Friday, June 24, 2011

There were few finer bands back in the 1980s than the Meat Puppets. There have been few greater bands in the history of rock & roll as we know it. If you care to debate it, there's a comments box right there, buddy. My friend Joe Stumble alerted me to this clip. Apparently MTV would spin it on the ultra-rare occasion they felt like playing some actual rock music back in the '80s. I only just saw it for the first time yesterday. The track, "Get On Down", is from 1987's Mirage, possibly my least-fave album of theirs from the classic SST era, though still an LP I dig a whole lot (after all, one of 'em had to be a least-fave: it's a scientific fact). It's reminded me, for the 1,473rd time, just what a fuckin' beast of a band the 'Pups were: a three-headed, multi-dimensional monster which could tackle and perfect any sound placed in front of them. Carducci once wrote - I believe it's in his Enter Naomi book - that he saw 'em play live dozens of times in the early '80s, and each time they'd sound like a totally different group. One week is was Steppenwolf, the next week it could be Black Flag, Beefheart or the Byrds. It wasn't a lack of focus, but simply too many ideas flying around to be contained within a generic rock & roll show. Back then, they should've recorded an album every fortnight. The band's evolution throughout their particularly crucial first three LPs is something for which science has no explanation. From the ferocious hardcore jazz 'n' spazz of the debut to the desert-fried roots-rock of II to the intricate acid-funk of Up On The Sun, few bands have taken such a radical musical journey in so short a time. I've written about 'em all before; my mind is just racing from the bargain-basement greatness of this clip.

Dogs In Space was re-released on DVD semi-recently, a cause for much celebration amongst friends of mine. I couldn't really share the mirth. I'd seen it many times before, though not for a decade or more, and each and every time the result was grave disappointment. Well, to be more accurate, the sense of disappointment decreased w/ each successive viewing. After all, I knew what I was in for. I first saw the film when I was 15, when it came out on video rental in 1987. The film itself first came out in 1986 and was quite a big deal down here. I was well aware of it at the time, being a budding young punker (though one who was, admittedly, also completely ignorant of the goings-on of the late '70s Melbourne punk rock scene), but due to its "R" rating, I couldn't see it until it hit the VHS/Beta shelves the next year (my parents would rent out anything for my brother and I, don't ask me why). Of course, it was a big deal possibly for the main reason that it brought forth the dubious acting talents of one Michael Hutchence to the world stage - him and his band were huge at the time, especially in their homeland - but at least that celebrity gave the film a push in the mainstream and clued the clueless on to the subterranean world of Melbourne post-punk ca. 1979, w/ the deviant sounds of the Boys Next Door/Birthday Party, Primitive Calculators, Thrush & The Cunts, Whirlywirld and various Ollie Olsen/John Murphy projects. Still, it's a pity the film itself is no good. Fact is, it's quite insufferably bad. Some friends of mine worked on the pic, two of them being Olsen and Murphy, and they're welcome to their own opinions on the project (I shouldn't speak for either, though I know that both see it as a flawed attempt to capture the spirit of the times, w/ Murphy's main complaint [and I'm recollecting this from a conversation in 1993] being that the film looks too much like 1986, not 1979). My beef w/ the pic is that the bulk of it seems to involve Hutchence - a nice fellow, from reports, regardless of how crap his musical career may've been - crawling around the floor of a grubby student sharehouse in between flicking the fringe from his eyes or spouting off some pretentious nonsense. There's also a few scenes of people shooting up and bands playing in the loungeroom. I think director Richard Lowenstein meant well, but meaning well sometimes isn't enough when it comes to creating an engaging piece of cinema. From all reports, Hutchence's management were scared to death that his starring in such an oddball feature film detailing the lives and music of a group of fringe artists was going to hurt his chances at international fame, but he went ahead nonetheless, believing in the project. Hooray for him. Again, I still wish the film was good. Upon viewing it as a 15-year-old, my first reaction was, Well, that ain't no Repo Man or Suburbia! Every half a decade or so since then, I'd rent it in the hopes of a reappraisal, and yet subsequent viewings have never changed my mind: the film is a thoroughly unengaging mess. But anyway, I rented it again this