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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).

NeareSST Relatives, Part IV

27 Oct

SSTfront

I can’t go on like this forever. It’s just not sustainable, this 1-degree-of-SST idea. I mean, there’s only so many SST/New Alliance Records-related fixations a man can reasonably have. And I’ve talked about most all of them over the course of these here NeareSST Relatives posts (the 1st, or 2nd, or 3rd installments in this series will clarify things for newcomers). So: barring the appearance of, say, a TOM TROCCOLI commemorative water bong or a MERRILL WARD annotated tarot deck – this’ll be the last of this series. Now, don’t start stamping your feet: there’ll be other SST rants/raves here is the future, oh yes indeed. But this’ll stand as your last NeareSST affront. Turn it up to 12 and count it off . . .

1. THE PERFECT RAT“Clouds” (from their Endangered Species, Alone Records, 2007) I once stumbled into The Idea Room – a short-lived coffee house & performance space adjacent to the SST Records HQ in Long Beach in the 90′s – and watched slack-jawed as bassist Greg Ginn, saxophonist Tony Atherton, and an unknown-to-me drummer (Bill Stinson?) coiled loosely together into a freestyle jam. Then, up stepped one Rev. Jack Brewer, who proceeded to intone a stack of obtuse poems like they were particularly nasty death threats/suicide notes. Now I’d seen Brewer perform before, but as I’d missed out on seeing BLACK FLAG and GONE, this was my one and only time I ever saw Ginn play live (though I did bump into G. once manning a cat rescue table outside an LB pet store!). It was urgent, plaintive, intuitive and out there, man.

Now: this CD hits the “market”, and dammit if it ain’t oddly similar. It’s the same core of dudes and the execution’s not unlike that one-off performance, except the twin gtr smudge attack (c/o Mario Lalli and Gary Arce) pushes the sound away from BOHO JAZZ and right on into the smoldering firepit of HEAVY DUTY. A third of this is instrumental, but the rest has Jack right up front, preaching the word – older, but no less ornery or driven. If he’d been a bit more prolific over the years, Jack would stand as a Cali equivalent to THE FALL’s Marc E. Smith in terms of nutrient-rich verbal content. And Ginn’s basslines, alternatingly contemplative and playfully blippity – so unlike his chunkstyle riffing and careening soloing in FLAG! – compel me in totally unexpected ways.

These are a lot more than just TEN EAST demos, pal.

2. BRIAN WALSBYManchild 3 (Bifocal Media, 2007) – New softcover by this cartoonist to the HC stars. Brian Walsby has been around for a coon’s age drawing flyers/recordcovers/comics based on our communal slam pit heritage that are boneheaded and bellyaching, in pretty equal amounts. This issue is especially heavy on the SST references, with a couple of great, full-page caricatures based on famous depictions of BLACK FLAG and THE MINUTEMEN, not to mention a hilarious Brady Bunch send-up of Greg, Chuck, and the rest of the gang. Other pieces include “Life After BLACK FLAG” (check that one out here), “Possible Careers for the BLACK FLAG My War Puppet Mascot” etc. . . you get the picture. The fact that Brian returns to this subject matter over and over (not unlike yours truly) belies a real reverence for the entire SST nexus. Bonus: this comes with a CD by Brian’s other favorite subject – THE MELVINS. A lo-fi, unreleased demo tape from 1987, pre-Ozma with Lori Black on bass! Would make a great stocking stuffer fr sure.

3. TWISTED ROOTS“Every Party Song” (from their Twisted Roots LP, CD Presents, 1986) – Not to be confused with the self-titled TWISTED ROOTS LP/CD on Bacchus Archives (which I recommend heartily), this was a one-off LP by Paul Roessler + a totally different band, including gtrist Dez Cadena and bassist Bruce Duff of the mighty JESTERS OF DESTINY. It was recorded while Paul was in DC3, but acted as a vehicle for his more theatrical, singer-songwritery impulses. It’s kinda sorta similar to the wacko approach Pat Smear took on his Ruthensmear rec on SST that same year (i.e. glitter/croon/pomp), but with a focus on piano-driven pop songcraft. And, for reasons that escape me now, much less successful.

