DIY: press ink on punk, circa 1977

Good morning, fine readers. I’m sticking with the chapter-by-chapter, month-by-month theme today, and — since it’s March — digging a bit deeper into chapter 3 of Stealing All Transmissions, “1977: Clamor, Exposure, and Camaraderie.” The exposure, of course, came from indy press folks, but also mainstream press, too, more often than most folks care to remember.

Ira Robbins of Trouser Press fame was a Clash devotee, although not from the start:

“The lyrics are occasionally powerful in their anger and frustration, but they are also silly sometimes, and between that, the godawful vocals and the seemingly careless production defuse the message of these Anglo-punk rockers.” (June 1977)

 

The Clash, free of tory crimes. Photo by Kate Simon.
The Clash, 1977, free of tory crimes. Photo by Kate Simon.

By the fall equinox, though, the distributor Jem Records–who delighted in upsetting labels’ plans for U.S. release dates by getting import copies into the hands of retailers and DJs alike–got The Clash into Ira’s hands, and he straightened up in a New York minute:

 

“… Of all the new wave bands that have released longplayers to date, the Clash have so much more to offer that there’s no contest. (Leave the Stranglers out of this; they’re like apples and oranges.) I really hate gushing about a new band, especially in light of all the journalistic excesses lately, but the Clash have produced such a strange and wonderful blend of pop, metal, aggro, and politics that I keep playing the sucker over and over again.

“Fronted by ultra-psycho ex-101er Joe Strummer, the Clash is two guitars and a bass, with drums provided by whoever’s around – there’s no permanent fourth man. Strummer and songwriting cohort/guitarist Mick Jones both sing horribly; lots of Cockney slurring and much expression make the lyrics nearly 100% unintelligible which is a shame, ’cause that’s the best part. It wasn’t until I obtained a bootleg libretto through international ‘channels’ that I realized what an amazing band the Clash are …” 

“Without getting involved in the political implications of anarchy in the UK, the Clash have the rage and the enthusiasm to make these lyrics work. The music fits perfectly, and the total effect is one of the wild-eyed hate of everything stupid. Get Clashed today!” (September 1977)

The Clash in Westway photo sessions, by the magnificent Adrian Boot.

Ira, too, was none too pleased when circa 1979 many folks were jumping upon the Clash bandwagon, but the mainstream press arrived earlier than most people thought, and actually didn’t say completely idiot things.

Robert Hilburn, for the Los Angeles Times, got after The Clash in September 1978 (and thereby two months ahead of the U.S. debut LP), and gets Jones-y to loosen his tongue a bit, and offers a message most folks attribute to Strummer:

“I thought rock audiences in England were apathetic when we started, but I’ve never seen as unhealthy a place for rock ‘n’ roll as America. We might be too late. It may be impossible to wake them up at this point.

“What’s worse than the rock audience are the rock bands here. If there were any way we could destroy them all at once, it’d be perfect. I think American rock bands – and the English ones, like Foreigner and Foghat, who pretend to be American – are a cancer. It’s time for us to come here with a manifesto of change. All we can do is try. If people can’t see what we are – the rock ‘n’ roll band of the ’70s – that’s their problem.”

Likewise, in a nearly 1000-word piece for Time magazine, Jay Cocks regarded the band as “four tough-strutting musicians who together lay down the fiercest, most challenging sounds in contemporary rock” (March 5, 1979), within a month of their live debut in the states. Not bad, gents. Not bad at all.

Cheers to you, and cheers to spring! If you plan to be in the Catskills next weekend, come see me at this event, if you have a few $$ for a righteous cause.

 

 

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(post)punk gems v. 30 — Pearl Harbor and the Explosions

Happy Wednesday and all, and I’m hoping there’s enough caffeine in the cupboards to jump-start this day on a good foot.

(Hello, Pearl. Some photo rights reserved somewhere.)

I’m staying close to Clash-de-camp this morning, with Pearl Harbor and the Explosions on the wheels of silicone. Lead singer Pearly Gates came out of the San Francisco scene, changed her surname (not imagining potential problems with google searches, of course), and got the band’s first single, “Drivin’ ” out in 1980. In that moment, the world was apparently paying attention to the SF post-punkers, and the track cracked the US top 40.

She eventually made the acquaintance of Paul Simonon, got married, hired Paul’s younger brother to play in her rockabilly-revival outfit on *Don’t Follow Me, I’m Lost Too* (Warner, 1981). Amid the original compositions was “Do Your Homework,” a playful ditty in which Ms. H. schools her lover on the ABCs.

The grouches at Trouser Press didn’t offer much regard for the LPs, which is their prerogative, I suppose. The latter track certainly heralded this fun ditty by The Pipettes from a few years back.

Okay, espresso time! Enjoy!

review from Clash-de-camp, punk and the grey lady

zxHappy, happy June, to you!  The birds outside own the soundscape while I’m typing, but their love calls and dog alerts will give way to a chorus of lawnmowers in just a few hours. A few of you have checked-in anew this week, so it’s great to have you catching the latest news at K-SAT. Certainly the big reviews of Stealing by The Baker, long-time frontline roadie for The Clash, was a nice way to wrap up May (Louder Than War on top, and Daily Swarm on the bottom). I do hope you will share this item with your loved ones and punk comrades from back in the day. Many thanks to The Baker for finding the time to put this review together, and for the kind words about the book.

image -- LTW headline

swarm image

Lots of folks have passed on the word (nearly 500 and counting @ LTW), but do consider leaving a bit of feedback for The Baker at the bottom of either article. Your encouragement is what keeps us wordsmiths going.

