Friday, March 26, 2010
Something very odd happened in Australia over the last few weeks: a man who goes by the name of Jandek toured here and played a series of shows throughout various cities. If you'd told me 20 years ago that Jandek would tour Australia in the year 2010, I wouldn't have believed you. Actually, if you'd told me such a story in 1990, I would've asked you, Who in the hell is Jandek and what does he/it/they do? I only knew the name through various reviews from Forced Exposure, but had no idea what "Jandek" was. So far as I knew, it could've been an Eastern European prog band from the '70s. I didn't get my head around the cult of Jandek until roughly three years later, when there was somewhat of a "revival" (OK, hardly a revival, since it's hard to revive something which has never been huge), again pushed by the folks at FE (who started carrying his records through their distribution service), when his records started becoming a little bit more widely available. Or at least more widely available than Jandek himself simply selling them via mailorder through his Corwood PO box in Texas. I bought a bunch of his LPs at the time, even some of his CDs in the late '90s, and then kinda forgot about the guy. Count me as a fan, but I don't play his records on a weekly, nor monthly, basis. Prior to last week, I hadn't listened to any of them in a decade, not even after the documentary film came out a few years ago (which I still haven't seen, though I surely should). I was under the impression that he'd kept all his LPs in print over the years, but was surprised to find out he hasn't actually pressed any vinyl since the mid '90s, all his releases now being CD only (which means that the LPs I own are now worth over $100 a piece. If I ever decide to procur an insane drug habit, I know which discs I can easily flog off for a quick fix).
But this is all background information. The story of Jandek himself has been semi-documented over the last five years by various well-meaning folks, though pieces of the puzzle remain missing, and that's just the way the guy prefers it. Despite semi-regular live shows in recent years, he's still never been the recipient of a comprehensive interview discussing the whys, wheres, hows and whens, something I still feel puzzling, considering, from all reports, he's a stand-up guy on a personal level (and a successful and wealthy stockbroker) and the not the semi-autistic recluse many figured him for for nigh on 30 years. Perhaps it's just my natural inclination to never be able to keep a secret that makes this so puzzling to me, or my tendency for personal announcements of no real consequence (like this blog), though someone from the touring party told me the story is really quite basic: Jandek, AKA Sterling Smith, simply has no interest in the mechanisations of the music industry. His interest is music, pure and simple, and since his day job earns him a comfortable living, any sense of stardom or recognition is not relevant to him. Someone else will likely give you a different version of events, but that's the one I heard.
And now to the show. Prior to his first Melbourne performance, a mid-week show I caught at the illustrious Thornbury Theatre on High St., in which he played dates in Brisbane and Sydney, attendances had, from all reports, been extremely poor. Bafflingly poor. Admittedly Jandek ain't a household name, and ticket prices weren't cheap ($40 on the door), though I'm shocked at how few people turned up, even notorious music-nerd buddies of mine who wouldn't take the leap. Let me say this: in 10 years or so (he's 64), the man known as Jandek will, according to statistics, likely die. He will then be universally hailed as some sort of reclusive and eccentric musical genius on a par w/ Harry Partch or John Fahey (much of this is already true, pre-mortem), and said people will be kicking themselves for eternity that they didn't take the chance to see him play. It's not like he's ever coming back (especially after the turnouts he just got!).
Sparse display of humanity aside, I'm glad I made the effort. Backed by the Scottish rhythm section of statuesque bassist Heather Leigh Murray and journalist/musician David Keenan (a guy whose writing I have distinctly mixed feelings for [especially after he laid into a fanzine I produced in an old issue of The Wire mag!], though I did like his book on Current 93/Nurse With Wound/Coil, England's Hidden Reverse) on drums, dressed up w/ a slouched hat and white shirt like he wished he was partying at the Gatsby mansion (and his physical presence did rile a few in the audience... namely the people I went with!), Jandek strode out on stage dressed in black from hat to bottom. No introductions, no words, just straight into a lilting, barely-together psychedelic country/blues number which took off at the speed of a slug. Murray slid her hand (which I assume was accompanied by a slide device) slowly up and down the neck, Keenan posed, cavorted and wriggled behind his kit like he was balancing on a pilates ball, and Jandek himself wandered draggedly up and down the stage, wrenching discordant notes from his strings which beautifully coated the rhythm section and sounded, well, uncannily like an old Royal Trux or Sonic Youth record. All, this, by the way, went on for over an hour, without a break. Jandek occasionally moaned out a few lines he was reading from his lyrics sheet set up on a stand in front of him, but otherwise there was little to break the monotony. This may sound like an excercise in musical torture to some of you, and I can assure a few of the 50 or so folks in attendance were getting restless, myself included, though the end result was more than the sum of its parts.
