Back in January (on the same day as my interview with The Blind Shake, in fact) I had the privilege of interviewing Michael Yonkers for the fifth time. (Previous interviews include: TEVS #4, TEVSCAST #2, #5, #9; this will be the first one to appear on Base SG.) Among other things, we discussed his ongoing work with The Blind Shake, including their most recent release together, Period. (By the way, I just heard that Mark Trehus will be repressing Carbohydrates Hydrocarbons on his label Nero’s Neptune. The cover will look the same, but it will not be handmade like the original pressing. — M.R.Y.) It’s never easy to trim down an interview, but this task is made even more difficult when your subject frequently says things like, “When I saw James Brown in 1965…” As is always the case, Mr. Yonkers was humble, witty, and kind; I hope that much comes through in the transcript below.
One thing we did not touch on in the interview is Michael’s health, because frankly I have a difficult time even fathoming what he is going through while I ask my dumb questions. The following is a document written by Michael Yonkers, titled “What is wrong with Michael’s back?”, in which he explains just that, in his own words. Our interview begins after the cover image.
Howdy, Michael Yonkers here…
In the past, I believe I have failed at my attempts to explain what is wrong with my health. I have sent medical information, that probably no one understands. I have finally put together information that I think is more clear to the average person. I sure hope it helps, as I am very frustrated in trying to explain this complex disaster, and continuing to fail to get the seriousness across.
This section is about the chemical Pantopaque that is causing me many serious problems, and has for decades. In the 1970s my spinal fluid was drained, and replaced with Pantopaque… TWICE! This was a huge mistake!
Pantopaque Arachnoiditis, A Toxic Chemical Tragedy
by Gil May
This is an excerpt from a long article in Nexus Mag, by a man who has compiled many thousands of pages of information about Pantopaque caused Arachnoiditis.
This is not just another bad-luck medical story. This is a story of deliberate deception by a pharmaceutical drug manufacturer that has sacrificed people’s health in the name of corporate profits, with the ongoing approval of the Federal Government. This is an intensely sad human-interest story of a medical chemical that went horribly wrong and whose effects have been hushed up by both the Federal Government which approved it and the pharmaceutical company which manufactured it.
This corrosive chemical is an oil-based acid called Iophendylate (Pantopaque). It has been used as an imaging dye that is injected into the spinal canal before spinal X-rays (myelograms) to increase contrast. It has been sold under brand names such as Pantopaque and Myodil. These dyes have been manufactured and sold by several companies. Pantopaque was manufactured by Lafayette Pharmaceutical Company, later acquired by Alcon Laboratories, using materials supplied by the Eastman Kodak Company– materials originally designed for use in photographic processing. Iophendylate (Pantopaque) contains hydrochloric and sulphuric acid, potassium permanganate (raw iodine) and benzene (a cancer-causing substance) in an oil base (with other chemicals, like antifreeze and preservatives).
It causes an excruciating condition known as Arachnoiditis as it migrates throughout the body, causing massive allergic reactions and destroying tissues, nerves and organs, slowly causing death. When the chemical causes the nerves and spinal canal to “fuse” into a conglomerate of mixed-up tissues, nerves and spinal cord, this is called Adhesive Arachnoiditis, and it’s the worst and cruelest form of the condition.
Can you imagine what this drug did to patients’ bodies? It corroded the spinal cord, nerves and tissues and migrated into the brain and other organs, causing excruciating, ballistic, nuclear hell (as many have described it), paralysis and even death for these innocent victims. Those who died were lucky; the others lived on, wheelchair-bound in intense pain or bedridden and crippled in agony.
Iophendylate (Pantopaque) is corrosive: it dissolves paint, linoleum, rubber, glue, cork tiles and polystyrene coffee cups. Injecting it into people’s spinal canals, where it corrodes the nerves and spinal cord and wreaks havoc throughout the body and brain, is stupidity straight out of a Nazi horror movie. Test your imagination: you are being very slowly cut in half from the bottom to the top with a carpenter’s power saw– if that makes you feel a little uneasy and squeamish, you’re getting close to what many Arachnoiditis sufferers go through 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The symptoms often include impotence in males, limitation of spinal movement, weakness in the legs, and a need for regular analgesia. Headache, bladder and bowel dysfunction are common. Burning pain is the significant feature, with one study reporting 96% of patients with lower back pain and 98% with leg pain. No other disease causes this burning sensation, which is also reported in the insteps, inner aspects of the knees, and in the Lumbosacral area. However, Arachnoiditis can go undiagnosed for years, and even then may only be diagnosed by excluding all other causes. Arachnoiditis sufferers are often unable to work; the average life-span is reduced by 12 years (although another study stated “by up to 20 years”).
The rest of the above article is quite long and very depressing… this is enough to give you an idea as to what Pantopaque Arachnoiditis is.
Below is a list of exactly what is wrong in my spine. I feel it is much easier to understand than me trying to explain it.
The following information is taken directly from the reports, of tens of thousands of dollars worth of tests, and scans done on my spine. (With short explanations from medical dictionaries.)
