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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.)


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 . . .


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.


Raging Soundtrack

26 Sep

My wife will vouch for the fact that I’ve got a soft spot for Paul Schrader films; at some point I’ve dupped her into watching every film with the Schrader name in the credits. Yes he did write those essential, desert-island Martin Scorsese films (Taxi Driver and Raging Bull), but his own films are what I’m on about today. The stunted emotional distance between characters, the brooding lead performances, and all that anxious/awkward communication rings so true that I’ve come to believe that it’s Schrader, not Scorsese, who’s created the more powerful body of work. Even when the particular film in question is problematic (Paul’s got a lot of those), I’m convinced this guy oughta continue being allowed to make movies for the majors. And continue he does, with soundtracks!

Now, half the time, Paul’s got an in-demand Hollywood ambient soundtrackist working behind him (Giorgio Moroder, Phillip Glass, Angelo Badalementi etc.). This has been effective at keeping audiences focused squarely on character, story, and tension development, I suppose. But as a viewer who never went to film school, I’ve always found that just the right pop song, stuck in at just the right moment, hit me even harder. In the words of Schrader’s hero, Bruce Springsteen: “I learned more from a 3-minute record than I ever did in school”. So in true PS Recon tradition, here’s a rundown of my top 5 favorite tunes used in Paul Schrader films:

1. CAPTAIN BEEFHEART – “Hard Workin’ Man”

This was my first exposure to the post modern wonder that was/is CAPTAIN BEEFHEART. The sound of actual factory machinery forms the rhythmic core of this tune – such a great way to modernize an otherwise fairly straight bit of HOWLIN’ WOLF blues. No Magic Band on this one, but apparently Ry Cooder, who debuted on those early, mid-60’s BEEFHEART recordings, is playing on this. Anybody who hasn’t witnessed Yaphet Kotto, Harvey Keitel and Richard Pryor tossing bitter vinegar and grim burial dirt at each other in this flick (Blue Collar) hasn’t yet fully come to terms with the cosmic bummer that was the 1970’s.

2. MINK DEVILLE – “Guardian Angel”

I’ve repeatedly tried to get into Willy and his MINK DEVILLE ever since I read a gushing review by “Ranking” Jeffrey Lea in the pages of an old Slash magazine I scored in the mid 80’s. Sadly, Willy’s never really clicked with me, and I don’t imagine his kinda-dated reimagination of the 60’s urban R&B crooner is gonna win many converts among younger audiences either – they got NICK CAVE to swoon over. But hey I can deal with Willy’s moustache and melodrama in one-song doses, and this is one of his better Arthur Alexander impressions. Hardcore was Schrader’s most straight ahead exploitation film, with what’s got to be the best tag line ever for a movie dealing with the seamier side of the porn industry: Oh My God, That’s My Daughter. Here George C. Scott considers the full ramifications of his daughter growing up, and nobody but nobody gnashes teeth like General Patton.

3. SMOKEY ROBINSON – “The Love I Saw In You Was Just a Mirage”

Left off the original soundtrack LP, this is one fucking glorious Smokey song with great 12-string picking to ring in 1965 and the emergence of folk rock ala THE BYRDS. The lyrics deftly dovetail with Richard Gere’s central character flaw; not only his love but his entire personality was but a mirage, a ghostly phantom of the real thing. Some folks didn’t dig the over-the-top stylistic elements of this film, but me? Hey I’m from California, over-the-top is our fucking MO. To this day, there are still mornings when I wake up feeling as vacuous as this guy.

4. MICHAEL J. FOX – “Got No Place To Go”

Laugh all ya want but I’ll go to my grave maintaining “The Fox” acted in a string of actually very watchable if goofy flicks in the 80’s – Class of 1984, Bright Lights Big City, Teen Wolf(!) – and this one, Light of Day. Ok ok so all the Joan Jett/Michael McKean-led bar band shenanigans were pretty embarrassing to sit through, but Gena Rowlands’ performance as a personality disordered, born-again Xtain mom really hit home with me, so I can’t not give this one props. This song finds Michael trying on a bit of denim-clad rock/pop balladry reminiscent of his countryman Bryan Adams, and although this particular version wasn’t used in the film proper, he can be seen singing an acoustic rendition of it (see the 7 min. mark of this clip). Better than Keanu Reeves’ DOGSTAR and/or Juliet Lewis’ LICKS? I’ll be the first fool to say hell yeah.

5. BRYAN FERRY – “Which Way to Turn”

A really beautiful, desperate song that encapsulates the chilly alienation underscoring so many of Schrader’s films. The song reminds me of David Sylvain’s late 80’s solo work, a good thing in my New Romantic book. This is what Michael Been’s lifeless soundtrack to the great Light Sleeper (maybe Paul’s best feature ever?) ought’ve to sounded like. The movie from which this is taken, The Walker, was far-short of great but when Woody Harrelson slips off his wig in the scene above, I feel it deeply, man.