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Kickin’ ‘n’ Stickin’

26 Nov

Have now made it through all 402 pages of the new BLACK FLAG biography written by Londoner Stevie Chick, entitled Spray Paint The Walls. I had high hopes for this, oh did I ever. The short intro piece – describing the author’s vain attempt to locate hallowed South Bay punk places of yore in the new millennium – had me grinning wide. The self-effacing tone of it was most welcome; here, a Brit was attempting pilgrimages I’d made 20+ years ago, and coming up nearly as empty! But once the book got rolling proper . . . well, let’s just say I was underwhelmed.

For starters, there’s Chick’s lazy decision to begin by contextualizing this story within wider, modern myths: “California has always been the stuff of dreams . . .” Maybe, but however you slice it, Hollywood ain’t the appropriate starting place for a book about gangly, ham radio weirdo Greg Ginn. Then: there’s those irksome place/name/factual errors strewn willy nilly throughout. Oh so you so used to hang out in “Huntingdon” Beach, did you? And THE MISFITS are from the west coast, you say? Yeah sure . . .

Chick has a tendency to pad the book out with tiresome, often superfluous details, slowing everything down and adding an unnecessary 100 pages or so to an already-long book. There’s a lengthy, yawn inducing bit on the post-FLAG career of Rollins, not particularly interesting info about dozens of SST artists with only vague connections to the larger story, and sorta patronizing, Wikipedia-like descriptions about everyone from MINOR THREAT to THE GREATFUL DEAD sprinkled throughout. Stevie, I agree that not all Deadheads are gonna know who BF roadie Tom Troccoli is – but that all FLAG wavers are gonna know who Jerry G. was? I guarantee.

Such things I can forgive, had the author more fully acknowledged his cultural distance from his chosen subject. Chick’s more of a “lyric” guy – as opposed to an “instrument” guy – which bothers me. Clearly he’s read and loved Joe Carducci’s writing about the rock core in FLAG, and he’s definitely written alot about FLAG’s music here too. But the endless attempts to read deeper meaning into Ginn’s lyrics seem misdirected to me. I’ve come to believe it was the incredible musical power of the band that still means much in 2009, and I don’t always get a sense that Chick has digested the full significance of the 100 or so changes Ginn led his FLAG through during their time. Certainly, I don’t always agree or relate to his assessments of the relative merits of various FLAG recordings.

What is impressive is the extensive collection of interviews Chick has amassed here. No he didn’t get Ginn or Rollins on board, but dammit if the lengthy words by Dukowski, Keith Morris, Ron Reyes, and Kira aren’t all amazingly insightful – while contributions by more peripheral guys like THE LAST’s Joe Nolte, REDD KROSS’ McDonald brothers, Mugger, and the aforemention Tom Troccoli are equally eye opening and vital to fleshing out this often very private, suburban picture. Had he decided to pattern this book on Brendan Mullen’s Lexicon Devil or We Got the Neutron Bomb, as straight oral history – this woulda been un-putdownable, as the story itself is a great one. But since Chick’s writing is merely journeyman, his book provided few real revelations for me. Which is ironic, since every BLACK FLAG record has continually blown my mind all down the line.

NeareSST Relatives, Part III

24 Aug
    sst crew detail

    The above pic comes from an LA Times article I clipped as a young teen and saved, knowing even then that THERE WOULD BE CALL FOR THIS, SOMEDAY. Today’s the day. Now this pic does appear in the new Joe Carducci book, Enter Naomi, too. But only here at Pig State Recon can read the entire article! Yep it’s all tantilizing foreplay to yet another edition of NeareSST Relatives, wherein I’ll continue to dredge the used bins in search of records that belong in the SST Records catalog of MY OBSESSIVE DREAMS/YOUR WORST NIGHTMARES.

    Do catch up with the first and second parts of NR if you feel the need to get some perspective. Then grab your stereo fork and tune in . . .

    1. THE RUB – “Death of Pop” (from the Bikini Gospel LP, Happy Squid, 1987) How many garage bands can claim to be signers of “The Dukowski Petition,” Chuck’s statement of solidarity against the emerging pay-to-play paradigm sweeping across LA clubland in the late 80’s? THE RUB most definitely can, as they announce proudly on the CD reissue of this. Nuts!

    Dunno how I forgot about these San Pedro boys during my first post. They put out two good LPs in the second half of the 80’s, both which John Talley-Jones (URINALS, 100 FLOWERS, TROTSKY ICEPICK) helped mix/produce, and the second which features Dirk Vandenberg (early MINUTEMEN collaborator/photographer) on drums. THE RUB were wilder/looser than any TROTSKY ICEPICK, but still in a vein that wouldn’t exactly offend your average CAMPER VAN BEETHOVEN fan. But hey: I kinda dug CVB once too, actually saw em play in ’86 at Safari Sam’s in Huntington Beach (my very first club show!), so I’m not complaining, just lettin’ you know is all. I actually prefer the second LP, Day Off From Karma (Dirk was a wise addition) – but this song, with it’s FlyingNun-esque vibe, is sort of a classic – so it’s what you get.

