Not much use against a Chinese agent packing heat. Look elsewhere.
We're getting warm. Not a bad read, but not worth a full APB.
The Big Kahuna!
The Free World is safe with this sort of inspired writing.
BOOK ME DANNO
Rock 'n' Roll in Print and on DVD
CBGB (Directed by Randall Miller)
It's not often for me that a movie meets expectations so exactly but this is one. I should have known. Those ubiquitous T-shirts commemorating the place being worn in their millions (hey - I owned one in the '80s before it was cool) and that scary story, just after it closed, that the place was destined to be relocated to Las Vegas. Plus, there's Foo Fighter in it. Despite best intentions, "CBGB" is the "Waterworld" of punk rock biopics. It is a train crash. It tells the story of Hilly Krystal (played by Alan Rickman), the owner of the world's most renowned musical shit-hole, without any regard to historical facts, chronology, plot, character development or the possibility that its target audience might just have functioning brains. All good cretins go to heaven but sitting through this is hell.
You know when you want a biopic to be good so hard it hurts? I was bumming around in London in the '80s when "Sid and Nancy" hit the big screen. I went to see it not once but twice. It wasn't as dire as "CBGB" but it wasn't "Apocalypse Now" either. Gary Oldham as Sid saved it even if the ending was silly and the roles of other people on Vicious' hopeless trajectory were ignored. Oliver Stone's take on The Lizard King ("The Doors") favoured entertainment over fact and deified J.D. Morrison in a way that glossed over his faults. More recently, "The Runaways" was trashy fun. You could put "CBGB" in the "trashy fun" oeuvre - if only it didn't try so hard to be something more.
I wasn't at CGBG in its heyday. I did go there a few times in the '80s. I paid my money and my homage. I pissed in those toilets. I drank Rolling Rock in the shell of a wrecked car in the backyard of the place. I stepped over comatose people on the sidewalk outside at 4am. I even got to see Hilly in situ. So I can't say I knew him or Merv the Bartender or LIsa, his daughter, the other central characters in this, apart from the bands. Hilly might have lucked out by being in the right place at the right time. The truth is that most of the bands that graced the rickety stage were not great. Most were re-hashing meat-and-potatoes rock and roll to try and ride the rather smelly slipstream of what was loosely termed Punk Rock, in the hope that they, too, could be signed by a major label.
So maybe Hilly wasn't a visionary but just a guy who gave a whole bunch of "street rock" (his words) acts some shelter from the storm of mainstream AOR blandness and disco. He certainly believed in originality and did allow a scene to develop (almost) organically. Whatever music emerged from his bar probably grew on him. "CBGB" strives to show all that but falls short. In its story, Hilly is a twice-bankrupted stumblebum with a generous streak but no idea of how to find his dick when he needs to piss. The facts, as they exist on the record from the accounts of other players, are stylised and distorted in a way that detracts from his story. In their rush to cram in cameos by people imitating lots of seminal bands (sometimes well), the filmmakers turn all of them into one-dimensional parodies. No wonder Hilly's ex-wife (who was a big part of the operation) wanted nothing to do with this. Not one Ramones song was harmed in the making of this film (the "band" appears playing a Joey song from one of his posthumous solo albums) although that might be a sign of the ongoing ructions between various ex-members' estates as much as respect for not sullying the collective legacy.
You're asking: 'Who gives a shit if Iggy Pop never duetted with Debbie Harry at CBGB before taking over the place and stage driving into the crowd?' or 'Why should we care if Dead Boys were a four-piece, not a trio, apart from their earliest shows?' Because facts are important. Talking Heads did not arrive at CBGB, fully formed. Television were not overnight sensations. Blondie were originally one step above inept and regarded as The Band Least Likely To Succeed. Debbie is portrayed as a simpering pricktease.
As far as I know (and on this one I care less) The Police did not audition for Hilly in some light bulb moment akin to conversion on the road to Damascus. Who cares if you can shoe horn in a mention of Sting, right, because he was such an important figure in pouting CBGB on the map, right? Maybe they could have shown AC/DC's sole and largely forgotten appearance. That would have broadened the appeal. The Ramones were critical in the Dead Boys coming to NYC. They deserved to be mooned by Stiv in this movie, not some anonymous kid in his mother's car. I could get down and dirty in detail ('90s band stickers on the wall during the '70s; songs that were not written, let alone recorded, appearing at the wrong times) but I'd disappear up my own arse. I should go watch a documentary, I know.
So...Dead Boys rolling a truck while out on the road and Johnny Blitz being stabbed were epochal moments that made Hill Krystal quit his business before a cleansing visit to his family's onetime chicken farm and rediscovering a love for music by playing a song on an acoustic guitar in the barn drives him back? Please Kill Me.
I know Hollywoodification of important stories to turn them into mass market fodder is a commercial inevitability. Ya gotta recoup your outlay somehow. At least Punk magazine gets more than a passing nod in this (John Holmstrom was a consultant but Legs McNeil, notably, was not) and the soundtrack is giving exposure to a bunch of long departed acts to a whole new generation.
"CBGB" is playing as a limited release in US theatres from October 11. Surely, it's heading direct to DVD everywhere else. - The Barman
UNBELIEVABLY BAD Number 10
Australia's best zine is like a delinquent kid that emerges only sporadically from the room to which it's been banished. It seems to have been an interminable time between appearances. Some of the content is awfully dated (a Masters Apprentices interview with Jim Keays references the re-issue by long defunct Aztec Records) but who gives a rat's arse? Editor Danger Coolidge and his crew of lowlifes almost certainly do not.
There's no giveaway CD with this one but let that not be a deterrent. Interviews with Jello Biafra, Keith Morris (Black Flag and OFF!) and Matty Whittle (GOD) more than offset that. The aforementioned Keays piece doesn't say a lot new but is eminently readable all the same. The King Khan chat was conducted over a dodgy cell phone connection and that's fitting. How many mainstream magazines do you know with the good taste to talk to him? That's a rhetorical question so don't answer.
I've never "got" Swans but Michael Gira's terse interview is a good read. The chat with VeeBees is even better. If the reprint of Harry Butler's Depression article is an indication that UB ran short of material it's balanced by the fact that his long and worthy contribution to writings about underground Australian music are unbelievably scarce and deserve a wider audience. A retrospective about Venom P Stinger makes sense of their splintered history just in time for the re-issues of all their output.
Unbelievably Bad isn't just about the music - it runs the gamut of trash culture - so the tribute to Sydney artist Simon "Oxx" Cooper is cool. Of course the interview that will not die, with trash cinema legend Hershell Gordon Lewis, marches on. Thumbs up to Greasy Belcher for his deconstruction of Arj Barker.
On the flip side, the pithy reviews/trashings of album releases seem to have slipped from view. Damn shame because I'm not going to read a hipster rag like Vice to get my jollies from ordinary bands being shat on, plus it was a handy consumer guide. Let's hope this is not a last gasp but a continuing chapter.
DIG IT UP! LIVE AT THE ENMORE THEATRE – Sunnyboys (Feelpresents)
There are reunions and there are reunions. The short story is that this DVD is well worth the fuss. One of Australia's best-loved bands of the 1980s, reconvening in full for the first time in 21 years in emotionally-charged circumstances, would be a good enough excuse to watch this show, just for curisoty's sake. That they nailed it with their original spirit, enthusiasm and energy intact is the icing on the proverbial baked product.
In case you've been living under a dying coral reef or holidaying with the Amish, Dig It Up! was a Hoodoo Gurus-curated festival of their musical wet dreams promoted by promoter Tim Pittman's touring-company-cum-label in April 2012. The schedule literally did dig up musical wonders like The Sonics, The Fleshtones and Died Pretty for a cavalcade that did the rounds of most large Australian cities.