01 – Pantopaque induced Adhesive Arachnoiditis. (Inflammation of the middle layer of the myelin sheath. Pantopaque is a chemical that was used as a contrast agent for X-rays, before it was discovered to be extremely poisonous. The spinal fluid was drained, and the spinal canal was filled with Pantopaque in order to get better X-rays. It was impossible to remove all the Pantopaque following the X-rays.)
02 – Severe bony foraminal stenosis. (Narrowing of the hole that the nerves pass through when exiting the spinal cord.)
03 – Complete collapse of the L4-L5 disc. (Resulting in two vertebrae grinding on each other – bone on bone.)
04 – Advanced degeneration of the L3-L4 disc. (Partially collapsed.)
05 – Arachnoidal adhesions at L4 and L5. (Nerves sticking together, or attaching to other parts of the body.)
06 – Annular bulging posteriorly within both neural foramen at L3, L4. (Horizontal protrusion of disc material, pushing into where it should not be.)
07 – Prominent Schmorl’s nodes. (Vertical protrusions of disc material, pushing into where it should not be.)
08 – Multi-level degenerative lumbar spondylosis. (Osteoarthritis – ‘bone inflammation’.)
09 – Left sided sacralization of a transitional L5 segment. (Unnatural fusing of parts of the vertebrae.)
10 – Necrosis of the end plates in the lumbar region. (These parts have died.)
11 – Ganglionic compression at L4. (Nerve sack being squeezed.)
12 – Bilateral facet joint effusions at the L3-L4 level. (Unnatural collection of fluid.)
13 – Neural impingement within the right foramen at the L3 level. (Pressure of the nerve bundles as they leave the spinal cord.)
14 – Scoliosis of the spine. (Improper curvature of the spine.)
15 – Hairline fractures in the L4 vertebrae. (Small breaks in the bone.)
16 – Severe osteoporosis of all the low back vertebrae. (Bone loss leading to structural fragility.)
17 – The left neural foramen at L4-L5 is narrowed. (Narrowing of the hole in the vertebrae that the nerve bundles pass through when leaving the spinal cord.)
18 – Marked compression of the right L4 nerve root and ganglion within the narrowed canal. (Pressure of the nerves, and nerve sack as it leaves the spinal cord.)
19 – Degeneration of the L5-S1 facet joints. (Facet joints allow for flexion, with stability of the vertebrae.)
20 – Circumferential annular disruption and spurring of the L3-L4 disc. (Tears, and horizontal protrusions around the disc midline.)
21 – Chronic aseptic spinal meningitis. (Repeated inflammation of the lining surrounding the brain and spinal cord. In my case, caused by Pantopaque.)
Also – Severe allergies, breathing problems, and chemical sensitivities. (Caused by the inflammatory response to the chemical Pantopaque, that has spread throughout the body.)
Many people have asked me about the possibility of a lawsuit. There already was a class action lawsuit in America. It was in the courts for many, many years. It was settled some years back. I was NOT a part of the lawsuit. I have also decided NOT to sue as an individual. The reason that I am NOT going to be involved in any legal actions, is that my health is most important. A lawsuit where one sues huge corporations, that have huge sums of money, huge numbers of lawyers, and huge amounts of time… is very destructive to the mind and body. I decided it was not worth going through all that.
I’m impressed that you’re still using my favorite format [to record the interview].
Is that right?
Oh yes, I do like cassettes.
I was just going to ask because– well, Weather Map [Michael Yonkers solo release from 2010] is on cassette.
It is one of my favorite formats.
It’s convenient. I have a lot of cassette machines. I shouldn’t say it’s my favorite format, but it is a very useful format for me. It doesn’t take up a lot of space, yet one can still see it operating. I enjoy seeing the movement. Reel-to-reel is the best format for recording, in my humble opinion; and vinyl is the best format for listening. But I like using cassettes. However, for my own listening pleasure I use mp3s. Why? Because I can fit it in my pocket.
Weather Map kind of snuck up on me, I just happened to see it in Yeti [Records] one day.
I’m amazed you saw it, because there’s not many around. John Kass is just making a few at a time.
So it’s a Go Johnny Go release?
Yeah. I just gave him a bunch of stuff on a CD-R and he put it together.
So are these songs from a variety of–
Uh, from different CD-Rs I’ve done over the years. I’ve done quite a few CD-Rs, but no one knows about them because I’m not doing much with them yet. You probably have more than most people. I’ve kind of lost track of those. I make them and then I throw them in boxes and that’s it. I have this problem with things that are ‘done’. I lose interest in them very quickly.
I was going to ask about Period, seemed like it came together pretty quickly.
The songs were written in October 2010. The Blind Shake and I talked about it, and decided to record the music. The Blind Shake practiced it separately from me, and then at a certain point we practiced it together. We recorded it in one afternoon, all of our stuff is done like that. I can’t physically handle long sessions, and doing things over and over. We did everything in one take. It went really, really well. Working with The Blind Shake is just so natural for me. It’s so easy. There’s never any arguing, fighting, or disagreements… ever, which is amazing. We had the perfect engineer, Neil [Weir]. It was an outstanding combination of people, and I think it comes out in the record.
