Archive for November 2009

magic tricks

November 29, 2009

The first time I ever heard of Jan Kotik I was sitting in my friend Caleb Brown’s living room in Cambridge Massacusetts and holding a copy of the Mommyheads album “Acorn” in my hands. It was winter 1990. Caleb and I were enthralled and inspired and wished we knew these people who sounded this cool, weird, smart and fun.

Two years later in 1992 I was living with Daniel in Brooklyn and we listened to Acorn together, and also to some tapes of  unreleased Mommyheads recordings he had gotten from Jenny Toomey of Simple Machines. We sat in awe listening to  Jan’s drumming and the creative genius of the songs and arrangements. The fact that they were all teenagers when they made these tapes just added to the mystique of this band. One of us had heard that Jan still lived in Brooklyn. We wondered if we’d ever be lucky enough to meet him or to hear him play. We never dreamed we would get to play music with him. A few years later, thanks to the urging of Tim Thomas, we did get to meet Jan, who was then playing with the mighty Beekeeper. We quickly became family and the rest is our history.

I don’t know if I ever got over my awe of Jan. But if I didn’t, it was my fault, not Jan’s. Unlike other people who possess staggering intelligence and talent, Jan never used it to make others feel inferior. He never did to me, and he could have! Instead we were family, traveling and touring together for a few precious years, enjoying the absurdity and beauty that life on the road in the USA has to offer. And I got to listen to him play every night. Every inch of his body played those drums, every beat spontaneous, alive and bursting.

The pictures above are from a lunch we had at the Moondance Diner in NYC in 1997, with Daniel and Matthew and someone took pictures- was it Austin or Elaine?- I can’t remember. Jan and I shared a love for fake magic tricks. I would put a scarf over my hand, and then dramatically pull it away. Jan would gasp in amazement that there wasn’t anything under the scarf. Of course there was never anything there in the first place. We could laugh about this kind of thing for an hour. In the picture you can see that the scarf is placed over a cup, and then Jan pulled it away. Nobody else had the patience for this joke of mine but Jan. Why did he? I’ll never know. But I think it had something to do with the sweetness in his heart being as immense as the brilliance of his mind and the talent in his hands.

Elizabeth Mitchell

Woodstock NY


Jan with Church of Betty 1991

November 2, 2009
Jan with Church of Betty 1991

Butthole Surfer Jan w/ Chris Rael, Claire deBrunner, Cindy Rickmond, Ed Pastorini. Photo by Robert Barker

Young Mommyheads & Almost Havel

November 2, 2009

I met the Mommyheads in 1988. They were all still teenagers, Jan the youngest. They were brilliant and ecstatic, completely instinctive in their musical reactions to each other. They played some of the most exciting shows I’ve ever seen, child geniuses bending your brain and heart into pretzels. At 17, Jan was a formidable creative force in the group. His playing was unbridled, yet utterly intelligent. He was a huge component of the band’s unique expression. Offstage he was the same sweet, hilarious, gentle kid we all knew in later years. When the other Mommyheads moved west, Jan played in Church of Betty for several years. He was the group’s original drummer, then when Jon Feinberg joined, he moved to guitar and was equally innovative. His family’s artistic notoriety in Czechoslavakia moved Havel to come to a Church of Betty show in Prague in ’93. We were driven there from Vienna by Ulf, a very stoned employee of our booking agent. He ended up taking us via Bratislava (oops, wrong country!) where we ran out of gas. I still see Jan’s boney rear end bobbing in front of me pushing the van up a hill, on the crest of which a neon sign for the area’s only gas station came into view like a mirage in the desert. By the time we got to the club, it was already boarded up and dark. Everyone from Havel to the beer bottle washers had gone home to bed. We dragged ourselves to Jan’s aunt and uncle’s place and did the same. – Chris Rael