Agony Shorthand

Tuesday, July 29, 2003
JANDEK ON CORWOOD....Wow, someone made a documentary film on iconoclastic Texan and purported visionary JANDEK that will be hitting the film festival circuit this year. I can't say I'm fully convinced of the man's genius, but there are moments on some of those rare, black & white cover records that are just so spectral & out of time that I'm definitely willing to consider it. The film might shed a bit more light on just where in god's name this guy's coming from.

VOLT : “COUPLES” 12”EP….Wide grooved and quite satisfying 45rpm darkwave from LILI Z. & JACK A., famous French garage punk lovebirds & former respective members of the NO-TALENTS and SPLASH FOUR, and their secret weapon “FX” on synthesizer and theremin. This guy’s no “Roland” – you can see his vein-poppin’ hand on the cover next to Jack & Lili’s. The four tracks here would be equally at home in the Paris goth/dance nightclub as in the dank basement punk bar, with a synth-led electric charge that’s as often angry & aggressive as it is whimsical and fun. My favorite’s “86 Friends”, with an initial RED TRANSISTOR-like riff that devolves into Cabaret Voltaire loudly covering the Bauhaus version of “Third Uncle”. And you don’t get 45rpm 12” records too much any more, do you? That was a staple of the mid-80s for just about all overseas goth-influenced post-punk, and the loud attack just screams off of the vinyl. Makes me want to dig out those RED LORRY YELLOW LORRY records & bust a move.

Monday, July 28, 2003
THE BAGS : “DISCO’S DEAD” 7”EP….One of the hottest early punk rock bands of all time is surely LA’s BAGS, with a four song track record that pretty much beats any other ’77-’79 band not named CRIME's four songs hands down. (For the record, they are “Survive”, “Babylonian Gorgon”, “We Don’t Need The English” and “We Will Bury You”, not even an A- among them). I’ve been agitating for years to just about anyone who’ll listen of the necessity – nay, the duty – of cobbling together every recorded gasp and utterance of The Bags and making it available to the hoi polloi. In fact, in my frustration I once toyed with the idea of tracking Alice & Pat Bag down and doing it myself. That’s why hearing this sub-mediocre material from punk revival label Artifix is such a big-ass letdown – my bubble’s been burst; could it be that there may not have been much beyond those 4 screamers to begin with? (actually I know that to be false, as any viewer of “The Alice Bag Band” in The Decline or any listener to the powerful 1978 live tracks on “Live at The Masque, Vol. 1” can attest).

The 1979 studio demo “Disco’s Dead” is very tepid chant-along lunkheadedness: “Disco’s dead, long live rock and roll!”. Yeah, right fuckin’ on. No razor-wire “Babylonian Gorgon”-style attack here or off-the-charts wacked Craig Lee guitar solo; just a plodding & muddy demo that someone rightfully kept in a tape box for 24 years. OK, then what about the ’78-79 live tracks on the flip? Aside from being 20,000 leagues under the sea fidelity-wise, I guess they’re OK, but I’d sure hate this to be my starting point for one of punk’s genius first-wave bands. You kids that haven’t been scared off by the RIAA yet, get thyself to Kazaa and start those engines – or better yet, buy the Dangerhouse 1 & 2 LPs or CDs. There’s gold in them thar hills!

BLUTT : “BING BANG BOUM (BAM) / POUR SI PEU / TELL ME NOW” 7”EP….Solid riffarama punk from Paris’ BLUTT on a Royal Records single from a year or two back. They seem to be copping their angle from a handful of ’65 and ’77 garage/early punk compilations & get their fast-n-dirty inspiration from both sides of the Atlantic. In fact, in a friend-catching nod to the transatlantic college radio audience, they bravely cover the hugely overrated DANIEL JOHNSTON’s “Tell Me Now”. Hey, the whole thing’s no “Slash Your Face” or “UFO Dictator”, but these BLUTT boys might be onto something that’d be kinda fun after polishing off a bottle of chateauneuf du pape.

