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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.

SST Remembered, UK-Style

3 Nov

OK so somebody at that bastion of liberal UK journalism The Guardian has gone and written a not-exactly glowing remembrance of the 30th Anniversary of SST Records. Though not without a handfull of factual errors and a hedging-their-bets, begrudging take on things that continually reminds me I don’t live in SoCal no more. But hey I’m not complaining – us ex-pats gotta take what we can get.

Blasting Minds

19 Jul

So you wanna talk about redefining rock LPs of the 1980′s? Ya just gotta include THE BLASTING CONCEPT VOLUME II in there, chief. Anyone who hoped those “difficult” mid-period BLACK FLAG and SACCHARINE TRUST records were just a fluke couldn’t deny that, by 1985, SST Records had undergone a complete and total aesthetic overhaul. The HC punk had become heavy, found hippie, turned jazzy, gone fishin’ and then . . . well, kids everywhere were shaking their heads in utter disbelief. This just wasn’t what they wanted their oh-so precious punk rock to sound like. Ever.

THE BLASTING CONCEPT VOLUME II encapsulated those revelatory changes, and suggested a dozen more. It was a bold, powerful, collective artistic statement that directly challenged unexamined musical prejudices throughout punk & underground scenes at the time. While the first BLASTING compilation merely corralled previously released material on a handy 12″, most of this stuff never turned up anywhere else, making it primary SST documentation. Yes it’s got the most boring cover in SST’s early annals; but do check out the original, unused Pettibon artwork in the backpages of Joe Carducci’s Rock & the Pop Narcotic – a very different graphic representation to ponder when cracking an ear to this aural wonder. Blow by blow, it’s

SAINT VITUS: “Look Behind You” – One of my fave early VITUS cuts. Carducci makes mention of a creeping paranoia floating around SST back then, and VITUS pins it here with a singularly leaden, dull blade. Ouch. This version beats the slightly later, Wino-led version what with more inspired vocals by Scott Reagers and superior drumming from Armando.

DC3: “Theme From an Imaginary Western” – Dez the crooner, won’t you take the mic? Oh my god, how I love this. It’s hard, heavy, and poignant – brings tears to my eyes. And these eyes don’t cry easily.

SWA: “Mystery Girl” – Not my fave SWA song, as it’s got one of them distended, disjointed riffs that clutter up their early LPs. But Merrill sounds E. Bloomin’ hot and raring to go-go-go, like he’s about to whip his dick out in front of whatever loser audience ain’t gonna be able to handle SWA this week. You might, but me? I don’t ever fast-forward past this one.

BLACK FLAG: “I Can See You” – One of the more off-kilter melodies Ginn came up with in FLAG, and when he solos I start feeling a bit woozy. But lyrically it fits the rec perfectly, as if Ginn’s responding to the VITUS track above. Who says he didn’t grow eyes in the back of his head?

GONE: “Watch the ‘Tractor” – One of GONE’s defining moments: pure metallic punk/prog mayhem bliss. A buddy of mine always maintained GONE was responsible for the very best in-store performance ever in the greater Washington DC area, which is totally believable if they sounded anything like this.

WÜRM: “Death Ride” – I am one yahoo who actually digs Simon Smallwood’s vocals and the BLUE CHEER bronco these guys saddled on their Feast LP. WÜRM were far too early in the scheme of Heavy Revival to be considered anything more than a joke. But like VOX POP, they helped reintroduce OTT metal to punkers in LA, back when you were still making excuses for owning Haysi Fantayzee records.

OVERKILL: “Over the Edge” – OVERKILL put out the best SST LP most of you never bothered with, and this singularly-great MÖTÖRHEAD bomb is an outtake from that crucial rec. Merrill’s vocals are buried which makes him sound even more feral, and drummer Kurt Markham positively murders. I can’t not bang my head hard when this one comes on.

SACCHARINE TRUST: “Emotions and Anatomy” – A short outtake from their Worldbroken live record, so it’s got Mike Watt playing bass. At the time, this kinda deep searching, exploratory sound got me thinking there were absolutely no more limits to just how far out underground rock could be taken. You younger free-rock types oughta all come pay your respects.

PAINTED WILLIE: “The Big Time” – Not a bad bit of REDD KROSS-like sneer from guys who struggled to find their voice after the brilliance of their initial Ragged Army 7″ 45. Most of their records suffer from shitty production, but as I always empathized with punkers who tried rocking it hard and heavy, no doubt I’d have paid to see em do it live if I could.

