Tuesday, January 26, 2010
Give 'Em Soul Richard! Race, Radio & Rhythm & Blues in Chicago by Richard E. Stamz with Patrick A. Roberts (University of Illinois)
Considering its legacy of WLS, WVON, Amos 'n' Andy, National Barn Dance, the Disco Demolition promotion, Paul Harvey, and countless other institutions, Chicago may be the most fascinating radio town in America. But though there have been a few decent books about our broadcast history, memoirs from Chi-Town's iconic deejays have been profoundly disappointing. Both Art Roberts' and Pervis Spann's books were self-published fluff, Spann's mostly a collection of R&B promo photos that weren't even from his collection. Clark Weber's book was also mostly photos, not to mention that he was far from the most fascinating figure found on the dial. Probably the closest to greatness was Herb Kent's recent autobiography, which suffers a little from both Kent's radio jive instincts (he includes soul music trivia as chapter bumpers) and survival instinct (still active in a cutthroat industry, he knows better than to tell too many truths). Kent is best, however, when he tells of the depths to which he sunk when he was briefly off the air, revealing an honest portrait of a hardcore record jockey who needs radio to survive. Yet other than some racy groupie stories, Kent revealed little about how black radio in Chicago operated in its glory days. Incredibly, Richard Stamz, who only spent seven years on the air, and devotes less than half of his thin memoir to those days, gives more valuable, insightful information than perhaps anything I've read about the subject prior to the fascinating book. Roberts collected Stamz' stories when the Crown Prince of Soul was pushing, and surpassing, the century mark, but amazingly his recollections were clear, his anecdotes were insightful, and the portraits he paints of Chicago radio legends, some rarely heralded (Al Benson), some too-often sanitized (Leonard Chess) are vivid. The format here is perfect: Stamz' stories are revealed in conversational, oral history style, the details always confirming Stamz' lucidity and analytical powers, but the bluster and drama sometimes revealing a storyteller's creative flourishes. However, each chapter is prefaced by Roberts' intensely researched introductions, occasionally gently challenging some of Stamz' chronologies or facts, but more often buttressing his co-authors claims with evidence from numerous sources and archives, including Stamz' voluminous papers, which the south sider's daughter made available after Stamz' 2007 death at age 101. The first half of the book presents amazing pictures of both an unusually driven man (working countless jobs and hustles from near birth) and the black urban experience in America in the 20th Century. From his childhood memories of Beale Street in Memphis (including the aftermath of a lynching that haunted him for nearly a century), to his experience in the Great Migration to the North, to his days in a blackface minstrel show, to his breakthrough hustle -- selling visual and audio ad space on a painted truck with a mounted loudspeaker -- the book is riviting. But when he gets into radio (as a result of spinning records on his sound truck) the book becomes invaluable. His description of the way deejays sold ads at WGES, the intricacies of so-called payola, and his theories of how to illicit response from black audiences are brilliantly conveyed. Despite coming from an academic press, the book is inexpensive, accessible, and brisk, the main text running a little more than 100 pages. But the appendix sections prove as exciting as the memoir: a transcription of a radio show not only gives the sense of patter and rhythm that is often missing from these books (though Weber's included an airshot CD), but also shows how nearly every word he said was a paid advertisement. Deejays were unsalaried at his station, all their income coming from sponsorships, and to hear (figuratively) him maintain a natural, soulful flow while pimping laxative gum, beer and a weird wine called Purple Cow is fascinating. Also included is a transcription of his short-lived TV show, in which he does a straight forward interview, revealing the kind of journalism Stamz would have been capable of if racial barriers had offered him more opportunities. Recomended for any fan of Chicago history, Chicago radio, great storytelling, R&B music, or distinct personalities. You owe it to yourselves to to open the door to Richard and take a handfull of his soul pills.
Posted by Roctober Productions at 1:59 PM
I hear that when a classic Chicago punk band that shall remain nameless watched the DVD that accompanies this collection of rare tracks by Pistol Whip (an obscure Erie, PA-based, Chicago-haunting 1977-era punk band) they spent most of the time throwing up their hands in disbelief and at one point had to shut off the TV and walk away to compose themselves. It seems that despite the dozen original tracks (a reissue of their single, plus recordings they did in Chicago) this was primarily a cover band, and though they could draw a crowd in Chicago few survivors or students of the Chicago punk scene could even name them today. To be fair however, the documentary on the band is a no-budget, virtually no-footage (half of it is Ken Burns-style pans over show listings and band itineraries), tongue in cheek mock-umentary, their tales of debauchery obviously exaggerated for would-be comic effect, and their propensity for relying on cover songs betrayed by the set lists shown. But the DVD also includes the only live set filmed back in the 70s (a pretty ridiculous romp at an outdoor fest), plus reunion shows that are pretty solid, and most importantly in this band's defense, the song "Jooky MaGoo" is just as good as the title. It's a lucky thing they came to Chicago, as their Cleveland-recorded 1977 single is pretty by-the-numbers bar rock (in the documentary one guy mistakenly thinks a reviewer was favorably comparing one of it's tracks to a KISS song, when the reviewer probably meant it was a direct ripoff of that song), but the Chicago recordings are pretty good lowbrow, funny Dictators-style obnoxious punk. They eventually renamed themselves something after relocating to Chicago, and if they had only waitied until after Blues Brothers came out they could have called themselves Orange Whip, in which case Chi-town punks would be sure to remember them today.
