IT AIN'T NOSTALGIA...DON'T EVEN THINK IT!
It's almost like 1975 here at BLOG TO COMM central and no, I don't mean that I'm wearing a "WIN" button or tuning in to DON ADAMS SCREEN TEST either! I'm talking moozically, which might come as a shock if you're one of those kinda people who believe that thirty-five years ago was a pretty duff time for sounds whether they be pre-recorded or not. Well, of course I will admit that those mid-seventies days were rather sordid on a mainstream AMERICAN BANDSTAND AM/FM radio level, but I'm naturally talkin' 'bout the seedy avant garde punk rock-y underbelly of it all which, although poo-poo'd by the vast majority of drivel-infused music listening putzes out there in record-buying land, certainly made a big splash with the high energy people who wanted their mad rush and wanted it NOW! And you can bet that all of those great high energy punkist memories were undoubtedly heightened by a disque that I have received (thanks to Laughner box set compiler Andrew Russ) containing a vast number of pertinent PLAIN DEALER newspaper clippings that relate to the birth and growth of the Cleveland "first wave" of underground bands! Sometimes one forgets just how knock-out-drag-down intense and interesting those post-psychedelic dayze were, so the refresher course that Mr. Russ sent sure stirred up a lotta old ghosties in me and made me remember just why the years 1974-1979 were pretty special in various rockism terms and how no matter how hard we try those days will never come back! But that doesn't mean you have to settle for Matador Records.
Naturally it was a hoot (re)reading these classic PLAIN DEALER pieces mostly if not all written by longtime teenager Jane Scott, and eyeballing the history of groups such as Rocket From The Tombs and the rest of the first wavers like Mirrors and the Electric Eels written as it really happened does bring back that inexplicable rush as to just why underground rock was so exciting even for a thud like me so far removed from it all. Really, it does bring a thrill to the ol' jelly-filled spine catching things like Scott's ever-so-clever detailing of each and every Rocket From The Tombs personnel change worthy of a Pete Frame family tree (now I know where Dick Korn fit in on the drum seat!) not to mention finally getting to read that "interview" twixt Laughner, John "Regular" Morton and Michael Weldon regarding the Cleveland groups and their lofty hopes of "making it" (sounding maybe too serious on one level yet so intensely driven on another even if they actually thought their bands would be well-known and respected amongst the music fans of Cleveland by the time 1976 rolled around!). Of course it was a real chill thrill to discover all of that minutae ephemeria I never knew such as that Eel/Mirrors member Paul Marotta actually used to go by the nom-de-key "Poli Styrene" as in "Jass Band," and given what else was going on in Cleveland at the time these little shards only make the day and time all the more engrossing
Reading Scott's article heralding the debut Rocket gig at the Viking on June 16 1974 was a gas as well reminding me of a lotta little things I had pretty much forgotten in the thirty years since first reading the thing like how Crocus was planning to watch tee-vee onstage while relaxing in his "easy chair" when he wasn't singing (shades of the Hampton Grease Band!) and that he pretty much considered Rocket to be a cross between the early Mothers of Invention and glam punk (shades of the Deviants?) and that amidst the comedy and fifties rockers they were spoofing they were also doing to do songs by Spirit and Mountain (shades of every other band in the area?!?!?). Well, dunno about you but I sure would have loved to have heard Crocus wrap his tonsils around "Mississippi Queen"! Also of importance re. the original "comedy" version of Rocket From The Tombs is that the three other members, Charlie Weiner, Thunderhand Hach and Tom Foolery, were still playing as the Funn Bunns at folk clubs city-wide during their stay in Rocket and in fact one Wiener number, "Loose Lips Sink Ships," was being performed (and sung) by Weiner in Rocket and the Funn Bunns simultaneously! This number might even appear on one of the early Weiner albums which does stir up the ol' cat-killing curiosity quite a bit... (And how could I neglect to tell you that they also did a country and western version of Bowie's "Moonage Daydream"!)
