or six ticks. Inside these concise and melodic gems were songs about (you guess it) outer space, Abe Lincoln, alien visitations, the Harmonic Convergence, and a party that literally ends with the house getting destroyed by the tenant.
There are three songs that point to Big Dipper’s enormous potential: “Ron Klaus Wrecked His House” (Craps) is about that previously described party where Klaus, a member of the Embarrassment with Goffrier, decides to have a house destroying party after learning of his impeding eviction. The song is as catchy as all get out, but it was the party itself that managed to receive the headlines.
The other two certifiable lost classics, “She’s Fetching” and “All Going Out Together,” come from the album Heavens. It’s a little rougher around the edges and even got a few positive mentions in the mainstream press back in the day. “Fetching” boasts one of the best choruses in 80s indie rock ever (“She’s fetching / She may not know it now / Oh, but if she finds out…”) while “Going Out” is perhaps the greatest song about nuclear annihilation that ever was.
Let these three songs alone be your motivation and the strength of the rest of the album(s) will surely secure your admiration. As far as the lost “fourth” Dipper album is concerned (labeled as “A Very Loud Array”), let’s be honest and say that it isn’t as strong as the first two, but it certainly would have stopped the fan exodus that Slam helped initiate.
There are no plans for a reunion album or extended tour. In fact, this package itself is limited to just 5,000 copies, which ultimately means that Big Dipper will remain an unheralded artifact, ripe for your own mix-tapes and condescending references. The sad fact remains, however, that the band deserves an audience as big as their stellar namesake.
Another sad fact is that I no longer have enough hair to pull off the “Duff” or the “Arm,” but at least now I have certifiable proof that Big Dipper was just as good as I remember them twenty years ago.
Video: Big Dipper – “All Going Out Together” (live, 1988)
eMusic: Big Dipper