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The Desperate Ones

5 Jul


Allyson Shaw has just published a mindfuckingly-great cyberpunk novel entitled The Desperate Ones. It’s an intensely poetic, darkly fantastic dash for an apocalyptic finish line in a futuristic cityscape that will be recognizable to many of you. Lemma tell ya: it’s a madcrazy ride fr sure. But as this is a music blog, I thought I’d talk a bit about a few of my favorite versions of the Jacques Brel song that cued off her entire project. I am aware of at least a half dozen versions of this song, the best of which remind me of characters and themes throughout the novel. In no particular order I give you:

NINA SIMONE – “The Desperate Ones” (from Nina Simone & Piano!, RCA Records, 1969) Nina was a master at infusing other people’s songs with an urgent passion that spoke not only to individual battles but of much larger cultural and political wars still relevant today. This isn’t the first song most will associate with Nina, and for good reason. There’s a certain unhinged quality at work here many won’t be able to relate to. The pain fueling this sounds more rooted in Nina’s struggle with bipolar disorder, rather than any attempt to comment on wider sociopolitical issues.

But lord knows, even a single howl in the void can be powerful. Such quiet isolation parallels the perpetual state of forgetfulness of Professor Clymenus Bell in Ally’s novel. It’s the kind of burden that must be shouldered privately, but it’s one that crowds both the past and future into a present in a way that’s more than a little unsettling.

GLYN SYTLER & LYDIA LUNCH – “The Desperate Ones” (from The Desperate Ones EP, Atavistic Records, 1997) Glyn and Lydia’s take is unusual as it’s not based on the Brel original, but on the maudlin American version writer Eric Blau and Brill building employee Mort Shuman came up with for their 1968 stage review known as Jacque Brel is Alive and Well and Living In Paris. It’s not unlike how your 80’s teen hardcore band might’ve covered MINOR THREAT’s reimagining of WIRE’s “12XU” – twice removed from source material and hence infused with meaning never intended in the first place. In this case, it’s a beautiful thing they’ve concocted, indeed. Brel’s sadness remains, but the camp, whispered innocence of Alive and Well becomes darkly humorous in the hands of these two doyens of The Hate Generation.

It’s a wonderful example of just how to bring dead culture back to life again, and echoes the way Ally’s character Rabine taps into lost beliefs, vision, and directed will to save her world from the edge of near extinction. Yep it’s only fiction, but dammit if this shouldn’t be the focus of your Great Work too.

MARC ALMOND – “The Desperate Ones” (from the Brel Extras EP, Sin Songs Ltd., 2008) Don’t think I’m not aware: “The Desperate Ones” is one overwrought song, that’s fr sure. But few in recent decades have tackled overwrought as frequently and effectively as Marc. As if to counter all the others who came before, Marc emphasizes not the tragedy but the singular hope shining through the lyrics. He’s recast it from damning to redemptive.

Like everything else Marc has ever done, it could easily go horribly wrong . . . but I’d reckon it’s this version that most closely matches the overall tone of Ally’s The Desperate Ones. It’s a novel that not only contemplates total destruction but actively steps into – and through! – the apocalypse. And if that ain’t a hopeful thing, I don’t know what is.


One Man and His Toupee

21 Jun


There’s a man in New Orleans with a voice. It’s a voice that you could get lost in, that’ll get you drunker than you’ve ever been before, that’ll take you away from all the sick, horrible nonsense you gotta endure every single goddamn day of your life. But it’s also a voice that’ll sucker-punch you, shove you into the gutter, and steal your girlfriend away into the night. Laughing all the while.

But don’t worry: that voice has its own issues, ones your girlfriend wasn’t banking on and won’t be able to handle without spiralling down into sick, horrible nonsense herself. So she’ll leave that voice, and come back home. Leaving the voice more alone than ever.

That voice is owned by GLYN STYLER. He’s a man possessed, when he’s not trying to sell you orthopedic mattresses. He’s done what Lou Reed woulda been capable of, if only Lou had never ever left home for money-driven Manhattan; what Scott Walker coulda been, if only Scott’d had found a sense of humor; what Frank Sinatra might’ve accomplished, if like the Tinman, he’d found his heart.

