Musings on Rock and Roll
by Ken Shimamoto





Posted March 11, 2002


Kind of a dispiriting week. Last weekend, the wheels came off the band I've been working with for the past six months, trying to develop some original material. The singer wasn't quite cutting it, and elected to bail rather than doing the work. That wouldn't have been a deal-breaker all by itself, but then the drummer (whose presence has enhanced two or three other musical ventures of mine, including one that actually got to the gigging stage, which this one never did) called and said that he wasn't going to be able to continue - work and travel schedules, family obligations, the time and distance involved in traveling to rehearsals, etc. Tried contacting our old drummer, who informed me that he'd been offered a gig recently and discovered when he sat down behind the traps that wasn't able to play at all.

My guitar partner and I were both more depressed than we figured we'd be by this turn of events. We talked aimlessly about putting something else together, but the reality is we're both too blasted by this to even think about doing anything else for a coupla months. I spent the last few days bombarding a woman I dig a lot but can't approach for reasons of Honor with a barrage of e-mail in which I bared my soul about loads of things I probably ought not to have. I can only hope I haven't scared her off. Meanwhile, at least I don't have to feel like I donwanna go to anyone else's gigs until we gig, at least until there's another "we" to think about gigging (but more about that later). Maybe I'll watch some movies or something. Catch up on my reading (not bloody likely as I don't even have the attention span for cereal boxes right now, although I'm attempting to read Peter Doggett's "Are You Ready for the Country," about the roots of country-rock, and wishing I hadn't sold my Elvis Sun sessions CD).

Meanwhile, I've been revisiting American rock from the eighties, the decade I mostly sat out Defending Freedom's Frontier, a period which is framed in my mind by two Lou Reed albums: "The Blue Mask," which is the last thing I was interested in hearing before I came back to The World from Korea in '83 and which, in the event, I wound up not actually hearing until much later, and "New York," which was the album that pulled me back in when I found it in a mall in Abilene, Texas, in '89.

After shoveling thousands of dollars into repairing my old short ('89 Plymouth Sundance, the last Chrysler product I will ever buy), I broke down and went to (best retail experience of my INTAHR life) and bought a late-model Saturn (my child support payment will go down when my oldest daughter gets married in April, so I figure I can swing with the car payment). One of the numerous advantages to my new vehicle situation is that I can actually listen to music in the car again. The cassette player in my previous ride was inoperative ever since the bride-to-be, impatient with the tape-intake mechanism, jammed a Red Hot Chili Peppers tape in the deck which had the collateral benefit of also making it impossible to reset the clock or listen to the radio. I got used to driving without sound, so much so that when I was driving a RENTED Saturn during the Plymouth's last interval in the shop and my middle daughter had the radio up at pain-threshold volume (although probably not near where I USED to keep it when I was listening to music), the infernal racket unnerved me so much that I ran a stop sign and wound up having to take defensive driving (online!) for my trouble.

But now those days are gone. My current tape o' choice in the ride is a tape of the Minutemen's epochal "Double Nickels On the Dime" double-album (plus some other goodies) courtesy of the Rev. Wayne Coomers of the First Church of Holy Rock'n'Roll. The Minutemen came out of the same L.A. hardcore scene that produced Black Flag, but they didn't hew to any kind of Ramones/Sex Pistols punk orthodoxy. (Ever notice how boring and doctrinaire punk purists can be? Christ, they're worse than Communists or academics!) Their vision of "punk" was big enough to encompass pretty much anything they wanted it to, from Creedence Clearwater to free jazz to funk (these guys could really play, defying the three-chord punk stereotype; in fact, D. Boon often employed his guitar in the same was as Funkadelic's axemen Eddie Hazel and Mike Hampton did, while Mike Watt matched him with telepathic intertwining bass figures), and today, "Double Nickels" hits a lot like an eighties "Trout Mask Replica," substituting D. Boon's political consciousness for Beefheart's ecological obsessions. The singer intoned his diatribes in a high, reedy boy's voice. What was punk about that: he didn't allow his tools to interfere with his expression. As varied as it is sprawling, "Double Nickels" is my favorite kind of record: the kind that creates its own universe that you can inhabit if you want to (like "Trout Mask," like "Exile on Main St.," like Wilco's "Being There").
Listening to late eighties Seattle bands like Green River (their "Dry As a Bone"/"Rehab Doll" compilation) and Mudhoney ("Superfuzz Bigmuff plus Early Singles") as I penned last issue's Seattle screed, I've been struck by how strong the sonic similarity is between these Mark Arm-led bands and lower-division post-Birdman Oz bands like Bored!, God, and the Splatterheads. It's instructive to remember, too, the various connections between Aussie eighties rock and its Pacific Northwest equivalent: Kim Salmon was once asked to join Mudhoney, while Kent Steedman actually DID join the Screaming Trees (allegedly his favorite band) for a spell, not to forget Mono Men leader/Estrus Records honcho Dave Crider's Lime Spiders fixation..

Oz stuff is never far from my playback apparatus, whether it's a tape of some rough mixes from the forthcoming Angie Pepper album which her husband graciously sent, or a CD-R of the new Saints album "Spitting Out the Blues" courtesy of Geoff Ginsberg. The Angie stuff is a revelation; her voice has gained expressiveness from the Life Lived, and a couple of the songs that she co-wrote with bassist Jim Dickson really represent something new in the canon, with a production sound that's downright psychedelic. Can't wait to hear the full-length. The Saints, a band of whose post-Ed Kuepper work I'm admittedly ignorant, surprise with an album that seesaws back and forth between blues and rock. Chris Bailey's voxxx remind me a lot of another Chris, Youlden of Savoy Brown fame (a CD-R of whose classic "Raw Sienna" and "Blue Matter" albums I've had in my CD-ROM drive at work for weeks), as well as both Mick Jagger and the Pretty Things' Phil May in their early R&B daze. Bailey's lead guitar playing (!) is a stunning surprise, as well. From the aural evidence here, the fella oughtta come down to Texas; it sounds like he could hold his own in the roadhouses and blues jams down here. Besides covering chestnuts like Howlin' Wolf's "Who's Been Talking," Bo Diddley's "Before You Accuse Me" (thoroughly obliterating the memory of Eric Clapton's formulaic version from a few years back), and Elmore James' "It Hurts Me Too," he pens a few gooduns of his own (sample lyric: "I put my faith in things I can't see/Sooner or later it's gonna do for me"). Sounds like I'm gonna have to investigate the eighties and nineties Saints further.

Things to look forward to: the Dictators in Dallas next weekend, the Streetwalkin' Cheetahs the beginning of April. More than that: there's a possibility I'll throw caution (and expense) to the winds and head north to catch the Deniz Tek/Scott Morgan shows in Ann Arbor and Cleveland (with Ron Asheton making a guest appearance in A2) later that month. I'd begged off attending the shows in Philly and Brooklyn, as they're the same weekend as my daughter's wedding, telling the Iceman, "I'll have to try and catch you guys next time." His response: "How many next times do you think there are going to be?" Beyond that: the imminent re-release of Wayne Kramer's remastered/bonus track-enhanced catalog on his own Muscletone Records imprint. Bro. Wayne, it seems, has been attending business management classes sponsored by the Small Business Administration, as a result of which his website is now filled with homilies about Change that sound like they coulda come from my MBA-holding boss at work, YAWN, but "The Hard Stuff," first release in the projected series, is so great that it's worth enduring all that. - Ken Shimamoto