Wednesday, January 30, 2013

A month ago, I was driving back from Geelong on a family beach trip, and I was playing the radio in the car as I cruised at an ever-so-sensible speed down the highway. I had the stereo on 3RRR and managed to suffer through about 10 minutes of lame techno (you win some, you lose some: my love for the station has not diminished) before I decided to make the switch to 3PBS. An old workmate - take yer pick - was on the air and spinning some faves. First up was Eddy Current Suppression Ring. I swore on my life a while ago that I'd never need hear that band for the next half-decade, not due to any dislike of the band - au contrair - but just due to simple over-exposure in years past, but their raw & shaky rock & roll had me pumping my fist in the air in no time. It sounded good. What came next was even better: The Eastern Dark's "Johnny & Dee Dee" track from 1985. There are no Youtube versions which will allow me to imbed the damn thing, so you'll just have to follow this link. Believe me, it's worth it. It remains one of the great Ramonesoid tracks of this or any other era: the opening acoustic set-up, which sounds almost like "Stairway To Heaven", is a ruse. When the drums kick in, the screamed "one-two-three-four!" (or is that Deutsche?), the bass, then the guitars, it doesn't stop for breath.
 Anyway, that was a month ago. I still have Eastern Dark, and particularly this number, on my mind. It'll put a big grin on your face, or perhaps you have a pile of shit clogging up your ear canals. Your choice. The band made a big splash down here at the time: "Johnny & Dee Dee", and its flipside, "Julie Is A Junkie", were staples - very regular staples - on community radio at the time. Hearing this track, which was produced by Rob Younger and released on the Waterfront label, always has me thinking of Sydney in the mid '80s. Not that I have a great fondness for the place these days, but I was a regular visitor as a youngster, travelling up there most summers to visit relatives, and in 1986, my brother and I went into town to visit the "legendary" Waterfront Records, the store/label which, at least in our eyes, seemed to be somewhat of a focal point for all things good, primarily American hardcore and Australian underground rock & roll of the Detroit/HC-damaged variety. And so I bought some discs by the Dead Kennedys, MDC(!) and The Hard-Ons, and went on my way. I didn't actually buy any Eastern Dark, which possibly renders this little nostalgic tale completely pointless, but the band, whose career had just recently been cut short by the tragic death of its leader, James Darroch, in a car accident just that July, loomed a large shadow at the time. Radio flogged 'em, fanzines eulogised them and people pondered what could have been...
They'd only been in existence for 2 years. Darroch had spent time in the Celibate Rifles, and he was rounded out by the ace rhythm section of Geoff Milne and Bill Gibson (who later went onto Smelly Tongues, a Residents/Beefheart-style outfit who released a great 12" EP on Waterfront in the late '80s which sold zip. Check it out, it'll set you back a ha'penny). Australian underground rock & roll was hot back then, for audiences both here and overseas. You had the Sydney scene dominated by the likes of post-'Birdman/Citadel Records bands like Died Pretty, Lime Spiders, et al, outsiders like X, Thug, Lubricated Goat and feedtime, as well as skate-punkers The Hard-Ons and Massappeal, and Melbourne followed a different path of damage, exemplified by acts such as Venom P. Stinger, Slub and the Cosmic Psychos. And there was a lot more besides, between scenes and other cities (I never even mentioned Aberrant Records!), but that's too much to delve into right now. The country is going through a similar renaissance this very minute. There's a lot of good music being made right now, much of it finding a keen audience in the US, and without blowing too much hot air up anyone's anus, I would lay a fair amount of credit on Eddy Current's doorstep for being the Saints/Radio Birdman of their generation: the band who came along, conquered, lit some flames and fucked off, leaving a diaspora of groups in their wake. But I digress... I was talking about the Eastern Dark, wasn't I? They had other great songs, too, such as this one, or their unreal take on the Soft Boys' "I Wanna Destroy You" (no clip. You might have to buy a record). The band was, for all intents and purposes, a punk rock band w/ pop melodies, a descroption you could get away w/ back in the day when people wouldn't think you were talking about NOFX. They weren't just Detroit-rock slobs, either: Bill Gibson was well hip to the current crop of US sensations, namedropping the likes of the Meat Puppets and Buttholes in a B-Side interview at the time and donning a Descendents t-shirt when he saw fit. Got me? They only ever released this 7" and a posthumous EP in late '86 by the name of Long Live The New Flesh, although there was plenty of great live material compiled on their Girls On The Beach (With Cars) complete discography 2LP set on Waterfront in '89 (since reissued, and apparently still in print, on the Half-A-Cow label). And that's it. One listen to the Eastern Dark and you'll realise toot sweet that they were, ever-so-briefly, one of this country's finest acts of the mid '80s, and their legacy, despite their slim recordings, is well deserved. Amen to that, brothers and sisters!