    2. BACULUM – “Three Deaths: A Narrative” (from the My Friends Became Junkies CD, 3 Beads of Sweat, 2002) Only got around to buying this recently, and whatayaknow but it’s breezy in a lazy Sunday afternoon kinda way – albeit one where global climate changes have brought 100 degree heat and a freak hail shower to boot. Sure most of this is drumless, but hey even I need to take a break from the BOOM-SHA-BOOM occasionally. The main guys here (Sam Goldman, Steve Anderson, Scott Ziegler) are all ex-DINGLE, who you don’t remember from their barely-heard Red Dog CD on New Alliance Records from ’94. Course, they were also all present during the dying days of SLOVENLY too (ca. their great Drive It Home, Abbernathy EP from ’91), while Steve & Scott participated in all things SLOVENLY back to their late 70’s beach cities pre-history. And this CD sounds it! This soars above DINGLE both in sweet melodic content and startling word juxapostion c/o Mr. Anderson. For all you who dug the quieter side of SLOVENLY, ala Riposte. Get it before the label goes belly-up!

    3. SÜR DRONE – “Sagitariass ‘Uh” (from the Sür Drone CD EP, 1998, Love Unlimited, Inc., 1998) I’m smiling and shaking my head right now, cause you really can’t resist doing that when you’re confronted with Raymond Pettibon’s notions of sonic righteousness. This was the second musical project he led that actually saw the light of day, the first being his incredibly beautiful and beyond-gone SUPER SESSION project that issued the Torches & Standards package on Blast First in 1990. This is in the glowing spirit of that set (go listen to some of that here), only without the bitchen art booklet. And with a bit straighter, more identifiably “rock” underpinning – though a pretty shambolic one, I’ll admit. But how disorienting are the vocalizations on this thing? And what the fuck does is all, you know, mean – cosmically speaking? I’m at a loss – a major loss like when the floor accidentally slides away, leaving you hovering Wile E Coyote-like in thin air 1000 feet above the canyon floor. Yes pseudonyms abound in the credits but I do know a bunch of dudes playing on this used to be in PAY THE MAN, who’s flyers and t-shirts used to feature Pettibon drawings in the early 90’s.

    4. GARY KAIL – “Life Is Ugly So Why Not Kill Yourself” (from the GARY KAIL/ZURICH 1916 2-LP, Creative Nihilism, Iridescence Records, 1983) Gary’s a real mystery man. For a long time I thought his only gig was lead gtrist & songwriter for Lawndale’s ANTI, who kinda bored me with their relentlessly trad HC-isms. But he also played on the goth (oh sorry – “death rock”) MOOD OF DEFIANCE LP backing Hatha, the daughter of the hippies who rented out the legendary CHURCH practice/party pad on Pier Ave. in Hermosa Beach. Plus, he ran the label New Underground Records, who released alot of SST run-off on an interesting series of comps in the early 80’s. And: he recorded this insane, double record set – half solo, half collabs under the moniker ZURICH 1916 with folks like ex-REACTIONARIES Martin Tamburovich and Carla Noelle (nee Bozulich) a good decade before she formed THE GERALDINE FIBBERS. It’s a confused record filled with odd electronic squiggles, overblown amp hums, ambient field recordings (some apparently captured on a corner of 153rd St. in Lawndale!) as well as some disturbing tape-splice bits that sound not unlike what Stephen Stapleton of NURSE WITH WOUND mighta come up with, had he been a suburban SoCal loser with no knowledge of dilitante things like Krautrock and Paris student riots. How this HC numbskull came up with something this OUT is way beyond me.

    5. A NOISE AGENCY – “Hang That Monkey” (from the Mom’s in the Kitchen LP, Gnatbreath Records, 1985) OK so this one’s a stretch. Since, to my knowledge there’s no actual connections with SST anywhere on this record. Except it’s out of Lomita, CA, a South Bay suburb just down the street from SST. It’s a town I am intimately familiar with, and I have clear memories of passing over this record for something like 104 straight weeks in the mid 80’s at Peanut Records on PCH in Lomita, until they finally dropped it in the 50 cent bin. I finally picked it up a year or so ago, and damn it if it ain’t totally hard-hitting, vaguely bluesy 80’s independent rock, but with a distinctly FIREHOSEy feel to it all.

    SO: now I’m guessing here, but these guys MUST have sent their tapes to Greg and Chuck at SST first, before deciding to self-release it. Right? Certainly worse bands did, and this ain’t at all horrible. In fact I actually LOVE this one. Just goes to show what kinda South Bay bands didn’t make the cut. A few were actually pretty damn worthy.

