Agony Shorthand

Tuesday, December 23, 2003
AGONY SHORTHAND QUICK SEARCH…..Well, we’re getting toward the end of the year and nearing the one-year anniversary of this web site/blog, a vanity project I hit upon one early February morning and had up & ranting within hours. I think I’ve written at least as much stuff in total for this site as I did during my 7-year run of SUPERDOPE fanzine from 1991-98. At this point it’s becoming unmanageable to find a particular rant/opinion/review unless you choose to comb through the entire archives, month by month. Harnessing the power of “the Internet” and search technology made possible by “Google”, I’ve hit upon an ingenious way to find the Agony Shorthand posts most relevant to your life and what you might be in need of knowing at any given moment. Get this: all you need to do is go to Google or Yahoo and type in (“Agony Shorthand” AND “____”) and you’re nearly certain to find what you’re looking for. A nearly complete, unalphabetized list of the “____”s are listed below:

Hasil Adkins, Scientists, Clothilde, Pop Group, Charley Patton, Seems Twice, Birthday Party, The Fall, Maestros and Dipsos, Willie Brown, Pussy Cat, Numbers, Rolling Stones, Hunches, The Clean, A-Frames, Dust Devils, Black Flag, Sonic Youth, Flesh Eaters, Mission of Burma, Sahara Hotnights, Green River, Dictators, Piranhas, Monks, Big Black, Death of Samantha, A Feast of Snakes, Gories, Scratch Acid, Nathaniel Mayer, Sex Pistols, Slugfuckers, Mudhoney, Blutt, Lili Z, Raincoats, Volt, Right On, Mars, Wavis O’Shave, Carter Family, Blind Willie McTell, Ghana Soundz, Country Teasers, Naked Raygun, Die Kruezen, Augustus Pablo, Trojan, Rembetica, Flowers In The Wildwood, Teengenerate, Come, Pink Floyd, Das Damen, Lightning Bolt, Pink and Brown, Zoomers, Son House, Crime, Bags, No Night Sweats, Rocket From The Tombs, Velvet Underground, MC5, Bunker Hill, Pussy Galore, Neil Young, Hot Women, Lazy Cowgirls, Revillos, Mo-dettes, Delta 5, Desperate Bicycles, Dolly Mixture, Soul Asylum, Simply Saucer, Dwarves, Stooges, Aislers Set, 24 Hour Party People, Velvet Goldmine, Cosmic Psychos, Kent 3, Bill Direen & The Bilders, Zodiac Killers, Comets on Fire, Modern Lovers, Can, Sunburned Hand of The Man, The Spits, Blank-Its, Vom, White Stripes, Squirrel Bait, Spacemen 3, Dan Melchior’s Broke Revue, John Coltrane, Pere Ubu, Warlocks, Tokyo record stores, Hackamore Brick, Johnny Hash, Happy Flowers, Bangles, Homosexuals, Green On Red, Sharon Jones & The Dap Kings, Lee Hazlewood, Crack: We Are Rock, Staple Singers, Monoshock, The Fall, Rogers Sisters, Peter Blegvad, Dinosaur Jr., Trashmen, Geeks, Diane Ray, Cheater Slicks, Cat Power, Killdozer, Laughing Hyenas, The Fluid, Instant Automatons, Revolutionaries, Lightnin’ Hopkins, Native Hipsters, Twilighters, Captain Beeheart, Love Child, Roxy Music, Swearing At Motorists, Controllers, Public Nuisance, Nubs, Solger, Eyes, Liimanarina, Kitty Wells, Union Carbide Productions, Prince Buster, Drunks With Guns, Brentwoods, Scritti Politti, Mr. California & The State Police, Love, Sunburned Hand of the Man, Drop, Skip James, Hospitals, Mirrors, Girls At Our Best!, Icky Boyfriends, Frisco Styles, Money Be No Sand, Black Flag, Music From Kentucky, and Nancy Sinatra

So search away, thanks to our new easy, time saving shortcut! Giving you the gift of time and the freedom of place – that’s Agony Shorthand’s brand promise to you!

