I never heard of the band Swamp Thing before I went to college. On the surface of it, this isn’t remarkable. There are dozens of bands and performers that I can say the same thing about, and probably every person who spend part of their student years huddled in some cramped college radio studio can make similar claims. The difference, and the disappointment it holds, is that the band was from my hometown of Madison, and they were in full swing during my high school years when I was fully invested in learning about new music. Despite the fact that they released two full-length albums the local radio never played them. It’s entirely possible that I saw their name when I scoured the concert listings in our local alternative weekly newspaper, The Isthmus, but I don’t remember it (and I was especially attuned to anything tangentially connected to comic books at the time, so I would think that a band that shared its name with DC Comic’s marvelous muckster at a time when the character was enjoying a creative peak would have caught my eye). The band was populated by guys I could have easily been rubbing elbows with on any given trip to State Street, and I hadn’t heard a single note of their music.
Though the media mavens living in the same zip code as the band paid them little notice, there was a strong contingent of fans at the central Wisconsin radio station where I blessedly wound up. My friend, mentor and roommate Uncle Rob Bob routinely rescued their album from the C Stacks to provide some exposure over the airwaves. I was just as likely to discover a new song from the band by listening to his show as I was by grabbing the record myself and playing a little game of “drop the needle.”
As for “Island Song,” I have a clear memory of the first time I took notice of the track. It didn’t happen in the main studio, not did it occur while I was listening to the radio. Uncle Rob Bob was in the production studio working on a class project. He was supposed to create a thirty second ad. He’d scripted some silliness about Pizza Hut providing a fun night out for overtaxed parents. Back then, I think we took our greatest pride in finding a way to use our favorite music as soundbeds for production work: backing up the hourly team profiles in our yearly on-air trivia extravaganza with an R.E.M. rarity>; transitioning in and out of hockey broadcasts with a hit by The Church; and, probably my favorite, providing the theme music for a fake news program in a comedy sketch with a Joy Division song played on the wrong speed. So it was in keeping with one of our unstated station missions that Uncle Rob Bob made Swamp Thing the unlikely musical voice of America’s biggest family pizza restaurant chain. If only such a deal had really come to pass, then maybe the band would have gotten the appreciation (and the dollars) they deserved.
(Disclaimer: As far as I can tell, the entire output of Swamp Thing is out of print, and I’m skeptical about the existence of any of it on CD in an official capacity, aside from perhaps a stray song on a compilation. While I have a vinyl copy of Learning to Disintegrate on vinyl–bequeathed to me by a dreamboat philosophy professor> I know–I’ve never taken the time to transfer it another format. The song posted here is the handiwork of another music-loving denizen of the Web. I present the song here with the understanding that its unavailable through any means that will direct funds to the artist. If anyone with due authority to make such demands asks me to remove it from this digital space, I will gladly and promptly comply.)