Whilst my brother and a few friends half-jokingly muttered to me that the gig was an "endurance test", with many in the crowd sitting or lying on the ground to rest their stiff legs by show's end, there was the clincher which settled it for me: near the end, Jandek laid down his guitar and pulled out a harmonica, ghostily bleating forth droning hums over the minimal, almost slow-motion rhythm. The effect was superb. Next, whilst the bass and drums were still emitting a minimal pulse, he packed his guitar and songbook away, stared blankly at the band from the side of the stage, then slowly exited the spotlight. The last image I saw was his silhouette as he left the room to the right of the stage. No show business, nothing. I talked to Joel "Rock 'n' Roll" Silbersher after the show to ask him what he thought, and he was mightily impressed. Just when I was about to express some reservations regarding the performance's alleged greatness, he butted in to state the question: What else would anyone expect from a Jandek show? That he'd come out, introduce the band then swing into a succession of "favourites" for the overseas audience? Nope. In the back of my mind, prior to the show, something along those lines did pop into my head (though I wasn't about to admit it), and just what in the hell was I expecting? What I did get was confounding and it was pure Jandek: absolutely no regards for standard convention in the music biz, "underground" or otherwise. It was strange, it didn't make me want to bust out into the twist, and it left more questions than answers. It was Jandek. Mighty glad I saw it.
Sunday, March 21, 2010
What makes Gimme Something Better (Penguin/2009) an excellent read is that, like other similarly great books of the last 15 years such as Lexicon Devil (the Darby Crash/Germs story) and Please Kill Me (somewhat of a highly skewed but still hilarious and brilliant history of American punk and all its proto- contenders ca. 1965-1982 or so), it's an oral history, told by the participants, the wannabes, the hangers-on and all those surrounding them. When participant "A" says a certain show/band/fanzine/front-person/etc. was the bee's knees in one paragraph, there's a distinct possibility that particpant "B" will recall the exact opposite in the following paragraph. The truth possibly resides somewhere in the middle, but the perceptive differences makes for frequent hilarity.
The book probably should've been subtitled "From Crime and the Nuns to Green Day", but since those bands don't sell paper the way the Dead Kennedys do, that's nothing to hold against the publishers. The start of the book details the very early days of SF punk, starting in the mid '70s, when the usual glitter rejects who were taking their cues from the Dolls and the Stooges were punking it up in sleazy tranny bars and off-Broadway cabaret dives to a handful of folks. Actually, there is a reference to a band called The Rockets who were playing all the way back in 1972 and featured none other than Eddie Money, a band even referred to by Dennis Kernohan (Liars singer) as "San Francisco's first punk band", and if anyone can give me a yay or nay on this matter, it'd be appreciated. Things soon swing into gear w/ the Avengers, Negative Trend, LA transplants The Dils, Vale and Search & Destroy/RE/Search, the sudden and massive career trajectory of the Dead Kennedys, Flipper, the emergence of hardcore, Joe Reese and Target Video, the peace punk/squatting/junkie scene, the "negative punk" degenerates (Fuck Ups, Fang et al), the legion of Texan ex-pats who made SF their home in the mid 80s (MDC, Dicks, DRI), the rise and rise of the Gilmore/Lookout scene, etc., etc. You probably know the basic outline. I did, but I didn't know the minutae, and this is where the book delivers. For instance, did you know that Tim Yohannon had a kid? Nope, me neither. He never knew nor even met his daughter, claiming he never wanted children, but she was there, and others in the scene had made her aquaintance throughout the years. Did you know that Kurt Brecht from DRI spent roughly a year living up a goddamn tree in a park during lean times before the band "took off"? Do you know the full story of Fang's Sammytown and his conviction and sentencing for the murder of his girlfriend? There's a lot more similar questions I could throw at you and the answer from moi remains "No" to all of the above.
