Sunday, February 24, 2008

TRACTOR CD (Ozit/Kerrang, United Kingdom)

Harmonia-MUSIC VON HARMONIA und DELUXE CDs (Brain Germany and Brain/Polydor Japan respectively)

Over the past twenty or so years the term "proto-punk" has been snapping my nerve-endings in arpeggios of eternal rockism joy. And yeah, I know that to you Johan Kugelberg's article on "punk before punk" (a clunkier variation of the form) in the latest UGLY THINGS was some sort of major musical epiphany opening your mind to previously-unheralded worlds of music collecting, but for me it was just a rehash of loads of fun facts I pretty much already knew about crammed into a nice package. Don't get me wrong, I really loved the article to the point where a number of pages are actually stuck together, but like I've been a proto-punk fan (perhaps even more so than an actual punk fan!) for a long long time and will continue to be long after I'm chucked into that big hole at the popper's cemetary!

I dunno exactly how I first got to be such a fan of the pre-punk punk groups in the first place, but even during the late-seventies days of rage I was more intrigued with the under-the-counterculture scene that was happening way back when than I was with the then-current goings on in underground rock music! Well, not really, but frankly I can recall spending more than a few hours at the library scouring through THE MUSIC INDEX trying to locate information not only on a wide array of classic mid-sixties garage bands but late-sixties then-obscurities that captivated my tiny dago-brain just as much as I did combing through the back pages of THE VILLAGE VOICE just to see what hot upstarts were playing CBGB and Max's that very week! Nothing much else to do while stuck here in God's hemmorhoid (that's Western Pee-YAY! to you), and come to think of it I was probably more stoked by the old Flamin' Groovies albums and NUGGETS at the time than I was with a lotta the goings on in New York and London! And Pere Ubu appealed to me more or less because of the Seeds references than anything else you'd care to think of, unless it was the Hawkwind comparisons.

But back to my trowling through THE MUSIC INDEX trying to find shards of info on all of those groups from the sixties until the mid-seventies that sorta wooshed right by me the first time around. Still wouldn't mind reading that Deviants interview that I believe Richard Williams conducted in the pages of MELODY MAKER (or even the article on them that I searched through the bound edition of late-'69 ROLLING STONEs for, only to find out that the ref. I had was for the English edition!) as well as a whole slew of late-sixties/early-seventies scraps o' info documenting a whole slew of groups both well-known and instant-obscurities, which only proves that once I get obsessive about something I stick with it until I've beaten that dead carcass for all it's worth. The sign of a true fan (or true anal-retentive...never could get the two straightened out).

But why this obsession? I can trace it to a perhaps a few articles read in CREEM (and maybe even GIG) or a number of freebie Cle-area college papers perhaps. Y'know, back when there still seemed to be this big tie-in between the then-current underground rock and all the great stuff that was getting pumped out in the late-sixties, a sorta limbo where it was too late for the Dolls and Stooges yet too early for the Sex Pistols which is why all those references to Television I was reading made 'em out to be one of the strongest attempts at rock creating a new language based on old dead tongues. And it sure seemed rather tempting at the time. Of course the little asides here and there, such as in the Z. Z. Top article ("Whorin' and Scorin' with...") in the Feb. '76 CREEM where the guys talked about their own past in now-infamous local punk groups the Moving Sidewalks and American Blues mentioning the greatness of loco hero Roky Erickson as well as this group called the Red Crayola that had some guy who used to play electric razor in it added to the (inner) mystique. Also sticking out in my mind are various tossaway reviews of late-sixties punk gems in STEREO REVIEW written by kultured kritics who couldn't handle the rising mass of primitivism led by such thud-stalwarts as the MC5, Stooges and Black Sabbath, a trend which lasted well into the late-seventies as a tasty review of Devo's DUTY NOW FOR THE FUTURE with the scribbler in question saying that our Akronites reminded him of a group he saw at a frat party about a decade earlier that had a member of the group that played the fender of a '59 Edsel or some equally antiquated auto which eventually turned into a riot...well shucks, if that just wasn't the sorta tonic that a guy who was forced to listen to the latest Juice Newton single to and from school was looking for, and don't let anybody out there tell you different!

