Sunday, October 29, 2006

ALTERNATE TITLE

Not much of a weekend blogschpiel this time because (frankly) I pretty much said all I hadda say in the past three posts and sometimes the creative juices don't flow as fast as they should. (It's not like I wake up inna morn with a lightbulb hanging above my head which clicks on and all of a sudden blessed rockism inspiration flows from my brain to my fingers to the keyboard to you...) Anyhoo, all I have submitted for your approval today is one measly CD review (woulda had more but the entire CD-R order including some Gunter Hampel Birth reissues I got from mtnwad jazz sticks like nothing you'd believe and until I drag out my old rentbuster or take a long drive in a small car I can't judge any of those for you). Also on hand are writeups of some choice reading material you may or may not care about to begin with, and if you think you're getting slim pickins today you are RIGHT! But maybe if you're nice I'll make it up to you sooner or later with one of my big special edition posts featuring a subject near and dear to all our hearts, if I luck out enough that is.

Bob Dylan-HARD RAIN CD (Columbia)

I dunno what your particular opinion of Bob Dylan is, but for me he sure is one tricky fellow to figure out! Back when I was a kiddo and the man was whining his way up the charts with such unabashed folk-rockers as "Like a Rolling Stone" and "Just Like a Woman," I had no (nada, nyet!) idea who he was since the guy wasn't exactly filling up the tee-vee screens with hot WHERE THE ACTION IS and SHINDIG appearances, and besides that it wasn't like I had my ears attuned to the transistor radio at such a delicate age digesting every shard and snap-crackle pop of the teenage top 40 scene like most of the other kids did. Much later on when I began sorting through the record bins at a variety of shopping mall hideaways, I kept coming across a whole batcha these Dylan platters just wonderin' who this guy who at first looked like Woody (brother to Arlo or so I thought!) Guthrie and later on like Jimi Hendrix exactly was. I figured that since he had so many albums out he just hadda be big and popular, and when the buzz came out about his controversial George Jackson song that nobody on the radio would play I had him figured out to be one of those New York rabble-rousin' beat types like John Lennon and David Peel or somethin'. Or maybe nothin' for that matter.

Anyway, before long it was like you just couldn't escape this Dylan (whose name I thought was pronounced DIE-lan 'stead of like the tee-vee marshal's moniker...at the same time I was pronouncing "Jimi" as JY-MY so what does a stoopid kid know anyway???) character! Especially with all the bigtime publishers plasterin' his face on the covers of their rags proclaimin' him to be on the same sainted plateau as the Beatles and Stones, and with a whole slewwa attention being made to his every slight move (such as Dylan's signing to Asylum records and his tour with the Band) even a stick-inna-mud like myself was wondrin' just who this character may be! Pretty soon we were even starting to get Dylan imitators out there from Stealer's Wheel to Bruce Springsteen, and for a kid who was kinda bummed out that he didn't get a chance to "come of age" inna sixties when all that hot stuff was happenin' all I gotta say was getting it second hand was at least the next big thing even though, for what its worth, this seventies Dylan trip wasn't exactly the stuff rock dreams were made of!

Of course we eventually hadda put up with a whole slew of Dylan atrocities from his Rolling Thunder Revue barnstorming tour (which resulted in a duff feature called RENALDO AND CLARA and perhaps one of Dylan's top ten recorded disasters, the overwrought and lackluster "Hurricane") up through his late-seventies alleged Christian conversion which was about as sincere as Larry Flynt's plus an additional quarter-century of magnified laurel resting and you all know what you can do with that! Maybe you could say that Dylan, just like all of those ex-Beatles and partying Stones and whatever washed-up hasbeen rockstars out there who haven't done a blasted thing in years, wipes his butt just like the rest of us...true, but at least if you pick and choose hard enough you'll come up with a few tasty morsels through his career, and believe-it-or-not but even jaded I feel that a few of them are actually very good here thirty/forty years later! So who cares if he's a haggard old nobody these days who seems to have less "relevance" to whatever music scene that may remain than Bing Crosby and Nat King Cole had once the rock & rollers stole their thunder. At least when Dylan struck that hot iron (mostly on old bootlegs and various mid-sixties endeavors) he was worth a little more than all those Joan Baez wishywashy tootlings and Melanie and James Taylor folkstenchers who were BIRTHED from the loin of the one called "Z".