The most interesting aspect of Gimme Something Better, at least for me, is the history regarding the genesis of Maximum Rock 'n' Roll as a radio show then international punk fanzine. Say what you will about the publication (which I haven't read since 1993 or '4, though from the years 1986 'til then I read it pretty much on the month every month), and I know that MRR has always been a whipping boy for hipsters and wannabes worldwide since its inception, many claiming it ruined punk rock, but regardless of your feelings for the participants, it's a hell of an interesting story. And more than that, you must give credit to the likes of Yohannon, Bale, Schwartz etc. for the simple fact that it was - and still is - the only international-oriented punk/underground music-based magazine on earth which has managed to keep to its deadline, month after month after month. Yohannon, for all his faults (and they're magnified to great clarity here), was a guy who walked it like he talked it. He wanted a radio show, so he started one. He wanted a regular publication to document the international hardcore scene, so he started one. He wanted a venue to showcase new bands, so he started one. His dedication to the cause, especially from a middle-aged ex-Yippee who'd been "organising" since the '60s (and most of his old comrades had probably burnt out long ago), is staggering. Not only did he not make any money from his pursuits and line his own pockets, he periodically gave money away when he thought MRR's coffers were too full. Perhaps one of these decades I might even pick up a new issue again, though w/ the absence of Yohannon (who died in 1998), Bale, Livermore, etc., all of whom I considered to be the heart and soul of the magazine, I'm not sure I'd relate to it on any level. When I think of MRR in the year 2010, I have images in my mind of skinny vegan guys dressed in black riding on bicycles to college classes. I hope my perception is wrong. The story which hasn't been told before is the beginnings of MRR as a radio show w/ Yohannon, Ray Farrell (an interesting cat w/ a long history in the biz, from MRR to Rough Trade to Subterranean to SST to Geffen and beyond), Biafra and co. is one the fact completists will enjoy getting their heads around.
Where does the book finish off? Like the subtitle says: with the gargantuan success of Green Day, and, to a lesser extent, Rancid. Here's a secret, just don't tell anyone: back in 1990, I liked Green Day's debut LP quite a bit. It was fun, melodic, catchy as hell and kicked quasi-butt in a kinda Dickies/Buzzcocks way. Rancid? I was working for their Australian record company when ...And Out Came The Wolves broke big back in '95 and I heard the thing - whether I wanted to or not - approximately 75,000 times. Either through osmosis, brainwashing or the simple fact that it might just happen to be a really good rock 'n' roll album, I wound up enjoying the hell out of it. I'd rather chow down on my youngest's soiled nappies than listen to a second of any Green Day song in this millenium, and I've felt that way since about 1992, though exposure to subsequent Rancid records over the last 15 years have never been painful. Fact is: they make really great, hook-ridden and surprisingly gutsy punk rock albums for a band who sold a zillion albums in their day. Does any of this surprise you? Good. People complain that this blog is becoming too predictable. The point? Regardless of your opinions on the success and musical worth of both bands, the story of their rise is compelling, assuming you have the vaguest interest in pop culture, subcultural assimilation and the strange and unpredictable history of this thing we call rock 'n' roll. The early-to-mid '90s was, in retrospect, just about the oddest period ever for the major label music industry. Majors hadn't cared one whit for any kind of adventurous music since the early '70s, when the likes of Can and Robert Wyatt actually had "hit" records in the UK and mainland Europe (yes, there was that brief flash of interest when punk hit big, I know), and suddenly they were woken out of their comas and the rush was on. Tad, Pell Mell, Royal Trux, Jawbox, Jawbreaker, Shudder To Think, Sister Double Happiness - the good, the bad and the ugly, but all bands w/ an entrenched history within "the underground" - all made albums for major record companies. They were all gigantic flops, but the mere fact that they were signed in the first place seems a rather peculiar fact in this day and age. I rallied quite vocally at the time against this intrusion into "our" music, though frankly in 2010 I could care less. The music biz as we know it is in rapid and terminal decline, the serpent has eaten its own tail. Such a situation will never happen again. Green Day were lucky: they made it big, and they can make and sell millions of copies of their horrifically insipid music for eternity and that's nothing to lose any sleep over. After all, they come across as nice guys, right to the end.
I'm off the beaten track here... A summation of the great anecdotes contained within would turn into its own book. Editors Jack Boulware and Silke Tudor have done a brilliant job in editing down the story into a free-flowing, readable and highly entertaining book. You know what I'm going to say: ESSENTIAL.
