surviving the 70s — punk makes its mark

Plenty o’ rain has us indoors for now, on this side of Lake Erie, and — since it’s the last day of May — I’ve got a few more thoughts about ch. 5 in Stealing All Transmissions. Come August 1979, The US version of The Clash is finally out, and the band is mixing and wrapping up their work on London Calling. That September, they arrive in the states for the Take the Fifth tour and, come 19 September, arrive in New York City.

It’s a weird year in pop, as you can see below in John Rockwell’s end-of-the-year summary

From J. Rockwell,
From J. Rockwell, “Record Industry’s Sales Slowing After 25 Years of Steady Growth,” New York Times, August 8, 1979.

for the New York Times. (I’ve also written about importance of Rockwell here.) It’s also a tough year in pop, business-wise. The Clash’s UK label, CBS, had a tough first quarter, and pink-slipped 52 employees shortly thereafter. Net income dropped, and CBS blamed its record division.

It’s difficult to imagine it was a quality issue, with so many great LPs by Joe Jackson, Elvis Costello, Talking Heads, The Clash, and others. (Maybe it’s important, too, that the Stones-lawd have mercy–and Springsteen released nothing that year.)

Is home-taping the culprit? Does this theme sound familiar? The industry of course rebounded, and did well for ages, but it’s difficult to imagine 2015 (or any year after) holding good news, profit-wise, for the music industry.

No big surprise to see Talking Heads and The B-52’s in the mix, but especially nice to see The Clash, Ian Dury, and even Steve Reich mentioned–and perhaps because of the dip in humor of Give ‘Em Enough Rope, imagining The Clash as less fun than Joe Jackson or The Police. I figure Rockwell changed his tune, though, once he heard London Calling.

Click on the image to pull up the full article.
Click on the image to pull up the full article.

Cheers!

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post-punk gems, v. 72 — Mission of Burma

Ah, the Wednesdays just keep comin’ … Boston post-punk was on my mind with The Pixies recently making a Cleveland appearance (which I missed, alas), and–while they didn’t reach the heights of The Pixies–Mission of Burma certainly cranked out some gems back in the day, including the college-rock favorite below.

Some regard Mission of Burma to be the American Wire (also playing CLE in a couple weeks!). Burma’s Roger Miller attended CalArts, and brought an avant-garde ethic to punk. As bassist Clint Conley noted, “I think we’re just a closet prog-rock act that happened during punk … We were attracted to the velocity and volume of punk, but at the same time Roger and I were both really attracted to composition.” Lester Bangs once described the singles between The Clash’s debut LP and Rope — incl. “White Man in Hamersmith Palais”  — as “white hot little symphonies,” a designation that fits selections of Burma’s oeuvre quite well.

Cheers!

UK music press — they eat their own

What do the sand tiger shark, parasitic wasps, and, in select moments, the UK music press have in common? They eat their own. As I note in Stealing — and, since it’s still May (month 5), I’m focusing on an element in ch. 5 — if the first rule of rock fandom is to be into this band before anybody, the second rule is to be into and over a particular band before anybody.

When The Clash made the live venue rounds in late 1978, clashoodeon78flyerthe UK music press lined up with their (pitch)forks in hands, salivating at the ready. Like any decent shark, they could smell blood — and why? Because The Clash had dared to release a second album, and thereby subject themselves to the orgiastic feast of critical discourse, where critics first took turns at the grinding wheel, sharpening their knives, before taking a seat at the table.

Here’s my summary of the frenzy, from p. 70:

ch 5 blurb

The tyranny of the new explains it in part, and the frequency of publication of the weeklies in the UK (versus the bi-weekly and rarely timely issue of Rolling Stone) played a role, but I think there’s also something English here, something that doesn’t translate on the west side of the Atlantic–where we love second acts, and phoenix-esque rises from the ashes (for better or worse, in some cases).

I’d love, too, to hear your thoughts on this matter.

Here’s a live clip from that era, too.