Posted by Roctober Productions at 8:19 AM
Sunday, January 17, 2010
I suppose I could praise this vegetarian cookbook for its narrative magic (the recipes bundled together between stories and adventures that despite their globetrotting mystical nature seem to provide encouragement and hope that even squatters, couch surfers, and touring band members might be able to find amazing ingredients and potions to work with) or for its excellent illustrations (which switch back and forth from New Yorker-esque spot illos to goofy adventures of anthropomorphic fruits, grains, and vegetables). But quite simply and succinctly, I will end this by saying that this is the first vegetarian cookbook I've ever seen where everything looks like it will actually taste good. Ploeg never limits himself to trying to simulate boring meat dishes with deceptive glutens and gourds, and also doesn't limit himself to standard hippie fare -- elaborate desserts, cocktails and beverages abound. These all seem like flavorful, novel, wonderful treats, and when I finally complete my 60-day Little Debbie's-only diet, I pledge to give this book a workout.
Posted by Roctober Productions at 8:05 AM
Adams' newer rhythm and blues quartet continues to establish itself as the kind of perfectly imperfect joyful noise making machine that T.A. has been tinkering with for the last hundred or so years. It is rare for someone as jaded and over-rocked as I to want to spin a disc over and over, but putting this one on repeat really makes me feel happy and goofy, which are more than simply my two favorite Disney character Special Olympians. Of particular interest to Roctober magazine readers is a nod to our mascot character Punk'nhead. Of course, Adams is musically harrassing and threatening our beloved gourd-domed teen, but coupled with the amazing compilation of Chris Ligon's greatest hits that Clang released last year, which featured Ligon and his lil' brother Scott (a proud TAR&RQ member) tipping their collective hat to Roctober's Alfred E. for the zine set, as far as we're concerned this is the all Punk'nhead all the time label. Speaking of the elder Ligon, some of his obtuse sensibilities seemd to have rubbed off on the already oddly-swewed Adams, as his soon-to-be-smash song "Imaginary Radio" (where Sun Ra is #1, the Beatles make new songs, and program directors are decent human beings) is profoundly Ligon-esque. And speaking of imaginary radio, the disc ends with an excellent cover of Johnny Cash's "Get Rhythm," and on my imaginary radio station that tune is always followed up by James Brown's "Down and Out in New York City" in a segment I call "Rock & Roll Debate Club," with today's debate topic being "Resolved: Professional shoeshining provides positive and happy experiences for the worker."
Posted by Roctober Productions at 7:44 AM
Ben's long running daily diary comics, which in three panels usually recount going to work, band practice, and getting fucked up (plus a soundtrack song noted in the margin) are ultimately incredibly mundane, monotonous, and unchallenging. But they are also pretty fucking true. Though he leads a fairly satisfying life (which alows him to not make tortured genius comics or commit suicide) he is seriously providing the kind of info here that could be either a user's manual or a Scared Straight intervention for anyone considering becoming a rock 'n' roll lifer. In both of these volumes Ben's pen teases towards some visual shake-ups (historically he has only gone balls out weird during his horror movie/Zap comix wasted sequences, now he's exploring that weirdo linework more often) and it definitely keeps things more off balance and intersting. But in 2008 when he sort of starts to settle down with his gal, dog, and life you really start to sense there could be some big changes coming. Of course when getting a dog is your book's equivalent to Maus' concentration camp internment or Superman's Krypton explosion you know you are dealing with a pretty low key comic.