I wouldn’t have thought it was all one take.
I don’t keep track of these things, but I don’t remember doing anything more than once. After the songs were recorded I did add some harmonies. That’s how Carbohydrates [Hydrocarbons] was recorded too. All the tracks on Microminiature Love were also recorded in one take. I’m not saying we are geniuses because we can do that. It just means that we have done a huge amount of preparation.
I did not know that Microminiature Love was all one take.
Yes, in 1967 The Michael Yonkers Band was part of this thing called Candy Floss Productions and this is the way it worked– there was a guy named Peter Steinberg who ran Candy Floss Productions out of Dove Studios in Bloomington, MN. When you were a member of Candy Floss you contributed a certain percentage of every gig you did and Candy Floss let that accumulate, and then you could use that money to go into Dove Studios to record. We didn’t play out that much, so we didn’t accumulate a lot of funds, but when we accumulated enough for one hour of recording time, I decided to cash in [group laughter]. The engineer, Steve Longman, was excellent. He was a little bit shocked at first because we didn’t want any drum booth, we didn’t want any vocal booth, we didn’t want anything recorded separately. I said, “All we want to do is set up in a line like we do on stage. If you put up some mics, we will just play the songs one right after another, as though we are playing a gig.” Although the recording was made in 1968, the band had been playing the songs all through 1967. Steve really got into it, and he was very helpful. We recorded it in under an hour. We were not sure we could do it, but it just worked out.
I wanted to ask– I noticed the album [Period] had more swing to it, like you’ve got “Talk To Me,” “When Will I,” “A Little Crazy,” “Oh I know,” “Whatcha Gonna,” they all kind of have–
You’re right, but it wasn’t on purpose. That’s how they vomited out [group laughter]. I hadn’t thought of that until you said it.
I wondered if some influence was sneaking through.
Nope, no thinking whatsoever [we laugh].
That would be the title of your motivational seminar.
“No thinking whatsoever”? Yeah. Just get out there, and just do it [we laugh].
There’s about three decades of untapped material that hasn’t come out, from the 70s, 80s, and 90s.
A lot of it is on cassette and reel-to-reel. I gotta get into that eventually, but I don’t know what to do with it yet. There is no sense in rushing. I know there are a few people that would like to hear it.
You’re looking at one.
I know, I’m getting there. I just can’t make any promises. I’m tired [we laugh].
All these things are on my mind. The stuff with The Blind Shake, that’s a whole other thing all together. Those tracks are very important to me. That material deserves having Neil [Weir] involved. It makes a huge difference. As far as my own DIY stuff is concerned, I couldn’t give a rat’s ass. I really mean that. A lot of my diddling around stuff, I’m mainly doing it for myself. I see it mainly as personal therapy. When I do my DIY recordings, I am not thinking at all about what will happen to them.
At our last interview you told me that you were done with collaborations–
Except for The Blind Shake.
So it’s changed a little bit?
What I really meant when I was talking about collaborations was… artists getting together, deciding what they’re going to do, coming up with the material, jamming… I am not interested in doing that at all anymore. It is a different situation with The Blind Shake. I already have the music, it’s already written. Once The Blind Shake agree to do another record, I just say, “Here are the songs, figure out your parts” and they do without me involved. I don’t consider it a collaboration per se. It’s not the kind of grueling collaboration that I want to avoid. With music, for me at this point, with the injuries and health problems I am dealing with, I just can’t do collaborations anymore. The Blind Shake thing is different, they know the situation and we’ve all agreed to it. That’s the only thing I’m interested in doing, once a year we do an album. That’s it.
Sweet. I’ll keep quiet on that.
Why, is this a secret?
I thought it was. Is it an open secret?
Yeah, it is an “open secret.” We hope to do another one. I’m working on some stuff. The Blind Shake have their own great thing going on. So, us just recording once a year works out well for them. By the way, a videographer from California named Colin Frangos is doing a documentary on the recording of Period by Michael Yonkers with The Blind Shake. The name of the documentary will be Hey Hey What. That is also an “open secret.”
I was talking to Jim [Blaha], and he mentioned that Swami [Records] was interested in putting out Carbohydrates Hydrocarbons [the first collaboration between Michael Yonkers and The Blind Shake], but only if John Reis [founder of Swami Records] could rerecord it.
I met and talked to John last summer, he totally understands why we didn’t want to rework it. I’m sure it would’ve been great with John at the helm, I love his stuff (Hot Snakes). He would’ve done a great job, I think we would’ve done a great job, it would’ve been a totally different thing. I have this peculiarity that once something is done, it’s done… and it’s time to move on. I just wasn’t in the mood to do it all over again. It’s just never been my style, what’s done is done.
The Yonkers catalogue continues to grow each year, so here is a quick list of some of my favorites (in no particular order):
- The High Speed Recording Complex – Michael Yonkers & GR
- Lovely Gold – Michael Yonkers
- It’s Only Yonkers – Michael Yonkers
- Period – Michael Yonkers with The Blind Shake
- Yea Right/My Mind Machine – Michael Yonkers