Cheers!

post-punk gems, v. 71 — Malcolm McLaren

McLaren, by gawd, where would we be without him? He was a prick, and prickly, and a mclaren_gals composer in the best sense — i.e., “putting together.” He took Richard Hell’s aesthetic and commodified it into low couture, and imbued the Rotten&Jones&Matlock&Cook brand with a bit more danger and a whole lot of profit.
While most folks might be inclined toward McLaren’s “Buffalo Gals,” I was more mesmerized by “Madame Butterfly” — there was, of course, nothing else like it on the radio, popular or semi-popular. (Bless SF’s KQAK for finding room for such an anomaly.) I never bothered to decipher the libretto, but always understood the track as the logical extension of the lush sound of ABC, Spandau Ballet, and Scritti Pollitti (Cupid & Psyche era). I still have yet to unearth the LP itself, to see what else McLaren was up to on Fans (1984), but look forward to that archeo-pop dig on youtube before too long.

Enjoy!

Fans_(Malcolm_McLaren_album)Here’s the album cover. What a beautiful weirdo, RIP.

DIY style, for the kids! The Clash, ’79

So contemporary Clash news is difficult to come by these days. It seems if you want to curb e-buzz about a “heritage act,” release the definitive box set. But lo! Mr. Mick Jones is bringing his rock’n’roll public library to the Venice Bienniale — nice!

Once again I’m mining chapters from my book to shine a bit more light on certain events given, well, if not short shrift, not all of the attention they deserve. (Stealing, too, got a nice bit of attention, taking home a silver IPPY Award this year, I’m happy to report.)

In terms of the library, I wonder if Mr. Jones’ impressive collection includes this homely beauty, from February 1979, when The Clash dared to take on counter-cultural oligopolist sf flyer ABill Graham in San Francisco. Graham was on the scene in SF with the SF Mime Troupe in the mid-1960s, and established himself as the promoter through the 80s, when anytime I bought a concert ticket “Bill Graham Presents” was getting a cut–but not every time, in 1979.

When The Clash made their American debut, at the Berkeley Community Theater on
February 7, Graham got his cut. The next night, though, at Theater 1839 — just a couple doors down from the Graham-controlled Fillmore — The Clash, Negative Trend, and The Zeros played a benefit show for New Youth Productions, who had a vision of an all-ages scene for the growing interest in punk. (The lettering for “Minors Welcome!” certainly heralded a typeface that rose to prominence in the US hardcore scene.)

I especially dig the fact that the promoters forgot (?) to identify The Clash by name, and made amends by inking the letters, Johnny Cash style, in black-on-black across their torsos. DIY indeed.

If you have any more information on this night, do be in touch. I figure Howie Klein (who introduced Paul Simonon and Epic’s Susan Blond in 1979) and his comrades have some fun memories of the event, or their role in helping pick the pocket of Bill Graham.

And … here’s a fun ska documentary narrated by the Bay Area’s own Tim Armstrong. Nice work, team.

Cheers!

post-punk gems, v. 70 – Adam Ant

Happy Wednesday, folks! I’ve been turning the pages of Simon Reynolds’ whip-smart Rip It Up and Start Again, and his chapter on Malcolm McLaren, Adam Ant, and Bow Wow Wow is quite smart, and plumbs the depths of McLaren’s depravity and the acuity of his foresight.

Adam and the Ants were his key musical venture of the time, but since Stuart Goddard — perhaps the best given name of any popstar who adopted a stage name — wouldn’t rest comfortably under McLaren’s thumb, he was soon “Ant-less,” but it didn’t slow down his swashbuckling and his Ennio Morricone-inspired sound with plenty of Burundi beats. (Goddard had rubbed elbows with McLaren earlier, in November 1975, when the Pistols opened for his band Bazooka Joe.)

Here’s Adam’s favorite track of his, the opening tune from 1980’s Kings of the Wild Frontier, “Dog Eat Dog,” done (ahem) “live”:

And, for those of you not rushing off to work this morning, here’s a link to “Adam Ant–Stand & Deliver,” the documentary.

Enjoy!

yer mother’s day playlist

‘allo, sons and daughters (and none of the above)! ‘Tis Mother’s Day, of course, and for FZmany of us: our mothers were our first DJs, selecting playlists of lullabies, then sing-alongs and, of course, the right radio stations.

I’ve put together a tidy 7 tracks today for your edification–Johnny Cash to get things started, some hip-hop in the middle, and The Beatles to close things out. (No Clash tunes here, alas, as all I could think of, theme-wise, was the maternal reference in “Straight to Hell.”) The sentiments include reassurances, devotion, apologies, fascination, joy, and gratitude–the range of maternal emotions. If there’s a track here you don’t know, check the tags on this post for clues. Enjoy–and do give your mother a call!