post-punk gems, v. 74 — Tom Tom Club

Lots and lots of anniversaries today, as you twitter-ing will know: TH’s *Little Creatures,* the debut LP by a band called Duran Duran (whatever happened to them, anyway?), and I’m sure there were a couple more, too.

Talking Heads, though, and the whole aura around their artiness, began to wear on Chris Frantz and Tina Weymouth: hence the birth of Tom Tom Club, and their first single, released 34 years ago this week: “Wordy Rappinghood.”

The impulse behind the side project had everything to do with, well, David Byrne, and New York in general, according to Chris Frantz, who’s one of the real gentlemen of the music industry:

“We wanted to make a real musical anti-snob record because we’re fed up to here with all the seriousness which surrounds Talking Heads. It’s as if just by being in TH you’re expected to think very heavily about everything … We were consciously trying to get away from … being influenced by heavy philosophies and drugs and … nihilistic attitudes … it’s the only kind of emotion they can get behind in New York.”

They did, of course, draw heavily on the hip-hop aesthetic shaping New York at the time. Sessions took place in the Caribbean, and the duo were joined by Monte Brown, Steven Stanley, Adrian Belew (one of the happiest performers I’ve ever seen), and Tina’s three sisters. Their LP from much later, *Boom Boom Chi Boom Boom,* has to be one of the most underrated LPs of the late 80s. Cheers!

From 45 to 33 1/3: cadences of the AM and FM DJs

Good morning, readers. I hope your Sunday’s shaping up well. If you’re on the US continent, east of the Rockies, and north of Louisiana, I imagine you too will have a snow shovel in your hands before too long.

psmurray
Fab Four plus one.

Wednesday’s punk and post-punk gems will stay the same, but on Sundays I want to share a few more thoughts of themes from the book. For month two, then, I’m looking at chapter two, “From Sgt. Pepper’s to Born to Run: The Rise of Free-form FM Radio.” Through the  50s and into the 60s, the hysterical DJ dominated the AM airwaves, with promises of another “twin-spin sound sandwich” on a largely song-ad spot-song sequence. I couldn’t find an early aircheck for Murray the K. (also known as “the  5th Beatle”), but here’s one from 1966, just before Murray metamorphosed into a free-form DJ.

Rosko_WNEWIn the next year, though, the model has changed completely, and “Rosko” Mercer (not the UK’s Emperor Rosko), on WOR-FM, has turned things down, cadence-wise and volume-wise, and the corresponding change in music-as-pop to music-as-art leads to changes on the airwaves, too. Mercer, along with Scott Muni, led the charge at WNEW-FM into free-form FM radio, and he would segue from Coltrane to Shel Silverstein, and — as you can hear on this shorter segment — would improvise extended raps between songs and commercials, and share his own rather critical thoughts about the Vietnam War.

The 33 1/3 ethos, with minimal interference from commercials, made new demands on the listening audience, and upon advertisers to be more patient in terms of the frequency of their spots on the air. So, when Richard Neer at WNEW-FM raises the prospect of the live at the Bottom Line series to boss Mel Karmazin (now the head of Sirius XM), Karmazin couldn’t imagine how to make it happen — 90 minutes without commercials? It made little sense, but enough sense, and the Springsteen show ahead of the release of Born to Run sealed the deal. Four years later, The Clash were also included on the WNEW live series, now also at the Palladium, and we have the Guns of Brixton bootleg as a result. Thank you, Richard Neer, Rosko, and Muni!

For the rude boys and rude girls among you, check out Two Tone Britain. It’s not thorough by any stretch, but it does a solid job of unpacking the importance of the music and the politics of The Specials’ brigade against the backdrop of the rise of the National Front.

 

the voice of punk, ’77

Good morning, fine readers. I’m trying to be disciplined here, and stay true to my hope to connect my Sunday posts to Stealing All Transmissions (the book) by post elaborations of key points or something “multi-media” connected to chapter 1 in January, chapter 2 in February, etc.

Today, though, I’m still in chapter 1, thinking about punk vocal styles, and their connection to Paul Morley’s vital words on Kraftwerk (see full quote here): “The source of [Kraftwerk’s] pop … was art, noise, technology, ideas … a fantasy of what pop music might have sounded like had it not begun in the blues, in wood, in anger, in lust, in sexual frenzy, in poverty.”