The Sunnyboys had been sporadically sighted on stages since their dissolution under frayed circumstances in 1984. The original line-up, however, hadn't surfaced since 1991. Singer Jeremy Oxley's struggle with schizophrenia, only revealed when Feelpresents issued the definitive compilation in 2004, had largely cut down the band and limited any thoughts of them getting back in the saddle. Until the Dig It Up! prospect dawned.
Billed as "Kids In Dust" (an old, one-off alias) with a now married and evidently much healthier Jeremy at the helm, this one-off re-appearance blew the Sydney crowd away. Given all that, if you weren't tearful you then you were at least experiencing shivers up the backbone. Obviously older, undoubtedly wiser and, in a couple of cases, a little heavier, the Sunnies did the improbable and enhanced their already giant reputation with a set of powerpop classics, thankfully all captured on video by the Moshcam team.
If the choice of "As I Walk" (a Jeremy song from a post break-up Sunnyboys line-up in which he was the only original member) was an obscure choice as the ice-breaker, there was no mistaking numbers like "Alone With You", "Love To Rule" or "Happy Man". The Moshcam crew did a great job of shooting this 11-song set and it's well edited without gimmicks or an overload of jerky MTV cutaways.
The staging was low-key and the band set about their work with the sort of no-nonsense presentation ethos that you would have expected with just two days rehearsal behind them, but there's no mistaking the sense of pride and enjoyment that surfaced throughout. There's the odd mis-step along the way that wasn't apparent on the day but you'd have to be a hanging judge to take issue. These are four guys jumping back into the familiar with surprising ease.
A minor surprise for me was the percentage of lead breaks Jeremy took over Richard Burgman on the day. Not a biggie and the times Burgman steps up he reels out some nice stuff. Of course, the way both meshed were a big part of the band's charm and the partnership sounds pretty good. The same can be said for the engine room combo of Bil Bilson and Peter Oxley. Peter's kept his hand in over recent years with gig with Ed Kuepper. Big Bil doesn't seem to have lost much and still has that killer grasp of power with swing. My guess is the pairing would be even better with a little more playing together.
What was a one-off has spawned some limited touring and there are re-issues pending. Let's hope the sparks lead to something more - like new recordings. Time will tell.
It's a no frills DVD package with no liners or extras to speak of, but that's of no import. Save the bonuses for the box set. What you see is exactly what you get. Order it here. It's a live set that should be a compulsory purchase for anyone with a rock music bone in their body. - The Barman
RAW POWER LIVE: IN THE HANDS OF THE FANS - Iggy and the Stooges (MVD/Umbrella)
The concept was cute: Run a contest for fans. Give the winners a camera each and grant them up-front access to an Iggy & The Stooges gig at a smallish venue (a holiday camp in upstate New York) where the band is reprising "Raw Power." Factor in a performance that is a rip-snorter and the outcome is Hard To Beat.
They may be of pensionable age but there's nothing that holds a candle to the Stooges in full flight. That's a self-evident truth. This package captures them perfectly. Editing together footage from five fans was going to present a challenge (one of the camera operators is admittedly a bit more than a rank amateur, with a background in public broadcasting TV) but it's one that's been met. There's no frantic MTV switching from scene to scene that mars many live shoots. You're right in the thick of the action and the soundtrack is wonderfully captured. You do hear, see and feel the backbeat.
There are lots of "gotcha" moments. My favourite is a third of the way through "Raw Power" when basisst Mike Watt looks over tea Rock Action and gives him one of those looks that says we've all died and gone to heaven. The show runs to an hour-and-a-quarter with plenty of set-extenders drawn from outside "Raw Power". Of them, "Fun House" is transcendent and "Open Up And Bleed" close to the best recording of that song ever. The core of the gig has come out as an LP and download. I'm going to rip the balance of the audio to a CD to play because it's just as good.
We know the Ig of old is gone and the new one paces himself to make it to the end of the show intact. That's not to say he's less committed, he's just playing a smarter game. Physical injuries have taken their toll but the guy still radiates intense energy and spends lots of time in the crowd. The advantage of a low-rise stage is the lowering of barriers between crowd and performer. Iggy takes that to an extreme.
No DVD or BluRay package worth its salt these days lacks bonus features. You get an extended interview of the Stooges by the fans as well as their original video entry submissions and trailers featuring Handsome Dick Manitoba and Iggy. They're great distractions but you'll keep going back to the show.
Hey, if you're in Australia there's no excuse not to own this, with it having local distribution. - The Barman
DOGGY DAYS...THE DOGS LIVE - LA TO TOKYO - The Dogs (Future Now)
They might be an anachronism in these days of managed tweenage pop queens and an equally carefully constructed Madonna taking centre stage at the SuperBowl, but The DoGs stand out like a beacon against the sheer ordinariness of everything else around them. You might question how a cult act that never cracked success in the '70s can amass a retrospective album and a double disc tribute, 30 years on. Slip one of the discs from this double-DVD pack into your player and wonder no longer.
Statement of the obvious: The DoGs are good old, honest-to-fucking-goodness, street-level rocking' punk. Dee-troit. They're the by product of a scene (several, actually) that had their heyday decades ago, but like the very deluded or the unstintingly committed, they push on. They're not flashy, they are mouthy. They say "motherfucker" a lot. They also play rock and roll the way it should be - which is with unbridled passion and volume.
So, what it is…two shows from the band's 2007 tour of Japan. No airs and graces, these are single camera shoots.No fancy angles, no cutaways. You can smell the body odour and it sounds great. There's also a 2001 gig from the long-gone Garage venue in downtown LA. Plus, there's a slideshow from back in the day in Detroit, an in-store gig and an interview with Loren Molinaire, guitarist-vocalist and Top Dog (also quite the raconteur.) The power of the shows more than compensates for the absence of bells and whistles. This is like transplanting a club into your lounge room, only you don't end up sticking to the carpet and the drinks are cheaper. The DoGs are a trio and they play hard.
Rock shows in Japan are supposed to be polite affairs. Not so on this evidence. Maybe the new(ish) generation is into breaking tradition but they come on like a fevered mass. The band feeds off them and the result is incandescent.
The release is a labour of love by US expat Detroit Jack, a Japan-based uber-fan whose commitment to Real Rock Action can't be swayed. Jack convinced The DoGs to sweep through Tokyo. LIke Pearl Harbour in reverse. "Doggy Days' is packaged in a deluxe fold-out pack with insert book. You can procure a copy here If you don't, yoru pulse could do with a check.While you're at it, grab their new studio effort. - The Barman
WON'T GET FOOLED AGAIN: THE WHO FROM LIFEHOUSE TO QUADROPENIA By Richie Unterberger (Jawbone Press)
In the summer of 1970, the Who were winding up a year of touring Tommy, the rock opera that got them out of debt and established them as the biggest rock band outside the Beatles and the Rolling Stones. As a follow-up, Pete Townshend conceived "Lifehouse", a sci-fi story based on the idea of a musical note that was the cornerstone of existence and a dystopian future where the world was so polluted that its inhabitants had to hunker in their homes, where the government fed them entertainment through "experience suits." (That's right, kids: Forget Al Gore; Townshend foresaw the internet in 1970!)
The musical concept, which the Who's auteur first put forward in a column he wrote for the Brit music rag Melody Maker, would encompass his growing interests in spirituality and synthesizer technology, as well as the Who's quasi-mystical relationship with their fans. He envisioned a series of interactive concerts where the Who would develop new music in symbiosis with a live audience. The idea crashed and burned the following spring after an underwhelming run of shows where the band, uncomfortable with the "laboratory" aspect of the events, wound up playing medleys of hits to mollify the few fans that showed up.
After an abortive stab at recording the new songs in New York with Kit Lambert, the Who's visionary manager and producer who'd goaded Townshend into making the leap from penning pop singles to composing a full-blown "opera," the band opted to re-record them in England with the clearer-eyed engineer Glyn Johns behind the desk. It was Johns who persuaded Townshend to abandon the concept and just release a single album of songs. The result, "Who's Next", became their most successful record, providing fodder for "classic rock" radio and themes for CSI TV shows. But "Lifehouse" remains one of rock's great "what ifs," on a par with the Beach Boys' Smile, the Beatles' Get Back, and Jimi Hendrix's First Rays of the New Rising Sun.
