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Thursday, August 28, 2008
YOUNGER POINT OF VIEW
Available on : We're Desperate: The L.A. Scene (1976-1979)
Rhino : 1993
TEENAGE PRESIDENT TALKING BLUES
This story starts with two beautiful women. I knew neither of them. I know neither of them. It was on the subway. One was black, tall, and to my left. One was short, white, and to my right. Both were around twenty. It made for a nice balance, which isn't to say symmetry. I am old and married but still I ogled for a minute: nature's way. Then I got on with noticing other things, including that both were reading books, one of which was The Secret History and the other of which was The Man Who Mistook His Wife For a Hat.
Despite the beauty, despite the youth, despite it all, I wasn't ogling anymore. I was rereading, or at least remembering reading. The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat came out in 1985, when I was in high school. The Secret History came out in 1992, after I was out of college. I can't prove this, but I think that I read more books during those seven years than in any other seven-year period in my life. This doesn't mean that I read with any goal in mind other than the reading itself, or that I retained very much of what I read, or that I was able to connect the books I read to specific emotions or events in my life. It just means that I went through a book a day, sometimes two, friction burns on the pads of my thumbs. I read like it was going out of style, which it was: I couldn't have known it at the time, but a few years after that my pace slowed. It's only gotten worse, unless it's better: I can still rip through a new novel on the subway ride home, but I don't consider it reading. I consider it watching TV on the page. Reading now takes time. It requires losing the thread and then picking it up again. It requires ambition, thwarted and then (hopefully) achieved. Now, a book goes into me over a half-week of stolen hours.
I'm off track. The subway stayed on track. The beautiful girls stayed on the subway. My thoughts stayed on the beautiful girls. I ogled for another minute -- nature's way -- and then I started thinking more about the books they were reading. The second phase of my thinking was significantly more superficial than the first. It went something like this: "Suckers!" And then: "Sucker!" again, but this time directed to myself. I had read both of those books, long ago. Been there, done that. I felt a half-second of superiority and then a much longer period of something else, maybe the opposite. The careful case I had built for setting aside greedy, promiscuous reading for a more carefully curated selection dissolved, and what was left was the sense that youth had passed, all at once. It was wrong to be ogling twenty-year-olds and it was sad that they were discovering books that were long since dead to me and while it was probably true that a sixty-year-old woman was looking at me and thinking the same thing, that was no consolation. Time passes. It passes you. There is no way to remove the venom from this truism. This is the case with music even more powerfully than with books. The years of discovery end with a thud and we become conservationists, at least most of us. The Dogs, who came out of Lansing, Michigan when the Stooges were tearing up Detroit and spent the seventies moving between punk-pop and pop-punk, explained this so perfectly that all I have to do is quote them, which is to say remember them, because I heard them first when I was young, and you don't forget those things:
I seen Chicago on the TV yesterdayThe subway stayed on track. One of the girls put away her book and took out a newspaper. Bill Clinton was on the cover, along with Barack Obama's name. Time passes. It passes you. This is the case with politics as powerfully as with music or books. The Dogs understood that, too: they were as political a pop-punk band as you were likely to find, picking up the thread not only from the Stooges but from the MC5. We have years of intense receptivity and then years of trying to make sense of what we received. I saw a documentary on Helen Thomas the other night. What struck me as startling was the way that she became more liberal, more convinced of the importance of taking a strong stance against the evasions of the powerful, as she got older. This isn't the usual way. Usually progress through the world contextualizes passions, fits them in alongside realities, removes sharp edges. Bill Clinton looked old on the cover of the paper. Obama looks so young. The girls on the subway looked so young. Does Obama matter more to them than he does to me? Is that failing in them or in me? Is it a failing at all?
I didn't make Woodstock
Seen all the children of love fade away
With a younger point of view
What did you used to say
What did you used to do?
With that teenage attitude?
