Saturday, July 29, 2006

Dinner With Mike Watt

Ray Farrell, head of SST Record’s promotion department, called me one day while working at the college radio station. I was the program director there, and through the years at the station, I developed some pretty nice relationships with record labels and their employees. Ray had slighted me on a few occasions, or at least, I had felt that he had slighted me. It seemed that I could get whatever I wanted from record labels at the time; hell, I was prominently featured in fucking trade magazines as a “mover and shaker.” At least in my mind I was a mover and shaker. The reality, and Ray Farrell probably knew this, was somewhat different. Bottom line: Ray didn’t give me a ton of free shit. The label couldn’t afford it and I was probably presumptuous in asking for it. But whatever. I was young. I was movin’ and shakin.’
firehose is going on tour and they’re coming to Iowa.” He explained. “You want to do a phone interview with Mike Watt?” Out of all the things Ray could have given me (free tickets, giveaways, a Raymond Pettibon print) the only thing he could come up with is a shitty sounding interview recorded over the phone line?! Fuck that. I had bigger plans.
I agreed to it and Ray gave me the phone number to Mike Watt’s house. “Call at [this time] on [this date].” He instructed. “Give me a call afterwards and let me know how it went.”
The bigger plan was this: I was going to parlay the phone interview into a full-fledged encounter with this, the man who played with the legendary Minutemen. I figured that I would invite him to dinner before the show in Iowa and treat him to a nice sit down dinner.

I called on the predetermined date and time only to hear about thirty minutes of busy signals. When I finally got through, a gruff sounding voice answered. “Hey Watt!” I announced, trying to sound cool, housed in a fairly clean Saccharine Trust t-shirt.
“I know you’ve probably been doin’ this all day long now…”
“Yeah, I’ve been on the phone all day…” he acknowledged.
“So whaddya say we cut this thing short and let’s just hook up here when you get to Iowa in a few weeks.”
“Oh, you mean like do an interview there at the station?” he asked.
I explained that the station I worked for was well over a hundred miles from where his band would be playing; therefore, it would be fairly impossible for him to stop by the station when they got into the state.
“What kind of food do you like?” I asked him.
“Mexican.” Was his short, to the point, and undebatable reply.
So with that, I told him that I would meet up with him before the show and take him to a nice Mexican restaurant where we could conduct the interview privately. Dinner, I added, was on me.
It goes without saying that the financial resources of most college students is fairly limited, and my role as Program Director for the student radio station paid a whopping one credit hour per semester. What that means is that I didn’t get paid, that actually, I was losing money at this gig. To supplement this lucrative salary, I worked for two other stations in the same market (under different names, to avoid that silly little non-compete clause) so that I could actually get a paycheck somehow.
I figured that I could afford to pay for Mike’s dinner and my own without much worry, and still have enough left over for gas, grass, and, well, that was about the extent of my budget right there.
I let Ray know to put me and my “producer” on the guest list for the show. I let my “producer,” a first year transfer student from somewhere around Omaha, know that he could come with me, but he’d have to buy his own dinner at the Mexican restaurant.
Before heading out, I called a few friends in the area to get their opinions as to what was the most authentic Mexican restaurant in the area. The consensus was that there was a little Mexican joint not too far from the venue that had a pretty authentic menu, and I was stoked that I’d be able to show Mike Watt how we do Mexican here in Iowa.
Now, before you start to giggle at the thought of “authentic Mexican food” and the state of Iowa together in the same sentence, let me explain that the part of Iowa where I’m originally from is close to a town that has some truly authentic Mexican restaurants. This was an area that heavily used Mexican migrant workers and the town actually built a fairly shitty subdivision to house them all in. A lot of families stayed there and continued their heritage with various community events, social clubs, and started a few restaurants so that the Iowa crackers could learn how to pronounce “Chimichanga” correctly.
On the way down to the firehouse show, I start to set the expectations of the interview with my “producer.” He had a tendency to try and take over my interviews, so I had to set him straight with this one. I also told him that he was not to mention anything about D. Boon. It was just a couple of years after Boon’s death and I wanted to avoid the topic entirely with Watt. I didn’t want to be “the guy that bummed out Mike Watt” and was afraid that any discussion of the topic would send him into a drop D chord, if you know what I mean…
I meet up with Watt and drummer George Hurley before the show and Mike actually remembered the prior arrangement. To my shock, Mike starts inviting everyone to dinner. George Hurley, Ed Crawford, the roadie, the t-shirt guy, I’m doing the math and it’s clear that I’ll be using my Dad’s Amoco card for a lot more than just gas for the next few weeks.
Thankfully, on the way to the Mexican restaurant, Ed Crawford decided that he didn’t want to run south of the border. He makes a beeline for a Subway and I’m secretly hoping that a few more in our group join him. They don’t, so the rest of us make our way into the “authentic” Mexican joint. I tell the “producer” that I may need to borrow a few bucks from him to cover the bill. He shows me a few twenties in his wallet and I breathe a sigh of relief. To show my appreciation, I let him sit next to me (I was going to put him next to the roadies) and we set up the recording equipment while everyone starts ordering from the menu.