The follow-up to "Who's Next" seemed like a grandiose, Wagnerian epic: an homage to the Who's early Mod fans, with four musical themes representing the band members' personalities. Released in 1973,"Quadrophenia" wound up having a much more straight-ahead narrative arc than either "Tommy" or "Lifehouse", and one that has been more resonant over time for alienated yoof, regardless of their knowledge of (or even interest in) the '60s Brit Mod cult. The trials 'n' tribs surrounding its genesis were small potatoes compared to its predecessor's difficult gestation. At the time, perhaps suffering "Lifehouse" flashbacks, Townshend and Roger Daltrey felt compelled to over-explain themselves onstage, and within a year, all but a handful of the new songs had disappeared from their live repertoire. But a successful 1979 film raised "Quadrophenia"'s profile, and the Who reformed in 1996 for the express purpose of performing it live in toto.
There are a ton of books about the Who in print; occasional All Music Guide scribe Richie Unterberger has written one of the finest, training his laser-like focus on the band's most creative period. While he didn't have access to any actual Who members for his research, all of them – Townshend in particular – have spoken with the press often and at (sometimes great) length. Drawing on a mountain of secondary sources, as well as his own interviews with the band's familiars like Townshend's pal/Who biographer Richard Barnes, journo Chris Charlesworth, "Who's Next" producer Johns and "Quadrophenia" engineer Ron Nevison, Unterberger weaves the strands of the story into a fast-moving and highly readable narrative that covers a lot of bases without drowning the reader in minutiae. He's our best rock researcher; his previous books -- "Unknown Legends of Rock and Roll" and "Urban Spacemen and Wayfaring Strangers" among 'em – direct a depth of inquiry toward obscurantist's delights worthy of Ugly Things' Mike Stax. What resonates throughout is the magnitude of Townshend's accomplishment. It's enough to bring a lapsed Who fan back to the fold.- Ken Shimamoto
1001 AUSTRALIAN NIGHTS. A MEMOIR - Dave Graney (Affirm Press)
Back in 1980 The Sputniks, fronted by a thin chameleon in a tight red three-piece velvet suit, winkle-pickers and a kinky pompadour with a killer voice and the daftest sluglines ("Dig it, kids!") were the only band in town for me. They were out there. In the present but not of it, stepping sideways into their own creation. They played three sets every Saturday night at the Union Hotel, with their own compilation cassettes turning over the PA. I bought all seven of their badges, the single, dubbed the out-takes and have them still. Precious booty.
But, bastard! We'd never get to see their last set 'cause we had to catch the last bus back to a suburban wasteland. So, on the night the Sputniks played in Adelaide for the last time before moving to Melbourne to seek their fortune we decided, 'screw the bus, we'll walk.'
We got as far as O'Connell Street before putting our thumbs out. We were picked up by a chain-smoking bourbon-swigging longhair whose car had no lights, faulty brakes ('who needs brakes?'), a broken speedometer ('who needs them?') a love for speed and, apparently, a death-wish.
We whizzed and skated through darkened suburbs at easily 100 mph.
'Shouldn't we slow down a little here?'
'Nah - there's nobody about.'
'Shouldn't we have stopped for that red light?'
He finally let us out a couple of miles from home. Thankful that we were both still alive and uncrippled, we stumbled out, heads spinning. I have never hitched again, nor have I ever touched dope. I blame Dave Graney.
So: '1001 Australian Nights'. What do you need to know? The dirt? The mortality? The soul behind the leathers, velvets and moustache? Or what's with this Mount Gambier thing?
Oh, it's all in the mix, in between the lines, tempting fate, tempting speculation. That's not the point. Pick this up, and read it. From 'We were sitting on the Paris Metro...' to 'And you only get one'. Ah, did I give away the ending?
Nah, 'cause it's all about Dave and his endless, obsessive, highly entertaining, captivating, hypnotic journey through a wilderness dotted with hidden beauty, superb reasons for living. Like a particularly good wine, you can't help yourself. You're sozzled before you realise you've got to drive home. Reading this makes you realise we all need more Dave Graney and Clare Moore in our lives. More CDs, more gigs, more music. You could get this book just to pick up a list of fabulous reading and music.
And don't get me started on his writing. It's a song, or series of songs, told by a teller of tales. It reads like dramatic fiction, flows like trucker's lit (that is, fast and smart). Sure, there are echoes of the pulp crime Dave still reads, but the first half reminds me more of JD Salinger. Yes, really. Dave has that teenage excitement and confusion about himself, the hunger to discover more more more, that invincible certainty that he's on a journey, a journey on which no man called Dave Graney has ever gone before. Critically, he acknowledges and is inspired by, his early frustration and disgust that he can't get out of an entrapping place, crushed by lack of knowledge. At the risk of sounding pretentious (wot, moi?) this is the first Determinisitic novel of the 21st Century.
In two parts, the first is Dave's struggle to become the Dave of Today; Modern Dave; the Dave of, but beyond, the Boganista. As he writes, he discovers something which few musicians comprehend; that their lives are a tragic-comic travelogue which, if told in this fashion, becomes rather like a history lesson delivered by the maths teacher. He gets frustrated, tells us so, asks us where would we begin to describe ourselves, demonstrates that chronology is just a list, like Jack Kerouac typing without writing, without editing.
Then, extraordinarily, he plunges us into his world, his day to day without the dates and without the mundane. Sometimes there's chronology, sometimes it falls by the wayside. There are moments here where I've had to wipe a tear, moments where I've bellowed with laughter, seriously disconcerting my fellow travellers.
There's a lot going on here; when he quotes his own lyrics, he does so as if they're prose, so we read them seamlessly. This tidy little lick allows us to see more of the man than, I suspect, he realises.
Dave is to be admired for travelling to all corners of Australia, to take himself, with his vulnerable and delicate self half-concealed by an obvious facade, into the miasmatic misery of everyday Australians out on the pull, out on the town, splattering the town with lumpy wet slicks and lumpy wet fights. He is also to be admonished for taking Clare Moore into more preposterous and vile places than a warts'n'all biography of Nick Cave (fans of Uncle Nick will also need to purchase this, and I must say him calling Dave 'narcissistic' is surely a bit of a black pot and kettle situation).
Dave is to be admired for writing this - and getting it published. He ain't in it for the money, nor the fame, nor the drugs, groupies. Dave is in it like a country town has to make do with what they are and where they are. We should picket radio stations, demand the big stations stop playing the same songs, especially that dreadful concept of repeating the same set all but every hour, remove Australia from it's narrow xenophobic timewarp and play music for us all. The more limiting radio is, the more we walk away and refuse to turn it on. Maybe we shouldn't bother with the pickets, just torch the stations, or at least their biggest advertisers.
Perhaps most significantly, Dave reveals all here. Just like in his songs. The facade, the performance, the extraordinary musicians he gathers to play alongside him, all of these dazzle us with mirrors. Contrary to popular belief, Dave has been publicly baring his soul for years; he's just not the chest-beating, wailing and squealing kind. He doesn't need tatts, piercings and brand names. What Dave is, is a brand (in the red hot iron burning into flesh kind); a r'n'r outlaw in the truest sense, causing confusion and raising hackles and an acute awareness to the rich possibilities of life wherever he goes. Whether we recognise the detonation in our face for what it is is another matter, of course.
