Sunday, January 20, 2008

JON TIVEN, THE MAN AND THE MYTH!

Y'know, I never really understood why there was a whole lotta venom and general animosity directed towards the noted rock critic, fanzine editor, producer and music-maker Jon Tiven throughout the years, even continuing well into these very days long after you would have thought any controversy associated with the man would have fizzled out to the point of oblivion. And of course it's true that perhaps there could have been some anger directed at the man regarding certain opinions directed towards a number of musical acts that some of us may have disagreed with, but that's (at least on the surface) no reason for anybody to call for the man's head like they have. I mean, look at Lenny Kaye who is one of my all-time fave rockscribes, and true he was one of the big champions of such things as garage band rock and its twisted child punk, but even a casual reader of CAVALIER can tell you about the times he would be praising to the rafters everyone from the Grateful Dead to JAMES TAYLOR and yet I never saw anyone comin' for him with the pitchforks and torches! Let's face it, none of the explanations that various rockscribes in the know (Bernard Kugel, Byron Coley...) really explain just why Tiven has been given such a bum rap lo these many years!

And I'm still not comprehendo as to eggsactly what that big feud between Tiven and TEENAGE WASTELAND GAZETTEer Adny Shernoff was all about, and true I've heard stories about how it was a "rich Jew/poor Jew" sorta enmity (sounds like a seventies miniseries!) and somethingorother about a review Tiven wrote that really got Shernoff's Irish in an uproar but let's just say that in typical LOST IN SPACE fashion I do not compute! And howzbout the time when Tiven went to visit noted bigtime rock writer and then-NEW HAVEN ROCK PRESS contributor Richard Meltzer and his then-galpal Roni Hoffman at their En Why See apartment and after that not only would Meltzer not want to have anything to do with the guy, but he continually started berating the Subject in Question whenever he had the opportunity whether it be in his review of Paul Williams' DAS ENERGI in the pages of FUSION, or who could forget Meltzer's letter to Shernoff's own fanzine where we're all let in on the dirty deal behind this meeting which resulted in Tiven only managing to take one bowel movement during the time and not flushing the commode (mechanism was broke...you hadda reach into the tank to pull the chain which Tiven was unaware of), but Meltzer describing the contents of the bowl which, besides his detailing the size and color of the doody in question, we are told contained nary a shred of toilet paper! Of course, insult was added to injury by Shernoff's response regarding how maybe Tiven had either used his hand, or "in an economy move" eaten the toilet paper and how in the more fashionable areas of New Haven it is the duty of the maid to wipe the hineys of family members. (And strange as it may seem, occasionally Meltzer would still be listed amongst the masthead as a "contributing editor" well into the last year of NHRP's run! Go figure!!!)

And there's also the story about how Alex Chilton had threatened Tiven with a serious thrashing after the latter did somethingorother to offend the former Box Top singer (I think it had something to do with the appropriation of Chilton's Ork Records EP tapes and reissuing them with overdubs...memory's kinda hazy on this 'un!) plus a few other things that have been flying about but hey, if anything all of these stories I've heard about Tiven, perhaps because of how vague they are this long after de-facto, not-so-surprisingly enough tend to make me want to sympathize with the man himself! Now I'm sure this is something that would surely arouse the ire of a Tiven-hater such as Bill Shute, but the way I look at it is here's a man who not only created the first real rock & roll fanzine (NEW HAVEN ROCK PRESS which predated WHO PUT THE BOMP! by almost a year, and I dunno if the original CRAWDADDY and MOJO NAVAGATOR could be considered true fanzine-y reads per-se) which helped him springboard to a career as a rock journalist in bigtime publications such as FUSION and ROLLING STONE and who can hate this modern-day Horatio Alger for doing just what a whole generationfulla fanzine upstarts only wish they coulda! Plus, like all of the cool rock writers of the day Tiven also had his own late-seventies punk band (OK, powerpop but we're talkin' "punk" as a strict blow against the established AM/FM-dolt-cum-cover band mentality of the day) so mebbe we should give him just a wee bit of slack for once???

