Wednesday, March 12, 2008

BOOK REVIEW: BOMP! SAVING THE WORLD ONE RECORD AT A TIME by Suzy Shaw and Mick Farren (Ammo, 2007)

Y'know, it's strange when a natural-born illiterate like myself is handed not just one, but three books to read o'er the course of two whole weeks. But that's just what happened to none other than your not-so-humble blogger...first came Brian Doherty's RADICALS FOR CAPITALISM, a spry tell-all detailing the birth and growth of the libertarian movement in the U. S. of Whoa that for once names all(most all) the names (positively a keeper!), and right after that arrived another item to be named at a later date of which a review can be read in the forthcoming issue of UGLY THINGS. And now comes this gem, a nice hardcovered history of not only the entire ever-lovin' BOMP! empire but its founder and chief doer/shaker Greg Shaw! I mean, what gives???? Who would have ever thunk in a millyun years that such a book giving us the unvarnished lowdown on Shaw and his various writing/publishing/recording endeavors would even exist in the first place, and I'm not only talkin' in the here and now but in a thousand years when rockism culture is going to be dissected and studied to all get-out in college courses worldwide. Greg Shaw and BOMP! ain't exactly the things that even people in the underground rock "know" are going to be talking about even these sorry days, not with all of the hot air being wasted on the current flash-in-the-underground-pans that seem to be feasting on all of the innovation and hard work Shaw was pumping out a good three decades back. Yes, it really is strange that in 2008 there exists a book whose only reader is seemingly going to be ME!

Hopefully I'm not the only goober who's digging deep into this rough guide to creating your own underground rock fanzine/label because SAVING THE WORLD ONE RECORD AT A TIME rilly is an eye-gouging all-out saga detailing the Greg Shaw empire from humble fanzine beginnings up through seventies "new wave" domination and beyond (mainly snarfing up the remains of the late-seventies via the garage-punk revival scene). Sometimes I'd like to think that there are at least a few people out in the great unwashed who also have an interest in rock & roll fanzines, seventies underground rock and all of the jam-packed high energy that went along with it...I'm probably wrong, but man you all know just how much I flip when I get my grip on some old fanzine with a rare Metal Mike Saunders or Richard Meltzer article, not to mention a tape of some under-the-covers band of the past that was wreaking havoc with the same Velvets/Stooges influences that many a group namby-pambied to oblivion these past twennysome years. I have the sneaking suspicion that there may be a few more of you out there, but I wouldn't know. Actually, I'm having way too much fun re-reading my hefty collection of GOLDEN AGE OF ROCK WRITING (not "rock criticism") fanzines and books while listening to the umpteenth spin of Can cranking it out like the bestest late-sixties punk band to ever hit the boards to really care what you think. But if you wanna come along for the ride, feel free to latch on!

I must admit that I have been a great admirer of Greg Shaw for a very long time, perhaps well on over a good quarter-century but who's counting. In fact, there was a period in my life when receiving the latest BOMP! catalog was considered a major pocketbook-draining affair in my household...after all, those catalogs were like a life-line to some REAL WORLD out there where the past via PEBBLES and BOULDERS samplers and the present via the vast array of BOMP-label wares were coming together to give me a rock & roll education that I certainly wasn't getting on either the AM or FM bands here in the Light Metal Western Pee-YOU! area!!! I can still remember that rush I would get listening to a whole slab of six-oh reissues straight from the fabled BOMP! warehouse, then-current underground indie rock (before that went the way of too many cooks spoiling the broth by pissing in it!) as well as the reams of (who put the) BOMP! and PHONOGRAPH RECORD MAGAZINE back issues that really helped set me straight in a world that was becoming increasingly twee when it should've been going crunch!

So in a hundred words or less BOMP! helped this kid through an otherwise blanded-out eighties (one of the worst decades in modern gulch living not counting the '90s and '00s) and if it weren't for Shaw and his obsessive rockist vision where would I be today? Certainly not pecking out this blog nor would I have been spending my precious free time throughout the eighties and nineties cranking out my own fanzine to general obscurity and unrelenting hostility!

It really is a fine book, perhaps the best one of the year unless someone comes out with the secret diary of Dave Lang's "kept" koala. Authors Suzy Shaw and Mick Farren certainly did a good job in capturing the mad rock aura surrounding Greg and the empire he built and (of course) why not! After all, Suzy was the first wife of Mr. Shaw and was just as much the brains behind BOMP! as her eventually ex-hubby, and for the most part she pretty much ran the mailorder biz while Greg was more preoccupied with other more pressing matters like keeping a card catalog of just about every pertinent band he knew existed! (BTW, back in the eighties when I told onetime Blue Ash/Dead Boys member Frank Secich that Greg and Suzy were splitsville he couldn't believe it! He said that everytime he saw the two they were so cuddle-cuddle and kissy-kiss that you never would have thought they'd ever be torn asunder!) And of course just about everything that Mick Farren rattles on about, at least in the realm of rock & roll, is worth lending eyeballs gotta remember that the guy wasn't just an ex-Deviant but one of the stars of the NEW MUSICAL EXPRESS stable in the seventies and eighties that gave us the likes of Nick Kent, Paul Morley and Charles Shaar Murray, some of the best writers to come outta the English rock scene despite the staggering odds given just how dismal the British Weekly scene could have gotten at times.

