UNAPOLOGETIC VELVET UNDERGROUND WORSHIP (LIKE, WHAT ELSE WOULD YOU EXPECT ON THIS BLOG?)
As of the past few decades there really hasn't been much good new music for us unrepentant/unreconstructed Velvet Underground fans to enjoy, or at least do so like in the seventies when the seams of the earth were just busting with bands who took various aspects of the Velvets' infinite magic and went off with it in similar and/or unique directions. Oh yeah, the eighties and nineties were also popping out with loads of Velvet Underground "wannabes" for wont of a better term (of course, each and every one of them seemed to go out of their ways to mention that they sounded "nothing" like the Velvets in a vain attempt to distance themselves from their amerindie brethren), but very few of them really captured that feral magic that the Velvets bestowed upon us, or at least they didn't capture it like a vast majority of the seventies bands with the Velvets "feel". Other than Sister Ray, Yo La Tengo and a few more latterday acts whose names will come back to me more later than sooner very little of these Velvets-"influenced" groups were able to relay that same sorta high-energy intensity of the inspiration resulting in not only a wide array of tiresome copycats, but a lame cult surrounding the Velvets that sorta helped to trash a good portion of their legacy to all heck. At least in the sixties we had the Stooges and Can and the seventies everyone from the Modern Lovers to about a thousand or so bands of equal stature and might, but afterward what was there in Velvetdom to to snap our synapese the way the Contortions or Third Rail could...X-Tal??? Please, I just ate!
The following two reviews are of groups dating from the seventies (one midway through, the other punk ass end) who had more than a few brainy rockcrit types looking for new terms to describe these bands' "Velvetosity" for wont of a better term. They were but two of thousands and unlike the newer crop of post-Velvet acts they seemed earnest enough in their trek to take the influence but not be a dimwit copycat. But whatever, I'm strapped for new sounds right now so these old ones should hopefully fill the bill until Volcanic Tongue comes up with some tasty vittles.
***Marie et les Garcons-"Rien a Dire", "A Bout De Souffle"/"Mardi Soir" EP(Rebel, France)
After making out what little I could from ROCK NEWS' French lingo I get the sneaking suspicion that these guys (and gal) were pretty serious Velvet Underground fanatics, which is sure good enough to re-ignite my late-seventies pilot light, that's for sure. And Marie et les Garcons were certainly a fresh-enough group to have turned more than a few jaded Velvet-types' heads even with all of the Modern Lovers and Talking Heads press hype that was legendary at the time. After all, what more can you say about another clean-looking group in a sea of stadium rock dregdom complete with a female drummer and the distinction of being the first French band to play at CBGB way back in March of '77 anyway? And the band sure lived up to their hype with a number of boffo recordings, some which appeared courtesy of Skydog records as well as the equally Franco-lovin' Rebel label which also released the equally Velvetesque Mars debut single back when it all mattered most.
And this particular EP is a good 'un which reminds me of just what was right with the seventies as far as passing the post-Velvet torch went as well as the plethora of acts that didn't make me moan and cry over the death of the Velvets like I woulda had these bands NOT existed. "Rien a Dire" starts things off with a STICKY FINGERS-era Rolling Stones filtered through Velvets sense of urgency, while "A Bout de Souffle" seems to pay homage to the more up-to-date punkisms with a New York flair...a Ramones influence can be discerend especially with an obvious "Loudmouth" swipe thrown in. "Mardi Soir" also reminds me of various '77-isms that were getting more than ample fanzine space, it having a straighter Velvets in a seventies Boston fashion sound that only goes to show the anti-Velvet naysayers (such as Anastasia Pantsios, who once said that the Velvets were a lame bunch whose only influence in eighties rock was on whiny angst-filled singers*) just how all important and to the root of the high-energy matter the Velvets remained for more than a few years after their premature demise.