In other punk media news, John Holmstrom’s The Best of Punk Magazine is holding steady in amazon sales since its December release, and drawing many favorable reviews.

punk collection

I’m not sure why folks give him flack for trying to pay the rent on a project that didn’t do so back in the day. At $20 for over 300 pages of spirited prose and photos, it’s a fine, fine collection–do let me know, though, if you think otherwise.

One of the key joys of working on the book was spending time talking with key figures from the NYC punk scene, folks close to The Clash, and others, and I can’t offer enough thanks for how generous they were with their time. To show my generosity, though, I want to share some of things I learned while doing research for the book that appeal to a wider audience, and to the writers among you in particular who might be working on your own punk-post-punk chronicles.

As noted in Stealing All Transmissions, Holmstrom and PUNK’s “resident punk” Legs McNeil, and the folks at Trouser Press, Soho Weekly News, and The Village Voice played key roles in setting the stage for The Clash to play The Palladium (3000 seats), rather than The Bottom Line (400 seats), on their first three visits to NYC. The New York Times, too, must be included in this conversation. John Rockwell, who’s about as well credentialed as they come (Harvard, U. of Munich, UC Berkeley)  joined the Times in 1972 as their classical music critic, took on popular music duties and, in this late 30s, apparently in jacket-and-tie, was hanging out at CBGB, The Palladium, and elsewhere, and spreading the gospel via “The Grey Lady,” as the Times was then known.

John Rockwell SO3346

And he was there earlier than most. At the end of 1977, in “Pop Music: Of Women, Country and the Punks” (Dec 25, p. 66), he opens his list of highlights, alas, with accolades for Fleetwood Mac, whom he regards as “popular and wonderful.” (Among the critics he wasn’t alone in this regard–check out the 1977 Pazz & Jop Critics Poll from The Village Voice.) Then, at #8 on the list, alongside the photo montage of soulmates Johnny Rotten and Crystal Gayle, he writes, “This was also the year that saw the beginnings of what may be the next British rock invasion–this time of punk rock. In 1975 and 1976 our attention was seized by the American punks, but not particularly new happened on that front here this year. Instead, we saw the first American performances of artists like the Damned, the Jam, Eddie and the Hot Rods and Elvis Costello–and, if nothing untoward happens, the Sex Pistols will make their American debut before the year is out. And after them will come the Clash, the Vibrators, and many more.”

A-ha! It was Rockwell who put the voodoo on The Pistols! Rockwell, and Robert Palmer among others, chimed in on punk with some regularity and open minds. William Safire, perhaps not too surprisingly, found punk didn’t suit his tastes. In the late 70s, especially, Rockwell was on the scene, and he regularly mentioned punk releases and happenings in his “Pop Life” column.

Like their indy colleagues, Times reporters covered the side projects of their colleagues in radio. Shortly after the demise of the “Elvis to Elvis” format at WPIX-FM, Andy Edelstein penned “How Mass Appeal Makes Rock” (May 18, 1980, p. LI13), which showcased Mass Appeal, the Long Island quartet with guitarists DJ Jane Hamburger (below) and Linda Dering.

mass appeal -- jane h -- 1979

(Here’s the full pic at the photographer’s site.) Edelstein notes, “The band’s music is raw, rough-edged but highly danceable, reflecting the influences of such adventurous English bands as the Gang of Four, the Clash, and the Slits–groups whose records Miss Hamburger played on her show before she resigned in March, when the station adopted a stricter format.” Hamburger submitted her resignation in order to join her friends at the last Clash show at the Palladium. Edelstein gives props to Hamburger’s weekly show on Hofstra University’s WVHC-FM, on which she continued to play a key role in bringing the music of The Clash to tri-state listeners.

Thanks for checking out the rather lengthy post! Have a rock-steady week, and check back on Wednesday for more underheralded post-punk gems!

Here’s a couple of fun tracks by the Slits, and GO4 at Hurrah’s, where Jane and Meg Griffin spun their big-beat mix.

another punk gem, volume 6, part 2 (and 3)

Here’s a couple bonus tracks for your Friday — I was a big Bongos’ fan back in the day, but couldn’t find anything beyond their EP cassette at my local shop. YouTube, apparently, has got it all, including a host of tracks by bands that have yet to be captured on the equally voracious wikipedia.

The Bongos hailed from Hoboken, NJ, caught some interest in the UK, signed to Fetish Records, and released the track above backed with the track below.

Once again, I’m relying on memory for inspiration and George Gimarc’s Punk Diary for the facts: Trouser Press regarded The Bongos as “Paul Revere and the Raiders crossed with Television and a dash of Merseybeat.” Well said — and well played, Bongos!

Have a delightful Friday and smashing good weekend! See you on Sunday with another note about things I learned putting together Stealing All Transmissions: A Secret History of The Clash.