    6. SOLO CAREER – “The Painted Desert” (from their Season Finale CD, Box-O-Plenty Records, 2005) Floating, overtone-rich instrumental exploration that roams the freeform terrain my imaginary late-night cousins of UNIVERSAL CONGRESS OF might’ve in their formative days. The SST connection here is through San Pedro-based bassist Richard Derrick, who played in a number of D. BOON-led configurations throughout the mid-80’s (see the D. Boon & Friends CD on this same label for the goods). But drummer BOB LEE (CLAW HAMMER, CRAWLSPACE, BACKBITER, FEARLESS LEADER, etc.) is present too, and he always impressed me as being a BILL STEVENSON who was comfortable playing outside (or at least waaaaaay the hall down the hall towards the emergency exit) when the need presented itself. NELS CLINE is too BUT he’s laying back, merely 1 part of a unified whole rather than leader of the proceedings – so all you NELS-ophobes are safe. These are high-calibre sonic swathes that’ll help you safely navigate any decent-size psychotic meltdown your destiny has planned for the immediate future.

    7. RICK LAWNDALE BAND – “Tijuana ‘O’” (from Surfabilly Rock, SunSpot Records, 2002). I’m a gremmie when it comes to original (’60 – ’64) surf music, but I can vouch for the mucho great BELAIRS and they grew out of the very same SoCal ‘burbs as LAWNDALE. Lazy folks will remember LAWNDALE as some SST punk/surf hybrid – phooey, I say. On record, I count only ONCE ever did they incorporate that knucklehead HC drum beat into their thing. Everywhere else, they sound like a huge witches brew of every instrumental rock/pop classic up until the mid-80’s. So I hear THE VENTURES playing DUANE EDDY’s “Rebel Rouser” quoting QUICKSILVER’s “Gold and Silver” seguing into PINK FAIRIES’ “Raceway” using the MEAT PUPPETS’ shitty gear they used to record “Magic Toy Missing” . . . or something like that. And not many bands can claim Greg Ginn played guest lead gtr on one their records (“March of the Melted Army Men” off of Sasquatch Rock; it’s the ginchiest). No not many, my friend.

    After a decade or so in deep winter hibernation, Rick finally got round to forming a new band with Ricky Sepulveda (ex of RAYMOND PETTIBON’s SUPER SESSION) on lead gtr. A few years later this CD appeared. Alot of the new stuff has Rick’s cornball singing over the top of it – those tracks are a bit too novelty-esque for my humourless ears. But the instrumental stuff sounds mighty, and still seeks to incorporate everything your mother tried to throw out (comics, posable action figures, girlie mags) the last time you ran away from home and camped out overnight on the beach. Man I dig this track and hope they follow this approach more fully on their next rec.

    Almost forgot: here’s the conclusion of that LA Times article begun above. (The whole of THE MINUTEMEN’s Double Nickels recorded for $1500! Unbelievable.)

Enter the South Bay, One Last Time

19 Aug

Naomi

Joe Carducci’s new book, Enter Naomi: SST, L.A. and All That… (Redoubt Press, 2007) is finally out, and boy is it a doozy. Though ostensibly a bio of rock-photographer Naomi Petersen, the book approaches its subject with the widest berth possible – beginning with 35 disparate but complimentary quotes about L.A., from everyone from Louise Brooks to Richard Nixon. The narrative then follows Naomi from Simi Valley teen fuck-up to SST Records hanger-on and finally to well-respected but destitute rock photographer over the course of 2 decades.

Along the way, there’s some lengthy digressions: ruminations about the trippy characters that populated SST Records in the 80’s (Spot, Mugger, Merrill, Medea et al.), the day-to-day wonders & frustrations of running an independent label on amplification/faith/coffee alone, some serious thinking about L.A. punk and the South Bay’s place therein, and tons of photos/miscellaneous detritus to elucidate those long-gone days. Plus there’s some keen insight into the personality of the much maligned/misunderstood SST leader, Greg Ginn. The path Joe takes is pretty circuitous – this edition is 10-fold longer than the version published on the internet in 2005! But then, so were the riffs on those later BLACK FLAG records that Joe loves so much. I wouldn’t expect anything less.

You won’t find any of the polemical ranting that defined Joe’s classic first book, Rock and the Pop Narcotic here – and I’m thinking this is to his credit. His writing style is no less inspired/gonzo in this one, just more pensive and hence more balanced in the process. At times it reads like a rambling but unsentimental love song, which is clearly how he meant it. But this song’s not meant exclusively for Naomi – it’s sung for that entire dive-in-headfirst SST approach to engaging life, producing art, and getting it out there to where the fuckers just couldn’t ignore it no more. It was a working philosophy that bound tight a bunch of stinky, eccentric dorks (musical and non-musical alike) together in an oddball patch of Reagan-era Southern California, and consequently gave rise to some amazing rock n roll. Favorite quote: “In L.A., then, you had your choice: physical assault, or mind-fuck. Maybe the worst that can be said of SST at the south bay center of Los Angeles cosmology was that it was the best of both worlds.”

