After doing so much work updating the MurileeMartin.com homepage so that it includes links to my writing, there’s another bit of housekeeping that needs doing: it’s about time I explained how and why I use a pseudonym that sounds like a girl’s name. I’ve talked about it before, but never really told the whole story in one place. Fasten your seat belts, because this Leyland P76 will be heading into weird territory.
By now, just about everyone who reads my stuff knows that my real name is Phil Greden, aka Judge Phil of the LeMons Supreme Court, so why eschew my proud Luxembourgian-American surname for such a confusing pen name? It all goes back to 1986, when my personal train jumped the tracks leading to a career in mechanical engineering and veered off into a bunch of art and writing nonsense; this trainwreck gets described in some detail in Part 1 of the Impala Hell Project story. At age 20, I got into writing one-act plays, and— just as marihuana leads directly to the white horse— that led to writing and doing performance art and (what would today be called) multimedia installations. Since I wanted to create my own sounds for these pieces, I learned how to use an early Tascam Portastudio four-track tape recorder from my friend and artistic collaborator, Dan Goodsell (who has since gone on to become quite famous as the creator of Mr. Toast and friends) and hooked up a bunch of cheap analog effects pedals to a shortwave radio and police scanner. Then I rounded up some friends who could play actual musical instruments, and— in early 1987— my new band was born.
As Yunnies (Young Urban Nihilists), our big musical influences were Throbbing Gristle, Psychic TV, and Boyd Rice, with heavy Laurie Anderson and Butthole Surfers overtones.
At first, we called ourselves Bad Ronald, after the terrible 1974 TV movie. Then we were The Sniffdogs (inspired by the drug-sniffing dogs that appeared all over the place during the Just Say No madness of the mid-1980s), and then just Peehole. The band “played” as part of my performance art/installation pieces, and every so often we did “music” gigs to completely befuddled audiences.
But still, we needed a better name for the band. We tried consulting the spirit of Randy Rhoads, via Ouija board, figuring that the man who played such hair-raising guitar on “Over the Mountain” would have some good ideas about band names. And he did, advising us to call our band Umber Stump or Submud Rubgun. The idea of making umber-colored shirts reading “I’m Stumped!” had great appeal, and Submud Rubgun rolls off the tongue nicely, but those names just didn’t stick.
At that time, my fiction writing was getting more and more difficult and unreadable, as my brain was plunged into a boiling vat of Finnegans Wake and The Last Words of Dutch Schultz. Burroughs and Gysin led me to Cut-Up Technique, and my trailer filled up with thousands of scraps of paper bearing words and sentence fragments.
The way I did cut-up was pretty similar to the Burroughs/Gysin approach at first; I’d write a story, cut it up with scissors so I’d have a hat full of sentence fragments, pick out pieces of paper, arrange them randomly, and pick out the results that made at least a little bit of sense. My writing teachers no doubt rolled their eyes (remembering when they were 20 and felt, like, all avant-garde and stuff), but all the goth chicks in my writing classes dug it, and that’s what really counts, eh? But then I remembered my project to write code that created rhyming gibberish poems from semi-random syllable groupings (see the third paragraph of Part 19 of the Impala Hell Project story) and I started doing cut-up syllables. The pieces of paper got smaller, the end result went from difficult to impossible for the readers… but then one night I pulled out the following scraps of paper, in order: MU, RI, LEE, AR, RA, I, AC.
Murilee Arraiac! I pronounced it “MUIR-uh-lee Uh-RAY-ee-ack” and it became the band’s name at that moment. We went on a recording binge through 1987 and 1988, recording over a hundred songs and putting them on cassettes. Back then, you could tap into a global network of weird bands that would trade tapes via snail mail, and I got heavily into the cassette culture, sending out tapes all over the world and receiving other tapes in return; it was like the internet, only every interaction took weeks instead of seconds. Soon, I began getting letters from college radio stations in avant-garde sinkholes like Japan and France, and Murilee Arraiac developed a following of dozens of, or at least several, fans.
I also took advantage of the 1978-vintage vacuum-tube-based video camera I’d scrounged up to make some Murilee Arraiac music videos; above is a selection of excerpts from the early days of Murilee Arraiac.
I made all the Murilee Arraiac tape labels using dry transfer letters, Xerox enlargements, and collage. That’s how you had to do this stuff when you were broke and stuck in the pre-cheap-desktop-publishing age.
