Sunday, September 27, 2015

NWW: THE LIST


The pointless minutae of life can be, uh, fascinating. That's what this blog exists for. You want the big issues?? Forget about it. Life's tedium is documented here. For instance, let's belatedly talk about the NURSE WITH WOUND LIST (lookee here). This was brought up in discussion on a certain well-used social media platform just the other day - brought up by myself, in fact - and took a couple of entries before it succumbed to the kind of fiery debate you could only expect from seasoned music dorks with an axe to grind and nothing better to do w/ their lives.

I hadn't even thought about 'The List' for many years, but it had come up in conversation with a couple of friends lately, and there was one thing I observed. THERE'S NO SUN RA! How did that ever happen? How does a teenager from London become aware of, say, the Debris' LP (proto-punk glam-damaged rock/limited private-press monster/Screamers associations) or Sonny Sharrock or the Reverend Dwight Frizzell (whose 1976 LP was in an edition of 200 copies) the dozens of ridiculously obscure European art-rock outfits which litter the list, and yet Sun Ra - the great American avant-garde innovator of the second half of the 20th century - not get a guernsey? There were three trains of thought here contesting my befuddlement, none of them satisfactory...

 1) Sun Ra was perhaps too obscure for Stapleton. I'll call a huge BS to this claim. Look at the esoteric nonsense on the list! Have I already mentioned Debris'? Yes. Lard Free? Check. Le Forte Four? Check. Supersister? Check. Sun Ra was on the cover of Rolling Stone in the early '70s. He and his Arkestra played throughout Europe and (I can only assume) the UK in the '70s. This argument doesn't hold any water. 2) Sun Ra was too obvious to list. A pox on this bogus line. Also in the NWW list is Frank Zappa, Kraftwerk and King Crimson. They all had Top 10 records. King Crimson were big news in the UK in the '70s. Kraftwerk charted high in the US with 'Autobahn'. Both the Velvet Underground and the Stooges also make the NWW grade. By 1979 they were already part of The Punk Canon, their stock raised to a new level. Their obviousness - or at least the obviousness of their greatness - was well known, even if that meant they still didn't have platinum LPs to line their walls. This argument is a crock. 3) Maybe Stapleton just didn't like Sun Ra. Maybe he didn't. In which case he had tin ears. Maybe he also didn't like Cecil Taylor, Albert Ayler, Art Ensemble and Don Cherry either - all of whom made brilliant avant-garde records - in which case he had ears made of shit.

Anyway, perhaps one day this mystery will be solved. I have nothing against Mr. Stapleton. Au contraire: I am still in possession of about a dozen and a half NWW albums to prove my point. This discussion has spurred me on to take them off my shelf for the first time in a long time for a re-spin. The very early albums really aren't all that good. A Chance Meeting..., the debut from 1979, is an amateurish collage/kraut collage mess which sounds like it was strictly the work of young people who had little idea of what they were doing (it was), but it's not without its charm. For my two cents, the albums I always return to are Soliliquay For Lilith from 1988, an epic 3LP/3CD ambient set designed for getting his daughter to sleep (hence the title), which to me is a great update on something like Tangerine Dream's Zeit (again, little happens in there, too, but it's a pleasant place to be); 1986's Spiral Insana, a mixed cut-ups of ambience and audio clutter which is a perfect combo of the two and is probably overall my fave NWW album; and especially his 'sell-out' records from the late '90s and thereabouts - 1996's Who Can I Turn To Stereo, 1999's An Awkward Pause and 2001's Funeral Music For Perez Prado. The 1st and 3rd were strangely viewed by some as pandering to the 'dance' crowd, though all I can hear w/ my tin ears are two terrific avant discs with rhythm, and An Awkward Pause is mostly straight-out Kraut-rock in a twisted Amon Duul 2/Ash Ra Tempel sense of the word. All three are quite excellent.

I haven't followed what SS and co. have been up to for a decade or more. You can see a pretty cool doco on the man here, which is him giving the viewer a guided tour of his abode in Ireland, where he has lived w/ his partner and children since the late '80s (and it's worth a look), and the Nurse With Wound List, a list derided by a good buddy of mine as 'the ultimate wankers' list', is still an item of great beauty, and must be placed firmly within the context of its time: it was the ramblings of an uber-nerd attempting to spread the gospel in the pre-internet times. It helped give such artists as the Hampton Grease Band and Agitation Free a second shelf life in the post-punk universe. It sparked a genre unto itself. What the hell have you done with your life?

1 comment:

Pig State Recon said...

It's safe to safe his list consciously avoided anything grounded in American blues/jazz tradition, however experimental it might be - Sonny Sharrock being the exception. Certainly there had been critical attention paid to experimental jazz in the UK by this time (Val Wilmer) but never anything on this euro/dada/weirdo/underground/outsider end of the musical spectrum. He was the first to really illustrate the width/breadth of all that stuff.