Sunday, March 14, 2010
Saturday, March 13, 2010
The two films are Instrument, a film by Jem Cohen which documents Fugazi from the years 1987-'97, and the other is Anvil, a hilarious, cringe-inducing, but surprisingly moving look into the music, loves, triumphs and tragedies of the veteran Canadian metal band, Anvil. I've been familiar w/ Fugazi since their first demo (you can thank Scotti from Resistant Harmony for that), though I must plead complete and total ignorance of the band Anvil until the film was given cinematic release down here last year. I pride myself on being a cataclysmic music dork of the highest calibre, one who can (and will) give you a stern 10-minute lecture on the genesis and history of punk rock, hardcore, psychedelia, soul, hip-hop, heavy metal, country-rock, avant-jazz, krautrock, prog-rock - you name it - in a heartbeat. Buddy, I can bore a man to death at ten paces, given the chance. It don't matter whether I dig the music or not, somewhere along the line I've read about it. I think I've got a grasp of the essentials. And thrash/speed metal - and the history thereof - fits right in there: mix up the heaviness of Black Sabbath and Budgie with the speed and power of Motorhead, throw in various outfits from the New Wave Of British Heavy Metal (Raven, Diamond Head, Iron Maiden) and stew it in a broth w/ the velocity and "street vibe" of hardcore punk, and there you have the beginnings of what we now know as thrash/speed metal. Judging by the high praise heaped upon Anvil's early albums by members of Motorhead, Metallica, Anthrax and Slayer - albums of which have apparently played an important role in the development of thrash/speed metal - there was obviously one ingredient I was completely unaware of. The tragedy of the band lies in the fact that, whilst the likes of Slayer, Metallica etc. went on to sell truckloads of records in their lives and now live in Hollywood mansions for their efforts, the members of Anvil (or the two main and surviving members: Steve "Lips" Kudlow and Robb Reiner [and I hope I'm not the only one aware of the painful irony of that name]) have to work blue-collar day jobs the rest of their lives, whilst still keeping the band going, releasing independent albums, grinding low-rent tours and playing to drunks at local bars. More on them later...
Fugazi, on the other hand, never cared for "success" as most know it. If they did, they would've capitalised more on the success which was thrust upon them. Instead, they insisted on low door prices everywhere they went, only ever played benefit shows in their hometown, sold their CDs for dirt-cheap, refused to be interviewed by mainstream music magazines and, to make it brief, simply wouldn't play the game. Despite all this, in their lifetime (they've been on indefinite hiatus since 2002) they managed to sell over 3 million albums, and that was as of 2002; one can only guess how many now. They were considered by some to be the "voice and conscience" of their generation. And they had a film made about them. Believe it or not, but I'm not that huge on music documentaries, even on bands and artists I may be a big fan of. I'm still yet to see the Jandek and Roky Erickson films. We Jam Econo, the Minutemen pic, was disappointing (though still highly watchable), and the Germs' docu-drama I hope to never suffer through again. I approached Instrument with trepidation, but within 10 minutes found myself strangely hooked. Stylistically, it's more like an "art" film: no narrative, no threads are apparent; different film stocks and shooting styles are abundant throughout, and there are extended passages w/ little to no active or engaging dialogue. By all accounts (or at least by my filmic tastes), it should be a total yawnfest. It's the ambience which carries it: the scenes comprising of Ian Mackaye counting the money after a show (like a two-bit bar-band hack!), the band loading in their gear, the shots of the group driving from show to show. Interpersed w/ all of this, filmmaker Jem Cohen (apparently an old highschool friend of MacKaye's) has cut in some incredible live footage, the kind of footage which once again has me digging out all the old records for another reassessment. The verdict? Fugazi were one hell of a rock band, possibly the best there was for their time.
There are friends and associates of mine who simply do not like the band known as Fugazi. It's the puritanism and sense of self-righteousness which puts them off. And the music? For some, it simply never "rocked". I could care less that someone doesn't like them - I have no stake in this except as a fan - though both claims I don't see holding up. The puritanism and righteousness (or indignation) never appears to be directed outwards: the band is simply about self-discipline and living a certain lifestyle, unhindered by others. As for what other bands do, it appeared to never be of any interest to Fugazi. And as for "rocking", an ability to do so comes in a thousand different forms. There's no way I can be convinced that the near-telepathic interplay of vocals/guitars/drums/bass that the band engaged in, both on stage and within the studio, is anything less than "rocking". The dynamics speak for themselves. Fugazi never wanted anyone to mistake them for being anything other than a rock band, and Instrument, whether by accident or design, gets that point across. I'm open to any and every argument that Fugazi sucked, though I could never personally be convinced.