Here’s the single version of “Autobahn” (1975), their first track to reach the US charts:

And sure, we might be concerned when Germans (or anyone for that matter) is making aesthetic choices that reflect racialized categories, but that’s not the prime mover here, of course. The different styles of black American music — R&B, soul, jazz, and blues, gospel, etc. — cast such a long shadow on popular music in the West that it was difficult to forge something new (see: The Rolling Stones, Eric Clapton, et. al.). By the mid-1970s, a desperation for something new arose in Dusseldorf, London, New York, Los Angeles, Cleveland, and elsewhere, and singers like Tom Verlaine, Joey Ramone, David Thomas of Pere Ubu, the gents in Devo and, of course, David Byrne, were onto something.

So, when Talking Heads make their way from the Rhode Island School of Design to the Bowery, they confirm — as they sing on their debut LP — “It’s not, yesterday, anymore!” David Byrne’s vocals are the most definitive departure, sound-wise, and here’s how Stephen Demorest’s described his approach in his Rolling Stone review of ’77:

“Vocally, Byrne’s live-wired personality vibrates his precise musical framework like a caged tiger rattling its bars. (That he sings in a stiff, reedy, ‘bad’ voice, grasping for higher notes like a drowning man lunging for air, only heightens the drama.)”

Not bad, I’d say, and it heralds a question I hope to pursue in a future post: of the American bands in the punk and post-punk era, how come only Talking Heads dared reinvent themselves from album to album (or every other album)? What is it about American notions of masculinity, authenticity, and musicality that allowed bands to mellow (e.g., Husker Du and The Replacements, and often begrudgingly), but not dare pursue metamorphoses? Think of Brits such as John Lydon (from Pistols to PiL), The Clash (Rope to London Calling, or Sandinista! to Combat Rock), The Damned (Strawberries to Phantasmagoria), to begin. I’m sure art school and notions of artifice play a big role.

Thanks for tuning into K-SAT!

punk celluloid on my mind — Clash, Blank Generation and more

Happy 2015, K-SAT readers, and thanks for tuning in. Let me do a quick 2014 wrap, and then offer a few words about punk film stuff, brand spankin’ new and old.

2014 was a lovely year, with accolades for Stealing All Transmissions coming in from London, Boston, Los AngelesChicago (and elsewhere). C’mon New York, c’mon Rolling Stone: I’m thinking of you Kory Grow! Sure, I suppose some of my comments about the current state of “the Stone” in Stealing were sub-flattering, but I assure you it’s business, not personal.

There’s much fun to be had with Julien Temple’s The Clash: New Year’s Day ’77. Mr. T. stays true to form to his collage aesthetic, with juxtapositions of clips from a variety of sources to take stock and make sense of more-Moderate-than-Great Britain 38 years ago. It’s a solid companion piece to his London: The Modern Babylon, which streamed on Netflix briefly, and now is unavailable. Modern capitalism can be so baffling–and I’ll get a more in-depth review of this gem soon.

With the new year commencing, I am going to switch things up a bit on my Sunday posts: drawing on the depthless resources of youtube, to begin, I’m going to dedicate Sundays in January to an elaboration of stuff reviewed in chapter 1, February for chapter 2, etc. I will, of course, provide enough framing for folks who haven’t read Stealing. Here goes …

April 23, 1976, is a watershed day in punk lore. On the east side of the Atlantic, proto-Clash members attend a Pistols-101ers gig to size up Joe Strummer, and Vivien Westwood decks a concert-goer and the dust-up gets a big write-up in Melody Maker. On the west side of the pond, folks in NYC celebrate the release of the Ramones’ debut album and the weekend premiere of *The Blank Generation,* Ivan Kral’s home-movie project featuring footage of Television (here), Blondie, Talking Heads, The Ramones, and a dozen or so other acts making rock’n’roll fun again at CBGB and Max’s Kansas City.

As you can see, it’s truly a DIY affair, with Kral with a light in one hand and his Bolex in the other, crawling around the stage (and staging some footage in the Village) to capture the gorgeousness of Tom Verlaine, Debbie Harry, Wayne County, among others.

