Saturday, June 14, 2008


KRAMER - The Guilt Trip 2-CD/3-LP (Shimmy-Disc/1992)
Not sure if I've mentioned this one before... Going by the number of times I've discussed various things Shimmy over the years, the chances are kinda good. The Guilt Trip was originally released in 1992, just as all things Shimmy were starting to go a little pear-shaped. For me, the label simply started releasing way too much stuff, a lot of it not being particularly good, and it was around that period (I think) when Kramer and Ann Magnuson became involved in a law suit w/ each other, the end result being the bankruptcy of the label and Kramer disappearing from view (or at least my view) for quite a number of years. There's a fellow who likes to comment on this blog by the name of "Noisejoke"; my educated guess is that this man is in fact Dave Rick from Bongwater, so he'll probably be able to fill in the gaps. For moi, Kramer still remains one of the great figures of u/ground US rock from the last 30 years. Starting w/ his tenure in the reformed early-'80s version of The Fugs, right on through to Shockabilly, Bongwater and his many project aliases, collaborations and solo albums - as well as Shimmy-Disc's near-unbeatable catalogue from its first 5-6 years - his discography has some real gold throughout. I'd rate this uber-epic as being his finest, right alongside Bongwater's Double Bummer. Seems like dropping Kramer's name is about as fashionable as last month's milk these days. I can't figure it. I don't know the guy personally at all, though it seems like he's a guy who's pissed some people off along the way. Whatever. For me, his music, most especially on The Guilt Trip, a true sprawl which hits somewhere 'round the 150-minute mark, is the perfect distillation of all the sounds which have turned Kramer's head the last 40 years: Beatles, Yoko, Fugs, Roky, Robert Wyatt/Soft Machine, Led Zep, Eno/Fripp, Residents, Mothers Of Invention, Syd Barrett, etc. "Head music", these young folks call it. Bongwater started approaching a kinda fruity satirical stage by their last effort, The Big Sellout, which didn't sit too well in my craw at the time, and The Guilt Trip was the perfect antidote. This baby is heavy, both musically and lyrically. The guitar freakouts - of which there are plenty - are multi-tracked and multi-layered, giving the songs a real density, especially when aided and abetted by Kramer's distinctive bass fuzz underneath, and whilst it's the instrumentation (and its many instrumental tracks) which push it along, Kramer always had a great knack for the song. "I Love You" stands out for me; an acoustic, Roky-esque ballad which sounds like it coulda been lifted from Easter Everywhere. 36 tracks and, honestly, there's too many really good ones to mention. Dig the guitar aktion on "The Maximus Poems": soaring string wails caught in the worlds of Eddie Hazel and Greg Ginn. Lots of u/ground aficionados love their broken heroes - Syd, Roky, Skip Spence, et al - and whilst Kramer never fried himself the way those folks did, The Guilt Trip is a brilliant slice of a man falling apart and recording it for all to enjoy.

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I'm curious to know who actually watched the Decline Of Western Civilisation III film I listed below, available to view on Google Video. God knows I tried, though I didn't make it past the first 30 minutes. Perfectly bloody awful, it was. Lunkheaded dimwit punkers who only serve to remind me of how freakin' miserable it was walking around the Haight-Ashbury district in '99, only to be constantly harassed by drugged-out panhandling punkers w/ bones through their noses and rainbow-coloured mohicans, mumbling out dopey lines through rotted teeth like, "Hey man, I like your Black Flag t-shirt... you got a dollar?". Mix that up w/ a bunch of tediously "politically-aware" dullards spouting off rad cliches and you have a movie. Is this "hardcore punk" in the late '90s?! I guess it was for some, and what a depressing spectacle to behold. Decline III is a total misfire, a documentary on a "scene" with very little to say and zero musical innovation (don't even get me started on the insane depths of awfulness of the bands here: Naked Aggression, Final Conflict, Resist, etc.), I can certainly see why it was never picked up for proper distribution. I told you I was prone to watching just about any half-assed documentary lending an ear to this thing known as "punk rock", but life is too short to waste 84 minutes on this.

8 comments:

Michael said...

Well I've only gotten up to the aforementioned 30 min. mark of DECLINE too, but that's only cause my dinner was getting cold. I actually liked what I saw: the kids interviewed seemed honest and the questions asked were respectful and not patronizing. I agree there is absolutely nothing to worth in the music involved (they shoulda left all interviews with actually bands on the cutting room floor), but as an examination of lost/outcast suburban American teen life, it didn't feel too off to me.

But maybe I oughta finish watching it first.

Anonymous said...

Apologies if this is a stupid question but could somebody explain to me the exact nature of the lawsuit between Kramer and Ann Magnuson? I've seen it alluded to countless times but nobody ever seems to spell out what it was all about...

Anonymous said...

Oh yeah. Uh... huh. Hmm. I never even knew there was a Decline 3. Looks like you might do better with Over the Edge http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0079688/

But, number 1, son? Fear and Flag, yeah? Oh and Ann and Kramer? Oofah, and oy vey. Um... yeah. Hmmmm...

Dave who??

Dave said...

Anon1: I think you can Google the legal dispute between Magnuson and Kramer; I don't really know the details.
Anon2: Is this, uh, Dave Rick or Dave Licht? Did I get it wrong? Haven't seen Over The Edge for 15 years... maybe I'll revisit it.
BTW, if anyone's interested, a friend from Adelaide emailed me after reading the above entry and informed me that Kramer has been in Adelaide, on and off, the past year, producing some local bands. My friend hassled him to play a gig, but it didn't happen. So... there ya go.

noisejoke said...

No, not Licht. I haven't talked to him in maybe 5 years but I'd venture to guess he's never commented on any online forum, blog, etc.

So, uh, what was the question? (I guess I'm done with my Annie Hall impression). And so much for anonymity!

Anonymous said...

Yeah I got through about only 30 minutes also...I'd say that Spheeris had interesting material to work with in the first two Declines and there's just no way to make the subject interesting...
I googled the Krame-Magnuson case but found no details beyond the 4 million dollar or so (!!) figure.
Over the Edge is one of the best suburban teen angst films ever.

sonicgg

Anonymous said...

I had no joy with google either - that's why I posed the original question! Weird. "Everything" is out there apart from the answer to this question, it seems...

Dave Rick said...

Re: lawsuit - Check New York Times and Village Voice archives.

Re: Kramer "business" practices - Unfortunately, a couple of those Shimmy records sold a heck of a lot more than I suppose anyone expected. The "company" was essentially a pyramid scheme and most of the artists were the duped "investors". Kramer only paid when he was forced.