As heartfelt memoir & micro-history of a genuinely inspirational, faraway time/place, Enter Naomi‘s unfuckingbeatable. I can’t wait for the oversized retrospective of Naomi’s photos, one that’ll no doubt blow minds from here to Thurston Moore and back again.

Get it today, direct from Joe’s warehouse via Night Heron Books.

NeareSST Relatives, Part II

7 Jul

SST Part II

I did promise to eventually finish what I started with my very first post, didn’t I. Yes, I admit it is not hard to get me blabbering about the great and wonderful SST RECORDS. So I’ve done it again – written about what all my favorite SST heroes have been up to since jumping Greg Ginn’s ship, that is. But as this whole conceit is actually pretty damn arbitrary, I thought I’d get myself focused for this one. This time – to keep it simple: I’m only discussing post-SST tangents that have come out in the last decade. Off we go!

1. THE UNKNOWN INSTRUCTORS“At The Center” (from The Master’s Voice, Smog Veil Records, 2006) A conscious attempt by poet Dan McGuire to recreate that SST spoken word/jamnation trip of yore, using the very cats (Mike Watt, George Hurley, Joe Baiza etc.) that created said SST jams in the first place. Such a proposition could be dicy, but forget that – since the 2 CDs they’ve put out so far are compelling, meaty examples of just how improvised rock + the right words can combust in totally sublime, meaningful ways. The new one, The Master’s Voice, feels stronger, tougher, even more confident than the first, and hence has my pick between the two. The beautiful Pettibon cover artwork (plus his disassociative lead patter on one particularly mindbending track) had me captivated from spin one. The rest – Baiza’s slithering/scrambling leads, Watt’s powerful, widemouth basslines, Hurley’s rockgroover drumming, and McGuire’s ominous incantations – settled in nicely after a few days. What took longer to get accustomed to was the presence of Mr. David Thomas of PERE UBU – on birdcalls, yodels, and non sequiturs, what else! Clearly, this man still posesses the innate power to wedge himself uncomfortably high up into yr asscrack with remarkable ease. But hey, I didn’t bitch. I just took a couple of deep breaths, and relaxed into it all. Now, the whole thing fits real fine. REAL fine.

2. THE CHUCK DUKOWSKI SEXTET“Night of the Hunter” (from Eat My Life, Nice & Friendly Records, 2006) Just be happy Chuck’s back. I, for one, can overlook a singer who makes me feel a bit queasy. Shit, every one of Chuck’s bands (WURM, SWA, even FLAG) had difficult singers; it’s what I’ve come to expect from the man. Here, the tunes are good, and playing inspired, and the mix warm and bassy. So what if I don’t dig the vocals? And this probably sounds way better live, but I ain’t anywhere near Venice, CA no more (where Chuck’s living these days). This CD’ll haveta make do til they TURN UP THOSE GTRS and release another.

3. TEN EAST“Expanding Darkness” (from their Extraterrestrial Highway CD, Alone Records, 2006) Just amazing recent instumental work by gtrists Gary Arce & Mario Lalli plus bassist Brant Bjork and drummer Bill Stinson – all of whom (Brant excluded) played on various SST releases during the 90’s. Clearly, the best rock album EVER to listen to while hauling an 18-wheeler up and over the Grapevine at 3:00 am on an early Tuesday morning. And I ain’t gonna go into how important ALL these men have been in the continual development of hard ‘n’ heavy rock over the past decade. Just go now and grab the first record you see with ANY of these guys names on it, and find out for yourself. Or better still, go order a meal and a beer at Mario’s Sierra Madre restaurant, Cafe 322, and ask him to throw on the last FATSO JETSON CD. There’s no way you won’t be leaving a really, really big tip.

4. PUTTANESCA“Shiny Red Box” (from their Puttanesca CD, Catasonic Records, 2006) It’s Joe Baiza’s MECOLODIACS + singer Weba Garretson (ex-PEARLS, Eastside Sinfonietta, etc.), and to these ears it’s a total mismatch. I mean, here’s Joe and co. tearing at strings & skins in really inspired, JAMES BLOOD ULMER goes south-of-the-border fashion, and then: Weba swoops in from the winebar with her NPR jazz croonerisms and basically kills any possibility of attaining nirvana. She seems so caught up with getting the changes right and sounding sultry that what’s lost is the fact that the boys are groovin’ on a whole looser, more intuitive plane altogether. Maybe Joe will consider issuing a vocal-less remix of this? I’d recommend that version, fr sure.

