RIDING THE GNU WAVE!
Remember this strange chain of events that started somewhere in the seventies? First off there appeared this maybe not-so-new music that was getting written up in a wide variety of mags 'n papers that going under the name "underground rock" or "punk rock" or even "garage band music" if you so prefer. We're talkin' early '76 or so, back when people outside of the hard rock loop so-to-speak were starting to discover the varying array of musics that seemed to've been birthed from the loins of the ones called Ig, Lou and maybe even Sky! It all seemed to fall into place like some puzzle, first with alla that hot news detailing an upstart avant-yet-retrogarde scene coming out of New York and then with records by the likes of Debris, Pere Ubu and the Gizmos and sure, much of it was "old hat" as Cap Beefheart said to a point, but if you weren't hanging around at Max's Kansas City or listening to MC5 records for the past five years it sure seemed like a new and refreshing experience to lend your ears to! Anyway, by the end of '76 another term describing this seemingly all new/all now music was being tossed about...what else but "new wave," a description that originally was considered synonymous with the usual punk/garage verbage that was part and parcel of many a college paperboy's critical vocab, but as time went on new wave seemed to take on a life of its own. Perhaps this "new wave music" was a tad more cultured and refined than the more trashy and caustic punk rock and/or garage band sounds that the FM-bred Anastasia Pantsios-fied dolts of the day hated with a raw passion, and considering how the sounds generally were ineffectual to the point where these same idiots merely upped their noses at it must've been a big step up, eh?
Which might have suited the big city rock crits and WMMS-FM listening public fine, but for someone following the underground scene since the mid-seventies I'm sure these developments came as a humongous shock! Can you imagine a rabid Cleveland-based punk sometime in 1975 engrossing himself in the finer aspects of rockism by supporting such truly stellar acts as Rocket From the Tombs, the Electric Eels and Mirrors while reading CREEM and wondering what all of those then-elusive New York bands sounded like suddenly going into a coma only to wake up six years later and finding himself stuck at the tail end of this dying underground scene with the comparatively restrained likes of the B-52s and Waitresses replacing the hard-edged gnarl of those groups he left behind? Heck, it would be enough to make ANYBODY with their heads on frontwards wanna take another coma-induced hiatus for who knows how many years before the music scene gets itself RIGHT! And frankly if that guy were me I'd STILL be goin' the Rip Van Winkle route waitin' for a time and place when rock & roll was meaningful to you as a rabid, snarling mammal!
But as far as new wave goes, exactly when it morphed into gnu wave (as Bill Shute most aptly put it in one of his old INNER MYSTIQUE fanzines) is still anybody's guess. Personally methinks it might have been some time during the original thrust of the music attaining some notoriety outside the confines of the big cities when the mode really began changing, and back then did anybody really think that the likes of the B-52s, Blondie and all of those other seemingly-unique groups popping up all over the place were gonna evolve into the rot that eventually permeated the early-eighties? Not really...I mean, these groups and their fan base were supposed to have known better esp. after seeing the bright stars of the sixties ending up in the tinkertoy twaddle they eventually plopped into. But hey, hysteria does repeat itself, and I only hope that all of the bright stars seen on today's underground scene (all TWO of 'em!) know enough not to "evolve" into the senseless prattle that just about every band that sticks around long enough will end up mired in!
But hey, I gotta admit that even """""I""""" find myself spinning a little of this gnu wave along with the meatier portions of my collection, mostly outta curiousity if anything. Like Tim Ellison, I can enjoy a lotta this stuff on a different level than I do the records and tapes I definitely am more "attuned to" that are floating around in the abode, and hey, maybe there was a little bitta worth in some of these more giddysome platters than a guy who saw the end coming sometime a few years after everybody else did would care to admit. Anyway, here are a few discs I've only recently acquired that fit into the gnu wave scheme of things which most BLOG TO COMM readers might or might not want to know about, but even YOU have to take the bad with the good when it comes to the under-the-counter rock histories I like to spew so don't frown. Let's just say that if you still wear your Stiff Records tee shirt and have your leather-bound back issues of TROUSER PRESS proudly displayed on your bookshelf, then you'll probably really go for these more'n I ever will even though I have a slight liking for 'em all in my own perverted sorta way.
Starting off today's soiree's a disc I'm sure a whole lotta you rock lobstering new wavers remember with a passion, PAM WINDO AND THE SHADES (Bearsville). I certainly remember it if only for the presence of Pam's husband, tenor saxophonist Gary Windo in the band, and (perhaps) naturally one would remember this guy not only for the reams of jazz sessions he partook of back home in Merrie Olde such as the ones with Ray Russell I reviewed earlier this year, but for his solo on Pink Floyd's "Money" which I'm sure earned the guy a hefty royalty every time that song played onna radio ever since DARK SIDE OF THE MOON's surprisingly strong debut way back in the early-seventies. In fact, you can't argue that it was the Windo name that even got this group a recording contract with Bearsville back in the new wave hopping days of '80...I mean, I remember when this group used to play CBGB and naturally under their moniker something to the effect of "featuring Gary Windo, ex-Pink Floyd" (!) was printed perhaps in the vague hopes that more people would flock to the club in the hopes of seeing an actual Pink Floydian group that night. Naturally nothing could be further from the truth, since Pam Windo and the Shades were yet another one of those lower-case New York bands that seemed to epitomise the rut CBGB had fallen into back in the very-early eighties when they were booking a lotta lackluster new wave groups before hardcore and other underground forms helped revitalize the place, thanks in part to Max's Kansas City closing up shop and alla those New York bands hadda play somewhere.
Those of you expecting some great music epiphany will be let down as much as the dorks who might've thought the Shades were gonna be reminiscent of Floydian space rock but as the old saying goes what else is new? Whatcha get here's standard patented early-eighties rock with a halfway-decent attempt at a New York sound and style (perhaps thanks to the saxophones?). Pam Windo is about on par as far as those "I'm my own bitch" female singers of the day were, perhaps a step above the whole Pat Benetar swagger and brashness that was oh-so chic at the time, but nothing more. Vocals are more of the same strained whine o' the times as Patty Donahue's and if you think you're gonna be entitled to a little slab of avant sax thanks to Windo (better yet, thanks to James Chance since it was he who put saxes onna En Why map!) then you're in for a rude awakening! Maybe I should 'fess up to the fact that some of this seemed to be reaching for the right sorta underground ideal at times, but the lack of verve coupled with a halfhearted attempt at capturing the essence of all that was good about early-eighties underground rock makes PAM WINDO AND THE SHADES another mere reference point as far as New York City goes.
While Windo and her Shades were nurturing their act at CBGB others were busy trying to catch a gnu wave at competitor Max's Kansas City, Get Wet being amongst 'em. Judging from their colorful cover snaps Get Wet, or at least frontpieces Sherri Beachfront and Louie LePore, were aping the same waveoid cool pose that many other groups were copying at the time...I'd call it the early-sixties dago look for wont of a better term because the two kinda look like Frankie and Annette after being left in the spin cycle a little too long. A whole slew of gnu wave acts had that same sorta retro attitude in their look (and perhaps their music) at the time, even to the point where the early-eighties edition of Kongress (who certainly had the late-sixties garage band look and sound down pat well into '77) got the barbershop treatment even if their music wasn't quite in the gnu wave realm. But there's one thing I will say about Get Wet, and that is their rock & roll was pretty enveloping with a neat warpage of early and mid-sixties reference points with a fashionable gnu wave wrap that holds up well enough all these years later. Coming off sorta like a cross between the Fleshtones and early Blondie, Get Wet had the power and emotion on their Boardwalk label album (produced by Phil Ramone!) to have made some interesting inroads into the general record buying populace, but considering the whole staid trip that was going down at the time even this stuff was considered way too avant garde by the same people who were beginning to make REO Speedwagon and Foreigner the spokesmen for their generation. (Which translated means: can you imagine how a dude like I felt living amidst people who thought that Chicago and Journey were great on one hand, and the only "alternative" to that drivel was the whole Clash/B-52s/Blondie route that sold its soul for what little fame they got long after the fact on the other!?!?!? Like blasting FUNHOUSE out the window while driving down Main Street, that's how I felt!)
But GET WET is a pretty good attempt at capturing new wave transforming itself into gnu wave before the likes of Madonna began taking all of those pop reference points and rehaping them in her own vile image. They rock harder than the B-52 ever could, plus Beachfront is an energetic enough belter who might've gone places in a different time or space at least to the point where even their updated version of "Where The Boys Are" is catchy enough to listen to again and again. I only hope that Beachfront has the good sense to use all the door locks next time she goes to some motel! But anyway, I gotta admit that GET WET ain't your standard gnu wave album, and the fact that both Lou Reed and Peter Crowley of Max's are thanked in the liners is at least one tipoff that this one might be better than your standard ginch parade!