But whynheck did I buy this oldtime Dylan live throwaway anyhow??? Was it the cutesified pic of a long 'n curled Bobby looking like the latest bi-rocker starlet that Columbia had the good enough decadent sense to emblazon on the cover, or perhaps it was the thrills and chills of reliving past protest glories with the rest of the Rolling Thunder Brigade to the point of where I wish I had a draft card so I could burn it with unbridled anti-LBJ glee?? Perhaps I snatched the thing up because of the way Dylan likes to rework stale bread into fresh pudding??? Naw, I got it because I read Mick Farren's review of the thing originally printed in NME way back in the day, and it was solely because Farren (a critic who I certainly pay attention to on musical matters even if his subject matter isn't worth the paper said review is printed on) had the good sense to at least publish this one line (written in the safe pre-mania confines of 1976) "...at least three other tracks sound like the early Velvet Underground (my emphasis) running on good natured yahoo instead of junkie pervert sleaze." Yes, one simple plopping of the phrase "early Velvet Underground" (used in proper rockism context) is enough to make this rather jaded fan drop upwards of a hundred smackers, or even something more disgusting, and at a moment's notice as well.

Still trying to figure out exactly which three songs here sound like the Velvets, and while I'm at it I wonder if their sounding such a way has anything to do directly with Bobby Dylan or perhaps because of the presence of backing guitarist Mick Ronson (who was certainly having a busy time of it in '76 not only backing up Dylan but working with Ian Hunter and producing/performing live at Max's Kansas City with Mary Hogan and the New(er) York Dolls come to think of it). Whatever, HARD RAIN is a "document"...maybe a good one at that as the man and his all-star backing group don't come off looking like the doofuses they did when appearing on SOUNDSTAGE around the same time this gem came out. I have the strange feeling that bootlegs of the same tour probably show Dylan and company in a better light, but whether they do or not would have to be decided in some future post...thankfully, what we do get is a tasty "Maggie's Farm" which has enough equal parts street smart and cornpone to make it with both the country and city kids and a stronger "Lay Lady Lay" which fortunately transcends the usual thirty-plus ex-hippie ROLLING STONE mag dinge which seems to have permeated just about everything that was youth-related ('cept for fanzines and underground rock!) at the time. Still, HARD RAIN doesn't quite reveal alla that Patti Smith-influenced sixties reshaping that I was hoping for. Leave that to another '76 sleeper, mainly Elliot Murphy's NIGHT LIGHTS which does a better Dylan/Lou Reed mooshing than this one ever could. Definitely a lower-case must get for the casual peruser, and I'll probably be playing this one once in a blue moon while, if only for the fiber.

BOOK REVIEWS!

MAD FOR KEEPS (Crown Publishers, 1958)

When I was a mid-teen getting hold of a lotta the earlier (mostly 1963-vintage) issues of MAD magazine, I was surprised to find out that besides the availability of the then-long-in-print MAD paperback collections (which not so surprisingly I had a complete collection of) which were being sold via the mag there was also a series of hard-covered books with rare MAD material that I definitely could not live without! Being the MAD maniac that I am, I longfully lusted over wanting to own these more-enduring books as well (as a youth, my idea of the perfect ranch house existence was one chock-fulla all sorts of late-fifties to mid-sixties gulcher with models, paperbacks, comic books and magazines, records and other pertinent Amerigan youth fodder crammed all over the place in the bedroom, garage, basement, attic etc. revealing to one and all who would pass within the front portals that WITHIN THESE WALLS LIVES A THROBBING YOUTHFUL CONSUMER OF FUN AND FROLIC!!!), and although I got hold of MAD FOR KEEPS a good thirty-plus years afterwards I'm still drooling over the fact that I have a flesh and pulp copy of the thing in my grimy paws and even though the natural erotic glow of owning such an item has worn off ages back I still feel a little tingle here and there just like I do when I get hold of some old real-life issue and solemnly study the great Kelly Freas art and Wallace Wood comic strip mimicking just like I did when I was a kid and would get laughed at for such things.

One thing I'll say about this book and that's the ads for 'em in MAD sure made 'em look a lot thicker'n they actually were! Too bad MAD couldn't have spoofed themselves in this regard like they used to make fun of deceitful packaging and consumer frauds but frankly, the folks at MAD who were so intent on protecting us from dishonest labeling and revealing to us just how the camera can lie were doing the same things with regards to their own product! But still, at least MAD FOR KEEPS is a neat collection with loads not only from the comic book days but the early Harvey Kurtzman magazine era which was always the best time for the serious fans. A lot of this has since been re-reprinted in paperbacks and those recent nostalgic forays, but at least we don't have the taint of fifty years of hindsight telling us in which sort of light we have to view these stories, and thankfully the lack of fifties-guilt makes such a trip all the more enjoyable.