But still the slings and arrow come, and frankly for a guy who hadda dodge more'n a few of those things myself it's kinda like I even have a strange sorta affinity for Tiven. Maybe I'll know better when the comments start rolling in telling me about all the horror stories surrounding the man or maybe not, but for now I gotta say that I'm gonna rah-rah for the guy if only for the fact that he unleashed a long line of NEW HAVEN ROCK PRESS fanzines which do make for advanced rock reading as well as an album by his late-seventies group the Yankees, an act that although nowhere as attention-grabbing as a lotta what was coming outta the garages of USA (and elsewhere) back in the late-seventies sure comes off sweet and smooth a good three decades later! And how often can you say that about a good portion of similar-minded pop-rock of a late-seventies variety? (Well, it's not like I'm exactly an expert on the wide range of power-popping music so maybe I should refrain from that previous statement until I at least slip on my old Pezband album and give it another go 'round.)

Naturally it was that recent arrival of those long-anticipated fanzines at my door and into my life (the one that yielded that boffo SPOONFUL which was reviewed earlier this week!) that got me on my current NEW HAVEN ROCK PRESS kick. Now I've been familiar with the mag before, and in fact I already own about five other issues of this mag which include a good hefty portion of writings from the likes of Meltzer (on Yoko Ono, and I'm surprised that she didn't sue!), Tosches (including the ish where he actually printed Ono's phone number, and there's even an article in an early-seventies CREEM about the time Brian Cullman or one of their lesser-knowns actually got her number from this NHRP, called her up and played a bitta accordian music for the lass!) and Greg Shaw. I don't have the ish which included an actual Fillmore East poster because those go for magnifico bucks these days, but at least I got the one with the free movie and that's gotta account for something!

So with boffo contributors and interesting enclosures, just how do the NEW HAVEN ROCK PRESSes I have stack up? Pretty good actually, not only as far as in a "history of rock fazines" way but in a nice and informal gab about the music of the day as told to you by one of many Paul Reveres out there who were more'n anxious to tell you that the British and the punks and the longhairs and whatever were comin' straight AT'CHA!

True, a gander at your typical early cover of NEW HAVEN ROCK PRESS would have you wonder just what was the difference between such an upstart mag and the biggies like STONE were since the likes of John Mayall, the Grateful Dead, Cactus, Jethro Tull and Pink Floyd ain't exactly small potatoes! But oddly enough Tiven mentioned in the big FUSION fanzine article rundown of 1972 that the reason he started his mag up was to write about these and other groups that just weren't getting covered in the mainstream rock press which kinda astounds me. But I guess Tiven thought he was filling a need for additional information on his fave raves, so why should anyone've faulted him for that?

Still, these mags do make for pleasant reading whether on or off the toidy or kicking back in your bedroom as the disques spin away. Nice mimeo style (I guess Tiven got one for his birthday and decided to go into biz for himself not only running off his own rag but taking in outside print jobs [an ad does appear in a '70 issue!]) and although the earlier ones show signs of near-crudzine quality (faint print, one-sided pages) the writing is pretty much up there in fanzine talk-to-you fashion.

Lotsa reviews, in fact lotsa short and sweet reviews on albums you may have wanted to know everything about as well as those you didn't even know or care existed! Some are to the point and sweet, with the likes of the Deviants and Alice Cooper getting the raves (with the Devies being compared to a rockin' Mothers of Invention and Cooper to the Devies!), while others fall flat like the one of the hotcha YOKO ONO/PLASTIC ONO BAND which only gets about five words of dismissal while her hubby's eats out almost all the review space. (And I still can't fathom how anybody could still go for that downhome cooking hokum like Brewer and Shipley not to mention Crosby Shrill and Nutless as Billy Miller called 'em...sheesh, whenever I have the displeasure of hearing that crap I feel like I'm down at the commune munching down some placenta or something equally unappetizing! But still, I must say that I enjoy the overall get-up-and-go feeling behind these NEW HAVEN ROCK PRESSes even with all of the "timely" relevance that continues to make my stomach do a few whirls!