Instrument shows them as simply too good a band. If anything, they remind me of what Jon Savage once said of the Sex Pistols: their aim was to show that "anyone could do it", but by their sheer greatness, they showed that not everyone could. Instrument is an excellent visual document of the band, a musical documentary I actually plan to watch on repeat.
Whilst Fugazi never had any delusions of where they sat in the scheme of things, the same could probably not be said for Anvil. But you could never hate them for it. That's because Lips and Reiner never come across as assholes. Clueless perhaps, but not jerks. The band came crashing back down to earth in the late '80s, after some modest success earlier in the decade, and they've never gotten back up off the ground. And damnit, they're never gonna give up. The both of them, now in their 50s, talk like a couple of teenagers whose band is gonna take the world by storm, as if they've got the best group in the world, and if only everyone would give them a chance, they'd prove they were indeed the greatest rock'n'roll behemoth who ever scorched the land. And they really believe it! It's not that Anvil are awful, cos they're not; it's just that they're really not that great. They're a footnote band in the grand scheme of things, an outfit fated to be forever on the bottom of a festival bill, a band whose style and sound is hopelessly out of date for the metal masses, and despite all their talk of future success, you can sense in the back of their minds that they know they're never going to make it and that's OK. At the very least, they're having fun with the music and still get a thrill by engaging w/ the fans. They've accepted, in some way, their lot in life as the C-list band.
Compared to the insufferables assholes in Metallica as portrayed (with their approval) in Some Kind Of Monster, the laughs you'll have at Anvil's expense - and there's a lot of them - don't come quite as cheap and easy. In SKOM, there's a touch of schadenfreude in watching an artistically washed-out band of obnoxious, rich, spoilt bores fail in their attempt to make a half-decent album. In Anvil, you pray at the end of the film as the band slowly enters the stage area from the rear on their way to that last show at a festival in Japan, you pray that the show won't be a total washout. For Anvil's sake - two not-too-bright but well-meaning Jewish boys from nice homes in Toronto, two boys who still haven't given up on their dreams after 30 years of little of the success they constantly talk about - you just hope they get a break. And you feel kinda bad for laughing at them so much. The similarities to Spinal Tap are staggering: the scene w/ Lips and Reiner recalling their early days w/ the group and their still-to-be-recorded song, "Thumb Hang", is almost a carbon copy of the cafe scene in Spinal Tap where Nigel Tufnel and Dave St. Hubbins reminisce about their skiffle days in Squatney. The scenes of Lips running around backstage after having played a bottom-rung set at a big European metal festival to meet all his heroes like he's an old friend (and none of them appear to have any idea who he is), is the genius a scriptwriter couldn't pen. Lips' hopeless attempts to start a career in the telemarketing industry had me in stitches. The three-shot juxtaposition of the band in one scene excitedly talking about a bidding war they'll create w/ their new album, only then to be cut to their meeting w/ an obviously disinterested but unfailingly polite EMI A & R guy, and then soon to cut to a scene of the group unloading their brand new self-released album and attempting to convince the viewer that releasing the album on their own label was the best thing for the band anyway.... you know that Anvil is the stuff of greatness.
I found myself strangely moved by their plight. I found myself ordering a copy of their "legendary" second album from 1982, Metal On Metal, on ebay the instant the credits rolled. I doubt I'll like it that much, if at all, but I'm happy to support them. A band like Anvil makes the world a more strange and beautiful place, and now that I know their story, I feel informed of why they exist as a link in the chain of rock 'n roll. And the film itself is one of the funniest and most enjoyable rock 'n' roll films ever made. I've now seen it twice and I'll be back for more. You. Must. See. It.
Tuesday, March 09, 2010
Those truly were different times. This is from 1993, originally printed on the back cover of issue # 3 of YEAR ZERO fanzine, a rag I was writing/publishing at the time. Artwork by Andrew Lang, and I think the "concept" was the work of the both of us. How proud our mother must have been. This is the kinda stuff you get up to when you're young, dumb and full of... something.