Saturday, January 19, 2013


Yes, since I rarely leave the house in the evenings anymore, besides listening to music, reading books and wasting an inordinate amount of time of the interwebz, I also enjoy a good talkie in the comfort of my own home. The cinema experience? Pfft. Haven't been "to the movies" in about 5 years. The "cinema experience" involves ridiculous ticket prices, arranging a babysitter, finding a park and putting up w/ morons talking all the way through the feature. I prefer the experience on my own terms, on my own couch. Let's discuss a couple of recent ones I have perused.

Searching For Sugar Man is the story of Sixto Rodriguez - or simply Rodriguez - but you may be aware of that. After all, it seems like every second person I know has seen this movie. Then again, I live in one of the few countries on earth where Rodriguez has sold a lot of records, the man still being somewhat of an underground non-sensation in his home country. I'll be honest: prior to 2001, I had never heard of Rodriguez. Absolutely never heard a single song, had no idea who he was. The only reason I even came to know who he was at the time was because I happened to be employed as a grunt at the suburban outlet of a well-known chain store (its logo in black and yellow: take a guess). His Cold Fact CD trucked out the door, week in, week out. All manner of people would purchase it: hipsters, hip-hoppers, old folkies, suburban squares. And yet, for the life of me, I had no idea who the guy was. The cult of Rodriguez simply escaped me. The album cover made it look like some sort of sub-Jose Feliciano dorkfest, so I finally popped the question to my manager: WHO THE FUCK IS RODRIGUEZ?

 I got the answer you probably know already: a Detroit-based American singer-songwriter who released two albums at the dawn of the '70s which made zero impact in his home country, yet strangely found a massive audience in two surprising locales: Australia and South Africa. In the latter, he was bigger than Elvis and a potent symbol of rebellion against the Apartheid regime; in Australia, I guess we just liked our Hispanic-American Bob Dylanesque singer-songwriters more than Americans did. His records were licensed here in the mid '70s and found a groundswell of interest for unknown reasons - one may be that they also happen to be really good - and he even toured here in 1979 and 1981, the latter tour supporting Midnight Oil. In South Africa, despite the strict media controls from the government, his records found a place in most white, liberal homes and were revered as if they were a sacred text. Due to the fact that he signed what must have been a terrible contract w/ the Sussex label - an imprint owned and operated by the detestable Clarence Avant (who appears in the film and seems to take wild offence at the mere suggestion that he might've ripped Rodriguez off) - Rodriguez worked in construction to make a living and remained completely unaware of his massive popularity in South Africa, as the royalty cheques all went into Avant's pocket and never a word was said. It really is a remarkable story: you almost couldn't make it up. It's the grounds for a fascinating documentary, and Searching For Sugar Man almost gets it right.

The main problem I have w/ the film is that it leaves so many questions unanswered. There are countless, often pointless montage sequences showing Rodriguez walking the streets of his hometown Detroit whilst a track from one of his two albums (1970's Cold Fact and 1971's Coming From Reality) plays over the top, with many interesting points and questions left untouched. The focus of the film is on his popularity and rediscovery in South Africa c/o two die-hard fans, Stephen "Sugar" Segerman and Craig Bartholomew (he later married one of Rodriguez's daughters), who brought him out for a tour of the country in 1998, after many people in the SA thought he'd died back in the '70s by killing himself on stage (that was the bizarre rumour at the time), but not once is it even mentioned that he also happened to be wildly popular in Australia, surely a point which should have at least been said as an aside. And what of his contract w/ Sussex? Why hasn't Clarence Avant been sued? What sort of contract was it? Why did he never contact Rodriguez in the 1970s when the cheques started rolling in for hundreds of thousands of sales? Why does Sussex still hold the rights to his two albums - both now licensed to Light In The Attic (an excellent label which did make sure that Rodriguez is getting his fair share) - when surely Rodriguez would have the legal right to sole ownership of his catalogue? Does Rodriguez not care? He appears not to; money means nothing to him, he still lives in the same rundown house he's inhabited in Detroit for the past 40 years and gives most of his concert and record-sales money away to his friends and family.

