(post)-punk gems, v. 19 — Pylon, from Athens, GA (our own Liverpool)

Good morning, punk-o-philes! It’s already Wednesday in the states and, with Monday’s holiday-and-all, I’m feeling a bit like Vonnegut’s Billy Pilgrim, unstuck in time. It was Vonnegut, too, who’s smart riff on Memorial Day, Veteran’s Day, and the loss of Armistice Day remains timely.

But on with the music. It’s a warm a.m. west of Pere-Ubu-land, and I’m thinking about summers of yore in Athens, GA, the American “Liverpool of the south,” with The B-52’s blazing the trail, REM mumbling their way up the charts, and the underheralded combos of Guadalcanal Diary and Pylon. Pylon They also emerged out of the U. of Georgia scene, gigging at the 40 Watt Club, and catching the interest of members of The B-52’s, who helped land them a spot at NYC’s Hurrah, which was made famous in part by DJs extraordinaire Meg Griffin and Jane Hamburger of WPIX fame.

You may recall REM’s dustbin-of-history tracks that comprised Dead Letter Office, including the bouncy “Crazy,” which was the b-side of “Driver 8,” and a Pylon track on which Vanessa Briscoe channels a bit of Nina Hagen–check out the odd pronunciation of “fun-knee.” On both tracks below, guitarist Randall Bewley demonstrates his affinity for the guitar sonics that characterized the Americana of modern rock.

I dig the earlier single, too, called “Cool,” which shows a bit more affinity to the vocal style of Kate Pierson and Cindy Wilson.

Keep your eye on the good beat, and have a fantastic rest of the week!

Clash @ US festival — Mick’s swan song was 30 years ago today

Happy holiday weekend, for those of you in residence in the greater (or lesser?) US o A. It’s a day of remembrance, of course, and for honoring folks who lost their lives in battle. Perhaps, in an alternate, more just universe, there would be at least a symbolic ritual damning the politicians who rushed the country headlong into war–and then another war and then another war, knowing that their sons or daughters would rarely, if ever, be put in harm’s way. Just the sorta stuff that really rankled Mr. Strummer, in particular. Check out George Saunders’ short story “Home,” about life after wartime, excerpted here.

Following the aftermath of Altamont, in December 1969, rock fans largely shied away from big music fests in California for quite awhile. Folks still gathered for music in large numbers in Iowa for the Wadena Rock Festival and Wisconsin for Sound Storm and the People’s Fair, but much was quiet on the western front in terms of music fests.

So Steve Wozniak of Apple fame decides to organize a big rock fest in 1982, over Labor Day weekend, and heck, it’s groovy southern California, so what could go wrong? Some sources claim the temperatures were up to 110F, one life (and $12M) was lost, but an opportunity to get bands such as Gang of Four, The Ramones (both late additions, it seems), English Beat, Oingo Boingo, The B-52’s, Talking Heads, and The Police on one bill couldn’t be all bad, right?

The following year, Wozniak ups the ante (adds a country day), and gets The Clash–or what’s left of it–to headline the bill. This incident is well-documented in biographies by Gray and Gilbert, and is worth checking out in terms of the impact of the return, like a cursed phoenix, of Bernie Rhodes. So here’s the allure of US, which stood for “Unite Us in Song,” for Rhodes and Kosmo Vinyl: get the band working again, 150,000 fans, $.5M, and heck: since Pete Howard’s willing to work cheaply (roughly $200 / wk.), and he’s got no power in the group, it made it easier for the Joe-Paul-Bernie brigade to make things harder for Mick–although Mick seemed to have plenty in reserve for (self-inflicted) marginalization, too.

Driven by Bernie’s (megalo)mania, Joe pitches a pre-concert fit over ticket prices and remuneration, delays the band’s taking the stage for two hours (complete with press conference), and for what?: as Gilbert notes, “It was the social banditry philosophy again: The Clash burst in like a bunch of crazy outlaws, shoot the place up, take the cash and then redistribute it among the needy” (p. 335). In the end, some of the $$ did go to London pirate radio stations.