ANGST: “Just Me” – Depressive folk rock that nicely illustrates the strengths of this Bay-area band. Again I’ll maintain that this is entirely in keeping with the vibe (if not the sound) of primo SLEEPERS/NEGATIVE TREND material.

MEAT PUPPETS: “I Just Wanna Make Love to You” – I prefer the PUPS covers of “Child of the Moon” and “No Quarter” but they’re all zigzagging stripes off the very same three-legged zebra. I always laugh when Curt maintains she don’t love you anymore/ she likes my love better.

MINUTEMEN: “Ain’t Talkin’ About Love” – Here you probably figured Merrill Ward or Henry Rollins would be the first to come out of the closet with a love for VAN HALEN. Nope: it was Boon who was the real Diamond Dave aficionado all along. I love that, in true MINUTEMEN fashion, they’ve parred this back to only the 3rd verse and the hey hey heys.

HÜSKER DÜ: “Erase Today” – a great New Day Rising-era outtake. This doesn’t actually sound like much else here, but that just illustrates how distinctive these guys’ sound actually was. I’m not a huge HD fan, but this is a classic midwestern barnburner anyway you wanna cut it.

OCTOBER FACTION: “I Was Grotesque” – Lifted from the their less-than successful second LP, wherein Dukowski, Ginn, Baiza, Stevenson et al tried to FACTIONalize within the unnatural confines of the studio. They couldn’t pull it off and I admit it: I sometimes skip past this one. But I’ll always admire their impulse to take the music one step beyond.

TOM TROCCOLI’S DOG: “Todo Para Mi” – A far from ideal cut to end things on, given the quality of all that came before. Me I woulda chose Tom’s cover of ANDY & THE RATTLESNAKES “Patience” which ended his own DOG LP from this same year. But really, what better man to bring down these BLASTING curtains than the hippiest, deadheadiest SST roadie of them all? Anybody who couldn’t deal would’ve given up loooong before this track; those who stayed to appreciate it no doubt went on to form all my favorite bands over the next couple decades.

——–

Paging Greg Ginn: re-release this lost treasure! It’s one that’ll blow minds, forevermore.

Amnestic Connections

6 Jun

Mark over at the brand-spankin’ new blog Disaster Amnesiac has beat me to the punch with a great review of Greg Ginn’s new JAMBANG Connecting CD. Hell, Mark’s gotten so close to this rec, he’s nearly managed to turn the album inside out! No mean feat for a novice blogger. I’ve been inspired to reload my copy of this album onto my I-pod for deeper consideration; you latecomers oughta at least get off your asses and buy the damn thing.

This One Goes Up To Eleven: Top Rockin’ Releases of 2007

5 Jan

Fatso Inside

2007: yeah not a bad year at all in which to have lost just a little more of my precious hearing. Here’s hoping I stumble upon another 11 this worthy in 2008!

01. THE HIDDEN HANDThe Resurrection of Whiskey Foote (Southern Lord Records): Wino & co. dug deeeeeep into their Confederate roots to pull out a heavy rock odyssey of Homeric proportions. Though this band may be dust, it’s a heady epitaph they’ve left us with.

02. ELOPE9 Distilled Dreams (Gravitation Records): Hot tip from the folks at WORDY DIVA. Just gorgeous, long-gone stoner ballads from this otherwise hard-rockin’ Swedish trio, who gotta be the best songwriters amongst the current crop of bearded, bell-bottomed Scandinavian bands going. THE SOUNDTRACK OF OUR LIVES included.

03. AGNES STRANGEStrange Flavour (Rev-Ola): ’07 reissue of a great, lost ’76 UK private press. What STATUS QUO woulda sounded like doing a HAWKWIND/PINK FAIRIES tribute rec! The perfect soundtrack for walking up endless flights of piss-stained stairs in the bit of council-estate West London I spend so many of my waking hours.

04. GREG GINN & THE TAYLOR TEXAS CORRUGATORSBent Edge (SST Records): 70 minutes of ornery, cantankerous walkin’ blues/jazz instrumentals from a man whose name was once synonymous with suburban hardcore punk. A personal reinvention via gtr if ever there was one.

