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!

Clash debut — too noisy for American radio?

Freud was right: the narcissism of small differences permeates nearly all of human history, and our ability to find those small differences (musical taste, of course), and to magnify the something into everything (see Nick Hornby’s *High Fidelity*), is something we’re all familiar with. This tendency typically prevents a real dialogue, and so the person who draws these boundaries (“I am here in the righteous zone, and you are over there in the suck zone”) rarely gets properly schooled on the complexity of motives–including the profit motive–that inform, say, not releasing The Clash (1977) in the U.S. in its original form.

Bruce Harris, second row, on the right.
Bruce Harris, second row, on the right.

Luckily, Paul Doughtery, @ https://punkbeforepunk.wordpress.com/about/, put pen to paper to let Bruce Harris, director of A&R on the east coast for Epic, to impugn his character and rail against “the man” for his bean-counter mentality.

Astonishingly, Bruce (RIP — taken from us much too early) wrote back. The full letter is here and here.

Harris affirms the most basic duty of a record guy (make, rather than lose, money), his affinity for The Vibrators, The Adverts, and Blondie, and rightly dismisses the organizing principle of Paul’s original letter, that the LP would change the complexion of the American marketplace.

In November 1977, Bruce knew what we would know a bit later, as I describe on p. 62 of Stealing All Transmissions:

Punk's initial failure, according to the punk-o-philes in the US, circa Sept. 1978.
Punk’s initial failure, according to the punk-o-philes in the US, circa Sept. 1978.

The success of The Clash (UK) as an import–allegedly the best-selling import of the time, according to Robert Christgau (and not cross-verified anywhere)–does not contradict Harris’ claim. It supports it, since the import LP is more sacred than the domestic LP, and it gets more New York punks fired up with indignation about guys like Bruce Harris. It also inspires promoter Wayne Forte to figure that if 1000 import LPs had sold at Bleecker Bob’s, that he was not going to bother with The Bottom Line, which seated 400 (p. 82).

Forte rolls the dice.
Forte rolls the dice.

And, in part because of Forte’s hubris, which was in part inspired by Harris’ crazy-like-a-fox pragmatism, The Clash played the Palladium on their 1st three visits to New York City, and the rest, well, is one most exciting chapters in the history of rock’n’roll.

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!

No Beatles in ’77, but two years later …

My, oh my, it’s June, so I’m moving on to ch. 6 in Stealing, and the second trip of The Clash to the US in late summer/fall.

On the night after Paul Simonon’s iconic impersonation of Paul Bunyan, at the Palladium in NYC, on 20 Sept 1979, The Clash played the Palladium again, and the show was broadcast live on WNEW-FM. This transmission was the source of the *Guns of Brixton* bootleg, during which you can hear Joe Strummer riffing between songs on the headline in the NY Post.

Stealing All Transmissions, p. 95.
From Stealing All Transmissions, p. 95.

And, while the show never did materialize, it wasn’t so far-fetched, given recent events among the former Beatles. McCartney, to begin, in his new contract with CBS, included a clause allowing him to make any recording with “John Lennon, Richard Starkey and George Harrison recording together as The Beatles.” The industry could get weird about stuff like this (recall reedist Eric Dolphy playing with John Coltrane under the name “Harold Land” on the *Ole* LP), so this clause was a big deal.

In 1976, promoter Sid Bernstein offered the not-quite-lads a cool $230 million to reunite for an American tour. Lorne Michaels of SNL fame offered the band $3,000 to reunite for three songs on the show. And, in 1979, Bernstein took out a full-page ad in the New York Times to invite The Beatles to reunite for a concert to benefit Vietnamese refugees. Again, they took a pass. See here for more info.

Also, for folks in the SF Bay Area, Randal Doane Clash Oakland posterI’ll be reading at 1-2-3-4 Go! Records in Oakland, 7pm, on 20 June. I don’t know that a cover band has been confirmed, but please put it on your calendar. It should be a gas either way. For those of you linked to something called facebook, you can find the event listing here.

post-punk gems, v. 73 — The Avengers

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.

Cheers!

 

 

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!

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!