The Bloody Mannequin Orchestra (BMO) was formed in the DC suburb of Bethesda sometime around 1982. It emerged, much as life did from the primordial soup, by happenstance: the original motive was nothing more than to gather in Colin's basement and make noise. Even prior to this, roots of BMO's eventual path could be found: many of the original band members would gather at Charles' house after school and rap out improvised lyrics to "Cool as Shit," which ultimately became a BMO classic, over a soundtrack provided by "Reggae Dancing," by Kool and the Gang.
Of the original group, Charles, Alex, Colin, Benjy, and Roger, perhaps only Charles, Colin and Benjy knew how to play an instrument. For perhaps a year, the band would get together on random occasions, and make tapes. Benjy didn't last long, because he listened to Yes and considered BMO to be "not music." During this time, BMO frequently invited guest stars to record on the tapes, including Brick, later immortalized in "Theme for Brick."
At some point, much to their suprise, BMO got asked to play a party at Natalie Avery's house. (She was later to be in the band Fireparty). The notion that someone would actually ask the band to play somewhere was a novel concept. The band played in the living room, and most of the guests at the party hung out outside on the lawn until they were done. Nonetheless, this was the beginning of the road to stardom for BMO.
BMO also at some point around this time released its first few songs on the Simply Suburbe compilation series by WGNS, which was then a studio consisting of limited equipment borrowed from Walt Whitman High School's audio-visual room by soundman and Fungus of Terror guitarist Geoff Turner (who also contributed some nimble guitar licks to some of the early recordings). The songs were mostly simple droning pop hooks without chord changes that would repeat and repeat for a while and then stop. Despite their simplicity, they were undeniably catchy. The band members would take turns playing different instruments, although Alex never played drums.
Sometime after this, Colin announced that his girlfriend, Sharon, was joining the band, giving BMO a permanent and capable guitarist for the first time. Sharon was a couple of years older than the other band members and actually had real experience in real bands (Chalk Circle). Lots of gigs at keg parties in the outer suburbs of Maryland and Virginia, attended by guests usually a few years older than most of the high school BMO-ers, ensued. Meanwhile, BMO was learning to write songs that had more than two chords in them, and then songs with verses and choruses, bridges and breaks. This party circuit also enabled BMO to learn to enhance its stage presence by writing set lists beforehand, rather than arguing onstage about which song to play next, as they previously had tended to do. And then, the first real gig, during "Zero Summer," 1983, at Oscar's Eye, a makeshift club above a transvestite bar in a condemned building sitting along what was then one of DC's porn strips along seething 9th Street. Other bands at this show included Nuclear Crayons, Wurmbaby, God & Co., and Man Ray.
Soon thereafter, BMO played dc space and the 9:30 club, and many more gigs ensued. On an amazing night of music on October 7, 1983, BMO played its first 930 gig, while across town, REM played the Ontario Theater and the Residents played the Pension Building. Over the coming months, the band played with a variety of other groups including Grand Mal, the Velvet Monkeys, Cereal Killer, Hate from Ignorance, Madhouse, and the Crippled Pilgrims. Although this was not a conscious move on the band's part, the music fit in with a thriving art-punk scene centered on dc space which included the bands listed above as well as bands like Egoslavia, 9353, and Brickhouse Burning. The scene coexisted, sometimes uneasily, with the larger, more ascetic harDCore scene.
In March 1984, the band played a now-notorious show at the 930 club with Einsturzende Neubauten. The show was marred from the start by an unprecedented blizzard which delayed even the soundcheck until 10pm. Also, Einsturzende Neubauten had asked to use BMO's instruments. Einsturzende played a wild set, which included setting the stage on fire and taking a jackhammer to the 930's famous center-stage column; but a visibly wasted Blixa also started wrecking BMO's instruments. Einsturzende fled town, claiming they had no money to pay for the damage. Moral of the story, obvious in hindsight: never lend your instruments to German industrial bands that make music by banging on things!
Another memorable BMO moment came in the spring of 1984 when the band played the talent show at their own high school, using a ruse to get in by auditioning with jazz/swing music rather than their usual pop-punk. This was a notable show both because of the size - 1,500 people, bigger than the largest number you could pack into a packed 9:30 club - and because a substantial proportion of the audience was hostile. Mayhem broke out as BMO's small gaggle of fans, including representatives of Reston-based Pudwak, rushed the stage. As the talent show organizers realized that the band was playing punk instead of what had been expected, they tried to shut the show down by lowering the hydraulic stage into the pit. The stage got stuck halfway down (one report has it that members of another band at the talent show prevented the organizers from lowering the stage) and the band wrapped up with a rousing rendition of "Cool as Shit." On a tape of the show made from within the audience, you can hear the crowd roaring in disapproval and horror at BMO's twisted music.
The band began recording at Inner Ear with money garnered from gigs, and put out its first and only record, Roadmap to Revolution in the spring of 1984. By the time the album came out, the band had already begun work on Streetlights in the Dark. Much like the Beatles who came apart while recording Let it Be, BMO's work on Streetlights in the Dark was plagued by bickering. The band broke up in summer 1984, after playing a sold-out show with the Dickies (who didn't show due to an injury), and Streetlights was released posthumously. Though little-known compared to Roadmap, and only available on cassette, some regard this as the band's best work.