Saturday, May 08, 2004

Hi-Got some time to waste so I better waste it in a GOOD way, and what better way to twiddle away the hours than to write about a couple of recent acquisitions you might want to know about (but probably don't unless you're the kind of person who lives vicariously through my writings and if so you have my sympathies!). As for my defense against a couple of scurrilous attacks recently made on myself and my BLACK TO COMM fanzine (at the hands of some other bloggers who you probably know and doubt everybody who's reading THIS blog knows what the hoopla's all about), that will be more or less forthcoming within a day or two. Before committing anything concrete down to paper, er, byte, I want to gather all of the evidence and organize my thoughts as to the best way to combat the charges brought against me rather than fight them off like a holed-up suspect surrounded by cops which is sadly what MOST people who are charged and deemed guilty before trial have to do these days. So the harpooning will have to wait, but stay tuned...

Today I'd like to step right on up to the keyboard and blog on about two items of interest (my own personal views natch, you might not care one way or the other!) that I've happened upon within the past week or so. Regular readers of BLACK TO COMM already know that my review sections (whether we're talking recordings, books, etc.) are filled with a mix of old and new items which may seem unique and perhaps even gosh-it-all clever on some level, but this wasn't what I had originally intended with the mag. it's just that I really never got all of the hot, fresh-off-the-press and GRATIS items I was hoping I would under the now faulty pretext that being the editor of a magazine ENTITLED me to unlimited free wares (greedy and pushy type I am...just ASK a thousand promo departments about the way I used to pester them for free booty!) So, in order to fill my pages up with SOMETHING for you readers to peruse, I had little choice but to review a whole buncha older items that I was "catching up on" along with whatever current sounds I could get into my grubby mitts! (I was rather naive about these things during my younger writing days, actually believing that being a PUBLISHED author and underground press magnate would automatically get me any precious item my dear heart desired!!! Whatta stoopid doopid kid, as Richard Meltzer once said!) And by the time I started getting items sent to me on a highly-regular basis a whole lotta the underground THRUST that initially drew me to this music had the wind knocked outta its sails which only goes to show you what kinda luck I've had in a twenty-plus year career of writing about music on an incurably obsessive/compulsive basis!

First item up on the chopping block...Charles Shaar Murray's SHOTS FROM THE HIP (Penguin, 1991), a collection of scribings from one of the masters of English rock critiquing (the other major ones, at least within my limited scope on this subject matter, being Mick Farren and Nick Kent...I believe Richard Williams might fall into the cesspool somewhere). I had never been a fan of this brand of UK rockism probably because I wasn't born and bred on it like I assume many of you readers were, but this late-in-my-life epiphany (brought upon not only by a recent eyeballing of Nick Kent's THE DARK STUFF collection reviewed in BLACK TO COMM #25 {see previous blog for details} but a variety of choice photocopies sent by an overanxious Londoner!) is a welcome addition to a underground rock passion that has enveloped me for quite a longer time than I could ever imagine!

Murray does not have the manic splat of a Bangs or Meltzer nor the intellectual sarcasm of Wayne McGuire, but his swing and sway (like Lenny Kaye!) is engrossing enough that you might actually enjoy reading from this two-decade anthology even when Murray's objects of desire aren't worth the effort (Madonna, Robert Cray...). And sure, some of Murray's off-the-cuff comments will probably make the average BLACK TO COMM reader do a few double-takes worthy of Shemp Howard (like where he reveals his admiration for early-seventies Jethro Tull singles, but then again I believe famed Gizmo guy Kenne Highland gave an approving thumbs up to AQUALUNG so why should I quibble about a guy who's at least 3/4ths of the way THERE), plus some of his abrupt dismissals (example: "Yes: THE YES ALBUM-Yes? Maybe.") remind me of Robert Christgau or even ME during some of my less lucid moments in the eighties, but I can forgive the guy because his smooth, to-the-heart-of-it-all style makes up for occasional lapses into those questionable tastes which we all seem to have. (And I didn't even mention that his Youth Culture hippie political trip pieces expostulating on everything from The Longford Report to heroin read like John Sinclair GUITAR ARMY rejects!)

