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This Is Not My Destiny

17 Sep

I don’t wanna drown in American Society (photo: Ed Colver)

Like a lot of of kids, I first heard this line sung by EDDIE & THE SUBTITLES at the beginning of the 80’s on Rodney Bingenheimer’s Sunday night KROQ show. And truth be told, it left me feeling pretty damn, well, scared. Was society really a death trap? Was adult life really this grim? I was only 11, but apparently it was. The minimalist 1/2 tempo HC riff, 1-note OC beeline solo, monotone vocal holler, and crunching gtr finale made this something that could’ve only emerged from a neighborhood dominated by cookie-cutter, post-war track homes and ugly dingbat apartment units. But the trench-warfare refusal stance of the lyrics and overarching fatalistic tone is something that I still haven’t shaken.

Thinking back I can’t remember this one ever not floating around in the chlorinated pool of my unconscious. I’m sure that it left a deep, bloody cleft in the heads of alot of other people too, maybe you included. And though I found an exit of sorts from this particular American Nightmare (me, I bailed for pastures overseas) this song is more about those who’ve stayed, and hence had to witness the ever-darkening economic/political landscape Stateside firsthand, day in & day out. In retrospect, this is one important fucking song for a certain strata of Americans, wherever the hell we ended up. It’s never redundant to cover this; today I give you five different versions.

1. EDDIE & THE SUBTITLES – “American Society” (from Fuck You, Eddie!, Frontier Records, 2008) Anybody else think the original LP from which this was taken (Skeletons In the Closet) is a little schizo? Parts of it sound like Kim Fowley doing badbreath rockabilly, others like a lounge singer belting out coked-up skinnytie powerpop, still others like some Syrian-American dude singing for THE CHEIFS. Thankfully, this new comp. CD boils off all the fat and focuses squarely on those recordings driven by bassist/singer Mike Patton and drummer Matt Simon. As such this could be viewed as the last real stand by Fullerton’s MIDDLE CLASS (with whom both Mike and Matt rocked) before that band sidestepped into bogue ECHO & THE BUNNYMEN territory. Even the home demo tracks included here are cool, showcasing the kind of suburban slow-punk exploration that vehement anti-hippie types could get up to on pot and hallucinogenics (if only my shitty teen psychedelic/punk band had sounded this powerful!). If you’re anything like me you’ll fucking love this CD.

2. L7 – “American Society” (from The Big One – City of L.A. Power, Flipside Records, 1990) Don’t even try to dis these gals. One of em (Suzi Gardner) moaned on BLACK FLAG’s big hit “Slip It In”; another (Jennifer Finch) blabbed on PAINTED WILLIE’s “My Fellow Americans” from their first 12″ EP – they’re fucking OG suburban HC, ok? Rather than bandwagoners trying to get with the Seattle thing, L7 was pre-Grunge Revolution, and so should be located within the constellation of post-REDD KROSS underground LA freakrock – think SYLVIA JUNCOSA BAND, Honey Davis-era ELECTRIC PEACE, THE NYMPHS, etc. etc. The distortion/volume/rage displayed on their first couple LPs is mighty impressive; if you ask me, this is a totally rad cover by 4 totally hot & powerful women.

3. MANIC HISPANIC – “Mexican Society” (from The Menudo Incident, BYO Records, 1995) Kinda – ok, ok: really – stupid for sure, but hey the dumb end of LB/OC is where these clowns (Steve Soto from THE ADOLESCENTS and AGENT ORANGE, Mike “Gabby” Gaborno from CADILLAC TRAMPS, etc.) most definitely wallowed in. I usually chuckle and grimace in pretty equal amounts during this one, but that’s just because I’m sorta bobo too. PS Recon takes no responsibility for the views/taste of the artists expressed herein.

4. LEAVING TRAINS – “American Society” (from Emotional Legs, Steel Cage Records, 2001) Taken from what may turn out to be the very last studio TRAINS rec – Falling James, prove me wrong! Late TRAINS were as inspired & contrary as mid-period TRAINS on SST, who were as challenging & heartfelt as any of the early, Paisley Underground-era TRAINS stuff. Which means I’d recommend the uninitiated dive in anywhere they damn well feel like. Those of you who thought James was only interested in things glitteringly Hollywood, do take note of this cover: clearly, he can recognize genius of the suburban type too. Oh and Maddog Karla (Ex-CONTROLLERS) plays totally bitchen drums on this one, racheting it up a notch in the rockin’ department. These guys/gals will always be favorites of mine.

5. LILLIAN FURNEAUX – “American Society” (ripped from a podcast put together by John Stabb[!], 2006) This lady’s solo cello versions of all your favorite Fullerton punk anthems first hit me as kinda gimmicky . . . but repeated listens get me thinking that she has spent some quality alone in a pitch black bedrooms blasting early HC punk loud as fuck, while hating life at a deeply felt level (clearly, the only reasonable way to get to know such music). I’m now imagining what certain SACCHARINE TRUST/MINUTEMEN songs might sound like done in a similar, chamber-pop fashion. Lillian, at some point do consider focusing your attention on bands from the South Bay, will you? Hear more of her stuff on her Myspace here.

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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.