Friday, July 25, 2003
MASTERPIECE: SKIP JAMES “HARD TIME KILLIN’ FLOOR BLUES”….Sure, “Devil Got My Woman” and the Cream-covered “I’m So Glad” get all the attention, but SKIP JAMES’ most intense and arguably disturbing work is crystallized in one single 78rpm track, the original 1930 “Hard Time Killin’ Floor Blues” . Without resorting to the overwrought clichés common to most writing on blues, let’s just say that this song is as sparse and lonesome as they come – truly deserving of the blues moniker. The crackle and sputter of the old 78 recording only enhances the ghostly, out of time feel of the song, and James’ mournful falsetto tells a tale that’ll definitely stiffen the spine. It’s sort of the aural equivalent of watching a Bergman film like “Cries and Whispers” or “Autumn Sonata” – at times uncomfortable, evocative of deep emotions that we usually prefer to keep bottled up, and yet it’s still exceptionally beautiful and liberating in its way. All in one song. I think that’s why they call it a masterpiece, hunh?

Wednesday, July 23, 2003
TRUX REDUX....Some good ROYAL TRUX talk going on at The Astronauts Notepad. Not really sure where I stand with this band any longer. I thought/still think that "Twin Infinitives" is one of the lamest records ever released -- and yet I love some of their 45s ("Red Tiger / Law Man" in particular) and a couple of the mid-90s LPs, and there's no questioning that Neil Hagerty is a very talented young man. I haven't heard any of their post-major label work, but it appears they were pumping it out in spades until recently. My man Jon Dale sure liked it. Check it out, and bookmark the blog. There's some exceptional rants here from time to time.

LONG-HAIRED PUNK LANDMARK….Aside from way-underrated heroes TALES OF TERROR, the best “long-haired punk” (mistakenly assumed by many to be synonymous with “grunge”) record of all time has got to be GREEN RIVER’s fantastic (and fantastically rare) “Together We’ll Never / Ain’t Nothing To Do” 45. The first heyday for long-haired punk was around 1983-87, when metal chops started creeping into US hardcore punk. One substantially large branch of metal/punk acolytes went the easier and less interesting speed metal route, resulting in a million revved-up MOTORHEAD clones a la DRI, COROSION OF CONFORMITY, later-period SSD, etc. There was a much smaller group of punk rock/hardcore fans who tired of the genre’s limitations and decided to inject a bit of balls-out swagger into the mix, creating a glammified punk rock with heavy Aerosmith/Alice Cooper overtones, minus the radio-friendly hooks and lyrical clichés. The best fanzine to capture this motley group circa 1985-87 was New Jersey’s FLESH AND BONES, a totally hilarious mix of 70s pop culture (before it was “hip”), 80s hardcore scene in-jokes, weed references and tributes to heshers like RAGING SLAB, POISON IDEA, REDD KROSS (who were really more of a pop band) and DAS DAMEN.

But the king of all LHP kings were Seattle’s GREEN RIVER. They not only were clued-in enough to recognize Tales of Terror as worthy predecessors – by covering T.O.T.’s “Ozzy” on their great “Dry As A Bone” EP – but at their best, like on this 45, Green River were the loudest, most rollicking longhaired punks since The Stooges. “Together We’ll Never” barely has a chorus, and shifts tempos & structure at least 3 times, yet it pounds and swings like some downbeat Flesh Eaters/Stones/Stooges offspring. Despite the slower tempo, this is NOT metal – it is most assuredly punk rock on wheels. There was a vastly inferior version later released on their vastly inferior LP “Rehab Doll”, and thus I’ve been pining for a reissue of the 45 version ever since. Thankfully, their screaming B-side cover of the DEAD BOYS’ “Ain’t Nothing To Do” is available on the CD compilation of the aforementioned records, and it’s seriously one of the few covers that beats the pants off the original. Now the record, at last count, is going for upwards of $80-100; probably something to do w/ the bands these guys later morphed into (Mudhoney and Pearl Jam). So can anyone point me toward a digitized version of the original “Together We’ll Never”?

