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Moustache Rock

28 Mar

(I first slapped this up on the internet in ’04 with kind input from Ally on her then-current, fashionable SCRUGLET webzine. Sadly, SCRUGLET has long since gone the way of the pulltop aluminum beverage can. But as I’ve now regrown my moustache, it’s hightime this piece got another airing.)

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As a courtesy to others, leave your Frank Zappas and Geddy Lees at home with the sitter. Please check all Freddy Mercurys, Phil Lynotts and whoever else you might have brought with you at the door. You are now taking a seat at . . .

THE REAL MOUSTACHE ROCK ROUND TABLE!!!

Introductions from left to right:

1) daveballDAVE BALL of SOFT CELL. Not in the history of mankind has DAVE BALL’s visage been given billing over that of singer MARC ALMOND – until now, that is. And that’s because New Romantics (circa 1981) didn’t know what the fuck to make of this heavy-set bruiser with a moustache. His anachronistic look brings to mind that of SPARKS’ RON MAEL, but it also gets me thinking English seaside holidaymaker – which makes sense, since DAVE’s from Blackpool. Hopefully, focusing in on his looks for this brief moment will also lead you reconsider this man’s uncanny knack of crafting anxious, desperate melodies & beats that sound the way drinking 6 consecutive shots of espresso alone in your shitty studio apartment feels.

2) sparksRON MAEL of SPARKS. RON’s moustache transcends mere fashion trend – it’s an integral part of what it means to be SPARKS, not to mention a potent musical force in and of itself. Take a listen to SPARKS’ Kimono My House LP again, and listen closely this time; you can actually hear RON’s moustache throwing in it’s 2 cents on damn near every cut. And it’s no coincidence that every change in SPARKS’ musical attack over the years (from dadapop to glamrock to powerpop to synthpop to . . .) has been heralded in by yes! you guessed it! a subtle moustache alteration. Just who or what is calling the shots here? Those of you who feel up to the task can explore Ron’s face in more detail here.

tav3) TAV FALCO of THE PANTHER BURNS. If you’re someone who doesn’t have alot of patience for things deemed “rootsy”, but always suspected things were waaaay cooler in them olden days than anyone’s grandparents are letting on – well then, TAV’s your man. TAV has an innate ability to recontextualize forgotten American musics in such a highly personalized and assbackwards sort of way that you, the listener, begin to truly understand the dark places in which our collective heritage first squirmed. In the 1990’s, he also focused his attention on tracing American musical forms back to their festering European origins, and reportedly spent a fair amount of time doing the tango in dimly-lit, turn-of-the-century Parisian brothels. Which makes his ghostly moustache all the more apropos.

kidcongo14) KID CONGO POWERS of THE GUN CLUB. I couldn’t really find a pic that does justice to this man’s upper lip, which is a shame. It’s often groomed in the Errol Flynn mold, but on the KID’s face it takes on a kind of seedy urban jaundice that speaks of acts of profound indiscretion. Those unfamiliar with his music should note he’s also played guitar in THE CRAMPS and NICK CAVE & THE BAD SEEDS among many others – bands who have seen fit to infuse near lethal doses of drama and excitement into our milktoast world over the past quarter century. Plus, he bought a BURUNDI BLACK 12″ in the Hollywood record store I once managed and seemed really sweet, so he earns an honorary seat at the Real Moustache Rock Round Table.

deville5) WILLY DeVILLE of MINK DEVILLE. I can’t pretend to have followed much of what this man has recorded over the past 30 years. But I’d follow a moustache like this on the street in a New York minute. Perfectly sculpted, nicely thinned, trimmed to a point; in 1977, this sort of attention to personal grooming was a challenge to uptight, heterosexual American men everywhere. While WILLY was hardly the first to bring back the Errol Flynn, he was probably the first to plaster it on the face of downtown NYC punk rock clubland culture. A bold move, MR. DEVILLE. Bravo.

ritamitsouko6) FREDRIC CHICHIN of LES RITA MITSOUKO. The somewhat unexpected runway appearance of early 80s inspired fashion in this new millennium might’ve suggested all sorts of colorfully futurist possibilities, but make no mistake about it: this corporate visitation is a hesitant (read: unwilling) nod to those asymmetrically times, at best. The dearth of wacky retro 80’s gear for large size women in your local mall speaks reams of the dominance of hardbody culture over the past 20 years, and lost are the devil-may-care juxtapositions that made 80’s fashion so exciting. Which brings us to FREDRIC CHICHIN: one half of LES RITA MITSOUKO (hands down the best 80’s French new wave duo ever), and a fashion icon unto himself. Everything this man wore – be it hair, fur, silk, skin, metal, paint or plastic – he wore like a freakin’ demon. And it goes without saying that his long, beautifully manicured moustache has much to do with the ease with which he pulled it all off. If you need more visual stimulation do check out the 100+ photos of FREDRIC here.

