post-punk gems, v. 75 — The GC5

Thanks for tuning in to Radio K-SAT after an unexpected break. I’m surfacing after wrapping up the first stage of another project (under wraps for now, but more info soon), and I’m delighted to be better acquainted now with the more recent history of punk in northeast Ohio (which is affectionately referred to as “NEO” ’round these parts. Although “neo-punk” is something else entirely.)

The GC5 (Grady Coffee 5), a Mansfield, OH quintet, got rolling in the mid-90s, released a couple LPs and an EP, and broke up circa 2003. Singer-guitarist Doug McKean is regarded by many as one of the best songwriters from the area of his generation. Their sound begins with the hard-and-fast Orange County aesthetic, but quickly takes on a bit more subtlety, especially around song structures and vocal phrasing. There’s a clear debt to Stink-era Replacements: they do an affectionate cover of “Bastards of Young” and offer a homage to Chris Mars by taking his debut album title for their 1st EP: Horseshoes and Handgrenades. Bob Stinson (RIP) would have been properly, and colorfully, impressed.

This past Saturday, GC5 alum appeared in their current form as The Boys from the County Hell (a Pogues song title) at Cleveland Calling, a fundraiser for the Joe Strummer Foundation at the Euclid Tavern. (Full disclosure: I was a late add to the bill, and read a few passages from *Stealing.*) With a line-up of acoustic guitar, electric guitar, banjo, fiddle, bass and drums, with intermittent use of a horn section, mandolin, and accordion, BCH offered a rousing, faithful homage to The Clash–and, in the case of “Rudie Can’t Fail” and “Wrong ‘Em Boyo”–offered the crowd a more faithful homage than The Clash ever did to the songs on vinyl. As far as I know, The Clash never made room onstage for a brass section.

Boys from County Hell, Euclid Tavern, July 18, 2015.
Boys from County Hell, Euclid Tavern, July 18, 2015. (Photo by Brian Asquith.)

BCH ply their wares seasonally as a Pogues tribute band. For you NEO residents: catch them while you can! And a big shout-out to All Dinosaurs for kicking off the event and riling up the crowd. Cheers!

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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!

DIY: press ink on punk, circa 1977

Good morning, fine readers. I’m sticking with the chapter-by-chapter, month-by-month theme today, and — since it’s March — digging a bit deeper into chapter 3 of Stealing All Transmissions, “1977: Clamor, Exposure, and Camaraderie.” The exposure, of course, came from indy press folks, but also mainstream press, too, more often than most folks care to remember.

Ira Robbins of Trouser Press fame was a Clash devotee, although not from the start:

“The lyrics are occasionally powerful in their anger and frustration, but they are also silly sometimes, and between that, the godawful vocals and the seemingly careless production defuse the message of these Anglo-punk rockers.” (June 1977)

 

The Clash, free of tory crimes. Photo by Kate Simon.
The Clash, 1977, free of tory crimes. Photo by Kate Simon.

By the fall equinox, though, the distributor Jem Records–who delighted in upsetting labels’ plans for U.S. release dates by getting import copies into the hands of retailers and DJs alike–got The Clash into Ira’s hands, and he straightened up in a New York minute:

 

“… Of all the new wave bands that have released longplayers to date, the Clash have so much more to offer that there’s no contest. (Leave the Stranglers out of this; they’re like apples and oranges.) I really hate gushing about a new band, especially in light of all the journalistic excesses lately, but the Clash have produced such a strange and wonderful blend of pop, metal, aggro, and politics that I keep playing the sucker over and over again.

“Fronted by ultra-psycho ex-101er Joe Strummer, the Clash is two guitars and a bass, with drums provided by whoever’s around – there’s no permanent fourth man. Strummer and songwriting cohort/guitarist Mick Jones both sing horribly; lots of Cockney slurring and much expression make the lyrics nearly 100% unintelligible which is a shame, ’cause that’s the best part. It wasn’t until I obtained a bootleg libretto through international ‘channels’ that I realized what an amazing band the Clash are …” 

“Without getting involved in the political implications of anarchy in the UK, the Clash have the rage and the enthusiasm to make these lyrics work. The music fits perfectly, and the total effect is one of the wild-eyed hate of everything stupid. Get Clashed today!” (September 1977)

The Clash in Westway photo sessions, by the magnificent Adrian Boot.