Kim Fowley is older than you think, if you think of him at all. He'll be seventy next year, which means that he was fifty-five when he released Hotel Insomnia, which means that he was somewhat younger when he wrote "Teenage President Talking Blues." The title of the album is probably stolen from a book by the poet Charles Simic. Fowley, of course, is a known cultural provocateur and svengali, an inappropriate appropriator responsible for, among other things, the novelty hit "Alley Oop" and the novelty band The Runaways. "Teenage President Talking Blues" is odd, like nearly everything Fowley has recorded. It describes a young man's arrival in Hollywood in 1959. It's not autobiographical exactly, I don't think, because Fowley, the son of a Hollywood character actor, was already there; he had worked at American International and Arwin records and was well on his way to novelty-song fame. In the song, the young man comes to Hollywood and promptly sets about making a spectacle of himself:
With silk underwear and platform shoesHe may be spectacular, but he's not a spectacle:
I'm limber like a lady I hang real loose
I dress to kill and am ready to rock
I've got legs like a ladder and hands just like a clock
Nobody's watching, nobody's watching, nobody's watching meI watched the girls on the subway. One of them noticed, met my gaze, dropped her gaze. That's youth, isn't it? Perfect to look at and convinced that no one is looking, needful of attention but also of enough anonymity and freedom to read, listen, see, try, and eventually to grow into something older, something else.
Nobody's watching, nobody's watching, I can be anything I want to be
More people boarded. They interfered with my clean lines of sight. The two girls and their books must have had earlier stops, because by the time I got to midtown they were gone. The one who had been reading the newspaper had left it on the seat. Bill Clinton looked old. I felt young remembering when he looked young. This isn't a satisfying piece about youth and age. This isn't a satisfying piece about books. This isn't a satisfying piece about politics. This isn't a satisfying piece about people. Is it ever possible to bring those things into sharp focus, to fix them, or do they escape as quickly as they're acquired, forcing you to go back to them? I don't know, but I mean to find out. Nature's way.
Labels: ben, punk
posted by Ben
Monday, August 18, 2008
I'M A ROCKET
Delicious Vinyl : 1991
ROCKET TO NOWHERE
Mike Rep and The Quotas
Rocket to Nowhere/Quasar 7"
Moxie : 1978
Out of Print
Rocket From The Tombs
Available on The Day The Earth Met Rocket From The Tombs
Morphius Records : 2002
Red Star : 1977
Space Age Recordings : 2003
SST : 1987
Happy Nightmare Baby
Delicious Vinyl : 1991
Available on Nuclear War
Atavistic Records : 2001
"Rock n roll comes from outer space." I woke up this morning with this refrain, from an unknown scuzzy garage-rock song, cycling through my head and thought...so it does. Doesn't it? Ziggy Stardust, Sun Ra, the Mothership. These are pieces of a familiar iconography, an iconography of a familiar strangeness. Insofar as the history of rock music is parallel to that of teenaged alienation, the trope makes sense. Shy kids put on feathers, platforms, glitter masks. They announce themselves as stars, collapse thermodynamic and nihilistic power into their very band names, perhaps even declare themselves, like Herman Poole Blount aka Sun Ra, extraterrestrial. They exaggerate their awkwardness into an advantage. Except maybe there's another reason, maybe the history of rock music also parallels that of modern hysteria. Tell me those people screaming for, or at, the Beatles at Shea Stadium were doing so on the basis of music alone. (If so, surely Duke Ellington--say--was exciting enough to prompt a similar response, although he didn't.) That particular frequency, that shrillness splitting the stadium air, has always seemed to me a Nuclear Age, a Cold War-era response. Now that the Cold War's ended, maybe, the screaming continues since the menace never really went away. But I was always a space cadet, myself, ridiculed as such when I was a teenager, obsessed with planets from a much younger age. And I might never be a star, in my own field or any other, but I remain attached to the iconography. And to the sound, forever dirty, that goes with it. Listen to the hopeless pulse-n-throb of Suicide, say, or the lunar grind of Opal. Fly me to the moon...