Friday, March 05, 2010
All of this is housed in a DVD-sized slipcase w/ a 115-page book detailing the loft scene of the day, Moondoc's music throughout the years, a complete discography, rare photos and flyer reproductions of the time (many of which, w/ their handmade DIY look, mirror those of hardcore shows from a few years later) and essays by jazz scribe Ed Hazell. In short, it ranks amongst the holiest of Holy Grails for avant-jazz geeks. I'm ranking it as the finest reissue package - sounds, words, visuals - I've encountered in the last 12 months. There's only a thousand of these suckers made then they're all gone. If you don't skip through all this jazz nonsense I write about, but instead actively seek out some of it out - and like it - then The Muntu Recordings should be on your shopping list.
My buddy Joe from Last Days Of Man On Earth alerted me to this excellent article on the history of Homestead Records. I owned (and still own) a whole bunch of records on the label, just like a lotta folks do, but the who's, why's, what's and where's always remained largely a mystery to me. This fills in the gaps, and it's a fine read for those interested. Their output was inconsistent, at best, and their legacy probably doesn't rank alongside the likes of SST, Dischord, Touch & Go et al for a number of reasons (possibly the most obvious being that it was never owner-operated, therefore lacking that single-minded vision which guided its competition), but I can't deny, after browsing their complete discography, that there's some gold in there. Now, someone oughta finally get some My Dad Is Dead reissues happenin'...
Here's another blog I'm going to alert you to: my brother's! Fear not, there are not now two blogs extolling the virtues of the Alter-Natives, Paper Bag and Treacherous Jaywalkers to the world: this one's visual, documenting his recent artwork and his long-running portrait series. Support him: he's starving and tortured. In all seriousness, and despite any accusations of nepotism, it's excellent work and I'm a-mighty pleased to be linkin' it right here.
Tuesday, March 02, 2010
Also of great interest is a new blog entitled Why Be Something That You're Not, a site dedicated to the Detroit hardcore/punk scene ca. 1979-'85, which features illuminating interviews w/ the likes of The Necros' Barry Hennsler, members of The Fix, Tesco Vee and other luminaries. Best of all, it's all prep for a full-length book on the topic, to be released mid year. Someone oughta put to use the bright idea of doing a similar thing focusing on the Texan scene of the same period. Anyway, I'm pumping my fist in anticipation already! Below is a recollection from various scenesters of Black Flag's first show in Detroit in early 1981:
Black Flag made good on their promise to play Lansing, Michigan and rolled into Club Doo Bee on a Sunday night in March of 1981 with the obvious choice of The Fix and Necros as the warm up acts. The latter group had lost yet another member to collegiate pursuits in guitarist Andy Wendler, but were quick to bring another local punk convert, Brian Pollock, into the fold. They had also finally found a bass player; the video toting Corey Rusk. Both new members would be playing their first live gig opening up for Flag. As expected, the young punks were eager to flex their muscles and show off what they learned from the videos Rusk brought back from L.A. Once Black Flag launched into their set opener “Damaged II” and Andy Wendler rammed head first into a local record store employee, chaos ensued.
Barry Henssler – I remember people being taken aback at how violent we were. Black Flag got there late and did a five or six song sound check before anyone played, but people were inside the club. Everyone was anticipating them showing up, so that little sound check brought the energy up that much higher. This wasn’t the lame ass Farfisa organ New Wave bands that normally played at Club Doo Bee. You would have to be an idiot to ignore it.
Todd Swalla – We were pounding the hell out of the New Wavers trying to pogo. We were stage diving off of tables and for the first 10 minutes it was like a fist fight set to music. Then the New Wave folks finally got the fuck off the dance floor and we had it all to ourselves for the rest of the set. Not really as much fun but still cool, it was fucking Black Flag in your face! I got to play drums during “Louie Louie” which was my main goal that night!
Steve Miller – A trio of police cars sat in the parking lot across from Club Doo Bee the whole night, which both frightened and excited me. I didn’t want the cops to break up the show, but I figured something must be going right if it brought this sort of reaction in this town.
Tesco Vee – I remember leaving the club and having the soundboard tape from the show. We had just left the show and we were already listening to the tape in the car, listening to Dez (Cadena, then Black Flag vocalist) scream “I’M NOT A MACHINE!” over and over again.