Posted by Roctober Productions at 1:01 AM
Though at first I failed to see the correlation between sometimes charming/sometimes dreary bedroom-recorded indie rock and Mr. Aykroyd, I ultimately realized that as a genre/school of songmaking it is actually quite Aykroydian. Though my gut reaction to this kind of music and to the hefty Canadian would-be funnyman veers somewhat negative, neither that songstyle nor that film actor are a stone cold dealbreaker (like smooth jazz or Nathan Lane). If Aykroyd is complimenting a Bill Murray or a John Belushi, or to a far lesser extent, a T.K. Carter/Devo combination (as in Dr. Detroit) he's fine, even pleasant, and when charming/dreary bedroom indie rock is coupled with, say, strange lyrical sensibilities or actually funniness or a haunting voice then it can be as enjoyable as the "Johnny Bag of Glass" playkit. The prime Bill Murrays in this compilation's equation, making this entire oddball cassette project worthwhile, is a true dedication to theme. A semi-earnest fantasy rap about Aykroyd worship (complete with Elwood tattoo), a goofy cover of the Spies Like Us theme, a slice of pure uncut indie using ghostbusting as a metaphor for "ghosts of your past," and other songs with some deep Aykrodia, add up to a more satisfying dish than dry white toast served up by Aretha and Matt Murphy. Though I recommend the cassette format I believe one can download these songs at www.summerstepsrecords.com
Posted by Roctober Productions at 12:31 AM
Saturday, January 16, 2010
AND NOW FOR SOMETHING ALMOST COMPLETELY DIFFERENT !! GUEST REVIEW by Gary Pig Gold) No less an authority on such subjects as the late, very great George Harrison once proclaimed they picked straight up from where The Beatles left off. However, that’s but one reason I write today on something not always thought of as rock, or even roll.
That something in question, comprising of five uppity Oxford and Cambridge drop-outs who, alongside one itinerate American cartoonist, somehow joined forces in 1969 London to produce forty-five British (plus two German) half-hour television shows, five full-length motion pictures, three theatrical musicals, five (authorized) books, seventeen original (and one unreleased) audio albums and six video games (and counting), now tell The Whole Story – including, yes, even some of the “naughty bits” – in their (even the dead one’s) very own words throughout Monty Python: Almost The Truth (The Lawyer’s Cut), Eagle Rock Entertainment’s one and only three-DVD and/or two-BluRay disc video box set containing six hour-long episodes plus an additional one hundred and eighty minutes of bonus material.
Strictly numerically speaking, that is.
Yes, from their wickedly risqué yet far-from-humble beginnings upon Britain’s college Comedy Revue circuit through their infiltration of the U.K. television industry via children’s shows and the weekly David Frost Report, John Cleese, Eric Idle, Terry Jones, Michael Palin, Terry Gilliam (the American) and Graham Chapman (the dead one) were somehow finally offered thirteen half-hours to fill themselves for none other than BBC Television. And so it came to pass during the evening of October the Fifth, 1969 that Monty Python’s Flying Circus Episode 1, Whither Canada?, suddenly appeared on British tele-screens with a surreal socio-musical sketch entitled “It’s Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.” Over the next three months, despite an infuriating variety of unpublicized, ever-changing timeslots, the show slowly-but-extremely-surely built a loyal audience of viewers captivated by its weekly parade of flying sheep, musical mice, crunchy frogs, naked ants, lumberjacks, murderous octogenarians, men with tape recorders up each other’s noses and, how could we forget, dead parrots.
Try as the once-staid BBC did to conceal this bizarre new program from its viewers, the Flying Circus carried onwards and upwards for an additional four years before spawning a full-length motion picture entitled Monty Python and the Holy Grail, financed by such Python fan(atic)s as Pink Floyd, Jethro Tull and Led Zeppelin. By now, the original British television episodes were popping up on American PBS-TV stations as well, and even Elvis Presley could soon be heard leading his hitherto all-American Memphis Mafia in late-night recitations of “The All-England Summarize Proust Competition” and even the Knights who say “Ni!”
Naturally, this lead to the Pythons’ own (anti-) Biblical epic The Life Of Brian being released, to much publicity-scooping furor worldwide, in 1979 – this time financed in full by the aforementioned ex-Beatle George mortgaging his castle and forming his own Handmade Films concern (all because he “just wanted to see the film” after original backers EMI pulled out at the proverbial last minute) (claiming the Pythons were, and I quote, trying to “crucify” their corporate body). Four years later came my own personal favorite Python project The Meaning of Life before Messrs. Cleese, Palin, Jones, Idle, Gilliam and even Chapman decided to at last call it a day.
Until, that is, they set about launching a staggering series of century- and globe-spanning multiple-media re-launches, repackages, revivals and reunions that can only be matched by their frequently Farewell Tour-ing countrymen The Who.
Which brings us today to their latest, but I just must admit by far greatest grab at the penultimate [sic!] Python megabucks, Almost The Truth.
Meticulously programmed and packaged, filled with fact ‘n’ fun-filled interviews featuring even the mysterious “Seventh Python,” and of course stuffed with literal hours of clips, this is honestly (“almost”) the closest we’ve yet come to understanding the histories, inspirations, motivations and machinations behind everything from The Fish Slapping Dance on down. And its near seven-and-three-quarter total hours (!) on, and by, the group which truly has yet to be equaled as – you were right, George – the Beatles of comedy undoubtedly add up to what must surely be the final, final words on this most silly of subjects.