Labels: Matthew, punk, space
posted by Matthew
Wednesday, May 28, 2008
Vee-Jay : 1955
Available on: Bad Boy
Charly : 1993
The Jive Bombers
Savoy : 1956
Available on: Savoy Chart Busters
Savoy Jazz : 2005
The New York Dolls
New York Dolls
Island : 1973
The Zakary Thaks
J-Beck : 1966
Available on: Form The Habit
Sundazed : 2001
The Storey Sisters
Cameo : 1958
[Out of Print]
BAD MAN FORWARD, BAD MAN PULL UP
Available on: The Biggest Ragga Dancehall Anthems 2006
Greensleeves : 2006
My bad. *My bad what?* I've always wanted to ask, since I was on vacation or something when that phrase hit the street. Anyway, I am bad, truly. Alex asked me to post, oh, *ages* ago, and I'm only stepping up to the plate now. I've always been bad with deadlines - *superbad* with deadlines, in fact, as a legion of aggrieved editors will tell you. But that's okay, because we all know that "bad" means "good." I believe that this has been traced back to a specific usage in Yoruba, I think it is. But some of us who grew up encased in the mantle of certain religions I won't name here had intuited the concept even before Shaft and James Brown sent entire roomfuls of Andy Rooneys to sputtering outbursts of distress and confusion and ire a generation ago. And for some of us, it all started with "He's a mean motor scooter and a bad go-getter," which is a line from "Alley Oop" by the Hollywood Argyles (1960) that immediately transcended its context and became common if precious coin in the schoolyard vocabulary. Naturally, there's bad and there's bad. If I say, "I think that milk is bad," will that cause you to drop everything and go guzzle it? I mean, you're welcome to do so, and I'll make sure we have some frosty cold bad milk on hand whenever you drop by. And if you hear it said of someone, "He's a bad man," you're likely to think that he cruelly pokes animals and makes merciless fun of small children. But if the same party should be called a "bad boy" instead, all sorts of romantic notions may possibly come rushing into your head. As for bad girls...at my advanced age I'm ambivalent, having seen one of them absquatulate with priceless family heirlooms, and having forsaken at least one European throne for the hand of another. Believe me, good girls are just as hot. But I digress. We also know that bad art is sometimes so bad it's good - in fact it's better than good art, which risks being so good it's bad. Let's face it, badness accounts for a major portion of the cultural history of the past fifty years. Is it running out of fools, or is it just getting started?
Labels: blues, doo-wop, garage rock, luc, punk, reggae, rockabilly
posted by Luc
Wednesday, June 20, 2007
STRANDED IN THE JUNGLE
Available on: Doo Wop Box, Vol. 3: 101 More Vocal Group Gems from the Golden Age of Rock-N-Roll
Rhino : 2000
STRANDED IN THE JUNGLE
The New York Dolls
Too Much Too Soon
Universal : 1974
STRANDED IN THE JUNGLE (live)
The New York Dolls
From Paris with L-U-V
Sympathy for the Record Industry : 2002
THOSE CONGA DRUMS
Warner Bros. : 1983
Available on : I Am the Upsetter: The Story of Lee "Scratch" Perry: Golden Years
Trojan : 2005
"Stranded in the Jungle," in its original version(s) -- it was written and recorded by the Jay Hawks in 1956 and quickly remade into a hit by the Cadets -- is a novelty single, a piece of comedy, like "Run, Red, Run" or "Alley Oop." Half of it is told by a man who has been captured by cannibals and whose girlfriend is still at home. In the other half, which takes place "back in the States," the romantic rival of the castaway comes on to his girlfriend. Your man's finished, he tells her, so you might as well choose me. The two halves of the song are played in entirely different styles -- the States is slick doo-wop, while the jungle is native-sounding drums, animal noises, and scary booga-booga cannibals. (As many people have pointed out, it's not exactly a Civil Rights anthem, though there's more than a little Fanon: "The zone where the natives live is not complementary to the zone inhabited by the settlers," etc.) It's a song about opposites that can't be reconciled, but it's also a song about reconciling them. Last time I wrote about the Bee Gees's "Gotta Get a Message to You," one of the Scriptural songs about mis- or non-communication. "Stranded in the Jungle" is another one.