kidcreole17) KID CREOLE of KID CREOLE & THE COCONUTS. If you ever attended a high school grad night or New Year’s Eve party in the 1980’s, no doubt you were suckered into shuffling around the dancefloor to something by this man. However embarrassing those memories may be, I’d wholeheartedly suggest you re-explore the first couple KID CREOLE LPs, as well as everything he did with his earlier 70’s/40’s disco acts (DR. BUZZARD’S ORIGINAL SAVANNAH BAND and GICHY DAN’S BEACHWOOD #9). Those records are stylistically clever, suavely over-the-top romps through a goofy, colorful terrain few but KID have ever sought fit to explore. And the sight of him here on this page – wearing that Cab Calloway moustache & zoot suit – still makes me giggle in a really good way.

lee8) LEE HAZLEWOOD. The twisted granddaddy of em all, LEE was first to take the flying leap and slide a big ol’ droopy moustache under the radar of the fashion police. On one hand, this was a not-so-subtle insult, a middle finger of sorts aimed at record company stiffs in suits and ties everywhere. But on another level, it was pure genius: the appropriation of something as sick as a goddamn Fuller Brush moustache under the rubric of cool! And make no mistake about it, he did make it cool. Holy fuckin’ A, man – this is the moustache of my worst/best nightmares.

Hollywood Holiday

23 Apr

So I’m back to continue with my Hollywood punker round-up, first corralled in this here post. Regarding the pics above: one of these women sang “Adult Books”, the other married yours truly. Betcha can’t guess who’s who!

1. Best GUN CLUB effort: Lucky Jim (Triple X Records, ’94). I have soft spots in my heart for every GUN CLUB record . . . except the first. This isn’t because that one’s not worthy – it is, really – but it got played to death in my household when I was a very young teen. And as they say: ya can’t go home again.

These days, I’m most taken by the later stuff. It still boggles my mind that Jeffrey – the man with Thee Lonesomeist voice in all post-punk rock – developed an individualistic and inspirational take on blues-rock gtr playing. And if you’re one of those jokers who says his playing sounded like Stevie Ray or Eric Clapton . . . well, listen closer, pal. Jeffrey always integrated lotsa folk-blues influences into his gtr sound (see his Ramblin’ Jeffrey Lee solo outing for the evidence) and he never over-played (shades of Paul Kossoff!), though he damn well had the finger agility if he’d wanted to. A man cut down in his prime, fr sure.

2. Best DILS effort: Made In Canada double 7″ (Rogelletti Records, ’79). The strength of the DILS lay in biting, finite songcraft, and their best 3-minutes was “Sound of the Rain”, included herein. Yeah you could slag em off as mere CLASH rip-offs, but in LA ca. ’79, rockin’ political pop of this caliber was kinda unheard of. And holyhell man, no American city at the time had cops more worthy of TOTAL ANNIHILATION than the fucking scum pigs down in LA. Sing it with em:

I don’t
listen to the cops I wish they all were dead
listen to the planes flying overhead
listen to the sound of the loss and gain
I just listen . . . to the sound of the rain

3. Best WEIRDOS effort: Destroy All Music 45 (Dangerhouse, ’77). You might not guess it, but WEIRDOS singer John Denny is a really sweet and thoughtful guy. He used to shop in our record store in Hollywood, often making clever comments about music and once bringing this huge, dead spider up to the till (“son, I don’t think this is for sale”). He always made a point to acknowledge me, the lowly sales clerk, like the actual human being I was. I owe him some thanks for this.

Now the WEIRDOS Destroy 7″ is merely the first of a great career of bludgeon rock – one that even extended into a 90’s Flea-on-bass period! But it’s this rec that contains one of the very best chooglin’ punk anthems of all time: “Life of Crime”. God, I can almost feel the bottles breaking on my sweaty, 3am forehead during that one. Awesome.

4. Best ALEX GIBSON effort: Bpeople LP (Faulty Products, ’81). Who’s Alex, you ask? Well he was apparently in a group called THE LITTLE CRIPPLES with a young, pre-SWANS Michael Gira; he founded LA’s noir rock-experimentalists BPEOPLE; and he continued his identifiably-Alexian aesthetic through a bitchen solo EP, then in ever-so-slightly watered down New Romantic form in his band PASSIONNEL, and again solo on the soundtrack to Penelope Spheeris’ Suburbia flick. Everything he did had an arcane sadness/darkness to it that places it squarely in THE TOILING MIDGETS and RIK L RIK orbit (it’s no wonder Alex played a bit of bass on that great SLEEPERS LP from ’81). The self-titled BPEOPLE LP is less experimental than their early 45/compilation cuts, and slathers the JOY DIVISION gloom on thick and impenetrable. But: there’s a solid rockin’ core buried underneath it all that’ll keep it from ever being mistaken for BAUHAUS. It’s what all so-called goth should really be aspiring to.

Hey: where’s the retrospective CD that Warning Label Records promised us a couple years back?

