post-punk gems, v. 55 — The Weirdos

Happy Wednesday, folks! I’m quite enjoying We Got the Neutron Bomb: The Untold Story of L.A. Punk, which along with Please Kill Me and John Robb’s Punk Rock, comprise a solid trio of punk oral histories. The book’s title is lifted from a song by The Weirdos, who were at it in early ’77, and solidified their reputation at an Orpheum show in a matter of months as the premier LA punk band du jour.

I dig the traces of surf guitar bubbling up in the mix, and the drum style that heralds the use of Burundi drums by so many UK bands in the early 80s. Oddly enough, the aforementioned show coincided with The Damned’s first visit to LA for a string of shows at the Whiskey opening for Television. Now, of course, I have less than half the story, but apparently Tom Verlaine kicked them off the bill, and they were stranded in LA without funds. But yes: a name familiar to anyone living in LA in the 80s: Rodney Bingenheimer was there at the beginning.

Thanks for tuning in!

au pairs reprise — new punk (gender) history book

Greetings, all, with a special shout-out to those of you tuning in from Slovakia, Argentina & Peru!

It’s been quite a weekend, with yours truly performing his debut as a wedding officiant for some former students of mine. It was a delightful affair, and if you’ve got secular friends in the region of northeast Ohio looking for an officiant with punk historian credentials, I’m your man.

After Wednesday’s entry for post-punk gems, I simply can’t get The Au Pairs out of my head, and found that there’s even less information about them than most female-led punk combos, alas. I did track down this feature in Mother Jones, from June 1982, on lead singer Leslie Woods, in which she affirmed the punk credo of DIY: “The message we put over is anybody can do it.”

Mother Jones Magazine - June 1982 -- 28

Few bands, though, left us with as many danceable, aesthetically effective, and politically astute songs as “We’re So Cool,” “It’s Obvious,”   and “Pretty Boys”–to name just a few tracks off Stepping Out of Line, the 37-track collection on iTunes for a modest $17.99. A host of these tracks combine the propulsion of The Clash, the melodic funk of Gang of Four, and the feminist urgency of The Slits.  Woods is a big part of it, of course, but bassist Jane Munro (later Nick O’Connor) and drummer Pete Hammond work beautifully together, and on “wax”–a la  their Birmingham comrades The English Beat–the bass is kept high in the mix, and to good effect.

And yet: yesterday I picked up Punk Rock: An Oral History (2012), by John Robb, of Membranes fame, and long-time contributor to Mojo and Louder Than War (in which Stealing All Transmissions was recently reviewed). Give me a few weeks with this impressive beast, and I will offer a more elaborate impression, but it looks to be a solid UK complement to the Big-Apple-centric Please Kill Me: The Uncensored Oral History of Punk, by Legs McNeil and Gillian McCain, and a solid contribution to punk rock historiography. The book devotes 400 pages to 1950-1977, and only the last 160 or so to 1978-1984, so perhaps we Au-Pairs aficionados should be satisfied with a fleeting mention as an example of a female-fronted band. Certainly a lot of forces weigh upon a figure like Robb when he’s assembling a doorstop-sized collection of this sort, and odd omissions are endemic to the process. As Jacques Lacan once noted, “I always speak the truth. Not the whole truth, because there’s no way, to say it all. Saying it all is literally impossible: words fail.”

And yet, as the Situationists implored, “Be reasonable, demand the impossible!” So it’s up to folks like you and me, when we’re putting ink to paper, or fingertips to keyboard, to recuperate the histories of our finest “Three Minute Heroes.” See you, Wednesday!

McLaren, New York Dolls, Walter Benjamin, New Music Rules in 82

Happy Sunday, music people, and thanks for tuning in to Radio K-SAT!

In my efforts to get the word out about Stealing All TransmissionsI have had the pleasure of making the acquaintance of former Clash associates, one of whom recently suggested that I hadn’t give Malcolm McLaren his due in terms of the New York-London connection. Granted, McLaren arrived to elaborate the abject qualities of The New York Dolls (see below), by dressing them up in red leather, providing a Soviet-inspired stage backdrop, and thereby extended by a few months their demise. As Jerry Nolan noted, “Malcolm caught us at a very vulnerable moment” (Please Kill Me, p. 191).