Upon taking the stage, Joe jack-hammers the mic stand, tries to make a point, but the Americans aren’t listening. They just want to rock’n’roll. (The clip below cuts in-and-out, but it’s good footage of how the show begins, the sound quality is good, and there’s a clear shot of Joe and Paul swapping guitar and bass in advance of “Guns of Brixton.”)

The fact that Paul dons a Clash t-shirt for the gig is not a good harbinger, and the show ends badly: at the immediate close of the set, deep into the night, the side-stage DJ addresses the crowd, and Kosmo Vinyl imagines he’s trying to prevent The Clash from taking an encore. So he clocks the guy. Mick’s second into the scrum, and it ends almost as quickly as it’s begun. It boosts Vinyl’s spirits, but the ebullience is short-lived, and it’s not widely shared. As roadie Digby recalled, on behalf of himself and The Baker, “It left a really nasty taste in our mouths … No, it wasn’t a good Clash gig” (Gilbert, p. 337).

By the fall equinox, Mick received his walking papers, and ran with it. Within a few hours, he identified the next course of action. Within a span of 25 months, the brilliant This is Big Audio Dynamite was on the shelves and the airwaves.

The Bottom Line? In the mid-80s, Joe needed Mick more than Mick needed Joe, and–while this claim may merit a longer piece–you need not look further than the first two BAD LPs. The first LP has nary a weak spot, and the strongest tracks on the follow-up are the ones not co-penned with producer Joe Strummer. From my informal polling, a US/UK divide emerges on which album is more beloved, as my English comrades prefer No. 10 Upping St. Your thoughts?

Thanks for reading to the end, and have rock-steady week!

Coda: if you liked this post, and you’re up for an affectionate, literate insider standpoint, click here.

post-punk gems, v. 18 — Le Tigre

Hump day looms, once again, and I hope all’s going well in your neck of the woods, ‘burbs, or metropolis.

There’s some fun Stealing-related news to go ’round: Tim at theclashblog.com posted a two-part interview (one & two) from a few weeks back, and folks seem to enjoy what I had to say, so that was marvelous. And, with the book’s release in the UK, people seem to be paying attention (and paying for the book, thank you!–check out the rankings down the page), so that’s good news, too.

Today I’m thinking real post-punk, or late post-punk, having taken in another section of the auteur rockumentary Who Took the Bomp? Le Tigre on Tour (2011), which presently streams on Netflix and is definitely worth a look. Since there’s almost no backstory, you might want to get some band history online first, but the film offers fun footage of K. Hanna and co. talking about the goals of the band, explains why it’s still ultra-important for ladies to take the stage (and to expand what it means to act “lady-like”) and why it’s hard to do so, and shows why the kids in Indianapolis need Le Tigre so desperately. Like The Clash, Le Tigre turns great politics into great danceable songs with gritty determination. (Some sources regard them as “an electroclash band,” which tells me very little but it sure sounds great.)

Here’s my favorite track from their 1999 self-titled debut, which provides a real sense of Ms. Hanna’s vocal prowess. It also owes a fair share to The Clash’s “Magnificent Seven,” in terms of form, danceability, and word collage. (Lyrics are NSF, by the way.)

Word on the street is that The Clash have a new box set coming out this fall in the multiple hundreds of dollars range. Please tell your friends at Sony they can send me an advanced copy for review to my work address :).

Cleveland Rocks? Let me count the ways

Happy Sunday, all! After a lovely night out at Visible Voice for a reading/signing with old friends, new acquaintances, and a modest measure of tequila, I’m moving a bit slower than usual, but happy to share some ideas on the culture and music scene(s) of America’s 47th biggest city: Cleveland, Ohio. (Back in the interwar years, it was #5.)

Snapshots from the past: it’s July 2000, and it’s 11th hour of our drive from Brooklyn, NY. My wife’s not much a driver, and my acuity is beginning to fade. Just west of Youngstown, we search the radio dial for something with kick, and settle on evangelical Christian talk radio, from which we learn, “A woman’s role is to hang curtains on the dreary windows of life.” Oh-my-goodness. Well, at least I’m confident my vote in Ohio, rather than New York, might have more weight in the outcome of the 2000 election.

