Archive for the 'punk rock' Category

19
Feb
19

David Bowie “Diamond Dogs”

Pretty much the first 14 years of my life I was dead-set on a future career as either an engineer or a manager—it was all studies, math, things in their place, doing what they were supposed to do—I didn’t waste time, wore socks to bed, pajamas tucked into them. Then I got this record and the next thing you know I saw something in the night sky—and after that, there wasn’t going to be any life for me in which I wasn’t some kind of an artist. That story isn’t exactly true—in fact it isn’t true at all—I really don’t know what happened to me, when, or why—that prevents me from having any kind of normal happiness. I’m just struggling here, thinking about how to possibly write about this album that even comes close to expressing how much I like it. I can say that I love it even more than snow on my eyelashes, sex, beer, and five o’clock on Friday, but all I ever hear from anyone is that it’s not even in their Bowie top five, and the album cover seriously freaked them out, and they like “Rebel Rebel” okay. Bowie fans are probably the hardest to convince, actually. And what do I care? I’m not trying to make people agree with me, after all, and everyone has their favorites here and their particular problems with this and that. Like the way the record ends with, “RockRockRockRockRock”—I mean, kind of embarrassing to me, even. And that opening, mutant wolf howl, and all that sci-fi bullshit. Well, I like that, of course—whenever I take a photograph of a weird landscape that reminds me of the inside album cover, I post it on Instagram and then recite “Future Legend” to Siri and see what she does with it. I mean, I even named my band Love Me Avenue—and don’t tell me there’s another band called Love Me Avenue out there—and if there is, you can speak to my attorney.

But how do I express why I love this record so much? That question has a lot of similarities to trying to explain why a good song is a good song. Maybe I should take a few minutes to see what a few other Bowie fans say about this record (I mean the ones who love it). Is there a 33 1/3 book about this one yet? (Not that I would want to attempt one of those books about this record—I don’t feel like I’m up to that task, and I don’t mind admitting it.) I know someone wrote one of the 33 1/3 books about Bowie’s album Low (which makes me, now that I think of it, want to read that book and revisit Low). I don’t think there is… I look it up, and holy shit! There is a book on Diamond Dogs! It’s only fitting that I listened to this record, just now, sitting under this insane February full moon, and it sounded better than it ever has—and now I see there is a book about it! It came out in… November 14, 2019. Correct me if I’m wrong, but isn’t that approximately nine months in the future? Insane. It’s by a guy named Glenn (with 2 n’s) Hendler (with an “e”). What the hell, Hendler? How can you do this to me? Oh, well… that’s okay, and kind of fitting, in a way. I have always felt—and always known—that there is something freaky and special about this record—and it’s almost as if the weird cover, the dystopian sci-fi lyrics, the whole package really, is some kind of smoke-screen for something even more weird below the surface. If we could say what it was, it wouldn’t be below the surface—elusive, unknowable, and mysterious—but, you know, the thing. The reason we’re here. Anyway—so, it’s just kind of fitting that this hopefully groundbreaking and vital text about this record (no pressure, Hendler!) has come out… in the future.

I wish I could remember the circumstances around buying this record, but 1974 is a confusing jumble of memories, a confusing time for sure. Maybe a record that I didn’t understand was the perfect thing. I didn’t understand the cover, with the steel and bronze dog-people. The album folds out and it looks like a scene from Blade Runner, which hadn’t been made yet—there is plenty of room for lyrics, but the only thing printed are the lyrics to the first song, a goddamn poem! (Though I recited “fleas the size of rats…” at every opportunity, for years.) Then I was confused by the song “Diamond Dogs”—why did it sound like the band was playing waist deep in a swamp, and why did I like that so much? And then why did the record shift to a slow song, that sounded like it was from a musical? And then why a song called “Candidate” (not into politics at the time). And then why a (reprise)? (I’m not sure when I was first aware of the pretentious prog-rock bands I listened to around then putting a song reprise on their records, but I’m pretty sure I pulled that same shit in my first band, somewhat ironically.) I liked “Rebel Rebel” (how could you not?)—but why two rebels?

I was pretty much worn out by the first side, and wore out the first side, going back again and again, trying to figure out what it was about this record. Why did Bowie drop the “David” and play guitar, saxes, Moog, etc.—so many instruments—and what in the hell was a Mellotron? Was the bass player really named Herbie Flowers? Finally, after many, many plays, or maybe days, (the days felt like months), I flipped the record, and side two was just so disappointing after side one. It starts with a ballad love song, yuck. But then, a few months, maybe years later, something happened and I liked side two more than side one! This might have coincided with the change in my life where I suddenly liked beautiful songs—was it drinking? Weed? Love? Maybe just the progression of music in my life. A song like “We are the dead” (even slower) was making an impact on me, even though I could only make out about 10% of the lyrics. And then “1984” is like a straight-up disco song (I hated disco, remember?) but there are these little parts that drop out, little lyrical parts, where I’m thinking, how does he even think of stuff like that? And then the song “Big Brother”—which maybe my brain couldn’t even handle at that point. Even now, like 40 some years later, after listening to this record thousands of times, I still can’t even comprehend, put my finger on, even describe, much less figure out, what happens in that song, musically or lyrically. It ends abruptly, too, just blending into, you know, the chant of the ever circling skeletal family. Nothing unusual there.