Wayne County, of course, had close ties to the Playhouse of the Ridiculous, which thrived on provocation, genre-bending staging, and gender-bending themes. Patti Smith was there, and so was Candy Darling and other Warhol doyen. As Penny Arcade recalled in Please Kill Me: “Anybody could be in … the Ridiculous Theater. It was all street stars. Homosexuals, heterosexuals, lesbians – it didn’t matter, nobody cared about those things. It was all outsiders.”

John Vaccaro is not a name well-known in punk history, but like Chrissie Hynde, Mark Mothersbaugh, and a host of others, he made his way from Ohio and made his mark on the Lower East Side, by directing a host of beautifully trashy plays for the Playhouse. Vaccaro wanted performers, not actors, and as he quotes himself here, was fond of aphorisms such as, “Most people lie in their beds. I like the truth in mine.” I don’t know much about the genesis of this clip, but it certainly speaks of the fun history you can produce in the digital age. Definitely worth a few minutes of your time.

Have a great week!

post punk gems, v. 41 — The Specials’ “Ghost Town”

Happy weekend, people. It’s turned bitter-ish up north, and I expect that the bustling sidewalks of the past few months will thin considerably as the days get shorter, colder, and icier. How fortuitous, then, that 33 1/3 years ago, The Specials released “Ghost Town,” which was still all the rage on the radio when I had a home stay in Coventry (home base of The Specials) in July 1982.

A trip to Jamaica inspired the narrative and, of course, the de-industrialization of English metropoles was also on their minds. As Lynal Golding told the NME, “Kingston is a real ghost town. The place is a complete wreck … It was the first time I’d been to Jamaica in 20 years and it was frightening … people begging for a dollar, people begging you for the shoes on your feet.”

The 12″ single, I figure, was backed with “Why” and the sweet adagio swing of “Friday Night / Saturday Morning.” (You can find more recent live performances of this track, but I’m fond of the low-fi herein.)

The book’s available at most big online stores, but if you’re interested in the book (and its politics), please consider buying from somewhere other than amazon, including your local bookshop, whose hip cashiers may even be inspired by your fine tastes to order a couple of extra copies for the shop. I’m sure amazon is full of lovely people and all, but if half of what Hightower writes here is 25% true, it’s a bit of a mess.

Can you keep London Callling’s secret?

Happy Saturday folks! I’ll be keeping my Sunday and Wednesday posting routine through the fall, but today’s post is rather timely. I figure many folks on twitter and elsewhere are bound to be posting pix of Paul Simonon in flagrante delicto (delicio?) tomorrow in celebration of the alleged anniversary–and, alas, they’ll miss it by a day.

The anniversary of his impersonation of Paul Bunyan is 20 September, actually, and I’ve shared here four items toward that end:

  • two pages of a four-page section in Stealing All Transmissions (due out 15 October in the US, the following month in the commonwealth)
  • a still from a video clip from the 9/21 show, in which it’s clear that Simonon’s playing a bass lacking the “pressure drop” sticker preserved in the rocknroll hall of fame
  • the video itself, and
  • the audio file from the coda of the 9/20 show.

This evidence, I understand, is not definitive, and may be only of interest to the most bona-fide nutters, but it may jump-start a conversations or two, and set a-lit the hot-foot of a hater or two. (Much gratitude is due to Dave Marin — follow him on twitter here — for bringing this item to my attention and helping compile much more evidence than I’ve presented here.)

Stealing snippet

Here’s the video that’s been synched up with the Guns of Brixton bootleg audio track, along with a still from that video.

Simonon -- Palladium

And here’s the audio clip of perfectly punk quality from the 20 September show, in which you can hear quite a ruckus at the end. (The 21 September show has nothing of the sort.)

 

Again: it’s simply a fun stir of the pot here, which I hope you’ve enjoyed.

manuscript in motion

Hey Clash-o-philes!

I’ve sent the new manuscript in, and it’s nearly 100% bigger than the 2012 version, so that’s fun. I’ve got a busy summer ahead of me, but hope to start posting regularly come August.

In case you missed this re-post from the Clash blog, a video clip from the summer of 1979, in Finland:

I can see why folks argue that The Clash were at the top of their game in 1979, but from the bootlegs I’ve heard, few moments sounded better than the shows from their Bond residency in New York in spring 1981.

I hope you have music-rich plans for the summer, and look forward to providing more updates on *Stealing All T.” Mark II.