Mike is very open and gregarious. He seems genuinely excited about the band, the tour, the record and he provides me with long, detailed answers. He even translates some Pedro-speak for me. I’m provided with a clear definition to what “We jam econo” means. “Econo” is short for “Econoline” as in Ford Econoline vans. Mike explains that they don’t need tour buses or other forms of fancy travel. For him, rock and roll as he understands it, is simply getting your gear together, throwing it into the Econoline, and getting out there and doing it. “You know, I read these things about other bands and how tough it is to go out on the road,” he preaches, “and how the concert industry is in a slump. That bands can’t make any money on tour anymore. The thing is: every tour that I’ve ever been a part of has made money. It’s about priorities, you understand.” He says these clarifying things a lot, like “You follow me?” “You know?” It had an almost teacher-to-student tone to it, like he was very aware of the impact that punk rock had on his life and that he was going to make damn sure you knew the ropes of the trade, in case you were in the market for an Econoline van too. I picked up on about half of this while the other half was spent hoping that the roadie didn’t order the steak fajitas.
Speaking of, the meal was positively lame. The food was far from fucking authentic and the hot sauce was a tad above tepid. I made a comment about the sauce and Mike concurred by declaring it “Weak” while his mouth was stuffed with food.
Let there be no question: Mike Watt can put down some food. And he can do it quickly. The man was done in no time flat and be made no attempt at trying to impress us with manners.
But Mike Watt has never been someone to try and impress anyone else. Aside from D. Boon, probably. That’s been part of his appeal, actually. This was a guy who really didn’t subscribe to the “punk formula” at all, and had the uncanny ability to read through the bullshit of these kinds of labels. So if a little bit of refried beans spills on his flannel, oh well.
After he ate, we talked some more about the band. Without any hesitation, he began to talk about D. Boon. The pain was still there, and some twenty years later, it appears that it never really left.
“It was D. Boon’s Mom that told me to play the bass.” He explained, with the same unison as the stories he told in “We Jam Econo.” That’s what struck me about the movie: the stories he told in front of the camera were the same stories, verbatim, that he told me nearly twenty years ago at a shitty Mexican restaurant in Iowa. His voice pause after each additional “You know?” I remained silent, occasionally nodding, letting Mike Watt spill another retelling of the tragedy to someone too young to fully appreciate the importance of the topic and too young to understand the pain that he overcame.
I paid for dinner with a few borrowed bills from the “producer.” Mike offered to pay for his crew, but I declined. I said that maybe we could work something out later on, maybe in the form of a free t-shirt or something. It seemed fair to me, but Mike explained that he couldn’t barter with his “merch.” It dawned on me. Every one of his tours made money. That $10 profit attributed to the bottom line. The stories he shared with me were worth more than a “weak” Mexican dinner.
We walked back to the venue. George and Mike worked on the set list (Ed, I learned, was not feeling well, and rarely spoke the entire night) while I snapped a few photos. We watched the soundcheck and snapped a few more before the doors opened. The “producer” rigged up a few microphones to record the show and we found a few good seats in back.
On the first song, Watt broke a string on his bass, and I witnessed an impressive example of d.i.y. He walked over to his amplifier and retrieved a new string from the top of the cabinet. He removed the broken string and strung a new one while continuing to play through the rest of the song.