I crashed in the jungleThe deeper and hotter the hot water gets, the more preposterous the idea of "getting a message back home" becomes. As long as the man is in the jungle, his girlfriend will hear nothing, and as long as she hears nothing, she's vulnerable to the advances of his rival. So he does what any man would do. He breaks loose from the cannibals, hitches a ride on a whale, makes it home, and reclaims his lover.
While tryin' to keep a date
With my little girl
Who was back in the States
I was stranded in the jungle
Afraid and alone
Tryin' to figure a way
To get a message back home
Baby, baby, your man is no goodIt's a nice story. Who doesn't like a happy ending? It's also a solution to the whole "Gotta Get a Message to You" quandary. The only real message is the one you deliver yourself. If you want someone to talk to you (or love you, or trust you), talk to them. Simple. Imagine if the Bee Gees' song, which has a similarly dire circumstance (melodramatic, not comic, but still), ended this way, with the condemned man hightailing it away from Death Row. And then imagine that Death Row and the jungle are metaphors for romantic separation.
Baby, baby, you should've understood
You can trust me as long as can be
So come back pretty baby where you used to be
'Cause I love you, 'cause I love you
'Cause I love you, 'cause I love you
'Cause I love you
As for the song, the Jay Hawks’ version is hard to find (it's available on an Ace UK import called "The Golden Age of American Rock & Roll, Vol. 5") and fairly tame. The Cadets insta-cover is more assured and funnier. As fine as it is, it's blown clear out of the water by the New York Dolls' version. It might not be David Johansen's best performance. There is, after all, "Frankenstein," and there's "Pills." Oh, and "Bad Detective." But it's up there: the jungle is deeper and darker than the Cadets' jungle, and the States are hellishly bright. And the animal noises sound less like nature and more like the terrifying hoots and howls of uncivilized punks. Which, of course, they are.
I'm including as overgrowth Jonathan Richman's "Those Conga Drums" (which I've always thought of as a half-cover of "Stranded in the Jungle") and the Upsetters' "Jungle Lion" (which is an instrumental cover of Al Green's "Love and Happiness" and also has terrifying animal noises).
Labels: ben, cannibals, doo-wop, punk
posted by Ben
Tuesday, September 06, 2005
SHEET METAL WORKERS
Brighter Than Life
Wharton Tiers Ensemble
Atavistic Records : 1997
NINE TO FIVE
Nine to Five and Odd Jobs
RCA : 1980
originally from No Matter How Long the Line Is at the Cafeteria, There's Always a Seat!
Enigma : 1985
I AM A SCIENTIST
Guided By Voices
Scat Records : 1994
It's a hard time in America, a lot is unknown. But for us lucky ones with dry homes, one thing is as sure as death and taxes this week. Back to school. Back to work. Even if you have nothing to do with school, or even if you've had very little vacation this summer, your job has probably gotten just a bit more or a whole lot more busy and pressured today. If you're like me, getting to sleep last night was hard. Typical Sunday night blues/insomnia times a million.
My most alternately lovely and painful memory of this time is the purple Caldor corduroys and heart-patterned turtleneck outfit I desperately wanted to wear for the first day of school. Even though it was doubtless still eighty degrees in early-September Massachusetts, I wore that shit, sweated it out, loaded down with a new backpack filled with a shiny plastic-covered Velcro-closing notebook (if anyone remembers the brand name, let me know; it's driving me crazy that I can't remember), and new Erasermate pens (what happened to that whole erasable ink idea, anyway?). I hated school, but there was always a little bit of hope each year, that this grade would be better than the last.
Now it's just all about work. Those people I've been exchanging emails with saying "after Labor Day," those phone messages I've been neglecting to return, it'll all come home to roost this week. No more pretending to be in the Hamptons or Croatia. No more free Tuesday evenings (therapy!).
So. Songs about work. Get to it friends, make your country and your parents proud. I counted (and believe me, I included Columbus Day, Veteran's Day, and Thanksgiving): it's only 75 work/school days till Christmas vacation.
P.S. I was looking for a Tuesday work song, googled "tuesday song," came up with this.
Labels: country, holidays, indie, joanna, punk
posted by Joanna