Saturday, March 31, 2012

A jog down memory lane here at Lexicon Devil...

It's surprisingly easy for me to forget what I have written about here in years past, which means it must be much easier for you to do the same. The following posts are ones I actually "like". You may care to read them.





X - and not the LA mob





Tuesday, March 27, 2012

A buddy who sent me this link today put me in a Def Con 4/High Alert state of mind. Fact is, it put me in an O-Mind frame of mind, if that means anything. Thank the heavens for Youtube. How else would mere mortals like you and I be able to view clips such as this - thee great MX-80 Sound playing in their basement in 1978 and filmed for a local cable TV station - in the year 2012? For myself, and even others, the first 3 MX-80 LPs - 1977's Hard Attack (released on the UK branch of Island Records, not even securing a US version at the time) and the two Ralph long-players, 1980's Out Of The Tunnel (a def' desert-isle disc for moi) and '81's Crowd Control - are life-affirmers of the highest order. You know that. After all, I've written about about 'em before. So, that business is out of the way. Watch. This.

I've been steering clear of this blog of late as the lack of inspiration to write anything about music - after more than 600 entries on this here journal - has been overwhelming; and, as you can see, recent entries have been centred more on movies than sounds. But just today - yes, TODAY - I was so blown away by these two discs, The Outsiders' Calling On Youth and Close Up rekkids from 1977 and '78, respectively, only just reissued for the first time ever on CD in the past fortnight by the good folks at Cherry Red, that I feel inspired to rave.
Prior to reading the press sheets for these two titles - my interest in them, I must admit, goes beyond the mere interest of a fanboy and into the realm of "work-related reasons" - I must confess that the band's name meant absolutely nada to me, outside of the fact that the same moniker was used by a Dutch mob in the late '60s, one who produced a long-playing slab of genius by the name of CQ, a record I really should write about one of these days. I quizzed a few other music-dork pals of mine, and the strike rate was approx. 50/50 in the have/haven't heard of 'em equation. Considering the sheer depths of hopeless nerdery that myself and my buddies have dedicated our lives to in this regard, that certainly makes the band "obscure".
So I did some research: the band, a trio hailing from Wimbledon, of all areas, formed "for real" (they'd been bedroom jamming since '73 as Syndrome) in 1976, debuting at the Roxy in late '76 in support of Generation X; they self-released Calling On Youth in May 1977 on their own Raw Edge label, allegedly the first UK self-released "punk" LP, then followed it up w/ the 7" EP, One To Infinity soon thereafter (also on the COY CD); the second album, Close Up, was then released in 1978, once again on Raw Edge; their main acknowledged influences were the Stooges and the Velvets; the ace track "Semi-Detached Life" (see below), from Close Up, was used in the Richard Linklater film, School Of Rock; they barely received a good review in their entire existence, slagged by blowhards like Julie Burchill and even derided by Jon Savage (a guy whose writing I do like a lot); and singer/guitarist Adrian Borland, who died in 1999, went on to form The Sound after the band's demise in 1979, an outfit who had some indie success throughout that decade, but being a band often "favourably" compared to dickless Limey dullards such as Echo & The Bunnymen and Comsat Angels, are not an outfit I could personally recommend. Add to that the fact that I would have to rate these two discs as the most strangely ignored albums of their day. All this information would be perhaps curious though not of any great interest if in fact the music they made was of no great worth, and that's not the case.

The Outsiders had a couple of really great elements working in their favour: Borland had a cool, detached vocal approach in the slower, moodier songs which had the stench of Lou Reed all over them, and for a nominally "punk" band, a tag they rejected as not particularly appropriate to their approach, they could pull off quieter, acoustic-based songs w/ aplomb (such as "Break Free" from the debut), something just about none of their contemporaries could achieve (or even attempt). There's also Borland's shit-hot guitar fuzz throughout. It's a totally bluesless wall of noise which is caught somewhere between Wire ca. Pink Flag and Greg Sage ca. anytime then or now. He also wasn't afraid of ripping out elongated yet tasteful solos in a James Williamson vein, and the band equally wasn't afraid of the odd track extending over the 5-minute mark (the closer on Close Up, "Conspiracy Of War", is 6+ minutes of total Youth Of America-style bliss). The sound of the band is hard to place, because it appears to be paying little attention to anything else of its time: The Outsiders sound nothing like the 'Pistols, Damned, Buzzcocks or (thank fuck) The Clash, and the rockist approach puts them firmly outside of the post-punk camp. If anything, it sounds like its rooted more in the pre-punk British scene of the Pink Fairies/Hawkwind/Deviants, minus any hints of rhythm & blues in its make-up, but as for whether the band actually listened to or cared for any of these groups is pure conjecture. What I can say is that their Velvets-damaged approach mixed w/ inventive guitar hysterics has me thinking that anyone who thinks a band whose sounds approximate a hybrid of Wire, Wipers, Simply Saucer, Modern Lovers and MX-80 Sound is a ticket to a good time, should hear these two records.