The good news is that EVERYTHING this man has recorded (The Desperate Ones EP featuring Lydia Lunch, the solo Live at the Mermaid Lounge EP, plus a few stray compilation cuts) sparkles out of a musical void not unlike a lost gold cufflink winking up at you from a trash-strewn stormdrain. The bad news? Well, his total output numbers less that a dozen tracks, and a number of those are quite difficult to come by. Need I say: we want more!

For those starting out, your best bets are the EPs, available through Truckstop Records. If you don’t happen to live within stumbling distance from the Circle Bar in New Orleans, you’ll have to settle for seeing him lipsync to his hits in Doris Wishman’s Satan Is A Lady DVD, or check out the short PBS video interview clip included here. But come you must; his hungry voice is waiting.


Q: Glyn Styler would seem to be equally motivated by equal parts beauty and perversity. Who or what gave you the idea that this would be such a winning combination?

GS: Rene Coman and I were hired to tour with an 80’s band called GREEN ON RED – I was the drummer and Rene played bass. During the tedious soundchecking of the drum kit, Rene would sit at the organ and I’d sing absurdly as a distraction. We started writing intentionally tasteless jazz/pop songs. We decided to do a public access TV talk show with an obnoxious singing host (like Mike Douglas or Merv Griffin) and named him Glyn Styler (with sidekick Tommy Baldwin on the piano). This is how GS got started.

Q: Give us an idea of who your influences are/were.

GS: Isn’t it obvious? Lou Reed, David Bowie, Jacques Brel, Frank Sinatra, sex, love, life itself. It’s a tradition. Everything is beautiful and everything is horrible.

Q: Authenticity is clearly an important concept down in New Orleans—I’m thinking here of all the original blues, jazz & zydeco music that folks associate with that part of the world. Yet Glyn Styler seems fly in directly the face of all that. What are your thoughts on this?

The only thing authentic in New Orleans is the crime and stupidity. There’s no good music here. Louis Armstrong would have loved me but I’m not appreciated here. I do understand your comment and agree with you – I am subverting tradition, but these morons don’t get it.

Q: How do audiences react to you?

GS: Most people just love the live show. I light the fuse and there’s an explosion of emotions and everyone basks in the fallout. Everybody understands a nervous breakdown. Only single guys get upset with my show which makes sense.

Q: How did you come to hook up with Ray Davies, and what is your favorite post-Muswell Hillbillies Kinks record?

GS: Ray’s girlfriend saw me perform at the South by Southwest showcase in Austin a few years ago and told Ray about me. He came to see me in New York and we’ve been friends ever since. The music industry doesn’t give a fuck about either one of us. Nobody wanted to fund a Ray Davies produced Glyn Styler album. My favorite post Muswell album would be (definitely) Preservation (Acts 1 & 2)!

Q: What’s going on with your new recordings?

GS: I have three albums worth of demos that I want to record, but can’t find a record deal. I have no manager, no help whatsoever. Ray did all he could. The industry doesn’t want me. They want Justin Timberlake. I refuse to put out my own record. I’ll sell mattresses instead.

Q: How does Rene Coman figure in to Glyn Styler?

GS: Rene is my songwriting partner and bassist.

Q: Some of us heard a great protest song “No Newts” you did for an obscure Mermaid Lounge compilation in the mid-90’s. What motivated you to record that?

GS: I hate what has happened in the last 20 years. Everyone has accepted so many blatant lies and stood silent. The media is so demented. The empire is falling AND IT SHOULD but I’m terrified because I’m so much a part of it…

Q: There’s been talk that you may be headed overseas, this time for good. Are you still making plans to leave this sinking-ship-of-a-nation of ours?

GS: The entire world is saturated with American anti-culture. There’s nowhere to run now. One can only hide.


*originally published in the now-defunct DIE CAST GARDEN webzine in 2004, hence the slightly dated questions. But my love for GLYN still stands.