Monday, December 22, 2003

It’s been said before, and it’s been said before that it’s been said before, but it hasn’t been said enough: SON HOUSE was one of the most wildly inventive and brilliant musical geniuses of all time. His three two-part 78s from 1928-1930 are at the top diamond of the pre-WWII blues pyramid, rivaling only SKIP JAMES and CHARLEY PATTON for prime placement in the plaintive pantheon. I’ve found myself coming back to those three amazing compositions – “My Black Mama”, “Preachin’ The Blues” and “Dry Spell Blues” – of late, and finding it easy to do so thanks to the paradoxical virtues of CD technology. The best collection of his work, for my money, is the 24-track collection “Son House and The Great Delta Blues Singers – Complete Recorded Works (1928-1930)”. This is assembled in typical completist fashion by longtime UK blues archivists Document Records, and contains not only House’s complete works (including the unissued, post-mortem discovery “Walking Blues”) but those of 7 like-minded contemporaries like BLIND JOE (WILLIE) REYNOLDS and KID BAILEY.

You have to wonder how many incredible unrecorded blues classics were completely lost to history, given that these guys were generally documented at the whim of producers looking to make a buck off the “race record” market. Thus we are left with only two tracks in total from Patton pal WILLIE BROWN (whom I’ve discussed previously), the stunning “Future Blues” and railroad classic “M & O Blues”. It’d likely be like having “Lexicon Devil” and “Circle One” being the only surviving GERMS material; can you imagine what it would be like to later stumble upon “Forming” and the “(GI)” album? I suspect it’s not going to happen with Brown or any of his and House’s kin; that vein has been thoroughly drained as deep as it’s going to go. What I like about this collection is the fact that it’s not clogged with alternate takes and different versions – I know that pleases a lot of archivists, and often it’s a great way to gain insight into the creative process. But sometimes you just want the best of the best, the stuff that was agreed to be definitive at the time, and that’s what you get here. In fact, if different versions exist of these songs, I don’t know about them. This collection is as essential as any Yazoo assemblage, given the complete recordings of the aforementioned House and Brown, as well as the booming voice & slide guitar of Reynolds, the sole 1930 recording of slack-key master JIM THOMPKINS (“Bedtime Blues”), and other great works by pioneers GARFIELD AKERS, JOE CALLICOTT and RUBE LACY.

As an aside, one of the more interesting cultural archeology stories of the past 50 years is the epic 1960s quest & discovery of the original giants of blues by blues-crazed, eggheaded northeastern college students. You know what I’m talking about – the John Faheys of the world taking long road trips into the deep, deep south in order to go door to door, saloon to saloon, farm house to farm house to track down Son House and his brethren. I think it’s a pretty fascinating tale, and it pushes all my buttons in a positive way: the thrill of the chase, the clash of cultures, the birth of racial tolerance/respect, and of course, complete & total musical obsession. I’ve read some great articles about this, but is there a definitive, well-written book or resource that captures this story well? I’d appreciate any suggestions for further reading.

Friday, December 19, 2003
ZOOMERS : “EXIST” CD…..My first stab at the new batch of Hyped2Death reissues & unearthings is this CD from 1979-82 Baton Rouge, Louisiana space punks THE ZOOMERS, and I am coming away from three back-to-back-to-back spins extremely impressed. In a town and geographic region not especially noted for out of the box rock and roll thinking (SHIT DOGS notwithstanding!), The Zoomers were cranking up the phasers, delay effects, plinky keyboards and distortion pedals and layering them on top of genuinely offbeat song structures. Their only 7”EP, “From The Planet Moon / You’ll See / Somatic”, collected here along with what looks to be a cassette-only release, has probably the most pedestrian bunch of tracks on the disc, yet even these are truly unique slices of early underground lunacy. “Moon” (which appears in two versions) is just a hands-down absolute left field classic, starting with the opening proclamation, “My space ship landed” and spinning off into oddball time structures & new invented on the spot choruses from there. Later in the CD you get a sense of the LSD obsession that band leader “Zoomer” describes in his liner notes: some not-too-annoying jams, and all the controlled musical experimentation you can handle, yet still well within the confines of what we might call “late 70s/early 80s American punk-influenced DIY”. The notes make reference to a pretty sizable band hostility to the day’s punk rockers, and laughs wistfully at their ill-starred gig opening for the BAD BRAINS in Baton Rouge. Eventually it was the drugs that did the band in, and I think it’s hard to come away from this and not infer the influence of heavy stimulants on the band’s creative process. That or they were just wacked to begin with; likely both. I’m thankful the Hyped2Death organization took the time to put it together; Chuck’s track record of finding the best and weirdest treasures from this era continues to impress.