Then another glitch occurred. A constant crackling noise started from Ed’s combo amp. A guitar tech came on stage in between songs to try and do a quick diagnosis, but nothing changed. This irritant, combined with Ed’s already sick demeanor, made for a very by-the-numbers set. George and Mike, on the other hand, probably had several additional years of these kinds of surprises and managed to maintain composure. They ended the performance with a cover of Public Enemy’s “Sophisticated Bitch,” which had Mike grinning from ear to ear and even prompted a smile from Ed.
After the show, I met up with Mike again to thank him for his time and to grab an autograph. There wasn’t a lot of chit chat offered, it was clear that he had more pressing things to do. Rather than spending some time with a couple of college kids in Iowa, Mike had to help with the band’s load out. Part of “jamming econo,” he explained, is also making sure that everyone helps out.
I quickly learn that my own lesson in “jamming econo” isn’t quite over yet.
“Grab those cables over there” he tells me.

Friday, July 28, 2006

Minutemen-We Jam Econo

I can’t tell you how important SST’s “The Blasting Concept” compilation albums were to me growing up. Priced at a mere $3.49, the album provided a glimpse of the SST Records roster. How could you go wrong? Certainly at that price, you’re sure to find a few tunes that you liked.
The album did more than that; it provided a glimpse into a different world of music. Meat Puppets, Black Flag, Husker Du, Saccharine Trust, and other SST labelmates were included on it. Starting it off was Minutemen’s “Paranoid Chant.”
“I try to talk to girls/And I keep thinking of world war three!” barked the singer. Underneath those effectively simplistic lyrics was a curious racket; a power trio that meshed together a unique version of punk rock that managed to epitomize the “paranoid” in “Paranoid Chant.”
For a young dude using a cheap compilation album to discover new music, the Minutemen were unlike anything else on the landscape. For an old dude talking about a new Minutemen documentary, they are still unlike anything else on the landscape.
You need Minutemen’s “Double Nickels On The Dime” in your record collection. It’s that simple. And once you’ve purchased that album, you may find yourself enamored in learning more about this power trio curio. That’s where the new documentary “We Jam Econo” comes in handy. For the novice, you’ll get to hear firsthand the Minutemen’s all-to-brief existence and you’ll learn of the incredible bond between bassist Mike Watt and guitarist D. Boon. If you’re already familiar with the oft-told story of the Minutemen, there are new stories to hear, concert footage to examine, and reminders as to why their legacy is so critical to underground music. If there ever was a band deserving of a documentary, the Minutemen are it.