09
Feb
19

Bernie & The Invisibles “All Possibilities Are Open”

There was a time some years ago when if you asked me what my favorite band of all time was, I would have said Bernie & The Invisibles—mostly based on the memories I had of seeing them live in the late Seventies, I guess it was—though I seem to have failed to document, in writing, much of this time. Around when my friends and I started our first punk band, we used to drive to Cleveland kind of regularly to see the punk bands who were playing at, as I recall, the Phantasy, Hennessy’s, and Pirates Cove. The bands that stood out were were the Adults, the Pagans, the Kneecappers, and Bernie & The Invisibles. I don’t remember The Invisibles all that much (I guess the drummer, the late Peter Ball is responsible for preserving some of this stuff)—but Bernie (who is Bernie Joelson) is just ingrained in my memory—I was pretty entranced with him. More than the other bands, you got the sense that if it wasn’t for punk rock, Bernie wouldn’t be doing this—but he HAD to be doing this. He had songs that needed to be unleashed on the world. His songs and his personalty were coming from some unique, impossible to understand by anyone but him place—and we were just getting this glimpse into his world. I looked forward to seeing him at every opportunity, and I got to know some of the songs, like “Eventually” and “Chinese Church.”

I’ve had some of his music on cassettes over the years, from live shows, I guess, but this is the first I’ve heard on vinyl—put out by My Mind’s Eye Records from Cleveland. (And thanks to Jeff Curtis for sending this to me!) If you’ve never seen Bernie live, this record might not do much for you—the sound quality it rough—and his style is fairly primitive. But it’s a good reminder to me of that time when he was my favorite in the world. There is a zine style insert with some writing and art by Bernie, old fliers, and liner notes by Mike Hudson who was the lead singer of the Pagans, and later a journalist—sadly, he passed away in 2017. I read his book, Diary of a Punk, and I’d highly recommend it. There are some good Bernie & The Invisibles stories here, and he expresses his appreciation for Bernie better than I could. I’ll excerpt part of one paragraph: “(Bernie) would wind his own personal experiences in with the views of Wittgenstein, Nietzsche, Buddha or Jesus Christ to create brilliant lyrics that hinted at the cosmos and the meaning of life while, at the same time were filled with good humor and a genuine sweetness I’ve never forgotten.” You might have to be a real detective to make out all of the lyrics on the songs, but it’s worth trying. I’d love if there was a lyric sheet. There is, at least, a brief tape review by Jim Clinefelter, a good zine excerpted interview, and some writing by Bernie that’s well worth squinting to read.

17
Aug
18

Charlie Pickett and the Eggs “Live At The Button”

This 1982 record, full title: Charlie Pickett and the Eggs Live at The Button on Fort Lauderdale Beach, showed up at the Spindizzy record store in Kent, Ohio sometime in 1982 or 1983, probably as a promo, since we were a record store, or because the store was also the address of several zines that reviewed independently released records—though, honestly, I can’t remember how or why it got there. Because no one had ever heard of Charlie Pickett and pretty much associated Fort Lauderdale with “Spring Break,” and they didn’t look too punk-rock on the back cover, and most of the songs were covers, it’s kind of remarkable anyone ever put it on, but once we did, probably intending to make fun of it, we all flipped over it, and especially Keith Busch did, as it was his kind of thing. Immediately evident was that being live was not a drawback (no corny ass-kissing the audience, and excellently recorded) and it was raw and unpolished garage rock (essentially more “punk rock” than many of the bands calling themselves punk rock in what was already the waning days of punk rock).

I haven’t listened to this in years, so it’s a nice surprise how it still sounds great to me; Charlie Pickett’s voice reminds me of someone, but maybe it’s just the memory of listening to this album endlessly for awhile. The band is pretty hot. The album cover is a grainy b&w photo of what looks like a DMV, but it’s more than likely “The Button”—which is a weird name for a club, if you ask me. The liner notes on back—by Paul Beeman (like the gum)—are hilarious. Ten of the 13 songs are covers, though only two of which I knew at the time—and one of which (The Velvet Underground’s “Lonesome Cowboy Bill”) inspired us to do it, in our band (the Ragged Bags) at that time. I was just thinking about playing that song—while looking back through old notebooks—when I saw a Keith Busch quote I had scrawled there, about our version of it: “It’s bad enough that we don’t do the middle—we have to end it somewhere.”