Thursday, December 18, 2003
BRETT MILANO : “VINYL JUNKIES – ADVENTURES IN RECORD COLLECTING” book….Couldn’t resist a book purporting to explore the deep neuroses and off-putting rituals of the record collector, even though I’m one of the many accumulators who loudly insists that he – and it’s almost always a he – “is not a real record collector”. My defense is that I’m nearly as happy with a burned CD containing MP3 files of songs I want and need as I am with the original vinyl. So does that give me a pass, even if there seems to be a never-ending stack of new things to listen to and file? My wife argues that no, it does not. Anyway, Brett Milano, the book’s author, was known to me only via some ribbing he endured in mid-80s issues of Forced Exposure, rendering him decidedly uncool at the time (I seem to recall a “Worst of ‘85” poll result for “Worst t-shirt” being one that read “I Am Brett Milano”). I decided to give his book a try, and I’m glad I did. It’s a real simple and quick read, with fairly breezy prose profiling the different aspects of collectordom: Traveling great distances to find vinyl; love of your first record shop; brain chemical-based explanations for collector behavior; the hunt for every collector’s holy grail record; “extreme collecting”; and what record collecting can do to relationships with females, assuming one is ever consummated in the first place. Some of the characters who make appearances are well-known for their collecting pathologies: Jeff Connolly/Monoman (who my wife and I viewed in his native habitat, a Boston record store, two summers ago, loudly expounding on multiple music-related topics to anyone within earshot), Thurston Moore, Robert Crumb, Steve Turner and Nick Saloman/Bevis Frond. I’ll quote from some of the better pages I dog-eared whilst reading:

“(There’s an) egalitarian aspect of collecting, in that rich and poor collectors devote the same space to their collections – namely, whatever space they’ve got. In either case, you’ve made a decision to accumulate. And somewhere along the way, you’ve lost the possibility of keeping track of it all. Thus it’s always a collecting rite of passage when you first buy something twice by accident”

During a passage on Steve Turner’s collecting habits: “’70s and ‘80s punk singles are Turner’s specialty, and he wound up perfecting one shopping tactic: ‘I know how record store people work – if they don’t know what something is, they’ll just ignore it. So let’s say I’m poking around an attic of a store, and I find something great. I’ll stick those at the bottom of the pile and stick something crappy on top – say, a single by Generation X [Billy Idol’s first band, not quite revered by punk scholars]. They’ll see my pile, say, ‘The one on top is ten dollars, but the rest are a buck.’ So I’ll put the Generation X one back and take the rest.’”

Interview with filmmaker Alan Zweig, who directed a good but ultimately quite sad documentary about record collectors called "Vinyl": “The problem is, you have to make a decision in your life to have room for a girlfriend. Collectors have already made a decision not to do that, because the only room they have in their lives is for records. It’s not that women don’t like it, it’s that you’re not really in the game. You wake up in the morning, and you’re thinking about records. Some of the people I know have records lying around everywhere, and if you’re with a woman, you’re asking a lot for them to get past that. A lot of collectors have found a way to create their own world, they’ve found a way to make themselves, in quotes, happy. In that way they don’t need anybody else.”

Peter Prescott: “Now that I’ve owned up to being a collector, I’ll say that what really gets me off is knowing that I have this personal library of everything that appeals to me, and that I can pull any of it out whenever I want to. That’s the wonderful thing, customizing the soundtrack of your life. It goes against the fact that so many things are considered disposable now. Music has always been the center of my life, and to some extent it keeps you from just walking outside and fitting into the crowd. What better way to avoid that than to surround yourself with the music you relate to the most? That really is a way of adjusting the world to you.”

I devoured Milano’s book with time to spare on a 4-hour flight to Chicago this week, and it was even interesting enough for me to want to transcribe the above paragraphs for you, hand cramps be damned. As the saying goes, read the whole thing.

Wednesday, December 17, 2003
COME WITH THE GENTLE PEOPLE…..No rock and roll/comedy/sexploitation film ever touched as deep a nerve for me as the hilarious “BEYOND THE VALLEY OF THE DOLLS” did the first half dozen times I saw it, and to this day I think I would drop everything to watch it should it ever come on TV (which it won’t, but there is a cheap DVD out now that I need to get). I not only instantly fell for Kelly MacNamera and thrilled to Z-Man, Lance Rocke/Jungle Lad and all the brilliant one-liners this film had to offer, I actually really enjoyed the fake music of Kelly’s fake band the CARRIE NATIONS (nee the much superior moniker THE KELLY AFFAIR). Somehow their songs in this Russ Meyer film transcend novelty and end up being terrific, brassy 60s pop, even when divorced from the context of the on-screen action. Now you can get the expanded soundtrack on a new 2003 edition from Harkit Records. It has all the corkers from the film: “Find It”, “Look On Up At The Bottom” (later covered by RED CROSS!), “Sweet Talkin’ Candy Man”, “In The Long Run” and of course “Come With The Gentle People” (“….they’re the only ones who understand…”). It even tosses in (inferior) original versions with a different (inferior, over-emotive) vocalist, along with all the original instrumental soundtrack music, the two ditties from hairy hippies the STRAWBERRY ALARM CLOCK (which are actually pretty good), and the devastatingly bad muzak of a title track from “The Sandpipers”. Yeah, I know that it’s schlock, but it’s my schlock and it freaks me out!