The key is that even though “Double Nickels” stands sonically on it own, the Minutemen story is almost as critical. Even if the Boon/Watt story wasn’t part of the overall plot, you’d still have an important tale: Three ordinary guys from a blue-collar town whose musical inspirations far outweigh their potential. Their image, their political ideology, their musical lineage, their locale, their intelligence, all worked against them. It didn’t matter. Punk rock changed their lives.
Of course, the D. Boon story ends and begins with tragedy. The very moment this little band from Pedro was poised to go on to the next level, D. Boon dies in a car wreck, leaving his childhood friend Watt to spin briefly into a funk that seemed too deep to escape from.
It’s the magnitude of D. Boon’s death on Watt and how deep their friendship was that’s evident from the first five minutes of the film. Footage from 1985 shows the two talking about how they first met. Watt explains that he was walking along when Boon, literally, fell on him from out of a tree. A more recent shot then shows Watt walking the very same path and points to the exact tree where Boon fell on him. It’s heartbreaking. And it perfectly establishes how, almost twenty years after his best friend’s death, he’s still with him.
The only thing that’s really missing from the movie is an idea of how Boon’s death affected others. Sure, there are plenty of cameos from some of underground rock’s most elite names, but I know firsthand that the Minutemen were the catalyst for hundreds of upstarts and I know that Boon’s death ranks just as tragic as a Lennon, Cobain, or Strummer. We see the actual note that Henry Rollins sent Ian McKaye, notifying him of Boon’s passing. What I would have liked to have seen was a “soldier child’s” perspective too. I’ll never forget a conversation I had once with Dave Diebler about Minutemen. His band, House of Large Sizes, was clearly aligned with Minutemen’s d.i.y. ethos and his lyrics were clearly influenced by D. Boon’s. Diebler would go on about how important this band was to him and at the end of the conversation he shot me a look of sadness with an equal part of anger and said “Do you know that son of a bitch would still be with us if he had just put on his fucking seat belt?” I wanted to see just a few more examples of this in the documentary, for some reason. Some proof that it wasn’t just underground a-listers, art-types, and rock critics that felt something from this band, this artist. Their importance was felt all the way to Iowa, and it was large enough for others to start power trios of their own.
Nonetheless, this is a very good piece of work and there’s certainly more than enough information included to keep those who deem themselves to be familiar with everything Minutemen entertained. I wasn’t aware that “Double Nickels” contains a nod to both Pink Floyd’s “Ummagumma” and Sammy Hagar. I didn’t know that the reason Boon’s guitar was so trebly was because the band viewed the bass guitar and electric guitar as “sovereign states.” I didn’t know that legendary SST “producer” Spot was such a riot (I should have, if I’d only remembered side four of Black Flag’s “Everything Went Black” album). And I didn’t know that both Grant Hart and Richard Hell look like they’re one good vein away from an overdose. Greg Norton, on the other hand, looks pretty good lately.
The bonus material is excellent and I enjoyed almost all of the deleted scenes including Ed Crawford’s telling of how he literally called Watt up from Ohio after Boon’s death and pulled him back into where D. Boon would have wanted him to be: on stage with his “thunderbroom.”
The documentary ends where it should: a modern day Mike Watt driving around San Pedro in a Ford Econoline van. He narrates “So, December 22nd, 1985….” He starts to slowly shake his head, trying to ward off the approaching tears. He clears his throat and continues, “Heavy day for me.”
The shot continues and Watt tries to surmise it all by saying “Big change in my life…meetin’ D. Boon.”
We’ll never have the opportunity to meet D. Boon anymore. The only thing we can have is a chance to hear about him, and “We Jam Econo” is a great way to do just that.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Brokedown Palace

After a fucking year on the market, Brokedown Palace is sold. I signed the paperwork yesterday and, what once was a proud abode overlooking the Mississippi River is now in the hands of, I think, the ex-wife of the dude that used to trim the English Walnut tree that was just outside of the dining room. The same dude that gave the ex a ride on his Harley after I moved out.
I made enough money to cover the mortgage and cover the expenses that I threw at it over the years. In short: I broke even. Understand, the town in which it was built is not the most frequented of spots. In fact, the town (and area) has shown a dramatic decline of the population thanks to people who move on to opportunities outside of the area. And let me explain, there are no opportunities within my former hometown. Unless you happen to have a meth lab in your basement.
Nonetheless, there is some scenery there and some history. But scenery and history only go so far, and so I relied on a couple of acquaintances to help me unload the property.
The first was a my divorce lawyer, a guy that happened to be the older brother of a friend of mine. The lawyer also lived a block away from the house, so when it came time to sock it to the ex because she didn't hold up her end of the bargain on the divorce, he seemed like a logical choice to help me deal with the legal bullshit surrounding the sale of the house. Apparently, timeliness and communication weren't part of his expertise; countless unanswered phone calls ensued as did a lack of urgency when it came time to get some paperwork filed before the closing of the house. I went boating with the guy on one occassion and learned that he was a Jimmy Buffett fan. The fact that he was a "Parrothead" should have clued me in, but since I'm a cheap prick, I opted to overlook this for the possibility of getting some friendly prices for his services.

