Agony Shorthand

Saturday, December 04, 2004

A couple of years ago KIM COOPER asked me to contribute to a book she was putting together highlighting underground LPs and other musical ephemera that had slipped through the cracks of consciousness. I've known Kim since 1988; she contributed to the fanzine I did in the early 90s until, (in her words) I commanded her to go and start her own 'zine. So she did, and now she's a book publishing maven as well. Go look in your old Forced Exposures and you'll find a great letter from Kim to Byron & Jimmy, lambasting them for their puerile and adolescent Lydia Lunch/Nick Cave 1-act plays, among other things -- written when Kim was an adolescent herself. Nice work. Anyway, I have but two meek reviews in her new collection "LOST IN THE GROOVES", yet the book looks like a blast, one I'm angling to read on a long plane trip on Monday. Contributors include MAX HECHTER, CHAS GLYNN, RICHARD MELTZER, DAVE THOMPSON, MIKE APPLESTEIN and a heaping helping of other players. I chose to highlight records by the GIBSON BROS and FLESH EATERS, cynically cribbing for the latter review from something I'd already penned on the band. Here's what I came up with -- now go buy the book! :


The debut 1987 record from Columbus, OH blues and country archivists the GIBSON BROS arrived at the height of indie rock’s fascination with noise, “scumrock” and SST/Homestead/Touch & Go heavy punk rock. Somehow this roots-reverent band was quickly grasped to the bosom of budding - mostly east coast - scenesters , likely due to “Big Pine Boogie”’s loose-limbed Cramps-style primitivism and heavily reverbed, cranked-up guitars. The record has been seemingly lost to time, and criminally remains out of print and unavailable on CD. “Big Pine Boogie” has a fantastic front porch feel to it, like no one’s taking the whole thing particularly seriously, and there’s a big bucket of beers beckoning nearby for consumption when the set’s wrapped up. Guitarists Don Howland, Jeff Evans and Dan Dow and drummer Ellen Hoover took their cues from the pantheon of rough-hewn American genius, from shambling Bo Diddley thumping, deep-South country a la Charlie Feathers, and pre-WWII delta blues giants like Skip James and Charley Patton.

The thoroughly reworked cover of Furry Lewis’ “Kassie Jones” that kicks off the record is worth the admission price alone – in the grand tradition of their forebears, the band borrowed admirably and liberally from the aforementioned pantheon, and reworked it for a 1980s punk rock mentality. There’s also a muted sense of cornpone comedy in all this, from Evans’ ludicrously faux hillbilly accent to forced “rhyming” couplets like “He’s the cat that wrote ‘I’m A Man’ / Ate a whole bucket of Kentucky Fried Chicken” (from “Bo Diddley Pulled a Boner”). Trouser Press generously called it “intentional amateurism”, which perhaps bestows musical abilities on the band they hadn’t yet earned. But you won’t care. There hasn’t been a muted roar quite like “Big Pine Boogie” since, and it’s high time this bandwagon got rolling again.


After a handful of years spent slogging around the exploding Los Angeles punk rock scene circa 1977-80 as a Slash magazine editor and the leader of a revolving series of Flesh Eaters lineups, Chris Desjardins (hereafter known an Chris D.) gave birth to the all-star roots/voodoo punk combo of 1981’s "A Minute to Pray, A Second To Die". In so doing, he created a schizoid masterwork of raw, netherworld blues and marimba & sax-led garage punk stomp. Joining vocalist/howler Chris D. in this ultimate Flesh Eaters configuration were John Doe & DJ Bonebrake from the by-now nationally recognized X, Dave Alvin and Bill Bateman from The Blasters (guitar and drums respectively) and sax player Steve Berlin, a year or two shy of joining Los Lobos. Though the "on loan" status of the musicians involved did not bode well for anything more than a one-off project, what these gentlemen created together was a landmark of brooding, often metal-tinged roots rock ramalama. Think about what you may know of the best work of X and The Blasters of the time, add Chris D. at the absolute top of his game, and some out-of-this-world arrangements that harken to some unholy trinity of the Stones, Stooges and Seeds, and you’ve got quite a goddamn record.

One could argue – no, I will argue – that this record is the premier calling card for the transformation of punk rock snottiness into a more literate, musically complex – dare I say MATURE – rock and roll beast. What reputation the FLESH EATERS still have left in the early ‘80s history books and with the Ameripunk cognoscenti is likely due to this album, which seems to be slowly gaining subsequent critical steam as an unequalled 80s masterpiece.