I’ve frequently held these guys up as a representative example of the cream of 1990s garage punk rock, but I’ll now admit that I’ve only done so on the basis of their excellent 45s, especially the raw power of their one-sided Rip Off disc “Out of Sight/Pushin' Me Around”. I’d never owned their one and only official full-length release until now. Do the raves still hold? A definite maybe. If any band could be said to personify a garage punk ASSAULT the way Black Flag personified a hardcore punk ASSAULT, that band would be TEENGENERATE. That’s absolutely something to be proud of – and there are numbers here that are just pure, unabashed, hook-filled fury, such as “Radio 55” and “Fake Fake Fake”. Yet it’s really too much to take in one sitting, even in a 35-minute serving doled out in two-minute portions. There’s too much repetition, too much painting by numbers, a few too many covers and a little too much self-conscious rawness for “Get Action” to be considered a real timeless classic. My litmus test: What will people say about it in thirty years? I suspect they won’t, not the way they’ll be cheering the GORIES ' first two records or SUPERCHARGER’s “Goes Way Out!”. Teengenerate are the best Japan’s had to offer in this crowded field by a mile, but I can’t in good conscience elevate them from the upper middle of the worldwide garage punk pack.

Tuesday, December 16, 2003
WHAT’S WITH THE HIPPY DIP TRIP, VOLUME TWO….I thought that maybe some of you would get a kick out of a thorough bashing of the modern hippie scene and the high-minded liberal reactionary rhetoric that often accompanies it (see “What’s With The Hippy Dip Trip?” below). It was certainly fun for me! I’m gonna call "Derek"’s bluff and take him up on his challenge, right around Comment #10. To quote:

"B. Coley made political comments all the time in FE in his reviews, etc.

It's funny that you can't seem to help admitting you like Sunburned Hand Of The Man when you saw them.

Sorry, but Comets On Fire are also part of this movement that is coming to take over my scene (yeah, right) too.

If we're comparing pathetic cultural anachronisms, 'punk' 'wins' every time."

First, “SUNBURNED” were fine when I saw them – I know there’s some talent lurking there, and you get me in a small club to see live rock music for the first time in months, I’m likely to be pretty open-minded & positive about just about anything, even a dancing hippie. It’s only when I’m back at my keyboard that the curmudgeonly cynicism kicks back in, and I thought it might be pleasurable to have a cheap chortle at their expense. But the more broad – albeit mocking and somewhat tongue-in-cheek -- point was being made about the modern underground taking up common cause with the reactionary left (not to be confused with the reasoned, informed, change-embracing left). The politics associated with the underground really don’t interest me much, since we’re talking about people who wear their lefter-than-thou personas with the same amount of well-crafted consideration and urge to shock mom as they do their hair and clothing styles. Whatever. My antipathy to these people dates back to my weekly date with the Maximum Rock and Roll radio show in the early 80s, when “Tim and the gang” would argue for hours about who was the better communist, or mercilessly harangue MDC because they took a plane to Canada rather than drive a beat-up bus fueled with potato oil. Now it’s all about the chasm between September 10th Americans and September 11th Americans, and I resent the insinuation that everyone with any interest in the musical underground has to make their bed with the former. Thurston Moore’s ranting in ARTHUR and the general spirit of that magazine personifies the groupthink that I have absolutely no time for, whether it comes from the right or the left.

Recognizing fully the risk of taking this down to the level of a high school pissing match, I have to comment on Derek’s statement regarding what’s more of a pathetic cultural anachronism, “punk” or “hippy”. Who cares? I only make fun of hippies in the happy-grinnin’ mocking spirit of early LA punks Eugene, Mugger and The Deadbeats. Let’s remember, though, that one (punk) is a music that necessitates no lifestyle to be wrapped around it, whereas the other (hippy) is wholly defined by the lifestyle, and only vaguely represents music. Far be it for me to be the sacred defender of punk, but there’s no getting around its relevance to the furthering of the rock and roll form. At some level, that’s even true today. But let’s not confuse wardrobes, attitudes and political associations with the actual music. Isn’t it great that blogs like mine can really get to the meaty issues of our times? Glad to help!