Another nice thing about these NHRP's is that they have all these little surprises, like John Mayall and Bob Hite interviews more or less done "on the fly" kinda like those ones with Iggy and Ron Asheton that popped up in DENIM DELINQUENT. Natcherally by the time the mag became more "established" actual sit-down and shoot-it interviews were taking place like the one with Pink Floyd in Vol. 5 No. 1 where we get to read that Roger Waters really likes James Taylor (and although I'll let Lenny Kaye get away with it Waters will HAVE TO PAY for this not-so-mild indescretion!!!!). And if you dig harder (like into the very same issue) you'll even get to read an article on local heroes Blue Ash written by bigtimer Bud Scoppa who actually trekked all the way to Youngstown to catch these guys rip it up for audiences totally unworthy of them!(However the New York Dolls piece was pretty tepid, failing to capture any of the excitement and energy that band was pumping out to wide acclaim/derision!)

Oh, and one interesting thing, the later issues also feature the talents of one Seth Tiven first as "art editor" and then just plain ol' editor (with Jon moving up to solely being publisher of the entire shebang). Not only that, but Seth also ended up writing a sizable portion of what's in store. For eighties readers, you might remember Seth as being the guiding light behind Dumptruck, the New Haven-bred alternative rock band that made quite a splash in college boy rock circles at the time, and considering their entire style or what I remember from it given it's been a good two decades since I've heard any of it was rather fehsville I guess they really fit into the whole post-seventies groove like a hand into a boxing glove.

I'd guess that NHRP died out around '74...the latest ish I have is their twentieth from that very year with a drawing of Todd Rundgren on the cover and an article written by the very-same rock star on the inside (!-and I don't think it's a fake) which really must've been a feather inna cap of Tiven to be able to score such a bigtime name for the mag writing about himself! Of course there's laods more, from an article on Jeff Lynne and the whole Move/ELO hitmongers (with rumors of Roy Wood wanting to get back with Lynne and Bevan to reform the Move?!?!?), an interview with Badfinger and one of the worst Velvet Underground articles I've ever read in a fanzine, and there were plenty of those! Too little about the VU here and too much on everything from Roxy Music and Eno to the Ayers/Cale/Nico/Eno live album which might've satiated the typical import bin fanatic of the day but at least for me comes off like yesterday's news. Eh!

I'm not sure exactly what Tiven was doing as far as his own personal sense of musicianship goes at the time, but I do recall that he put out a call in a '72-era issue for bandmates in what he was hoping would be a Raspberries-styled hard-pop aggregate. Dunno if THE YANKEES is what that group became, but they were an act that released a good enough album on the Big Sound label back in '78 right at the height of powerpop mania, pretty good timing on Tiven's part if you ask me.

Mostly originals with a few good covers tossed in here/there (I particularly liked their metallic take on Larry Williams' "Bad Boy" as well as the Chilton classic "Take Me Home and Make Me Like It"), THE YANKEES wasn't exactly gonna be taking any major rockism awards for their brand of rockaroll but they sure did a pretty good job of cranking out a good example of the form that seemed custom-made for that infamous BOMP! powerpop issue as well as the entire modcut/sunglasses craze that showed up in hipper clubs nationwide at the time. One thing does "get to me" about it though...y'see, the band (as far as the credits go) consisted of not only Tiven but a Sally Young on acoustic guitar and backup vocals, a Paul Ossola on bass guitar and keyboards and Mickey Curry on drums with loads of bigtime guest stars helping out, but on the front and back covers none other than Ivan Julian (who is listed as an "occasional bassist" and backup singer) is pictured as if he were an actual member of the group! True this disc was probably recorded over a time in which membership in the Yankees might've been in flux, but it does seem fishy for whoever's responsible to promote Julian as an actual member not only on the front cover drawing but in the group session photographs on the reverse! I guess since Julian was fresh from a major label effort with Richard Hell and the Voidoids his name had a little more marketability than Tiven's or the Yankees, but still this whole idea of promoting Julian as a bona-fide member of the band comes off pretty underhanded if you ask me.

So there you have it, and like I said I find these NEW HAVEN ROCK PRESSes pretty fine reading whether or not Meltzer is contributing! Good kick-up-the-feet stuff, and the Yankees are nothing to slouch at either! So what's it gonna be for you...NEW HAVEN ROCK PRESS versus TEENAGE WASTELAND GAZETTE, the Yankees vs. the Dictators...who will WIN??? I think I'll sit onna fence and watch the battle from a safe perch...should be a fun 'un!

