Thursday, October 07, 2004


Ive got a hankerin' for some wankerin', so allow me to spew forth some dribble on some tunes taking precedence in my pathetic life the last few days...

1) THIRD EAR BAND - s/t CD; Macbeth CD; Alchemy CD
I bought these some time in the mid '90s when I was hearing their name being bandied about in the Kraut-obsessed days of yore, and since I could buy the BGO reissues cheap at Shock, I purchased them forthwith! TEB were an English mob who released these three great albums on Harvest in the late '60s. Here's some vaguely interesting facts you can throw around at your next dinner party: the debut, self-titled album features four songs: "Air", "Earth", "Fire" and "Water" - a sign of the times, daddy-o; Alchemy features legendary limey DJ John Peel on jews harp - does any other album boast such a claim?; MacBeth is the soundtrack to the Polanski film which is, by all reports, a fine flick, and one I will see before I drop dead, I promise; it also features Paul Buckmaster on cello and bass guitar. Buckmaster was the guy who apparently introduced Miles Davis to the music of Karlheinz Stockhausen. He later disgraced himself in arranging the strings and orchestral flourishes for several Elton John albums. TEB managed to nail that "classic" Harvest sound, which means a heavy dose of early, pre-useless 'Floyd, and then mixed it up with a smattering of Incredible String Band-style ye olde England maypole-dancing nonsense, the trance-inducing qualities of Indian ragas and even a bit of Can-ish groove-rock. The results are astounding. Still in print, I recommend you don a pair of loon pants, a wizard's hat, smoke a bowl of something green and do an Earth Mother dance to their audio delights. You'll feel better.

2) JOHN CALE - Paris 1919 LP; Fear LP
About 5 years back I found myself in the rather unlikely position of being in the midst of a "heavy John Cale phase". I scoured the bins and purchased the bulk of his '70s output, sat back and enjoyed the sounds. Some of them ain't so hot: Slow Dazzle - if it was made by anyone but John Cale - is an album which would never be talked about by anyone, ever. But these two, I'll stake my life on them, if such a ridiculous situation should ever arise. Paris 1919, from 1973 on the Reprise label, was made when Cale was still living in California, putting his body through the ropes with a bevy of substances and associating with all kinds of soft-rock losers. Said losers, such as the folks from Little Feat, play as his back-up band on this album. Friends of mine swear by Little Feat's first few albums. They're wrong, of course, but that's another matter. This is a very fine disc and, had I listed a Top 75 Albums of All Time list, as opposed to a Top 50, it'd be in there. Featuring mostly plaintative, pastoral ballads with Cale's thick, Welsh vocals at the fore, this is a really nice slice of left-field early '70s rock made when no-one on earth - bar a few clued-in types - gave a shit. The closer on side A is the real anomaly here, "MacBeth"; it sounds like a boogified glam stomper which hits ludicrous peaks during the bellowed chorus. VU this ain't, but it's nice to know that Cale wasn't recycling himself.

Fear was made a year later and is part of his "great Island records trilogy". With Phil Manzanera and Eno on board, this could almost be mistaken for a Roxy Music bootleg, and that's no slight. "Fear Is A Man's Best Friend" is probably his greatest post-VU song: pianos, treated guitar, a walloping chorus, lyrical paranoia, Cale's semi-atonal vocals. If you heard these albums out of nowhere, you'd probably think they stink. I know that if I had heard them as a 15-year-old, I would've run for the hills and never come back. I'm older, wiser and can now put them into some kind of context: depressing pre-punk '70s limey-rock which hit the nail for the times in which they were made.

That heading's pretty general and is a can of worms I have no intention of discussing at any great length. After all, this is a blog: entries must attempt to be short and sweet, lest we all lose interest. You, me, we all bought the Harry Smith box on Smithsonian Folkways when it finally got the deluxe CD reissue treatment in '97. I ran the thing into the friggin' ground over the subsequent 3 or 4 years and haven't given it too much of a spin in recent times. Maybe I need a decade's break from it. I know it back to front, front to back, upside down and every which way but loose. See me in ten years and I'll tell you all about it. Since then I've bought a swag of discs from the era: a bit of Yazoo, a touch of document, some Son House, Mississippi John Hurt, all the "Blind" singers, you know the story. The last week I've been delving into the Smithsonian catalogue, and boy, is it ever a smorgasboard of some of the wildest, wooliest most jaw-droppingly brain-expanding tunes I've fumbled across.

You need these: If I Had My Way by the Rev. Gary Davis (astounding 1953 recordings of earth-rattling gospel-blues); Mountain Music of Kentucky (late '50s recordings now issued as a double CD, featuring Roscoe Holcomb, George Davis, Lee Sexton and more. A chilling twang be heard, this has a grit that sends a shudder down the spine); Classic Old Time Music (a Smithsonian Best Of, of sorts, you get fiddles, string bands, jugs, banjos, country, folk, blues, country-folk, country-blues, hollerin', lyin', cheatin' and a free set of steak knives. Beautiful photos and liner notes, too). Looks like I'm back on the old-time bandwagon, time to light up the pipe...