05. BRANT BJORK & THE BROSSomera Sól (Duna Records): Desert monstergroove merchants now turbo-fueled by drummer Alfredo Hernandez. For me, BBB beats QUEENS OF THE STONE AGE every day of the week.

06. FATSO JETSONLive (Cobraside): Best damn hard blues rock band EVER made up of martians posing as overweight humans beings. And finally caught live, with every alien tongue a-lolling. Note: the gatefold LP inner photo (showing off their very personal music shrine) has gotta be the only one on the planet to feature SACCHARINE TRUST’s Worldbroken LP. Yeah!

07. PAT TODD & THE RANKOUTSIDERSOutskirts of Your Heart (Rankoutsider Records): Pat finally put his LAZY COWGIRLS to rest for good, only to come up with the best damn platter (a double CD) of his howlin’ career. Country & Western the way it ought to be played – i.e., with a pint of whiskey in it’s belly and rocked out as if by THE RAMONES. Yikes it’s hot hot hot.

08. STINKING LIZAVETAScream of the Iron Iconoclast (Monotreme Records): The most powerful instrumental doom-jazz trio on the planet today, an utterly gone live experience, and a Philly cultural institution. Better believe this is all steak, and no cheese.

09. GEORGE BRIGMANRags in Skull (Bona Fide Records): I don’t care if this “shoulda been better” – it’s the first new George B. rec in like 2 decades! I’ll take him any way he wants to deliver. Here, the tunes are good and he’s still singing with that bitchen baritone-Zappa voice and playing with that wild Tony McPhee-gtr tone of his. Maryland oughta be proud of this guy’s bedroom prog/blues peculiarisms.

10. MOUNTAINMasters of War (Megaforce): Hot tip from RAY’S REALM. The best heavy rock n roll gtr/voice jumbo combo platter of all time, Mr. Leslie West, returns to shoot life up the backside of a dozen of Mr. Bob Dylan’s tunes. And hey if Dylan was good enuf for THE JIMI HENDRIX EXPERIENCE, THE 13TH FLOOR ELEVATORS and freakin’ NAZARETH, well then: he’s AOK in my book too! Esp. cool is Leslie’s heavyass rock take on “Mr. Tambourine Man” – amazing, as I betcha this guy worked up genteel, folk-rock versions of some of these very same tunes in the mid-60′s with his first band, THE VAGRANTS. A 1000 times greater a listening experience than you’d ever imagined this boomer could come up with so late in the game.

11. GENTLEMANS PISTOLSGentlemans Pistols (Rise Above Records): Boy did I ever listen to alot of blues-based rock in ’07. And straight forward, UK hard boogie-blues shufflin’ you may think this to be, but their sledge hammer delivery sends this into the cheap seats every goddamn spin – and brings me crawling back on my belly like a kingsnake, day after day. Shit, the singer even attempts to revive the ghost of SAVOY BROWN’s Chris Youlden – like it was cool to do so! Precisely what this fair island needs to get it’s musical shit back on the right track for 2008.

Slow Ginn Fuzz

25 Dec

I’m gonna take a stab at articulating just what these three new GREG GINN CDs are really all about. Feel free to alert me if my obscure ramblings are making no sense whatsoever.

Grey Ginn

A few words of warning: these CDs don’t pretend to be nuthin’ but what they are. They were not made by cohesive bands, but rather by Ginn & a choice few others who could do things he couldn’t (like play sax and drums). So although some of this approximates the full band thing, these are best approached as solo statements. And while I admit the graphic layout/artwork on these things leaves much to be desired, that’s nothing new . . . Ginn hasn’t had any decent cover art on his recs since his brother stopped lending him drawings back in ’85. Finally, these CDs come with nada in the way of liners, pics or extra info. That, too, is pretty much all we’ve ever got from ornery ol’ Ginn.

So what is here? Well, brother . . . swing that spotlight down to stage right. It’s time for the gtr player to take a turn.

1. GREG GINN & THE TAYLOR TEXAS CORRUGATORSBent Edge (SST Records, 2007): It was this kind of thing that I always wanted to unearth in the minefield of 90′s-era Ginn releases. That is, a recording of this incredibly idiosyncratic musician applying himself to Country, BlueGrass, Blues and Other Music For Uplifting Gormandizers. Here he’s delivered 70 minutes of walking jazz/blues riffage explored in fine detail on gtr/bass/piano, along with real-time drummer Steve DeLollis. In such an intimate setting he’s free to play around with all manner of odd harmonic material, emphasizing his wonderfully fractured sense of melody and polarized tonal palette. This is a record not of SST overkill but of nimble, CHET ATKINS-style understatement. And although it’s a long, winding journey (too long to listen to in one sitting, I’d say) it’s one that should be utterly fascinating to anyone still enamored of Ginn’s lucite Dan Armstrong 80′s heyday.