Ira, too, was none too pleased when circa 1979 many folks were jumping upon the Clash bandwagon, but the mainstream press arrived earlier than most people thought, and actually didn’t say completely idiot things.

Robert Hilburn, for the Los Angeles Times, got after The Clash in September 1978 (and thereby two months ahead of the U.S. debut LP), and gets Jones-y to loosen his tongue a bit, and offers a message most folks attribute to Strummer:

“I thought rock audiences in England were apathetic when we started, but I’ve never seen as unhealthy a place for rock ‘n’ roll as America. We might be too late. It may be impossible to wake them up at this point.

“What’s worse than the rock audience are the rock bands here. If there were any way we could destroy them all at once, it’d be perfect. I think American rock bands – and the English ones, like Foreigner and Foghat, who pretend to be American – are a cancer. It’s time for us to come here with a manifesto of change. All we can do is try. If people can’t see what we are – the rock ‘n’ roll band of the ’70s – that’s their problem.”

Likewise, in a nearly 1000-word piece for Time magazine, Jay Cocks regarded the band as “four tough-strutting musicians who together lay down the fiercest, most challenging sounds in contemporary rock” (March 5, 1979), within a month of their live debut in the states. Not bad, gents. Not bad at all.

Cheers to you, and cheers to spring! If you plan to be in the Catskills next weekend, come see me at this event, if you have a few $$ for a righteous cause.

 

 

well, then: what can a poor boy do? punk and authenticity

Greetings, readers! So I’m back at the book again here, mining chapter 3, “1977: Clamor, Exposure, and Camaraderie,” for another gem related to the DIY spirit. The clamor, of course, was ringing from speakers on the stage and in bedrooms on both sides of the Atlantic, as 1977 saw the release of the 2nd Ramones’ LP, Talking Heads: 77, Television’s Marquee Moon, The Clash, two LPs each by The Damned and The Stranglers and, almost late in the game, came the debut LP by The Sex Pistols. 5.0.3The DIY ethos informed the fanzines, too–most notably Mark Perry’s Sniffin’ Glue, which popularized the cut-and-paste ransom-note aesthetic and, for better or worse, fomented the yer-either-with-us-or-against-us ethos that led to a narrow definition of punk.

Perry’s search in ’76 for written coverage of his new favorite bands turned up almost nothing. “One time I was at [the record shop] Rock On, trying to find out if there were any magazines I could read about these bands in,” Perry recalled. “There weren’t, so the people behind the counter suggested flippantly that I should go and start my own. So I did” (Stealing, p. 42). And did so quickly, and with a sensibility that’s been confirmed nearly four decades hence, as the cover of issue #6 from January ’77 rightly confirms. Perry, too, knew that before too long, his subjects were also his readers. “John Lydon had it, Strummer had it, Rat Scabies had it,” Perry reported. “I thought, ‘If I say this in the Glue, it’s going to happen.’ I knew that, and that’s what fueled me, knowing that it was being taken seriously” (Ibid.).

Perry, alas, took himself too seriously, and did so for years. You might think after a couple decades he might back away from punk-inspired claims such as, “Punk died the day The Clash signed to CBS,” but no. For John Robb’s Punk Rock, Perry stuck to his ideological guns:

“These guys weren’t about to smash their Gibson & Fender guitars all over the stage, were they? … they manipulated punk into ‘OK, we won’t have a riot, we will sing about it instead.’ Which is cool, at least someone’s singing about it — but don’t try to make out that are some hard revolutionary. You’re just in a pop band — which the Clash ended up being. They were a great pop band, but nothing to do with punk. The real punk bands came a couple of years later, the bands we all hated like the Exploited and all those nasty working-class people [laughs] that have convictions and have been in trouble with the police …” (p. 340).

So, the requisite credentials include: smashing expensive gear, trouble with the law, and you need to be as tedious as The Exploited? As a period piece, The Exploited were perfect, but how many times can you listen to songs that repeat the same phrase in a chorus and construct musical bridges from watered down heavy metal riffs?