past week, if only to watch the second disc of special features. I returned the DVD last night, having not watched the film itself, though I'm happy to report that one of the documentaries regarding the film is worthy of your time: We're Livin' On Dog Food. It was made recently, and features the talking heads of some well-known folks: Roland S. Howard, Bruce Milne, Phillip Brophy, Ollie Olsen, members of the Primitive Calculators, Sam Sejavka (the person for whom Hutchence's character was based on), music writer Clinton Walker (one of the highlights), JAB's Bohdan (a man whose voice I grew up listening to on 3RRR), the famous designer and highly annoying Alannah Hill and more. I've heard a few of these stories before, either from some of the folks above or from other, older friends of mine who were on the scene (particularly at the infamous Crystal Ballroom, the venue of choice at the time), though it's all spliced together in an engaging way w/out devolving into a post-punk version of The Big Chill. For my two cents, it's a whole lot more entertaining than the film itself. There's some great early footage of Boys Next Door, before they or the band they morphed into were particularly any good, as well as scenes of the Young Charlatans (crucial early punkoid band featuring Olsen, Howard and others who would later go onto the Laughing Clowns and a later line-up of the Saints) and the godawful Ears, Sam Sejavka's outfit who held the rep as the worst band of their day. The sequences early on, where the participants list the crucial musical influences of the days before punk as "Punk" hit it big are interesting, mostly because they demonstrate how disaffected teenagers in the mid '70s - whether they were from Los Angeles, London or Madrid - were all listening to the same sounds (NY Dolls, Stooges, VU, Bowie, Roxy, Kraftwerk... you know the drill!). I'd recommend you watch Dogs In Space at least once in this lifetime - despite what I've said it still isn't without its charms - though We're Living On Dog Food is the better option.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Wow. Oh how the mighty fell. For a few years there, Discharge had it. They were the definitive black-clad hardcore outfit w/ short, simple songs you could bark to. Their first three releases of the 12" variety - Why?, Hear Nothing, See Nothing, Say Nothing and Never Again - remain essential to just about anyone claiming an interest and/or liking for balls-out rock & roll. My brother was a big fan of these guys back in high school - had their name written on his school bag, if memory serves - and I liked 'em OK though wasn't nearly as smitten. It wasn't until years later when I chanced upon cheap, secondhand vinyl copies which I swooped up toot sweet, that I came around to acknowledging the genius of Discharge's early material. The band, particularly on Why?, was ferocious, completely unstoppable in their relentlessness and stylistically not dissimilar from '80/'81-period Black Flag or Minor Threat ca. their first two EPs. For the following two records, things get tweaked and tightened a tad here and there, but the energy remains. The band was a fairly odd proposition, in retrospect: they were revolutionary in their stark, minimalist approach to their music and presentation - there are few hardcore/crust/metal and even black metal bands on earth who don't owe them a debt somewhere - but they mixed their radical punk/hippie politics equally w/ an approach which bordered on the kind of rock-star swagger you wouldn't typically expect from such a band. Check out the clip from 1983: the band sings about nuclear war whilst singer Cal gyrates around on stage - and what a stage it is! The band was quite the big deal then - like a rooster, part Iggy Pop and part... oh, I don't know, take your pick of unfavourable comparisons. That dichotomy makes them quite appealing to me: at least they could rock, something I could never say for CRASS. In 1986, again w/ a new line-up, the band known as Discharge released Grave New World and pretty much killed their careers for good. Cal started "singing" like he'd been taking vocal lessons from Rob Halford, the band dropped the voluminous amount of hair gel they'd been consuming and let their ample locks hang loose, and musically the band went straight for the heavy metal highway. I remember reading reports of their US tour at the time: they sunk like the Titanic, with shows bombing in Spinal Tap proportions. Discharge never recovered. Check the second clip out: I'm not sure of the exact date, but it's certainly some years later. The band looks and sounds ridiculous, Cal still screeching like Axl Rose whilst the band, who look like Ugly Kid Joe, half-heartedly runs through their classic material. Discharge allegedly still play around to this day. Let's remember them as they were.