While Ruthensmear delivered what I always considered to be a bitchen, post-wave update of MICK RONSON’s Slaughter on 10th Avenue, here Paul ends up sounding like, I dunno . . . an underground 80’s JOBRIATH? It won’t be the sort of brew most can stand, but hey: I’m kinda fascinated by JOBRIATH, so I can at least follow Paul’s logic. This particular cut is no less sappy/over-the-top than anything else on this rec, but it does have one of them nice melodies both Pat and Paul were once able to toss off during a quick Oki Dog midnight run. Plus, it kinda makes me miss the days when going to see Pat’s DEATH FOLK was a viable Friday night gig out in LA.

Stretches your patience, perhaps – but for whatever reason, I’m still sitting here listening to it.

4. SLUTS FOR HIRE“Problem” (from The Happiest Band on Earth CD, Flipside Records, 1996) In many ways, the LEAVING TRAINS were odd-men-out within the SST constellation: they were glamfag and willfully Hollywood, unlike all the rest of those dress-down, hairy/nerdy SST rocker types living out in Harbor City or wherever back then. The TRAINS never bothered with boring things like musical chops, and though they wrote great tunes they were often so amped up they’d race through em hastily like they were devouring a tube of Pringles. But like their labelmates, the TRAINS were originally from ‘burbs (well Pacific Palisades, anyway) and they always stuck their tongues out at any urbane coolness/smugness around LA.

As did their screaming kid-sisters, the SLUTS FOR HIRE. The SLUTS were initially the TRAINS + friends in disguise, and they released a stupid/silly single to prove it. Then, Falling James was kicked out for being too old. Soon after, the SLUTS released a full-length CD and became 90’s Flipside mag idiot savant glitterati.

Now I’m not gonna kid you and say they were any shade of genius. But oh man they were soooo much fun live, kicking/yelling/screaming and flinging all their colored hair and bright, thriftstore duds round the clubs, long after most hipsters had lost any kinda fashion sense whatsoever. Seeing them had this unrepentant SPARKS/CELEBRITY SKIN fan thinking he’d died and gone to Tinseltown. Hell, I can honestly say they remain my favorite gig-on-cannabis ever. That’s EVER. Best SLUTS lyric (from “Neil Young”): ”Bruce Berry was a working man/ he used to load that Econoline van/ but that’s not all Bruce was loading . . .” Wish there were still half a dozen bands this fun out in LA anymore . . .

5. BLACK KALI MA“Evil Clowns” (from their You Ride the Pony CD on Alternative Tentacles Records, 2000) Gary Floyd’s is the third voice I most-closely associate with my home state of Texas. His falls right after ROKY ERICKSON and BILLY GIBBONS, but most definitely ahead of both BUDDY HOLLY and GIBBY HAYNES. And Gary’s is a great one. He screamed out one of the most memorable/iconic songs of the early hardcore punk rock era (THE DICKS’ “Hate the Police”) and howled all over two good SST LPs (THE DICKS’ Kill From the Heart and SISTER DOUBLE HAPPINESS’ self-titled LP) . Gary’s also known for his large stature but by the time he put together BLACK KALI MA he’d lost a heck of a lot of that weight, surely for health reasons. But that didn’t affect his voice one iota. I especially like Gary when he gets all sentimental, since it’s so obvious he’s a big – really, really big – softy underneath it all. Though here, the band is crunching down in that burning, hard ‘n’ heavy Texas blues rock tradition, bringing to mind THE MELVINS circa Stag. Tasty.

6. DEBRIS INC.“I Love Livin’ in the City” (From their Debris Inc. CD, Rise Above Records, 2005) If SACCHARINE TRUST were soul music, Wilmington-style, then Dave Chandler’s SAINT VITUS were most definitely soul music, Lomita-style. Longhair boys who just wanted to rock it slow, low, and heavy. Nothing more. How many people this side of Terry Riley have been so goddamn single-minded about their mission?