Monday, December 15, 2003
MISSION OF BURMA LIVE TO AIR…..Was re-blown away by the majesty of one of my all-time favorite bands, MISSION OF BURMA, this past week, courtesy of a CD that comprises two on-air recordings they made for Boston’s WERS radio in 1980. Last time I remembered how great and ahead of the curve this band were was during my post-2002 reunion show Burma frenzy, when I re-listened to their entire, every-song-a-classic catalog over AND over AND over again. That show, by the way, dispelled any hide-bound notions I had about the lameness of reunion gigs. The July 2002 show in San Francisco was easily most fantastic rock show I’ve seen in, like, a decade! Just when they were peaking during the encore, having kicked out the jams through “Fame and Fortune” and “That’s How I Escaped My Certain Fate”, they cranked out a million miles fast cover of one of the greatest first wave punk tunes ever, THE DILS' “Class War”. I’m pretty sure I fainted.

These radio sets are from April 1980 and September 1980 respectively, pretty early in the band’s brief career – in the first one, Roger Miller talks skeptically about whether or not their first 45 (“Academy Fight Song / Max Ernst”) will ever be released (!). “Max Ernst” in particular, always a quirky and confusing (but good) song on the 45, is delivered in raw and aggressive fashion live – somehow they missed the spirit of their own world-beating song when they got it onto vinyl. The April 1980 set also has a Peter Prescott-sung tune that has never appeared elsewhere and to the best of my knowledge was unrecorded. It’s lopey and a little more whimsical than most Burma output, maybe more in line with Prescott’s later Volcano Suns work than with the most refined and geometrically angular Mission of Burma. Both sets contain a great many of the unreleased tunes that never saw official light until long after the band’s demise, like “Execution”, “Peking Spring” and “Progress”. One also has the amazing distorted instrumental piece “Tremelo”, which layers and unwraps a simple riff into its piece parts to hypnotic, entrancing effect. Fantastic stuff, and one of the rare radio or recorded live shows that actually adds to a band’s legend rather than detracts. I’ll make a case for Mission of Burma joining Black Flag, The Flesh Eaters and The Minutemen as the prime exponents of the early 80s American underground, one of the most fertile times and places for rock music anywhere, ever. Now that’s something!

WAVIS O’SHAVE : “THE WORLD OF WAVIS O’SHAVE” CD…..This retrospective collection also goes by the name of “Bedtime Songs for Problem Children”. O’SHAVE is a genuine, no-doubt-about-it specimen of what the English like to call a “Nutter”. You might recognize the name from his genius track tacked on at the end of one of the MESSTHETICS volumes of late 70s UK DIY, “Mauve Shoes Are Awful”. This series always seems to end each volume with a “wacky” number, but for some reason this bizarre, inspired stumble transcends pure novelty and just lets it rip. Totally annoying and yet worthy of repeated listenings. Turns out Wavis O’Shave’s been on the British alt-comedy scene for two dozen years now, and bordered the periphery of sub-underground, home-recorded rock and roll as well. This collection will severely try the patience of many, as the humor is likely SO English that it’ll fly way over the heads of most non-Brits. It certainly left me standing on the shores of the Atlantic more than half the time. But I found a connection with a few of the less cuckoo numbers (“Jeremy’s a Pansy”, “The Fig Roll Song”) and marveled at a time when basement craziness of this kind found its way into record shops with ease. I guess it still does, but there is something worth crowing about to being first on the stick with a home-pressed EP of your own blathering way back in 1979. I have to laugh, even if it’s mostly on the inside.

Friday, December 12, 2003
V/A : “N.Y. NO WAVE” CD….

This new comp of 1978-80 ZE RECORDS selections is sort of the little brother compilation to Soul Jazz’s outstanding “NEW YORK NOISE” assemblage, also from this year. The breadth is limited by the label’s discography, most of which centered around a small knot of key players (JAMES CHANCE/WHITE, LYDIA LUNCH, and LIZZY MERCIER DESCLOUX) and their respective, intermingled bands. I’m admittedly a little late in discovering some of the glories of New York City no wave, probably because I have for years been underwhelmed by the mediocre, annoying James Chance/CONTORTIONS stuff, by the marginally interesting SUICIDE, & by complete ambivalence to Ms. Lunch’s career, including the promising TEENAGE JESUS & THE JERKS (who unfortunately are one of those bands you need to hear exactly once, and then you’re d-o-n-e). In so doing, I pretty much missed out on MARS, who are represented here by “3-E” and “11,000 Volts” – both screeching, plodding, pounding dark rock and roll, totally ferocious and unlike anything before it. If I have to pick a personal “retro discovery of the year” for 2003, I’m going with MARS – and yes, I know, it’s not exactly this out-of-left-field find. You were there way before me.