 At the risk of being accused of chronic anal retention (I have been already, so don't bother), surely these are questions which should be raised in a documentary such as this, as they form the crux of the narrative itself: the first half centres on the mystery of Rodriguez as felt by his South African fans in the 1970s all the way up to the 1990s (their sense of cultural isolation is palpable); the second half sees Rodriguez revealed and eventually revived as he successfully tours the country nearly three decades after the release of his famed records. The keys to this bizarre story remain the heavy media censorship in South Africa at the time (TV was banned for decades as a "communist influence" and it appears that little information crept either in or out of the country during Apartheid's reign), and the fact that Sussex never paid Rodriguez a cent, thus never alerting him to the fact that he happened to enjoy a massive fan base on the other side of the globe. Oh, I'll stop beating this drum...

Regardless, Searching For Sugar Man is a film I can recommend, simply because the story of Rodriguez is too interesting to be boring, even when it's not handled as well as it should have been. The man himself is a model of unshakeable cool and integrity, a real-life blue-collar beatnik who refused to bend for anyone, and his daughters are equally as likeable. Frankly, I nearly choked up at the footage of his rapturous greeting and applause in post-Apartheid South Africa. And yet the question remains, a question posed in the film by the producers of his original albums, Detroit legend Dennis Coffey and Steve Rowland (another cool cat who also produced the Pretty Things), and one which seems impossible to answer: why did Rodriguez never take off in his homeland? He had the songs, the look and captured the zeitgeist of the day w/ his personal/political lyrics, and yet he sunk like a stone. The marketplace failures of the Stooges and New York Dolls are easy to figure and quantify: the public simply wasn't ready for such flagrantly uncommercial purveyors of compressed energy, yet Rodriguez is something different altogether. The hillbillies of Australia and cultural bumpkins of South Africa held him close to their collective bosom, and yet he sunk like a stone in his own country and everywhere else. This point is raised but not probed, and probably can't be answered anyway. I'm giving Searching For Sugar Man a B+.

William Friedkin's Sorcerer, from 1977, is something to behold. I beheld it just last week, a special treat since it is currently unavailable on any format bar Youtube (try here, though I was fortunate enough to get a high-quality DVD-R from a friend). For myself, the film's noteriety springs mainly from the rough treatment it receives in Peter Biskind's legendary (well, it's "legendary" to me, since I rate it as one of the great film books, and is a tome I've read cover to cover at least half a dozen times) Easy Riders, Raging Bulls from 1998. It's not that Biskind considers the film a dog; the point is simply that Sorcerer was the beginning of the end for Friedkin as a major director in New Hollywood, and if anyone deserved a career nosedive, mostly because of his repellant personality rather than for aesthetic reasons, it was William Friedkin.

The point was made abundantly clear in Biskind's book: after the wild critical and commercial success of The French Connection and The Exorcist (certainly two of the better films of the 1970s), Friedkin had become an intolerable pain in the ass to anyone unfortunate enough to be in his immediate vicinity, an inexcusable egomaniac and a complete tyrant and bully on a film set. Like any Greek tragedy, his hubris would catch up w/ him soon and Sorcerer was that moment. The reasons for the film's failure in the marketplace are manifold: its hokey title didn't help ("Sorcerer" is the name of one of the trucks, although Friedkin has also claimed he named it so because he was listening to the Miles Davis LP of the same name at the time), but it also suffered the unfortunate circumstance of opening in the US the month after Star Wars was released, a film which eclipsed everything in its wake (so much so that Sorcerer was quickly yanked from screens so Star Wars could be aired again), but more importantly, and this is something I only came to realise fully after having viewed it: it's a 1977 film which belongs in 1971. Audience tastes had changed drastically between the years of The French Connection and Star Wars, and the latter's unprecedented success is indicative of the general public's increasing distaste for movies which were seen as one big bummer (I remember an interview w/ John Lydon who said something similar in punk's inability to take off in the US the way it had in the UK at the time: coming out of the long, crippling Vietnam War and the Watergate scandal, Amerika was not in the mood for more "bad news"), and Sorcerer is indeed one big, highly watchable bummer.