THE NUANCED, WELL-REASONED ARTHUR MAGAZINE….I had high hopes for ARTHUR MAGAZINE when it arrived a few months back, primarily because it was the forum by which Bryon Coley and Thurston Moore shared their recent sub-underground music and book discoveries, and secondarily because it looked like it might have some pretty intelligent thoughts on rock and roll & might hip me to a few new unheard bands. Early issues reminded me of the fine Portland-based newspaper SNIPE HUNT from the first half of the 1990s, with perhaps more of a deep-literary bent and a stronger nod to what’s left of the quote-unquote counterculture. Yet a glance at this month’s issue proves that the magazine has turned into a full-on lefty broadsheet, trapped in the delusion of being the Ramparts or The Nation of its day, albeit for rock and rollers and American anti-status quo culture experts. These guys – led by editor Jay Babcock – are locked and loaded and fully ready to storm the barricades of the 1968 Democratic convention. Babcock un-ironically compares himself to some writer in the 20s who warned the masses against Hitler – before it was too late!!! No ego there or anything, right? I’m glad to see that it’s a friggin’ rock critic who alone possesses the foresight to save us all from the terrors of the impending totalitarian police state. And the very funny DAVID CROSS becomes an instant party-ending bore as soon as he starts sharing his shrill paranoia of John Ashcroft hiding under his bed with a gag & blindfold. Yep, these are the guys you want on the front lines of the revolution. Pray for a little more rockin’ and a little less “look at me, I’m so much more than an entertainer” talkin’ next issue.

Tuesday, July 22, 2003
ROXY MUSIC : “COUNTRY LIFE”…..A record more notorious for its risqué cover art than what’s actually in the grooves, “Country Life” finally made its way into my collection on CD this past month and got a couple of good spins in this weekend. My version of the LP was the l-a-m-e American version that eliminated the women on the cover and instead presented an exceptionally DULL backdrop – a bunch of bushes and leaves. Their US label couldn’t even tart it up one bit – just airbrush out the offending material and leave the rest (!). I have to hand it to the band and their tongue-in-cheek 1974 urbane sophistication – no one in their right mind who was ready to “break” America, as Roxy Music were after some minor FM radio airplay, would release an LP with boobs on the cover and expect it to be stocked in K-Mart or Musicland or whatever the nation’s top retailers were 29 years ago. I’m sure they knew that, but their cool Euro sophistication – where they’re a lot more open about sex, you know; just ask them – played up well in the States anyway, in addition to being a massive hit everywhere else in the world. Recently a fanzine that I forget the name of tried to track down the “Country Life girls” before abandoning ship – turns out they’d already been beat to it by over a decade, as this article here attests. (Note the CAN connection).

See what I mean about the cover art? I couldn’t even escape writing a paragraph on it. On to the music. “Country Life” is arguably a more consistent record song to song than even the ENO records – the first album and “For Your Pleasure” – but aside from the hits on the first side (“The Thrill of It All”, “All I Want Is You”, “Out Of The Blue”), I’d have to still take the first two records for overall payoff. There are moments of driving, mid-70s FM rock and roll guitar on this one, most obviously on the “The Thrill of It All”, but at a level so far above their peers in terms of songwriting craft that this remains my #1 favorite band of the lean years of 1972-75. Has there ever been a less “macho”, completely unconventional million-selling rock singer than Bryan Ferry? Remember that his lounge lizard, smooth-crooner persona was only fully realized after his loud rock years. Sure, “Country Life”, like all Roxy Music records, has got a couple of full-on stinkers: this record’s bombs pop up at the start of side 2: “Bittersweet” and “Triptych”. Redemption thankfully arrives in the form of “Casanova” and the disc-ending “Prairie Rose”, but it’s side one, with the aforementioned hits and the rollicking, tin pan alley-esque “If It Takes All Night”, that really delivers the goods. All of the early Roxy Music LPs have recently been reissued on CD, but with no extra tracks. It appears, though, that we Americans are finally able to handle the red-hott “Country Life” cover art.

