Obscurity Knocks: The Cucumbers

Feb 26, 2009 at 4:41 pm
(Welcome to Obscurity Knocks, where every Thursday we'll unearth something good -- but obscure -- we think deserves notice.)

MP3: "Susie's Getting Married"

Artist: The Cucumbers

Album: The Cucumbers four-song EP

Year: 1983

Label: Fake Doom Records

Who were/are they?  A band from the New Jersey suburbs revolving around singers/guitarists Jon Fried and Deena Shoshkes. They started in New England sometime in the early '80s and eventually found themselves in Hoboken. Perfected the "married couple in indie-rock band" template that everyone from Yo La Tengo to Mates of State would follow. Released a couple of genius records on the ultra-obscure Fake Doom label before signing to Profile Records (home of Run-DMC) and having a brief moment of MTV fame with "My Boyfriend." Kept going even after the video fell out of rotation and Hoboken traded its hipster cachet for frat bars. Still performing and recording today; Shoshkes recently released a pleasingly and diverse solo CD, Somewhere In Blue.

Why should we care?  Because at their best - primarily on their earliest, pre-Profile releaes - they created frantic, slightly swampy power-pop that easily stood next to the Individuals, Bongos, dB's, or any other of their early '80s Hoboken contemporaries. As they continued, they sometimes found it hard to straddle the line between cute and cutesy. Our own Keegan Hamilton described their 1987 Profile debut as "if Cyndi Lauper joined the B-52's and pinched her nose while she sang." Though sometimes too treacly, each album has at least a few moments of expert popcraft.

The song in question: For their reputation as a happy/cuddly band, the early Cucumbers were capable of moments of ambiguity and almost accidental genius. The original version of "My Boyfriend," for instance, consisted of Fried and Shoshkes taking turns singing the same verse about the boyfriend-in-question's various qualities.  (Fried later claimed that they couldn't think of a second verse at the time.  Indeed, when they did include a second verse in the later Profile/MTV version, it killed a tiny bit of the song's appeal.)

"Susie's Getting Married," meanwhile, kicks off so abruptly that it takes a few seconds to catch up.  We are thrown directly into the throes of a domestic quarrel, the girlfriend threatening to leave after one slight too many.  She spends the first verse and a half fantasizing about finally being alone before suddenly switching to Susie, the childhood friend who's just gotten engaged.  The rest of the song is a litany of memories about Susie: Barbie dolls, slumber parties, walks to school.  It's as if the girlfriend is seeking refuge from her bad situation in comforting childhood reverie, but the song won't even let her do that: "the man from the bank" is calling and wants his money. It's all over in about two minutes with a scream that's part frustration, part catharsis.

Where to find it: eBay and used bins. Perhaps there's hope now that the Feelies and Individuals' catalogs are being exhumed.