(By the way, did I ever tell you about the time I phoned up Weiner for some pertinent Rocket info back in '81? First time he was nice and gracious with his wife [who answered the phone] even mentioning how her forebearers came from hometown Sharon PA! Weiner regaled me in stories about his tenure with Rocket sayin' that he was a little miffed that everyone remembered the version of the group with Cheetah Chrome and Johnny Madansky but nobody seemed to recall the time that he was in the group! [Perhaps if he released those reel-to-reel rehearsal tapes he said he had wallowing in the collection somewhere...] Second time he was grumpier than Courtney Love in a chastity belt despite my ever-graciousness which doesn't prove anything other than I caught the guy at a bad time. I don't carry grudges...not me! BTW did you know that Weiner hosted a Saturday PM kid show on WAI-TV channel 29 in Akron for a short time which went under the title WEINERLAND, a gig that probably would have been heightened if only he could get his old partner Crocus in to re-do some of their old routines!)
Whatever, the original Rocket sure seemed like the ultimate trash-concept band around, perhaps one to have given the Electric Eels a run for the confrontational stage presence moolah! And really, I just can't tell you just how enriched I felt scouring these old articles absorbing the growth and development of a sound that pretty much had a stranglehold on me for a good portion of my measly life. Reminds me of when I was ten and I'd hit the local library not to do research for a science project or history essay, but to scan the microfilms for old NANCY comics so you know what kind of an event in my life this disc most certainly is!
Only bad part about all of this is that along with the articles on or even by the likes of Laughner and Crocus Behemoth (btw, the members of Rocket jokingly called his alto saxophone a "Croco-phone"!) we get stuck with a few "critical" pieces written by that wretch Anastasia Pantsios who comes off like a sour schoolmarm at an orgy with her hippie critiques of a music (actually, of rock & roll in general) that she never could fathom or comprehend let alone understand as her stodgy elitist smarm has proven over the years. I often wondered how she ever got a job as a professional "rock critic" especially when there were dozens of superior if under-the-carpet scribes who could write her off the page even without a dog-eared thesaurus, but I guess that's just one of the injustices of life that we all have to put up with. It's an even greater injustice than all of those shivs she shoved into her supposed friend Laughner's back throughout the eighties and nineties. (And if you don't believe me, just get hold of her writings for the DEALER and various other local papers of the day such as her "review" of FROM THE VELVETS TO THE VOIDOIDS in whatever low-rent free paper she was working for in the early-nineties...and as far as "other" matters went I mean can anybody really be that ignorant to take the letter pages of FLIPSIDE to be a cross section of what underground music had entailed, and was she really that naive to believe that these oft-loathed [by "true" rockers like herself I would surmise] bands weren't putting out fanzines and promoting their own shows like the heavy metallers were??? What an ignoramus, or at least a person who distorts and prefabricates the words and actions of others for her own occult purposes! Frank Secich should have killed her when he had the chance!)
Anyway, if all of this first wave frenzy wasn't enough I just happened to stumble across a pretty interesting ref. to one of my favorite Cleveland underground groups and in the pages of none other than CREEM magazine (the March 1976 issue in case you want to drag this one out and see for yourself!). No wonder it took so long for me to locate this little bit o' esoterica for it appears in an article on Kiss that was written by whateverhappenedtohim? Robert Duncan. In this typically classic-CREEM piece dealing with Kiss and the concept of rock outrage Duncan and his un-named friend were talking about...well, in order to make this post a lot more easier to read let's just take it from the top:
"As the conversation progressed, we got around to the subject of the proliferating New York punk bands, and I relate to him the apocryphal tale of a certain Cleveland punk band who shall go nameless (a spin-off from another band there called Rocket From The Tombs). It seems that this band is having a tremendous amount of trouble getting club work these days - even more than usual (their sound comes out of the threshold of pain school of music). You see, I explain to my friend, they feature a lawn mower in the act. One night, just after they had yanked on the ol' chop machine, the club owner's dog wandered by the front of the stage. Inspiration apparently struck and the band members waylaid the pup onstage ostensibly - and now I'm in-ter-pol-ating in the interest of humanity - to give him a haircut with their power mower. As one can imagine, it is a delicate procedure to shave a dog with a lawn mower, a procedure easily botched. Well, botch it they did and exit one canine in a spew of blood and guts and fur. (They got fired from the gig.)Historical to say the least even if the "unnamed" Electric Eels are construed as being somehow directly related in lineage to Rocket From The Tombs and that the lawnmower never even started up! Of course that doesn't make for good copy but it sure fuels them punkism fires! I guess this is how rumors get started, and who could think of a bigger national platform to start such a rumor than in the pages of the soon-to-capsize (in quality that is) CREEM magazine?
