Musings on Rock and Roll
by Ken Shimamoto





Posted January 26, 2002


Long time no write. Like a Moloch with an insatiable appetite (as Gen. James Gavin wrote about the Huertgen Forest), work continues to encroach on my lifestyle more than I'd like. I now have twice as much responsibility and more than twice as many direct reports, I've worked six of the last eight weekends, and I'm making $20 a payday more than previously. Feh. But, I feel like what I'm doing is worthwhile, and I'm doing what I need to do. Notwithstanding my New Year's pledge to spend less time jerking off on the Internet and more being with the real people in my life, I'm not really digging not having enough time/energy to take a piss, let alone write a review or column.

I had to forego shows by the Punk Rock Dinosaurs (ex-Nervebreakers) and Sylvain Sylvain IN ONE NIGHT because I needed to take my youngest (13-years-old, former farting and belching champion of 4th grade, both boys AND girls) to take a prep class for the Scholastic Aptitude Test, which her 17-year-old sister had also gotten a shot at when in 7th grade (incredibly, the youngest is a top student AND incredibly popular at an age when both of her sisters were going crazy; may it always be so). In the event, she didn't make it (after effects of a root canal a couple of days before), but I didn't mind. Again, I knew I was doing what I needed to do.

As for her sisters, the eldest is preparing for her wedding on April 20th (which I was reluctant to tell her was Hitler's birthday), watching her daughter (now eight-months-old and cute as a bug) growing and maybe maturing a little herself. The middle one, who lives with me, is serving as her sister's wedding planner as well as carrying a full schedule at school and doing a lot of work for her church (she's exploring Mormonism). No matter what else is going on, they make my life good.

Other than that, the latest band attempt is beginning to look as though it'll be gig-worthy earlier than anticipated. (My gtr partner and I previously figured we'd be ready by the summer.) The 18-year-olds on voxxx and bass are making phenomenal progress, and with a change in drummers (the original having to bow out temporarily due to financial problems - similar to what happened a couple of years earlier when he had to quit the bluesband after he got married - and the "new" guy, who was actually a participant in two previous attempts with some of the same people and material AND kicked the traps in the instrumental band a couple of years ago), we've made big gains in power, drama, and GROOVE. I was reminded of the first time our current drummer played with the instrumental band, and I had to stop playing because I couldn't believe it was us; it sounded too GOOD.

Dunno how this music would play in Peoria (or the Bar); it's...kinda, uh, ECLECTIC. My gtr partner, whom I recently realized I've been playing with longer than anyone else I've ever played with (three years and change), now admits that his three favourite bands of all time are the Beatles, Pink Floyd, and, uh, Pearl Jam (YAWN) - he did some of his Air Force time in Spokane, Washington, during the height of Grunge Nation - while the kids dig "chick rock" like Fiona Apple and P.J. Harvey, along with loads of obscure punk upstarts. The drummer is a big Lee Roy Parnell fan, but he also used to play in a Tower of Power-type horn band back home in Oregon (probably like playing reggae in Uzbekistan).

In the last four years, I figure I've been in SEVEN bands: 1) the crappy country-rock one I joined so I could have permission to travel out of county to play on my DWI conditions of probation; 2) the bluesband I formed so I wouldn't have to spend three hours supporting the bar waiting to play three songs at open jams; 3) the first, alt-country version of the current band; 4) the funky, jazzy instrumental R&B band the Occasionals (AKA the Unbookables); 5) the second attempt with current gtr partner, a schizoid mix of alt-country and garageismo with two guys who had absolutely no right to be attempting to sing lead vocals; 6) the crappy bar blues-rock band I played with briefly last summer for money; and 7) the current unit.
Friends of mine have remarked on the disparity between the stuff I play and the stuff I write about, and I recently had an opportunity to play with a guy who's way into REAL PURE sixties garage and seventies punk stuff. I was gonna write an "I have seen the future of rock'n'roll and its name is Tim Lakritz" piece, but I figured I better not in case we actually start playing together. I was distinctly unimpressed by the guy's skills while we were standing belly-to-belly, but his demos won me over. This guy's the webmaster for a Devil Dogs website, and is clearly saturated with stuff like the Heartbreakers, the Chocolate Watch Band, the Yardbirds...all THE GOOD STUFF. He has smart originals, not just ideas but fully-developed SONGS, with titles like "I Scream" (" scream, we all scream for rock'n'roll"), "Shut Up Heart," "Take It from Me" ("it" being "my heart"), "Where the Action Is," "She Haunts Me," "Joker's Jailhouse" (a ringer for the Stooges, with a title inspired by a Bangs piece). My daughter put me straight, though, after listening to his tape: "You can't play that badly anymore. I've heard you try - when you were trying to teach us simple stuff [like "Gloria" and "Louie Louie"] on guitar - and IT DOESN'T WORK.. You put too much JAZZ in it." Then again, hasn't Dr. Tek been accused of the same thing? (Major delta for Tim: upon being introduced to Radio Birdman, he dismissed them as "too thin-sounding and not even half as good as the Five and Stooges." Indeed!) Curse Jeff Beck for making "Blow By Blow" and convincing me that I needed to learn to play "good."
The point, I think, is that if you want to do something original, or at least see what you've got that MIGHT qualify as that, you have to forget about "playing your influences." More exciting (and FUN, too) to throw a bunch of disparate elements into the pot and see what comes out. At this point, I'm not capable of imitating anyone else anyway, so why not be a part of something organic and watch it evolve and grow as members develop or change? I'm getting too old (or tired, or lazy) to play four sets in a dive on a school night, and ROCK bands only have to play one set; since I know we'll never be closing, I could be home from the gig by midnight (which I now see as an advantage).