The realtor who listed the house was actually the chick I took to the senior prom, many years ago. She was dating an older guy who ran the local stereo store and I was dating someone who's parents wouldn't let her stay out all night. For a couple of kids who viewed senior prom as an allnighter, it became clear that we needed to leave the romantic halves at home and go to the prom with each other.
The "theme" was "Can't Fight This Feeling" by R.E.O. Speedwagon, which was a step down from the prior year's "Just Between You And Me" by April Wine. Seriously, what feeling were they trying to fight? What the fuck does that have to do with prom? Anyway, the senior class had spoken and chose the theme, so I shouldn't be pissed that my (joke) vote for Kiss' "Heaven's On Fire" didn't win. Me and a few other people thought that would be a great choice, mainly because of the completely indulgent Paul Stanley opener on the song.
Understand, my decision to go with the pre-realtor chick was a completely superficial one: we were there to party. There was no chance/desire for hanky-panky. No drama for making sure everything went perfectly. The only drama was getting someone to buy us kegs of beer and then loading them up to a room at the Super 8 (life's great there!) without an adult noticing and calling the cops.
After the room, the beer, and the corsages were secured, we met up with some friends at a parent's house for dinner. It was one of those "Let us make you a fancy dinner so that we can take pictures of how cute you all look" type of events. If I recall, a bird pooped on the shoulder of one of my friend's tuxedoes while we were on the deck for obligatory snapshots. Now there's a Kodak moment!
When we were all set to leave, me and the chick decided to play Reeses Penut Butter Cups with our drugs (You've got cocaine in my weed! You've got weed in my cocaine! Shit, let's open up some Jack Daniels and make it three great tastes that taste great together!). Little did I know, my parents decided it would be a good idea to show up at the formal, right around the same time the cocaine paranoia hit me. That wasn't me smiling on those prom pictures Mom; that was me grinding me teeth.
The band playing at formal was unable to accomodate our requests for Black Flag and Dead Kennedy's songs. Christ, they couldn't even play "Heaven's On Fire." After a few quick slow dances and a few more pictures, we decided to head to the Super 8 where the beer should have been nice and cold.
We had reserved at least four rooms and it became a situation of musical parties at the Super 8, much to the chagrin of the other guests. About two in the morning, I went outside and passed out in a convertable Ford LTD. At three in the morning, the car began to move as we were suddenly transported to the local nightclub who had reserved the place for the benefit of the prom. I should point out that, by this time, I had no idea where my prom date was.
By six in the morning, we had retired back to the hotel in a futile attempt to get a few hours of sleep. When I say "futile" I mean that, by that time, a few of the hotel patron that had to endure the drunken tomfoolery of teenagers, now started to retaliate us by banging on the doors of our rooms. "Who the fuck is that?" I yelled, trying to get a few hours of sleep to help kill the oncoming hangover. I noticed that I was passed out in between a couple and wondered if I had drunkenly missed my only threeway. My friend went to the door and was immediately met by a very angry person who proceeded to chastise him/us for keeping her up all night. When I again asked who was at the door, without pause he turned to me and said "It's a lizard" before sticking out his tounge, mimicking the reptilian woman who continued to bark at him.
My lengthy point is this: me and the realtor lady had a history together. So I was hoping that this history would be more of a motivator to actually sell my home, despite the fact that a nice commission should be motivating enough. But no, I get all sorts of inept requests ("Maybe we should lower the listing price.") and examples of shitty work ethic.
But fuck it. It's sold. It's over. Now I can return to the community for the occasional visit as a former homeowner there, with more than a few stories to share.
Like this one: the 'Cocaine Senior Prom kegger at the Super 8 staring the Lizard Lady with music by R.E.O. Speedwagon' story.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

The Avengers-S/T

In a perfect world, Penelope Houston’s name would be next to such recognized artists as Chrissie Hynde or P.J. Harvey, particularly because her work with The Avengers essentially helped paved the way for other women in the rock and roll landscape. But reality is a funny thing, and the reality is that The Avengers were only around for a couple of years and, during that time together, only managed to release a single and an e.p.