5. JOE & MIKE“Everywhere” (From Joe & Mike, private press, 2003, available from THE LAST website) Largely-acoustic CD-R by the Nolte brothers revisiting lost tunes never waxed by THE LAST proper. And it’s as great as any legit LAST record you might wanna point to. I realize these guys’ strident vocal harmonies have always been a bit of an acquired sound, especially to shaggy 60’s folkrock heads who want their vocalists to sound all soft, mellow n furry ala RAIN PARADE’s David Roback. But I can name 3 dozen great sixties pop/rock acts who had singers who didn’t sound particularly soft – think Arthur Lee in early LOVE, or Sal Valentino in THE BEAU BRUMMELS, or even Rob Grill of THE GRASS ROOTS – and THE LAST have always swam a similiar course. Don’t ignore the significance of these men! They practically began the entire South Bay independent music scene in mid/late 70’s, they were a huge influence on a PANIC-era Greg Ginn when he was first scheming to putting out his own records, and they jumpstarted THE DESCENDENTS (in whose early songs I can identify dozens of little LASTisms). These guys still ring true, 30 fucking years on.

6. THE NEW ROB ROBBIES“Pot au Feu” (from Pure Whore, Owned & Operated Records, 1999) Aggro, fullfrontal rock from Chicago, IL by-way-of Bowling Green, OH, and produced by Joe Carducci and ALL/DESCENDENTS drummer Bill Stevenson. At times it reminds me of an amped up version of a “Neil Armstrong”-era ANGST – but that’s probably because singer/songwriter Paul Johnson’s lyrics stick in similarly warm places within my head, glued as the are to really inspired playing and post-punk folkrockin’ songstuff. There’s this rambling webpage with tons of obscure tunage by Paul, charting his progression from the REPLACEMENTSish (but totally listenable) college rock of his earlier SHEEPISH GRIN project, to the more firebreathing attack of THE NEW ROBS. Though this is a bit older now, it still gets loaded onto my I-Pod fairly frequently, and sounded totally fresh and pipin’ hot on my earbuds earlier today in fact. Go find a cheap cutout of this and you, too, will find yourself wondering how many other great bands like this one you missed out on the first time around.

7. TOM WATSON“Future History” (from Country & Watson, Leiterwagen/ Theologian Records, 2000) One could go on and on about guys with post-SST solo careers (Rollins, Watt, Mould, Mascis etc.), and one day I promise to provide you with an EZ listener’s guide to safely navigating the hairy world of Greg Ginn’s post-FLAG projects! But today, all I’m gonna talk about is Tom. Tom’s from the Manhattan/Hermosa Beach area, and came up playing first with TOXIC SHOCK (who donated the standout track to the Keats Rides a Harley comp. from ’81), then SLOVENLY PETER/SLOVENLY (who had a gaggle of monumental recs on SST/New Alliance), and eventually OVERPASS (2 records, the second being a classic). You can read a bit about his early days here; currently he’s playing with Mike Watt in THE MISSINGMEN, opening for dorks like THE RED HOT CHILI PEPPERS all across Europe. This record was initially only available in Europe until Mark Theodore at Theologian (a long-time fan of all that jammy/jazzy late 80’s SST stuff) sought fit to put it out stateside. Great call, Mark. It’s a quiet, homemade record full of sweet melodies, nice gtr playing and a whole lotta oddball, creaking and croaking sound-debris that places it squarely in Tom’s sonic lineage.

Bonus: an ex-roommate, once highschool gal-pal of mine plays my old bass gtr on one live cut on this CD! 7 years later, and I’m still jealous that wasn’t me.

SWA: Let’s Ball!

20 May

As if my first post at PIG STATE RECON didn’t emphasize this point enough: SST RECORDS are a seemingly endless font of musical and cultural beauty, one that my skinny head can’t ever seem to get enough of. With this in mind, I will now embark on an occasional series of musical re-evalutations, focusing on historically maligned/ignored artists inextricably connected to the mighty SST RECORDS. And what better way to inaugurate this series, but by discussing SWA?

Except, today . . . I’m going to let Darren Cifarelli do it for me. He knows even better than I.

The following text (known locally as “The SWA Defense Piece”) was first published by Darren in 2004 as a lengthy comment to a post on Jay Hinman’s music blog, AGONY SHORTHAND (R.I.P. – he’s now moved on to DETAILED TWANG). At the time, it aroused much confusion, consternation, and eventually some begrudging praise among a bunch of jaded/uptight folks who roundly despised all things SWA. Me, I looked on and loved it. As I do all things SWA.

Sometime in the intervening years, The SWA Defense Piece was erased from cyberspace during a blogspot hiccup of some sort. But today, Darren’s words return with a vengeance – in your face, where they rightfully belong. Please, do read on – I guarantee you’ll never listen to SWA the same way again.

———-

Merrill and Chuck

In Defense of SWA: A Scholarly Inquiry into the NATURE of all things SWA

Some of my best memories….

[I must state that I was most likely the one guy in the audience at most of the underattended shows described in these posts. SWA was a total obsession for me.]

