By Isa Jones
By Mary Willson
By Brian Turk
By Drew AIles
By Taylor Boylston
By Bree Davies
By Emerald O'Brien
The factors that contributed to the end of Baldo, a thoroughly odd and bracingly individualistic Boulder combo that lasted for a decade, are all too familiar. The group was formed by frontmen Ted Thacker and Phil Wronski in Boston in 1987, but it was not until the pair came to Colorado and teamed with drummer John Call and bassist Tom Sprenkle that the players began to get noticed. They netted good press clippings locally and in choice 'zines around the country, thanks to their sometimes funny/ sometimes creepy song fragments and an approach to live performance that existed just this side of anarchy. But despite their talents, national labels shied away from them. The eccentricities inherent in the two CDs the group managed to make during the mid-Nineties--Parilda eilgen Elmas, a Turkish phrase that translates to "Shine on, you crazy diamond," and I Eat Robots I'm So Sad--make the music industry's lack of action understandable; to put it mildly, the discs are not chock-a-block with hit singles. But the humor, the rawness and the off-kilter catchiness of the recordings make them sound great to this day.
After Sh-Mow Records, the company that put out I Eat Robots, crumbled, whatever momentum Baldo Rex had built up began to dissipate. Then, on August 3, 1996, Wronski and his girlfriend, Susan Payne, were involved in what he describes as "a terrible car accident. We were coming home from the Treblefest [at the Raven], and our car collided with another car. Whose fault it was is still in dispute, but we were in a hatchback, and we were both ejected out the back." In the crash, Payne suffered "a massive head injury and had to undergo what they call 'catastrophic brain surgery.' There were several times they thought she was going to die. They kept calling a priest to be there with us, and after that, they thought she was going to be in a coma for a long time."
Fortunately, the worst-case scenarios never came to pass. But although Payne's recovery has been, in Wronski's words, "miraculous," it has also been deliberate; more than a year after the accident, she is able to work only thirty hours a week and must constantly battle fatigue. As a result, Wronski found himself spending more time with her and less time on the band. Meanwhile, his cohorts were becoming restless. Call moved out of town in May (Wronski says he's in Minneapolis, while Thacker thinks he's in Austin), Sprenkle put together his own band, Aerosol, and Thacker, who had started a side project, Veronica, a couple of years back, began to get itchy for new challenges. He and Wronski discussed looking for a new rhythm section for the band, but, Wronski notes, "Ted finally changed his mind--which was kind of hard for me at first. I would have continued Baldo Rex indefinitely, because I'm a little fanatical about it. But everybody else had different ideas--and now it seems like the natural thing."
Since the Baldo split, Thacker has not let any grass grow under his feet. He continues to work toward a literature degree at the University of Colorado-Boulder, and in late August he played at the Fox Theatre under his own name. "It's just me and a four-track," he says. "I just play something onto it and then I play it back--that's my band. It's real drum-machine-oriented stuff. Kinda weird. I don't know what's going to happen with it, but I'm having fun."
Wronski, who points out that he and Thacker remain friendly, is less certain about what lies ahead. He's interested in putting together a new band, but he doesn't want to rush into anything. "I'm still really excited to make music and to get back up on stage," he says. "And I think it'll be nice to work with people who are really happy to be playing. It's one of those things that sounds easy, but it can be the hardest thing in the world. So I'm trying to look at everything positively."
Colorado Springs's Mark Junglen, who runs Big Ball Records, fronts his own rock group (Former Fetus) and frequently collaborates with the AUTO-NO, another Springs-based outfit, is heading back to Russia. He first visited the country two years ago, when the Volgograd Philharmonic debuted "Stalingrad--A Rock Concerto," a classical piece Junglen penned about a momentous World War II battle there; the performance coincided with the fiftieth anniversary of the war's end ("Rockin' to Russia," April 19, 1995). The folks at the Philharmonic obviously liked what they heard, because they've invited Junglen and the members of the AUTO-NO back to reprise the piece on October 3. "It's a concert of American composers," Junglen says. "I know one of them's George Gershwin, and I think one of them is Aaron Copland, and the other one's me." Junglen hopes to be able to get a complete recording of the opus this time around: During the initial show, a tape problem occurred, slicing off part of the music and sabotaging ambitious plans for a documentary about the visit that Junglen wanted to market to PBS. Documenting the work should help him in his efforts to get U.S. orchestras to consider performing it. "I've been trying to shop it to different symphonies in the U.S.," says Junglen, "but I'm a nobody."