Agony Shorthand

Thursday, July 29, 2004

As I understand it from those who know, this was the one CD to get from defiantly underground, Columbus OH-based first wave art/damage group VERTICAL SLIT, as it collected material from their 1977-78 debut records as well as from a wealth of cassette-only spewings. For those who followed the band closely, and there weren’t too many of ya, Vertical Slit & their now-deceased-by-his-own-hand leader Jim Shepard were way-outsiders revered for a sonically robust space rock that was full of cynicism and anger, and which also gained from a “submerged fidelity” aesthetic that rendered some aural puzzlement to their wailing keyboards & screaming guitars. Every time I tried to get into the band while they were around, I was stymied by actually listening to them. They stood for many things I enjoyed & continue to enjoy: conscious divorce from any ethos of the era (e.g. what the other kids are doing); reverence & obvious hardcore knowledge for their forebears (which I’ll call out as Can, Destroy All Monsters, Hawkwind, weird avant-geniuses like Kim Fowley, and a boatload of experimental music from the 20th century); and a wreck-the-speakers approach to making distorted, complex rock music. Things we all appreciate. But I always thought the end product was just “good enough” – good enough to intellectually appreciate from a distance, but never great enough to actually play repeatedly at home.

“Vertical Slit….and Beyond” does little to challenge my initial take on ‘em, though it’s by no means a bad disc. There’s a lot of angry musical staredowns going on in each creepy 4- or 5-minute sonic mélange, which ingests some of the aforementioned influences and spit out a creative, well-differentiated artpunk that was about as basement as it gets. Shepard comes off as a pretty frustrated dude, but one who certainly knew his ass from his elbow & who probably had more ideas racing through his cranium than he did the native ability to lay them down successfully. Where Vertical Slit ended and Shepard’s other band V-3 began I cannot say; there are numbers on this one (the pissed-off revenge fantasy “Party/Cop/Judge” being one of them) that I remember from V-3 material I once owned. (V-3 are the 1990s recipient of the Hampton Grease Band award for the worst-selling and most unlikely major label record, which in both cases means it was pretty good – great in the Grease Band’s case). If I could pick out even one track as the number I’d throw on my “Modern ArtPunk Space Pirates, Volume 4” comp CD-R for you, I’d at least have a Vertical Slit ditty to hang my hat on. But alas, such a number does not exist. Again, on paper it’s a potent brew, but I’d be shirking my duty as a teller of truth if I gave the Slit any more than the meritocratic 3 stars they dutifully earned. Respectful disagreements or new ways of seeking sonic truth are heartily welcomed.

Wednesday, July 28, 2004
AGITATION FOR THE UNDIGITIZED.....Early last year I made an entreaty for the digitization of several great LPs, mostly from the 80s, that still hadn’t made it to CD for whatever reason. Since then a couple FLESH EATERS records came off the list (or are about to), as did the debut DMZ record that I subsequently decided wasn’t all that necessary anyway. Here’s a new to-do list for any would-be reissue mavens, and I invite you to add to the pile in the comments section below.

1. GIBSON BROS “Big Pine Boogie”
2. FLESH EATERS “Forever Came Today”
3. HACKAMORE BRICK "One Kiss Leads To Another”
4. WORLD OF POOH “The Land of Thirst”
5. TALES OF TERROR “Tales of Terror”
6. AVENGERS White Noise EP
7. NIGHT KINGS “Increasing Our High”
8. RED CROSS “Red Cross” (1st EP)
9. VOLCANO SUNS “All Night Lotus Party”
10. BANGLES “Bangles” debut EP

Tuesday, July 27, 2004

A middleweight in a sea of 60s UK maximum R&B/”freakbeat” reissues, one that I’d strongly recommend if, say, fifteen of the 24 tracks had been shorn without a second thought. You may be most familiar with these guys from a variety of after-the-fact compilations, not the least of which is the “Nuggets 2” box set which includes the overwrought but smokin’ hard mod cranker “Mud In Your Eye”. Then there’s “Circles”, better known to the WHO nation as “Instant Party”. I’m not certain who was on the idea first (pretty sure it was The Who), but it’s a masterful arena anthem on the level of THE CREATION’s “How Does It Feel (To Feel)” (and that’s pretty masterful!). LES FLEUR DE LYS recorded with multiple line-ups during their existence in 1965-68, and it shows. What was once hard-edged and raw guitar acid-psychedelia or mod pop (the aforementioned, “Tick Tock”, “Sugar Love”) ultimately gave way in 1967-68 to some yawn-inducing, toned-down PROCOL HARUM piffle and some cringeworthy Stonehenge-like druid rock. The band’s top moment, in my opinion, was a shredding one-off 45 they recorded with SHARON TANDY called “Hold On / Daughter of the Sun”, both of which are thankfully included here. I wrote about “Hold On” last year on this site, and the flip, while not nearly as intense, is still explosively rough-edged and well-produced, and totally deserving of a place in your MP3 folder at the very least. There’s something to be said for collecting as much of a footnote of a band as anyone could stomach onto one 74-minute CD, but as far as listening to every track goes – well, I’ve martyred myself on the thing in full, so now you don’t have to.

