Wednesday, October 20, 2010

RIP Ari Up

R.I.P. Ari Up of the Slits

Arianna Foster, aka Ari Up, frontwoman for pioneering English punk band the Slits, has passed away, according to the website of John Lydon, aka Johnny Rotten of the Sex Pistols and Public Image Ltd., who was also Up's stepfather. According to Lydon's site, Up died "after a serious illness." She was 48 years old.

Oddly, my sister just posted the above drawing I did of Ari Up in 1978 or so...

Monday, October 18, 2010

Punk – The Original - John Holmstrom and crew

This book is a fairly slight (unfortunately) compilation of the irreverent, highly relevant, original punk rock zine, Punk. It contains bits and pieces showing the mag’s various attributes – the comix, the caricatures, the photo stories told in comic format starring the local punk rock heroes, and, of course, plenty of goofy articles about the local scene.

Oddly, though Punk was primarily a New York City oriented rag, a large portion of this compilation is made up of a huge Sex Pistols article, a couple Sid Vicious pieces and a story on the Clash. Because I’m a purist jerk, I would have preferred that they had more of their local stories, but these are interesting insights regardless.

I wish that they had been able to include more in this book – I have a Sniffin’ Glue (the Brit punk zine) comp that has everything they ever wrote in one tome – but this is still a fun look back at what punk rock was originally all about. Needless to say, any rock’n’roller should own this.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Lou Reed - Transformer

This 1972 David Bowie produced album was by far the biggest record of Lou's career due to the improbable hit, "Walk on the Wild Side". Describing (and characterizing to the extreme) Warhol's "Superstars", drag queens and dopers, this was hardly standard fare for Top 40 radio, especially in the 70's. But, somehow Reed did it, with the help of Bowie, a great stand-up bass line and some cool vocals. Of course, this song also did not have the brash, harsh dissonance of the best of the Velvets, either - it almost has a smooth jazz feel!

This album did, however, also have the helping hand of the fantastic guitarist, Mick Ronson, borrowed from Bowie's band and already well-versed in Reed-isms. His unmistakable tone is evident right from the start with the otherwise somewhat innocuous "Vicious" (written per a request from Warhol), making it a r'n'r classic.

Lou has some of his silliest lyrics ever on this record, such as the downright goofy "Andy's Chest", making this a grown-ups' nursery rhyme. But this record also includes one of his prettiest tunes ever, "Perfect Day", which many people will know from the Trainspotting soundtrack. Simultaneously romantic and melancholy, it is nevertheless truly heartfelt and tender.

I believe that Lou's backing band on this record was the Tots, who also backed him on his debut solo record as well as a great radio show that has been released from around this time. "Hanging "Round" features the group and is a nice, upbeat complaint about groupies, scenesters and hangers-on who "keep doing things I gave up years ago".

Seeing as this was the height of the glitter movement and Lou was intimately involved in the drag queen/transgender circuit of NYC - in fact, a long time partner of his was transgendered - he glamourizes this scene with "Make Up". Another truly lovely piano ballad about watching TV (with terrific backing vocals by Bowie) is "Satelitte of Love" - why this, the second single from the album, didn't hit big is a true mystery, as it is beautiful and fantastic.

"Wagon Wheel" is another cool 70's rocker with some random and strange added production effects that benefits from Ronson's guitar playing, though it is more in the background on this tune than on some of the others. The lyrics about "kicking her in the head" are more than a little disturbing, though. Damn catchy, regardless.

Another absurd number is "New York Telephone Conversation", which I assume is based on Warhol's habit of recording everything, including phone conversations. Thankfully, it is short, so it doesn't get annoying. And, it is followed by one of the heaviest rockers, "I'm So Free", a super r'n'r tune with some of Ronson's hottest guitar work on this album, making it the best r'n'r' number of the bunch.

Transformer ends with another attempt at cabaret (the movie of the same name had come out about this time), "Goodnight Ladies", and while I appreciate the sentiment and the concept, it just is not all that entertaining to listen to.

So, an uneven effort, but this is THE Lou Reed record to own and for good reason. His work with the Velvets have never been surpassed and he has done other superb solo work, but this is essential.

American Heartbreak - Postcards from Hell

If you had told me before I heard this record that I would actually like a band made up of ex-members of Jet Boy and Exodus, I would have thought that you were crazy. But these cats have put together a high-energy, pop-infused rock'n'roll band with real songs and fine singing and playing.

The group pulls from many varied influences, from punk to 70's rock to the 80's glam that a couple of them came from to just great r'n'r like the Dictators and the Stones. They are plenty of fun live and pull of the harmonies and ultra fast executions throughout their show.

Good, hard-rockin' pop and worth checking out for those with an open mind, who aren't bothered by a bit of 70's and 80's rock getting into their pop-punk!

The Chesterfield Kings - The Berlin Wall of Sound

This is the Kings in the NY Dolls phase, as is clearly articulated by the cover photo - a tribute to the Dolls first album. The sound could easily pass for the glam band, as well, though the production is actually better than the originals (they even do a take on the Dolls' version of "Pills")!