This record has me pondering this question: how did us underground rock types cope pre-internet? Was it a life of browsing fanzines, endless and pathetic Ghost World-style discussions at swap-meets, writing letters to faraway lands, actually listening to the radio to find our holy bounties which managed to keep insanity at bay? In short, yes, it was. Nowadays, everything is but a computer keyboard away. You want to learn the entire history of New York No Wave, the underground Czech scene of the '70s, pre-war country-blues, classic '70s Cleveland rock? It's all there in your fingertips. But lemme tell you young 'uns... sit down and I'll tell you a story about the old days: the struggles, the sweat-inducing journeys us grumpy young/old men would go on to earn those little scraps of priceless information which would make life more bearable... the aimless conversations, the eye-bleeding scouring of ads in hopelessly obscure fanzines... boy, back then we really EARNT the music, but now, the kids have got it easy. Take this record for example.

Back in 1992, Ron House, bless his little heart, promised to give this record away to anyone who'd write him a nice letter. It was that simple and the man was a fuckin' saint for embarking on such a thankless, money-eating task. He printed up 300 of the suckers and probably got rid of them in the blink of an eye. I'm happy to report that I was one of those desperate dipshits who put ink to paper in a blind rush, high-tailed it to the post office and waited every day for a month out the front of the house in the hope that the mailman would deliver the goods. I got my goods and a whole lot more. I told Ron I was starting up a fanzine and wished to run an article on him, and what I received was the 12" in question and a cassette documenting a hilarious, drunken conversation between himself and the Mike Rep (more on him at a later date) speaking intoxicated gibberish during closing hours in Columbus' hipster hangout/record store, Used Kids. I spun the disc endlessly for months, hailed the Columbus scene as the hot spot of early '90s rock 'n' roll (I don't know if anyone was listening, but I was right: the Datapanik/Anyway labels' discographies of the time remain great cultural artifacts of the era) and kept in touch with Ron for several years. I hope he's doing OK, and since I've given this nugget a revisit the last week, I've been inspired to get back in touch once again.

As some of you may know, TJSA also released a great, tragically non-selling gem of an LP on Johan Kugelberg's short-lived, Rick Rubin-funded Onion label in the mid '90s (check a second-hand bin near you, now) and then called it a day, but this 12"... I have no idea what your chances are of finding it, but give it a hearty try. You will be rewarded but good. Shite-hot Columbus "art-punk" for the ages, TJSA melded Stoogeoid garage punk snarl with the smart-arse whine of prime 'Ubu and it remains a record I keep close to my heart. I could give half a fuck for "collector" BS: this is a record everyone should enjoy.

5) BLACK FLAG - 120-minute driving cassette Best Of
This tape keeps insanity but a stone's throw away when I'm embarking on my Willy Loman-style car journeys throughout the backwoods of this state, and that's a good thing. Sometimes, without it, I fear Dr. Crazy tapping me on my shoulder, so I whack this on and the audio goodness washes over me. Aaaah, that hits the spot... Again, I'm correct: Black Flag were the most important and influential American rock band of the 1980s. Trace any rock worth a shit from the last 25 years and it all trails back to the 'Flag: Sonic Youth, Meat Puppets, Minutemen, Dinosaur Jr., Bad Brains right through to Nirvana, Mudhoney, the Sub Pop crew and an entire slew of completely useless acts who, like it or not, remain "important" figures in contemporary rock music (start with the Red Hot Chili Peppers and work your way up, or down, from there). They'll all tell you about the 'Flag: SST, the tours, the insane work ethic, the harassment, the torch-lighting gigs in bumfuck USA which inspired The Kids worldwide, that trailblazing spirit now lost in a world too spoilt for its own good. They were the Pied Pipers of their day, and I say that with a straight face. I'm prone to drunkenly (and even soberly, such as now) rambling on about the glories of Black Flag - I sense friends of mine rolling their eyes as they read this, so stop it! - and as a teen I thought I'd be "over" them by this stage in my life, but I'm happy to report I'm not even close. This tape collects the entire First Four Years and Damaged LPs and the best tracks from all their subsequent albums. Punk-purist dullards with funny haircuts and little sense of what makes good music poo-poo their post-Damaged works, and naturally they're full of it. My War is the ultimate '82 HC-meets-'Sabbath meltdown (though it seriously needs a remastering); Slip It In is a master stroke of mid-'80s punk rock (ie. it's Punk + Rock); Family Man... well, the spoken word thing was a new concept for the time, so that's forgivable, and the instrumental tracks are white-hot "prog-punk" various Touch & Go bands have wasted their lives trying to imitate; The Process of Weeding Out is a goddamn brilliant, totally under-appreciated stab at "free-rock" which I know many lunkheads will never get their heads around; In My Head is an amazing blend of Frippertronic guitar flashes melting w/ primo underground rock of the day; and Loose Nut... well, I ain't so hot on that one, but it does have "I'm The One", a Hank-penned tune of fist-shaking Man Rock I feel no guilt in loving. There you have it: Black Flag's post-Damaged studio work in a paragraph. Glad I got that off my chest.

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