Strange Feelings: The Twinkeyz’ Alpha Jerk Resurrected
That the Twinkeyz were overlooked wasn’t shocking, but rather saddening. They released three singles and an album that burned too bright, but unfortunately also too scarce for the general populace. Coupled with their inability to tour widely, it added up to the kind of all too familiar tale of a great band shuttled to obscurity. Formed in 1977 by Donnie Jupiter (nee Marquez) and Tom Darling, the band proved to be more at home in the studio than on the live front. They played their hometown of Sacramento, but their immediate sphere of influence remained local and largely relegated to their home base of Moon Studios, helmed by friend and engineer Dave Houston. There they would lay down their own brand of power pop with a heavy infection of experimental impulses and outsider aura.
Though admittedly influenced by the kind of pop figures that would lend themselves to those same lanes -T. Rex, David Bowie, Lou Reed – the band was more rightly akin to the squirming vein of pop that grew just West of them in San Francisco in the form of Chrome and The Pink Section. They also had a strong cross section of style with the Midwest’s own brand of alienated upstarts Pere Ubu, Electric Eels and MX-80. Though Marquez claims these acts didn’t have a direct influence, it seems they made their way into his own collection at times and were certainly bands that were considered kindred spirits. “I definitely feel a bit of kinship with [those] bands. We were around at the same time and our records were probably in the same bins in independent record stores around the country, and I guess the world,” Marquez notes.
They broke into the recorded medium with their debut single, “Aliens In Our Midst” b/w “Little Joey” on their own Twirp imprint, paving the way for a self-styled self-reliance and DIY ethos that rings true to many today who’d take the same measures to get their music out. The band operated their label under both the names Twirp and Grok, the latter issuing “Aliens” again with a new b-side “One Thousand Reasons” as well as their follow-up “E.S.P.” The label, Marquez explains, came not out of the impulse to create an entity to foster their legacy alongside other bands’ talents, but as a means to an end to get the music out into the world. He elaborates, “As soon as I learned that there was a record pressing plant that only charged a few hundred bucks to press a record I knew I had to make a one. Records have to have labels with information printed on them, and Twirp and Grok are pretty much just words to fill spaces.”
Those first couple of singles led to an eventual record deal, though not one that would have as much impact in the Sates as one would hope. The band came to connect with Wally Van Middendorp, of the band Minny Pops, who also happened to run the Dutch label Plurex. The label would issue their sole LP Alpha Jerk in 1979. Maquez notes that there was never a follow-up planned, the band itself being just “just too unstable to exist.” And though it was packed with lyrics that would have rightly resonated with a generation thirsty for punk’s rebellion and outsider status, the album slunk away to be filed with collector’s obsessions for years. I myself spent many months searching for any shred of The Twinkeyz in the early 2000s and relief came only when the masters were put in the able hands of Karl Ikola.
One of the main strikes against Alpha Jerk’s original run was that the sound quality was a bit dodgy. No disrespect to Houston and Moon Studios, but the band was partial to a two-take-and-done process and the studio itself was more setup for commercial work in its construction. Ikola restored the tapes to the quality that befit them and released an amazing retrospective that included the album plus a plethora of b-sides and extra tracks on his Anopheles imprint in 1998, which almost immediately became as scarce as the originals. Thankfully he also helmed the vinyl comp Cartune Land which held most of the original LP and came to fruition in 2002. This was the last known blip in the radar of The Twinkeyz prior to 2016. Finally, though, after almost 40 years, the original Alpha Jerk is back in print, augmented with Ikola’s stellar mixes and in its original packaging. It’s a record that should have been marked as influencing a generation built on weirdo pop, comic books and sci-fi.
Still, the mark of Alpha Jerk is felt strong and it’s stood as a sort of secret handshake between those of us with a pillaging lust for the kind of records that don’t fill “best of the decade” lists, those with ears that want to hear what slipped between the cracks and grew. When you find someone who knows the record, it’s like an instant pass into a discussion of bygone youth and missed glory. Thanks to S-S its back now, but I’m sure not for long. You’ll want to take notice when someone gives you a second chance.
As for Marquez, he’s taken up a different medium these days to channel his outsider force. Over the intervening decades he’s become a name in illustration and contributes to comics. His work can be seen at his site Cartune Land.
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