5. Best X effort: Under The Big Black Sun LP (Electra Records, ’83). Well their best moment certainly wasn’t the X concert my mom took me to in ’85 at Irvine Meadows, cause all I really remember was John Doe kicking hard at some manic stage dancer to get him the hell off the stage. Openers CHANNEL 3, then deep into their bighair “Last Night I Drank…” phase, left the bigger impression – but that’s a different story. So anyway . . . completely buggering all the nonsense that their individual members have talked/written/produced since: all of the first four X LPs are uniformly great, as is the first KNITTERS LP. I couldn’t really pick just one, so I let my wife choose, as even Chris D. once seemingly mistook her for Exene. Again, this is another story.

Gouge My Eyes

10 Oct

Been floating around in the void we call NO RELIABLE INTERNET ACCESS for faaaaar too many weeks now – but tonight I’m back. To mark this we dive into a

urinals

BLACK HOLE

Now there are LA songs, and then . . . there are LA songs. How much more perfect an LA song is there? The why-didn’t-I-think-to-write-that descending riff, the urgent harmonies, the chopping rhythm, and those evocative lyrics (always imagined they were written while speeding 65 mph down the 405 freeway). Just 2 verses, 2 choruses and it’s fucking over with. All brought to you in smelly jeans and a fading t-shirt. Righteous! Here’s 5 versions for you:

1. The Urinals“Black Hole” (from negative capability . . . check it out! comp. CD, Happy Squid Records, 1998) Written by John (Talley-) Jones. First waxed in 1979 on the URINALS second record – the appropriately titled Another EP. Vitus Matre of THE LAST produced, with an antiquated Dokorder 4-track reel-to-reel, giving their otherwise brittle sound an extra warm, undersea-cave feel. And the best 1 min 18 secs I’ve been able to locate from ’79.

People like to lump these guys in with BPEOPLE, MONITOR, HUMAN HANDS, SUBURBAN LAWNS etc. – you know, that art-punk thing then coalescing around downtown LA at the time. But as Byron Coley points out in the CD liners, these guys also prefigured the whole early suburban invasion perfectly. They were UCLA kids – proudly dress-down, very non-Hollywood nerdy types. They looked a lot like MIDDLE CLASS and sounded a helluva lot like THE MINUTEMEN would come to, in very short order. All you unrepentant HC types out there owe it to yourselves to spend some quality time with their recordings.

2. The Leaving Trains“Black Hole” (from the Transportational D. Vices LP, SST Records, 1989) Introduced me to this song, this one did. And so what if, in retrospect, it sounds kinda huried and maybe redundant? Do try to recall the context: these were the late 80’s. THE URINALS were long gone, a mere myth to lots of us. One had little access to the em if you weren’t willing to fork out the $60-$100 a pop for the original 45s. Now I suppose I could’ve hit up some recently cleaned-up, ex-punker type for a cassette dupe of this stuff (I admit I did this a lot back then) . . . whatever, lead TRAIN Falling James was simply paying homage to a great song by the guys that had kindly waxed the TRAINS very first recordings. He earned the right to cover it any way he sought fit. Before the internet, it was cover versions like these that helped pass these songs down to us young ‘uns.

3. The Gun Club“Black Hole” (from the Divinity LP, New Rose/What’s So Funny About Records, 1991) Again, probably a tribute, as the first GUN CLUB recording was released on the Keats Rides a Harley comp. LP by THE URINALS themselves. But overlook the faux-Steve Lillywhite production and you’ve got a real classy version on your hands. Layering the tune over the half-time drums (lifted straight from LED ZEP’s “When the Levee Breaks”!) was just what a remake of this song demanded – that, and the added extended instrumental outro, with Jeffrey’s screamin’ gtr circling the rafters above yr head. Plus, they’ve gotten all lush and grand(iose) with the harmonies, as was Jeffrey’s predilection. I fucking love it. If you’ve never tuned in to later-day GUN CLUB, then you’re missing out on tragic beauty of a rare order.

4. Yo La Tengo“Black Hole” (from the Little Honda EP, Matador Records, 1998) The most faithful version here – they even try and recreate that cheap trebly gtr sound by layering on the reverb! I got bored with these TENGO guys/gals in the early 90’s, back around May I Sing with Me. It was at a gig of theirs where I began thinking this “indie rock” thing was kinda/sorta repulsive . . . BUT I’ve always appreciated the respect and attention they pay to cover songs. Only non-LA act on this list, btw . . .

5. The Leaving Trains“Black Hole” (from the Emotional Legs CD, Steel Cage Records, 2002) My pick of the bunch. Falling James decided to right the wrongs of his band’s original cover, rethought things entirely and came up with this mindbender. It might well be informed a bit by all the other versions listed here! In my puny head, James’ tossed-off croon and wildass approach to making music encapsulates the best of what LA rock meant/means. Long my he TRAIN.