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NeareSST Relatives, Part IV

27 Oct

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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.

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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.

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Vintage SST tuner photos courtesy of Jonathan Charles

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