McLaren, likewise, tried in vain to recruit Sylvain Sylvain to front an early line-up of The Sex Pistols, and he stepped in to perform one-man interventions with Johnny Thunders, Jerry Nolan, and Arthur Kane. According to Bob Gruen, McLaren saved their lives.
Still, I like to imagine McLaren as a poacher of the New York scene, rather than either a shaker or a mover. He inserted himself into the ebb and flow of proto-punk life on the mean streets of New York, but he did little to sway the tide.
McLaren’s post-Pistols’ success with Bow Wow Wow and on his own reflect a real vision of mass/pop culture, as exemplified in the clips below from the July 31, 1982 of Billboard.
Billboard -- kozak July 82 - 1
If McLaren drew liberally upon the politics and aesthetics of the Situationists for the Pistols, he channeled here his inner Walter Benjamin. Benjamin’s writings from the Weimar years, including “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction,” inspired the generation of intellectuals coming of age during punk and after. In “Work of Art,” Benjamin sees the aura of the unique objet d’art under assault, and posits “the reactionary attitude toward a Picasso painting changes into the progressive reaction toward a Chaplin movie” (Illuminations, p. 234).
Likewise, Benjamin notes,
Billboard -- kozak July 82 - 3 “The characteristics of the film lie not only in the manner in which man presents himself to mechanical equipment but also in the manner in which, by means of this apparatus, man can represent his environment” (Ibid., p. 235).
 McLaren, as noted in the clip on the left, celebrates the boom-box-toting kid in New York City, and the virtues of the cassette. “That fellow can become, in his own right, his own DJ … they can collate their music without the added neurosis of having to go out and purchase musical instrument or records of expensive studio time.”  The shift is on, from reproduction to composition, and with music in its digital form, consumers can produce in a rich variety of creative ways–if those ways do, in many cases, minimize the physical movement once entailed in making music.
(If these images appear too small, you can find them here, on pp. 3 & 58.)
I’ve included below more coverage from the New Music Seminar of 1982 on the matter of marketing (dig the pic of X in the upper right), which includes notes on the importance of record shop workers knowing the actual music (!). “People would come in asking about the song with the waitress in the cocktail bar when the Human League song first came out,” recalled Bruce Godwin, from the Record Rack, in Houston. (See p. 14 from the link included above.)
 billboard -- kozak July 82 -- retail - 1billboard -- kozak July 82 -- retail - 2
And, now that you’re thinking about The Human League …
Thanks for checking out the whole set here at Radio K-SAT! Do let me know if there are sections of the book that you think deserve elaboration here, or related subjects you’d like to see taken up here.

NYC appearance, odd fact, and VU’s rock’n’roll

Happy Sunday morning to you all, and thanks for checking out my weekly post.

Public service announcement (with keyboard, rather than guitars): I’m off to NYC this week, and I’m doing a reading/signing at 7pm, Friday, 2/15, at KGB Bar, 85 E. 4th St. (near 2nd avenue). It should be loads of fun — do come!

(A word from our sponsor: The book’s got a pink back cover, too, so it makes the perfect Valentine’s Day gift for that ex-punk lover of yours.)  More info on the FB event notice here.

Random thought: as technology-induced attention-deficit disorder gets more pronounced, pop songs get longer. A recent comparison of the pop songs that charted on Pazz & Jop polls prior to the peer-2-peer file-sharing era reveal that pop songs are getting considerably longer. I don’t know that it’s simply an American phenomenon, but it seems peculiarly American somehow to demand quantity — e.g., a 4-5 minute song for $.99-1.29  — rather than quality. Do (dis)abuse me if I’m wrong here.

I’m delighted to be returning once again to NYC, where I lived for 5 years during the irrational exuberance of the dot.com era (1995-2000). Perhaps there’s a connection, but I’ve had this VU track in my head for days now, which this musicological writer suggests is about radio back in the day, following the advent of rock’n’roll. History might suggest it’s a recollection of the arrival of Alan “Moondog” Freed at WINS in 1954, and his shaking up the airwaves of the tri-state region.

(Reed turned 12 that year, learned to play guitar while listening to the radio and, shortly after, was administered shock therapy to “cure” him of his homosexual desires–if not “the death of us all,” Lou’s parents were certainly a social hazard. See Please Kill Me, pp. 3-4.)

I’m cool with that reading of the song, although the free-form deejays at WNEW-FM circa 1970 were serving up a heady mix of rock, folk, spoken word, and jazz. By the time Meg Griffin arrived, though, that sound might have easily been mistaken for “nothing happening at all,” and Meg and Pam Merly, at WLIR in East Quoque, LI, offered some righteous violations of the key credo of free-form radio: anything but punk and disco. Television, The Clash, Blondie, and The Ramones: it was all up for grabs.

Merly seemed to encounter less resistance from her fellow deejays than Griffin did, and both stations–save WNEW’s Alison “the Nightbird” Steele—had all-male staffs in the DJ booth. With female deejays serving up platters with lead vocals by Patti Smith, Kate Pierson, and Deborah Harry, I can only imagine how inspiring it must have been for that generation of “Jennys” (and Johnnys, for that matter).

With regards to the clip above: rocknroll at its best inspires risk, art, and desire — you can find a less arty video accompaniment here.