Hate is the Message

26 Apr

Hate Rock

Yeah I’ve struggled through days of pain, and shared in days of sorrow. I’ve worked through days of tense confusion, and weathered days of heavy thunder. But the sweetest, the longest lasting, the most un-for-fucking-get-able of days have been my days of white hot, burning HATE. Come on now, spell it with me: H-A-T-E. Hating me, hating you, hating us, hating them. Hating it fucking all. And while I’m betting you, too, have your very own personal ritual . . . for me, when I’m really feeling the hate, so to speak – well, I open an armfull of chilled Foster’s in tall cans, shut the curtains tight, turn down the lights, roll my eyes waaaay back and slowly take in the following tunes:

BOYD RICE w/ JOEL HAERTLING“Hatesville” (from The Way I Feel, Caciocavallo, 2000) – Boyd’s no ho-dad when it comes to hate – he’s a charter member of Hatred Anonymous. And I do not care if this man is a saint or sinner, Nazi or Nationalist. What I do care about is that he’s frequently and inexplicably great at pulling together sonic material + words that reverberate with my darker thoughts, feelings, & unconscious wishes. Here though, he’s spelling it out in a way we can all understand.

FOETUS/THE MELVINS“Mine is No Disgrace” (from The Crybaby, Ipecac Recordings, 1999) – Don’t even try and convince me Jim Thirwell is a waste of time. Sure he likes to over-arrange his stuff, and I do understand his copious use of BOMBAST is not everyone’s cup o’ tea . . . but pushing buttons is his modus operandi. And by accepting that, you’re half-way into a Foetal position, so to speak. I love the refrain included herein (“I feel like I could rape a nun, and it’s always the first kiss that gets you drunk/ so I keep a habit on her face, while I listen to that YES song, ‘Yours is No Disgrace’ . . .”), and love more that Buzzo & co. are backing him here with real live heavyasswoopin rocknrolla . . .

ADAM PARFREY“Kill Your Sons” (from A Sordid Evening of Sonic Sorrows, Man’s Ruin Records, 1997) – I realize you’re now wondering: does this Mrowster guy sit around pumping his fist to those later 80’s SKREWDRIVER records? And I gotta say no, no, and more no – that Ian Stuart guy was too predictably boring/shmaltzy with all his Blood & Honour crap for a perverse, self-deprecating mofo like myself to take seriously. Not that I wouldn’t have enjoyed sharing a pint with the man if only to lob backhanded insults at him . . . anyway Adam P., the distasteful cad behind Feral House Press, once sculpted a couple of irresponsible CDs with the POISON IDEA boyz that, when taken together, act as a sort of hate rock concept suite. This Lou Reed cover is my pick of their foul spawn, but I coulda lots of picked others . . .

GLYN STYLER/LYDIA LUNCH“Casket Built For Two” (from The Desperate Ones EP, Truckstop Records, 1998) – That point where obsessive love finally empties out into a tranquil lagoon of eternal murderous suffocation. Either one of these characters (Glyn or Lydia) harbors enough hatred to fuel a mid-size midwestern town, but together? Brother, the party is ON! I will stand by Lydia’s first dozen or so releases til I die, and once pontificated long and strong about Glyn on a now-defunct website of mine. But really, the whole world oughta be swooning to this beautifully over-wrought epitaph on a nightly basis. God, how much better I’m feeling already!

BLACK FLAG“Scream” (My War, SST Records, 1984) Just the ultimate in primeval scream therapy. Overdubbing multiple Rollinses was one of more effective studio tricks Ginn ever came up with. As a shitty no-talent 16 yr old bassist/keyboardist, I once convinced the ZEPP-loving buddies in my high school band (we called ourselves HAMMER, THUMP & WEDGE) that I’d written this. I didn’t let on and we jammed for weeks around this riff, while I imagined elaborate revenge scenarios and gruesome fantasies of self-serving mayhem aimed at all those who wronged me in my life. “Yeah I blow my cool, I blow my cool all over the place . . .”