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!
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.
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!
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.
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 Bill 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.
“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.
Hey there! I’m sticking to my pledge to offer more in-depth stuff on chapter 4 during April Sundays, ch. 5 in May, etc., and today’s bit is about the sound of WPLJ, which I explain in Stealing All Transmissions benefited from an engineer’s error, and the Dorrough audio processor. The topic ranges into the obscure, I suppose, but really heralds the concerns of audiophiles in the mp3 era, in which all that glitters is not gold.
Back in the 1960s, WABC-AM in New York City employed an echo box 24-7, and its reverb-heavy sound distinguished their sound from their rival stations, and aided “Cousin Brucie” Morrow and Scott Muni while they broke new discs by The Beatles and Motown’s line-up. At this time, Mike Dorrough was engineering for Casey Kasem, and realized that he might be able to devise a solution for the mixing problems of pop/rock discs in the studio. So, when a bass drum kick coincides with a voice singing falsetto, and the whole sound needed to be compressed as a matter of mechanics. Otherwise, the needle on your phonograph would jump from the groove and, over the air, the sound would over-modulate (it’s not good, I’m sure), and engineers at radio stations made the necessary adjustments.
Dorrough realized that if the track could be separated, though, into low-, mid-, and high signals, then processed, and then sent out over the airwaves. These “multi-band signals” sounded cleaner, found an audience in folks playing rock from Fresno (where it started) to New York City, where Dorrough closed a deal with Larry Berger, who used the machine to boost the volume of the signal, and compress its dynamics down to a narrow range, which would sound fine on portable transistor radios, but might fatigue listeners who were actually listening on home stereos. “We were going for a young audience,” Berger reported, “and we weren’t worried about fatigue. I just didn’t see it in the ratings.”
The use of the Dorrough “discriminate audio processor” to boost loudness rather than promote clarity dismayed Dorrough, and he was there the day Berger and his engineer tested the DAP on “Bennie and the Jets,” a song with great dynamics between the ambient crowd noise and the fat piano chords.
On WPLJ, though, the volume of those moments was basically equal. Berger didn’t want some kid imagining that he had lost WPLJ while driving outside the city during the quiet opening passage of the track and, as a result, change stations. Plus: they juiced the turntables, as I explain in ch. 4.
I pulled quite a bit of this information from the very smart Perfecting Sound Forever: An Aural History of Recorded Music, by Greg Milner. He’s also on twitter. Good stuff.
Thank you for reading this far before changing URLs and, if you missed Wednesday’s post, do check it out: I just adore this band.
Wow. How did I miss The Judy’s the first time around? With their minimalist sound, nasal-and-earnest vocals with irony-laced topical texts, these guys are right in the wheelhouse of my musical sublime — and they hailed from Pearland, Texas, of all places (which is not the Austin region of Texas).
The Judy’s got together in ’79 and, after a name change or two, released the EP Teenage Hang-ups in 1980, which in its original design included the track ““Will Somebody Please Kill Marlo Thomas?” (of Free to Be … You and Me fame), but the guy at the pressing plant balked.
Their wicked sense of humor is in full effect in this clip, when they baptize the audience in Kool-Aid. Goodness, gracious.
Check out their web site, where you can pick up vinyl, CDs, and other merch–I have no affiliation, of course. This site is a public service.
Here’s a short documentary you might like, too — punks in cut-off jeans and Hawaiian shirts? Does it get any better, ever?