My friend laughs hysterically (good sense of humor, no?) and allows as how the Blue Oyster Cult/Kiss New Year's Eve show at Nassau Coliseum is strictly 'pussy stuff' relative to the stage atrocities of the Cleveland group. My friend says to me: 'Now that would be the way to bring in the New Year! Some dog spraying out of a lawnmower all over the audience!' And you know, in concept, I really have to agree with him. And I'll tell you what (if I really have to wrap this whole thing up) I've figured it all out. I HAVE UNLOADED THE BROOKLYN BRIDGE!"
Too bad I didn't read this slice of ROCK RUMORMONGERING IN THE MAKING while I was an impressionable lad, because I have the sneaking suspicion that back when I was going through all of my available printed matter to read and re-read those clandestine paragraphs on the hunt for any strand of proto-punk puzzle-piece gathering this bit would have driven me up the padded cell wall!
Anyway, here are just a few items that have graced my psyche this past week. Maybe you'll be able to memorize enough of this to spout out at parties and bar mitzvahs thus making yourself look less like the dim bulb you most certainly are! Whatever, g'wan and have a ball!
***David Bowie-LITTLE TOY SOLDIER LP (Albino bootleg, England)
As well as being stoked on all of those Cleveland First Wave clippings you can tell that I'm still way under the effect of the recent double header Velvet Underground book deal or why else would I have bought this bootleg documenting Bowie at beginning of his Lou Reed homage anyway? If you read the Unterberger book you would have discovered that Bowie, like Mick Farren, had his Velvet Underground epiphany long before the rest of us and resultantly was incorporating hefty VU-refs in his music months prior to their debut elpee hitting the British shores. Unlike Farren, at least we have documentation which, if accurate, proves that the famed chameleon was not only covering Velvet Underground material during those swinging times but injecting a lotta their influences into his own sound which might make him more of a plagiarist than a prophet but I'll let history decide.
This album, released during the second big bootleg era of the eighties, features surprisingly decent if AM-radio quality sound and production besides a nice if bargain-bin sleeve and very limited playing time. Side one's the hotsy for us unrepentant Velvet Underground maniacs beginning with Bowie's first waxing of "Waiting For My Man," a rather good rendition better than his later Spiders-era takes even if Bowie does fall ever-so-slightly into that late-sixties pop rut which brought down similar VU covers. However, the Lou Reed inflection in the vocals does boost the quality quite a bit and Bowie brownie points are in store since the guy was astute enough to give this classic number a go before just about everyone else did. Bowie's homage to "Venus in Furs" entitled "Little Toy Soldier" follows, a number which starts off pleasantly enough like a typical 1967 Bowie flower-fop piece before getting Velvet sinister complete with obvious "Venus" lyrical swipe until it all ends like a big mechanical explosion right out of Pink Floyd's "Bike"! Maybe if this one got out 'stead of those other legit flitzy numbers he was also doing at the time more people would think highly of Bowie's early recording career! Closing out the side (told you this was a shortie!) is an early demo of "Space Oddity", perhaps distinguished by the fact that for being a mere acoustic guitar/stylophone duet it sounds a whole lot better than the live versions that Bowie was barnstorming the country with back when he was trying to break the US. Too bad he didn't have this arrangement in mind when he was vying for the precocious confused teenage kiddie money of the day or else some of those live shows just might sound better to these ears!
If you can believe it the other side's even shorter (as if these bootleggers are supposed to be held up to some higher moral standardsy...as we all didn't know that they have the same set of values as the major labels!). "The Supermen" demo retains the energy of the legit take despite the acoustic sound proving that when it came to early heavy metal there was no way you could tame it, even unplugged, unless it was Dust doing some pallid ballad on their second album. In contrast "Right On Mother" and "He Was Alright" are just more of the introspective Donovan-ish side of Bowie that was fighting it out with his punk inclinations and, as we all know, neither side really won. I guess that's why I have this perhaps ambivalent attitude towards Bowie which only proves I have mellowed at least in some respects! I mean, twenty years back I really would have loved to have seen him murdered, but that's just my emotions talkin' I guess. Maybe these various gender/musical confusions are just why Bowie always seemed like a putz next to role models Lou and Iggy. I guess he was just hanging around them the same way Frank Sinatra hung around all those mobsters, to accrue a little class I believe.
But class or not, I found a lotta this 'un def. worth the time to discover if only to see how they fit with regards to that BIG VELVET UNDERGROUND PATCHWORK OF ROCK & ROLL INFLUENCES...maybe you can find a zip file somewhere on this internet thingie of ours and burn one for free? If you are that impatient, I did glom some youtube videos of "Waiting" and "Soldier" that will give you sweet taste.