Sorcerer is a remake of Henri-Georges Clouzot's masterful 1953 suspense-thriller, The Wages Of Fear. Seen it? I would recommend you watch that first. It's as good as every annoying film student claims it to be. It's even as good as a guy as annoying as William Friedkin claims it to be. So the story goes, Friedkin approached Clouzot at some schmoozefest in the mid '70s and told him he was going to better his original w/ a remake. His lack of humility knew no bounds. In my never-so-humble opinion, it is equally as good, although I'm not here to announce a winner. Starring Roy Scheider in the lead role as a small-time hood who robs the mob in New Jersey and has to leave the country to stay alive, the first half-hour sets up the main characters and their background story far more than the original Wages Of Fear does. The plot is thus: four criminals from different corners of the globe (a French businessman, an Arab terrorist, the fourth man who remains somewhat of a mystery), all on the run, wind up in a rough mining town in Nicaragua - it was actually filmed in the Dominican Republic - and need to find a way to get out, finances being their main problem. The American mining company is willing to pay four men a large sum of cash if they transport two truckloads of volatile dynamite 200 miles away, throughout rugged terrain and mountains, to blow up a fiery oil well.

The first half-hour of the movie reminds me a lot of The French Connection, given the locales and griminess of the proceedings, although if an audience is won or lost within the first 20 minutes of a film, I can see why some less-patient movie-goers may have been put off. I, too, found myself wondering where the film was going for at least 25 minutes before all the questions were answered by the 40-minute mark. A friend informed me that the original 1977 Australian print of Sorcerer was butchered by the local distributor, excising approx. the first 30 minutes so they could fit in more sessions per day. I can only assume this made the film slightly incomprehensible to some, as it's the setting up of the four rogues' character in the crucual first stage of the film which demonstrates the motivation for what they subsequently do. Anyway!

You probably know the score: once everything is in place, you're left with a solid hour+ of nail-biting action and suspense as the four men, two per truck, make their way throughout the mountains and rivers and storms of Nicaragua with enough highly sensitive dynamite to blow them to dust. Freidkin was always an excellent action/suspense director - think of the car-chase scenes in The French Connection and To Live And Die In LA, or the hamfisted suspense and terrors of The Exorcist - and Sorcerer delivers on that level. Why didn't audiences take to Sorcerer? Well, there's little to no humour throughout the entire film, nary a sympathetic character in sight and no happy ending to be had. Why would you, as a film-goer, want to put yourself through that? That's rhetorical; you should watch Sorcerer, as it remains one of the last, great gasps of New Hollywood before it either sold out, disappeared or hibernated up its own backside.

The years have weathered Sorcerer well; for myself its apolitical nihilism is far more palatable than the pretentious, juvenile antics of a film like Five Easy Pieces, an alleged New Hollywood classic I attempted to re-watch just recently (and a film I used to like a lot in my younger days) and found to be an insufferable, unviewable piece of male fantasy made by a bunch of rich schmucks (in this case, Bob Rafelson). Friedkin had a real style in the 1970s, and if The French Connection blew you away, then Sorcerer is equally worth your time. Fredkin never really found his feet again, certainly in regards to commercial success. Cruising has its defenders, although for me the film's only point of real interest is its Germs soundtrack; and To Live And Die In LA, great as it is (I wrote about it here), never faired well w/ the public. The last Friedkin film I saw was 1990's The Guardian, a woeful piece of horror schlock which I can't remember anything about except for the fact that when I saw it in the cinema in 1990 - I skipped uni classes to see it - I sat in a near-empty movie house w/ none other than Nick Cave three seats to my right. The movie itself? I don't recall.

That's Sorcerer. You need to see it. And I didn't even mention the Tangerine Dream score.

Monday, January 07, 2013

Huh. It's the Butthole Surfers. The Texan band I "liked" as a teen yet gave a bit of a regal drubbing here on this blog some 8 eight years ago. Frankly, I think that the band's existence post-1989 has been such a royal waste of time for everyone - barring perhaps the members' bank balances - that it makes it almost impossible to appreciate the fact that they might've ever been a good band in the first place. I'm assuming that's what brought on my negativity at the time, or perhaps I just felt like slaying a sacred cow. A band who has stunk up the airwaves as badly as the Buttholes have for the past 2+ decades deserves to be named and shamed: there's not only the terrible, terrible music, but also the needless lawsuit against Touch & Go to get their back catalogue and their transformation from a genuinely psychedelic punk rock freakshow to a band who might rival the Fun Lovin' Criminals or Bloodhound Gang as the worst comedy-rock band on earth. Ya got me?