Richard Bowser – I spoke to a guy a few years ago who was in this band in the eighties from Chicago called Strike Under and he was at that show. Every few years, I run into someone who was there. It seems everyone who was at that show went on to form a band or was in a band already at the time.
Steve Miller – The beauty of the whole situation is it happened in Lansing! It wasn’t New York or anything. It was truly a people's idea and notion to get this together and it had nothing to do with fashion or anything like that. We had a kick ass party at our house after that with the Black Flag guys.
Craig Calvert – Greg [Ginn, Black Flag guitarist] and Dez [Cadena] cranked out some Beatles and Neil Young on our stereo at that party. That certainly surprised a room full of punk rockers. I think that might have been the night someone set our couch on fire. I remember the police weren’t so happy about that, and shut the party down.
Robb was the singer in '80s UK outfit the Membranes, a band whom I actually own a record by and have never even listened to properly (sorry, but I bought it for a dollar at a record fair back in the mid '90s coz I knew the name from old issues of Forced Exposure... I really should dig it out), and he's also quite a well regarded print, radio and TV journalist in his homeland, so he's the best man for the job. He wasn't just an observer, but an active participant. The back-cover blurb neatly sums up his aim: "The post-post-punk scene was a collection of bands united by fierce independence and a gig circuit based around off centre venues the length and breadth of the UK, aided by coverage in fanzines and the vital radio play from John Peel." So, in essence, if you were disappointed by Reynolds' conclusion in his book, that the endgame of PiL wound up being the pop success of ABC and the Human League, and that perhaps it should've ended on a highnote, such as the awesome recorded works of The Ex and the Stretchheads, this reference book may be of a higher interest.
Split into chapters dedicated to what Robb deems to be the best and/or most important bands of the UK (and, occasionally, continental Europe) from roughly 1980 to the mid '90s, it's an easy-to-read guide to plugging the holes of your musical knowledge. Some you probably already know about (and perhaps don't want to know about), such as The Age Of Chance and The Wedding Present, both of whom scored major label hits in their time, though Robb is at pains to explain that such was the breadth of the under-represented underground of the time: every once in a blue moon, someone scored big, and it doesn't make them any less interesting. But alongside these names you get the goods on bands such as bIG fLAME and Bogshed (and others on the Ron Johnson label: perhaps the underground UK label of the 1980s); post-Fall outfit The Creepers; all of the Scottish bands whom I've spent the last 18 years forcing onto everyone in earshot like Dawson, Badgewearer, Whirling Pig Dervish, Stretchheads, Dog Faced Hermans, etc. (a few chapters of which have uncredited quotes from moi!), as well as brethren bands Revenge Of The Carrots, The Ex and The Keatons; eccentrics such as Stump (who were all over public radio down here ca. 1987) and the Noseflutes; as well as quite a few unknowns-to-me such as The Legend, Pigbros, Vee V V, The Turncoats and a whole lot more. The running thread is the sound of a band rallying not only against the mainstream pop of the day, but the stifling blandness of most of what passed for "indie" music at the time.
Robb's writing style doesn't possess the elegant prose of Jon Savage or the literacy of Nick Kent; it's more in the enthusiastic-fanzine-writer realm, which is perfectly fine, given the subject matter, one which requires someone to rev you up and get excited. It's not a book about the UK class system or how the Situationists relate to Brit pop culture in the late 20th century. Those subjects are fine, but Death To Trad Rock is purely about the music: the bands, the records, the fanzines, the radio shows, the tour circuit and the clubs. The opening chapter is almost a manifesto, detailing what it is that makes up this mini-scene Robb is attempting to bring to wider attention.
Can one recommend it? You bet. The fact that this book exists is a very great thing. The loose clutter of bands it gives the nod to, by all accounts, need to be given their due, and I say that as a man completely ignorant of more than a few of the bands covered here. I needed it. Any book which can dedicate full chapters in the year 2010 to bands such as Dawson and Stretchheads has proved its worth right there. It's easy to read, informative and full of humour and interesting anecdotes and, if you're like me, you'll probably burn through the 395 pages in a couple of days. Get it.
PS - I must correct one mistake: DAWSON's double CD on Lexicon Devil entitled Everything Is Under Control (where the hell did Robb get that title??!), apparently released in 2008 and listed in their "discography" section, does not exist. That double CD may just never exist.