Get Smart! – Action Reaction

Get Smart! – Action Reaction (Fever Records) 1984. Get Smart! was a super-cool band from Lawrence KS who, along with the Micronotz and the Embarrassment, formed the holy trinity of Lawrence KS bands. I first heard them on my local college radio station KCFV, which in a moment of clarity decided to quit playing Ultravox and Depeche Mode and instead popped on “They Walk in Pairs” one afternoon. I believe I had just got home from school. I heard it and was floored.

I bought the album action reaction shortly after that and my initial reaction was that they sounded very much like Pink Flag-era Wire. Especially on songs like “On and On”. I can still hear it. “Ankle Deep In Mud” is like “Reuters” for instance. But, like a lot of things I have talked about on Last Days, Get Smart! came to their art and music from a place they referred to as “Berlin on the Plains” and that made it all the more interesting to me. Bassist and co-singer, Lisa Wertman sums up a lot of what I talk about on here:

The music that was on American radio and in the public consciousness in the late 70s and early 80s just wasn’t what was in our heads. We were too nervous, too excited and too creative to let Foreigner and Journey be our musical wallpaper. I didn’t know what David Byrne was going on about in “Psycho Killer”, but I knew that it was exactly what I wanted to hear. The handful of American (and scores of British) acts that were taking chances at the time were what we lived for. And we were determined to further the cause and fill the air with something exciting. Also, going to college in the middle of Kansas had a way of making you want to do the musical equivalent of farting in church.

I can’t tell ya how many people I annoyed with this LP. My HC Punk buddies didn’t like it cuz it was too unorthodox. The girls I knew didn’t like it because it was too raw. Being a high-school aged Get Smart! fan was a lonely thing to be in 1985!

A lot of the conventions on this album; the jerky rhythms, the jagged guitar chords were all holdovers from post-punk trailblazers like Gang of Four. It was post-punk as filtered thru Midwestern mind-sets much in the same vein as Your Food or The Embarrassment. By the time this album was released, that ship was sailing away on the post-punk sound and was being replaced by the more home-grown and rootsier weirdness of the Butthole Surfers, Scratch Acid and the Volcano Suns.

Today, post-punk is all the rage, so really action reaction is ripe for re-discovery. There was a 7 inch EP before this called Words Move. I would love to hear it. Shortly, after the release of this album, Get Smart! moved to Chicago where they released their second LP Swimming With Sharks which was good but not as good as Action Reaction. After that they broke up. Where are they now? Lisa Wertman (singer and bassist) is still around Chicago. Marc Koch is back in Kansas and plays in Cryin Out Loud, “an eastern Kansas area band that has been playing its own blend of swingin’ twanged-out garagabilly honkytonkification for a handful of years now”. I dunno what happened to Frank Loose, but he was an insane drummer.

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23 Responses to Get Smart! – Action Reaction

  1. maxson says:

    The Words Move 7″ is awesomo…still have, but lack the means to dump vinyl these days.

    Get Smart! was a fantastic band. First met them when Your Food opened up for them when they came to town and played at the old Beat Club. That ’82/3 era was a great time, when the midwestern bands were cross-pollinating the region. That show got a great review in the local ‘zine (“Current Month” #2–aka “October”) and then Frank wrote a flattering note about us to the Offense Newsletter (out of Columbus OH)…& Your Food’s first out-of-state gig was in Bloomington IN, arranged by & opening for Get Smart!…before hardcore became the dominant species, there was this great sense of not competition but community–that we were all creating this new American music that would finally bury all that prepunk crapola and force the radio to play this vibrant exciting intelligent music. I mean, we knew it wasn’t really going to happen, and we played with X singing in the background “will the last American band to get played on the radio please bring the flag”.

  2. buy levitra says:

    Hey Mike,
    I just got word from Frank that the version of “Black Mirror” on the SP7 cassette is different to the “Action Reaction” version, and the version of “On And On” from the IS1 cassette is also different (even though it sounds identical).

  3. onlynecessary says:

    Hey Robman, I have a backup copy of SP 7. My original mysteriously disappeared over the years, but I did have a backup (I made backups for the car cassette player, which would unpredictably munch tapes back in the day.)