…..Until the NEXT posthumously Python-produced television, motion picture, musical, book, album and/or video game self-retrospective arises, that is…
Posted by Roctober Productions at 7:51 AM
Saturday, January 9, 2010
See, the problem I have with trying to write about anything relating to the World Music realm is that I just don't know shit about Middle Eastern music, Balkan beats, or Eastern Euro shenanigans.So if I express any opinion I just come off as a dumbfuck ass talking out his butthole. So here goes. These groovy pieces strike me as the World/Arabic/Ethnic Euro equivalent of detective show jazz, with jaunty, satisfying compositions so dramatic and evocative they seem pretty narrative despite being instrumental. You also have to admire the intercontinental flavor here, combining the traditional music of at least three continents (if you consider jazz America's folk music). I also like to say the word oud.
Posted by Roctober Productions at 12:41 AM
This guy made me forget about Dylan. Literally. Who was the other guy we were talking about? Post modern folk music that comes in two flavors: "Fix" is for grownups and it drops the word "fuck" a lot and slyly tosses about big awkward words. The other CD is for kids and it name drops lots of toys and cartoon characters. So if you hear any lyrics about He-Man fucking ambiguously then it's probably a cross-CD remix.
Posted by Roctober Productions at 12:18 AM
Friday, January 8, 2010
If you don't understand the magnitude and awesomeness of a Saints reunion then I'm sorry, I don't have the energy to explain it to you. This is a band that in theory I would have spent/found/stolen 4 grand to fly Down Under to see any one of their handful of recent reunion sets. The first of them is captured on this disc, and the Saints sounds crazy awesome on it, making it clear they are truly one of the all time greatest punk bands, a tribute to to Australia's low class criminal/troublemaker heritage. And Chris Bailey's singing is solid...but why is he crooning in a kind of lounge singer version of his Saints voice? Andrew Stafford, in the liner notes, refers to this saying, "If the years have smoothed away some of Chris Bailey's insolent sneer, he has gained in soul." I guess. Is that why he's striking a Bobby Darin pose in his suit on the CD booklet back cover, because of "soul?" Well, regardless, this is still great, but until someone stuffs a joey down Bailey's throat and gets it agitated again, I might just pay rent and food this year, as I reluctantly decided to do in lieu of seeing their "(I'm) Stranded" full album show recently. This CD is fantastic but it makes me feel better about my decision.
Posted by Roctober Productions at 4:41 AM
So the deal here is that the conceptualist behind Final Flesh found a porn production company in St. Louis that for a fee will have its stars play out your darkest sexual fantasies on camera. So our creator, Vernon Chatman, crafted an apocalyptic absurdist script, with as much humiliation of actors (pulling eggs from their pudenda, toilet sitting, and painfully nonsensical stilted dialogue) as any semi-amateur porno, but no full-on sex. Well, kind of no sex. A body-builder tricked into dressing as a baby tries to re-enter a woman's womb, so you do get some very un-erotic head to vagina action. But womb-returning aside, basically, unlike its prankish predecessor,John Trubee's legendary "Blind Man's Penis" song-poem (where Trubee submitted an awful, offensive song about Stevie Wonder's dick to a service that scams aspiring songwriters by recording their songs "professionally" for a fee), this project would not be censored to become semi-reasonable. Instead, this project will involve the hired-hack porn auteurs reverse-censoring themselves: reigning in their hardcore instincts to make the film as sex-free as the client insists. I'm a little torn here. I can certainly see that a white prankster emasculating a desperate-for-money black man by dressing him as a baby and making him crawl around for our amusement recalls the worst aspects of 19th Century black minstrelsy. But on second thought, I bet that dude was glad to not have to do the vile shit he usually gets paid for. And at least the woman he tried to re-wombinate was clean (from washing herself in the tears of corrupt politicians and angel blood). And it's also notable that perhaps the humiliated dude deserved it, because after he mispronounces "fascist" his co-star puts a little emphasis on it as she pronounces it correctly, as if to say,"Fuck you, you dumbass musclehead!" So, in conclusion...a blind man's penis is erect because he is blind.
Posted by Roctober Productions at 4:03 AM
One is not supposed to describe something that rocks this apeshit crazy badass fuck all hard as this single with mere words so I offer instead this image: My head exploding, my brain falling out, a slow zoom closeup, and eventually revealed is my brain matte, transmogrified into broken guitar pedals, shattered beer bottles, dandruff, and drum stick splinters.
Posted by Roctober Productions at 3:50 AM
Considering that all split 7" records are actually battles of the bands I am proud to let the Stars and Bars fly proud, for though France's 12XU had some fine moments (and great bottom-heavy drumming) their post-punk indie vibe is already dated, despite their excellent French cries of something or another. However, the OGs pummel the pommes-frites eaters with brutal howls and punishing punk that is as timeless as it is tough.