A gtr lover’s rec, for sure – but if you buy just one of these, I’d say make it this one. It speaks reams about this man’s ability to reinvent traditional idiom in his own, very peculiar image.

2. GONEThe Epic Trilogy (SST Records, 2007): Oh man, do I ever struggle with the sound of rock musicians playing over programmed drums. It’s just not right: to have all that beautiful, real-time fingermagic and gorgeous sonic imprecision bumping heads with – ack! – the icy rigidity of a beatbox. The only time I ever remember thinking otherwise was as a teen listening to BIG BLACK’s Songs About Fucking LP, and that was only because Steve Albini and co. were playing like KRAFTWERK’s robot kid brothers (albeit one’s weaned on punkrock, not krautrock). And the new GONE record does little to shift this belief.

What I can’t for the life of me get my head around was Ginn’s aesthetic choice to use programmed drumming, rather than the swingin’ arms and legs of a real human being. Lord knows, he must know a few capable drummers. To my ears, the programming brings an awkward, Frankensteinian stiffness to the whole shebang, which is something that I don’t particularly want to experience on a daily basis.

Not without reason is this set titled The Epic Trilogy, as this stands as Ginn’s most ambitious solo set yet. In hindsight, a lot of what he released in the 90′s could be seen as test-runs of this sorta sound. The lengthy pieces (all 15min.+ in length) are are built around highly structured, shifting blocks of overdriven, repetitive gtr strumming over programmed beats. Outta this, Ginn occasionally decides to peal one of them mindblowing, cascading breaks/solos I’m always waiting on baited breath for. One astute listener (Mark P.) rightly noted such moments are mighty fine indeed, and sound as righteous as anything off of BLACK FLAG’s Slip It In. But as quickly as he starts a-rippin’, he’s right back into a lengthy set of chunky gtr reps. Makes for one herky-jerky, unnatural trip, indeed.

Oh! And he’s gone and really rubbed it in: this is a double CD – one instrumental, one with martian vocals supplied by BAD BRAIN singer HR. Sometimes, more is not merrier.

3. MOJACKUnder the Willow Tree (SST Records, 2007): A plugged-in companion to the CORRUGATORS recording, here Ginn turns it up and takes a more rockin’ approach to similar material. A few of these riffs, in fact, have that same walkin’ blues feel, only here they’re grounded by some seriously loud ‘n’ powerful funk/rock rhythmations. As with his ‘GATORS, this feels more like riff exploration rather than well-rounded songcraft; the tape often cuts off abruptly, as if someone decided hastily ok, ok this jam’s done with. But that just serves to highlight Ginn’s gtr invocations that much more singularly. Sonically speaking, I reckon this one’ll go down easiest of these three CDs, especially if you’ve ever warmed to high-powered jazz rock things like THE SORT OF QUARTET, THE MECOLODIACS, and BAZOOKA. And in fact BAZOOKA’s Tony Atherton is on hand here with his sax, nudging things even further in that improv-rock direction. Could definitely imagine Ginn bringing a full-band version of this project on the road and slaying all pretenders 10 ways to Sunday.

—–

And after all this, you might ask: what of PUNK ROCK? Well, Ginn’s saving that for another day.

Thanks to Medusa Oblongata for a recent grey-haired photo of Greg

Gregulation Ginnissues

14 Nov

So it’s all true: the man himself, Greg Ginn, is back on the sonic attack.

GregGinnplaying

He’s got a trio of brand new releases, all brought to you by the revitalized SST Records. Don’t ask me if they’re any good; at this point, I’m so goddamn excited as to be totally unreliable. You’ll wanna check these babies out for yourselves.

GONE

MOJACK

GREG GINN AND THE TEXAS CORRUGATORS

But: the new contact details for SST Records suggest Greg has up and moved to godforsaken TAYLOR, TEXAS. Ack! If it is true, here’s hoping CHUCK DUKOWSKI, JACK BREWER & MIKE WATT will follow him there. These guys need to stay within spitting distance of one another (if only for my piece of mind).

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