Some DON CHERRY to peruse. Those averse to my "jazz" postings are well advised to hit the snooze button. I've written about the great man before - here, here and here. Hell, I'm sure I've written about the guy more extensively somewhere in these pages, but for the life of me I can't find the links. Everything the guy put to tape during the years 1961 - 1982 is worth your time and trouble: starting off w/ The Avant-Garde, recorded w/ John Coltrane; through to his Blue Note recordings; the Penderecki collaboration; his BYG magnum opus' (opi?) - notably Blue Lake and Orient, the latter of which is a Top 10 Desert Isle Disc for moi - the incredible Brown Rice on A & M from 1975, the sonic missing link twixt Can and '70s Miles; his ECM recordings w/ a trio under the Codona moniker; and lastly, his 1982 recording w/ percussionist Ed Blackwell. There's one complete turkey in there, 1976's Here & Now, a mersh, fusionoid headache of a record which was made for bucks c/o record-label money-danglers, but everything else should be residing in your premises. Along w/ Pharoah Sanders, Sun Ra, Miles and Alice Coltrane, for my two cents he was one of the jazz astro-travellers, one who took the music to a new stratosphere and rarely came back. Cherry's music was more earth-bound than someone like 'Ra's - it was in the sub-continental vicinity for roughly the last 25 years of his life - though his blending of jazz, psychedelia and Third World sounds is like no other. The Multikulti clip is particularly interesting, since not only does it feature the awesome percussion of man-of-a-thousand-instruments, Hamid Drake, in the mix, but it was quite obviously recorded post-1982. I only say this because Cherry's music from the mid '80s onwards was sometimes derided as New Age/One World mush which lost its edge, but the zoned-out bliss he achieves w/ this crew has me thinking otherwise. Cherry passed on in 1995, and his back catalogue still remains a bit of a mess in regards to what's available and what's not. A friend of mine was in touch w/ the family trust a number of years ago, attempting to obtain the rights to some of his recordings, to no avail. Most of the grey area/non-major material remains in print in some sort of semi-legit fashion, though a few are still out of reach. If someone can procure me a copy of 1973's Organic Music Society w/out me having to fork out stupid sums of cash, then I'll be their friend for life. I'm only a collector of bad memories, so I couldn't care less for original pressings and what they're worth, and much less am I a vinyl purist. I've even bugged various reissue labels over the years whom I'm in regular contact w/ through work about getting such gems back in the marketplace, but so far it's been a brick wall. Eh... Check 'em out. To quote what a famous musician once said about somone else who is completely unrelated (bear with me here): his music heals the fuck out of me.

Wednesday, June 08, 2011

God knows what in the hell has inspired me to post about Mel Gibson's The Passion Of The Christ. Wait a sec... no He doesn't, because I'm not yet convinced of His existence, so much so that I'll cease putting a capital at the start of his name. A little-known (or cared-for) fact: I studied Philosophy of Religion at university for two semesters. I took the subject as a 20-year-old seeking answers to all the great questions (not all of them: the course never covered the question of when Greg Ginn planned on remastering and reissuing the Black Flag catalogue) and finished the subject w/ more questions swimming round my head than answers. However, I did pass the course comfortably in the knowledge of two things: A) the existence (or not) of a higher being remains unknowable; and B) self-righteous, wave-it-on-a-flag atheists are just as tedious and annoying as the god-botherers they oppose. But I digress too soon...