Posted by Roctober Productions at 3:38 AM
In the recent "Best of" Vice magazine book the editor was asked if there was anything published in the mag that he was embarrassed about, and he said he wished Vice hadn't backed Electroclash so hard. While on the one hand what the hell are you editing Vice for if you'll admit to having shame about anything. But on the other hand, c'mon, man, there's certainly no shame in that particular game. If a day ever comes that good humored electronic robot sex music is a bad thing, than that is the day you'll have to peel this hot CD from my cold dead hand. On the third other hand,despite her awesomeness, Jen does lose me about halfway through. This seems to be music for a 12" format rather than a ten track album. Still, I will never forsake or denigrate my robo-dominitrix overladies!
Posted by Roctober Productions at 3:21 AM
Posted by Roctober Productions at 3:07 AM
Posted by Roctober Productions at 2:53 AM
Spare pop confections as comfortable as Mr, Rogers' cardigan. Sweeter than aspertame, this music sounds like Brian Wilson in a Teletubby suit. Which I think his doctor made him wear for a while. (Brian's doctor, not Scott's)
Posted by Roctober Productions at 2:42 AM
If you can come up with a better goddamn name for a band than this then you are Einstein times a zillion. I hope they have a good lawyer, because when Coldplay and Queen Latifah and Bachman Turner Overdrive and the Boston Symphony Orchestra see this CD they are going to try to steal the name. But they could never steal this sound: jittery surf music that any actual surfer would break three ankles trying to surf to. If the Munsters huffed paint in their garage this is the garage rock they would make in it.
Posted by Roctober Productions at 2:31 AM
Finally and album for someone who wants to be Goth but doesn't want to listen to terrible music. Now you can be joyously gloomy while experiencing instruments and voices being used brilliantly. Brilliantly darkly, of course.!
Posted by Roctober Productions at 2:18 AM
Posted by Roctober Productions at 2:15 AM
Personally I would rather listen to an OCD eight-year old with a bad memory play the handheld electronic game Simon. At top volume. For hours. But that's just me...I have terrible taste in music and I think Americana is an cannery in Philly.
Posted by Roctober Productions at 1:57 AM
I normally don't dig talk-singing, but if it the grooves are creepy and ominous enough you can talk-sing all you like! This hellacious haunted house soundtrack is the kind of funky that will give you an infection somewhere private, and you'll be glad you got a souvenir.
Posted by Roctober Productions at 1:49 AM
Sometimes you just have to say, 'fuck it, let's just make the songs actually be about hockey.' Oddly, much of this album (made up of thematically-related archival recordings) is less brutal sounding than some of the angrier fruits of Joey's recent voluminous output (perhaps they Zamboni-ed out the hardcore gashes). But, shit, are you thinking you don't want a CD where DOA cover Stompin' Tom, Freddie Blassie, and BTO? You don't want an all-anthem CD where they have a hockey overtime metaphor love song? You don't want a CD that namechecks John Belushi and Trotsky? Then something in you just don't add up. So you're perfect for a sport that consists of only three quarters.
Posted by Roctober Productions at 1:30 AM
Posted by Roctober Productions at 1:25 AM
Delicious-er than donuts! This record makes me feel like a fraud trying to review records because I can't stop listening to it, I genuinely love it, and for the goddamndest life of me I can't begin to describe it. It is definitely intense, and as a drum and bass and weird singing-only punk record it's its own thing, but that doesn't begin to tell you why this is good. It's heavy but not burdensome, dark but kind of joyful, weird but really catchy. I guess historically I have really been impressed with a lot of dude/lady two piece bands, but I actually couldn't tell what this configuration was the first 80 times I listened to it. Basically, I'll have what they're eating. On the street.
Posted by Roctober Productions at 1:05 AM
I assume this is the same show as the DVD Munster released a little while back, and while that was good I can understand why they released this as a CD because this blazing glorious shitstorm of a set sounds so much more intense and powerful without the video camera stealing a little of the soul. This sounds like they are playing inside a cement mixer...and you're in the cement!
Posted by Roctober Productions at 12:54 AM
Posted by Roctober Productions at 12:40 AM
If they were from Sweden and not Norway they could have called this record "Swedishest Candy." Maybe they could have called this greatest "hits" record "Norway-Out!" Now normally the last thing I want to hear in 2010 is 90s style pop punk, but I kind of always liked the Yum Yums, even in the 90s (when I really was irked by bands that decided to imitate Screeching Weasel imitating the Ramones, instead of just imitating the Ramones -- or for that matter the Rivieras or Trashmen). Occasionally they would get a little syrupy and inconsequential, but usually because they were able to get such happy tones from their guitars, and the singer would sing in such a nerdy American white guy accent, I was convinced they were sincerely making peppy music from the heart. This collection has a few duds but mostly it's pretty joyful. And they do imitate the Trashmen!
