Friday, February 18, 2005


Anniversaries and notations of the passing of time usually go ignored in the BLOG TO COMM sphere of things, but I feel that this little piece of historically-significant news is important enough to send your way. Yes, thirty years ago today, Rocket From The Tombs recorded their demo tape (to be broadcast on local hippie rock station WMMS-FM a week or so later) in a Cleveland loft they shared with the Electric Eels and another band whose name never was revealed to me and OK, maybe that's not exactly a "noteworthy" moment in rock history if you're the kinda guy who continues to believe the old-line ROLLING STONE anti-garage credo rant (you know, "technology + ultra-fast playing + artistic aspirations - energy and motion = hot get-high music!"), but for fellers like me who swear by trash aesthetics and groups playing awful rackets in their basements, well a day like today is worth celebrating just as much as the Fourth of July or St. Swithin's Day so please excuse me if I get a little frothy over the whole thing.

After all, considering what Rocket From The Tombs did that evening thirty years ago and how inconsequential it may have seemed at the time, the IMPACT of this against-the-tide thrust can still be felt lo these thirty years later. This was not just an act of some nth-string rock 'n roll band in Cleveland who had the audacity to play original material making a demo was true rock 'n roll insurrection at a time when rock had pretty much settled into a comfy chair and was taking a nice li'l nap, and everybody seemed to approve of this new old fogey image! Putting all the "givens" together ("given" this was being done in Cleveland Ohio which never really had a keen interest in the "underground" talent that was coming out of its garages, "given" that this was a band that was still trying to find its bearings, perhaps unsure of not only itself but its future, "given" that two of the biggest p-rock exponents of the late-seventies were to spring from Rocket's soon-to-be-ruptured loin...) the recording of these numbahs was, in the long run, a much bigger STRIKE for the cause of rockism than I'm sure anyone involved would have believed way back when, and perhaps we should celebrate this anniversary in the only way we know how, mainly by blasting your Rocket recordings while osmosing their ultimate timlessness, their raw glory and (best of all) that loud, distorted drone...

I thought I'd also take this opportunity to give a brief disseration on just how much underground rock has evolved, or perhaps devolved in the three decades since Rocket laid their stellar playlist to two-track. Obviously there have been many the mid-seventies for all intent purposes underground rock (whether it be "punk" in the classic CREEM sense or garage bands or street rock for that matter, though "underground" seems to be the best all-enveloping term to use for this at-times uncategorizable music) was pretty much on one hand a dead and buried issue, yet on the other a sound waiting to be born. Really. The majority of kids, even the kinds who'd be listening to the end results of Rocket's bold initiatives these days, weren't even aware that such a thing as underground rock existed. The sad state of not only AM/FM radio but the rock press made sure to that, with a heavy emphasis on the more tiresome aspects of "pop music" of the day being pushed over and over again on an audience that didn't really have any options. If it weren't for the likes of Lester Bangs and Richard Meltzer dropping dead-group names into then-current prose, not to mention BACK DOOR MAN's noble efforts, who woulda known that ANYTHING had existed, let alone was happening in the there and then!!! The last bold punk uprising of the early-seventies, most notably the New York glitter putsch of the Dolls, resulted in two poorly-selling albums and a quick and perhaps indecent burial as high school USA merely yawned. There were rumblings of a new New York scene via Television and a few scraggly bands that perhaps CREEM would drop mention of here and there, but that was still a good two years away from coming to full bloom glory. As for what would be considered a real "alternative" to the overpowering progressive music and stadium rock (not to mention quickly-dying AM pop), what was there other than some old Velvets/Stooges/MC5 albums, NUGGETS, a few import chestnuts re. Can and Neu!, and maybe a lotta memories of what coulda been had the buying public not have been so brain-washed as to prefer buck-toothed folkies and fancy-pants hairweaved British pansies to the REAL THING, if you know what I mean.

But oddly enough, there was a movement growing, clandestinely developing without other parties knowing about it, all seemingly with the same hard-edged intent and guttural growl based on the same old Velvet Underground/Stooges axis (with whatever you could throw in) that may not have seemed like much in 1975, but looked more or less like an EXPLOSION a few years later when suddenly all of these bands (or their members in new bands) became aware of each other and the word spread via NEW YORK ROCKER articles or perhaps even a li'l word o' mouth for that matter. True there was Rocket From The Tombs in Cleveland, but there was also the Imperial Dogs in El Lay, Death (with James Chance) in Milwaukee, Umela Hmota in Prague, Simply Saucer in Hamilton Ontario, MX-80 Sound in Bloomington Indiana and probably a few hundred more who will be documented and perhaps digitized in the not-so-distant future. A hundred years from now rockologists will be categorizing and flow-charting the whole bunch of 'em perhaps laboring under the impression that all this musical rabblerousing was a calculated and studied plan-of-attack. Not was just a buncha people armed to the teeth with not only rock gear but unbridled ambition, bared-wire intensity and healthy record collections who didn't know better, or if they did really couldn't care less.

Flash forward to TODAY, where not only have there been thousands of rock groups playing under the "vague rubric or alternative music" (copyright 1985 Robert Christgau), but the vast majority of them have taken the original impetus/thrust and watered it down into a non-sound that really doesn't speak for the suburban TV-watching spoiled brat mid-Amerigan tub that I grew up being. After spending the eighties going through all of the new underground movements that sprang up once the original seventies punk (or dare I say "new wave") period seemingly died out (garage revival, hardcore...) on and on up through the newer offshoots and treks into endless chasms of boring musical possibilities, I passed through the nineties feeling mighty cheated seeing what was once an unchecked THROB reduced to plain collegiate slop. Whereas the underground was once a mad, driving impulsive music, it had become the new mewl for a type of person and ideal that I didn't want much, if anything, to do with. Whereas this music (at least throughout the seventies) was custom-made for the suburban teenage Beaver Cleaver or his dope-fiend counterparts, now it seemed as if the same overly-wrought flower-pressing doom-laden ban-the-bomb crowd that was so adverse to this sort of "juvenile" chicanery at the outset had now taken punk to their hearts, and gave it the anti-motion, anti-drive and anti-life credo that these spiritual zombies seem to thrive on. James Taylor and Carole King with a Velvets-beat...big deal!

Which is one good reason why, save for thirty/forty-year-old classics continuing to get heavy BTC airplay, the only modern musical acts lighting my buttocks nowadays are the new post-Rallizes Denudes Japanese underground bands like Uptight and LSD March, not to mention the exciting avant garde jazz/improv aggregates playing at the CBGB Lounge on least these groups haven't forgotten their roots while heading for new vistas that seem about as uncharted as the ones the Byrds reached for on FIFTH DIMENSION almost FOUR decades back which is something I can't say about the whole bunch of constantly pushed amerindie/college groups that seem to be considered the haute new item amongst people who usually do know better (but not this time!).

Oh yeah, as for Rocket From The Tombs...I think I'll pass on spinning their demo tonight. Don't want to throw myself into a cataleptic fit, and besides, I gave up on all the ritualistic music playlist obsessions of my youth (like just having to spin, no ifs ands or buts, WHITE LIGHT/WHITE HEAT every New Year's Eve) long ago!

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