Well, well: I’m delighted to report (on 4 Feb) that a more elaborate version of this essay on Bowie will be appearing in a forthcoming issue of Louder Than War, the glossy version.
Update: and here it is!
After last week’s massacre in Paris, I went searching for a song with the spirit of ’77 to capture–and tame, really, the anger and frustration that we shared. From “Chant de Partisans” to most anything by The Clash, the tracks I found celebrated rebel culture writ large, and the narratives and often the sound (let’s not forget the sound) articulated “the good” and aggression, and thereby failed.
Hamell on Trial, though, with the opening track from his *Tough Love* LP (2003), offers the best balm in this regard. He takes the standpoint of God (who else?), and weighs in on the recklessness of our species.
I dig so much of his catalog, and you can find a host of LPs on bandcamp, including this one: https://hamellontrial.bandcamp.com/album/tough-love . Go ahead: spend some money on music today.
And here’s a fun mini-documentary with folks like Henry Rollins, Ani DiFranco, and Robert Christgau chiming in on the virtues of Hamell. Check it out! It’s roughly 12 minutes, but a fine meditation on resilience, decency, and the power of music. The connections, too, to Richard Pryor et. al. are not overstated.
Greetings, fine readers! Right ’round 35 years ago today, the offspring of punk were charting a host of compelling directions. Sure, the loud-fast-snotty aesthetic was still the rage among the most full of rage, but the bloom was also on the New Romantics, by way of Orange Juice (among others). Against the gloom of the eyeliner and trenchcoat contingent, Edwyn Collins and crew charted a pop-friendly course, with cheery, cheeky lyrics, reverby rhythm guitar, and cymbal crashes of ebullience.
“Blue Boy,” their second single, came out in August 1980 on Postcard Records (think Josef K, too), and sustained one of the real trademarks of new wave commodities: the secret message in the run-off groove: side A asked, “When is an artist at his most dangerous?” Side B answered, “When he’s drawing a gun.”
Ah. That helps, doesn’t it? Enjoy the week!
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!
So, it’s Wednesday again (all day), and here’s one of SF’s finest: The Avengers, who got things started in ’77 (as so many great bands did), featured Penelope Houston on lead vocals, and Danny Furious on drums (with perhaps the best drummer’s name of all time.) Furious’s affinity for steady crashes on the cymbals is part of their brittle and beautiful sound, and reflects the influence of another band you probably know about — the Sex Pistols, for whom The Avengers opened for at Winterland in January 1978, before we all got just what we deserved.
I haven’t heard the whole thing just yet, but Gary Crowley has put together a nice mix of covers from the punk/new wave era here — and here’s a little cover by The Avengers, which I fancy a bit, and who are still at it, mostly around my beloved San Francisco.
McLaren, by gawd, where would we be without him? He was a prick, and prickly, and a 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.
Here’s the album cover. What a beautiful weirdo, RIP.
“This is the birth of rave culture … ”
Thanks to the demented and brilliant 24 Hour Party People (and many a fine book), we have a fleeting sense of the musical vigor of Manchester back in the day, and the connection between punk, post-punk, and rave culture.
It’s Joy Division, of course, and Happy Mondays, and others, including A Certain Ratio, who are described in the film as “having all the energy of Joy Division but better clothes.” I can’t attest to the clothes part, but you can hear the influence of Ian Curtis’ voice, and the energy and aesthetic of Gang of Four and the Leeds crowd (Delta 5, et. al.). In good analog fashion, A Certain Ratio released their first album on cassette only in 1979.
“Do the Du” remains danceable from beginning to end, includes plenty of space to breathe, and sounds absolutely fresh today. And to think Madonna opened for them! (I do miss the 10pm buffet supper.)
(See Simon Reynolds’ very smart Rip It Up and Start Again for the best account of the post punk funk bands in the UK.)
Glad the lads are still at it now and again.