So why have I been listening to Locust Abortion Technician? Or Psychic... Powerless... Another Man's Sac? Or Cream Corn? Or even the uneven yet still listenable Hairway To Steven and the previously-derided Rembrandt Pussyhorse? I can't answer that. It could be insanity or premature senility, but when I go off on a musical tangent, a desperate musical tangent, sometimes there's no stopping me. I cheaply procured all of the above just recently - secondhand in the compact disc format - after having sold my vinyl copy of Locust Abortion Technician some time in the '90s, and I must say, they have been a really surprising treat at this late stage in the game. When I shitcanned Rembrandt... all those years ago, I noted that the band's zaniness couldn't possibly hold a candle to really good and genuinely "strange" music from such masters as Yoko Ono, Faust, This Heat, Cabaret Voltaire, etc., maybe simply comparing them to a whole bunch of other people doesn't really do anyone any justice, even though I'm about to do exactly that.

The Buttholes were simply the Buttholes: they had a healthy dollop of Texan 'core in their veins (meaning the Dicks/Big Boys/Scratch Acid axis), as well as Texan psych (Roky/Mayo) and a curious mixture of Brit post-punk (PiL/TG/even some harsh On-U Sound-style dub), classic American freak-rock a la Mothers/Beefheart and, increasingly as the '80s bore fruit, a distinctly 'Sabbath bent. Well, there's a stew to chew on! Or maybe a case of useless name-dropping, because in a very real sense, that doesn't give you half the picture. For a couple of years, the Buttholes were the template for wigged-out, party-'til-you-poop shit-rock, and all others - Lubricated Goat, Happy Flowers, Killdozer, Cows, etc. - were merely imitators (more or less - don't message me about this), but for me they lost that mantle very quickly to a band like the Boredoms and their minions as their first decade came to an end. But let's not talk about the band when they stank! Let's actually - and yes, I am speaking to myself here - appreciate the band's goods when they were, err, good.

Locust Abortion Technician came out in 1987 on the Touch & Go label (and, as noted several entries below, was licensed locally to Au-go-go at the time) and was the record which really broke them into a vaguely wider consciousness at the time. That, in some ways, is a strange fact, since it remains possibly their most experimental, inaccessible album. Sure, there's the opener, "Sweat Loaf", the popular homage to Black Sabbath's "Sweet Leaf", a rip-snortin' replay on the classic riff which was played ad nauseum here on public radio back in the late '80s, and there's also the nominally straighter 4/4 rock & roll track, "Human Cannonball", but the rest of it, it's mostly heavy, farting-around sludge which is of a very high standard indeed. If there's one record which merits the band's rep, it's this one. "Graveyard" and "Pittsburg to Lebanon" are primo stoned crawls (w/ ace guitar heroics from Paul Leary); "USSA" is the kind of muck which could've been lifted from TG's Second Annual Report; "The O-Men" is excellent speed-metal dementia; and "22 Going On 23", more dirge augmented by vocal samples is the kind of schtick Bongwater used for an album or two.

Locust... has the heaviness the previous albums lacked  - great albums though the likes of Psychic... Powerless... and, yep, Rembrandt Pussyhorse were, but the guitar noise wasn't layered on thick, going for a fairly stripped-back Birthday Party/PiL-ish grunt instead - and also unlike much of their earlier material, many of the songs on LAT really do sound like they're about to fall apart in the most glorious way. OK, OK, I'm going back on my words uttered all those years ago. The Buttholes did have something really good going on for a number of years, and then, like so many great bands before them, they started releasing really bad music. For a couple of years, they even sold a shitload of records. I hope they spent their money wisely *cough*.

When I caned them out all those moons ago, someone commented, noting that they were primarily a live band, the studio albums never living up to the in-the-flesh experience. Seeing clips of them from the '80s, their live shows were indeed something special, although in a complete reversal - and it takes a big man to say he was wrong, and I am a very big man - I will say that I wasn't entirely correct: the 1980s recorded output of the band known as the Butthole Surfers has something to give in the year 2013. When I was in Austin in 1999, I couldn't believe how much the people I was staying with and hung out w/ for the week still held the band in such high reverence (the fact that one of them used to be in the band might've had something to do w/ it). By then, I figured the Buttholes had screwed the pooch to such devastating effect that their reputation couldn't be redeemed. Or maybe people just aren't as hard-arsed as myself on these non-issues. I'm glad I kept my mouth shut.

