Michael Knott

Rocket and a Bomb

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By the time Rocket and a Bomb was released, people had grown accustomed to Michael Knott's records often being surprising and frequently even alarming. Few were prepared, however, for the shock that would set in upon hearing the opening bars of "Jan the Weatherman" on Knott's second solo record and the discovery that Knott had discovered Dylan-esque Americana. In a move that would shape the rest of his career, Knott turned down his amplifier, tuned out his demons, and crafted a record of stories that was both quietly and deeply affecting. Built mostly around Knott's clean electric guitar and the twinkling organ of Adam Again's Gene Eugene, Rocket and a Bomb is collection of 11 tales about the eccentric individuals with whom Knott shared an apartment complex in California. There's "Bubbles," a despondent drug addict who is abducted and raped on the very night he decides to clean up his life. There's "Skinny" (aka Steve Hindalong, drummer for the Choir), a smoke-bumming drummer who Knott owes money to. And, most famously, there's Kitty Courtesy, who may or may not have killed her husband and boiled his remains for dinner. Rather than use these characters as an object for scorn, Knott treats them with genuine respect. Witness the tender treatment he gives "John Barrymore Jr.," a delusional old man convinced he's the son of acting great John Barrymore. Over a simply acoustic strum, Knott sings of a man so lost in his own fantasy that he clomps around the building in golf shoes and speaks wistfully of "his student," James Dean. The music throughout is gentle and moody, comprised mostly of acoustic guitars and swooping strings. Knott's voice has never sounded more tender and fragile, and he imbues each song with genuine care and emotion. It is a testament to the record's power that Knott would revisit it several times over the course of his career, lifting two songs ("Kitty" and the title track) for his wrongheaded record with the Aunt Bettys. He looks inward only once on the record, using the song "Rocket and a Bomb" to assess his career to that point. Where the introspection on Screaming Brittle Siren was merciless and angry, on "Bomb" Knott just sounds sad, singing: "Mr. In and Mrs. In, can you please tell me what's in?/What is wrong with me? I'm never in your company." The song unfolds as a series of questions to anthropomorphized obstacles and trends. Knott saves his most potent query for the final verse, asking, "Mr. God, is there a Mrs. God? Can she help me find a job?" Rocket and a Bomb may not sound as furious as Knott's early work, but its impact is easily as powerful.

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