Monday, July 21, 2003
THE HOSPITALS : “THE HOSPITALS”….Punishing debut CD from Portland, OR duo that won’t win many points for kindness – nor for songwriting. In their favor, these guys kick up quite a fury of uber-feedback and super-intense drum thrashing, and have got a good handle on how to make a bleak and bleary-eyed racket. They’ve ingested the lessons of BLACK FLAG's “Damaged” and at times, “My War”, and thus they’re capable of stirring up a real hornet’s nest shitstorm when they feel like it. Their big “trick” is Greg Ginn-style manipulation of the guitar’s on/off switch for maximum feedback and squeal. OK, great. I’m into it. But where are the songs? Unlike their crazed Portland and In The Red compatriots THE HUNCHES, The Hospitals are pretty much all sound and fury, signifying nothing (I made that phrase up). A ferocity this palpable has got to lead somewhere besides deeper into the gutter, and at times The Hospitals will start to bust out with what sounds like a killer grab-and-hold riff (“Again & Again” or “Missing My Hands”) only to clog it back up with a bunch of show-off feedback, meaningless choppy edits and Rollins-style croaking. So the thing’s really a mixed bag. Maybe as the little brother band to the HUNCHES they’ve got it in them to show up their brethren with an outtasite second record, much as the Stooges did with “Funhouse” vis-à-vis the MC5. But no need to get that carried away just yet.

IN PRAISE OF AMOEBA….This New York Times business section (!) article from Sunday’s paper finally takes a look at the business side of the AMOEBA MUSIC phenomenon that has music obsessives in three California cities (including mine) keeping their collections exceptionally well stocked and growing. (the link requires quick NY Times registration, but it’s an easy process). Amoeba is a retailer worth cheering, since they alone have applied the universally-known 80-20 rule to music buying – 20% of your customers are buying 80% of your records and CDs -- and thus they (we) are the customers to focus on. Because they (we) purchase so much music, their tastes are likely to be more eclectic, so their store of choice had better have a large selection (Amoeba’s is enormous). Because they are more willing to try something out they haven’t heard, you gotta keep prices really low, and sell a lot of used CDs to encourage this sort of behavior. Oh, and my favorite thing about Amoeba? They have never once in over ten years refused to buy a shitty promo CD from me, not even the Primus and Monster Voodoo Machine CDs I used to get for review in my fanzine in the early 90s. As the article mentions, the Amoeba concept plays well in cities with well-developed, eclectic music scenes and hoards of buyers (a good influx of tourists can't hurt). I lived in Seattle for two years and always thought that city would be perfect for an Amoeba store – Seattle has several great small independent specialty stores (Fallout, Singles Going Steady), but after that, it’s going-nowhere, piss-off-your-customer chains like Cellophane Square and worse, Tower Records (that entire chain will be out of business by next year, mark my words). Amoeba would provide much-needed refuge from the rain, and put the final nail in the coffin of the chains while letting the indie specialty stores breathe – at least that’s what’s happened here in San Francisco. Anyway, I’m hoping that non-Internet music retailing continues to move this direction.

Thursday, July 17, 2003
JULIAN COPE TACKLES THE MIRRORS.....The July album of the month over at Head Heritage is a posthumous 1982 collection from Cleveland proto-punk rock heroes THE MIRRORS, a mid-70s band every bit as worthy of praise and adulation as the much-loved Rocket From The Tombs in my book. Never even knew there was such a collection (it's an "unofficial French LP"), but I do remember a blink-and-you-missed it Mirrors collection on Resonance records in the early 90s with some gawdy yellow cover art. All I really knew about them at that time was that Psychotronic Guide To Film editor Michael Weldon once played in the band, and that people said they compared favorably to third-LP Velvet Underground. Check and check. The Mirrors story has subsequently been pieced together via an appearance in de riguer pre-punk reading "From The Velvets To The Voidoids"; two sides on the 3x10" collection "Those Were Different Times"; and most importantly, a fantastic retrospective CD called "Hands In My Pockets" from a couple of years ago that shows what a motley pack of talented musicians and pre-punk culture hounds these guys were. They fit very comfortably inside the very narrow pantheon of legendary 70s bands who knew what to do to branch the groundbreaking Velvet Underground approach to rock and roll into new directions -- see Modern Lovers, Simply Saucer and Television for other fine examples. What's interesting is how Cope connected the dots back to the Mirrors from his encounter with Monoshock a few months back. An aside, covered in Cope's article: when Monoshock covered the Mirrors' "Everything Near Me" on their 3rd single in 1995, they actually studied and learned to play the song straight off of an audience-recorded 1975 live tape that had made the collector rounds. Pretty admirable, considering that a hi-fi studio version was later unearthed and placed on the "Hands In My Pockets" CD (and Monoshock's version is terrific as well, particulary since the words by necessity had to be made up).