Nice selection of early Shaw fanzine covers, his Sci-Fi biggie ENTMOOT amongst 'em, start off the book (this was a period in time Shaw seemed to be a bit leery in telling us about so the better-late-than-never info surely came in handy) after which we're treated to a whole lotta pages taken straight outta the infamous MOJO NAVAGATOR, Shaw's attempt at covering the nascent San Francisco rock scene long before some ineffectual bi named Jann Wenner decided to push Shaw outta his own game with his twist on Youth Rebellion as a marketable product. Lotsa neat repros direct from the pages of MOJO NAVAGATOR are included such as the interviews with the Doors (where Shaw and band discuss the latest syntheses of LSD and various other psychedelics [which was used in Joe Carducci's ROCK AND THE POP NARCOTIC to needle Shaw as revenge for sitting on the Black Flag tapes so long!]) and the one with Big Brother and the Holding Company where Janis said the Fillmore was just a hangout for sailors to get laid thus earning the wrath of Bill Graham who got into a big hitting and swearing fit with Joplin as she tried to enter his venue shortly afterwards! Talk about scenes we'd hate to see, but despite the fawning over the likes of the Dead and the usual hippoid pratfalls (and sheesh, for years I used to imagine Greg Shaw as this Brian Jones-haired guy who loved his surf and garage band records despite the oncoming hippie influx, but just take a gander at what he looked like in 1969!) there are nice and pertinent bits of important info on decidedly non-hippie local punks which does show the roots of bigger things yet to come. And as far as presenting San Francisco '66/'67 as something that was vibrant and exciting (long before the hackdom ensued) MOJO NAVAGATOR sure did a heck of a better job than most of the hipster underground press of the day ever could hope to!

By the time WHO PUT THE BOMP! showed up on the scene a good two years later we finally get to see the Shaw of garage band/surf/rockabilly fandom and discographies that has enraptured me ever since I started laying my paws on then-plentiful back issues of his rag way back in the early-eighties. It's sure great to once again gaze upon Lester Bangs' legendary Troggs article as it originally appeared with the Jonh Ingham cartoons showing notorious pud James Taylor getting run in with a broken wine bottle way back in '71 (and those snaps of Bangs accosting Lillian Roxon in a Superman shirt are really something else, aren't they?). Too bad the Meltzer piece on the Troggs and beer was lopped off the thing, but at least we once again get to see that famed photo of a drunk-outta-his-skull Prince Pudding in the company of a geekier-than-thou Dave Marsh back when Meltzer was less careful about choosing his friends. It sure is intestinal-fortifying reading all of those fantastic seventies-era BOMP! pages as they originally appeared (the sixties-punk pieces on the Seeds and Standells being particular standouts if only for the subject matter), as well as some of the non-BOMP items from PHONOGRAPH RECORD MAGAZINE such as that big New York Dolls piece where Shaw, Alan Betrock, Ron Ross (a Dolls insider who later wrote a positive review of Genesis for the paper!) and Lester Bangs get to give their all for the cause of decadence!

And it goes on from there through all the ins and outs of Shaw and BOMP! from the label and his growing dissatisfaction with the way underground rock was developing as the eighties progressed (thus resulting in his pushing of the sixties garage revival which never did seem to catch on despite his opening of the now-forgotten Cavern Club and the signing of more than a few newer generations of punks for his label). Unfortunately the book ends on a sad note with Shaw's 2004 death, and for a guy who seemed to be pronounced dead more times than Forrest Ackerman (who once hit on Shaw at an early-sixties Sci-Fi convention!) it's any wonder he lived as long as he did. Frankly I didn't know that Shaw was such a partier and imbiber even though his life-long diabetes and eventual organ transplant deemed such behavior verboten; who would have thought so given the time he had writing articles for magazines and running a record label (not to mention answering letters from ineffectual shrubs like me!).