Buy it, buy it for your relatives and friends, keep copies in your bag for likely strangers at bus-stops and long journeys, but most of all - you will reread this over and over. You wanna be there? Travel. - Robert Brokenmouth
HOW TO BECOME A SUCCESSFUL LOSER By Kevin K (Dog Ear Publishing)
This straight-from-the-shoulder autobiography from underground rocker Kevin K has only been lightly touched by an editor's hand, but in this case that's not a bad thing. Honesty (and a few other things) seep from the author's every pore. For those who don't know, Kevin is one of rock and roll's most closely-guarded secrets. He lived most of his life as a New Yorker (before yuppiedom drove him out) and is a contemporary of all the classic 'Lower East Side punk rockers. CBGB, Max's, The Mudd Club and the Peppermint Lounge were Kevin's backyard. Here's Mr K's collection of self-deprecating, colourful stories about the underground people and himself, and the streets they all once owned..
Kevin sings about three things: Drugs, girls and Jennifer Love Hewitt. This book contains liberal doses of each. Its power comes from the way it reads like Kevin is sitting on a stool at the bar next to you, telling his stories. Of course it helps to be a fan - especially in the section telling the stories behind his songs - but the casual reader will find plenty to entertain. Who can't relate to sitting in a tour van as the only non-French speaker and going apeshit until they'd shut up the fuck up and blast out the Ramones on the sound system at mind-numbing volume? It happens in my family car every weekend.
The big life-changers in Kevin's time are writ large: Seeing Johnny Thunders live for the first time; Becoming a real, working band with the Road Vultures and mixing it with the likes of the Dead Boys; Losing addicted brother and bandmate Alan K; Life after Alan and fronting his own Kevin K Band (24 albums and counting.) It's an edgy book with a little gossip and some grim, gallows humour.
Kevin lives in Florida. He plays a bit in Detroit and LA. He's big in France, Poland and Germany. Australian music aficionado and ex-Vicious Kitten zine/label chief Colin Gray contributes a foreword. I don't expect this book will end up on the school curriculum in those countries, but it should be compulsory reading for any young band looking to make a fist of playing Real Rock and Roll Music. - The Barman
I AM OZZY by Ozzy Osbourne (Grand Central Publishing)
To hear Ozzy Osbourne tell it, the last of his grey matter went up in flames and punched a giant hole in the ozone layer somewhere in America during the "Bark at the Moon" tour – with Motley Crue in support - but at least his grasp of reality isn't so tenuous that he can't admit right up front that events recounted here might not be as they actually happened. And let's face it; the memory of most of those bearing witness to it all aren't exactly reliable either. To say he has issues is sort of like Keith Richards with drowsy, nodding understatement telling you he "used to party a little." Yeah, Ozzy used to do a little bit of that, too.
The original run of Black Sabbath albums may have opened the door to carnality, humanism, and demonic forces for an army of doomed suburban kids in the 1970's taking reds and drinking wine while performing stoned, satanic rituals and vomiting in the woods - hey, it's a dirty job, but someone has to do it – but Ozzy wasn't just handed the title "Prince of Darkness," his seat at the right hand of the Goat Lord, or a key to the city of Hades on a silver platter; he had to earn it the hard way, serving prison time for burglary, performing various animal evisceration duties in a slaughterhouse, and worshipping the Beatles. That last one must've been sheer, uh, hell.
Who would've thunk a clueless kid from Aston impatient to inherit the Earth (the planet, not his band) would one day attain one-name recognition across the planet ala Madonna, Prince, Mick, and Bruce, more for his deft touch with the grain, the grape, the herb, and the powder than for his back catalog with the Sabs and solo, which at times sound like simultaneous, unrelenting tape loops of trains having sex, cats being drowned, and a flock of crows being sucked into the butt end of a Concord during take-off? To be honest, after hearing Tony Iommi's juddering, gargantuan, slit-eyed riff that kicks off 1973's "Sabbath Bloody Sabbath," I thought the world was theirs for the taking unless manager Don Arden took it first. He did.
By now, the major milestones of Ozzy's long, slow descent into lovable, hopeless, drug-and-booze-addled, doddering-like-he-has-Parkinson's, talk-show punch line (read: legend) should be terra firma to anyone who's been paying attention, but he rolls them all out anyway; dove and bat decapitation, the death of Randy Rhoads, mistaking the Alamo for a urinal, a blackout-fueled attempt to choke out wife Sharon in a non-sanctioned MMA bout, the "Suicide Solution" lawsuit… Never a dull moment at Casa Osbourne, eh?
Tell-all memoirs of life in the comatose lane from bar stool-babysitting, heavy-metal hair farmers with tight pants and loose morals have now reached critical mass, but if rubbernecking a multi-vehicle pileup on I-75 north between Flint and Bay City on the Friday night of Memorial Day weekend is your thing, "I Am Ozzy" is the flame and you are the moth. - Clark Paull
BLOOD, SWEAT & BEERS: OZ ROCK FROM THE AZTECS TO ROSE TATTOO By Murray Engleheart (Harper Collins)
There's a deep knowledge of, and passion for, the subject matter that makes this hefty tome an essential read. Sydney journalist and AC/DC biographer Murray Engleheart takes Billy Thorpe and Lobby Loyde as the starting points for the Oz Rock movement and lovingly weaves a story about them and three key bands that followed. The births, relative rises, falls and revivals of Rose Tattoo, X and The Angels are mapped in colourful, often sordid detail. Whatever your opinion of the Aussie beer barn scene of the '70s and '80s and the music it spawned - and even the coolest inner-city types drew something from it - this is a landmark book.
You thought the underground (read: punk) Aussie scene was incestuous? The Oz Rock bands had bloodlines more entwined than cousins at a Tasmanian wedding. Just like confession at a small town church mass, the same names keep coming up. Ian Rilen joins Band of Light, moves on to Rose Tattoo, founds X and crosses paths with producer Lobby Loyde who joins Rose Tattoo. Rilen rejoins Rose Tatoo (twice) and reforms X (numerous times). Peter Wells leaves Buffalo, forms Rose Tattoo and plays with Rilen in The Illustrated Man before re-joining Rose Tattoo. And so it goes.
I'm not much of a Billy Thorpe fan but can't deny the galvanising effect the man, his band The Aztecs and their image had on Australian music at the start of the '70s. The "suck more piss" ethos was not just good business for publicans but a rallying call for sub-cultures like the sharps and the otherwise musically disengaged. Two-note boogie songs don't go many places but the embellishments of drums that swing and skilfully-employed, overdriven guitars certainly can. Thorpey knew this and paired these elements with an anti-establishment stance and excessive volume.
Lobby Loyde (RIP) was and remains Australia's first homegrown guitar hero. There are a handful of guitar heroes still standing but they're sorely under-appreciated. Lobby didn't invent volume but he was the first Aussie guitarist to have it embedded in his DNA. He never had mass market success but that was no bar to tinnitus or soulful, vibrant and powerful music that resonates to this day. Engleheart knows his importance and gives him due credit.
If you're an Angels fan you'll be happy enough. For a band of their popularity, no-one has given them this sort of exposure in print. Me, I concur with Rob Younger's pithy assessment of they were contrived nonsense. So let's move on, there's nothing to see here.
Angry Anderson's told the Tatts story in detail in his own book. What's been overlooked is the role of quality controller that the late Peter Wells played. No Wellsy, No Tatts is as near enough an accurate descriptor - especially when Angry hit the mainstream. That's not to deny the worth of the post-Wells output or the fact the Tatts remain a powerful outfit; it just puts the big fella's central role in context. (When you think about it, it's amazing that the band's reformation worked under the burden of the singer's re-invention as a midday TV commentator and that "Suddenly" song that featured in the "Neighbours" soap opera but let's not take cheap shots.)
Ian Rilen, on the other hand, never was mainstream. There are some great Rilen stories told here and many more that never made it to print. The X coverage falls away after the band's signing to Mushroom's White label for "And More" which was arguably the band's one and only shot at overground success. Given the personalities involved (well, one in particular) it never was going to happen.