I'm in kind of a funny place right now (the way I tend to get when I'm playing in a band that I feel is Happening): I don't want to go to anyone else's gigs until we've played out. (That said, I may go see my ex-keyboard player - who's gigged with six different bands in the last MONTH - tonight at some dump near his house with some guy his wife says SUXXX.) That said, I'm still bummed I missed the PRD and especially Sylvain (whom I've been trying to interview for Frank Meyer at Oh well. I don't even think I'm going to SXSW this year - think I might have worn out my welcome at my mate's house down there last year, when I called him at midnight wanting to borrow $100 to get my car out of the pound, and there are aspects of the event that remind me of the worst of Disneyland, New Orleans, and Las Vegas. I'm thinking about writing a song called "Night of the Black Shirts" about middle-aged men with black dye jobs who go to rock'n'roll shows. I recently had a discussion with my middle daughter, while listening to Branford Marsalis' "Requiem," wherein she opined that while she LIKES rock, it's not MUSIC compared to jazz and classical - more of A LIFESTYLE APPURTENANCE (buy the record, see the show, wear the T-shirt, get the haircut). I couldn't disagree.

That's not to say I'm not LISTENING anymore (although since a coworker taped me the "Band of Brothers" miniseries off HBO, I've been spending as much time reading World War II literature). Since they installed a CD-ROM drive in my computer at work, I've been catching up on the mountain of CD-Rs friends have been sending me over the past year or so. The firm favourites remain a CD-R comp of Humble Pie (courtesy of the Barman), the Hydromatics' great new "Powerglide" (nothing like soul-drenched Rock Action to take the sting off slaving for CorporateAmerica), the Devil Dogs' "30 Sizzling Slabs" (thanks and a tip o' the hat to Bro. Dave Champion), and a CD an old music bud from Louisiana made of a couple of my old bands. Here at La Casa del Shim, it's been a pretty steady diet of the Zombies' "Odessey and Oracle" and the Small Faces' "The Darlings of Whapping Wharf Launderette" comp (I've an inexplicable jones for psychedelic Brit pop right now), although I also quite liked the Lou Reed live-on-WLIR-with-the-Tots "American Poet" from back in '72 (from the "Transformer" time, but it has more of the vibe of the Velvets which I love) and the Beasts of Bourbon "Beyond Good and Evil" comp the Barman generously favoured me with (thanks again, Craig) is beginning to make some inroads. And of course, like every other true Rock Action fan on Earth, I'm anxiously awaiting the CD release (finally!) of Rocket From the Tombs, currently set for February 1st.
Other than that, I've heard that Jeff Bale wants to publish the Nervebreakers interview I did for the First Church of Holy Rock and Roll in Hitlist, and Jack Rabid responded to a complainogram I sent him after he alluded to the James Williamson int from this very Bar in his talk with Iggy in the most recent The Big Takeover (which you MUST have if you're reading this, for that piece as well as part one of Steve Gardner's interview with Deniz Tek and Rob Younger, plus stuff on the Creation, the Young Fresh Fellows, and lotsa other hotsoes) as being from "the I-Bar" by asking if it would be cool to pub the Williamson int in the next BTO. Of course, I agreed; I just hope I didn't queer the deal by asking him if he paid anything.
Perhaps seeing that stuff in print (IF it eventuates) might inspire me to pull the baritone saxophone out of my ass and starting WRITING about rock'n'roll again. We'll see.
- Ken Shimamoto