But hey – were you there for ROSA YEMEN? This group, featuring Lizzy Mercier Descloux on fractured, stream-of-consciousness French, are well represented on NY NO WAVE with a big four tracks, all from their s/t 1978 LP. They’re great. The common denominator of the best no wave is that wildly paranoid, adrenaline-packed skittering that races the heart and scrambles the mind; Rosa Yemen were excellent at capturing this sound and making it even vaguely danceable. Descloux really thumped up the grooves that much more on her solo stuff, documented here on “Wawa” and “Torso Corso”. I’m even surprised to find myself really enjoying the solo LYDIA LUNCH stuff here – some entertaining, horn-drenched fake lounge music with naked-city stories of sex and betrayal. In sum, I’m pretty impressed with the compilation & highly recommend it as a darker adjunct to the more funkified “NEW YORK NOISE”.

Monday, December 08, 2003

Among the top 10 rock moments of my life was the first time I saw THE DWARVES in 1988 at San Francisco’s Covered Wagon Saloon. The band was in full bloom from their transition from horror-splashed 60s-inspired garage band to raging hardcore-inspired 30-seconds-flat punk rock band, but I didn’t know that yet. Expecting a heavy dose of angry, keyboard-driven psychedelia, I instead got a ballistic six song, five minute set with so much crazed misanthropic energy that the small crowd was driven into the nether regions of the club, fleeing singer Blag Jesus with a mixture of terror and shit-eating glee. Jesus would announce the song title (“This one’s called “Motherfucker”, or “This one’s called “Fuckhead”), and it was 1,2,3, panic for the next forty-five seconds. The whole band was totally nuts, but from this day forward my favorite Dwarve – nay, my favorite rock and roller – was bassist Salt Peter, who affected the most ridiculous bad-ass leather-jacketed rock poses you could imagine, a combination of the exceptionally effeminate and the Hell’s Angel-style ugly. I can’t do it justice in words, but the memories are strong. Needless to say, I was more than hooked, and I proceeded to attend pretty much every show they played in SF up until about 1991 or so, when they had convincingly passed into mediocrity and self-parody.

The band’s whole blood/sex/violence shtick was, I maintain, just that: a shtick. Sure, they might have been violent, hateful losers in real life as well, but there was a real tongue-in-cheek spirit and hidden intelligence there that was hard to locate on the surface. When I wrote the band a fan letter the next month, politely enquiring as to where I could find their “Lucifer’s Crank” cassette, I received a very friendly, conversational handwritten note back from Blag, patiently explaining their discography and thanking me profusely for my fandom. He then signed off with a “PS – Go Fuck Yourself”. The next year that amazing “Toolin’ For a Warm Teabag” 12”EP came out, still an absolute high-water mark for screaming, socket-bursting, in the red punk rock music. It approximates that first live show I saw quite well: 6 tracks, about 6 minutes, and every last one of them a killer. Soon thereafter the rest of the world began to find out. When Mudhoney came to town in 1990, a drunken Mark Arm couldn’t stop shouting “The Dwarves! The Dwarves! Fuck you up and get high!” to the crowd throughout his own band’s set – seems The Dwarves had made their Seattle debut a few days earlier, and secured their Sub Pop deal in the process. They also were playing their best new song since “Let’s Get Pregnant” or “Sit On My Face” – the masterwerk, the uber-genius, the supremely rarified “Fuck You Up and Get High”. Unlike so many of the fake-“dangerous” bands of the era (COWS, HELMET, HOLE, BASTARDS etc.), the 1987-1991 Dwarves stand up tall even today. I’ll advance the proposition that they successfully took punk rock as far as it had been taken up to that point, and subsequent blaze-punk bands like the Zodiac Killers are only basking in the mid-period Dwarves’ considerable shadow (good as they are). For reference, I wholeheartedly suggest the 39-track “Free Cocaine” retrospective CD; the out of print “Toolin’ For Lucifer’s Crank” CD, and the incredible (and incredibly rare) “Lick It / Nothing” 45, a thrilling encapsulation of their psych-to-punk transition that finds them right smack in the middle of the operation.