Singer Greg Prevost was always a great Jagger imitator and what was Johansen trying to do other than copy Mick, so Greg copping David is a no-brainer. Greg does go a little overboard on their "Coke Bottle Blues" - he works so hard to be an old black man (the record is dedicated to Muddy Waters) that is kinda becomes a parody. I love Provost and the band, but sometimes they slavishly imitate to the point where they lose themselves. They do it well and are superb musicians, and have gained a huge fan base by doing so, but a little more originality might have helped their careers in the long run. I guess they were a precursor to Turbonegro, where part of the fun is guessing where they stole this or that from.

But despite these complaints, I would recommend any of the CK's records - they are always a good, rockin' time! But, this is not one for the 60's purists! They pissed off some of their early fans (as did many of us who came for the 60's revival scene) with this homage to the fantastic r'n'r of the 70's.

PS - None other than Dee Dee Ramone contributes the excellent 70's boogie rocker, "Come Back Angeline". VERY un-Ramones like but terrific and very fitting for this album!

Clowns for Progress

I happened upon these cats one time in Hollywood in the early 90's and they put on a great show (besides rockin' mightly, they wore clown makeup on their faces, white suits and ruffled shirts - quite stylish) so I picked up their CD when I found it.

They do highly melodic punk rock'n'roll well before that became passe and annoying. Their singer, Deano, has a distinctive and terrific voice and they could write some real songs, too. Apparently, they released a couple more CDs besides this one, though this is all I've heard, but it's a goodie!

I never saw or heard from them again after the one encounter, but they were mainstays in NYC for most of the 90's and remain a fine example of the genre.

Be sure to stick around for the last, hidden track - it's a killer!

Friday, October 15, 2010

Please Kill Me – The Uncensored Oral History of Punk – Legs McNeil and Gillian McCain

After reading Legs’ work with Mickey Leigh on I Slept With Joey Ramone, I was still in a nostalgic mood for 70’s punk, so I decided to re-read this classic book from way back in 1996. It remains a classic, informative tome that truly gives you the feeling of the mood and the scene in NYC as what became known as punk rock was slowly created.

Starting with the Velvet Underground and Warhol’s Factory, the book winds through this art-y scene, into the infamous Detroit rock scene (with the immeasurable contributions of bands such as the MC5 and the Stooges), the glam rock scene and its stars, the New York Dolls, right through the beginnings of what we now call punk rock.

The gist of the story is well known to anyone with any interest in r’n’r but the real appeal of this book is its format – it is made up entirely of quotes from participants – no narrative at all. So, of course, this is very personal and informative, though peoples’ memories sometimes are not very clear and there are strong disagreements about some of the facts related here. But, that is the way history works – it is told by those who care enough to do so and those who have the best memories!

There is plenty of sex, drugs, alcohol and decadence throughout, which makes is less than surprising that many people did not make it through this scene alive and some who did probably should not have. Throughout it all, you do get the feeling that everyone is doing their best to be an honest as possible about their excesses and escapades, even at the cost of their own reputation.

The story unfolds well, with plenty of peaks and valleys, but lots of fun and optimism until the end of the book where it describes the end of the stalwarts of the scene and the descent into violence, overdoses and breakups. A lot was accomplished but plenty was lost, as well. Though you wonder if anyone would have done it any differently if they had it to do over.

This is another must-have for anyone who loves the real, original punk rock.

PS - Funnily, the "Cast of Characters" section at the back gets a number of obvious things wrong, especially instruments that people played. Wonder if these are just typos or this section was written by someone else, since this mistakes are not in the body of the book.

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Moe Tucker a Tea Partier?!

Velvet Underground Drummer Bashes Obama, Stuns Fans With Tea Party Support

Monday, October 04, 2010

I Slept With Joey Ramone – A Family Memoir – Mickey Leigh with Legs McNeil

Mickey Leigh is, of course, Mitchel Hyman, the brother of Jeffrey Hymen, otherwise known as Joey Ramone. Legs McNeil is, of course, one of the founders of Punk magazine, the zine that named a movement. Together they have put together Mickey’s story and, through him and his family, the story of the Ramones.

The book is a fascinating read right from the start – Mickey keeps it concise, hitting on the interesting points of their childhoods – diseases, geekiness and an immense love for rock’n’roll. According to the authors, it is Mickey who first discovers r’n’r, who first picks up an instrument, who first has a group, who first plays in a band with Johnny and Tommy, and who helped encourage Joey and keep him together through bouts of mental instability (Joey had severe OCD, which was not something that most people understood in the late 60’s/early 70’s, which is why he spent time in institutions).

But through it all, Joey’s love for music kept him going – and all kinds of music. He was into hippie/stoner rock (Johnny made fun of him for wanting to go to Woodstock), folk rock (James Taylor, another musician who had been institutionalized, helped him through some tough times) and glam rock, where he got his first chance to sing (he had previously been a drummer) in Sniper, as Jeff Stardust, wearing a skin tight, black jumpsuit and purple platform boots!

Of course, the years and the trials & tribulations of the Ramoes are all well documented, as well as Mickey’s struggles with music and his many starts and stops in the biz. He is brutally honest about everyone – including himself – and everyone appears as the humans that they are – not rock stars and very far from perfect. Everyone comes off as a complete jerk at times, but there are stories of love and support and fun and celebrations.

Of course, Joey’s final sickness and death is especially tragic and still terribly sad and Mickey conveys the pain that the family went through and the support everyone gave to each other. It is still horrible to think that three of the creators of punk (Joey, Johnny and Dee Dee) are all gone. But this book celebrates their lives – good and bad – and everyone who loves r’n’r should give it a read. Well done!