Posted by Roctober Productions at 12:22 AM
Combine awesome power pop with cute dudes in ties that are skinny, but not too skinny, and get them singing with positively no nasal whine and obviously these Turtles are heading straight for the top. But, boys, don't forget what happened to Yertle when he got on top!
Posted by Roctober Productions at 12:09 AM
Thursday, January 7, 2010
I definitely dug this band when they were getting down around the turn of the last century, with their jaunty, punked up take on early 90s indie pop, and a kind of edgy bubblegum vibe. This posthumous release of some excellent unreleased material seems to be predicated on the, "shit, we can release this on itunes, what the hell," model, which is awesome because even though a defunct, non-touring band that was only moderately successful has no chance to sell a bunch of CDs, it would be a damn shame if these gems (one of which may be,unbeknownst to you, your favorite song ever) never saw the digital light of day. So tap this.
Posted by Roctober Productions at 11:57 PM
Steamed my ears like chopped broccoli and cauliflower. And they seem to either love or hate cows. And I couldn't agree more.
Posted by Roctober Productions at 11:52 PM
These little comic books by Michael Goetz (available for 2 stamps from 1349 Brandywine Dr. Rockford, IL 61108) are pun-ishingly p(f)unny! He puts out a bunch of them a year it seems, so just send him a book of stamps and start doing funnybone flexibility exercises.
Posted by Roctober Productions at 11:37 PM
Wednesday, January 6, 2010
(Guest Review by Madeline Bocaro) I’ve read every book about the New York Dolls so far. They are all wonderfully exciting, due to the colourful subject matter, but this one is special because it is written by an actual talking doll – Arthur “Killer” Kane!
There is a foreword and a long epilogue by his wife Barbara, so I was suspicious that the book might have been ghost-written, or severely edited…but it most certainly sounds like Arthur, and his spaced-out, sarcastic, kitschy sense of humour is written all over it! His posthumous memoir (written between 1986 and 2003) spans 16 months from the earliest formation of the Dolls in late 1971 to their original drummer Billy Murcia’s death in November 1972.
The publisher’s note at the beginning bears disclaimers, due to Arthur’s ‘faulty recollection’ and there are cited notations at the end. However, Arthur’s recollection is far from faulty, as he describes in detail all the wonderful/terrible adventures of his tight-knit band of bumbling superheroes. Although Arthur is sometimes bitter when speaking of ‘our singer’ David Johansen, and spews venom regarding the Dolls’ management team and entrapping contract (he refers to Steve Leber as ‘Slave Labor’), most of the book is full of loving memories and wild escapades. The writing is incredible; witty, imaginative and creative. Arthur was a man of few words, but when he spoke, it was always profound!
The book is just as much a fashion statement as a musician’s memoir. It begins with Arthur eyeing the outrageous futuristic 1970s fashions at the Central Park fountain on Sundays, when all the freaks would proudly display all their finery. He recalls whatever outrageous ensemble he was wearing in every situation in great detail, mentioning every sequin, feather, platform shoes/boots and even the cosmetics. He chuckles at the ensuing sneers and comments by regular folk (on his zebra coat, “Gee the things you see when you don’t have your rifle with you!”). He clarifies that it was not actually drag – the Dolls wore girls’ clothing AND boys’ clothing simultaneously!
What attracted him to approach Johnny Thunders who was ‘oozing charisma’ were his ‘Raggedy Andy from outer space’ threads – things that Arthur was unable to find in his endless scouring of thrift shops. J.T. (whom he’d frequently seen around town - always dressed outrageously) was a bass player at the time. Arthur proposed a jam with himself on guitar. Johnny agreed. But when Arthur arrived, J.T. was jamming alone on guitar, emitting some electric ‘garage barrage’ sounds with his ‘singing sword’ like none ever heard before. It was Arthur’s great appreciation and reverence of Johnny’s unique sound that caused him to immediately defer to Johnny as the star, so Arthur switched to bass. He is positive that this swap was a blessed and most divine event. Arthur calls his buddy J.T. ‘a real-life Buckaroo Bonzai’ (sp.), a rock-and-roll brain surgeon’. He explains that Johnny’s famous golden singing guitar tone came from his discovery that plugging old Gibson guitars into modern high-volume Marshall and Ampeg amplifiers made them come alive.
Johnny silently repaid Arthur for this ‘promotion’ by giving him a prized ‘Wild Wild West’ cowboy suit circa 1880s. Arthur goes into great detail about how he accessorized his new prized outfit. ‘Woah partner!’ When Arthur saw a bunch of Johnny clones standing outside the Whisky A Go-Go decades later, he realized that these guys had taken over the world!
He speaks of meeting the latest British bands (along with Joplin and Hendrix) at Nobody’s club in New York, and seeing DJ Murray the K’s rock n’ roll shows in Brooklyn – up to 20 bands in one day.