TRONICS : “WHAT’S THE HUBUB, BUB?” CD…..Speaking of the MESSTHETICS British DIY series, one of the leading lights so far is the excellent “Shark Fucks” by the TRONICS, a 1979-83 home unit/duo given to recording in the kitchen. A kind Agony Shorthand reader recently sent me a roast of the recent CD re-release of the band’s 1980 “What’s The Hubub, Bub?” cassette, and it’s a strong ultra-indie folk/garage hybrid, tempered by a meaningless dose of squawking industrial electronics and long tape recordings straight off the television. The propulsive “Shark Fucks” also makes an appearance, albeit in a slightly different arrangement. Great track, and a must-hear for fans of the weird world of late 70s homemade UK post-punk. Singer “Ziro Baby” had a very warm and inviting folksinger sort of voice that belies his bizarre subject matter, and his partner in crime and rhythm “Alyce In Wonderland” sounds like her kit consisted of a single tom drum and a spoon. Not the sort of thing that’ll make its way to the CD deck too often, but there is definitely some there there.

Friday, December 05, 2003
HYPED2DEATH IS BACK.....After a long hiatus that had been rumored to be connected to legal troubles -- but was really just the arrival of a new kid (I can relate) -- Chuck Warner's HYPED2DEATH 70s/80s punk/post-punk/DIY archive label is back. He's got a small handful of one-off "complete works" releases by past stars of his HOMEWORK, HYPED2DEATH, MESSTHETICS and TEENLINE comps, including some that sound pretty interesting, like the one from Baton Rouge weirdos THE ZOOMERS (their "From The Planet Moon" is easily one of the top 10 tracks from the exhaustive HOMEWORK series). I'd like to see Warner finish the alphabet for the aforementioned series first, but these'll do. Only $9 each, and he takes Paypal (fake money) -- gotta love it. (NOTE: now I understand why he may never finish the alphabet, as this article makes clear -- thanks for the link)

Thursday, December 04, 2003

Ever search the $1 or $2 CD bins and leave frustrated because you can never pull a single decent CD out of the flotsam, even at such a killer rock-bottom price? The wait is over, folks – because the KENT 3 have yet another CD that’s fallen on deaf ears, even in their native Seattle. During my two years of residence in the rainy city, the Kent 3 were one of the only local bands outside of DEAD MOON & MUDHONEY I’d regular venture out to see. I think I caught them on at least a half-dozen occasions, and every last one was a great time. What does one call the style of rock they play? Garage? I guess….but the likelihood of their having any supporters amongst what we commonly think of as Crypt- or even Estrus-style “garage rockers” is pretty nonexistent. How about ROCK? Sure! Make that raw, occasionally straight-ahead rock seasoned with the weirdest, most obtuse sense of humor and lyrical wordplay you can imagine. These gentlemen are by no means dumb – there’s a sneaking suspicion I have, borne out in their lyrics and even in the twisting but riff-heavy music, that the Kent 3 are playing at a stratified plain just above the one most mortals occupy, and that they are so stifled and frustrated that they throw caution to the wind & just say “fuck it” when it comes time to compose a coherent lyrical or musical narrative. In fact part of the fun of listening to them is trying to figure out where Viv Halogen’s lyrical and philosophical thought train will take you in a song. It’s not meant to be “funny” per se (though it often is anyway), just “interesting”. And I hate lyrics!

This latest one came out in 2002, a good four years after the excellent “Peasant Musik” emerged on Steve Turner (Mudhoney)’s SuperElectro label. I don’t know how I missed it, but then these guys are used to coping with a fairly low profile. Not even sure if they’re around anymore, really. I’d like to know. “Spells” definitely eschews some of the more mid-tempo meanderings of its predecessor for a lot more fired-up aggression, but even that is tempered by titles like “Man In a Woman’s Body” that sort of act as quiet, puzzling interludes for the rest. Halogen has a terrific voice, which is kind of curious when you consider that an incarnation of this band from a decade ago (“Screaming Youth Fantastic” ) practically fell down solely on their then-vocalist’s rotten set of pipes. I have to live with “Spells” some more, but from where I sit today, it’s their most consistent long player to date, Maybe their best. Yet if people truly vote with their wallets, then this is not a very well-appreciated band. You’ll have to factor that against my glowing appraisal and see if it’s worth parting with your dollar when you come across “Spells” in the used CD bins.