Cut to September: it’s a Saturday night, and my wife and I don our finery, dine in Tremont, catch some Prokofiev and others at Severance Hall (below, on the left)–second only to the Gehry-designed hall in LA, in my experience, sound-wise and aesthetics-wise.

TCO Showcase 1   Frank Gehry, Walt Disney Concert Hall, Downtown Los Angeles  

(Photo credits: Roger Mastroianni; schickert/alamy; Kayte Deioma)

We get back in the car, I swap my dress tie for a skinny tie, and we then make our way to the Beachland Ballroom to pogo along to The English Beat. At a lad in my early 30s, I’m among the youngest people in the crowd. Dave Wakeling’s there, of course, along with the bass player from The Untouchables, and an all-star group of 20-something ska-sters round out the line-up. During “Save It for Later,” Mikey Mike (in the role once held by Ranking Roger), steps backstage, picks up his video camera, and starts taping us–and why? The roomful of 40- and 50-somethings bouncin’ up and down had made quite an impression, and I have to imagine he’d never seen that many old people have that much fun before.

And here’s why Cleveland rocks: the people who forged the scene for punk and post-punk back in the day, they’ve taken that DIY spirit, and parlayed it into bars, restaurants, vintage clothing shops, records stores, and the like–and they still come out to the Beachland, especially, and other venues, too, and the tyranny of youth that reigns in music scenes in places like New York (and in SF, too, to a lesser degree) doesn’t have much purchase here along the golden shores of Lake Erie.

I’m thinking about The Beat this week, too, because they were back in Cleveland, as you may have heard, for a benefit for Cleveland Courage, which has already raised over $500,000, which is damn awesome. I’m half-tempted to include a recent live clip of The Beat on tour, but that would only provide incentive for more people to sever their connection to an actual experience by holding up a recording device to capture that experience.

Here’s a little something for those of west of EDT to get your day started gently. Love the shout-out to Saxa!

And, for those of you with a soft spot for the previous generation of rockers, try this on for size.

post-punk gems: English Beat, Cleveland Courage, etc.

Welcome to mid-week folks! I hope all’s well on your end.

I’m happy to report me head’s a bit foggy, having stayed out later than usual to check out The English Beat last night at the inimitable Beachland Ballroom on Cleveland’s east side.

beat

Good cause, good times and, as always when former punks and mods gather in Cleveland, a host of good people.

While I usually reserve Wednesdays for underheralded gems from back in the day, today’s an exception, and back in the day this gem reached #9 in the UK, and #22 on the US dance charts.

Nice work, gentlemen.

And, for those of you in the Cleveland area looking to celebrate the 31st anniversary of the release of Combat Rock, I’ll be reading this Saturday at 7pm at Visible Voice in Tremont. Do join us. It should be a hoot!

potpourri for punks (and mothers) — pix, Stagger Lee, etc.

Happy Mother’s Day all, and thanks for checking out my blog once again–or, if you’re a first-timer, welcome! My book’s been out for two whole days now in the UK, so it’s too early to report whether it’s got much traction with the home team fans just yet.

There isn’t much in the book that’s maternal-themed, but I’ve got to work a tie-in, so here goes. When putting the book together, I was under such a tight timeline, I wasn’t able to pursue permissions for the photo below of two of the key protagonists. In the book’s section on WPIX-FM, the NYC radio station that was brilliant, hilarious and all-too-short-lived with Joe Piasek and Meg Griffin at the helm, I describe the photo below from New York magazine. (Here’s the link to “Is Real-Rock Radio Normal?,” which appeared in the same issue as “How Politicians Stay Out of Jail”–if only “abnormal” radio were still with us, and the most nefarious politicians were locked up, I wonder if we’d have this global warming problem solved by now.

piasek griffin -- 1980

(The thematic aside: I cannot, alas, find the actual audio footage, but Griffin reported in our interview that, in an early in-studio interview with Tom Petty, each of them exited their respective booths, and when Petty looked aghast in Griffin’s direction, she asked what was wrong. “Well, Meg,” Petty drawled, “I guess I’ve never seen a pregnant deejay before.” And, for the Clash-o-philes among you, here’s a clip from that interview of Griffin talking about the gracious Mick Jones.)  