The power of "Blood Sweat & Bears" is in its telling through the words of the protagonists. Engleheart makes his own observations and inserts enough of himself into the story to keep it personal but it's the breadth of first-person stories, related in their own words, that gives the book vitality. Personalities to one side, the other character is volume. Oz Rock in the pubs was played at a withering, ear-shattering level and that theme comes up again and again.
The threads of the yarn are pulled together in the closing chapter which is also a sad rationalisation of where rock and roll in Australia sits today. The author observes that whatever acceptance has come the way of the cast members in this 40-year-old play is muted - unlike their musical legacy. Real Rock and Roll has been sent to the fringes from which it came or driven underground and no longer commands centre-stage. It's a hard truth but like the rest of the story it's rendered faithfully and without fear. "Blood Sweat & Beers" is 2010's best rock and roll book. A pox upon the publishers for not realising as much anddevoting a semblance of a marketing budget to it. - The Barman
STARK RAVING MOD! THE AUSTRALIAN MOD AND SIXTIES REVIVAL 1979-86 -By Ariana Klepac and Winston Posters (AK Publishing)
You won't read a better dissection of an Australian sub-culture than this. It's well-researched and generously illustrated, and all the more readable because it's viewed through the eyes of the participants. "Stark Raving Mod!" focuses on Australian mod life in the '80s with a fair focus on Sydney. The scenes in other cities are touched on but much of the source material is from the authors' own backyard. The scene's birthplace and heart was Sydney, which was also home-base for its bible, the very professional zine "Shake and Shout".
Most sub-cultures exist in the "here and now". "Events", as most people understand them, are few and the history is not strictly linear. The Australian mod movement was no different - it was mostly about the appearance and disappearance of bands and venues - but it also had some significant events. One was 1981 trip to Melbourne by the Sydney contingent, which was the catalyst for a split in the ranks when the newer recruits rejected the dominance of the established leadership. I knew about that one before reading the book because I worked with a leading light of the scene. I even went to a party at the Wolstoncraft house of The Face, Sets singer Don Hosie. I'm sure there were some wild times there over the years but that one was a bit of a snore.
It's an oral history but "Stark Raving Mod!" is no "Please Kill Me!" ion its digging of dirt. The authors come to celebrate mod, not bury it. Any sordid stuff is out of view (most mods have kids of their own these days) and the use of chemical assistance to function all through a weekend is hinted at, rather than spelt out. There's acknowledgement of the emergence of sexism, in a matter-of-fact way. The tales are all told in snapshots - first-person vignettes grouped thematically - and the impact is that "Stark Raving Mod!" is an appropriately hyperactive read, never sitting still.
Mod was undeniably largely about fashion. "Stark Raving Mod!" chronicles Saturday morning searches through second-hand stores. You can argue that being obsessed about dressing a certain way requires a high degree of conformity and you'd be right to some degree, but equally so if you said this was punk's Achilles heel too. Of course a few people took it all way too seriously - but you tend to do that when you're young. I well remember the way some mod girls bit like bull terriers on the letters page when a Sydney writer for RAM magazine penetrated the Sussex Hotel scene and used the word "insular".
The other thing mod was about was the music and there's ample coverage of the bands that mattered. The striking thing is that so few of the bands you'd regard as "classic" miods, Little Murders apart, left any substantial recorded legacy. There were the Allniters and although they were ska-pop, you could argue that they had their beginnings in the scene. Dynamic Hepnotics always seemed more grounded in R & B, and if lots of mods hitched a ride on the Sunnyboys wagon, so did plenty of punks. But that's one of the strengths of "Stark Raving Mod!": it strays outside the strict boundaries that some might have wanted to set, even touching on Sydney's briefly thriving psychedelic scene as well.
In the end, mod was about having a good time rather than changing any agenda. Despite what some would tell you, most musical movements are. "Stark Raving Mod!" conveys the good times well. Without gilding too many lilies, it also acknowledges that the lines between mod and other sub-cultures (especially punk) were pretty blurry - even when it came to violence around the fringes. If you were there you'll want this. If you weren't you might want it anyway. Available via this website. - The Barman
STONES IN EXILE (Shock)
That "Exile On Main Street" is a classic album should be beyond dispute. It came during one of those purple patches that only the greatest bands can sustain, a prolonged period of creative inspiration that makes the rest of the output look mortal in comparison. The Stones are also a lazy band - as this insider's look bears out.
Engineer Glynn Johns nails it when he describes the creative process behind this and probably every other Stones album: It's endless hours of Keith and whoever else happens to be around noodling and pushing around loose and often bad approximations of songs. There's a crucial point where Keith looks at Charlie and everybody gets down to business. Miss that take and you probably won't have another chance for months or even years. The World's Greatest Rock and Roll Band tends to woodshed a lot ("Tattoo You" being the classic example.)
The backbone of "Stones In Exile" is a patchwork of narrative from the principals involved. Most of it just shows how hazy everybody's memories are and what a fragmented process Stones recordings were. Everybody makes a big deal of the time spent at Keith's French mansion but a good part of "Exile" was captured at Olympic Studios in London, prior to the band's emigration to avoid onerous tax scales. Nine months at Nellcote yielded nine semi-finished songs. Of course that doesn't from "Exile" in the slightest. It's just shows that "Stones In Exile" tells it like it is.
The story's straightforward. The band's forced out of England and takes up residence in southern France. Being naive English boys, they manage to rent digs that are eight hours apart from each other. "Oh fuck, it looked closer than that on a map." They gather at the Richards abode to record an album. Various levels of dysfunctional habits and addictions mean that the length of time involved in doing this exceeds that wasted in Americans working out who's going to be their next President. The album goes on to critically stiff until the usual round of re-evaluations years later. The Stones could care less. By That time they're millionaires many times over.
One of the most awaited appearances on this disc is that of Mick Taylor, onetime golden haired boy who fell upon hard times not long after he flew the Stones coop. The news is that time hasn't been physically kind to Mick but at least he was presumably taken care of by the band to take part in this and some studio tinkering with outtakes. Of the others, Bill Wyman comes across as amiable if slightly cynical and very badly dressed, Charlie Watts a little daffy and Mick Jagger just a touch bored with it all. Yes mate, listing what was recorded where is boring but that's what fans want. Keith's still the wheezy, arrhythmic heart of the band and expounds frankly and without Jagger's disaffected pretension, even if he seems alarmingly sober. The real star is saxophonist Bobby Keyes. This man I'd like to crack of a bottle of Jack with. I'll supply the ice.
The documentary aired on the ABC in Australia and probably elsewhere around the world, as part of the marketing push for the re-issued album. Of course if you missed it you'll probably need this. The bonus inclusions, however, are so-so: There's Mick and Charlie returning to Jagger's onetime home Stargroves (another recording venue for "Exile") and Olympic Studios but once you've heard where the horns were set up or the drummer was positioned there's not much more to know. I would have liked to have seen a tour of Nellcourt but maybe the current owners barred cameras or the band couldn't be fucked trying. The other possibility is no-one could remember where it was.
The one bonus feature I can't bring myself to watch is the package of interviews with Jack White, Don Was, Chrissie Hynde and who cares else. Why the Stones (or most old bands) need validation by having third parties say how great they are is a source of endless bewilderment. - The Barman
ALL OR NOTHING 1965-1968 – Small Faces (Voyage Digital Media)
I love the Small Faces. No other word applies. Since I got intrigued reading John Mendelsohn’s rantings about them in Rolling Stone and Nik Cohn’s bit on them in Rock From the Beginning, I’ve bought their catalog more times than anyone else’s save the Yardbirds. I still remember the rush I felt when I found a copy of "Ogden’s Nut Gone Flake", on Immediate in the round tobaccotin replica sleeve, in the hipi record store where I wound up working through high school.
I was already a fan of Steve Marriott from Humble Pie’s "Performance: Rockin’ the Fillmore" (the next record after "Live At Leeds" that I had to hear four times a day – well, sides one and four, anyway), but here there was more dimension to his persona (combine equal parts pint-sized soul screamer and chirpy Cockney chappie, providing support for Nick Hornby’s later contention that the main difference between ‘60s British and American rockers was that the Brits liked their parents better) and he had better songs to sing to boot.