Monday, July 26, 2004

It was about 11-12 years ago when I became deeply entangled with the music of the then-California High Desert-based (by way of Tucson) GIANT SAND, and bought pretty much their entire back catalog in one fell swoop. I’d seen the band play once before, in 1987 in Los Angeles – they were still in their Dylan-of-the-desert stage best heard on the 1986 LP “Ballad Of A Thin Line Man”, and actually blew me away with a great keyboard-drenched set of country-based troubadour blues, similar to their pals GREEN ON RED (whose Chris Cacavas was conveniently guesting on keyboards that evening). But an ill-fated purchase of their next record, 1988’s “The Love Songs”, soured me on the band for a couple of years – right around this time Howe Gelb & co. were veering into an experimental black hole of their own making, taking a blender to traditional American roots music and creating something full of quick edits, abrupt shifts in direction, random noise and/or talking, and lyrics that made sense to no one but themselves & the man on the moon. They kept getting big props in the fanzines of the day, but I couldn’t crack the new code.

That was the case until I heard 1992’s “Center Of The Universe” and became re-engaged in a big way. While Giant Sand retained a lot of the weird surprises of the intervening years, in which a song could be an explosive 30-second shitstorm or a beautiful folk-tinged pop song, the songcraft was at its peak during their 1991-94 glory years. Gelb’s mumbly vocal style and cryptic lyrics gave him a certain stature as a true, bent original, and the much-heralded Convertino/Burns rhythm section were helping him crank out some really terrific songs. They were like this weird, desert-based communal family, with members that floated in and out (Paula Jean Brown, Gelb’s wife and then ex-wife, made regular appearances) & special guests like Gelb’s 6-year-old daughter or an ancient old desert sage that Gelb met in a bar (Pappy something-or-other, who is in full force on 1991’s “Ramp”). To this day “Center of the Universe” remains my third favorite of the three CDs of theirs I’ve held onto into the 21st century. The real killer, the one I still listen to all the time, is 1994’s major label debut (and not at all coincidentally, their final major label record), “Glum”. This is where it all came together: slithering, eerie folk songs full of danger (“Happenstance” and “Glum”); know-it-all travelogues (“Frontage Road”), NEIL YOUNG-style erupto-metal, and the usual detours deep into Howe Gelb’s cranium, this time a journey well worth taking.

My problem with the band not long after this one was that everything was being recorded and nothing was being tossed, no matter how jammy or boring. Gelb’s unharnessed creativity led him to put out just about everything he did, and I was gobbling it all. I finally had to filter the band’s accumulated catalog into those three essential CDs: “Ramp”, “Center of the Universe” and “Glum” (I dipped a toe back in a few years ago when “Chore of Enchantment” came out and didn’t like it). Talk to people these days about Giant Sand and you’re usually going to get a frothingly positive response or a big fat “they suck”. I’m trying to take a nuanced middle path here, and recommend checking out those 3 if you’re still a bit dubious – and keeping your distance from the remainder.

