Jim Spencer was always looking for a stairway to success beyond, but Milwaukee was a Mobius loop he could not escape. He played many roles with grace; he was a musician, songwriter, poet, magus, and congenial salesman of ideas. He was a dealer in rare books, antiquities, and fantasies. He was a D.I.Y. publisher and indie recording artist at a time when circulating self-produced poetry and music beyond one’s hometown was a challenge on par with swimming the English Channel. He was Milwaukee famous—at least to anyone who cared about music and poetry. He was not much known elsewhere.
He released three albums under his own name and one as Major Arcana, a band-persona that enabled him to escape his singer-songwriter image. All were issued under the imprimatur of cryptically-monikered labels: Thoth, Akashic, and Castalia Records. “He had forbidden books in his basement,” said frequent collaborator Sigmund Snopek, a classically trained progressive rock keyboardist. “He was fascinated by other cultures and religions and incorporated some of that into his music.”
1975’s Major Arcana was psychedelic folk-rock, a loose-limbed campfire jam recorded over a period of months. The diverse cast of musicians was often summoned with little notice, when money to pay for the sessions materialized. Milwaukee underground comix legend Denis Kitchen (whose Kitchen Sink Press published work by Will Eisner, Harvey Kurtz and others) drew his only album cover for Spencer’s album, a benign Hieronymus Bosch profusion of impossible entities and occurrences.
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