And as the days roll on and I get crochitier and crochitier, those early budding days of what would eventually be called "punk rock" mean all the more to me. Maybe it's because this kind of soundspew is what was happening in many a joint back when I was a kid, and man I sure wished there was some crazy proto-punk group in my neck of the woods, perhaps even in a garage near my very own home back when I was young and sprouting just so's I could spy on 'em and get some free entertainment whilst they were rehearsing. (Which is a true enough story for me because when I was like four or five my neighbor Eddie Barton was in a group where he played drums, and one day when they were rehearsing in the basement I was looking at 'em in awe through the basement window giving Eddie a load of grief in the process! It took not only Eddie's mom but my own to pry me away, but not without a lot of tears on my part. Still don't know why my espying on what seemed like a momentous occasion could have gotten Eddie all discombobulated, but my presence was really upsetting to the guy and I guess it was his house anyway and what right does a mere turdler have espying such a thing as a rock & roll rehearsal!) And of course, this is the sound of punk before punk really got a name thus opening up entire new vistas of musical possibilities to...boring kids who really needed a roadmap to know which way the wind was blowing in their typically 2-D lives. Like heavy metal, when punk rock got a name for itself it lost a lot of its inherent power in the process and never really was the same again.

Here are three disques culled together not only because they all seem to have some proto-punk credo but because they just happened to by top spins on my Cee-Dee launching pad this week. One of 'em is a reissue of an album I had heard about a decade back and poo-pooh'd. The other two are longtime faves that even made it onto a top ten list of then-current boppers about a year ago, but since I never did write about 'em on the pages of this blog I figured that perhaps now was the time to take advantage of their existence and maybe hip a few readers even though I'm sure anyone who didn't accidentally stumble across this writeup in search of the "Gay/Feminism and Bestiality" blog already has these platters in their collection. Such are the dangers of "cruising" the internet. Tractor's self-titled debut's the first on the chopping block today, and frankly when I first head this way back in the early-nineties I didn't exactly dance the polka to it. In fact I thought, especially after all of the proto-punk hype surrounding this long lasting (even until today!) group that it was a wee bit too progressive rock for my high energy tastes. I believe I mentioned something about how Tractor would have fit in snugly on the Famous Charisma Label in one of those early-nineties issues of my own fanzine and if you thought that this one was going to get a heavy-duty spin in the years following then brother you haven't been paying attention that closely.

