the punk stance — pigeon-toed singers, unite!

Good day, readers! I’m diggin’ in deep again today into bits from chapter 4 of my book on The Clash breaking America, going back 38 years and few weeks, to a March 11 gig of The Clash, The Buzzcocks, Subway Sect, The Slits — and get this — “Late Night Kung Fu Films.” Awesome! So rock writer extraordinaire Nick Kent was on-hand, and noted for NME:

“Strummer’s stance sums up this band at is best, really: it’s all to do with real ‘punk’ credentials–a Billy the Kid sense of tough tempered with an innate sense of humanity …”

Kent proceeds to discredit Johnny Rotten and his “clownish co-conspirators,” but my

The transcendent pose (Chris Walter, 1972).
The transcendent pose (Chris Walter, 1972).

interest here is in Strummer’s stance–i.e., the way he and other punks actually stood onstage. Now, we don’t actually have pix of Billy the Kid’s shooting stance for reference, alas, and since it’s a blog post, I’m not aiming for an exhaustive sample here, but the punk stance was fundamentally different than the classic rock stance, as embodied by The Who’s Roger Daltrey, Led Zeppelin’s Robert Plant, and Paul McCartney.

Daltrey and Plant, of course, didn’t pick up the guitar (as a rule, in Daltrey’s case), and were free to move about however they saw fit. One of their favorite poses, though was the transcendent pose: feet apart, leaning back (which just happened to emphasize the elasticity of their jeans in particular places), with chin tilted towards the sky.

The voice (and the hammer) of the gods (photographer unknown).
The voice (and the hammer) of the gods (photographer unknown).

And it’s not just the singer’s inclinations, of course: these singers had to do something to rival the impressive solos turned in by their virtuosic band mates. It also had to do with art, which allegedly transcends the street and the marketplace. The rock gods and the hippies favored leaning back, and swaying from side to side (see Janis Joplin, and even Patti Smith to a certain extent).

Wings, taking it easy (photographer unknown).
Wings, taking it easy (photographer unknown).

In his tenure with Wings, McCartney rarely struck the transcendent pose, but rarely performed with true urgency, either, and even found it appropriate to take up a chair during certain interludes.

Rotten leans in (1977, AP Photo/Virgin Records).
Rotten leans in (1977, AP Photo/Virgin Records).

Punks, of course, especially in the early days, didn’t take it easy at all. Johnny Rotten appeared a true original in this way, but his pose here recalls teen idols leaning out over the audience–but this time, of course, it’s to egg on their disdain, rather than to solicit affection.

 

No Beatles, Stones, or transcendent poses, in 1977 (photographer unknown).
No Beatles, Stones, or transcendent poses, in 1977 (photographer unknown).

The Clash struck intricate poses, more pigeon-toed than bow-legged in the beginning, as if the urgency of the message and their affection for their fans drew them right to the lip of the stage. (Strummer recedes here, to honor Mick’s take at the mic.)

 

Get the balance right (1977).
Get the balance right (1977).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The pigeon-toed pose, of course, owes a-plenty to Elvis Costello, and the cover image for his first LP (before we got to see him reproduce this pose–and the accompanying dance steps–live and on MtV).

Siouxsie and the Banshees, 1977 (photog unknown).
Siouxsie and the Banshees, 1977 (photog unknown).

I’ll leave you with two more images: Siouxsie in stark black-and-white, from 1977, Paul Weller with The Jam in 1978 — not quite pigeon-toed, I suppose, but the mic placement, the urgency of the music, and the crowd had him up on his toes, channeling anger as an energy.

Send along your favorites if you’ve got ’em.

The Jam in Boston, 1978(Jeff Albertson/CORBIS).
The Jam in Boston, 1978(Jeff Albertson/CORBIS).

 

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“sacred cows make the best hamburgers” // notes on poptimism

So I thought this item was up on Sunday, but apparently not. It’s been a great week for me, with esteemed kudos for Stealing All Transmissions coming from unexpected places (here and here), which has left me nearly speechless. I did want to offer a few words, though, and pick up the theme of poptimism/rockism (see here, pt. 1 and here).

I am happy for the most part with the poptimistic turn of music criticism, and I’m fine with the attack on specious hierarchies–good stuff. Still, with the “everything-is-awesome” ethos of poptimism (okay, I know it’s not quite fair, but bear with me), we don’t have the type of rockist criticism that created the sacred cows of the rock pantheon, including Elvis, The Beatles, and The Rolling Stones. The kind of sacred cows that Abbie Hoffman once noted, make the best hamburgers.

Now, the best practitioners of punk passed their O(edipus) levels, and set their sights on more trenchant issues, but even Sleater-Kinney, on their fifth LP, were taking the piss out of Led Zeppelin IV’s best-known track (“You always play the same old song / play another song”).

(And, if you want a less pitchy version, here ya go.)

There’s also Talking Heads’ “Heaven,” which takes on the Zep tune, for it “plays all night long.” And my hometown favorites, Pavement (Stockton in the house!), who find the “elegant bastards” of The Stone Temple Pilots to be stone-deaf and tedious.

Ah, the good old days … have a delightful holiday from work, lovely readers, especially if it’s the equivalent of a paid holiday!

caught between (hard) rockism and a poptimistic place, pt. II

Happy Sunday, folks! I’m still abuzz from seeing producer/engineer Glyn Johns last night at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame archive, where he shared a few stories from Sound Man, his memoir out this week, and offered brief but telling replies to questions such as:

Glyn Johns middle, between a couple blokes you may recognize, circa 1969.
Glyn Johns middle, between a couple blokes you may recognize, circa 1969.

Q: “What was the most amazing thing you saw John Bonham do in the studio?”

A: “Show up.”

No more elaboration was forthcoming, and none was needed.

Johns is a rock hall inductee, 2012, and few others can claim to have been front-and-center to the making of so many albums in the rock canon. He worked with The Beatles, The Rolling Stones (Beggars Banquet, Exile, et. al.), Led Zeppelin, The Who (Who’s Next, Who Are You), and The Clash, and he spoke affectionately about capturing what the band was capable of, not what he was capable of once the band had left the studio.

For Johns (and for many fans of a rockist variety), the resonance of the beauty was possible because of the labor time entailed in musicianship, in part, but more so in what the band is capable of together as a unit. That unit proved its mettle (to paraphrase Joe Strummer) in front of audiences, and thereby figured out what worked (and what didn’t) by way of their fans. (The late Beatles, of course, are the compelling exception.)

On the drive home last night, I had my first listen to a live rendition of The Velvet Underground’s “I’m Waiting for my Man,” circa 1968, from the forthcoming anniversary packaging of Velvet Underground. This rendition of “Waiting” isn’t quite syncopated, but it abandons the drone quality of its vinyl version, and represents a band, well, I’ll turn it over here to Dave Hickey and a quote from his brilliant essay on jazz vs. rock’n’roll in Air Guitar: Essays on Art and Democracy (1997)–which, if you don’t own it, should be the book you buy right after that book on The Clash (fun review here) that just came out.

Still vital, nearly 20 years hence.
Still vital, nearly 20 years hence.

“Rock-and-roll, on the other hand, presumes that the four of us–as damaged and anti-social as we are–might possibly get it to-fucking-gether, man, and play this simple song. And play it right, okay? Just this once, in tune and on the beat. But we can’t. The song’s too simple, and we’re too complicated and too excited. We try like hell, but the guitars distort, the intonation bends, and the beat just moves, imperceptibly, against our formal expectations, whether we want it to or not. Just because we’re breathing, man. Thus, in the process of trying to play this very simple song together, we create this hurricane of noise, this infinitely complicated, fractal filigree of delicate distinctions.

“And you can thank the wanking eighties, if you wish, and digital sequencers, too, for proving to everyone that technologically ‘perfect’ rock–like ‘free’ jazz–sucks rockets. Because order sucks. I mean, look at the Stones. Keith Richards is always on top of the beat, and Bill Wyman, until he quit, was always behind it, because Richards is leading the band and Charlie Watts is listening to him and Wyman is listening to Watts. So the beat is sliding on those tiny neural lapses, not so you can tell, of course, but so you can feel it in your stomach. And the intonation is wavering, too, with the pulse in the finger on the amplified string. This is the delicacy of rock-and-roll, the bodily rhetoric of tiny increments, necessary imperfections, and contingent community. And it has its virtues, because jazz only works if we’re trying to be free and are, in fact, together. Rock-and-roll works because we’re all a bunch of flakes. That’s something you can depend on, and a good thing too, because in the twentieth century, that’s all there is: jazz and rock-and-roll. The rest is term papers and advertising.”

Now, there’s a good case to be made that the conditions available to be that sort of rock band were not democratically available back in the day–today, well, that’s a good question, one I hope to return to before too long.

Thanks for tuning in this week to Radio-SAT. On this week’s version of The Spirit of ’77 (Th., 5-6pm, EST, @ wobc.org), the theme is punks grown-up: I’ll be spinning discs 15 years+ into their careers, by bands and musicians who embodied the spirit of ’77. It should be fun.

reprise — sucking in the 70s

Happy day, reader! I hope you’ve had a delightful weekend.

After kicking out a lengthy jam to the tune of 1100 words last weekend, I want to keep things shorter and sweeter this time ’round. Thank you for the nice feedback on that post, and one reader was kind enough to refer me to this NPR interview with Michael Walker on his new book, What You Want Is In The Limo: On The Road With Led Zeppelin, Alice Cooper, And The Who In 1973, The Year The Sixties Died And The Modern Rock Star Was Born.

What You Want Is in the Limo

Now a punk might argue that the title is as insufferably long as a John Bonham drum solo, but that could have been an editor’s decision, and shouldn’t detract from Walker’s argument, which ties the aesthetics to the economies of scale in rock: the excess in length of songs and solos was replicated in the length of limos, jets, tours, and lines of groupies backstage (and the lines of coke that awaited them). It was, he suggests, a thorough negation of the peace and love extolled in the sixties. (I will take issue with his claim that Alice Cooper’s “Elected” is “as far away from peace, love and understanding as you can possibly get in a single song.” To that end, I’ll take Nirvana’s effort to get away, any day:

 You can read an excerpt of the book here

The comments below the NPR piece are quite telling: it’s mostly boys of course, and fanatics defend Led Zep against claims of being aesthetically adrift after Houses of the Holy, extol the virtues of Presence (don’t know that I’ve ever listened to it), and celebrate various moments on Physical Graffiti (which seems reasonable). I am, of course, privy to one reader’s theological claim: “The Clash, Ramones and Sex Pistols are proof that God loved us once.” Amen.

Thanks for tuning in to radio K-SAT! Have a delightful week.