    I’ll try to find it. I have about 1000 cassettes to sift through. As I recall, the SP “Black Mirror” might be the same recording that appeared on “AR.”

    Tell Lisa I said hi! I can be found relatively easily on the net, as I have a myspace page in my “punk” name. I also have a gmail account, with a period between mike and blur. I’ve exchanged emails with Lisa about 7-8 years ago, and I see Marc sporadically, since he’s in the area–but I haven’t talked to Frank at all in over 20 years!

  4. Rob1 says:

    Hey Mike,
    I’ll be sure to pass your message one, so don’t be surprised if you get a message in your gmail box from Lisa sometime soon.

    I asked Lisa about the Provisions thing and she doesn’t recall it, but she said that it sounded like the kind of thing Marc might have said back then.

    I just found a copy of the German cassette “Inspirational Series #1″ which has the GS! track “On And On” on it, but from a quick hearing it sounds like it’s also from the same as the AR version.

    We’ve stayed in touch with both Frank and Marc, along with Taylor Ross and Bob Lara who are both still here in the Chicago area. Frank actually stopped by for a visit a few months ago, so we’ve seen him even more recently than Marc.

    There have been a couple of 3/4ths impromptu GS! reunions of sorts over the years. Marc and Denise used to come to Chicago ever Xmas to visit his folks, so while in town they’d usually get together with the old gand, and I think it was Xmas 1995 when we all came back to our house and had a jam in the basement. Obviously this was without Frank, but you had Marc, Lisa and Bob Lara, so you had 3/4 of the latter day line up there. Then a year or so after that, we travelled out to Oskaloosa for one of Marc’s 4th July parties, so there was another 3/4 re-union, with Steve Eddy (Immortal Micronots) sitting in on drums.

  5. rob says:

    Just in case anyone still monitoring this thread, I have just added a bunch of stuff to Get Smart!’s homepage and have started a myspace page for them.


  6. mike blur says:

    Actually, Get Smart moved to Chicago sometime after their “final gig” in Lawrence December 10, 1982. Action Reaction came out 2 years after that. AS I recall, the album was much delayed and it contains songs that (at the time) were 3-4 years old–”Knight” was the only one I was not familiar with when the album came out.

    Get Smart is (was) a Sub-Pop band! “Black Mirror” appeared on Sub-pop Tape #7, in 1982 or so.

    Get Smart caused a few sore feelings after they left Lawrence in early 1983. There was an interview in “Provisions” zine outta Tulsa OK, where–after an emotional final gig in Lawrence, and heartfelt goodbyes were exchanged–the band basically told Provisions that “whew, we are damn glad to be out of Kansas!” After reading that, I took my copies of “Words Move” and the Fresh Sounds flexi and shot them with my .22 rifle, Burroughs style.

    They were very popular with the 16-25 (and older) crowd from Lawrence. Their shows were always, loud, spunky, and fun, with a lot of random dancing and hopping around. They played often, whenever and wherever they could. I saw them dozens of times. After they left Lawrence, I believe they did not come back again until they played the Outhouse (1986?) and the furor over the Provisions interview had died down.

    Yes, Marc Koch is currently in Cryin’ out Loud, but I will add that former Micronotz drummer Steve Eddy is also in the band! in fact, back in the day Marc Koch would play drums in the Micronotz whenever Steve disappeared on one of his family vacations!

    For the uninitiated, I would recommend downloading “Ankle Deep in Mud”–their signature song–first, then “Black Mirror” and then the rest if you dig that.

    –mike blur

  7. admin says:

    Shit Mike! I forgot to mention your online flyer resource which is where I got the “angular haircut girl” flyer.

    Its interesting that they were popular with the 16-25 crowd in Lawrence cuz as I said, I could not find a single person who liked them when I was a teen and I showed the LP to everyone.

    A testament to thier live shows really…or maybe a testament to St Louis’ lameness at that time…

    I would recommend starting with “On and On”!

  8. Erich says:

    great death metal!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  9. NorCo says:

    Joe: Didn’t Get Smart open for The Replacements at a show at The Amory in St Louis? I think this was spring ’86. Hard to remember much about them because of all Bob Stinson’s shenanigans. . -Larry from NorCo

  10. jon says:

    Hi, Joe! Great post. I have the “Words Move” ep (without .22 bullethole) and would be glad to share with you if no one else volunteers a copy…

  11. admin says:

    Larry – Yep I believe Get Smart! did open for The Replacements back then. Get Smart! came thru town a few times and never managed to make much of an impression here. They were loved in Lawrence and Chicago but as often happened, we just didn’t seem to “get” what they were doing.

