Did you ever wonder where STARTLING MONIKER got its name? In the spirit of giving, I’m going to tell you…

More than a few years back, I was struggling through college. While I found the work fairly simple, I was having a very difficult time dealing with depression, people, life in general. Like today, I spent an inordinate amount of time on my radio and music obsessions, though I probably balance them much better with so-called “reality” today.

Anyhow… I had a few cool professors, the kind who challenged me with ideas and made it worthwhile to participate in class. One of these was Dr. Kevin Dettmar. As one of my many English profs (I say, exposing myself as a life-long reader) Dr. Dettmar got me thinking about the sort of things one could end up writing, especially for someone interested in music. He listened to Funkadelic, and I think he had even written academically about them at one point, which was something I had not realized was even possible until that time.

Naturally, when I finished my first self-release cdr, I gave him a copy. Why not?

On the other hand, I had some not-so-good professors. One of these was Lucia Perillo. I’d say “Dr. Perillo,” but I’m not sure exactly what her qualifications were. Sue me, this was seven-ish years ago. Anyhow, I didn’t care much for this professor, and that’s putting it lightly. She was scatter-brained, didn’t listen very well, and her class was completely disorganized. I’m sure that teaching a beginning creative writing class is a type of hell, but there were a number of obvious things she could have done to make it much, much better.

I wrote a lot of awful poetry for her class, but mostly with good intentions. At the time, I was very intrigued by the ability of some poets to give life to turbulent inner thought. While I obviously wasn’t able to do this myself (and still can’t!) I was trying. The trouble was that Ms. Perillo (okay, let’s give her a title) simply couldn’t listen. To my horror, she turned out to be one of those people who think they know what you’re going to say before you say it– and regardless of what comes out of your mouth, they respond in kind. It was a disaster; when my already-embittered hopes met her slack-jawed professorial poverty all hell broke loose.

Keeping in mind that I’ve rarely been a “traditional” anything, you can imagine how I reacted– first, by trying to live with it; next, criticism; and finally, open mockery of a completely absurd situation. I used my homework (which was always photocopied for class distribution) to plug environmental concerns, my radio show, the aforementioned album release, friend’s webpages… I even wrote a three-part “play” criticising Ms. Perillo herself, which I thought was certain to stimulate some understanding (more on this later on).

Eventually, I gave up. I won’t even try to claim that Ms. Perillo was the entire cause– I was impatient with many aspects of being on my own, dealing with depression, and had a lot of basic changes going on in my life– but I will say that she was a good example of the kind of person who makes all these matters that much worse. It wasn’t long afterwards that I quit university. I made a promise to myself to keep learning, but not necessarily in this way.

By now, you’re wondering if I’m ever going to get to the payoff– where did STARTLING MONIKER get its name?

Let’s backtrack a moment. Remember the self-release album I gave to Dr. Dettmar? He gave it back, with a cheery note describing it as “difficult listening.” I loved it, but wished he’d kept the album, as it was more of a gift than a loaner. Naturally, he also commented on the name of my project “Electric Kitten Vomit,” a name I had made up as a child for a fictional band I imagined to be the worst in the world.

Although I certainly didn’t waste time with my single-speed cdr burner to give Ms. Perillo a copy, she didn’t let the Electric Kitten Vomit name didn’t go unnoticed either. For all her inability to cobble together a functioning classroom, she apparently was able to be reached by my page-margin marketing style– on March 3, 2000 I was the subject of her Chronicle of Higher Education opnion piece “E-mail and the Law of Unintended Consequences,” where she put her amazing ignorance on display for nearly 1700 words. I remember getting a rather secretive message (I’m still not sure from whom) telling me to check out the March issue of the Chronicle. There I was: “Student X” (clever, eh?) and my “band” Electric Kitten Vomit. Oh, how I wish I had been more litigious! Had it not been for my naivety regarding libel, I might have been a rich man today.

The punchline, though, came next month in April– coolness to the rescue! In the following issue of The Chronicle of Higher Education, Dr. Dettmar published his opinion piece, “Don’t Forget the Songs That Made You Cry.”And what did it say in the first paragraph?

“The drive there, leaving in the early morning dark for an 8 a.m. appointment, had been uneventful; the tunes I had chosen for the trip were wake-up tunes: the lush, loud power pop of Garbage’s first album, followed by a self-published noise collage by one of my students who records under the rather startling moniker Electric Kitten Vomit. By the time I arrived for my appointment I was awake, alert, and ready to take on the world.”

Now you know.


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