Mick
Mick, with Paul, and an “authentic” hair style, circa 1977. Photo by Syd.

Punk is a many-a-splendored thing and, as guitarist Marco Pirroni rightly noted, “This whole Mark P thing that [the Pistols] should sign to Bumhole Records for no money was stupid — that would never work.” The Clash’s refusal to become a self-parody by making the same album over and over again is a testament to their greatness, not a failure. And please: if we’re talking about class credentials, lay off Mick Jones. “Rock’n’roll Mick” did what any poor boy with enough pounds for a guitar and an unassailable work ethic would do: he dedicated his life to rock’n’roll, and made the world a better place.

I will give Mark P. due credit, though, for rocking Alternative TV well into the 21st century–and tonight, 8 March, in Brighton. Cheers!

What a difference a year makes: ’76 to ’77

Good morning, K-SAT readers. It’s month 3 on the calendar, so I’m mining chapter 3 of Stealing All Transmissions for a couple more gems that I hope you’ll fancy. In “1977: Clamor, Exposure, and Camaraderie,” I move through ’76 and the formation of The Clash into 1977, and map what’s happening in the new periodicals popping up in New York, including Punk and New York Rocker.

Short, sharp, and not too sweet. Brevity and vinyl rule! (April 1977) Photo by Kate Simon.

Robert Christgau reported that he and Richard Goldstein picked up The Clash’s debut on import vinyl at Bleecker Bob’s, put it on the turntable, and the response? “‘This is fucking great!'” There is, of course, so much that is great about their eponymous debut (I love using the word “eponymous”), and I think about Simonon having just learned his parts, and the joy and the frustration and the catharsis in “Janie Jones,” the (ironic) contempt of “Hate and War,” and the beautiful treble-y-ness of it all. I also think about the question of duration. You’ve got 14 tracks here: four are up-and-done in under two minutes; five more take but 30 seconds more.

At the time, Christgau and his comrades at the Village Voice loved popular music, but they also liked to celebrate newcomers, too, as reflected in the Pazz and Jop polls of 1976 and 1977:

1976

  1. Stevie Wonder: Songs in the Key of Life (Tamla)
  2. Graham Parker & the Rumour: Heat Treatment (Mercury)
  3. Jackson Browne: The Pretender (Asylum)
  4. Graham Parker & the Rumour: Howlin’ Wind (Mercury)
  5. Kate & Anna McGarrigle: Kate & Anna McGarrigle (Warner Bros.)
  6. Steely Dan: The Royal Scam (ABC)
  7. Joni Mitchell: Hejira (Asylum)
  8. Ramones: Ramones (Sire)
  9. Rod Stewart: A Night on the Town (Warner Bros.)
  10. Blue Oyster Cult: Agents of Fortune (Columbia)

1977

  1. Sex Pistols: Never Mind the Bollocks, Here’s the Sex Pistols (Warner Bros.)
  2. Elvis Costello: My Aim Is True (Columbia)
  3. Television: Marquee Moon (Elektra)
  4. Fleetwood Mac: Rumours (Warner Bros.)
  5. Steely Dan: Aja(ABC)
  6. Ramones: Rocket to Russia (Sire)
  7. Talking Heads: Talking Heads: 77 (Sire)
  8. Randy Newman: Little Criminals (Warner Bros.)
  9. Garland Jeffreys: Ghost Writer (A&M)
  10. Cheap Trick: In Color (Epic)

Now there’s a more scientific way to do this, of course, but let’s just look at the #1s here: Stevie Wonder’s Songs:  17 tracks, 85 minutes, and The Pistols’ Bollocks: 11 tracks, 34 minutes. Certainly Graham Parker and The Ramones heralded a shift in median song duration, but wow: what a difference a year makes.

The Clash doesn’t make the list, I believe, because the folks at the Voice, including Christgau, discovered the album in early 1978. (He would later claim it as his favorite Clash LP, and even his favorite punk LP, if I recall correctly.)

Ramones_-_Leave_Home_cover
The name of this band is … Ramones. Image by Moshe Brakha.