    Now the Replacements, with thier drunken rootsiness, struck a chord here that is still playing.

    by the way….howthahellyadoin’?

    Erich — I suggest thrashing to “Face”. It is the most death metal song on this LP.

    Jon — I would love a copy of that if you can spare it! I have never heard it and always wanted to. You can email me at joestumble@lastdaysofmanonearth f you wanna take this offline…

  12. eyenoise says:

    Thanks for posting this. Frank Loose works as an Art Director in Orlando, Florida. I’ve met him a couple of times.

  13. b. brown says:

    Oh man, fantastic. First read about them in Trouser Press eons ago and only heard them for the first time a couple years back. There’s something about what a three-piece band can do…

  14. Jeff H. says:

    Thanks for posting this…I used to own/love/overplay this LP until it was lost in a move. Fantastic to hear it again.

  15. Simon says:

    This is really great, thanks! Just made a CDR of this, the Endtables and the Your Food from your posts and would kill to find these on vinyl…

  16. booblikon says:

    i remember hearing “What It Is We Fear” all the time on WRUW 91.1 FM in Cleveland. probably still have a shitty tape of it somewhere, i kept all my radio tapes. nice to finally have a nice-sounding (stereo) copy of it. thanks, Joe.

  17. Drindle says:

    Love these guys, Great band, and great people also. They worked so hard in the pre-indy world and never caught a break. I wonder how they would fair in todays market? I imagine them with songs on the radio and a life making music. God knows they gave it all back in the day.

    —Brendan, absolute fan

  18. The Robman says:

    Hey Guys, it’s great to see that people still remember Get Smart! even though it’s been 17 years since they split up. I never saw the band live, but I married the bass player, which is a great consolation prize! We’re still in touch with Frank and Mark, and Bob Lara who joined the band as a 2nd guitarist in the later years. Lisa is currently in a band that plays music for kids called “Jeanie B and the Jelly Beans”, here’s a link

    I’ve been busy transferring all the old records over to digital, and Frank has supplied me with a ton of live cassettes which I’ve also been transferring. If any of you have the Fresh Sounds cassette and you’ve tried playing it recently, you’ve probably noticed that the tape hasn’t stood the test of time. Fortunately, we still have the master tapes from that session, so I hope to be able to get some good digital copies at some point, just gotta hook the reel to reel tape machine up.

    If youd like to take a trip down memory lane listening to some of the old tunes, here’s some MP3s for your further listening pleasure…

    I’ve set up a lyrics page for them at lyricwiki and have loaded up the Sharks lyrics already. I’ll get the rest of them up there sooner or later, unless you guys get there first.!


  19. admin says:

    Rob — This is totally killer. You’ve got everything posted on that site!

    The links need to be fixed though…right now there is a blank space before the “.mp3″ thats making em all dead. I got around it by manually removing the space and I am finally listening to “Eat Sleep A GoGo”

    Thanks for sharing this man!

  20. maxson says:

    Rob, dude, this is all so excellent! And yea, helluva consolation prize! Be sure to tell Lisa she left all the Louisville boys drooling–”omigod, not only is she the coolest most talented girl in the world, she’s also incredibly beautiful!” was the consensus.

    It is too bad that there were so many great bands in that era that plugged away to no avail, ahead of their times, even as they laid the foundation for the explosion of cool sounds from the late ’80s onward even to today.

    Keep transferring those tapes before they start flaking!

  21. The Robman says:

    Hey admin, thanks for spotting the bad URLs, I just fixed them.

  22. The Robman says:

    Hey guys, does anyone have the ‘Sub Pop 7′ cassette that Mike mentioned in his post, and if you do, do you have the ability to rip MP3s from it (or better yet, WAV files). I’d like a copy of the GS! “Black Mirror” track from this tape if possible as it’s almost certainly a different version than the one on the LP.

  23. Dave says:

    Incredible! I haven’t heard these songs since the ’80′s! Loved the Midwestern music scene back then.

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