The second side of "Ogden’s" was an R&B-based psychedelic fairytale with narration in Cockney slang by actor Stanley Unwin, but the first side was even more bulletproof, highlighted by the gorgeous psychedelic soul ballad “Afterglow” and the crushing rocker “Song of a Baker.” And has there even been a more soulful (in the non-American-R&B-referential sense) hobbit than Steve’s songwriting and singing foil Ronnie Lane? I think not. (Seeing All Or Nothing 1965-1968 has also whetted my appetite to view the DVD of "The Passing Show: The Life & Music of Ronnie Lane" as well.) In some ways, their previous album "There Are But Four Small Faces" was even better, and their earlier Decca stuff was even more visceral.
Sure, you can see most of this stuff on Youtube, but having 27 complete performances (well, a couple of live ones from the Marquee Club are truncated) all together in an intelligently edited mélange, interspersed with archival interviews from Marriott and Lane (who left the planet in 1991 and 1997, respectively) and new ones with drummer Kenny Jones and keyboardist Ian McLagan, makes this release a candygram from the gods for the Faces fan or novice.
Sure, a lot of the songs are lip-synched, but you still get a strong sense of the band’s energy and spirit in the ones from Sweden’s Popside and the Ogden’s sequence from the BBC’s "Colour Me Pop" that at least had Marriott and Lane singing live. And the bona fide live performances from Germany’s "Beat Beat Beat" and the band’s debut at the Marquee (both dating from March 1966, when they were apparently hot as a pistol) capture their onstage ferocity brilliantly.
The interviews with Jones and particularly McLagan are of interest -- Mac marvels that they were able to get “Here Come the Nice” (“…he’s always there if I need some speed”) past the BBC censors, and reveals that Lane was taking a dig at the British educational system in “Itchycoo Park” – while the latter day ones with Marriott and Lane are poignant in light of how they passed (Marriott died in a fire and Lane from multiple sclerosis, already evident in his last interview from 1988). Bonus materials include the Lane interview in its entirety, as well as all of the performances (plus four songs not seen in the film) sans interviews, but the film itself is engaging enough to watch again and again. (I’ve had it on as a continuous soundtrack the last couple of days.) - Ken Shimamoto
JUST KIDS By Patti Smith (Ecco)
Watching Stephen Sebring’s 2009 rockumentary “Patti Smith: Dream of Life”, I was struck by the way Patti’s narration sounded like poetry, even when she was just talking about her life. “Just Kid”s is a whole book like that, a memoir of her odyssey from the New Jersey ‘burbs to the world in search of Art, via the Chelsea Hotel, Max’s Kansas City, and CBGB, told through the prism of her relationship with the beautiful, doomed photographer Robert Mapplethorpe.
“Just Kids” opens and closes with Mapplethorpe’s death from AIDS in 1989. In between, it follows her from her birth in Chicago to her days as a poetry and rock ‘n’ roll loving misfit Jersey teen, her flight to Brooklyn and then Greenwich Village in the mid-‘60s, when Mapplethorpe rescued her from the attentions of a creepy writer, and they went on to incite and inspire each other, even after Mapplethorpe started coming to terms with his own complicated sexuality. Despite her liberal upbringing, Smith had (and has) fairly traditional values, but she isn’t judgmental about her friend’s forays into the netherworld of S&M, focusing on the aesthetic beauty of the images he created from those experiences.
Around her central narrative, she weaves a fascinating tapestry of Lower Manhattan at a watershed time in American cultural history, with vivid portraits of its denizens like folklorist Harry Smith; writers William Burroughs, Allen Ginsberg, and Jim Carroll; playwright Sam Shepard, and musos Bobby Neuwirth, Todd Rundgren, and Blue Oyster Cult’s Allen Lanier. As Mapplethorpe begins making his name in the art world, so does Smith in the literary world, slowly but inexorably moving toward her apotheosis as a performer and leader of a rock ‘n’ roll band. About her husband, the late Fred “Sonic” Smith, she has only this to say: “He was a king among men and men knew him.”
This is a work of sweet simplicity, its prose formally elegant but without the portentousness that sometimes mars these things, and a loving farewell to a long gone time and place whose echoes still reverberate. - Ken Shimamoto
THE REPLACEMENTS: ALL OVER BUT THE SHOUTING; AN ORAL HISTORY By Jim Walsh (Voyageur Press)
I came late to the Replacements’ swinging party: Having sat out their decade Guarding Freedom’s Frontier, I was going through a divorce in the mid-‘90s when I started moonlighting in the record store I’d originally come to Fort Worth to open, and asked John Bargas, “What’d I miss?” He said, “The Minutemen, Husker Du, and the Replacements,” and handed me a stack of CDs that included "Pleased To Meet Me".
To these feedback-scorched ears, Paul Westerberg sounded like a less righteous Minnesotan Joe Strummer – a singer-songwriter in punk-rocker’s clothing. It wasn’t till later that I heard their earlier TwinTone stuff. While "Let It Be", which capped that period, is the ‘Mats’ Rolling Stone-approved “great album,” I’ve come to think that their opening salvo, "Sorry Ma, Forgot To Take Out the Trash", might have been their actual zenith, bursting with hardcore fury but already more “rock” than “punk.” The fan cassette "The Shit Hits the Fans", replete with shambolic covers and fuck-you attitude, was probably their most archetypal recording. From down in the gutter, they were reaching for the stars, but in the most contrarian and self-defeating way imaginable.
Jim Walsh is a ‘Mats homeboy, a Minneapolis muso-scribe who witnessed their very first bar gig in 1980 and submitted a rambling fan’s rant to the local university’s student daily on the occasion of their playing a five-night stand at a local club on the eve of their first major label album’s release. He uses the oral history approach beloved of us Uberfans since "Please Kill Me", avoiding the kind of scholarly analysis that Westerberg and his chums would have cackled at. As an insider, Walsh is well equipped to capture the flavor of the improbably fruitful Minneapolis scene that also produced the Huskers, Prince, and Soul Asylum; the band’s internal dynamic; and its relationship with mentor-label boss-manager Peter Jesperson.
It’s sobering to realize that guitarist Bob Stinson, a comically self-destructive figure in popular mythology who was ousted from the band in 1986, was originally the leader in their pre-Westerberg Dog’s Breath days. The ghost of Bob is the 800-pound gorilla in the room even after he’s out of the picture, and the section of the book that deals with his decline and demise - he died in 1995 after abusing his body for years with alcohol and drugs; author Walsh gave his eulogy, which is reproduced in full here – makes for harrowing reading. A story his wife tells of an onstage altercation with Westerberg while Bob was sober is particularly poignant. Rock ‘n’ roll has few figures more tragic than Bob Stinson. - Ken Shimamoto
BEEFHEART: THROUGH THE EYES OF MAGIC By John French (Proper)
Up till now, the two best books you could buy about Captain Beefheart were Mike Barnes’ "Captain Beefheart: The Biography" and Bill Harkleroad’s "Lunar Notes: Zoot Horn Rollo’s Captain Beefheart Experience". The former was an impeccably researched, if somewhat dry, music-focused chronological narrative; the latter, an insider’s confessional memoir. Drummer John (aka Drumbo) French’s sprawling 864-page tome combines the strengths of both of its predecessors. French conducted extensive interviews with former Magic Band members and associates in the course of researching the liner notes he penned for Revenant’s "Grow Fins" box set. He also has a better-than-average memory for events that transpired up to 50 (!) years ago, and a prose style that brings those events vividly to life.
The portrait of Don Van Vliet that emerges is far from the cuddly surrealist of popular mythology – which itself was largely the product of two Rolling Stone articles by Langdon Winner that pretty much accepted every claim made by the good Captain, no matter how extravagant, at face value. French’s book opens with the drummer being physically assaulted by his bandmates under their leader’s direction – an example of the cult-like atmosphere that permeated the house where the songs comprising the groundbreaking album "Trout Mask Replica" were laboriously composed and learned.