The early Dolls rehearsed in a bicycle shop basement. The owner locked them inside for the duration, so they would not steal the equipment. One night, the door was ajar, and they escaped – with the equipment – up the road to the Hotel Endicott where they found a Christmas party in need of a band. They promptly obliged. This was their first ‘gig’.
Then named Actress, the band was singer Rick Rivets, John Genzale (soon to be Thunders), Billy Murcia and Arthur Kane. Arthur was convinced that these four 20-year old guys who grew up on flying saucers and rock n’ roll ‘embodied a physically tangible musical talent pool worth 80 to100 years of musical knowledge’.
For their first gig as the actual New York Dolls (now with Sylvain & Johansen), Arthur decided on his fashion statement for the evening: no pants (tights only)! This would accentuate his long legs. ‘It was also a first, for all bass players everywhere who came after me (especially women) to feel free to step out of that non-descript obese anchorman /journeyman stage prison.’ He goes on (again) to describe his outfit and makeup in great detail, ‘economical, lightweight and disposable – as well as sexy, funny and comfortable.’
One would think it was utter chaos, but the band would hold meetings prior to each gig, coordinating the outfits from their community wardrobe, and focusing on presentation. “Nobody else would dare to walk around in those days looking like us but us. It was too dangerous to your physical health.” However, if it were not for the hospitality of Max’s Kansas City owner Micky Ruskin, the Dolls would have died of malnutrition.
Arthur sums up the Dolls’ ethics succinctly and eloquently many times in the book, first as ‘frustrated swashbucklers’. “A professional musical extension of The Three Musketeers’ ‘all-for-one-and-one-for-all teenage gang mentality.” / “The Dolls were from the future history of our planet, visiting on a mission of goodwill and cheer.”/ “We prided ourselves on being able to sound like a New York subway car careening off-track, or an out-of-control jumbo jet ready to crash.”/ “The Dolls were chaos agents by choice.”
He describes their first show at the Mercer Arts Center, which led to a 17-week Tuesday night residency there. “The New York Dolls became a band of the people that evening. We were all very accessible real human beings that you could talk to (and/or flit with), not golden idols living in cellophane display cases.” The crowds they attracted included Andy Warhol and his superstars, and their ‘favorite hero from Mars’ David Bowie came to meet the Dolls after a gig, at their favourite seedy watering hole on Canal Street, after his own infamous Carnegie Hall show.
The name Killer Kane came from a positive review, stating that he played killer bass lines. Johnny Thunders proudly put his own new surname on his apartment doorbell. Sylvain Sylvain was a pun on Sirhan Sirhan.
Just after their 17-weeks at the Mercer, the Dolls were offered a tour of the UK. Instead of rehearsing, they fiendishly scoured the thrift shops every day in search of new outfits for their journey. Their UK experiences were not as exciting as expected. They felt sabotaged, ignored by their managers, and were shocked to be performing at the huge Wembley Pool opening for The Faces. There was no time allowed for rehearsal, so they tried on each other’s clothes instead, planning to look more outrageous to compensate. The performance was one of their many UK disasters, leading to the death of their beloved drummer Billy.
Arthur recounts some ridiculous escapades, conjuring up superhero and sci-fi/horror movie imagery. While his friends are all out partying at Max’s one night, in his ‘absynthe-mindedness’, Arthur locks himself out of the Dolls’ illegal loft dwelling tripping on acid. What was ‘a retard in a leotard’ to do? He imagines himself as Cornel Wilde in The Naked Prey, desperately tries to will the keys into his hands by ESP, or “Maybe I could be saved by some unemployed malevolent outer space plants (like in Night of the Triffids).’
Arthur gets to shake hands with Liberace at a posh London party, ‘akin to meeting a celestial godfather Buddha from a parallel dimension.’ He passes out drunk in a closet, missing Liberace’s actual live performance at the party. Writing in retrospect, he gets to say things like, “As a future alcoholic, I was truly impressed.”
Arthur Killer Kane, who hoped and prayed all his life for a Dolls reunion, finally got his wish in 2004 at Morrissey’s UK Meltdown festival. He died 2 weeks after the gig, in July 2004 at age 55. His story is fully documented in the wonderful film, New York Doll – highly recommended! Sylvain summed it up when he said, “We should have called Arthur ‘Sugar Kane’ instead, because he was so sweet.”