Now for a couple of clips demonstrating their worthiness on several levels. Strangely enough, one of them dates from 1991 at Lollapalooza, fer Chrissakes!! Given my prior spiel, there's obviously a few things strange about that sentence, but their version of "Graveyard" as presented here really is a lot of fun (I couldn't embed these clips... just click on the damn things!). And the live version of "Sweat Loaf" from 1989 here is a hoot & holler, complete w/ synchronised high kicks. Nice.

Thursday, January 03, 2013

Here's a surprising holiday-season listening item which has received some air time the past week or so. It is, of course, Fear's debut album from 1982, The Record, originally released on the Slash label. Firstly, why this record? I spoilt myself a couple of days ago at one of Brunswick's finest music emporiums, Round & Round, and blew some cash on the vinyls: B.A.L.L.'s Period: Another American Lie LP, Kramer's The Guilt Trip 3LP box (which I own the 2CD of already, and indeed reviewed here a couple of years ago, but THAT BOX!! I couldn't knock it back at such a Nice Price) and, yup, Fear's The Record - actually it's a sealed new edition on Rhino Vinyl, not an original, but being a hoarder and not a "collector" (there's a difference), I couldn't care less for "original pressing" malarky. What the hey, it's the holiday season!

The purchase of The Record was purely impulsive. To be honest, I've never been much of a fan of the band - or at least much of a fan of this record in particular, which I've heard at friends' and family's homes of abode many times before over the years - but what the fuck, throw it on the pile: it's nominally punk rock, it's from California ca. 1982: I guess I need it as "reference material" or whatever. Fear occupy a strange place in the history of American hardcore punk. Just exactly what is their place? They made a name for themselves via their appearance in Decline Of Western Civilization - and what an appearance it was: this clip is pretty hot - and for their destructive live set on Saturday Night Live's infamous Halloween show from 1981 (try this link. Footage of this event is notoriously difficult to find, due to douchebag lawyers from the SNL camp), and they recorded for the large "indie" Slash, then distributed (and soon to be bought) by Warner empire, but few people speak of them as any kind of influential act. If they do, I guess I just haven't been listening.

There are a few interesting factors at play here: several members of the band were older than the average punker - singer Lee Ving was born in 1950 and had been playing in bands since the late '60s; the band was made up of fairly slick-dick musicians - Derf Scratch, Philo Cramer and Spit Stix could really play (Mike Watt noted in We Got The Neutron Bomb that he figured the members must've played in heavy metal bands before punk rock because they were too damn tight & professional) and Ving had some soaring pipes which often veered away from punk rock snarl and dangerously close to rock-opera territory (check this clip out!); Ving balanced his musical interests w/ an acting career which was helped along by his good buddy, John Belushi - for some interesting clips, go here, here and especially here, the last clip being a real oddity; the band had been kicking around since 1977, making that a full 5 years before any recorded material by the band hit the shelves - in my possibly worthless opinion, along w/ the terrible mersh/HM production on The Record, this may account for why it sounds a little, say, overcooked; and lastly, as I ramble, were Fear for real? Were they "real" punkers? Bandwagon jumpers? Frauds? Does it matter when the music is hot?

I have a friend (yes, several, actually) - a real collector nut - who has a thing for "fake punk" records, noting that often the fake ones can be better than the real ones. As a purist of some sort, a guy who was unashamedely lobotomised by the whole punk rock gravytrain as a young man and came to believe that the music represented more than mere shock value, I find such a claim to be ree-diculous. But who's to say, or care? The Angry Samoans made great punk rock records, and they were in on the same joke that Fear were: the dumb + obnoxious = smart angle. Once you've stopped laughing, I would also like to conclude to you, dear reader, that the shock-rock shenanigans of Fear is just waaaay too cartoonish for my likings. Joe Carducci noted - yes, it often comes back to him - in Rock & The Pop Narcotic that John Belushi originally wanted to get Black Flag on SNL and campaigned to the producers to let them on. Said producers baulked at the idea, deeming the band too threatening, perhaps too real, and instead settled on the Fear circus, a kind of Bowery Boys punk band who came across a bit like a hardcore new wave group from an episode of Three's Company. Perhaps I'm being a little too unkind here. After all, it really should be all about the music. And Fear did have some good songs, but they're mostly neutered c/o the smothering, de-rockified production here courtesy of Gary Lubow (and the band itself: they only have themselves to blame). From the live footage available, Fear were a really powerful live band, but the de-fanged ambience of The Record takes away all the rough edges.