Wednesday, July 16, 2003
FINALLY, AN ATTEMPT AT A GREATEST SONGS LIST....If you've ever had the pleasure of scrolling through Dan Selzer's ACUTE RECORDS web site (both the new and the old versions), you've undoubtedly found Dan to be a man of wealth and taste -- particularly when it comes to obscure 70s/80s DIY and electro-noise rarities of all eras. His Desperate Bicycles article is still the piece de resistance on the band and their m.o. . At some point Dan decided to enumerate his "Top Songs of All Time", an undertaking I wholeheartedly applaud. That's what obsession is all about, and I'm right there with him -- in fact, I stole his idea and compiled my own, something I've been, uh, meaning to do for some time. Since Dan threw together about 63 songs, I did the same. Since Dan didn't choose multiple tracks from the same artists, neither did I. Here goes, in alphabetical order:

Hasil Adkins “She Said”
Avengers “The American In Me”
Bags “Survive”
Big Star “September Gurls”
Black Flag “Police Story”
Blind Willie McTell “Ticket Agent Blues”
Liz Brady “Palladium”
Can “Mother Sky”
Carter Family “Motherless Children”
Captain Beefheart “Plastic Factory”
The Clean “Billy Two”
Clothilde “Fallait pas écraser la queue du chat”
Come “Fast Piss Blues”
Cramps “Human Fly”
Creation “How Does It Feel (To Feel)”
Creedence Clearwater Revival “Fortunate Son”
Crime “Hot Wire My Heart”
Desperate Bicycles “The Medium Was Tedium”
DMZ “First Time Is the Best Time”
Dolly Mixture “Everything and More”
Dream Syndicate “Tell Me When It’s Over”
Electric Eels “Agitated”
The Fall “Hip Priest”
Flesh Eaters “Pray ‘til You Sweat”
Gordons “Future Shock”
Gories “Telepathic”
Gun Club “She’s Like Heroin To Me”
Hampton Grease Band “Hey Old Lady and Bert’s Song”
Lee Hazlewood & Nancy Sinatra “Sand”
Bunker Hill “The Girl Can’t Dance”
Skip James “Devil Got My Woman”
Joneses “Pillbox”
Joy Division “No Love Lost”
Loretta Lynn “Hello Darlin’”
Love “My Little Red Book”
Mission of Burma “That’s When I Reach For My Revolver”
Modern Lovers “Roadrunner”
Mo-Dettes “White Mice”
Derrick Morgan “Forward March”
The Nights And Days “These Days”
Augustus Pablo “King Tubby Meets the Rockers Uptown”
Pagans “What’s This Shit Called Love?”
Charley Patton “Spoonful Blues”
Pere Ubu “Heart Of Darkness”
Pinetoppers "Shout Bamalama"
Pink Floyd “See Emily Play”
Diane Ray “Please Don’t Talk To the Lifeguard”
Red Cross “Notes and Chords Mean Nothing To Me”
Revillos “Motorbike Beat”
Rolling Stones “Loving Cup”
Roxy Music “Virginia Plain”
Saints “Know Your Product”
Sonics “Boss Hoss”
Sonic Youth “Tom Violence”
Swell Maps “Vertical Slum”
Thirteenth Floor Elevators "Slip Inside This House"
Trashmen “Surfin’ Bird”
Twilighters “Nothing Can Bring Me Down”
Velvet Underground “What Goes On”
Hank Williams “Lovesick Blues”
Tammy Wynette “Singing My Song”
X “Adult Books”
Neil Young “Mr. Soul”

I recognize that I may have given MOZART some short shrift here, but I can't think of any of his songs that beat "What's this Shit Called Love?", can you?

Tuesday, July 15, 2003
JEWELED ANTLER COLLECTIVE....A worthy link in the San Francisco freak-rock chain or a bunch of record-collecting hippies? Help me out here, folks!