Piasek and co.’s WPIX station was amazing, and here’s one of the playlists from August 1979, kindly provided by Will Keller, a PIX-o-phile who–when we were last in touch–was working on his own version of the brief-and-boisterous history of that moment in New York radio history.

WPIX -- general playlist -- aug 10 79

Is it possible? Charlie Daniels, Wings, Nick Lowe, and Lena Lovich, along with The Clash, ELO, Ellen Foley, and Supertramp, all on the same playlist? For a fleeting moment, the “From Elvis to Elvis” format worked brilliantly, with live broadcasts of shows from CBGB and a host of fun radio stunts. But the bean counters at WPIX couldn’t sit still long enough for the public to catch on–and for their own good, too, as the station showed a financial turn-around just before they decided, once again, to modify “the format to improve the product to make it more mass acceptable,” according to the New York Times (Rockwell, “Pop Life,” March 21, 1980).  

Following the format change (and mass firing), Piasek bailed from radio, worked for Nickelodeon for a spell, and currently staffs the helm at WIOX-FM, in Roxbury, New York, a distinctive model for private-public partnerships in community radio. I met Joe for lunch and conversation last summer, and he’s still as lively as ever, and remains excited about the possibilities of radio, music that matters, and a community of engaged listeners.

Meg Griffin, of course, still spins discs for Sirius XM Radio, and is one of the subjects featured in a new documentary: I Am What I Play, “a feature length documentary about the heyday of rock radio.” I’m certainly sympathetic with folks trying to balance the day job and the after-hours project, and wish them all the best putting the final edit together.

On the potpourri tip: this morning I encountered crossword puzzle query about Lloyd Price’s hit from 1959 (answer below), and on wikipedia a featured article drew my attention to Danie Mellora contemporary Indigenous Australian artist of no relation to another Mellor we know, I figure.

Oh, Stagger! What would your mother have made of this mess?

Have a delightful week, culture comrades!

(post) punk gems v. 16 — The Cortinas

Welcome back to Radio K-SAT, where all things are in bloom — finally!  I’ve got year-zero of punk on my mind, and Legs McNeil’s fascination with The Dictators in particular: “I hated most rock and roll, because it was about lame hippie stuff … There really wasn’t anyone describing our lives—which was McDonald’s, beer, and TV reruns. Then John found The Dictators, and we all got excited that something was happening.” Then he caught The Ramones at CBGB—“the best eighteen minutes of rock & roll that I had ever heard”—and Joey & co. agreed to an interview with Punk. “They were like us,” McNeil remembered. “They talked about comic books and sixties bubble-gum music and were really deadpan and sarcastic” (Please Kill Me, p. 203, 206).

Across the pond, the same impulse took hold in a bunch of young Bristol lads (average age = 16), who signed to a new label run by Miles Copeland (of IRS fame, and brother to Stewart, of course) and Mark Perry (of Sniffin’ Glue). In a chat with NME, drummer Dan Swann reported, “we chose the name because it represents something cheap and nasty.” The Cortina, you may recall, was a Ford model produced through 1982.

(In December 1991, Chris Salewicz interviewed Joe Strummer about life as a Pogue, and he noted, about post-Clash life, ” … it all gets murky and people have to get to move on and have wives or partners and children and buy and sell Ford Cortinas.”)

For their debut single, which bubbles over with the energy of ’77, The Cortinas take on the fantasies of puppet governments (“Fascist Dictator”) and execs at the BBC (“Television Families”).

I love the youthful angst, which of course is tempered by the joy of finding a collective groove, of tapping into something greater than the repetition of the loathsome teenage voices filling up your head. The vocals are rather high in the mix, and seem to be inspired by the harmony (?) vocals lent by Paul Simonon and Terry Chimes (and even Keith Levene) on The Clash debut (April 1977). The connection is more than fortuitous, as The Cortinas’ rhythm guitarist Nick Sheppard secured employment in 1983 with The Clash, following the dismissal of Mick Jones.

I hope you’ve seen the pix from the Met punk gala–there are two words I never thought I’d string together. Yikes.
Have a joyous, riff-filled week!