As Harkleroad previously revealed in "Lunar Notes", the reality was much different from the bill of goods Van Vliet sold Winner. Rather than an eight-and-a-half hour flood of inspiration, the songs were pieced together over months from fragments the leader banged out on the piano, which the drummer painstakingly notated and arranged. In French’s account, Van Vliet comes across as a pathological bully who ran his band by manipulation and intimidation, making scapegoats for his own insecurities of his fatigued and starving musicians and turning them against each other as a means of maintaining control. The “warts-and-all” depiction French provides of the Magic Band’s inner dynamics makes for some harrowing reading.
French’s book is particularly revealing on the late-‘50s/early ‘60s garage rock scene that existed around Lancaster, California, and produced Frank Zappa and Merrell Fankhauser as well as Beefheart. It’s instructive to realize that Zappa and Beefheart were products of a time and place, rather than springing fully formed from their own heads, and that Beefheart was a popular success with a local hit (“Diddy Wah Diddy”) before Zappa moved to L.A. and made “freak out” a buzzword. Through the Eyes of Magic depicts that milieu with a richness of detail worthy of an Ugly Things retrospective. Musicians and fans with a musical bent will particularly appreciate the 90 pages of extensive track-by-track analysis French includes for all of Beefheart’s albums (except for the two crap ones that appeared in the U.S. on Mercury). And of course, the text is jam-packed with an insider’s insights on the creative process behind all the albums from Safe As Milk onward.
French also writes of his life away from Beefheart, including a matter-of-fact, non-preachy account of his religious conversion and “deliverance” or exorcism. While it’s difficult to understand why any sane person would keep going back to such a tension-fraught and abusive situation, the author’s respect for Van Vliet’s creativity and pride in his own considerable (if unheralded) musical accomplishments shine through, and his chapters on the latter days of their relationship (the 1975 European tour, the sessions for the still-unreleased Bat Chain Puller and 1980 Doc At the Radar Station albums) include some affectionate glimpses of his prickly subject.
The book’s Achilles heel is in the editing: There’s a lot of unnecessary repetition throughout, and the glitches – typos, punctuation errors, even missing words – seem to become more numerous in the later chapters; was somebody pushing a deadline? In fairness, Proper – a top-notch UK reissue label – aren’t primarily in the book publishing business, and they deserve kudos for taking this project on. While hardly a professional, French is a skillful writer, clearly dedicated to his subject, and he has a compelling story to tell. He pulls no punches, and the result is the most clear-eyed portrait yet of a fascinating and unique musical figure. - Ken Shimamoto
I SLEPT WITH JOEY RAMONE - By Mickey Leigh with Legs McNeil (Touchstone)
Here's a family memoir reviewed by someone who usually skips through the growing-up parts of rock and roll biographies and cuts to the fucked-up bits. (At least I'm honest.) This story of being the brother of Joey Ramone, however, merits a full and considered reading.
Mickey Leigh's story is as much about himself as his relationship with his brother - and that's fine. There's no other way of telling such a personal tale. "I Slept With Joey Ramone" has a sense of catharsis, a purging of a good many ghosts of the author's as much as shining a light on those of his late sibling. Sometimes, the chip on his shoulder is obvious - Mickey's inability to land a major label deal and wider exposure for his own music stands out - but that's also central to the story.
It's not told with any lasting rancour. Not all Joey's battles were with Johnny. Joey did carry a torch for Mickey's bands (STOP, The Rattlers) and any barriers he put up to their success seem both unwitting and a symptom of underlying mental conditions (of which he had many.) Joey evidently may have omitted - at Johnny's insistence - some brotherly co-writing credits for Ramones songs, and that had a recurring and compounding impact on their relationship.
Although we knew adult life with Joey would have been difficult, the devil really is in the detail. Constant obsessions, an inability to carry out everyday tasks and bouts of paranoia were the tip of an iceberg big enough to trouble the Titanic You'd almost opt to room with Dee Dee on tour after reading this. Almost. Mickey was the Ramones' roadie for their first two years and was at his brother's side throughout his coke-and-booze partying in the '80s, so his perspective really was from the inside.
There was a heullva lot of feuding once the Ramones were no more. I perceived the post-Joey Ramones camp to be divided between the singer, Mickey and mother Charlotte, co-writer/producer Daniel Rey, who were at loggerheads with Johnny and sometimes Marky, with CJ and Dee Dee in the middle. Mickey had his own battle with his mother which played out on the side and ultimately involved Joey. It was all resolved before the end but it adds another layer to an already complicated story, parts of which are probably for fan eyes only. The overall impression isn't a dump job. We also see the generous and creative sides of a man who did more than almost anyone to change the course of rock and roll history, even if receiving his dues came too late.
Co-writer Legs McNeil was tight with all the principals and his influence, via generous tracts of "Please Kill Me" interview extracts, is evident. What's news is that he was excommunicated by Joey for telling too much in a 1986 Spin article he penned (and one I still remember reading that year while travelling through the USA.) Tommy Ramone's real reason for quitting (depression) is revealed as is 2000's drug dealing rap against Mickey Leigh (subsequently beaten.) Regarding the rest of the Happy Family, there's a sense of the odd score being settled in a matter-of-fact way and by the end you're left wondering if anyone other than Johnny's ex-wife/Joey's ex-girlfriend, Linda, is still around to defend themselves
Post-modernism preaches that "truth" is a contentious term, defined by who's telling the story. There'll probably be a few people disputing the version put forward by Messrs Leigh and McNeil but that's inevitable. The incontrovertible fact is you won't read a version of the truth told by anyone closer to it. It's a great read. - The Barman
EYE MIND: THE SAGA OF ROKY ERICKSON AND THE 13TH FLOOR ELEVATORS, THE PIONEERS OF PSYCHEDELIC SOUND By Paul Drummond (Process)
Documenting the hazy and hitherto substantially hidden history of a long dead seminal band like the Elevators can't have been an easy task, but Paul Drummond has nailed it better than Tiger Woods connecting with a tree in an SUV. Past members being uncommunicative, off the planet, dead or all three were hurdles that were compounded by their former record label going out of its way to hide the band from the media when it was a going concern. So this was always going to be a hard story to tell by way of a scrapbook.
Why did the label go to lengths to keep a lid on their charges? As Drummond explains, the International Artists imprint of the '60s (as opposed the the new incarnation that issued the Elevators box set in 2009) was a slimy bunch of lawyers who signed an unwitting band to a punitive deal, without realising they (the band, not the lawyers) were a troupe of musically-inspired but reality-challenged, acid-gobbling drug evangelists. Not a wise career choice in deepest Texas in 1967. The grand (non) strategy was to plonk the Elevators records in the marketplace, take an ad in the trade press and hope they sold a million while ducking for cover. The Smartest Guys In The Room, or the law really was an ass
"Eye Mind" is an eye-opener. Parts of the story have been touched on but never laid out in detail. We knew the Elevators were harassed by the law but the extent of their difficulties is finally clear. A collective bust (somehow dealt with by some adept lobbying) and guitarist Stacy Sutherland's subsequent arrest killed the Elevators' ability to tour, even if their label had been keen to send them out on the road. Jug player Tommy Hall's importance to the band's philosophy and, it has to be said, dysfunction, has never been adequately shown. Nor had the symbiotic and ultimately stifling influence he had on Roky Erickson.
That said, Roky must have been a nightmare to baby-sit. Taking 300-plus trips will do that to you, especially if your psychological foundations were missing some formwork to begin with. The turning point, at least in the first half of his life, must have been the public defender's advice to plead insanity when facing a jail or a drug rap. Who knows how long he might have been in Rusk Prison instead of undergoing shock treatment in a mental hospital, but the book puts the scenario that the former might have been the less harmful of two no-wins.
The story behind persuading the band principals to talk could have been a book in itself but if the author was frustrated by them not remembering much, was it a shock? Each chapter is heavily annotated - with the exception of when and where substantial blocks of his own first-person quotes were derived. That's a minor quibble and by no means does it weigh things down (unless you have OCD.)
As a sidelight, Roky's mother Evelyn comes out of this in a better light than the Roky-umentary "You're Gonna Miss Me" where she unwittingly took on the role of villain.
Where everybody ended up post-Elevators is covered but the main focus is on the band's career-proper. As someone who was until the last few years more a solo Roky fan than a 13th Floor resident, I had no problem slipping inside this house. The underlying tale of connecting band and audience sensibilities through psychedelics makes this a cautionary tale. The advent of meth and smack into the equation actually flew in the face of what Tommy Hall was preaching and ultimately led to his estrangement. Perhaps the saddest note is the inability of band members other than Roky to let go. Interminable Elevators reformations - with or without the singer - left a sour taste.
In the end, there was a happy ending for some. Most of us did OK out of the Elevators leaving us with some sublime, earth-shattering music and three unforgettable albums (plus a dodgy, supposedly live effort that they did not approve). Roky is back in some sort of reasonable health, playing selected shows with The Explosives. And Tommy Hall is living in cheap accommodation in San Francisco's Pan Handle, still seeking enlightenment. - The Barman
KEEP IT TOGETHER!: COSMIC BOOGIE WITH THE DEVIANTS AND THE PINK FAIRIES by Rich Deakin (HeadPress)
It must be my Aussie summer for reading books about fucked-up bands. The 13th Floor Elevators bio by Paul Drummond and Mickey Leigh's equally excellent memoir about brother Joey and the Ramones have come up trumps. So what's the point of yet another tome about two of the most anarchic, dysfunctional examples of cosmic debris ever to lay claim to three chords? If you don't know by now, Dear Reader, you probably never will.
It's a little-known and glossed-over truth that the Greater London of the late-'60s had almost as many hippies per square mile than San Francisco. The crucial difference was that the English version smelt far worse because baths weren't a central feature of squats. Born in wartime, growing up with rationing and with nothing to watch on TV after 11pm because the stations closed down came a generation of young people seeking fun. And no-one chased it harder than the Deviants and their loosely-related associates, the Pink Fairies.
The Deviants were originally known as the Social Deviants - which should tell you something about their agenda. The Deviants were as much about crude studio experimentation as fuzz-laden guitar rock and roll. Their patchy but confrontational debut album "Pttoof" remains a cult obsession. The band managed to "keep it together" over the course of three long-players before falling into an acid-and-speed black hole during a bizarre Canadian/US West Coast "tour".
(If you haven't read "Give The Anarchist a Cigarette, the essential autobiography of Deviants "vocalist" Mick Farren, you need to do so. Now. Farren wrote the forward for "Keep It Together" and his own book is heavily leant upon by it for context.)
Back home, the re-constituted and Farren-less Deviants limped on before grinding to a halt. After years in abeyance and leading solo bands, After years of abeyance, spent as a music journalist and sci-fi author and some notable solo band outings, Farren has reclaimed the name to lead various line-ups to this day.
The Pink Fairies picked up where the Deviants left off, hosting various members and even landing a major label deal only to stagger along the perimeter wire of success without ever breaching the fence. Consuming enough alcohol and pharmaceuticals to fuel a medium-sized well-off nation helped. Their status as perpetual outsiders suited, with the band putting on as many free shows for their freak constituency as for paying customers. "Kings of Oblivion" might be regarded as their high point but "What a Bunch of Sweeties" deserves time on your turntable too.
Commonality of members apart, the two bands had a concrete connection through their attitude and audience, and the author has done a mighty job of tying together some disparate threads. Personal recollections add to the colour but lots of the detail is MIA due to the passage of time and frayed memories of those being interviewed. This is a surprise. Not.
Worry not, Rich Deakin has drawn on clippings from the English musical press to fill in the gaps. There's an argument being made here that both bands deserve their due for laying the bitumen for the punk tanks of 1976 to ride in on. The case is well made.
Thanks to Rock Brothers Eric of French band Holy Curse and Ken Shimamoto (who hipped me to the joys of the Deviants and Mr Farren many years ago) for the recommendation. - The Barman
When it comes to legends of hipi-era bohemia, the story of Brit “people’s bands” the Deviants and the Pink Fairies has everything you could want: massive lysergic, amphetamine, and narcotic indulgence; run-ins with the law; gigs at riots and demonstrations; insidious internecine intrigue. In the fullness of time, it’s become clear that the Devies, led by Oz/International Times agitprop weirdo Mick Farren, were more of a punk precursor than an example of period psychedelia, as their original guitarist Sid Bishop points out, while the Pink Fairies -- into which the Deviants morphed after shitcanning Farren while on tour in America and appropriating the name from a gig-crashing gang of despoilers he’d formed with pals from the Pretty Things and Tyrannosaurus Rex – were a good old rock ’n’ roll band that became known for playing free concerts outside seemingly every UK festival of the early ‘70s (most famously the Isle of Wight and Glastonbury) and somehow maintained cred into the punk era and beyond. Deniz Tek, enroute from Ann Arbor to Australia in ’71, caught the Fairies at the Roundhouse in London and, years later, remembered them as being “equal to anything coming out of Detroit/Ann Arbor in terms of energy" – high praise indeed from one who Knows.
Keep It Together! is an Uberfan’s labor of love, the work of Rich Deakin, who’s long scribed for the Funtopia Farren site. It’s a well-researched tome, rich in detail, taking advantage of its author’s direct access to all the living “primary sources” – including not just the voluble Farren, but also Deviants manager Jamie Mandelkau (who at least set the stage for Farren’s ouster from the band, if not engineering it outright) and the enterprising/opportunistic (depending whose side you take) sometime-drummer, ex-Pretty Thing John “Twink” Alder – resulting in the most “fair and balanced” picture imaginable, displaying a level of scholarship devoted to this kind of thing that, these days, seems the almost exclusive province of Mike Stax’s Ugly Things. Where gaps exist, Deakin makes use of published sources (especially Farren’s autobiography Give the Anarchist a Cigarette – a particular favorite of the Barman’s -- and Jonathan Green’s Days In the Life: Voices from the English Underground 1961-1971), weaving his properly attributed borrowings into the story seamlessly. It also helps that Deakin’s an engaging prose stylist, whose narrative flows in a readable fashion.
Deakin chronicles his subjects’ odyssey from their ’umble origins in the squats of Ladbrooke Grove (whence the Clash would spring a decade or so later); to the gig in Trafalgar Square, before a crowd of 35,000, where the Deviants came close to murdering themselves and a portion of the crowd with homemade pyrotechnics; to the Devies’ one American tour, where they wound up stranded in San Francisco, cadging garbanzo beans off commune-dwelling hipis to avoid starvation; to the first Glastonbury festival, where the Fairies performed while peaking on acid (the book takes its title from Paul Rudolph’s end-of-set admonition, probably directed to his tripping bandmates as much as the crowd); to the band’s appearance at the first-ever punk festival in 1976 and its several reformations, which continue until this very day (the last one, scheduled for December 2007, had to be cancelled when Larry Wallis – who, it turns out, isn’t American like I thought he was! -- suffered a back injury).
Keep It Together! is far from a litany of mega-successes; rather, it’s the story of a mob of reprobates that made every mistake imaginable (in their heyday, f’rinstance, promoters would seize upon their policy of playing free gigs as an excuse not to pay them) and seemed destined for self-immolation but somehow, against all odds, keep coming back for one more try – putting me in mind of something Patti Smith wrote, in another context: “Just as we seem to repeat our follies, we also abide.” A classic rock ‘n’ roll saga, well told. - Ken Shimamoto
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