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!
Oy, it’s been awhile, and I’ve been keeping busy at the typewriter, and hope to have something substantial to share with you soon. In the meantime, I’m giving a talk in Boston on Th., 10/22, 5pm at Emerson (details in the poster here), and it’d be great to see you there. I’ll pack some books, too, in case you’re looking to get a head-start on your holiday shopping.
Now, since I’m heading to Boston, I have the Modern Lovers on my mind, and the first album in particular, which did more for punk than perhaps every other LP ever pressed. (Yes, more than any Velvet Underground or Iggy disc, I figure. The Ramones’ debut might be a worthy rival.) So, while the MA government takes up arms again in the culture war, in defense of the genius of Jonathan Richman, here’s one of the key gems from that album.
That’s some epic clapping on the bridge. Nicely done, gents. Cheers!
Good morning rude girls, rude boys!
I’m sticking with the general theme of the past few months of Sundays, where I elaborate a theme from my book — which, as folks on twitter may know, just received a silver Independent Publisher Book Award in the popular culture category. Thanks to many of you for helping get the word out.
I’m keepin’ today’s spot from ch. 5 short and sweet–WPIX-FM’s “Radio Radio” show on Sundays included spots with dozens of (often NYC-based) musicians in the role of DJ, and Lou Reed made a couple of appearances during the “Joe from Chicago” era. It proved to be a transitional era for Reed: he and his long-time partner Rachel split, and soon thereafter he married Sylvia Morales. On January 28, fairly fresh off the release of Live Take No Prisoners, Reed and his entourage crashed the party, and played a bunch of fun tunes from 1954 to 1962, including:
And, his own one-off novelty hit from 1964 with The Primitives, in which you may be able to glean a germ of the punk sensibility of humor and anti-virtuosity:
And here’s a little ramble from Reed, once John Cale arrived in the studio that evening.
Have a rock-steady week!
Coda: I went for a quick drive after this post and, after a listen to Velvet Underground’s eponymous third LP (March 1969), felt compelled to add a few more thoughts about Mr. Reed.
Of their LPs, I dig Velvet Underground the most, in part because Reed’s growing influence in the band means good things for pop, as early as “Candy Says,” the opening track. With the Beatles-inspired turn to pop as serious art, Reed tarries in affirmative pop forms (with lyrics of existential dread), and draws upon his affinity for doo-wop to mix in the signature “doo-doo-wa” that closes the track.
For a host of good reasons, including Reed’s a-tuneful approach to singing, and the beautiful darkness-in-plain-sight of tracks such as “Some Kinda Love,” The Velvet Underground represents the logical bridge between Chuck Berry’s “Johnny B. Goode” (1958) and The Sex Pistols’ decimation of “Johnny B. Goode” (1979).
Writers quibble over year-zero of punk: ’76, because that’s when things started rolling, or ’77, because that’s when key platters of vinyl by The Clash, the Pistols, Blondie, Television, and so many others hit the shops. The hardcore look back to Iggy and the Stooges, of course, or even Velvet Underground at Cafe Wha? way back when.
The night noted above, though, has got a decent claim to the most important weekend in punk history, in terms of guts, glory, and serendipity. On both sides of the Atlantic, the eponymous Ramones’ LP hit the shelves and, as Generation X’s Tony James noted, “The Ramones were the single most important group that changed punk rock.”
In London’s Nashville Room, The Sex Pistols opened for the 101’ers, and Mick Jones accompanied Bernie Rhodes to check out the 101’ers’ lead singer, Joe Strummer.
On the other side of the Atlantic, the crowd at CBGB was treated to the debut documentary of the punk scene: The Blank Generation, by Ivan Kral, then with Patti Smith’s group, served as the opening act for Johnny Thunders’ The Heartbreakers, just before Richard Hell set out on his own with his band, the Voidoids.
Kral’s film was a truly DIY affair, as you can see here. I do, of course, shine a bit more light in my book on one of the most important nights in the history of rocknroll. I’ll give the coda over to Richard Hell. Cheers!
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:
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.
“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.
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.