In 1983, San Francisco’s CD Presents released a posthumous album that compiled The Avengers’ proper releases and other career highlights. Simply entitled “The Avengers,” this record is becoming close to a forgotten classic when it deserved to be in the same breath as The Pretenders’ first album in terms of influence.
Unlike The Pretenders, “The Avengers” makes no attempt at lyrical cleverness. This is primitive punk rock music, written by a 19 year-old young woman, and performed by musicians with a much passion and anger as the band who made a similar racket across the pond around the same time: The Sex Pistols. Not surprisingly, The Avengers actually opened for the Pistols on their final performance in San Francisco and their 1978 e.p. was produced by Pistols guitarist Steve Jones.
“We Are The One” starts off the record with some slashing guitar chords from Greg Ingraham while Houston does a fairly good job at rallying anyone under the age of 21 with her declaration of “I am the one who shows you the future/I am the one who buries the past.” There’s something entirely refreshing about this youthful exuberance and it can be found throughout the record, even on their curious cover of “Paint It Black.”
“The American In Me” is the showcase track, and it remains completely relevant in today’s headlines. “It’s the American in me/Says it’s an honor to die/In a war that’s just a politician’s lie” sounds pretty angry for 1978, and pretty prophetic over a quarter-century later.
CD Presents went under in the late 80’s, making prices for the “official” self-titled album hovering around $75 for used copies. There are plans for reissuing this classic album, along with the band’s infamous Winterland concert opening for the Pistols, but for the time being, people interested in obtaining a high-quality cdr copy of the release can get it for more reasonable prices at Penelope Houston’s website.
As for Houston, she changed gears completely and undertook a more acoustic direction, releasing some very good efforts while adhering to a strict d.i.y. ethic. She’s currently re-teamed with Greg Ingraham and is touring the country under the Avengers moniker (sometimes known as scAvengers), providing an opportunity for younger audiences to witness a band that most certainly needs more recognition than it managed to get during their initial run.

Monday, July 17, 2006

Open Letter To Chan Marshall

What's up? I couldn't help but notice that you seem, how do I put this, positively happy as of late. We all have problems, and from what I've read, you've had your share too. Christ, it was less than a year ago when I last saw you and I was more than pleased that you decided to spend a little over an hour with me. Sure, there were a few moments there when I thought you were going to bail, but you held it together. Then there was the planned tour with the backing band from "The Greatest" and the subsequent news that the tour was cancelled because, well, just because. From what I understood: you needed some time to sort some shit out and to get healthy. I wasn't expecting you to get happy.
The first indication was your performance on The Late Show. You looked thinner, tanner, and healthier. More unsettling was the fact that you actually smiled.
And now you've gone and released a new video for "Lived In Bars" where you're kissing patrons, dancing on tables, and seem genuinely pleased to be making a commercial for your song. It's kind of freaking me out.
Now before you assume that I'm just one of those fanboys who likes it when you're down, let me say this: I think "The Greatest" is indeed your greatest. And I'm extremely happy that you're happy. I'm just having some trouble with the whole 180 you've done in such a short amount of time. What's going on here? Is it possible that being drug free can bring that kind of happiness? I mean, where do I sign up?! Admittedly, my life has made its own turns for the better since we first met; Shit, you should have seen the state I was in around the release of "Moon Pix!" But damn girl, this extreme makeover thing is getting downright creepy.
Don't forget where you came from, k. I mean, what would the community think?
Much love,
T. Totale

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Mott The Hoople-Brain Capers

On what should be the first installment of an ongoing series entitled “If you’re truly a fan of rock and roll, then you need to get this album,” Glam-Racket introduces Mott The Hoople’s incredible fourth album, “Brain Capers.” I would venture to guess that even the relatively few people that have even heard of Mott The Hoople have even heard of this album, but I would also venture to guess that anyone who’s a fan of David Bowie’s early 70’s output and who hears this album will realize where he got a substantial portion of his sound from. Short answer: Brain Capers.