But high-styled living and general burned-outness aside, SAVING THE WORLD... is one of those compilations that's custom-made for my kind of intense and heated rockism. Every page is a surprise whether it be something out of the early MOJO NAVAGATOR which mentions a heretofore unknown garage ideal (and in many ways it's funny to read Shaw rip on "teenybopper" groups he would later champion like Paul Revere and the Raiders while praising local SF punks, especially since both of these once-opposites would be lumped together into the great stew of sixties glory in less than a good five years!), or a page or three taken from a mimeo-era BOMP! that I only had access to via the great back issue xerox sale of 1981. But what really got my life-energy force flowing was the appearance of what's more or less left of the never-published issue #22 that was supposed to come out around the same time those great back issue photocopies were being sold at exorbitant prices! And when this issue was being advertised in the BOMP! catalog back in '81 even I sent my buck in hoping this promising magazine would wing its way to my door more sooner than later only to grumble ten years later thinking that giving away my hard-begged was all for naught! Little did anyone know that the masters to that legendary non-issue were considered lost until this very book was being compiled, but anyway here it is seeing the light of day looking a lot worse for wear and pretty much like the BOMP of the pre-new wave days which exactly was Shaw's point! It's sure swell reading all of Shaw's opinions on the then-latest garage band reissues (not forgetting a class rundown on the then-recent PEBBLES, BOULDERS and PSYCHEDELIC UNKNOWNS collections that were certainly inspiring awe in me) as well as informative pieces on the likes of the Barracudas and Blasters that gives blokes in on the rockism game (like myself and presumably you) a nice warm 'n toasty feeling of nostalgic pudding just remembering how much this stuff mattered at the tail end of one of the more fruitful rock eras in our lives. Not that it doesn't elicit such pangs of rheumy-eyed rose-colored rear-view mirror looks now, but ya gotta admit that back then the impact was surely stronger considering what we were (eager-beaver rock & roll lovers) and where we were coming from (some of the most boring places on the face of this earth!). But why the crack about these original pages to #22 showing just how fanzines were put together in the days before computers? Listen, every issue of my own fanzine well up until the year 2003 was laid out pretty much in the same way as BOMP! was and under much more primitive conditions, and frankly any future ones will be done even cheaper, if you technowhiz readers can fathom that in your underdeveloped ape-like minds! Still, if you value those memories of getting tons of garage band reissues via BOMP!'s mailorder business and discovering new groups that really did seem like they were going to save the world, a book like this is indispensable.


Anonymous said...


I’ll buy this tomb on the strength of your review. One minor gripe… mentioning Paul Morley in the same breath as Mick Farren, Charles Shaar Murray and Nick Kent? Morley is quite rightly considered a pretentious buffoon on this (UK) side of the pond. His ludicrously introspective wordy ramblings on Joy Division are enough to put anyone off the band. The man’s a U2 fan for crying out loud. Rant over. Keep up the good work


Christopher said...

tf, gotta admit that I really dug the you-know-what outta Morley's OUT THERE fanzine from '76, a fantab rundown on punkisms and other smart sounds that were going on during those whacked-out mid-seventies all done up in the smarter English rockscribe trad which sure helps out. (Only wish more issues would have seen the light of day...would have loved to have read that promised article on John Cage!) And true the guy later make mucho moolah jumpstarting the "Frankie Says" craze of the eighties amongst other things, but hey I also recall more than a few turdbombs being dropped by Kent, Murray and other more "with-its" during those sorry days and even beyond. And sheesh, I read a few good things from Morley on the web (almost if not all of seventies origin), but given that I am not as "well-versed" in the British rock criticking game as you may be I just may concede! Maybe a few more spins around the latterday UK rockwriter globe will change my opinions???

Anonymous said...

I might’ve been a tad harsh on Morley. My judgement is based on his post-1980 output which includes his current day media whoring - his multi-chinned fissog pops up all to frequently on talking head style ‘popular culture review’ type TV programs over here. He tends to go in for the ‘I’ve swallowed a dictionary and my sentence is twice as long as your paragraph, therefore I win’ style of debate. I think you’ve got it about right in splitting his work into pre and post 1980. He was sufficiently tuned in to be one of the 50-100 who attended the first Sex Pistols gig outside London in mid ’76 after all, but on the other hand there’s the Frankie business to consider. As for a rethink of what’s what in terms of late 70’s Brit rock scribedom, I think you’ve pretty much got in covered although I don’t recall you mentioning Pete Frame’s Zig Zag magazine too much (if at all). Bill Allerton at Stand Out Records can help you here, he has a shedload of back issues that he’s looking to shift.


Christopher said...

Actually I'm a bit of a ZIG ZAG fan and will buy an old issue on occasion depending on whether or not there's a group or person of interest featured within its pages. And yeah, ZIG ZAG did feature too many Southern Californian singer/songwriters and was hyping them to the rafters back in the early-to-mid-seventies, but whenever they got on their Pink Fairies/Stackwaddy kick they were one of the better things going in England at the time. Strangely enough I find their more punky late-seventies issues less enthralling (though I think Kris Needs was a wowzer writer who deserved more accolades than he got), and I remember hearing about how terrible the mag became by the mid-eighties when the entire staff went on the Maraillon or however its spelled kick before petering out into nothingness. But then again that was the state of what became of the seventies GOLDEN AGE OF ROCK CRITICISM in England, which even at that stage was vastly superior to what was going on in the US press. (Which is one of the reasons I started a certain fanzine up to spotlight a certain writers' swagger and verve...)

Anonymous said...

Thanks, Chris! I'm going to have nightmares now of Forry Ackerman hitting on Greg Shaw!

Bill Shute

Christopher said...

Although this may seem oh so pretensioso, I did make a grammatical goof in my first comment...that should read "made" 'stead of "make". Add all the sic's you want!

Christopher said...

...ditto "writer's swagger and verve"...not exactly a good week for grammar, innit?