When I rave about Don Cherry in this journal I expect few to care; when I sing the praises of Amos Milburn, I can hear you groaning from here, but these two albums are ones which I know a large section of this blog's readership will actually like. Just the other day I was whining to a friend how totally boring I find collectors of rare early punk to be, how their search for the ultimate unknowns and never-weres has me yawning in complete boredom; their trainspotting/stamp-collecting attitudes being the complete opposite of the excitement of the music itself, as if a concentration on one era and style of music neglects to acknowledge and appreciate all the other great music of the last few hundred years. Of course I was full of shit, and my belated discovery of The Outsiders, outcasts in their day because of their shaggy hair, lack of pose or uncool suburb they hailed from (it couldn't possibly be because of their music, could it? It sounds so much better than most of what else went down that year in the UK to me, and they made two albums of it!), shows that there's still so much good music out there to discover. Definitely one of the great rock & roll (re)discoveries of 2012.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Somebody has done a great public service and put the entire Another State Of Mind film up on Youtube for your viewing. I watched it last night, for the first time in 28 years(!), and the memories all came flooding back. Somehow or other, a beta video version of the film was available for rent in The Suburb Where Nothing Ever Happens, North Balwyn, back in 1984, and my brother and I decided on a whim to give it a shot. It'd be nice to rewrite history and have you all thinking that I was a died-in-the-wool punker at the age of 12, but I'll be honest: I had not heard of a single band in the film, and my idea of punk rock at the time was post-Levene/Wobble-period PiL and the Sex Pistols' "Friggin' In The Riggin'" (a track custom-made for impressionable 12-year-olds). I had a long way to go. My musical diet at the time consisted mainly of English fops in pirate shirts; my conversion would come about the next year. But still, I must've watched the film a dozen times, as I somehow managed to recall just about every single scene whilst viewing just 24 hours ago.
The movie follows two ne'er-do-well punk rock bands of the day, Youth Brigade and Social Distortion, and their semi-disastrous summer tour of the US in 1982. With cash earned from benefit shows, the Youth Brigade's Stern brothers - Shawn, Mark and Adam - purchase a beat-up old school bus and decide to take their positive message to The Kids. Strangely enough, they chose one of the most un-positive bands of the day to come on board w/ them - SD appear(ed) to be a band made up of an alcoholic and a gaggle of poseurs and beaver hounds - and a series of debacles ensue. It's not that the tour was a total flop - they made it to DC before it all fell apart and managed to play at least a handful of semi-successful shows along the way - although in between, it's in-fighting, rip-off promoters, poor attendances, police and redneck harrassment and a bus w/ a serious habit of breaking down. Joe Carducci wrote about the film in Rock & The Pop Narcotic, remarking that Ian MacKaye makes the only intelligent remarks in the whole movie, and also noting that the film documents the division between what he saw as the "serious" bands willing to tour hard and play their music like they mean it, and those who were merely along for the ride. I don't totally agree w/ this assessment. After all, SD, despite their woeful music and love of make-up, were a committed band (at least Mike Ness was), and that's ignoring the fact that their entire schtick was a shitawful concoction of B-grade Clashisms (a C-grade band at that), SoCal melodic punk and bad-boy R & R cliches. And as for Youth Brigade, you bet they were committed, and boy, did they like telling you about it. If anything, Another State... (ASOM) really shows where the rot of HC started to set in, as the entire "movement" became such a yawn-o-rama pedestal for blowhards to mouth off about everything wrong in society. Hell, I should know, I was one of those blowhards! And saying all this, I ain't knocking the participants - they seem like nice enough fellows who were truly kicking against the pricks back in the day - but their relentless earnestness (and various other talking heads in the film) had me rolling my eyes just about every time they opened their collective mouth.
Still, ASOM is a film I can wholeheartedly recommend. It'd be a whole lot better if it actually featured two bands I ever cared about, of course (Youth Brigade rate as merely boring, as opposed to terrible), but it captures the spirit of the day perfectly, and you do get to witness a few talking heads who occasionally have something interesting to say. Keith Morris pops up and says nothing particularly profound, though I love that Californ-aye-an drawl of his in just about any context, and you get a glimpse of the Circle Jerks at the time, playing to a large crowd of boofheads slamming their way to oblivion. Hot. There's also a segment filmed at Dischord House in DC, w/ a young Ian MacKaye (who sounds like his voice is shot from too much screaming) waxing lyrical on the straight edge philosophy, serving ice cream at Haagen-Dazs, as well as a cool clip of the short-lived 5-piece line-up of Minor Threat tearing it up. There's also some rather depressing footage of some seriously messed-up street punks in French Canada, and the priceless footage of a lesson in slam dancing. The scenes of Mike Ness applying his make-up before a show, then flailing around on stage dressed like a goddamn mummy had me hooting out audibly. I heard he played recently w/ Bruce Springsteen. I guess he got the last laugh. Or maybe we all did. Regardless, Another State Of Mind is a good way of chewing up 90-odd minutes of your life, and it'll take you back to a time when earnestness, as opposed to irony, was the mindset of America's disaffected youth.