“Everything is but the sum of its effects. What something is, whether it be sex or madness, depends altogether on the concerns of interpreters who make things cohere, who create compositions, discourses, and connections, who construct genealogies by composing narratives.” –Nietzsche, Of Genealogy

“When people are used as society’s tools then history shows in turn we will learn that mass confusion rules.” –SWA

Background info (unknown source): “In philosophy and politics the postmodernists see reason, progress, scientific truth, and democracy as just (to use J.F. Lyotard’s expression) “meta-narratives”, big stories the Western world has told itself to convince itself that it’s better than the rest of the world and has a right to the resources and leadership of the world. The belief in objective Truth is a product of the rationalism of the Enlightenment, of a faith in economic and technological progress, and is expressed in the optimistic humanism that ruled the modern Western world for so long. Derrida calls this faith “logocentrism”, the West’s centering its philosophical and political vision on universally valid rational beliefs. The postmodernist wishes to take apart this faith, to substitute local stories for these meta-narratives, to make truth an individual rather than a social phenomena.”

So SWA crawled out of that pond. But wait, wait.

STEVE ALBINI? Steve Albini was himself a joke. Note the frequent references to his ineptitude in the Letters section of FE. Virtually every issue of FE is overloaded with Albini-slander; for instance, “I don’t care if Albini condemns entire genres of music about which he knows next to nothing…” (FE#11, p. 8). What Robert Fripp was to Creem Magazine in the 70s, Steve Albini was to Forced Exposure in the 80s: a pompous, conceited, pretentious ass who served no purpose other than as object of ridicule. That same issue lists “Be SWA” as #17 in a list of “The Most Pathetic Things a Man Can Do (in order of Pathos).” #6 is “Write about rock music” and #8 is “Write about anything besides rock music.” “Listen to SWA” is not mentioned. Personally, I followed Coley’s and Meltzer’s picks more closely than Albini’s. [On a side note, Big Black’s Songs About Fucking suffered from some of the same misinterpretation that SWA suffers from, parody heard literally, yet toying, nevertheless, with the same notions of labeling, pastiche, unfunny jokes, contextualization, and expectations.] That SWA’s music fell on deaf ears is unquestionable. Were their music labeled otherwise, it would rank more highly. The death of LA’s post-punk music scene left a gaping hole devoid of meaning, of significance, highlighted by SSTs declining experimentalism and open-mindedness, as indexed by the signing of Flag clones Bl’ast, and as represented by critical responses to SWA. Don’t deny; don’t forget Dukowski.

Hall of Mirrors. Who establishes the criteria, and upon what are they based? Has intertextuality not, as Frederic Jameson argues, reached such proportions that representations merely refer to other representations and deny the authentic? Authenticity, while intangible especially when applied to the musical output of Los Angeles in the 80s, gave way to derivativeness. There were those who took their derivativeness seriously, and those who those who stepped outside the confines of prescription. SWA simulated reality in such a way that no referent applied, denying the ground, the roots, and the sources that many see them as duplicating. They operated outside the logic of representation, reflecting reflections of reflections only to reflect white light of unknown origin.

Sylvia and Merrill

INSTRUCTIONS FOR REPRODUCING SWA LIVE IN YOUR OWN LIVING ROOM:

1. Play several sped-up Mingus & Haden unaccompanied bass solos over a drum beat, loud.
2. Play your Metal Machine Music LP louder than your speakers can handle (don’t shred them, just add some natural distortion).
3. Invite any random madman to scream through a megaphone at you.
4. Walk around in sticky puddles of beer.

SWA is Postmodern. It decenters the limited universe of LA music and challenges what had become a stale, formulaic approach to music. In literature and literary theory, postmodernism is “a cool response to the triumph of modern technology and science, especially electronic and communication technology, over older or more isolated world views. Postmodernist literature showcases the disjointed, the nonlinear. From Umberto Eco’s exploration of the medieval spirit in his The Name of the Rose to William Gibson’s skewed vision of the future of the computer revolution in his cyberpunk novels from Neuromancer on, postmodern fiction wanders through dark worlds and alternative paradigms, worlds foreign to the modern faith in science and technology, paradigms alien to the modern belief in the univalence of truth, reason and order.”

Much more than meets the ear goes on in SWA.

SWA exploits genre music as Eco and Gibson exploit detective novels and sci-fi pulp fiction, by transforming the genre through appropriation of heavy-metal poses, SST riffs, loud, male-dominated, testosterone-laden, driving force music without belief in any of the false pretensions associated with it, but with the realization that a mutated heavy-metal guitar solo compliments “free bass”-style arrhythmic soloing. Reconfigured, the best elements of jazz, metal, rock, SST are spliced together in SWA, disjointed and nonlinear, creating a new paradigm and straining to escape the metanarrative prison.