But onna lark I decided to give Tractor another chance, and whaddya know but this "30th Anniversary Special Edition" of our heavy duo's debut had made it into my greasy paws just inna nick o' time for me to do a nice writeup of the thing. Talk about luck, and after spinning this 'un after a good twelve or so years all I gotta say is that I must've been on the rag back then because TRACTOR really is a hit straight outta nowhere! Now that I've hit menopause I can settle back and enjoy Tractor's great high energy rock which spans so many genres and styles that it's no wonder that the punk rockers as well as the KERRANG heavy metal enthusiasts (who put this platter our since I guess John Peel's Dandelion imprint is once again deep-sixed) both claim Tractor as one of their own. TRACTOR slips and slides between hard rock of an early UFO/Hawkwind/Pink Fairies nature (hence the true proto-punksterisms of the thing) with a few sidesteps into early Black Sabbath (who coulda been proto-punk contenders had they fizzed after MASTER OF REALITY) and hey, this one swings swell enough that even the acoustic proggy numbers surprisingly don't offend me like they usedta. But that don't matter because most of TRACTOR is good hard throb-rock of the best early-seventies variety, and it's amazing when you think that this two-man band is still playing around after a good thirty-eight or so years and can be hired to play your next orgy if you supply the air fare and appropriate pharmaceuticals. Hmmm, and come to think of it even the acoustic number "Everytime it Happens" is just as much a cooker as the hard-edged tracks complete with a Mike Karoli-esque guitar lead that has you looking twice for Damo. Additional bonus tracks including this great Indian Raga Whoop are more than worth the price of admission. Damn, are these two good even if they look like Uncle Biff at his retirement dinner these days...gonna hafta check out their flesh and blood punk rock track on my long-buried STREETS collection just to remind myself of what these guys were up to during the late-seventies "upheaval"! (And it's so well-organized that even those acoustic "bopping gnome" tracks that were stuck on at the end were OK by me---hope you have the smelling salts handy!)
And while we're talking about proto-punk, the krautrockers did that trip with much aplomb back in the early-seventies. I'm sure this strange fact would have shocked a few outright punks back in the day since krautrock was more or less associated with hippies getting high on things besides life and hey, I remember the time I was at this West Covina shopping mall record shop in '77 seeing a display of classic Ohr albums amidst an artsy layout of bongs and other paraphrenalia! I even remember the long outta-circulation Jade Hubertz telling me about the days when he was working in a record shop and hippies were trading in horribly scratched copies of PARADIESWARTS DUUL and ya hadda be careful taking the records outta the sleeves because hypodermic needles were more'n likely to start pouring out! Not exactly an atmosphere for punkism proper you may think, but in many ways a lotta these early krautrock pioneers sound just like what those Amerigan garage bands were cranking out in the 'burbs of the oft loathed states at the time, and true a lotta these krautsters were pushing-30 collegiate types who had only recently discovered rock music after playing avant classical or jazz, but at least these aging hipsters had it made over their Amerigan counterparts (especially the ones in San Francisco) because the music they were making sounded a lot more like that of some sixteen-year-olds who learned to play while spinning Stooges albums, maybe mixed with Stockhausen but it still came off pretty scrunchy if you ask me!

Don't know exactly how Harmonia would've exactly fitted into this scheme of proto-punkdom but they sure have two things going for their inclusion into the p-rock hall of fame even if the whole of Cluster (not exactly one of my top-notch echelon of German Expressionist groups) is in it along with Neu!'s Michael Rother (for me the hippie half of the band counterbalanced by Klaus Dinger's extroverted punk stance). One fact that can place 'em squarely in the punk rock arena is that none other than Volcanic Tongue's very own David Keenan once declared Harmonia a punk rock group (wish I could re-read the exact review, but all of the Harmonia albums at Volcanic Tongue are sold out), and if Keegan sez Harmonia are punks then so be it! Another pertinent fact is the fact that member Dieter Mobieus himself said Harmonia were influenced by "the Velvet Underground, Mozart, Coltrane, Brel, Arabic, Hindu...the list goes on and on" which seems to me like a statement that your standard artsy-punk in a fit of braggadocio would have made around the same time (mid-seventies)! And hey, I'm sure you remember that story about the band Peter Laughner wanted to form with Paul Marotta which would have had influences as far-ranging as the Velvets and Mozart? Maybe Harmonia were really onto something even if I doubt that the Laughner/Marotta group, had they ever made it outta that night alive, would have sounded anything like this!

MUSIK VON HARMONIA does "have it all" or at least enough to qualify it as being as much a proto-punk contender as RAW POWER or maybe even the first Blue Oyster Cult album had they ended up struggling for a good seven more years playing Wednesday night CBGB gigs with the Brats. It does have "it" more than Kraftwerk outdoing them at their own electronic rock game, and in many ways they even equal the likes of Can, Amon Duul (I and II) as well as Faust, three groups who could have easily survived as late-sixties Amerigan garage bands triple billed with the Stooges and Alice Cooper at the Ludlow Garage (even though Umela Hmota 2 and especially 3 would have mopped the floor with alla 'em!). But still, the Velvet-inspired repeato riffs and general seventies electronic whirl (I dunno about you, but back in the day I really had an "affectation" for that old warm Moog synthesizer sound that seemed so state-of-the-art! Was I crazy or what!!!) sounds a lot more engaging and experimental than a lotta the stuff that Harmonia was eventually made obsolete by. I know that's sorta like comparing Supercar with all of the flying jets and other air travel one may see today, but then again the general stylistic warmth of the 1959 model sure has it beat over the cyborg coldness of technology as it eventually turned out, and the same can be said about Harmonia tenfold!