THE VELVET UNDERGROUND by Richard Witts (Indiana University Press, 2006

Only an unrepentant Velvet Underground maniac like myself would seek out just about any shard of information on the band via these books, and although that would mean sweating through worthless prattle the level of Albin Zak's THE VELVET UNDERGROUND COMPANION or totally immersing myself in the wit and wisdom of ALL YESTERDAY'S PARTIES, at least such endeavors can be totally engrossing even though they could be quite painful at times. And after re-reading this 'un over and over these past few days all I gotta say is that Richard Witts' book on the same subject at hand lies somewhere between these two poles. Not sure exactly where THE VELVET UNDERGROUND may be placed with regards to all of the words both wonderful and hideous that have been written about the VU, for the thing itself is quite a mixed bag of pertinent information smothered in a whole lotta nada that only a dry and downright intellectual college professor could bear to put forth upon a gonzo rockism populace.

I mean, Professor Witts has cleared up a few things about the early days telling us approximately when those earlier Velvet Underground members were in and out of the band (even the obscure Electra gets a mention!), and although he contradicts himself here and there and even I caught a few incorrect facts scattered about at least Witts' sense of Velvetisms seems properly attuned as he cleverly avoids all the cliches and overwrought hackery that has plagued the band for the past two decades. However, Witts' typically academic reason-for-being is clearly set in the here and now, so's we get tagged with a whole slew of extraneous gunk that people had the good sense to leave out of the original Velvets mix. Like, reading about Joe McCarthy this and Stonewall that (I mean, Lou might have been homo, but he didn't turn gay until the record label heads told him to back in the late-eighties!) as if it really had anything to do with the Velvets or anything in particular for that matter is just a lotta extra baggage being tacked on to fudge certain points more Witts' way, if you know what I mean. He has the right to do just that (it's his book!), but in doing so THE VELVET UNDERGROUND can be about as intellectual as a discussion of Sartre contemplating his navel, and frankly, I would think the Velvets deserve a lot more than tiresome intellectual drudgery, especially in these days when tiresome intellectual drudgery seems to be the norm.

THE VELVET UNDERGROUND would make a nice cheap find read if you come across it at the right (cheapest) price, but for the real meal deal stick with ALL YESTERDAY's PARTIES for true Velvet appreciation and wait with baited breath for my own Velvet Underground tome which I hope some eager publisher out there will wanna snatch up and put forth to an anxiously awaiting world of aging Velvet goombahs. This book'll be one of those cut and paste jobs like Rudolph Grey did where famous and not-so rockers of the sixties and seventies tell their own stories about how the Velvet Underground changed their lives for the better, and if you think this is one of the best ideas to have hit the publishing world since TWENTY MINUTE FANDANGOS AND FOREVER CHANGES then say a few Hail Marys or even a Glory Be or two in the hopes that my book gets pasted, published and sent to every young and throbbing potential rocker on this planet thus insuring a future of total rock & rolling despite all the amputations (cute, hunh?).

FANZINE REVIEWS!!!!

RAW POWER numbers 3 and 4

A year or so ago, I reviewed the fifth issue of this Los Angeles heavy metal/punk fanzine and found it to be a pretty neat trip back to the late-seventies rock days of yore which were much better than fans of the eighties (yek!) would dare to imagine. In many ways RAW POWER was a 'zine on the same stream-of-consciousness level as a whole load of fellow Los Angeles-area mags like BACK DOOR MAN, DENIM DELINQUENT, TB SHEETS and perhaps even RADIO FREE LA with its honest, talk-to-you styled writing coupled with a mix of the old and the new making for a pretty exciting reading experience even if you weren't too hot on the heavy metal groups (this being metal after the fall) in question or you thought that the punks were too punque for your tastes, if you know what I mean.

The RAW POWER issue that I reviewed earlier was a pretty pro job with a glossy cover and newsprint insides not that different than what CREEM or ROCK SCENE were doing at the time, so it's interesting to see just what the preceding two issues looked like. Well, #3 (from August '77) is an interesting-enough trip...a xeroxed one-sided one staple in the upper-left corner job that hardly owes anything to what would soon be. Despite the low-fidelity, the overall quality is quite good and this RAW POWER actually reminds me of an early issue of BEDLOE'S ISLAND, not in content (BI was British rock-oriented) but in personality. Featured: co-conspirators Quick Draw and Babalooie's interview with cover stars Legs Diamond and of course their moaning and crying about how hard it is to get new wave in the valley! Live reports feature early info on the likes of the Zeroes and germs (small "g", please!) with an early Darby snap to boot, and though this RAW POWER doesn't have the same snideness as BACK DOOR MAN nor any of the quality of DENIM DELINQUENT it sure was a nice artyfact that survives a lot better down the line than a whole batch of more recent fanzine fodder that got praised to the hilt despite not quite ringing the bell, dontcha think???