I had a couple of friends over for dinner last night, and the topic of film came up, as it often does. We were discussing ancient native American civilisations (true! It was after the fondu had gone cold) when I brought up the 2006 Mel Gibson film, Apocalypto. As with Gibson's The Passion Of The Christ (TPOTC), from 2004, it caused quite a stir, though not a big enough stir for many of my friends to bother seeing it. A few friends have seen Apocalypto, though I know of just about no one personally who has seen the Bible 'n' bloodshed epic, or will at least admit to it. The typical defence uttered for this ignorance and unwillingness to see two very fine films is that Mel Gibson is a complete asshole. That's true, but it's also irrelevant. I think it's Gibson's possible psychosis which makes him such an interesting film-maker. I hope his mid-life crisis continues and that he tackles the subject of, say, Vlad The Impaler or Napoleon in his next film, because I can assure you one thing: it won't be boring. The defence I usually hear in regards to not having seen TPOTC is that said person is not a believer, much less a believer in whatever Catholic brand of believing Gibson subscribes to. Again, that's irrelevant. Simply put, TPOTC is one of the great horror films of the past decade, if being completely terrified (and I don't just mean sickened or reviled, but truly terrified for the film's subject) during the viewing of a horror film counts for anything anymore. It's so damn scary I've only ever watched it once in full, and I own the damn thing on DVD. In fact, the only time I've ever sat through it complete in one sitting was at the cinema when it was first released. It received such massive press, most of it negative, for its unrelenting brutality, that I decided to put it on my Must See list. My wife, brother, sister-in-law and I went to the Westgarth Theatre in High Street on a rather cold and dreary Sunday afternoon to see it. The cinema was surprisingly empty - maybe 15 people in total. The moment the film started, a couple of old Italian ladies behind us started audibly praying. I'm a stickler for complete silence during a film - even subtitled ones - so I moved to a seat on the side and sat on my own for the remainder of the film. After all, I couldn't concentrate on the unrelenting brutality of what was happening on the screen.
By the time it came to the infamous whipping scene - see above, and please note: watch this scene with the SOUND OFF. This clip has a horrible Christian rock song over it, though it is the only version of this scene available on Youtube without special 18+ access - things started to fall apart. The old ladies praying started getting more vocal and another lady closer to the front of the cinema jumped up screaming for the guards to stop whipping Jesus, then burst out crying, only to sob hysterically for the rest of the film whilst her husband consoled her. I'll tell ya, it was a circus in there. And that's not even mentioning the sheer horrors of what was taking place on screen. I've said it before, I'll say it again: TPOTC remains the most violent and horrific movie I have ever watched. It's also one of the scariest. Regardless of your belief, or lack thereof, in the story of Jesus, it remains a compelling and incredibly disturbing film.
When the film was over, barely a word was uttered during the car trip home. We were completely shellshocked. Far from being uplifting, the movie was the most depressing cinematic experience I'd endured, its brutality so unrelenting that by the film's end I felt drained. The film is 126 minutes long, and my guess is that a good 100 minutes of it revolve around Jesus getting the absolute shit beaten out of him, or him dying slowly for all to see. Or a combination of the two. Not only that, but the film possesses such a dark, paranoid aura - it's the story of a man being chased, tortured and ultimately killed for his beliefs - a sense of impending doom portrayed so well, that I guarantee that if such a film had been made by an obscure Eastern European director notorious for his sensitive/tortured disposition, the movie would've garnered a lot more critical praise than it did. In short, TPOTC is a fine piece of film-making and I still stand by the unfashionable stance of believing it should (and will) be reappraised one day as an excellent piece of shock-du-jour cinema. And I say that as one who is not a fan of "shock cinema" in general. I got through the first half of Gaspar Noe's Irreversible and just about heaved my lunch at the death-by-fire-extinguisher scene, swearing that I couldn't do the rest (I didn't, as I'd been warned the second half was much worse). And as for the current crop of "torture-porn" flicks, as they've been dubbed, the Hostel/Saw school of cinema and all their imitators, I have little to no time for any of them. Bizarre curiosity had me sit through the entirety of The Human Centipede, though in general, I'd rate such examples of movie making as the products of spoilt, immature, lazy and pretentious artistes. In regards to violence and bloodshed, TPOTC outdoes them all, but it never feels exploitational. Gibson is a commercial film-maker and understands that a buck has to be made (especially when it's his on the line), and I think he was also likely aware that a generic Biblical film (as was made in the '50s) in the 21st century wouldn't generate a lot of business in these heretical times, but not once throughout TPOTC did I feel that he was indulging himself in torturous violence for such base reasons. It was simply part of the storytelling as he saw it. Or maybe he's just nuts.

The above clip has become somewhat of an obsession for myself and a couple of friends. Believe it or not, but I actually watched it last Monday morning at work, at about five past nine - for possibly the 20th time - just to put a smile on my face. It put a skip in my step and made me start the week with a bang. The band itself is apparently the GRP All Stars - a group of musicians linked up to lightweight fusionoid MOR dude, Dave Grusin - though if my knowledge of lightweight fusionoid nonsense is correct, and it was hardened and sharpened through years of music retail experience, it's actually the line-up for Chick Corea's Elektric Band... Wait a second, do you fucking care??!! Maybe they're one and the same, but what you need to be aware of before watching the clip in question is the horrific audio/visual nature of it. Visually, you have smug nods from each band member as they trade leads (note the interplay between Corea and guitarist Frank Gambale at 1:25: you will shudder), as well as rampant goosenecking as they "hit the groove", but you also get lots of garish shirts, loose-fitting sweat pants, '80s haircuts and a sickly, constant pelvic thrust from bassist John Pattituci. Musically, I could only describe it as being a cross between the Seinfeld theme song and the kind of tune you'd hear in a corporate instructional video (I sat through one once when I landed a job at Borders in '99). The band itself, possibly only because of Corea's background, is nominally known as one practising in the field of "jazz fusion", though what relation it bears to jazz remains a mystery to me. Corea recorded some great stuff w/ Miles in the late '60s before quitting in 1970 to form Circle w/ Anthony Braxton, drummer Barry Altschul and bassist Dave Holland. They released an excellent double LP of free blowouts on ECM in '71 then called it quits. He then went on to form Return To Forever and unfortunately never returned. I read once that Corea quit Miles' band because he thought they were going "commercial". I guess this mirrors, in some ways, the career of one Eric Clapton: he quit the Yardbirds because he thought they were too "pop", released a few OK-ish things w/ Cream (I'm not much of a fan) and then proceeded to record and play complete and total dross for the next 40 years, making his earlier claims of musical purity rather spurious. Got me? I can only assume that Corea completely lost his goddamn mind to be this far gone (the clip's from the late '80s), though I don't think he's recovered. Corea's musical career is of no real interest whatsoever, though you might find this clip amusing, for all the wrong reasons.

Wednesday, June 01, 2011

This is one of the greatest clips of music I have ever seen. It's steel guitar legend, Pete Drake, playing on his infamous "talking guitar" on some TV show at the time (mid '60s is my guess: that's when his album of "talking steel guitar" was released). Drake played with just about anyone and everyone of note during his time, from Roger Miller and Johnny Cash to Buddy Holly and Elvis through to Bob Dylan and George Harrison. He even recorded a whole bunch of tracks for the King label and ran his own imprint for a while in the 1970s, releasing records by the likes of Ernest Tubb. But what you really need to do is watch this clip. It's like something out of a David Lynch film. I know that people are prone to saying such a thing about just about anything remotely "weird", but let me just say it again: this really is like something out of a David Lynch film (or at least a David Lynch film I'd actually want to watch, which unfortunately excludes everything he's done in the last 20 years). The black-clad back-up singers alone do the trick, though I think it's Drake special gadget, which looks like the guy is hooked up to a vintage oxygen machine, does it one better. I guess what makes this so special is that it isn't pure kitsche. Sure, the song itself sounds like a country-muzak version of Joe Meek (or a Joe Meek version of country-muzak, to be more precise), but the song itself is great. Really, really great.