Still, there's some tracks here I like a lot: "Let's Have A War" (first Fear track known to me c/o Repo Man: I remember stenciling "FEAR" on the back of a t-shirt when I was 14 after seeing the movie), "Beef Balogna", "I Don't Care About You", "New York's All Right If You Like Saxophones", "I Love Living In The City" and even the cover of "We Gotta Get Out Of This Place" (reinterpreted to the point where it barely resembles the original)... but there's also a bunch of so-so material in here ("Fresh Flesh", "We Destroy The Family", "Disconnected"), and on the whole, The Record sounds mostly to me like a bunch of seasoned session musicians playing "punk" in a recording studio for a week. Fear were more than that - they'd been playing the punk rock clubs for years by this point - but it doesn't mean that this alleged "classic" still amounts to a particulary big hill of beans to these ears.

Stack it up next to other LA discs of its day such as (GI), Damaged, Adolescents and Group Sex, and The Record really does pale in comparison. I've said before that I rarely bother discussing music and records here which you shouldn't investigate, figuring life is too short to bother reading reviews for music not worth your time, and that policy remains for this very record: Fear's debut LP is worth your time and trouble. It was worth my time and trouble, too, but somehow I suspected when I was buying it that I'd spin it a couple of times for fun, dutifully file it away and then hang onto it mostly for "research" purposes. I think that's what its future holds...

Tuesday, January 01, 2013

Aaah... the dawning of a new year. Does that mean much of anything to you? Me neither. In fact, the flipping of the calendar from 2012 to 2013 has meant less for me than any other year in memory. Maybe it's the blur of parenthood, or maybe the feeling of having seen too damn many calendar years go by, but, as I briefly noted last week, I didn't even feel much like doing a yearly round-up for 2012. Yes, the year wasn't a great one for moi - nothing disastrous, but work frustrations/headaches and an ever-impending midlife crisis and sense that I must, for some unknown reason, radically change course with my life has hung over my head like a dark cloud for the last 6 months - but after awaking this morning, hangover-free, on the first day of the year and getting out of the house for a 90-minute bike ride to clear the head, I came to the utterly banal conclusion that there is always hope. And I must capitalise on that hope and do - or at least attempt to do - all these ideas and plans which swim around my head but rarely come to fruition. And the first day of the year is as good, nay, better, than any other day of the year to start getting these things done. What are these things I speak of? I wouldn't dare utter them in public in fear of being ridiculed in 365 days time for having achieved none of them. But if I do, you'll hear about it here, if nowhere else.

Wow. Where did all that come from? I'm venting, purging, attempting to make sense of the fact that it's 2013. I'm still on a seasonal break, just back from a couple of days of being driven nuts down at beachland w/ the kids, and it's about time I tapped the keyboard in reference to We Got Power!... the book. I received it for Xmas from my better half. Well, actually, I purchased it from Book Depository, it arrived 2 weeks ago and was swiftly taken from my hands by said better half and hidden away until Xmas morning when I could finally peruse its eagerly-awaited wares. It is a book of recent vintage. My brother and a good friend both also found themselves in similar predicaments: sad motherfuckin' 40-something ex-punkers still reliving the glory days. Not that any of us were flying the punker flag when We Got Power! was around ca. 1981-'83, but you and I and Dave Markey and Jordan Schwartz knew and know that those years were the glory days for, as the title notes, Southern Californian Hardcore Punk.

A bit of background info here... Dave Markey and Jordan Schwartz may be, and should be, names which ring a distinct bell. Markey's name has been in the back of my brain since the late '80s when I first viewed his Desperate Teenage Lovedolls and Lovedolls Superstar films - classic slices of '80s underground trash culture featuring Redd Kross and some SST alumni - and subsequently tried to sit through a Painted Willie record. I haven't listened to any 'Willie in a long time, and I am being unkind: many dismissed them as a perfect example of Ginn's bonghit A & R policy of the latter half of the '80s gone completely mad, though I recall enjoying their 2nd-gen SST hippie-punk shenanigans to quite a degree. Expect the full summation of the career of Painted Willie to hit the web in months to come. You'll just have to wait. 