Sunday, March 04, 2012

And now for something completely different. The 1973 film, Executive Action, directed by David Miller (a man who made films starring everyone from the Marx Brothers to John Wayne in his lifetime), is what's been on my mind of late. I only viewed it for the very first time last week, a surprising fact considering the JFK assassination has been something of great interest to me - an interest which occasionally borders on obsession - for over 20 years. Yes, I'm one of those. In the last 50 years, there have been over 400 books published on the matter (from a conspiracy angle: I know such a word may frighten some, but it simply means that at least two people collude to create an event), most of which are currently out of print, and many of which probably aren't worth reading. I've read a few duds myself, though if you're at all curious, I would highly recommend: James W. Douglass's JFK And The Unspeakable: Why He Died And Why It Matters (published just a couple of years back and widely held as one of the best books on the subject. Douglass is a long-time Catholic peace activist, and his book is littered w/ Catholicism, something which at first had me thinking I'd purchased the wrong book, but persist and you will find an absolutely compelling narrative w/ lots of new information brought to light); Thom Hartmann and Lamar Waldron's massive tome, Legacy Of Secrecy: The Long Shadow Of The JFK Assassination, a well-researched monolith which claims to be the definitive work on the topic (something I wouldn't necessarily disgree with); Mark Lane's Plausible Denial (Lane has written many books on the topic, and was both the first person to have written an article on the case [within weeks of the assassination], as well as publishing a book on the matter, 1966's best-selling Rush To Judgment. He's also somewhat of a self-important boofhead, though his decades of research and tenacity in the face of overwhelming hostility is commendable); The Girl On The Stairs: My Search For A Missing Witness To The Assassination Of John F. Kennedy by Barry Ernest, another recently published book which narrows most of the story down to the author's search for one of the workers/witnesses from the Texas Book Depository; and The Men On The Sixth Floor by Glen Sample and Mark Collom, another semi-self-published text which attempts (and claims to succeed) in nailing down who was on the 6th floor of the Book Depository on that day (it ties the story in w/ some earlier murder cases in Texas, as well as LBJ's corruption throughout the 1940s-'60s). Hey, you gotta have a passion outside of family and music, right?
But that's the background; what's worth discussing here is the film in question. Starring Burt Lancaster and veteran actor Robert Ryan (a well-known liberal playing against type), it's actually co-written by author Mark Lane, and attempts to put to the big screen a scenario which might've taken place. Playing on the conspiracy angle, it details the plot from its inception to its conclusion: various business/military types meet up at a mansion and discuss the curse of Kennedy in the White House and what is to be done about it. It's decided that an assassination must be ordered for the good of the country, and the plan is set into action. Burt Lancaster's character, the main instigator, hires a crack team of assassins through his black ops connections and starts them practicing their target shooting in a remote desert area. A patsy is sought through the protagonists' connections w/ the intelligence community, Lee Harvey Oswald is chosen from a file and from then until the fateful day, he is sheparded about, set up and impersonated. Whether you have any interest in the assassination and its various theories or not (and I obviously certainly do), the film works brilliantly regardless as an excellent example of hard-hitting, documentary-style '70s cinema, perfect fodder for American audiences during the height of the Watergate scandal. Well, you'd think it would've been, though the film caused such an uproar upon release that it was quickly pulled from cinemas and barely seen by anyone until it started getting TV airings in the '80s. It's available on DVD, though the best option is to watch it right here and now, in high definition on Youtube. Along w/ its main stars, it also features the work of various "famous" '70s/'80s character actors - so utterly famous that I couldn't actually name a single one of them - whom you will no doubt recognise from many other films. The film is pure grit. More people should see it, and now's your chance.