Posted by Roctober Productions at 12:44 PM
Saturday, January 2, 2010
Ostensibly these Austin oddballs are a children's music band, and on their first record I kind of can concede that, but on this hypnotic offering the children they seem to be entertaining are the tiny baby oompa loompas that live inside their heads and tell them what to do. A Lord of the Rings-scope epic about a old man puppet, a King, a blue footed boobie, and a coffin is beautifully bizarre but pretty death-centric for the Yo Gabba Gabba-set. The unsettling title track about a feral Panda Boy trying to make his way in the world is heartbreaking. And I'm pretty sure there's three different songs about babies, one in which parents take the wrong kid home from the hospital, one in which a homeless man finds an abandoned baby, and one in which I'm pretty sure a baby is either killed or something near to it when it is left in a hot car then ends up in a refrigerator. Not to say kids don't love this stuff (obviously dead babies are cool., and who doesn't wish their cooler real parents hadn't got mixed up at the hospital and took these losers' kid, and who doesn't want a homeless dad?) but i just don't think nervous mommies will approve. That said, you have to admire them keeping Austin weird by damaging its youngest. And more importantly, this album funtionally will make any adult recall how bizarre the world felt when you were seeing itn from an adult's knee-level perspective and didn't understand all the words. And Shel Silverstein would certainly approve of "booblegum."
Posted by Roctober Productions at 6:52 AM
Apparently this is the thickest issue yet of this telephone book-thick zine, so unlike other magazines that may be "the bible of punk" or the "bible of whatever Tape Op is the bible of," this is actually longer than the New Testament. While this remarkable chronicle of unjustly obscure archival garage, beat, rock 'n' roll, punk, R&B sounds does its usual trick (presenting lengthy fascinating fully illustrated career overviews/interviews with remarkable bands you've never heard of and will probably never hear but still can't put their story down) this issue is a special treat for zine-aholics like myself. An article about the amazing Imperial Dogs, zinester Don Waller's ridiculous proto punk band that somehow got an anarchic concert videotaped (!) in 1974, augmented by a sidebar about his work on Back Door Man zine; a killer anecdote-ish article by zine legend Phil Milstein about his misadventures trying to transition from Velvet Underground fanzine CEO to Nico bootlegger; a collection of one sentence insult reviews from Greg Provost's 1970s zine Future ("CHARLIE DANIELS - Midnight Wind - Go blow, Fatso.");plus some reverence for the late, great Bomp. In addition you get the best Sky Saxon obits you'll read, a review section that will make you wish you have a zillion dollars to buy everything, the Australian epic of The Masters Apprentices, and so much more.
Posted by Roctober Productions at 6:23 AM
Friday, January 1, 2010
To any American pre-Hot Topic punk rock purveyor Maximumrocknroll will always be the "punk bible" and the fact is you can 't have a new Bible. But that's not to say that Quran or the Book of Mormon don't often have better writing, cooler readers, and more rad scene reports than the Holy Torah. I really dig the whimsy of Razorcake columnists like Rev.Norb, Nardwuar (who meets Nas this issue) and the confounding Rhythm Chicken, and this issue also has a pretty nice "oral history"-style investigaton in to the death of Mordam distro and the disaster of the Lumberjack distribution would be-empire. And as a bonus the psycho interview with Nobunny is basically 6 pages of promo for Roctober and Chic-A-Go-Go and he gives us "mad props."
Posted by Roctober Productions at 7:54 AM
This is a solid debut novel from Roctober 80s metal columnist Cavanaugh (Full Disclosure: I neither read the magazine I'm published in nor care about any of my colleagues). Early on the gimmick of the book (the diary-style entries take the form of letters to the incarcerated Ted Kaczynski) seems to be a thin excuse to turn blog-style ruminations about school and relationships and boredom into something that feels more relevant. But as the book unfolds it becomes clear that though he's not about to murder anyone, and more strikingly, despite the fact that he would seem to an outsider to be a perfectly regular dude, with good grades and girlfriends, our protagonist could not be more sympathetic to the Unabomber's antisocialism. In contrast to Kaczynski's career as a Harvard whiz kid and an anti-technology crusader, our hero is a glorified night school slacker and a online addict. But the empty conversations with his dysfunctional Match.com mates and the insipid instant message and e-mail chatter he engages in seem to be as functionally maddening as the voices in any serial killer's head. However, their messages are more numbing than motivating, and rather than bomb and scheme, our hero seems pretty content to watch crime shows, surf the net, and thumb through used books that he fantasizes once belonged to his luddite manifesto-crafting hero. Cavanuagh proves himself a pretty good writer, because if this guide to skating through college and these bad date post-mortems aren't 99% autobiographical than he has an excellent ear for the ways of the world, and if they are true tales than he knows how to put life to paper (or pixel, I suppose). On the other hand, I would not have minded a more formal approach to the same material, with a grander, more dramatically functional structure where every passage built towards some future action rather than just cumulatively building up into as a non-manifesto manifesto. That said, there is a fine scene at the conclusion that deftly makes it clear that our man will never let himself snugly fit inside society's box. And on the third hand (if you are a monkey, that would be a foot), there's plenty of awesome Unabomber trivia (much culled from thesmokinggun.com).
Posted by Roctober Productions at 7:15 AM