Wednesday, December 03, 2003
V/A : “DRINK UP AND GO HOME! – SUN COUNTRY VOL. 2” CD….A few years back I discovered that SUN RECORDS held an embarrassment of country music riches that I’d barely known existed. All the early rock and roll cats that recorded here had dabbled in the genre before their greater glory – in fact, Elvis’ “That’s All Right / Blue Moon Of Kentucky” was marketed and found its success throughout the South on traditional fiddle-dominated country radio. This 1996 AVI Records, Sun-licensed compilation followed 1995’s Volume One, “Defrost Your Heart”, and is a nice elaboration on the drinkin’/cheatin’/lyin’/heartbreakin’ concept initially fleshed out on the first. The ringers on this one belong to Mr. CARL PERKINS and his devastating title track – a demo recorded at home with his children frolicking in the background (!) – and the fantastically boozy “No More, No More” & “They Call Our Love a Sin” from JIMMY HAGGETT. The great CHARLIE FEATHERS clocks in with two numbers, one of which is such a dead-on, unabashed ripoff of HANK WILLIAMS you have to clink a frosty, tear-filled glass his way. There’s also MAGGIE SUE WIMBERLY, whose voice is so 16-year-old raw and nubile that her two tracks sound like nervous auditions for the local community talent show/barbeque/bake sale.

This compilation, like its predecessor, appears to drive for completeness, so you get A-sides, B-sides, demos and toss-offs alike. There are certainly some clinkers in there, particularly the cornpone abomination that are the “Rhythm Rockers”. While I recommend striving for completeness in the case of Sun Country – these guys were absolute recording masters and their crack house band was just the best in the business – the better bet for the neophyte is a subsequent 2000 compilation called simply “The Best of Sun Country” on the Italian Saar Records. Here you get all the heavy hitters representing – Perkins, Feathers, Charlie Rich, Jerry Lee Lewis and even those harmonizing Miller Sisters. It’s a whopping 60 minutes of tearjerking that’ll lay even the raging optimist flat out & down low

Monday, December 01, 2003
WHAT’S WITH THE HIPPY DIP TRIP??…..Have hippies all of sudden become the focal point of underground taste and style? You’d be forgiven for thinking so after perusing November’s issue of ARTHUR magazine. This is a laughable development in late 2003, and yet considering how hard this paper tries to conjur up the ghosts of the Vietnam-era broadsheet, it’s not at all surprising. (Yes, I know I’ve ranted with tongue partially in cheek about Arthur before, and I promise this is the last one). There’s this weird axis forming now between professional activists devoted to perpetuation of the status quo, the insular, in-jokey private-press noise/improv scene and old-school 1960s-style Vermont hippies. They seemed to have found their nexus in the pages of this free magazine, and also in noodly noise ensembles like NO NECK BLUES BAND and what one Brian Turner presciently dubbed the “beard rock” scene. I think it stems from the bunker mentality common to those who stridently believe that they and they alone have the answer, be it political, musical or social – everyone else be damned.

ARTHUR columnist and rock guitarist Thurston Moore, of all people, seems to carry the banner of this nexus the highest. He’s gone from being a rock hero of mine to a shrill harpy and babbling know-it-all about his pet causes and bands. There’s something about the self-righteousness of Moore, his “Protest” Records and overheated political rhetoric that really tans my hide. Maybe it’s the unspoken assumption that if you have any affinity with underground music whatsoever, you simply must agree wholeheartedly with his sentiments about “fucked yuppie culture” and that Bush = Hitler. Even if I do agree, he’s about the last person in the world I want to be taking my cues from. Newfangled hippies like Moore have potentially even ensnared the formerly apolitical Byron Coley in their net, who now writes in his co-penned (with Moore) “Bull Tongue” column paens to bong hits, hippie noise jams and unfunny George W. jokes. This once-promising column has fallen so fast so quickly I have to think that Coley is barely involved; his distinctive stamp is barely on the thing. Tony Rettman’s piece on a national tour of SUNBURNED HAND OF THE MAN & a couple of other bands also fits into this nexus. This collective are the poster children for what I’m talking about – lots of chat here about incense being burned, gypsy folk troubadours, magick, that sort of thing. I kind of liked them as a curiosity when I saw them, but honestly, folks. There was a dancing hesher, a woman sprawled out on the floor who intermittently bleated into a microphone, instruments randomly changing hands, and long “peace-pipe friendly” groovathons. It was OK, but “Rock and roll” my ass! Keep a close watch on your scene, folks – these people are slowly training their mystic eye on it, and they’re beginning to smell victory.