Marie et les Garcons did manage at least one more recording after this, a 12-incher on Ze which I don't think has been reissued in any form, just like this debut popper come to think of it. It's an OK one, showing a more slick, perhaps "new wave" production that marred many of these groups' recordings back during the day, not to mention ruined more than a few groups themselves as well. I don't have it, but someone decided to use it as the basis for one of those youtube patch-together videos that always present a load of must hear material usually with duff graphics...this is one for the group's '78 "Re-Bop Attitude"/"Rien a Diew Medley" and after giving it a play I think you'll know what I mean:
A bit fluffweight in comparison especially when they break into "Macho Man" on "Rien a Diew" but I'll take it over the sickening mewls of J. Neo Marvin and the rest of those Velvet Underground blasphemers you've heard for the past two decades anyday! And wouldn't you???
***THE RAINCOATS CD (1993 DGO release)
I guess if there was any good in Kurt Cobain's existence it was due to his role in getting an Amerigan release for this classic slab a good fourteen years after it's original appearance back '80 way. And yeah, I know that you, me and a good hefty number of you reg'lar BLOG TO COMM readers have pretty much shied away from a good portion of the same early-eighties "Rough Trade"-styled underground rockism for quite some time, but despite the similarities with such acts as Au Pairs and Delta 5 THE RAINCOATS, and the Raincoats, are different. Imagine it as being the last days of the whole Velvets influx chain of influence that began in the late-sixties with everyone from Le Stelle Di Mario Schifano and Les Rallizes Denudes, and suddenly the whole scene gets ker-PLUNKED but good when the likes of REM and other eighties superficialists began getting the precious rock press space but here's an act that is continuing on the same nerve-bared path as the originals and they're acting as if dorko gnu wave and alternative music doesn't even exist! That's the Raincoats for you!
True, the Raincoats were of a decidedly feminist pose (translation: I'm sure a surprise armpit check would reveal mucho hair!) complete with the neo-Marxist drivel that goes along with your average working/slumming-class Englisher (just take a gander at their album cover below with the cute kerchiefed Chinese kids singing odes to the one called Mao...of course Ameriga is beyond the pale, y'know!), but their unabashed primitive scrawl and typical seventies-derived Velvet fandom helped to erase any traces of dangerous British Socialist moves in my book which only goes to show you that I might be willing to forsake my own proud beliefs if the music has a good swerve to it!
So what does this stuff have to say for you musically a good three decades after the fact? A whole heckuva lot from the intentionally off-key singing to the scratchy violin and updated take on classic mid-sixties folk rock. Thankfully the Raincoats ain't another one of them hotstuff feminist acts you've seen popping ever since the days of wimmen's lip singing odes to the wondrous smells to be found 'neath the waist. Even when they do sing about some rapist soldier in their own uniquely vague way (meaning you probably wouldn't know what "Off Duty Trip" was about unless you've read one of a thousand interviews the band did back in the day) they don't sound too much like the privileged middle-class scions that they most truly are. Of course all of that socio-political gab takes a back seat to the music which sounds surprisingly hard-up intense with punky snatches tossed in to make it all the more copasetic with what that eighties rock was supposed to be all about. And at least their Velvet Underground, especially on the particularly 1965/66-ish "In Love" sounds a whole lot better than most post-underground dingbats' variations on the form thereof!
Funny aside...I remember playing my favorite track from this 'un, namely "Life on the Line" for some budding airline stewardess (no foolin') back when THE RAINCOATS originally came out and she thought it was abysmal and told me so in a typically condescending "I must lower myself down to his level to explain that I hate his musical tastes" sorta way. Funny, I thought she was one of those types who would have been open-minded (as opposed to open-ended!) about such hot new rock & roll ideals, but I was wrong. I'll betcha she went for these gals whole hog a good twelve or so years later after Cobain gave this 'un his imprimatur of decadent hotcha! I wouldn't mind asking her if she did or not...all I remember about her is that her first name was I believe Kathy and her last either "Lenz" or perhaps "Renz" and she lived in a ritzy ranch house in Hermitage. Hey "Lenz/Renz", if you're reading this how about dropping a comment in the post box and telling me you changed your mind...about the album, that is.