Markey also hit the skins for HC punkers Sin 34 in the early '80s, not a first-tier band, but they belted out a crude adolescent angst in an agreeable manner, and he has, of course, gone onto many other things: the Reality 86'd doco, 1991: The Year Punk Broke, video clips for Sonic Youth, Meat Puppets, fIREHOSE et al, the recent Circle Jerks doco (which I must see) and more besides. Schwartz? He left the music scene in the late '80s, though prior to that, along w/ co-creating We Got Power! the zine (there was also the We Got Power! comp' LP from the time, put together by Markey & Schwartz, one of the great short/fast/loud mix tapes of its day, and WGP is also the name of Markey's film production company. Just so you know), he had a half-decade stint at SST, co-running their Global booking operation, as well as appearing in Black Flag videos ("Slip It In") and on Black Flag records (The "Annihilate This Week" 12"). So, now that all of that is out of the way...

We Got Power! was a fanzine designed, written and executed by these two Southern Californian miscreants between the years 1981-1983, that has been noted. It only lasted for 5 issues (there was a 6th, "previously unreleased" issue from 1984, included here, too), wasn't setting any new records for penmanship (the record reviews often hover around the "this disc kicks ass!" stratosphere) and layout and usually stood around the 24-28-page mark, but it left a beautiful stain on proceedings and remains a glorious document of its or any other day. Along w/ Touch & Go, also recently compiled into an essential book form, it was an awesome compendium putting in print the glories of first-wave US HC and its offspring (in this case, the diaspora is centred mainly on the SST/Redd Kross family of bands) when the music was fresh and exciting and HC didn't get so bogged down in the rad politico manifestos of the Maximum Rock 'n' Roll spawn (as I've said before: I think MRR did a lot of good things for punk rock in general for a number of years - and probably still does - though its glorifying of straitjacketed music forms and politics was not one of them).

The reprints of the fanzine issues only take up a small portion of the book. This hardcover behemoth which could stop a door in a heavy gust of wind is 300-pages thick, the bulk of it comprising essays from many worthy folks, including Markey & Schwartz, as well as Joe Carducci, Jack Brewer, Mike Watt, Dez Cadena, Keith Morris, Chuck Dukowski, Henry Rollins, Dez Cadena, Tony Adolescent and more, and a plethora of photos, most of which are previously unpublished. The photographs, in particular, are a goldmine. They concentrate less on generic gig footage and instead give the viewer a fantastic insight into the characters and make-up of the LA punk rock scene at the time: the hang-outs (Oki Dog!), party shots (D. Boon and Joe Baiza kicking back), graffiti, the tragic/troubled ones (notably John Macias from Circle One), the workers (Dukowski sweating over paperwork in the SST confines), the winners, the losers. There's a lot of great B & W imagery here (a lot of it taken by Lovedoll Jennifer Schwartz, Jordan's sister) documenting Black Flag (w/ Biscuits in a Motley Crue t-shirt!), Minutemen, Saccharine Trust, Minor Threat, Descendents, Redd Kross, Big Boys, Gun Club, Butthole Surfers (first west coast shows), even early Suicidal Tendencies

And the 'zine documents this further w/ reviews and interviews, also covering Husker Du when they were punkers (or at least perceived as such), the DC and midwest scenes, a shitcanning of most things contemporary, punk rock and British (the exception being Discharge), "scene reports" (remember them??), stories of police harrassment (de rigeur for shorthairs at the time), Dead Kennedys, Misfits, Flipper and even a young Hank Rollins when he appeared enthusiastic about his 'padres in Bad Brains ("Maybe the best band EVER!!"), the Dicks, DOA and Saccharine Trust.

Being spiritual brothers in arms w/ the McDonald bros., Markey & co. also possessed a healthy enthusiasm for various elements of American trash culture, mainly lame TV shows (Facts Of Life!) and movies, Pac Man and the kind of suburban, SoCal kultcha which has me thinking of the identikit homes in E.T. Oh, and there's lots and lots of skateboarding. 

Just think how less exciting life on earth would be without We Got Power! and all of the above. Ponder it and then thank the heavens that folks hit the streets and made their own cultural surroundings for you and I to enjoy, learn from and be inspired by to create something in 2013. Hyperbole? Nope, not a word of it. Assuming you more than merely tolerate this blog's long-running and never-ending obsession w/ all things early LA punk/SST-fixated, then you know the next move to make, if you haven't already.