Shrunken Head: An Oral History of Jack Logan’s “Bulk”

(An oral history of Jack Logan's 1994 double album "Bulk", as told by Peter Jesperson, Peter Buck, David Barbe and Jack Logan.)

"I've got a song you need to hear" -- it's one of those phrases that tends to pique music lovers' interest, and it's a narrative thread that is woven into this piece. This is a story about great music, great writers, the passion art inspires, the endless links that exist between like-minded musicians, the siren call of a once sleepy Southern town, and the unassuming man at the center of it who would burn brightly for a minute before resuming the life of a musician with a day job who just does what he does because he loves it. It's the story of Jack Logan's Bulk. But it starts, in my case, with Moby Dick.

I'd joined a group at a local bookstore doing a year of reading of the works of Herman Melville and made friends with a guy named Will. He'd taken it upon himself to try and cultivate a musical playlist of songs that shared themes, broadly or directly, with Moby Dick. At one of our meetings he said, "You're a Vic Chesnutt fan, right? Well, I'm going to loan you this CD." The album, which was missing the first of its two discs, was Bulk by Jack Logan. Located just a few tracks into the second disc was the song "The Parishoners" which featured Chesnutt on guest vocals. It was a great song, but I was equally interested by a few things: first, that this was a 42-song double album; second, Chesnutt's presence on the album pointed to the potential for interesting connections; and third, it was a co-release of Twin/Tone and Medium Cool Records, both labels run at least partially by Peter Jesperson, he of Replacements-manager fame among other things. I ended up holding on to the CD so long that I scoured the internet and bought two complete copies of the record for a buck each - one to return to Will and one for me. This is where things got interesting.

Jack Logan :: The Parishioners

"His name popped up a number of times. I think R.E.M. was considering covering 'Female Jesus' for one of their flexi-discs. That's how it first became known to me. But I hadn't really heard him. And people around Athens would ask me, 'Well, have you heard Jack Logan?' And I'd say no and they'd kind of roll their eyes like, 'oh, boy, well, you're in for it. When you hear him it's all over." This is Peter Jesperson speaking to me over the phone while I'm trying, quietly, not to freak out. As someone who reveres the Replacements, Jesperson's place in their lore is not lost on me. His own story about his first time hearing Jack's music sounds like something you'd write out in fan fiction.

"I was driving down to Columbia, Missouri to see the first Big Star reunion - when Alex Chilton and Jody Stephens first got together with the guys from the Posies. I brought a whole box of cassettes with me, and somewhere along the line I'd stopped to get gas and was thinking about what to listen to next. So I said, 'Well, I'll throw one of these Logan tapes on.'"

But let's pause here a moment. Where did these tapes come from?

Jack Logan :: Shrunken Head

"I used to work at Wuxtry Records, and they just started having these Jack Logan cassettes." This is the voice of Peter Buck of R.E.M. talking to me over the phone from his home in the Pacific Northwest. "I was surprised how great the songwriting was. This sort of Southern vernacular lyrical poetry and Basement Tapes type music. It was right up my alley. I thought, man, this guy's actually pretty good." It was Buck who told Peter Jesperson, on one of his trips through Athens, that he ought to look Logan up. "I'm pretty sure when Peter Jesperson came to visit me it was 1990. [The cassettes were] the type of thing where you go 'well, that's pretty darn amateurish,' which I like. There was handwriting on them. They were just bottom of the totem pole as far as professional packaging goes. It was obvious they were home recordings. You just didn't expect songwriting of that caliber to appear in that way."

When you look at the tracklisting on the back of the case for Bulk, you're immediately thrown for a bit of a loop. In addition to a whopping 42 songs, the songs are divided up into 'sides' like a vinyl record; nine of them to be exact. There's a loose thematic connection to these sides. The opening foursome includes "Shrunken Head," "Love, Not Lunch" and "Female Jesus," all songs that revolve in various ways around women who are studied, loved and worshipped respectively. "Escape Clause," "Just Go Away," and the loping quasi-country of "New Used Car and a Plate of Bar-B-Que" make up part of the second side, a set of songs about running away, dodging danger (or not in the case of "Underneath Your Bed"), or maybe just getting out of a bad enough situation that you want to celebrate with dinner with all the fixins. You're starting to get the picture. These are shaggy dog stories in miniature.

On average, if you were told "wait til you get to track 11" by someone trying to sell you on an album, you'd probably scoff. But Bulk is the kind of polychromatic creation that belies its origins. Despite the record sounding in spots like it was recorded on a 2-track at best, the landscape of Logan's music is the creation of someone who clearly loves a lot of music and doesn't mind dabbling in all of it. Track 11 is "15 Years in Indiana," and that's where Peter Jesperson started his journey with Jack in that car going to Missouri.

Jack Logan :: 15 Years in Indiana

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