Mott should really be billed as Mott The Fucking Hoople on this one. In terms of performance, the band smokes. Around 30 seconds into the incredible opener “Death May Be Your Santa Claus” you’ll understand what I mean. “How long before you realize what you missed/How long before we go out and may get pissed.” Hunter asks, in an almost perfect summation of where the band was at when they actually recorded this album. Ignored by the public, the band was on the verge of tapping out. “Brain Capers” sounds like a “Fuck it, let’s rock fellas and then go get loaded” type of album.
With nothing left to lose, what’s amazing is how structurally sound “Capers” is. This isn’t an anarchic effort; it’s fully realized and perfectly executed. Right down to the drummer losing his sticks at the end of “Santa Claus” before letting out a final “Wooo!”
Part of this is thanks to Producer Guy Stevens, best known as the madman behind The Clash’s “London Calling” sessions. Stevens simply rolls tape and lets Mott rock, understanding that his sole role is to capture the best performance and stay out of the way.
Ian Hunter also comes of age with this effort, delivering some of his most witty lyrics ever. Like the feel of the album, he eloquently captures the band’s state of mind. “The Journey” sounds like a road-worn band reaching the end (“Well I can see the end for the very first time…I guess I lost just a little bit on the journey/Yeah I guess I lost just a little bit on the way”) and downright bitter (“I swear to you before we’re through/you’re gonna feel our every blow/We ain’t bleeding you we’re feeding you/but you’re all to fucking slow”) by the time “The Moon Upstairs” towards the end of the album.
Bowie gave Mott “All The Young Dudes” and a second lease on life (just as he did with Lou Reed and The Stooges) but you can hear it for yourself: Mott had everything right well before he brought them back from the brink. And “Brain Capers” shows us that sometimes breaking up can sound pretty fucking good.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Wouldn't You Miss Me?

A lot of this essentially repeats some of the same words I posted on a frequented music board, but I wanted to share a few stories involving Syd Barrett as news of his passing came today.
First, I suppose, there’s the introduction to this crazy diamond. The first Pink Floyd album I ever owned was “Atom Heart Mother,” a post-Syd release. Nonetheless, the music on this admitted Floydian also-ran led me to “Dark Side Of The Moon.” And then “The Wall.” And then to “Wish You Were Here.” And then to “Animals.” And then to the cassette collection of a high-school girl who had increased her Floyd collection exponentially to the point where it included the very first Pink Floyd album, “The Piper At The Gates Of Dawn.”
Since I didn’t have this release, it became a logical decision to ask the girl to borrow it. “It’s not like the other Floyd albums.” She advised. And she was right.
“Piper” is on an entirely different planet, and it was obvious that the leader of this version of Floyd was the primary spaceship captain. I read more about this founder, and how the band undertook a new direction when it was quite clear that the initial frontman was completely incapable of fronting the band. The idea that this instability was caused by hallucinogens became very intriguing; here was rock’s first acid casualty. And like a lot of people, I found humor in that story.
I swear I passed “Piper” around to a few people, and it seemed that others became attracted by the sound and the story of Syd. I went to the local Disc Jockey and asked the full-timer if they had either one of the two Barrett solo albums I’d read he released after leaving Floyd. “What’s the deal with Syd Barrett all of a sudden?” He asked. “You’re the third person to ask about him this week.” I special ordered “The Madcap Laughs” from him and the Rodger Waters/Ron Geesin soundtrack album “Music From ‘The Body.’”
I must have found something there, because suddenly the Album Oriented Rock version of Pink Floyd started to seem a tad contrite. The declaration of “We don’t need no education” gave way to “Oh where are you now/Pussy willow that smiled on this leaf?”
The latter painted something much more visual than anything starring the lead singer of The Boomtown Rats.
The Disc Jockey dude invited me over to take a listen to his Syd Barrett bootlegs. He wouldn’t allow his collection to be taken from his home, and strangely, he hadn’t invested in a tape player. But he did allow me to bring my cassette deck over if I wanted to copy these rare “artyfacts.” Regardless of the extremely low-fidelity, I now had versions of Syd Barrett radio broadcasts which sounded like they were recorded directly off of an A.M. radio.
And so it was announced that a collection of Barrett outtakes would be released. I picked up “Opel” as an import copy before it was officially released in America. This is telling as this decision was based entirely on the number of import “Opel” units sold domestically. Capitol records figured out that there was a devoted cult following of Syd Barrett fans in the states.
Upon first listen, the “Opel” collection sounded suspiciously like the bottom of the Barrett barrel. A few hits of l.s.d. demonstrated that “Opel’s” subtlety was beautifully misleading. The fact that most of the tracks are presented in a primitive state assists with this. They are a basic blueprint of something that could have been something glorious.
The more I learned, the more I understood that Syd Barrett’s demise was much more complex than just a guy who took too much acid. Sure, the claims of a crazy, balding fat guy showing up during the “Wish You Were Here” sessions fueled the mystique. As did the Disc Jockey guy’s information that a fanzine called “Terrapin” was comprised entirely of Barrett sightings. As did the rumors that he now lived a life of seclusion with his mother.
The more I learned, the more I sought out things that were “Barrett-esque.” Without him, there wouldn’t have been the discovery of Robyn Hitchcock, Julian Cope, Skip Spence, Jeff Mangum, and others who tread the fine line of losing touch with their mind. Shine on, Syd. You shone like the sun and provided some light for me to see a different side of music.