SWA supports multiple interpretations. Listening to that band enables one to project both real and imagined memories onto it. [Roland Barthes, along with other French literary critics, has heralded the Death of the Author. Now meaning is supposed to come from an interaction between the text and the reader: the reader of literature constructs the text from his or her own unique perspective. Under postmodernist theory, everything can be read as a text, and all readings of each text are equally meaningful, if not valid. Meaning and truth are thus plural, changing, and subjective. To give privilege to one truth over another becomes an act of psychic terrorism.]

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CUT TO: At the Palomino, mid-80s, Dukowski slams his bass into the floor to begin the second half of “Bad Acid,” Merrill shrieks from inside the women’s restroom, while Sylvia splays a solo faster than Jack the Ripper can remove a ripe ovary from a terrified yet tempted streetwalker. I sing along silently, rewriting the lyrics to every song that would appear on Winter, resignifying presented meanings to match my thoughts each time I heard the songs. See also, Michel de Certeau, The Practice of Everyday Life. “Since Frederick Jameson’s book on post-modernism, the term [post-modern] has referred to a pastiche, a quilt or patchwork, an eclectic juxtaposition of diverse stylistic elements without necessarily exhibiting any internal logic or intended structure…we explore whatever geometrical phenomena strike our fancy and fit into our limited technical repertoire.”

Other than citing Led Zeppelin as a originating form of pastiche, implying that the parodic elements are already present in the original and that no parody is necessary or valid, SWA, as pastiche, represents the evolution of rock into the postmodern sensibility: in short, SWA embodied simultaneously the larva, the progressive evolution, the de-evolution, the regressive deformity, the birth defects, the aborted fetal matter, the idiot savant, the naturally selected advanced gene, the genius, the spliced gene, and the Christlike god-made-flesh. Not merely meta-narrative: meta-evolution. Let me explain. On Black Flag’s My War, Dukowski’s song structure and lyrical content formed a critique of megalomania in its myriad forms. Leaving Ginn to play and Rollins to sing in the role of Hitler on he title track while departing the band was a bold, yet subtle, critique of the band’s excesses, conformity, adherence to formula, and explanation of his departure. Meanwhile, in Dukowski’s absence, Black Flag actually became what you describe SWA as. [Actually, I like the instrumental Flag albums, Process and Family Man, but they could easily fall prey to the same criticisms leveled at SWA.] SWA’s early released are marred by uneven content. Occasionally, a rough beast emerges from the primordial slime on Your Future If You Have One such as “Until You Bleed” or “Islands in the Freeway.” Most mutations are a mess, evolution in motion but failing. Sex Dr., while it spawned a few mutations and aborted efforts that would have been best left on the girl’s bathroom floor at the Prom, also gave birth to a few advancements in the species, such as “The Evil and the Good”, more ordeal than song; and “Sea & Sky”. Nothing, however, compares to the utter nihilism of XCIII’s monstrous set list of “Faker’s Blues”, “Optimist”, “Evolution”, “So Long”, “Succumb”. The whole album represents a pinnacle, an evolutionary leap into the future. Winter, despite the departure of Juncosa, in its raw unrecorded state had great songs, great lyrics, and amazing playing. The recording completely fails to do justice to the power of that album. Densely-layered, complex songs (which, when the lyrics are obscured by noise, lay down vocal patterns upon which alternate lyrical content rests peacefully–compose your own paranoia). The release-version was overproduced with vocals far too prominent and contained attempts at a hit song–clearly sounding different and thus separate from the rest of the album. Having heard these songs live for so long, I was, of course, disappointed with the release because, live, the songs sounded so great. [The post-Winter release Volume has but moments that ransack past glories.]

CUT TO: Once, while calling the phone company to complain about my bill, I was placed on hold for over an hour. One song played was “Chances Are.”

See, it worked.

What germinates spawns a multitude, spanning the frightening to the powerful to the powerless, of forms. A huge step in avoiding a hostile corporate takeover of the human mind would be to engineer a paradigm shift in LA’s alternative music scene, which in its small unheard way, SWA did.

CUT TO: At Bebop Records, a Merrill-less show, Dukowski announces “Monster” as a “…song about education, but when Merrill sings it, it sounds like a sexual come-on.” People laugh; it’s funny: every song Merrill sings sounds like that. But for this one, there’s a reason behind it. Duk rolls his eyes. Blank canvas, filled in slowly, with shards of sound, dollops of color, mutated into a fully realized apocalyptic composition, framed by ornate mahogany floral patterns with gargoyle carvings at each corner.