But that GERMS (GI) t-shirt Dave always wore (prominently displayed on the cover of the SAINT VITUS Thirsty & Miserable EP) was the source of many moments of really, really deep thought for me a kid. Like: were all these HC punkers just metalheads reborn with crewcuts? Was THE GERMS’ “Shutdown” a not-so-veiled BLACK SABBATH tribute? Did the Fabulous Furry Freak Bros. listen to THE RAMONES while they got high? It was positively confounding.

As was Dave’s recent DEBRIS INC. project. I suppose this was just a lark – nuthin’ but a diversion cooked up by bassist Rob Holzer (ex-TROUBLE) to get Dave away from the internet porn for an album’s length. They do this FEAR cover, an X cover (“Nausea”), and a bunch of short, blunt riff rants that sound as if they were written in the studio. And while the sum total ain’t exactly substantial (unlike every damn VITUS release), Dave is one unheralded gtrist/musician who actually deserves our unqualified support, even when he decides to goof off. My old boss once described his solos as sounding “like insects scrambling up a wall.” And there’s some of his patented insect-scrambling on this release too – ah, the sound of pure ecstasy! More than a few of us continue to slither in the shadows, patiently awaiting Dave’s next project . . .

7. ANDY & THE RATTLESNAKES“Patience” (From their Last Summer to Dance comp. CD, Fellaheen Records, 2006) As the 70’s became the 80’s, Andy and the boys held down a couple-year residency at the Taurus Tavern in Culver City near Venice. A pre-SST Records TOM TROCCOLI swooned to ‘em many a night therein, vowing then and there: should I ever get the chance to make a record, I’m gonna record something by this man. He got the chance on his Dog album on SST from ’85 with a wiggy version of this tune, albeit with liberties taken in the lyrical and arrangement department. And last year, Andy finally pulled together all his band’s loose cuts/demos from ’80-’81 on to this CD.

Time hasn’t exactly smiled on the sound of guys like Andy – the GARLAND JEFFREYS of the West Coast, anyone? But see, people forget that bands like THE MOTELS defined Hollywood street rock way more coherently than, say, THE GERMS did back in ’77 (Darby & Pat’s thing wouldn’t cohere for at least a year more). And Andy was the spiritual heir to that solid, early MOTELS sound. Aww, now you punkers just relax why doncha, it’s all just music anyway. Some of this band went on to be in BURNING SENSATIONS, but if that bothers you imagine you’re listening to the genesis of all things NIG HEIST and this tune’ll sit just fine.

8. JACK BREWERNo Lunch (Sinistry Press, 1991) A fitting end to this fitting (as in epileptic) series of posts. I bought this slim printed volume of Jack’s poetry at the tiny SST SUPERSTORE that existed on Sunset Blvd. for a year or two in the early 90’s. Pat Smear wasn’t working that day – maybe Kurt had already drafted him into NIRVANA? At any rate, it was left to a miserable-looking Falling James of THE LEAVING TRAINS, clad head-to-toe in drag, to accept my cash payment for this. And in all my travels, I’ve never ever seen another copy. It’s mostly lyrics taken from his various musical projects (SACCHARINE TRUST, JACK BREWER BAND, BAZOOKA, etc.) but there’s some stray bits in here that I don’t believe have ever found their way to record.

Jack’s always had a disquieting knack of melding mythical allegory & religious iconography with the mundane harshness of that $4.25-an-hour suburban CA life he’s been exiled to. His words are timeless, crystaline sweat; they ring out loud and righteous, no matter if he’s reading from high on a pedestal or from the prone position on a beer-splattered rock ‘n’ roll stage. And his art exemplifies that utterly compelling mix of high & low brow aesthetic senses – filtered through the grim reality of service-worker chumpdom – that underpinned all the best SST bands/artists. Dig the blurb.

- – - – -

With that, I’m done. My hope for all you reading these NeareSST Relatives posts? That you will be reminded to plug into the work of these fine, fine ex-SST folks in the near future. Amen.

SSTback

Vintage SST tuner photos courtesy of Jonathan Charles

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.

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