Strangely enough, the next issue saw a big boost in quality from two-sided saddle-stapled printing and two color cover (featuring Iggy), all in newsprint to boot! More of the same Quick Draw/Babalooie hijinx can be found here (it's great reading these interview the two have with various up-and-coming plopsters from Angel and Widowmaker to Sister [featuring the ex-"Doll"/future WASP singer Blackie Lawless] asking them what they think of punk rock!), and I gotta admit that the professionalism that can be found in comparison with the previous issue is fantastic! One of the highlights of this one is the interview done at some hotel with the Dictators which is perhaps one of their funniest...these guys were always going out of their way to be obnoxious and un-pious as they could and here they are no exception. (And if you're one of those "Politically Correct" types who moans over some of my more caustic commentaries, let it be said that the Dictators would make you downright CRY!!!!!) And I asked this before and I'll keep asking it until I'm blue in the face, but Quick Draw...where are YOU??????

I WANNA BE YOUR DOG #7

I dunno if you remember this one, but I WANNA BE YOUR DOG started out as a French fanzine in 1976 covering the budding punk rock scene back when the past ties to the likes of the Velvet Underground and Detroit groups weren't exactly being hidden as they would be a year later when the Sex Pistols proudly declared they had no roots! Soon an English-language edition followed, and both of these rags have become collectible amongst the kinda dolts who collect stuff like this no doubt! I have a few of the French language versions of this mag, but this #7 is my first one in English and it's a cooker as well...all glossy with loads of news on the up-and-coming punks amongst other worthies, with Eddie Money (???) featured on the cover complete with interview inside. Didn't read that one yet, but the stories and interviews that I did are totally in that hot BACK DOOR MAN style of fanzine journalism that unfortunately died out around the same time people like John Kordosh were coming in. Well, actually the only thing I've read so far in this 'un are the pieces on Deaf School, Cheap Trick, Crime and the Dogs, not to mention the record review section which includes such winners as Gregg Turner's writeup of the Stooges "I Got a Right"/"Gimme Some Skin" single that's bound to get the heart palipitatin' the same way Lester Bangs used to do. A verifiable wowzer for sure, and one to make just about every shard of rock writing that has come down the pike since 1984 or so look like the loser's game it most surely is!

7 comments:

tim ellison said...

Man, "Thunder on the Mountain" off the new album is the best rock song I've heard this year! - not that that's saying too much, but it's like this great Bringing It All Back Home-type long blues jam with a long set of words tune. Great vocal by Bobby. I would buy the album, but I don't like Compact Discs very much and the vinyl's prob'ly expensive.

Matt said...

maybe you should have more than a few more listens to that Hard Rain record between now and the next blue moon. that one really turned me into a total dylan obsessive for years. have you seen the footage of the Rolling Thunder tour? the rolling thunder group looked great to me. mainly (so many years now after the fact), the amazingly cool slack sloppy sleazy drumming of howie wyeth. i thought his drum cymbal sound was great and that it was so cool how he had turned it upside down. i got really intrigued by the Alpha Band (the spin-off band of the Rolling Thunder group). i dont think wyeth was in this group and unfortunately i have only heard a track or two of theirs, but their records (all in cut-out bins now) might be worth investigating. some people swear by them anyway.
.....

Aaron Goldberg said...

Stop talking about your Velvets-big-bang-rock-explosion-book! DO it!!

Maybe you should do like Tim Lucas did with that Mario Bava book. get people to buy it up front then take 10 years to actually deliver it!

Anonymous said...

I don't think there would have BEEN a Velvet Underground had it not been for what Dylan was doing in '65 - or if the VU had existed they would never have recorded and Lou would have never been able to have broken out of the bargain basement Pickwick sub-Brill Building ghetto.

Christopher said...

Actually I'm positive the Velvets would've existed even if Dylan never happened, albeit in a slightly altered form. It's funny, but after a short while it seems as if Lou had pretty much detested the whole Dylan trip, perhaps due to the influence of Cale and Morrison who seemed to shrug off the very same protest scene Reed at least dabbled in (such as on "Prominent Men" as "Get It On Time"). Still, w/o Dylan in the mix I'm sure Reed would have found some other folk roots somewhere down the line to utilize into what would be known as the Velvets sound.

Ron said...

You should enjoy this site: www.rankopedia.com. They just launched a category for "Best rock song ever". I voted for Queen's Bohemian Rhapsody.

A.C. said...

That fanzine style of journalism you speak of was still alive & well when John Kordosh and the like showed up. It ended when he and others left Creem, and subsequently, Creem ended.