At the time, I’d never heard of anyone named Murilee, but Murilee Arraiac listeners assumed that there was a real flesh-and-blood person (presumably female) by that name fronting the band. OK, I figured, I’ll create a persona named Murilee Arraiac. I found a stencil-friendly illustration of a female Russian factory worker from a World War II Soviet propaganda poster and started using her image on MA tape labels. Here’s one with a background of JC Whitney car stereos.
I cranked out countless Murilee Arraiac logos during 1988 and 1989, and the Soviet Murilee image went away. It was only during the era of easy internet searching that I discovered the existence of real humans named Murilee.
In 1990, I was done with UCI and moved back to the San Francisco Bay Area. That was the end of Murilee Arraiac, though a couple of us reunited as Nureochiba and the Lizards for a gig at a San Diego art gallery in 1991 (note the reference to the “primer-gray V8-powered Lizardmobile” in the show’s flyer, above).
So, life went on. I put a bunch of Murilee Arraiac MP3s online and would hear from some freak with an old MA tape every few years, but Murilee Arraiac became a suitcase full of 4-track cassette masters and the occasional puzzling email.
Then, through some connections too boring to get into here, I got a contract from Nexus, the smut wing of Virgin Books, to write a 70,000-word BDSM novel for their readership of British perverts (now available as a Kindle download for all perverts). Though I’d never even read a smut novel, I had no problem knocking out the specified filth in a couple of weeks. Then the suits in the London office called up and wanted to know what name I’d be using. Ah, I thought, here’s where the Murilee Arraiac persona comes in handy. “That’s spelled M-U-R…” I told them. The next day, I got a call from my editor: “Marketing says they can’t have a cryptic surname like Arraiac on a novel we’re pushing as American-authored,” he said (at the time, most of the other Nexus authors seemed to be Brits living in Thailand with teenage girlfriends and writing about Victorian boarding schools; the thinking was that an American author would help break up the canings-at-the-boarding-school monotony). We needed to come up with a new surname for Murilee.
My editor knew that I had
shamelessly ripped off been influenced by the writing style of early James Ellroy novels, particularly his serial-killer-in-a-van masterpiece Silent Terror. “How about we replace ‘Arraiac’ with ‘Martin,’ in honor of the protagonist of Silent Terror, Martin Plunkett?” he suggested.
What the hell, I figured— let’s Ellroy it up. It’s a sort of left-handed way of showing respect for a writer I admire. “OK, Murilee Martin it is!” I told my editor. The book came out in 2005 and sold pretty well (though I never did get any royalties beyond the initial advance payment; funny how it always sorts out that way). Now, like Samuel Clemens, I had a nom de plume, which made me feel cool.
In early 2007, Jalopnik’s miscreant junta of Mike Spinelli, Jonny Lieberman, and Davey G. Johnson decided that my ranting tirades in Jalopnik posts (written while bored at my job as a software technical writer) and my acquaintance with fellow Alamedan Mike Lavella of Gearhead Magazine qualified me as an automotive journalist. “You’re hired!” Spinelli said. I didn’t want my day-job boss to know that I’d be moonlighting at a gig writing about Hindustan Ambassadors (my first Jalopnik piece), so I decided to go with a pseudonym.
I toyed with the idea of being Murilee Arraiac, but decided that my porn name might lead to extra sales of Torment, Incorporated. Murilee Martin became my automotive porn name. So, as I wrote bug reports and API documentation at my desk in Berkeley (just down the block from a car-repair shop building a red-white-and-blue Peugeot 505 destined for the very first 24 Hours of LeMons race), I enjoyed my secret car-writer identity.
Even after my secret got out at the day job and there was no good reason to keep my pseudonym (in fact, having a pseudonym can be a hassle in this business; trying to arrange for press cars is a headache when you have to give the fleet people two different names and then explain why), I enjoyed the absurdity of having a bewilderingly feminine-sounding name over my work. Even the disturbing “Murilee, the Saucy Minx” talk from those Neighborhood-Watch-triggering creeps over at Hooniverse was fun… and how else would I have experienced the honor of the “Murilee Marlin” AMC race car? I’ve considered changing my byline to Phil “Murilee Martin” Greden, but for now I’ll stick with being the Saucy Minx.