You can find the full polls here and here. And, if you’re paying close attention, you’ll see that the LPs included here by the band “Ramones” did not include a definite article. Like “Talking Heads.” Now, you might find the occasional book that identifies (correctly) “CBGB” rather than “CBGBs,” but I’ve never seen a book refer to this band as “Ramones,” without the “the.” The iconic t-shirt, of course, notes “Ramones,” but all the writers got it wrong. Pretty wild.

post-punk gems, v. 59 — Kurtis Blow

I’ve got upcoming gigs in Roxbury, NY (3/21) and Amherst, MA (3/25), so I’m thinking about The Clash more often than I usually do, as I put together my talks. Of particular interest is the band’s May-June 1981 residency at Bond International Casino–17 dates of sold-out shows, lots of exposure for uptown bands like The Sugarhill Gang, Grandmaster Flash, and a host of others.

Kurtis Blow DJ’ed alongside Grandmaster Flash in Harlem and the Bronx in the late 1970s, and was the first rapper signed to a major label in 1979. His second single, “The Breaks” (after “Christmas Rappin'”), must have captivated Joe, Mick, and co., with the west African rhythm guitar, Blow’s flow on the mic, and plenty of drums.

In August 1982, among the final performances with Jonesy still onboard, The Clash The Akron Civic Theater 17 August 1982The Clash played the Akron Civic Theater and introduced Blow to a whole new market, one that couldn’t even get his name spelled right on the marquee. (Thanks to Don Frederick for sending this image–not his–my way.)

If anyone knows the guy flexing guns below the marquee, let me know: I’m happy to give him a shout-out.

Enjoy!

 

From middlebrow rock to punk: the bridge of Bruce Springsteen

Happy icy Sunday, folks! Not even in the days of icy fog in my youth in Stockton, CA, might I have imagined that I’d be celebrating a day’s high temperature of 28F as perfectly balmy. In fleeting moments, we’re all Bostonians now.

For today’s bit, I’m digging deeper into the themes of chapter 2, “From Sgt. Pepper’s to Born to Run: The Rise of Free-Form Radio,” from Stealing All Transmissions. Free-form radio, of course, had a key role in celebrating The Beatles, The Who, and others as artists, rather than worker bees making popular music, and I suggest that Bruce Springsteen played a key role in bridging the divide between the artistic pretensions of classic rockers and the pretensions of authenticity of the punks, including The Clash.

It was in Boston’s Real Paper, of course, back in May 1974, that Jon Landau pronounced “I saw rock and roll’s future, and its name is Bruce Springsteen.” BSAbout the same time, Ken Emerson in Rolling Stone gave high marks to The Wild, the Innocent, and the E Street Shuffle, celebrating the “punk savvy” of the lyrics of “4th of July, Asbury Park (Sandy).” I have little idea what “punk” might mean here, other than representations of the working class, which perhaps in 1974 were in short supply, thanks to the artistic turn of rock, led by The Beatles.

Now I’m a devotee of the The Beatles (and Springsteen), but The Beatles’ growth as musicians forged a divide between pop and rock. If they were, in 1964, a threat to youth morality (and eventually Christianity in particular, with Lennon and his “we’re bigger than Jesus now” quote), by 1967, they were regarded anew as purveyors of middlebrow art.

Following the release of Sgt. Pepper’s, Time magazine did a big feature on The Beatles, beatlesand framed the new rock in the rhetoric of the middlebrow aesthetic: “With characteristic self-mockery, the Beatles are proclaiming that they have snuffed out their old selves to make room for the new Beatles incarnate. And there is some truth to it. Without having lost any of the genial anarchism with which they helped revolutionize the life style of young people in Britain, Europe, and the U.S., they have moved on to a higher artistic plateau.”

Yes, on Plastic Ono Band, Lennon suggested that “a working class hero was something to be.” It couldn’t be him, though. And Springsteen, with his 1975 appearance at the Bottom Line, which was broadcast live on WNEW-FM at Richard Neer’s behest, solidified this feature of WNEW-FM, and–four years later–would be the source of The Guns of Brixton bootleg, from the September 21, 1979 concert of The Clash at the Palladium.

The Clash The Guns Of Brixton Back

Keep warm out there, Clash-o-philes of the north. The winds have been more biting than Joe Strummer circa 1984!