post-punk gems, v. 32 — The Minutemen

Oh, it’s another odd morning in ‘Merica, with the diplomats dusting off the drums of war, and social media aflame with a recent twerk. At the least the crusts of bread-and-circuses of old had convertible energy as a fundamental property.

I do not suggest that I have a solution for the mess in Syria, but I am no fan of war in general, nor illegal wars, airstrikes, etc., in particular. Russia and China, as is their right, are likely to block a UN Security Council resolution, and Obama will be left to come up with his own coalition of the complicit.

Either way, this ain’t no picnic. Ladies and gentlemen, I present The Minutemen.

post-punk gems, v. 31 — The V.I.P.’s

Good morning folks, from radio K-SAT, where we’re celebrating Joe Strummer’s birthday and, fittingly enough, the anniversary of Nat Turner’s 1831 rebellion, which heralded a revolution of a different sort.

This week’s post-punk gem is “Things Aren’t What They Used to be,” by the V.I.P.’s (January 1981). These V.I.P.’s are an elusive bunch, as another band from the UK in the 1960s made tracks under this name, and a well-polished cover band from Jersey also employs this moniker.

The V.I.P.’s released a few tracks on Gem Records, which readers of *Stealing* may recall, had a well-connected distribution service in the US. They not only helped DJs break singles ahead of schedule (much to the chagrin of the domestic label), they also ensured that DJs were in the–ahem–proper mood to keep things in rotation.

I dig the semi-grungy opening bars, and how the uptempo sound yields to clean vocals, gorgeous horn charts, and ebullient harmony vocals. As you might have guessed, these guys toured in support of Secret Affair (check ’em out here) and Madness, respectively, and even got Bob Sargeant–who lent marimba and production savvy to *Special Beat Service*–to produce “Need Somebody to Love.”

“Things,” alas, proved prescient, and it was the band’s last effort.

Do tune in on Sunday for part deux of the feature piece on The Clash in *Punk* from 1979.

Let’s exit, of course, with a  by Mr. Strummer:

(post)punk gems v. 30 — Pearl Harbor and the Explosions

Happy Wednesday and all, and I’m hoping there’s enough caffeine in the cupboards to jump-start this day on a good foot.

(Hello, Pearl. Some photo rights reserved somewhere.)

I’m staying close to Clash-de-camp this morning, with Pearl Harbor and the Explosions on the wheels of silicone. Lead singer Pearly Gates came out of the San Francisco scene, changed her surname (not imagining potential problems with google searches, of course), and got the band’s first single, “Drivin’ ” out in 1980. In that moment, the world was apparently paying attention to the SF post-punkers, and the track cracked the US top 40.

She eventually made the acquaintance of Paul Simonon, got married, hired Paul’s younger brother to play in her rockabilly-revival outfit on *Don’t Follow Me, I’m Lost Too* (Warner, 1981). Amid the original compositions was “Do Your Homework,” a playful ditty in which Ms. H. schools her lover on the ABCs.

The grouches at Trouser Press didn’t offer much regard for the LPs, which is their prerogative, I suppose. The latter track certainly heralded this fun ditty by The Pipettes from a few years back.

Okay, espresso time! Enjoy!

Motor City Love — one measure Singapore, two measures Amsterdam

As X’s John Doe scolded many years ago, “Don’t forget the Motor City!” And, since I’ve always done as Doe commands, Detroit was on the table over a delightfully social coffee this morning, and I think our well-caffeinated imaginations have devised a proper solution to the current woes of this once-great city.

detroit  - 1

Like the word “blog,” “Motown” is a portmanteau (“motor” and “town”), and the city’s musical legacy runs deep and wide: John Lee Hooker, The Temptations, The Four Tops, Smokey Robinson & The Miracles, Diana Ross & The Supremes, The Jackson 5, Martha and the Vandellas, The Spinners, Gladys Knight & the Pips, Marvin Gaye, and Aretha Franklin. Saxophonist Donald Byrd hails from Detroit, and of course, there’s the punk legacy: MC5, Iggy Pop (still got it), Mitch Ryder and The Detroit Wheels, and Suzi Quattro, with lesser-known bands such as The Necros and The Meatmen bridging the gap to the garage-rock sound of The White Stripes, The Von Bondies, and Electric Six.

Months back my dear friend John grew weary of the tepid solutions proposed by politicians and pundits alike, so here’s our proposal. Now, I’m not certain how we work out the pensions that should be paid (it’s a contract, and defended by the Michigan Constitution), but I think it’s possible.