High points (or at least those BLACK TO COMM fans would wanna cozy up to on a cold winter night with hot toddy in hand) include actual honest-to-goodness wowzers on the likes of Alice Cooper and T. Rex (which could've proudly adorned ANY issue of the classic early-seventies CREEM), not to mention heartfelt raves on personal Murray faves like Alex Harvey, Patti Smith and even Frank Zappa. And there are some little surprises here and there as well, like in a piece on the early CBGB '75 scene which features a special guest appearance by none other than perennial BTC fave Miriam Linna, who flew into En Why See with sister Helen to catch the Heartbreakers!

Though in all honesty I find a good portion of Murray's punk-era writing a bit flat, but that may be because I've pretty much found a lot of the soundscapading that came out of the British scene downright DOUSE, much preferring the sonic crank of groups along the lines of Cabaret Voltaire or the post-Barrett introspective moody-pop of the Only Ones to the Pistols and many of their brethren. (One of his better British punk pieces was a review of some now undoubtedly legendary '76 Sex Pistols/Clash/Buzzcocks gig...this being the infamous article {that Murray'll NEVER live down!} where he referred to the Clash as a garage band that should have stayed in the garage with the engine running!) Of course, this might be a "phase" (a quarter-century long one at that!) that I might eventually snap out of, and who knows, I may be "coming back" to that stuff in a few year's time given some sort of push or "impetus" in my musical makeup! (Though I kinda doubt it...bought a number of British punk CD reissues from Eddie Flowers, specifically those by V2 and the Drones, and I found very little listening satisfaction in them. Even the Drones' 1975 take on "Search and Destroy" sounded weak next to Rocket From the Tombs' interpretation from the same year!)

In all, SHOTS FROM THE DARK is a time-worthy, even occasionally engrossing read especially for true rock & roll FANS (and, I presume, who reading this ain't?), not to mention the usual overly-obsessed fact categorizers of seventies underground trends and movements, of which I'm probably the only specimen extant!

And now for DONOVAN!!! As you regular hangers on probably know, I never was a Donovan fan or even admirer (though I remember having liked his 1972 comeback single, which I can't recall the name of or what it sounds like!), and in fact I spent a good portion of my poseur hipster days cursing his name out, so why'm I giving this platter mention on my precious blogspace? Because of the gent mentioned in the previous his SHOTS FROM THE HIP 1975 New York punk piece w/special guest star Miriam Linna, CSM blabbed on about the music emanating from the CBGB jukebox which included such obscurities as the Animals' "Club A-Go-Go" and the Donovan/Jeff Beck Group collaboration (as opposed to Beck just "sessioning") "Barabajagal," which Murray gave a hefty rave to! Looking for hunches the way Brad Kohler looks for special mystical signs and interesting coincidences while picking the ponies, I decided to give "Barabajagal" (the LP, er, CD, as well as the song) a try thinking that since things are so dry now maybe I should look for rockist tendencies in strange places. And y'know, Murray is right, at least in part, though don't go expecting me to search out any Jethro Tull singles any day soon! (Next week, maybe!)

The Donovan/Jeff Beck Group merger works well on "Barabajagal," a strange folk rock cum funk-groove style combination that Beck pretty much carries himself, at least along with femme singers Lesley and Madeline. A nice mid-tempo burner, though you KNOW that the star of the show (such an ineffectual wuss!) is only coasting through the tune, resting on the undeniable talents of Beck et. al. ("Trudi," the other Donovan/JBG tune on the CD, doesn't reach to the same heights of the almost-garage "Barabajagal.") As for the rest, it teeters between actual ear-catching halfway-there tunes (most notably "Superlungs My Supergirl") and a patented UK twee-folkiedom, though even a cursory listen will tell you that once you get down to the square root of it, all you're getting is mere Donovan slop for late-sixties overanxious world-savers and leftover early-sixties hootenanny survivors that falls WAY outside of the BTC scope of music appreciation. (The hit "Atlantis" is here, and re-listening to it only make me wonder how this leaden mush could have made ANY impact on the still-rabid AM charts of the day.) Still, I gotta thank Murray for tipping me off to "Barabajagal" and I'm gonna hafta keep reading him and the rest of the "Golden Age of Rock Critics" for more interesting leads and suggestions as to where I can find more rock & roll in the strangest places you can imagine!

As you can see, I'm still working out the bugs and feeling my way around the entire blog idiom, which strangely enough seems so alien and downright confusing. (As I said, I would like to not only print in bold and italics but link up sites, set up an email especially for this blog and even be able to offer you readers a place to air your gripes and make comments so you can look ridiculous too!) Next time...some more reviews and a deep and dark look into a blog without shame!