Since I have the internet now, I can look up who some of the songs are originally by: The Velvet Underground, The Yardbirds, Flamin’ Groovies, Johnny Kidd & the Pirates, Peter Green, Freddy Cannon, and Crazy Cavan and the Rhythm Rockers. My favorites are “Mister You’re a Better Man Than I” and “Slow Death.” And there are some fine original songs. While looking this up I hoped to avoid seeing anything depressing, like everyone in this band died a grizzly death and/or worse, but what I did come upon was a very recent article about Charlie Pickett releasing a new record! So that kind of warmed my heart. It turns out that they were influential and loved by a few more people than just us, I guess—and people are dying to get this old record. Or, at least, a lot of people are dying, and this record often happens to be found at the scene of the crime. Nothing surprises me anymore. Anyway, it’s a great record. The only downside is that it ends with a train song, but hey, nobody’s perfect.

25
Jan
18

Lard “The Last Temptation of Reid”

After listening to The Flaming Lips’ Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots, when I looked for the next record and came across this one I knew I had to check it out because the cover is also a drawing of a young woman vs. a robot—though, actually, the robot might be a standard steam shovel, but very sinister—not like the one in the Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel children’s book. The woman looks like she’s based on some kind of iconic 1950s image I should know, blond and wearing a nurses outfit—and she’s holding a baby in a pink blanket. On the back there’s a guy I don’t recognize—he’s got a scraggly beard and sunglasses—standing behind a table containing what looks like zines, possibly, or paste-up, news headline heavy collage art. This record is from 1990, which still feels like yesterday to me, but to most of you probably sounds like a previous century. It’s on Alternative Tentacles, a punk label from the 1980s, that, if I remember correctly, was the home of the Dead Kennedys—interesting because the singer sounds just like Jello Biafra—though the music doesn’t sound all that much like them. Finally, looking at the band lineup, I see the singer is named Jello Biafra (how many could there be?) So, it seems I’ve gone 27 years without ever hearing about Jello’s other band.

They’re pretty good, too, well, not really my cup of tea these days, but I still appreciate it. I’ll leave you to look up the other band members (though one called Alien Jourgensen has got my attention, because I recall a friend of mine having a cat named Al, named after a musician called Al Jourgensen, who is in a band I’m not familiar with). Leave it to cats to help me connect the dots, anyway! (Did I mention I’m cat-sitting here at the cabin?) I’ll also leave you to look up the fate of this band, Lard, and whether there is lard in your favorite refried beans, rendering them not vegetarian, albeit delicious. I’ll also leave you to look up who this “Reid” is, as a seasonal snowstorm has knocked out the internet (thankfully not the electricity or heat)! I’m going to make a wild guess that it’s about singer Terry Reid (and not basketball player J.R. Reid) who famously was asked to be the singer of Led Zeppelin, before Robert Plant, but turned down the gig, saying, I think that band will go over like a “Led Zeppelin.” Don’t quote me on that before I can do proper research—I might have that all wrong. What it all means, I have no idea.

Let me add, if you’re a Dead Kennedys fan and somehow don’t have this record, you might want to check it out. The last song I know well, it’s “They’re Coming to Take Me Away”—though I don’t know who it was by, though I’m thinking it could have been Kim Fowley (at least I’m pretty sure he recorded it). It’s credited to a N. Bonaparte, though that’s highly unlikely, as I believe he was French, and lived before the term “funny farm” was in common use. This was a song I heard constantly growing up, because it was one of those novelty records played by late night movie hosts in their comic bits between commercials. Though why anyone would want to cover this song, God knows.

20
Jun
09

Blues Explosion “Extra Width”

I preferred to alphabetize the band as “Blues Explosion” rather than wait for later in the alphabet (and be faced with alphabetizing dilemmas–Spencer, Jon Spencer, The Jon Spencer?)– but this is indeed The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, one of my all time favorite bands, I’ll admit right away. This isn’t my favorite of their records (and I haven’t even HEARD all their records) but it’s pretty solid. Also nice is that it’s a record–one of the newest in the current collection I’m writing about– though it’s from 1993– which now seems as long ago as The Fifties. The boys look pretty young in their individual Richard Kern glamour portraits– Jon Spencer’s, on the cover, which should have sold a record or two, is particularly striking with all the stuff in his hair and his Kuchar-esque eyebrows. Hell– I’D buy that guy a double bourbon!