Finally on our gnu wave survey is a platter that doesn't quite fit into the category, but if you want me to be a bit more accurate in describing this perhaps I could refer to it as being proto-gnu wave. And frankly, I wasn't exactly expecting to peg Turner and Kirwan of Wexford as being a gnu wave band as much as one of those interesting eccentricities that appeared on the New York scene inna late seventies thus catering to a gnu wave audience while not exactly being one of its minions. These guys' histories are rather well known in some circles, they being two Irish expats who made a name for themselves playing Irish folk tunes (with some rock thrown in) at the Bells of Hell club in the mid-seventies garnering a fan base of sorts, amongst them being Hilly Kristal of CBGB and a Polish poet named Copernicus who eventually joined and took charge of the two. By '78 Turner and Kirwan of Wexford were performing on the CBGB/Max's circuit and, with the addition of more musicians to their rank as well as frontman Copernicus, became the Major Thinkers probably because it sounded more in tune with the times and that other name was way too long anyway. Of course the saga continued with Pierce Turner of the two eventually forming the successful Black 47 and hey even Copernicus is still making records so who says that the early-eighties are really that dead after all!
I never knew that the Turner/Kirwan duo had released an album, and when I discovered so I decided to search for this platter thinking it would at least be a nice aside as far as any New York rock histories went and at the worst an oddity along the lines of THE MOVIES or City Lights' SILENT DANCING, the first two albums to pop out outta the CBGB scene back in '75 long before the great rush of big label activity to the clubs only to sink without a trace because frankly, they weren't what anyone was expecting.
What a surprise I got when the item actually made its way to my door not so soon after...the first thing that hit my eye was that ABSOLUTELY AND COMPLETELY came out on the Peters International label, a outgrowth from the record importing company whose wares mostly consisted of US pressing of rare overseas progressive discs that the big labels passed on over here given the lack of a big European rock audience on these shores! The second thing to strike me was the pic of Turner and Kirwan on the cover...two longhairs with beards who, while dressed rock flashy enough, looked more or less like the reams of progressive rockers of the day not forgetting their fans who probably kept labels like Peters afloat not to mention the import bins emptying while on the search for some Vertigo extravaganza hopefully on the swirl label!
But as Bo Diddley once said you can't judge books by looking at the covers and even I have to say that there are many moments on ABSOLUTELY AND COMPLETELY that kept my interests up even while reading fanzines or old comic books or whatever I do while listening to records such as these. Actually you could call this proto-gnu wave progressive I guess, but only if you think of the better aspects of that dread genre like perhaps the Move or even early ELO. Nothing heady, although a good portion of side one might suffer from pomposity by association for coming a bit too close to classic rock bombast. Actually side two's the kicker with a Sparks-ish "The Girl Next Door" (funny lesbian deca-rock) and other things that seem to recall the aforementioned Move as well as perhaps some of the solo Cale outings of the day. Not really something you'd wanna listen to on a yearly basis, but I was surprised, especially since I thought this record was gonna be filled with Irish folk ballads!
After the gnu wave began to affect a lotta people who were maybe just two or three steps up from FM-bred dunces on the rock evolutionary scale (not much, but ya gotta give 'em credit) Turner and Kirwan added former Teenage Lust bassist Peter Collins and drummer Thomas Hamlin and became the Major Thinkers. Anyway the four released "Back in the 80's"/"Farewell to the Coast" on their lonesome, and although Copernicus is not to be found anywhere on this platter even though I was under the impression he was a full-fledged member don't fret, because the guy did get to put his own single out (one side being the same "Quasimodo" which appeared on his magnif NOTHING EXISTS album) and I guess the others wanted to do one by themselves and really who can blame 'em? Anyway both sides are gnu wave supremo really not that far removed from the Turner and Kirwan album, only with the new sounds affecting the still English Sparksy moves and Kirwan now appearing under the name Larry Lucifer! Actually an interesting self-produced artyfact of the times that should snuggle nice next to Nervus Rex's single on some late-seventies PEBBLES comp or even one of those Hyped To Death disques since it does have enough of a rock & roll kick to make it a lot more'n just another British copycat move. What is most interesting about this 'un is the pic sleeve showing the fashionable quartet decked out in early-eighties attire, with the once proggy-looking Kirwan now clean shaven with a late-fifties ducktail looking more like some hood in a British crime film and much younger than the Gentle Giant aspirant he used to be! Of course Brad Kohler will think that both records were vanity projects recorded with all of the deposit moolah the landlord swiped but we know better, I think...
Wednesday, September 19, 2007
RIDING THE GNU WAVE!