6 comments:

Anonymous said...

Chris,
I haven't changed my attitude at all on that subject. His own work as artist and/or songwriter barely qualifies as "journeyman." I think there might be a certain vampire-like quality to the man----sucking the lifeblood from talented artists down on their luck (those he produces and "co-writes" with--PF Sloan,etc.), and hoping that some of the genius will rub-off. Guess what? It hasn't!

--Bill S.

Anonymous said...

How abot that Ork 45 under the name Prix. Heard it? I used to put it on comp tapes. Some good stuff though it is total Chilton rip. from '78 I think though I would have to rummage around some boxes to find it. Though I see Bill's point, I too like that Yankees lp. Also the Spector covers lp on Big Sound. I think JT is on that. Any scans of the NHRP to share or xerox?

JB

Anonymous said...

Seth Tiven was also in Saucer with yr man from RFTT Craig Bell. P.D.

Jon Tiven said...

I wasn't aware I was so controversial.

I never took the attacks by Meltzer and Shernoff particularly seriously, they were looking for someone to beat up on and I suppose I was an easy target. Their opinions are hardly worth anything, and as far as their analysis of my poop, hey, hire a plumber once in a while and maybe your crapper will flush. I'm not the only who found Meltzer's toilet out of order, but the guy kept dead animals encased in jello in his fridge so perhaps collecting fecal matter was also his hobby. His writing was always anal retentive, so perhaps this was his shortcut to shit.

Regarding the Alex Chilton problem, he held it against me that I "dragged" him back into the music industry when he thought it was finished with him, and I understand how that could rankle one but I was under the impression he wanted to continue his career. I didn't do overdubs on those tracks until many years later, and by them the legendary feud was in full swing---in fact I beat the living shit out of him and his manager at CBGB's in the late 70s and our relationship hasn't been the same since.

As for the comment that Prix was a Chilton rip, it was more likely inspired by Chris Bell, the more talented member of Big Star, who participated in the recordings and continued to write and record with singer Tommy Hoehn after Prix folded its tent.

And as far as me being a "journeyman" producer, I've swept the Blues Music Awards (formerly the Handys) two years running with the Wilson Pickett and Little Milton records I wrote and produced, as well as getting a Grammy nod for the former, I've had over 300 of my songs recorded by the likes of B.B. King, Johnny Winter, Jeff Healey Band, Mason Casey, Ellis Hooks, Buddy Guy, Don Covay.....I've just written and produced new albums by Howard Tate, Garnet Mimms, and Betty Harris, and have also produced Robert Plant, Paul Rodgers, Ronnie Wood, Frank Black, Roger McGuinn...I don't have a shortage of impressive names for my resume. I've got plenty of gold and platinum on my wall, so resent me for my success, but don't denigrate my accomplishments.

Thank you Christopher for recognizing that I have made my contribution.

As for Bill S., P.F. Sloan is one of my best friends, and if you ask him about me perhaps you will learn a thing or two.

best,
Jon Tiven

arttess52 said...

Hey, doing some research about bands in New haven in summer of '70. Wondering if the NHRP listed a lineup, or did an article about a 2 day outdoor concert in June (probably). Or if old issues are available on the web, anywhere???
thanks,
j.duke

Christopher said...

NHRP covered a lot of the live shows in New Haven at the time, though I don't recall seeing the festival you mentioned written up in any of 'em. Now don't get me wrong...there were many local live shows and groups documented in NHRP's pages during the very early seventies. (I remember seeing a few mentions of Jasper Wrath, a local prog rock band often compared to King Crimson and Jethro Tull who had an album on MGM's Sunflower subsidiary...surprisingly enough the group lasted long enough to have appeared at the CBGB Christmas Festival in '75.) I just don't recall reading any writeups of that particular fest. BTW, issues of NHRP pop up on ebay once in a blue moon, though if it's the issue with the "free" Fililmore poster be prepared to pay a pretty penny!