THE RAWEST OF RAW 50s RAWK…..Can be found at Pete Hoppula’s WANG DANG DULA!! web site, a totally invaluable resource for wild-ass 1950s R&B and early rock. This fella Pete helped get me schooled when I was doing an online radio show called No-Count Dance Party on the now-defunct Antenna Radio a few years back; I was playing a mix of early R&B screamers and 60s punk until it became clear that three full nights a week of prep wasn’t doing the rest of my life any favors. The most worthy part of his site from my perspective is this almost 100% complete listing of post-50s R&B (Black Rock and Roll) compilations from the likes of Candy Records, Crypt offshoots and many, many more. Once you dig in here you’ll be able to put together an obsessive list of LPs you need to track down – always a good time! Among the greatest start-to-finish of these are the four “SIN ALLEY” compilations; anything on Candy; “Vicious Vicious Vocals Volume Vun”; and the companion comps “Frantic” and “Wild And Frantic”. Get these first and you’re off to the races.

Monday, July 14, 2003
MORE ON CRIME AND JOHNNY STRIKE!....Got an e-mail straight from original CRIME guitar slinger Johnny Strike, setting the record straight on a few things regarding my review of the “Cadillac Faggot “ CD (see below, or click here). I have to say – it’s a goddamn honor. When I first heard Crime in the mid-1980s, they seemed so ground-breakingly remote, so deeply underground, so lost to time that it was hard to imagine that Strike, Frankie Fix were still among us. And yet! Quoth Strike on the recent CD:

“It was done as a strictly promo deal for the fan-run Crime site. It'll be included in the Revenant box set, hopefully next year….actually Cadillac Faggot was a character from those days; lived and dealt drugs out of a pink cadillac. But yeah, we liked the anti-pc statement as well. But most SF bands I thought were a pretty pc bunch. BTW, Crime has reformed and we are working on a album. Hank Rank is on drums, Pat Ryan (ex-Nuns) is on lead guitar, Michael (Phantom Surfers) Lucas is on bass and I'm on 2nd guitar and vocals”.

What’s more, Johnny Strike’s been leading his own trio TVH for a few years now, and has even got his first book on the way. How about that?

Friday, July 11, 2003
PARDON THE INTERRUPTION....I've been captivated with a number of personal, non-musical "agenda items" for the past couple weeks, and thus blogging has been and will continue to be on the light side. You know, minor things like a new job, an impending child -- that sort of thing. I've got a heaping helping of things I wanna talk about in this forum, so please keep us bookmarked and check back from time to time. There will be an avalanche of music talk in the near future.

Tuesday, July 01, 2003
RIGHT ON : “BURIED ALIVE / LOVE” 45….The debut bleat from one of America’s best-kept basement secrets, the Rob Vasquez-led, Seattle-based garage rock trio RIGHT ON – and not a moment too soon. In fact, what took ‘em so long, and why so limited, and why on a (great) French label instead of on Warner Brothers, why why why? For the uninitiated, RIGHT ON spring from the fount of razor-sharp 60s-meets-90s guitar ferocity found in Vasquez’s previous bands the NIGHT KINGS and THE NIGHTS AND DAYS, and adds two Seattle scene heavyweights from FLATHEAD and elsewhere to man the bass and drums. These fellas exist on a continuum that stretches from Link Wray to the Swamp Rats through the aforementioned Crime to the Morlocks to today – and yep, they’re that good. Vasquez has been creating a secret rock and roll history of his own in Seattle bedrooms and clubs for the better part of two decades, and I think it’s high time it all became not so secret. “Buried Alive” and “Love” are two early numbers recorded a couple of years ago, and if you recognize the raw gutter-garage of the NIGHT KINGS as an American cultural high water mark, you’ll surely get a big buzz outta this. They even out the tempos a bit and add a little extra hoomph to the low end and the result is pretty roaring, without even a second of look-at-me-I’m-a-punk theatrics. Having seen them play live only a few weeks ago, I’d reckon that RIGHT ON have significantly scaled this 45’s heights in the intervening years, and are now ready to unleash an LP/CD that’ll slay all comers. Cop a fix now from your friends at Royal Records.