There’s even some pointless liner notes on the back, for an old-fashioned touch– by Herb Hitts– a description of a live show that is so generalized and cliché-ridden it may as well say, “they rocked” with one fist in the air. Is it meant to be ironic? While I think it is — the once ironic fist in the air, and heavy metal fist in the air, and expression “rocked!” — once intended to be ironic, is no longer taken, or even intended that way– so what you have instead is a willful reduction of the IQ by half. But with this band there is no discussing irony or sincerity, they are so far beyond those considerations, you can’t figure it out and you shouldn’t try. Though, I can imagine if I was in a band with Jon Spencer I might at some point beg him to “please sing normal for once!” I might roll my eyes violently when he comes into rehearsal with a song called “Back Slider.” It might lead to a fight, someone walking out on the session, sulking on a bar stool, but would any of that be real or just another episode in a cheap paperback version of the life of a blues band that’s a rock band and a punk band?

I guess the question with this band will always be (as it is with every band): are they just an act– are they merely ABOUT what they seem to be, or are they the real thing? I have had the benefit of seeing a live show a few years back (maybe the last live show I’ve seen) where that question was answered; either they were the real thing, or else the real thing doesn’t really exist. Which might be the case. As time goes on and layers of history are peeled away, and you closely examine what you considered the important bands from your past, you find out they were ALL acts. The only thing that is real are the rare moments when no one was looking, the mistakes, and the tiny miracles that occasionally transcend the cement weighted egos and vanities.

But enough about me. This record is the kind of record, unfortunately rare, that I always prefer to listen to all the way through. I love some of it and hate some of it, but to isolate individual songs seems pointless. It all runs together the way a record album should. I’ve listened to it now hundreds of times, but I couldn’t tell you what a single song title is or what any of them are about. There’s a lot of grunting, groaning, screaming, unsettling noises, and then suddenly you find yourself in a groove that you wish you never had to leave. The guy’s singing “typecast” but he may as well be singing “hotpants” – guitars are destroyed, and the side is over.

To all of you in the CD generation, you will, I’m sure, not believe me when I tell you that you will never, ever be able to understand the singular, sublime pleasure of turning a record over and putting the needle on the second side. After some Elvis from hell bullshit, we again find ourselves in a groove that is over far too soon. Then some kind of an incomprehensible plodding noise out of which suddenly can be heard the phrase: “a Roy Rogers roast beef sandwich!” Probably the high point of my life. Then an instrumental funk groove that serves a similar function as when, in certain times and certain cultures, one would excuse oneself from the table to gracefully throw up. Followed by an unpleasant exorcism of a song– but it all works together, because then you get to the last song on the record, which is also the best, and it’s like you endured your dreadful vegetables, formalities, and pleasantries so that you can be rewarded with (your favorite dessert here). Bon appetit!

30
Apr
08

Agnostic Front “Victim In Pain”

By the time this record came out in 1984 I had rejected hardcore completely, as well as most types of current music other than what I was playing myself. I was aware of this band, but never gave them a chance, because by this time I thought it was all over, and hardcore punk was pretty much music for frat houses and sweaty weightlifter guys. So I listened to this record, now,  expecting to cringe, and I was surprised at how much I like it. On a technical level, it strikes me as a pretty great example of this type of music from this time period. It’s lean, energetic, and, of course, angry, but also really pleasing musically, with compelling songs and playing. I mean you hear the inspiration, and a certain joy of making music. They do a lot of that usual hardcore thing, extremely fast tempo that then shifts into a slower, more human scale, compelling tempo. It’s like the hardcore song “hook.” It might be overused, but it works extremely well. Really, a lot of this record reminds me of punk rock when I really liked it, early Black Flag, and Minor Threat, and bands from Ohio that I really liked. I’d say it was nostalgia, though I didn’t think I was nostalgic about hardcore. But listening to this kind of transports me to a bar in the Cleveland Flats, it’s a sweaty summer night, and I’m drinking a bottle of Night Train, and generally things feel pretty edgy but good.

There’s a nice black and white live show photo on the inside of the album cover (which opens, and contains the lyrics). They’re young, have shaved heads, and lots of tattoos, but look like nice guys. I looked them up on the internet, and they’re still together, and still playing, like a lot of bands are, which always surprises me, because I can’t even imagine still being in a band that I was in that many years ago. Or maybe I can. Their website and MySpace page has pictures of them, older of course, more tattoos, and it looks like they’ve gone through a lot of band members over the years, but they’re still doing what they believe in, which is inspiring enough. The art on these sites makes it look like it’s an ad for a video game with lots of weaponry and blood imagery, but this might be mostly due to promoting their newest record, called “Warriors.” But, I mean, when your band is together for over 25 years, imagine the spectrum of fans you must have. You could literally have three generations attending an all-ages show!




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