L.A. art-punk collective Monitor’s sinister tale of a stolen hand on “New Wave Theatre” (1982)

By and on May 31, 2019

We’re taking another look at this vintage episode of “New Wave Theatre,” which was a 1983 Night Flight re-broadcast of an episode originally taped in L.A. on or about April 10, 1982, airing shortly thereafter.

This episode features what may be the only extant footage of experimental L.A. art-punk collective Monitor — performing their song “I Saw Dead Jim’s Shade,” which the Superior Viaduct label says showcases “Monitor’s idiosyncratic vocal interplay in a sinister tale of a stolen hand” – and you can see it exclusively on Night Flight Plus.

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This very same performance was included on Rhino Video’s Best Of New Wave Theatre, Volume 2 (1985) — where the band also chat briefly with host Peter Ivers — but Monitor are not included in our nearly one-hour edited “Best of the Best of New Wave Theatre,” which is what we’ve made available on Night Flight Plus.

Monitor — Steve Thomsen (synths, vocals), Michael Uhlenkott (guitar, vocals), Laurie O’Connell (bass, vocals) and Keith Mitchell (drums, percussion) — were the musical side of the San Fernando Valley suburb-based World Imitation Productions (or WImP).

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Monitor in 1978 (all band photos courtesy of WImP/Monitor)

Superior Viaduct describes Monitor as “the sonic outlet of four young artists grappling with their terror and amazement in the convergence of the late 1970s punk scene and consumerist decadence.”

“Few groups so deftly encapsulate the existential dread and delight particular to Southern California’s antiquated culture of artifice.”

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Active for just a few years (1978-1982), Monitor played their first live show on Halloween of 1978, and in January 1979, they were featured on Richard Meltzer’s legendary KPFK radio show “Hepcats from Hell.”

Thereafter, they performed mostly at various L.A.-area underground venues and galleries, and occasionally ventured out of town to play shows in San Francisco and Phoenix.

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Monitor were considered part of a sub-set of experimental synth-driven bands known collectively as the Associated Skull Bands (including Nervous Gender, Human Hands, BPeople, 45 Grave and Boyd Rice’s NON).

They self-released just three records on their own label, including a 7-inch single (1979’s “Beak”/”Pet Wedding”), a surf rock single (as “the Tikis”) and a full-length self-titled album in 1980.

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Original drummer Jeff Rankin — who plays on their first single — left Monitor in the spring of 1979 to enroll in UCLA’s graduate school of library science.

His replacement, Keith Mitchell, answered an ad the band had placed in Slash magazine.

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“I Saw Dead Jim’s Shade” was produced by the band with Devo engineer Ed Barger, with whom they’d connected with via mail-order art.

In 1981, “Simpsons” creator/cartoonist Matt Groening — who also wrote about music for the alt-weekly Los Angeles Reader — called the Monitor album “a compendium of mutant amplified folk tunes is the best local release I’ve heard all year.”

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Michael Uhlenkott, for Slash (Vol. 3, No. 3) (photo by Susan Seager)

Monitor played their last show in 1982.

Various members drifted off into other bands, often playing together, while World Imitation Productions morphed into a full-fledged art collective/production company, hosting events and gallery exhibits and publishing dozens of art pamphlets.

WImP’s authorized history, Afraid of Modern Living: World Imitation & Monitor, 1977-1982, is available here.

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Laurie O’Connell, for Slash (Vol. 3, No. 3) (photo by Susan Seager)

Drummer Keith Mitchell — who passed away after battling cancer on May 14th, 2017, aged 65 — was later nicknamed “Big Beat” by his fellow band members.

They remember him as being very easy-going and musically accomplished, even able to re-create certain rhythms they wanted (which turned out to be three African percussionists playing simultaneously).

Read more about Keith Mitchell below.

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After Monitor split, Long Beach, CA-native Keith Mitchell (b. June 16, 1951) played with dozens of bands and solo artists.

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He made notable contributions to include Green on Red, Johanna Went (her 1982 album Posh Boy), Chris Cavacas & Junkyard Love’s self-titled 1989 album (released on Night Flight contributor Pat Thomas‘s Heyday Records), Opal and Mazzy Star, among others.

Mitchell plays on all four Mazzy Star albums: 1990’s She Hangs Brightly, 1993’s So Tonight That I Might See, 1996’s Among My Swan and their 2013 reunion album Seasons of Your Day.

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Keith Mitchell, for Slash (Vol. 3, No. 3) (photo by Susan Seager)

Night Flight guest contributor Kevin Laffey recalls being in a band with Mitchell:

“Keith Mitchell was a chameleon, the Zelig of L.A.’s alternative music scene from the late Seventies on. Not only could he adapt to any challenge as a drummer, in whatever band he played there’d appear another incarnation of Keith. He was never a hired gun, but an integral member of each. The Romans (surf), Clay Allison (paisley underground), or Billy Wisdom and The Hee-Shees (glam) never imposed their sound on to Keith, they only revealed what was already there.”

“The same was true of our short lived post-punk band Buffy’s Ghost (I didn’t name us!) with Shari Famous, Rick Brodey (né Jaffe) and Keith. It was in Monitor, though, the most demanding and inventive of all, that he really shone most brightly. Keith had little ego. As a dad he couldn’t afford to, but out from behind those iconic bands, he only hoped to be appreciated. Consider this an appreciation, Big Beat.”

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This episode — “ghost hosted” by Elvira — also features performances by Red Wedding, Party Boys, Bad Religion and Brainiacs, and if you’re unfamiliar with “New Wave Theatre,” you can read more about show right here.

(Photo below courtesy of Kevin Laffey, photographer unknown)

Watch this vintage 1982 episode of “New Wave Theatre,” on Night Flight Plus.

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About Bryan Thomas

Bryan Thomas has been a freelancing writer/critic for All Music Guide, and a contributor to Launch, Music Connection, Big Takeover and numerous other publications and entertainment websites, blogs and zines, most of them long gone. He's written more than sixty sets of liner notes. He’s also worked for over twenty years at mostly reissue record labels -- prior to that he worked in bookstores and record stores, going all the way back to the original vinyl daze. He lives in the Miracle Mile neighborhood of Los Angeles, CA.