Step one: Detroit as a geographical entity, alas, lacks natural barriers to development to the north, west, and south, and suburban sprawl thrived as the dominant paradigm in late modernity. Alas, it was much too late by the time folks realized that suburban life was long on promise and short on sustainability. With the Detroit River (and Lake St. Clair) along the east side as the natural border to Canadian neighbors, Detroit occupies a more natural location for secession. Detroit, a la Singapore, becomes a city-state.

Step two: Once the city-state is established, it can free itself from the cannabis-phobia just starting to wane in the US, and become the Amsterdam of the west, with pot salons and a plethora of bicycles. The urban garden scene of Detroit is already thriving, although the recent acquisition of 2000 lots for $600,000 by the Hantz Group may change things–we’ll see.

Urban Farm in Detroit  

(Photos courtesy of

The city has a rich urban cultural center, plenty of decent roadways (they’ll need to turn the street lights back on, of course), and somewhat expensive homegrown bicycles, too. (Images from Shinola and Detroit Bicycle Company, respectively, below.)

Dark Green

Of course, this blog is not advocating smoking and steering, or smoking at all. One might imagine over time, though, that dope taxes could fund pensions galore. (I hear Amsterdam’s swimming in cash.) I would simply advise that the powers that be have, like rock in the late 70s, become ossified, and that we’re due for a punk-rock-esque paradigm shift.

Best of luck to all the parties involved. There will be blood, and tears, and a solution, let’s hope. Many thanks to Sloop John B. for the inspiring conversation and stiff brew.

#postpunk gems, v. 29 — Huang Chung — yes that Wang Chung

So it’s a stiff coffee, and good morning to you, as I gather a bit o’ momentum to get the day started.

In the late spring of 1980, I was living in the San Joaquin Valley, playing 2nd-string right field for my little league team, and listening to Cheap Trick and, well, not much more. With summer commencing, I had no idea who Joy Division or Ian Curtis was and, like most Americans, I wouldn’t learn about Huang Chung before 1984 and the incredibly, well, suggestive “Dance Hall Days.” (Not even Prince was sly enough to get such a narrative on the pop charts.)

And that was part of the beauty of pop back in the day. It wasn’t easy to gather the backstory on a whole host of bands, and they would emerge on MtV for 15 minutes (or more), and then seemingly fade away. Little did I know the Huang Chung — which translates as “yellow bell” in Mandarin — had other singles in their catalog.

The other rumor going ’round was that “Wang” was the sound of the downward strum of the guitar, and “chung” was the upward strum — with no fingers on the frets, of course. With “Isn’t It About Time We Were on TV?,” Huang Chung blends elements of The Police and Frank Zappa, and the band behind Jack Hues keeps it tight. Back in the day, Sounds imagines the track to be a “jazzy version of XTC.”

That third week of June was a big one for post-punk: “Love Will Tear Us Apart” starts climbing the charts at that point, and The Clash’s “Train in Vain,” backed with “Bank Robber” (nice double-A side!), makes its way into continental record shops. Stateside, Bad Brains releases their first single, “Pay to Cum” b/w “Stay Close to Me.” Good times, good times.

reprise — sucking in the 70s

Happy day, reader! I hope you’ve had a delightful weekend.

After kicking out a lengthy jam to the tune of 1100 words last weekend, I want to keep things shorter and sweeter this time ’round. Thank you for the nice feedback on that post, and one reader was kind enough to refer me to this NPR interview with Michael Walker on his new book, What You Want Is In The Limo: On The Road With Led Zeppelin, Alice Cooper, And The Who In 1973, The Year The Sixties Died And The Modern Rock Star Was Born.

What You Want Is in the Limo

Now a punk might argue that the title is as insufferably long as a John Bonham drum solo, but that could have been an editor’s decision, and shouldn’t detract from Walker’s argument, which ties the aesthetics to the economies of scale in rock: the excess in length of songs and solos was replicated in the length of limos, jets, tours, and lines of groupies backstage (and the lines of coke that awaited them). It was, he suggests, a thorough negation of the peace and love extolled in the sixties. (I will take issue with his claim that Alice Cooper’s “Elected” is “as far away from peace, love and understanding as you can possibly get in a single song.” To that end, I’ll take Nirvana’s effort to get away, any day:

 You can read an excerpt of the book here

The comments below the NPR piece are quite telling: it’s mostly boys of course, and fanatics defend Led Zep against claims of being aesthetically adrift after Houses of the Holy, extol the virtues of Presence (don’t know that I’ve ever listened to it), and celebrate various moments on Physical Graffiti (which seems reasonable). I am, of course, privy to one reader’s theological claim: “The Clash, Ramones and Sex Pistols are proof that God loved us once.” Amen.

Thanks for tuning in to radio K-SAT! Have a delightful week.