***IT'S ALL MEAT CD (Hallucinations, PO Box 506, Millville NJ 08392)
This one has very little if anything to do with the Velvets, but I thought I'd mention this Toronto group's Cee-Dee reissue because I've been waiting for so long to give it a spin. Click here for my review of an early-nineties vintage pirate copy, and not-so-surprisingly my opinions have not changed regarding this obscurity in the lapse of time since I wrote that. However I should note for you that the single side "Feel It" once again makes an appearance in fact starting off the disque, and the six additional pre-LP demo sides are a real boon too, with more of that classic Canadian slow intense-burn sound that seemed to permeate more than a few bands up there in the North Country, or at least the country north of here.
My fave of these demos has gotta be the closer "If Jesus Were Alive Today" and I must admit that despite the subject matter I really like this song and not just because it has one of those updated fifties rock melodies that everyone from the Velvets to Flamin' Groovies were dabblin' in at the time. I like it because It's All Meat handle the subject matter of this song surprisingly well considering how they coulda mucked it up real bad. Y'see, I really do not cozy up to these "What if Jesus were in the here and now" sagas because every time its done the author of said story/song/play etc. does nothing but project his own socio-political beliefs into that of his fictional Son of Man as if to say that "Jesus" would have been every bit as hip-cause socially-conscious as """""I""""" am, wotta guy! In a way It's All Meat do this as well, but instead of having their Jesus variation stomp the grounds for Proposition 8 or act as an escort in an abortion clinic, they have him singing in a rock & roll band sticking it to the authorities! Personally, I find that a whole lot more digestible than anything Terrance McNally or Tony Kushner would put into one of their asinine plays, not to mention a whole load better'n the Jesus Freak music that was coming out during the early/mid-seventies. Next time you're around the campfire and someone wants to sing "Kumbaya" just slap this 'un on the box and watch years of sanctimonious sludge get washed away for good!
***BEFORE I LEAVE YOU, I thought I'd share thiis little bit of information I got via a letter from Brad Kohler which, whether true or not, certainly is food for thought:
My pal Bruce said that once Obama got in all examples of what is now considered unforgivable stereotyping, like the mammy character in TOM & JERRY cartoons or the porter in THE THREE STOOGES shorts turning white with fright etc. would be excised from existing prints and anyone caught with original copies would be sent to re-education camps! Hope no one spied on me watching Mantan Moreland in a public domain poverty row horror farce last Saturday!Frankly my money's on this being one big farce that's going around akin to the rumor that Bill Cosby bought up all of the rights to THE LITTLE RASCALS so they wouldn't be shown on television anymore (and since they were taken off, have race relations improved!), but I certainly hope not since I just received the first three volumes of DC's SPIRIT reprints last Monday and they've been taking up much of my free time and in fact have been keeping me up late spellbound by the fantastic art and unique stories to be found therein. Naturally the modern day taste police are not too keen on the Spirit's black sidekick, Ebony White, who originally appeared as a full grown cabbie who drove our Masked Avenger around town in a few episodes but quickly transmorphed into a child, and I remember the heaping hunks of controversy directed towards SPIRIT creator Will Eisner for including this particular character in his stories raging on at least since the Warren SPIRIT reprints in the mid-seventies. More on Ebony and his "boss" in a future post, but sheesh, if the above rumor just happens to be true or at least contains a grain of credibility, both me and Brad might be sharing a cell at Camp Sontag learning to be oh so queasy over our pitiable white existences! I'll let you know what happens, like maybe write a letter home along with some arts and crafts maybe.
--------------------------------------------------------------------*And yes, I did read that on-line article she did on the one-off Mirrors reunion last summer, which only goes to prove that the "rock" press is more than apt to deify such "cannon fodder" as Mirrors, as long as it ain't a threat to their FM-minded bonghead mentalities or anything else that might seem "counter-revolutionary" to the "cause".