Thursday, July 22, 2004
OVA! / HAPPY MOTHER’S DAY I CAN’T READ: “THE NUMBER ON MY FOREHEAD IS GONE” split CD.....A split CD from two hell-raising noise racketeers, one (OVA!) who come across as a pretty fine, aggressive, rubber-burning LIGHTNING BOLT with the training wheels stripped off. Their heavy, hardcore-tempo berserk instrumentals are one step removed from something you might’ve expected Greg Ginn to bust a nut over in the late 80s and sign up onto the jam-centric SST roster – except these guys are good, are well-experienced in the art of the freak-out, and have the intensity and precision of both the Flag and The Minutemen. They’re obviously not that noteworthy, but rank as a pretty nice surprise from the hinterlands (e.g. Minneapolis). HAPPY MOTHERS DAY I CAN’T READ, their pals on this Freedom From release, are toiling in the Nautical Almanac school of dilettante knob-twiddling sound experimentation, with a bit more structure and recognizable pattern-shifting, and therefore a micronic shade more listenable (there are a couple of tracks of demonic laughter that even held my attention for at least 20 seconds). It’s still ridiculous, of course, with little staying power beyond the band’s next bong hit, but I’m sure mine is the minority report & these guys are setting sail to soar to sonic stardom. There are a final 5 cuts from something called “Awesome” that I can only assume are the two bands doing a tag team death march into the bowels of Hades. It sounds exactly like killer instrumental riffage blunted by pointless noise farting, or to be more precise, like OVA! dragged down by their ne’er-do-well experimental friends Happy Mother’s Day I Can’t Read. Let’s see if OVA! can light out on their own next time and bring the panic directly to the kids, because us kids today obviously need a nice big kick in the tuchus.

BILL SMOG, TWENTYSOMETHING CUT-UP.....Hey, did you know that Bill Callahan of SMOG fame once had a pretty funny mid-80s fanzine called DISASTER? I came across some back issues of the magazine once put out by this dour & dashing lonelyheart of indie rock infamy, back when he was undercutting acts like Squirrel Bait and Nick Cave with one of the sharpest pens in the drawer. Actually it still reads pretty well, very much in the same jokey but informative vein as Gerard Cosloy’s CONFLICT, minus the direct access to indie rock luminaries and jokes so IN you’re ready to slit your wrists ‘cause you’re so pathetically OUT. At least his early issues, published from home in suburban Maryland, were like this – later on (like 1990’s issue #6) he started including his own fiction and drawings, and the overall tone became a bit more serious and less mocking (oh well). It reminded me of an era when there were a multitude of fanzines taking this sort of Forced Exposure- or Conflict-inspired approach. Every one of them had to have one or two individuals or bands they mercilessly tore apart (for FE, a geek named Robert Nedelkoff and for Conflict, a band called Gut Bank, if memory serves me), and they all wrapped a halo around the same core of bands (Big Black, Sonic Youth, Mission of Burma). Callahan’s DISASTER is no exception but re-reading his shtick this week was a good time. I remember some rumors that he published either an R.E.M.- or a REPLACEMENTS-only fanzine before Disaster, but I never saw the zines in question. Have you?

Friday, July 16, 2004
RANDOM GENIUS: CARETAKERS OF DECEPTION : “CUTTIN’ GRASS” 45.....Right up there with monster psychedelic punk tracks from the TWILIGHTERS and STEREO SHOESTRING is this wild & foaming one from Southern California’s CARETAKERS OF DECEPTION, a 1967 single called “Cuttin’ Grass / X+Y=13”. I’m not that into the B-side, but “Cuttin’ Grass” is random genius personified. It sort of kicks in like the band’s already been playing for a few minutes, and features this lunatic vocalist ranting about how he “cannot see, because you’ve taken my eyes from me”, among other non-sequiters. There’s the de rigueur psych-era hallucinogenic keyboards hovering in the background, except these harsh tones are really demented & wavering, as if the guy is using them to prop his drug-addled carcass up rather than actually playing them. It’s a really hard-driving punk rock song at heart, and when it fades, you also get the sense the band’s going to really grind it out for another 20 minutes until the buzz wears off. You can find it on a 1979 comp called “ACID DREAMS, VOL. 1” and by careful, methodical file-sharing. Good luck!

Thursday, July 15, 2004

So derivative & behind the eight ball you’d swear they were English – hey, they are English! And yet the REAL LOSERS, they of the exceptionally well-done web site, are one of the more pleasing hyper-fuzzed garage bands I’ve heard in a coon’s age, mostly because each of their derivative, unoriginal pounders is caked in a deep layer of squealing, ear-shredding grime that somehow taketh away whilst giving so much more. It’s not like it’s a brave new vision: slap an impenetrable coating of feedback on a mediocre garage punk song and hope that it does the trick. Except that it really works here, at least until the jig is up and you’re ready to switch to some 70s album-oriented rock or adult contemporary while that annoying red trickle in your ear hardens. And I think these three -- there’s a woman in the band code-named “Hot Dog” and the guitarist is known as “The Hand”! – are trafficking in some underhanded rock and roll irony here anyway; the way some of their over-the-top war whoops and multiple “right now, come on”s are strategically placed makes me think that there’s a right-on sense of humor guiding the band, sort of like a Rutles of garage punk if the Rutles were at all funny. My picks are the generic bashers “Feelin’ Loose” and “She Was Dumb” and the great CRIME homage “Crime Time”, each of which is a loose-limbed, volume-packed screamer & as raw as raw gets. A British GUITAR WOLF? Hey, why not? 

Wednesday, July 14, 2004

My early 80s punk rock favorites seemed at the time to be disproportionately sung by women, with this band’s hot & bothered “100% White Girl” being probably the second punk rock song I really dug after “The American in Me”. I reckon that the incongruity of a girl belting out aggressive, obnoxious lyrics was such a novelty to my 14-year-old, music-obsessed noggin that I clung to anything that sounded halfway decent (which resulted in some early, soon-regretted SIN 34 and VICE SQUAD purchases). I heard THE VKTMS’ “100% White Girl” 45 multiple times on college radio not long after its 1980 release, but always missed the DJ’s back announcing. Then when I saw X’s “White Girl” 45 in the bins, knowing that they had a female singer, I pounced. Brought it home and went “what the...?”. Hated it, sold it back right away (ironically I think this is one of X’s best songs now). At least the X record isn’t selling for $900 on eBay these days like the Nirvana 45 I sold for $70 only weeks before Cobain killed himself (or was perhaps.....murdered!).

So I never got that “100% White Girl” 45, but I did just pick up this posthumous VKTMS compilation CD from 1997 that contains all of their previously-released material + a few bonus live tracks. It appears that they soldiered off and on in San Francisco for a while until singer Nyna Crawford died of cancer in 2000, with multiple reunion gigs even as she was battling chemo. That’s bold. The band is best known for the great punk hottie “Midget” from an early 45 and the “Bloodstains Across California” compilation, as well as for “100% White Girl” and another smoking punker about a fortified wine I’ve never had the pleasure of tasting called “Roma Rocket”. Crawford had a terrific cracked-voice delivery and snotty alcoholic tuff-chick style that only strays into ridiculousness when the lyrics and music aren’t enough to back up her great vocals. In fact you wanna know why you’ve likely never heard anything by the VKTMS beyond the three aforementioned tracks? Because they’re horrible! Once the band decided to dip a toe into “the new wave”, as on their synth-laden 1982 studio recordings LP (that didn’t actually surface until 1995), they became just another band, albeit one with longer, mid-tempo songs and absolutely cringeworthy lyrics about fightin’, dyin’, drinkin’ and goin’ downtown. Better than contemporaries THE NUBS, but just barely. There was even a righteous hippie connection, as an article from the East Bay Express points out:

“The communal household was important to the band's "hippie connection," Spencer Dryden of Jefferson Airplane, who was for a time both manager and mentor, and got VKTMS one of its top gigs, opening for the Ramones. According to guitarist John Binkov, "[Dryden] said that as long as we lived together, we'd stay together as a band." For a couple of years they did, eating, sleeping, and practicing in the house, and plastering the city with the lively gig flyers they created together: "It was scissors, Glu-Stik, and spit."

I guess my verdict is that THE VKTMS probably earned their afterthought status, and this CD is only worthwhile in the sense that it nets you those 1980 killers (a couple of the live tracks are OK). Keep your change – a bottle of Roma, whatever that is, is probably only $3.99.

Monday, July 12, 2004

I read some pundit somewhere blathering about how if there’d been no Velvet Underground, no one outside of a few friends would have ever heard/cared about NICO’s music nor her heroin-gobblin’, Baader-Meinhof-lovin’ teutonic beauty (outside of Fellini and Warhol, perhaps). It’s hard to effectively rebut it, to be honest, but I suppose it’s a good thing the situation never came to roost. I’ve owned & listened to her first LP “Chelsea Girls” for so many years yet have always been tentative about digging much deeper into Nico’s records, knowing full well that there are a boatload of “Marble Index” partisans out there who describe her second record in rapturous terms. I thought it was high time I gave it a try, particularly in light of the new Sundazed “180 gram vinyl” reissue of the record (though that’s not the version I now own). Sundazed calls the 1969 record “the gurgling headwaters source of goth rock” – not something I really pondered while listening to it, but hey, I suppose. What I do hear is an initially off-putting but ultimately inviting mix of weird symphonic scenescapes, sparse accordion and violin arrangements that have an obvious “John Cale” stamp on them, and other non-rock instrumentation (“harmonium”! “Indian pump organ”!) creepy-crawling forth.

What, you call that sort of thing Chamber Prog? Ewwww. I like it a lot better than that. “The Marble Index” is a record that I imagine makes more sense from a critical perspective than in a listening sense – it’s downbeat and shimmeringly, depressingly opaque enough that I’m near-certain it’s not something that’s still hitting multiple turntables every Friday night (apologies if you spent last Friday night sobbing alone to this one). There are some really absorbing moments, though, particularly the dark beauty of “Frozen Moments” and “No One is There” and the hopeless paean “Julius Caesar” which grabbed me the tightest. I don’t know, Nico’s a polarizing one and I think her genius is still up for debate. I’m still getting used to cohabitating with this one & would appreciate a more informed perspective from those who either love or loathe the thing. Any takers?

Friday, July 09, 2004
SICK THINGS VS. SICK THINGS.....Who would you take in a battle royale between the two screeching punk rock bands called THE SICK THINGS: the raw 1977 first-wave, girl-led UK Sick Things, or the harshly abrasive, pre-hardcore 1980-81 Australian Sick Things who later morphed into the equally damaged VENOM P. STINGER? Well, the British version were one of those under-the-radar punk bands who easily best most of the popularly-championed UK punk by a mile, yet only two of their tracks came out officially (“Bondage Boy” and “Kids on the Street” on the Raw Records “Raw Deal!” LP compilation). Both, along with the posthumous exploding syphilis anthem “Anti-Social Disease”, are strictly top-shelf, with an ultra-snotty cockney girl barking out various unpleasantries on top of a wallop of unhinged, louder-than-Lemmy guitar. I’d argue that these phenomenal bashers are almost as hot as THE USERS’ tracks from the same label and era, and that’s getting pretty warm. Then there’s the Australian Sick Things and their “Committed to Suicide” 45, which almost makes the UK Sick Things sound subtle and halting in comparison. Full-on over the top feedback and noise, with a hardcore-like punk rock song structure buried in the muck somewhere, “Suicide” is one of those tracks that’ll play well on bad days and poorly on good days, if you know what I’m saying. There was an LP and subsequent CD of posthumous recordings called “The Sound of Silence” that was anything but, and while it’s got some terrific ugly, nihilist punk, it spins out of control about halfway through and starts treading into difficult listening territory. In any event, I did feel both SICK THINGS deserved some props and a comfortable place in your music collection if not there already, and have proceeded thusly.


Nothing to nitpick on here, fun as that can be – this is just a full-stop, VERY GOOD straight-up rock and roll record by ex-OBLIVIAN Memphis Greg and a couple of talented fellow travelers. I’ve been warming to their multifaceted garage stylings in recent weeks and it’s all topped off by this fine second platter, a disc that is solid up & down the fourteen-track lineup. This is a lineup that you stealthily head to the world series with – not stacked up with the big boppers, just a bunch of .275-hitting grinders. And when I say multifaceted, I mean you get 60s teen rock anthem sounds (“Your Love is a Fine Thing”), you get harder-edged & croaking punkers like the hot opener “We Repel Each Other” and “You Got Me Hummin’” and some partytime sock hop boogie in the mix to boot. And even a couple of “tear in my beer” near-weepers, too. It won’t change any unrocked worlds but it’s as good a record I’ve heard in 2004 thus far, and has me almost sold to check them out in a couple of weeks as they warm the stage for Swedish chart-topping guilty pleasures the SAHARA HOTNIGHTS and something called The Hives. I’ll be the one stagediving and fistfightin’ – see you there.

Thursday, July 08, 2004

I can’t decide whether SKIP JAMES or CHARLEY PATTON is the single all-time great pre-WWII bluesman, but I do know that when someone wanting to get better acquainted with genius raw delta music asks me for my top CD pick, this is the one I always reach for. “1930: The Complete Early Recordings” is a bit of a misnomer – it’s Skip James’ complete pre-1960s recordings, period, which happened to all be laid down in Wisconsin during 1931, not 1930. With subsequent interpretations of the blues creeping off into a hundred different A-A-B-based directions, including the drunken white man’s beach party blues so common up & down the California coast, it’s easy to forget that there was once something that you could honestly call “the real thing” (as loaded as an expression such as that implies). Skip James’ eerie, dark and complex tunings and netherworldly falsetto have never been equaled nor adequately copied in 74 years. Now that’s saying something.

If you read up on James’ back story (such as in Steven Calt’s exhaustive and at times exhausting “I’d Rather Be the Devil: Skip James and the Blues”), it quickly becomes pretty clear that the guy was a ne’er-do-well of the highest order. Killed a guy, hated everyone, you know. Luckily, he was also a virtuoso on guitar, and created the most mysterious, deep and heartfelt grim blues of all time. Two of the greatest sides ever are “Devil Got My Woman” and “Hard Time Killing Floor Blues”, both of which should be mandatory study in music programs around the world. It’s the guitar numbers that fascinate the most – there is just no comparing the intricate and yet simple textures James was able to pull off with anything else. The songs of early blues heroes like Patton, Robert Johnson and Robert Wilkins sound like dancefloor rave-ups when stacked against these and other killers like “Cherry Ball Blues” and “Hard Luck Child”. On the piano, James was not delicate nor mysterious at all – his playing was stuttered and fast, something rushing forth in staccato bursts that suggest supreme agitation or even anger. It’s probably safe to say there’s a little anger in the piano-led “22-20 Blues”, in which he fantasizes about shooting dead a philandering paramour. James often fancied himself an avenging angel, and spent many a day cursing those who’d wronged him, as well as other musicians who he felt might be in any sort of competition with him. He happened to be one of the first original delta bluesmen discovered by the rock hoards in the early 60s, and his “I’m So Glad” was covered with much fanfare by Cream. I can’t even listen to that 60s comeback stuff, his live records and whatnot – James sounds like a shell of the man who made these 18 recordings in 1931, and it’s almost a complete tarnish of his genius to even compare the three-plus decades’ interim material to what came first. Better to stick with this complete package and give praise that someone kept the machines rolling in Grafton in 1931.

Wednesday, July 07, 2004

I was a high school CRAMPS fanatic, and feverishly searched out any & all vinyl, bootleg cassettes etc. that I could find and afford in the early/mid 80s. One curiosity that kept turning up, and that I never bought, was a bootleg LP called “Songs We Taught The Cramps” (pictured above), which featured some of the best originals for the many, many songs The Cramps covered up to that point (roughly the “Smell of Female” era). They were songs we all know & hold fast to our bosoms now, like “Love Me” by THE PHANTOM, “Rockin’ Bones” by RONNIE DAWSON and JACK SCOTT’s “The Way I Walk”. We now know these tracks so well not simply because of all the rock and roll excavation that’s been undertaken in the interim, but thanks to the fine “Born Bad” series of compilations that continued in the Cramps-roots vein for many years thereafter. Now add a fairly recent three-volume CD series called “Songs The Cramps Taught Us” , and put it at the head of the class. These comps are jam-packed with 50s and 60s rockabilly & garage oddities, obscuro-weird R&B and novelty tracks, and hard-as-nails instrumentals that haven’t seen the time of day in years. Forget that they’re all Cramps-related tunes, because the likelihood that you’ve ever heard the band play all of these is slim to none (unless you’ve been paying any attention to them since, say, 1986. I didn’t think so). Each volume pushes the maximum time allowable on a single CD, so on Volume One you get 31 raw tracks spread out over 76 minutes, with a 24-page color booklet to boot. Aside from numbers I was well familiar with, I’d give a special shout out for a hotshit instrumental from THE BUSTERS called “Bust Out”, which later became about 75% of the basis for “I’m Cramped”, and a great soul screamer called “Jelly Roll Rock” by WALTER BROWN & HIS BAND. Oh, and “Go Girl Go” by JETT POWERS, which is somewhat related to the rare Cramps b-side “Weekend on Mars”. Top-drawer stuff, and as fine an addition to your batch of 50s rockarolla as can be.

GILDED PALACE OF SYCOPHANCY.....I’ve been very slowly making my way through one of those MOJO single-artist tribute issues, this one on the ROLLING STONES that came out last Fall, and read a funny piece yesterday on how GRAM PARSONS turned himself inside out to suck up to the band, Keith Richards in particular. The story itself isn’t new, but I was struck by how vehemently folks like Chris Hillman and Mick Jagger reacted to Parsons’ blatant sycophancy. No denying that Parsons himself had some musical talent, but you gotta laugh when you read stories of how he all of a sudden began wearing a Jagger-like feather boa and eye makeup in the FLYING BURRITO BROTHERS along with his Nudie suits after months of hanging out with the Stones. Or when Hillman tells a story of Gram trying to skip a show in El Monte, CA in order to pal around with Richards some more, only to be kicked out of the house by Jagger: “Get out of here – go do your job!”. Of course palling around with Richards meant doing untold quantities of drugs, which the story makes clear was part of Parsons’ downfall – not being able to keep up with the legendary ingestion abilities of Keith Richards. I think Richards may even still be alive, somewhere, if you can believe it.

Thursday, July 01, 2004
VARIOUS ARTISTS : “MAYBE CHICAGO” CD.....It’s time for this decade’s Chicago rock update and a 21st Century equivalent to “Busted At Oz” or “Hog Butcher for the World” . Looks like “Maybe Chicago” is up for the challenge, in fact it’s a lot better through-and-through than most regional comps have a right to be. This one focuses solely on the more raw edge of garage punk rock, and has a couple of real hot standouts, most notably both slithering HOT MACHINES tracks (especially “Tear Me Apart”), THE DIRGES’ pumped-up basher “Shame Shame” and THE PONYS’ “Pop Culture” (nice to know Richard Hell stayed at home for this one). This band the TYRADES that so many people are busting a nut over sound awesome & scathing musically, as they do on their own 45s, but have just got to lose the overwrought girl vocalist who sings as if she’s trying to spit a tire iron up through her windpipe. Insufferable. Insufferable doesn’t even begin to describe “The Busy Kids”, who are part of the burgeoning “uh-cum-owwwn-bay-buh” school of two-chord doofus rock last heard on the MISTREATERS’ recent CD. But hey, it’s a comp. These things’ll slip by. Perhaps the best bits are two classic interludes of former Cubs manager Lee Elia giving profanity-soaked tirades (pun not intended) on his team’s shiftless fans – I even remember this rant getting some play in the sports pages back in the day, but it still doesn’t rank as high in Chicago baseball lore as the night of the great “Disco Sucks” riot. “Maybe Chicago” allows me to speculate on a scenario that may emerge on my next trip to Chicago, one in which I jet in that evening, pick up the Reader to find out there’s a HOT MACHINES / DIRGES / BASEBALL FURIES / PONYS show on at the Empty Bottle, and it’s also “all the Leinenkugel you can drink” night. And the Giants are in town to brutally beat the Cubs the next day, and I eat a knockwurst, a bratwurst and a chili dog in quick succession. Here’s hoping it all comes together soon.

SOIL TILLING ALL OVER THE GODDAMN WEB.....I’ve got an article on MISSION OF BURMA in the new “issue” of Perfect Sound Forever, one that borrows liberally from a thing I wrote on this very site a few months ago (why reinvent the wheel, right?). The new issue also has Dave Lang’s interview with Joe Baiza of SACCHARINE TRUST, a big retrospective on ALEX CHILTON; GARY STEWART and more. Even some ska for any pork-pie dorks out there. Check it out on the worldwide web by clicking here!

“OFF THE CHARTS : THE SONG POEM STORY”.....A good laff can be had for about an hour with the recently-released DVD of “Off The Charts: The Song Poem Story”, which tracks the 1960s rise and ongoing inner machinations of one of the music industry’s all-time great scams. You’ve seen the ads: “Is one of your songs or poems a hidden ‘Hit”?”. It’s been about 15 years since the song poem racket hit hipster consciousness (I’d mark the release of the “Beat of the Traps” LP as the starting point, “Blind Man’s Penis” notwithstanding), and while it’s an easy laugh full of very easy targets, it’s still a pretty crazy story. This hour-long film tells it reasonably well, picking on a couple of borderline lunatics like Caglar Juan Singletary (“Non-Violent Tae Kwon do Troopers”) a bit too much, but does have some terrific shots of 1960s compilation song-poem LPs and the deluded dreamers who made them. The DVD also includes an excruciating locally-produced late 70s TV show called “America Sings”, featuring the worst disco-era cheeseballs imaginable doing lipsynch interpretations of song poems, with a host and hostess whose inane, scripted banter makes Donnie & Marie’s repartee sound like the Alqonquin roundtable. If this sounds appealing, I’d say you can probably walk, not run, to the video store to check it out.