Followup DELUXE seems to veer even closer to that Euro-take on Velvetisms than the debut...dunno if that's because of the presence on some tracks of Guru Guru drummer Mani Neumaier (who certainly could be a devotee of the primal steady-beat thud a la such legendary hamfisters as Maureen Tucker, Scott Asheton, Twink and Jaki Leibzeit!). Maybe it was the opening title track which sounded more like a mid-seventies Eno number down to the chanted vocals. And sure it's "treacly" at times but then again so were La Dusseldorf and I'd certainly consider them hefty competitors in the mid/late-seventies Velvet Underground groove sweepstakes. The rest of DELUXE ain't that bad either, pleasing enough riff-garage rock that's not as electronic as MUSIK VON... but closer in style to Neu!'s more street-rock take on the "motorik" style (is that the "hypno-beat" Criswell was predicting?) complete with Rother's glissando guitar playing that I guess was actually good enough to get him a contract with the snazz late-seventies British underground label Radar, and at the same time they were issuing a lotta Amerigan proto-punk classics so don't say that he wasn't in good company!

Whaddeva, it makes a good hunk of what came after that great late-seventies surge in underground music (most of which gets bantered around using that horrid term "post-punk" which always crawed my throat!) sound positively tepid. And yeah, a lotta it was, and what's even more surprising about it all is that 2/3rd of Harmonia (the Cluster part to be precise) weren't exactly spring chickens with Hans Joachim Rodelius pushing the big four-oh when these recordings were being made! And yeah, I know we've thrown all of those old notions about ageism out the window long ago, but remember this was inna seventies when it sure seemed strange that Alex Harvey was old enough to be our dads and Bill Wyman and Charlie Watts were so desperately trying to hide their ages from the public. Kinda gives hope to all you geriatric readers out there that maybe you too can recapture a lost youth with your own punk batallion, eh?
Since writing the above windbagger I chanced upon a couple of related platters that fit into the aforementioned screedathon. (Which I find pretty dullsville if you ask me...too bad I'm outta Maypo!) As for the first...well, I must be the only person on the face of this earth who enjoys the NEU '72 LIVE disc that Captain Trip in Japan released well over a decade back. It's amazing just how many people really tear into this 'un, but (once again) going against the grain of "conventional" thought I'll declare this perhaps Neu!'s most defining moment. Sounding more like a clandestine recording of an EPI-period Velvet Underground performance (or that of one of those very early Velvets-inspired aggregates who knew enough to absorb the energy from the get-go), the low-fidelity of this rehearsal tape actually lends an air of grace as the trio of Dinger, Rother and Kranemann weave in and out of some rather majestic twists and turns that seem to plunge the Sargasso just as much as Lester Bangs said Can did. The recorder is left on even after the group finishes their extended workout, and strange utterances in the German language can be heard making us dumb Amerigans wonder what all the fuss is about. Then the three get into this hard cranky tangent that sorta reminds me of the Germs' "Sex Boy" more'n anything! Dunno about you, but this proto-punk racket that Neu! cranked out sure comes off a lot smoother'n what alla that post-punk doldrums groups that took their cues from the krautrock movement were whipping up in their botiques back in the eighties! Also getting the spin was Thomas Dinger's FUR MICH, a disque I got over a decade ago even though I've only played it all the way through in the here and now. Kinda candy-coated like the latterday La Dusseldorf releases true, but frankly FUR MICH still made a nice enough impression on my late-night listening even if I thought that the occasional trips into twee-dom were pretty much...well, evocative of a more eighties-styled music scene that sorta trashed all the good the seventies promised. But it's still way tops over most of the underground pretensions that poured outta the chasm of "artistic license" back in those sorry days. Don't let the glammy cover fool you, FUR MICH is an undiscovered krautrock/proto-punk in a modern "new music" world platter that I'm sure you'll get more'n a little enjoyment outta especially during those more hormonally-challenged moments alla us male menopausers have to fight off!

No comments: