Musings on Rock and Roll
by Ken Shimamoto





Posted December 22, 2001


Nineteen eighty-four and 1999 might have come and gone inauspiciously, but not 2001. Quite a fuckin' space odyssey it's been. September 11th knocked a lot of us for a loop, and it's hard to know where this whole ball of confusion is gonna wind up. Thanks to those 'netizens who've sent messages of sympathy and support for us dumbass 'mericuns. It's been real, uh, INTERESTING to read some of the other comms that have come my way since then, by virtue of this "16 Forever" shingle, I guess. My faves: "You're an Army guy. How do you feel about Iraqi conscripts being bulldozed to protect American corporate interests?" (I LOVE it when people pull that Eurocommie anti-American schtick just to get a rise.) How do I feel? I think William Tecumseh Sherman said it best (and without irony.) You could look it up. And, "How do you reconcile your military service with digging nihilists like the MC5 and Stooges?" I don't, Brother, I don't. Just chalk it up to the duality of man. I dig what I dig, and I've done what I've done. Didn't realize I needed permission from the Committee. Maybe next lifetime.
Ironically, it's been an uncommonly good year for rock'n'roll (the kind I like, anyway). It seems like there have been more good records out this year than any year I can remember since I got back into the noise in a big way back in '94.

To begin with, the "D" section in my wall of CDs has assumed greater significance over the past few months with the addition of new opuses from the Dictators, Deep Reduction, and the Dragons. The Dictators' "D.F.F.D.," their first full-length release in 23 years, is quite simply the best thing I've heard this year, a worthy studio representation of their colossal live show, and proof positive that visionarymastermind/songwriter/producer/bassplayer supreme Andy Shernoff is currently rock's greatest obsessive-compulsive perfectionist. Finally released this October, "Deep Reduction 2" totally eclipses the memory of that aggregation's eponymous debut, marking as it does the reunion on disc of Deniz Tek and Rob Younger, a logical continuation of the paths both men have been following since Radio Birdman's last set of reunion shows, and the most accessible (and PERHAPS best) work from the Iceman since "Outside." The Dragons' "Rock and Roll Kamikaze" had the misfortune to appear in the wake of September 11th with a cover filled with airplane and explosion imagery (albeit from World War II Imperial Japan), but is nonetheless a solid slab of Stones/Heartbreakers/Replacements-influenced punk rock'n'roll that builds solidly on the strengths of the San Diego band's previous studio entry, "Rock Like Fuck," and is worthy of front Dragon Alejandro Escovedo's familial heritage (Nuns/True Believers/Rank and File/Zeros).

Dr. Tek also had two worthwhile archival releases this year: Sub Pop's "The Essential Radio Birdman," the first material by the seminal Australian band to be available in the United States in 23 years, which lives up to its name but is still an unworthy successor to the unspeakably dynamite Red Eye reissues (which, I suppose, now sleep with the fishes), and "It's Just That I Miss You," a compilation of NEARLY everything recorded by Angie Pepper with the Passengers and the Angie Pepper Band, lovingly restored by Deniz and released on Citadel, gorgeous poppy post-punk chick-rock with Jeff Sullivan's hook-laden songwriting and the ever-impressive bass stylings of Jim Dickson giving the Passengers material the slight edge.
Among archival releases, a couple of others deserve mention. Scott Morgan's "Medium Rare" on Real O Mind proves conclusively that the Ann Arbor phenom is perhaps our finest surviving blue-eyed soul man and Heartland rocker, an R&B-drenched shouter with a history and catalog of songs that extends much, MUCH further than the Sonic's Rendezvous Band repertoire by which many Barflys know him. A more uplifting listen you won't find. And moments ahead of the remastered Blue Oyster Cult catalog, Rhino Handmade blessed us with "St. Cecilia," a snazzy remastered edition of the often-bootlegged Oaxaca and Stalk Forrest Group sessions that stands up to anything on the first BOC album.

The Dragons' guitarist Kenny Mochikoshi Horne originally hails from Yokohama, Japan, and is pals with Yusuke Chiba, frontman of one of the year's other surprises, Thee Michelle Gun Elephant. These TMGE guys, who are evidently rich college boys transmogrified into Big Rockstars in their homeland, followed up Y2K's blazing "Gear Blues" with "Collection" on Bomp, an equally stunning compilation of earlier and later tracks. Both Bomp releases are eclipsed, in this writer's opinion, by the band's latest, the unfortunately titled "Rodeo Tandem Beat Specter," currently available only on Nippon Columbia. I still have no FUCKING idea what Chiba is singing about (and on the newie, they've totally dispensed with even token stabs at English lyrics), but it doesn't matter; these boys (who claim R&B-stoked Brits like the Pirates, Dr. Feelgood, and the 'oo Themselves as inspiration) play with a raw intensity and drive rarely heard ANYWHERE, in ANY language. (Still don't think much of Guitar Wolf or Gasoline, tho.)

Even sleepy Canada (think of America with lower blood pressure) has an entry in the Great Rock Album sweepstakes this year: Montreal band Tricky Woo's "Les Sables Magiques." Pared down to a three-piece, these Woo guys have produced the closest thing I've heard in eons to a '68 rock record, the kind bands like the Stones and Traffic usedta make - a little basic rock, a little psych, a little pastoral acousticism, a little jazz influence, but all of a piece, a worthy and interesting listen.

I'm still waiting for my copy of "The Quine Tapes," the first volume in Polygram's long-heralded Velvet Underground "bootleg series," but in the interim, I'm enjoying the hell out of Luna's "Live," an album which captures much of the rhythmic feel and guitar chug of the '69 Velvets, along with lyrical smarts worthy of late-period Lou. Likewise, I've yet to pick up on Iggy's new "Beat 'Em Up" in spite of the wrap the Barman gave it, but I've been digging the shit out of the Streetwalkin' Cheetahs' "Waiting for the Death of My Generation," on which Wayne Kramer's erstwhile protégés finally transcend the slew of (mainly Detroit) influences they've worn on their collective sleeve for years to produce a varied but consistently hard-rocking slab. Speaking of Brother Wayne, his new band Mad for the Racket has a worthy entry in "The Racketeers" (although I still think new partner, ex-Damned/Lords of the New Church man Brian James ain't in quite the same league as the former MC5 guitar terrorist).

Bin Laden has declared a jihad on Orstralia as well as the U.S., for sending the SAS as much as for turning away the Afghani boat people, which didn't seem to hurt John Howard much in the recent election and certainly won't diminish the continuing torrent of Rock Action emanating from Antipodea. Pick of the litter is prolly "Reading Between the Lines," a career pinnacle for Asteroid B-612 and a personal triumph for leader John "Johnny Casino" Spittles, giving the lie to all those who maintain that Asteroid's best stuff was with Stew Cunningham. And still haven't heard the Monarchs' full-length yet.

Finally, the Deviants remain every Barfly's favorite fringe lunatics, and this year they weighed in with another sterling compilation, "On Your Knees, Earthlings!!!" on Total Energy. Leader Mick Farren finally published his memoirs, "Give the Anarchist a Cigarette," and guitarist Andy Colquhoun released an interesting solo album, "Pick Up the Phone America!"

This was the year I finally got to see Ron Asheton (three times, with J. Mascis and Mike Watt) and interview James Williamson. I've actually accomplished everything I said I wanted to do when I started doing the rockwrite thang, uh, three years ago. (The Sonic's Rendezvous Band book idea sleeps with the fishes, for the time being. We need money first.) Who knows what 2002 will bring? (Fave rumors of the moment: another Radio Birdman reunion, and Gearfest U.S.A. with the Dictators headlining in Austin next May.) We'll see.