Thursday, July 6, 2006

Pumpin' For The Man

"You've got:
'My bossman's a bastard and I want to kill him' blues'"
-Henry Rollins

Fuckin' A. And let me declare publically that I would love it if Hank stopped by my company's corporate offices and beat the living shit out of my fuckin' boss. I should clarify that my boss is merely a douche; it's the owner that I can't stand. I received word from my superior that the owner feels I somehow disrespect him, that I ignore him, and that I give the perception that I'm too good to actively participate in team meetings.
So like a fucking baby, I can anticipate the owner giving me the silent treatment for a few months and probably making some disparaging comments about yours truly to others but, sorry, I don't have time to manage 20 people and then be expected to manage the owner's neurotic mindset.
So I've become a passive job-seeker, and my most recent interview was with a fairly laid-back publishing company. I had a killer first interview and was rushed in for a second interview with the president of the company. On the way down to the interview, for reasons unknown, I played Pink Floyd's "Meddle" album. I would like to blame Rodger Waters and company for helping me bomb that second interview. The blame, of course, falls squarely upon me, and "Meddle" is a pretty good early 70's Floyd effort. Nonetheless kids, if you're needing interviewing tips here's a good one from me: Try to spend more time giving detailed examples of your work-related success rather than giving detail examples of why the owner of your company is a cocksucker.
We'll just chock that one up to a "learning experience" and move on...
On the good side: The Cedar Rapids Kernels fucked up the Burlington Bee's 13-5. This seemed to quiet down the SLF (and Burlington native) after the Bee's spanked the Kernels during the last Minor League outing we had in early June. Unlike B-Town, the locals up here seem to really dig Minor League play as the attendance for both games was fairly high.
One of the best things about the game: Milwaukee may have their sausage run, but here in C.R., we have running eyeballs. Here's proof as they make their way from the infield.

If you're curious, the green eye won by an eyelash. I totally stole that punch line from the old dude sitting behind us in the bleachers.

The Fall-"Perverted By Language"
Tapes 'N Tapes-"The Loon"
Sonic Youth-"Rather Ripped"
The Brian Jonestown Massacre-"Give It Back"
Spacemen 3-"Playing With Fire"
Pink Floyd-"Meddle"
Black Flag-"Who's Got The 10 1/2?"

Wednesday, July 5, 2006

The Flaming Lips-At War With The Mystics

Oh yeah: The Flaming Lips have a new album out this year. As usual, it was on the list the day it was released, right after “Update Work Spreadsheet” and right before “Pick Up Bread.” As unenthused as I was when listening to “Yoshimi” the first time, I set the proper expectation for “At War With The Mystics” because, to be honest, I hate feeling letdown.
But alright, far out, and aw yeah, this new one is right up my classic rock alley. They’ve be nodding to and occasionally covering the classic rock stalwarts they grew up with for twenty years now, but “Mystics” is the first time they’ve had both the studio wizardry (read: Dave Friddman) and a band member (read: Steven Drozd) capable enough to pull off a prog-rock statement.
I say statement because, apparently, there’s some correlations between the content of the songs and our current political situation. Forgive me if I don’t really know for sure; I was too busy admiring how “Pompeii Am Gotterdammerung” totally rips off Floyd circa ’71.

It’s not as good as “The Soft Bulletin,” and some may argue not as good as “Yoshimi.” But I’m playing it more than “Yoshimi” and I understand that “Bulletin” may be the Lips last truly incredible album.
Whatever. They still have it in ‘em to make consistently good-on-the-verge-of great albums which, by my calculation, puts them in the top five most important bands around today. And like Pink Floyd’s “Meddle,” The Flaming Lips’ “A War With The Mystics” will also sound really good on the years thirty years from today.