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Dismiss Dukowski if you want (to be ignorant); however, he was at the top of his form in SWA as a songwriter, bass player, and performer. Correct me if I’m wrong, but didn’t he leave Flag because the music was too confining and Ginn refused to have non-rhythmic bass “leads” compete with his guitar leads? Some of the best songs on My War are Dukowski compositions; SWA continued that legacy and allowed him the freedom to play leads on bass, to solo, to allow his playing to dominate the music. Duk’s playing transcended its context in SWA. In songs like “Faker’s Blues” or “Bad Acid” (and virtually all of XCIII and Winter), his playing amazes me: it’s intricate, varied, non-repetitious, and original, incorporating elements of free jazz, improvised soloing, and multipart songs that deny the rhythmic monotony of standard bass playing. Psychobiology rendered in musical notes. On the album Winter, in songs like “Monster,” “Mass Confusion,” and “Goddess,” he frequently solos through the vocal chorus! You can ignore all this BS here if you want to (since it’s mainly jokes/parody/pastiche or pretentious rock writer criticism SWA nonsense anyways), but Dukowski deserves recognition as a revolutionary bass player, not for his playing in Black Flag which was unremarkable, but for the style he developed and perfected after leaving Flag and playing in other configurations, which primarily was SWA and some impromptu jam sessions. His solos and song structures still blow me away today. No one played like him.

Sylvia Juncosa

And, for a short time, he was in a band with Juncosa, who isn’t well-recognized enough as a massive guitar player. Sylvia Juncosa deserves championing, not pity. As technologically adept as she was technically proficient, her playing in SWA fused noise, psychedelic, heavy metal, the “SST sound,” surf, and an unparalleled lusty, sensuality that balanced and complimented Merrill’s chemically amplified testosterone. The SWA release XCIII documented her playing well, never to be recaptured on vinyl, tape, or CD; in fact, no format accurately contained the sound and fury of her playing except live, eardrum-bursting performances in smelly, smoke-filled clubs: it was the most distorted vision of beauty I remember from the 80s. Juncosa played with the tyranny of the senses to the tyranny of reason, for no reason, and when the impulse to play, merely for the sake of playing, is followed, we cease to be governed by either sensuousness or rationality; technology is merely there, a force which signifies nothing, expresses nothing, but which was being made to express nothing beyond its own momentum. She herself was force. Like free association, her playing was not tuneless, but so irrationally tuneful that it disrupted normal synaptic discourse, breaking the logical connectives of neurotic discourse, and inscribing a new pattern to destabilize normal brain function only to almost simultaneously reinscribe itself into the neural network as insidiously as an obsession, as bluntly as a guillotine. The experience was like grabbing a downed powerline in the rain. To classify her guitar playing as merely heavy-metal is like comparing a close range shotgun blast to a bee sting.

Merrill

The singer in a rock band is a joke, so why pretend IT is anything else? Sometimes striking poses that would appall Freddie Mercury, Merrill played the role of heavy-metal rock singer as the exaggerated, ridiculous, over-the-top way in which you describe, but did so deliberately, confusing the joke with the joker. I always imagined him to be an old, crusty taxidermy model of himself, dust-covered, stuffed, and mounted with dried, clear glue under two phony eyes bulging and perpetually on the verge of falling out. Fake, in other words. I’m against privileging paradigms, and whether or not Merrill realized it (see Rollins above), he parodied himself. Yes, ironically. But it had to be deliberate. The lyrics to “Optimist” show Merrill adopting one of many persona; other songs sound closer to his real voice and personality, but it’s a blurry line to define. The provocative live act–the Merrill puppet show–garnered a reaction, strongly negative, but with sufficient impact to deliver their message (obscured though it may have been).
“And whether fetishization is not an exercise capable of dissolving an illusory ego; homing in on, physically possessing, not the ruling ego, but affective reality, made up of a mingling of the subject’s body with several other affective bodies, which operates through a given organ, muscle, or joint.” –Helene Cixous, Les Marionnettes

On a purely emotional level, I spent many nights checking out SWA. They were my favorite live band, and the one that I have seen more often than any other band. My words, other people’s words, quoted or uncredited, still fail to do justice to SWA. Somehow, in some inarticulate way, going to the Anti-Club or Al’s Bar or The Shamrock, drinking, listening to SWA, watching Dukowski play bass in a way that NO one ever has or could, brings memories that (when they do resurface) are as relaxing and pleasant as going to the Anti-Club on a Sunday afternoon for an SST Barbecue, getting a hot dog from chef Chuck, and kicking back and listening to jam sessions that were never meant to be repeated but merely instant memories.

St. Vitus: now there’s a band worth revisiting.

–Darren Cifarelli

PIG STATE RECON wishes to thank the following folks:

- Flipside Magazine for all the B&W photos;
– Rolling Stone Magazine(!) for the color photo of Merrill;
Sylvia herself for her rockin’ photo;
this guy for the rockin’ Dukowski photo;
– Jay Hinman of AGONY SHORTHAND blog, whose initial, unflattering SWA post became the unsuspecting recipient of Darren’s SWA Defense Piece;
– Dave Lang of LEXICON DEVIL blog, whose post about the Program: Annihilator cassette apparently egged Jay to write about SWA in the first place;
– Tim Ellison at MUSIC CHAMBER blog, who kept SWA on my mind over the past few years with little reminders like this.

And of course, to Darren himself for listening to SWA when no one else bothered.

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