***Kevin Ayers-ODD DITTIES cassette (Harvest, England)
Why would I buy a 1976-vintage cassette tape of an album that I've had on vinyl since 1985 anyway? Pure remembrance of product packaging past, mostly because when I was a youngster I used to have this strange obsession with the way cassette tapes differed from country to country! It was nothing but a childish curiosity on my part like, just what did cassette outer sleeves for certain labels look like in other nations anyway? Por ejemplo Capitol in the USA's cassettes looked different than EMI's did in England, and the German and Australian ones were unique in themselves as well! Ditto for Mercury across the world, though I believe that Island's cassette packaging did not vary world-wide all with all of that pink all over the place! What a crazy mixed up world we live in, and for some reason at a time when I should have been paying attention to my studies and even the rather plain-looking girls of Eastern/Southern European and Irish extraction surrounding me I WAS MORE INTERESTED IN KNOWING WHAT CASSETTE PACKAGING WAS LIKE IN OTHER NATIONS!!! And now that I know I kinda feel like Starchie in that MAD spoof bangin' his head on the brick wall in his cell 'bout how Biddy was jumping all over him but he was going nuts for Salonica who didn't give two lumps! AAARRRRGGGGH!!!!!!
But lo and behold, don't this cassette just play so sweetly next to my bedside chair late at night. This is one of two Kevin Ayers' "Harvest Heritage" releases (the other, a twofa of his first two solo albums, might get the BLOG TO COMM treatment when I dig 'em outta the Jurassic stratum) and it's one of those b-side/unreleased take collections that Harvest rushed out at a time when Ayers, back on the label after a brief Island sojurn, was perhaps at the peak of his commercial prowess. Some, especially (or should that be naturally) the earlier material, has plenty of that English experimental bright flash that made those early Eno records so appealing. The later gunch is comparatively toned down and although there are more than a few dudsters to be found (like the times Ayers gets into his South Seas and Mexican ethno-grooves) when he gets good he gets...entertaining like on his Velvets paen "Stranger in Blue Suede Shoes" or the classically-inclined "Jolie Madame." Even when the former Soft Machine bassist sings a French-language version of SHOOTING AT THE MOON's "May I?" ("Puis Je?") you ain't gonna cringe like your better nature always seeme to tell you to!
This one must be a winner because about a decade-and-a-half back I casually mentioned to someone who shall remain nameless that I had the vinyl version and was suddenly bombarded with offers to buy the thing and at a price that I might have agreed to had I been destitute! So it's gotta be the unabashed classic that it is...right???
***Dizzy and the Romilars-"Elizabeth's Lover"/"Star Time" single (Jimboco)
Typical v. late seventies En Why New Wave (not quite "Gnu" at this time) which I guess you me and the bedpost are supposed to hate with a passion, but considering the other stuff in the mainstream/"Pantsios" world that was floating around this might as well be Red Transistor! Nothing offensive even if my own recollections of what underground rock during the '79/'80 cusp was supposed to be were a lot more HARROWING. Let's just consider this the tiny first step before that second step had many of us tumbling into a bigger abyss than we could ever climb out of.
***Gary Wilson-LIVE AT CBGB'S two 7-inch (one a 33 rpm EP, the other a 45 rpm single) set (MCP)
Certified jazz schmooze nutzo's rare live set which I believe dates back to '77 despite the 1980 and 1994 copyrights to be found in various places on this package. Mystifying as usual, with more of Wilson's Michael Franks-ish seventies fluff sorta marinated in absinthe and displayed for one of those late-seventies New York audiences who'd eat anything up, as long as it had that long-gone fringe element firmly embedded in its set list. And if you liked YOU THINK YOU REALLY KNOW ME's display of seventies electronic deca-smarm these platters do compliment. Might be available on one of Wilson's recent rehash Cee-Dees but if not you might be able to scarf up an original if you search hard enough.
***WHAT BETTER WAY TO TOP OFF YET ANOTHER INFO-PACKED POST than to present the following youtube video, featuring a recording made by none other than guitar great Lou Rone with the late Joey Alexander of Koala fame (check out your old UGLY THINGs for more info on those guys!) doing a track that I gotta say I kinda sorta really like as it doesn't offend me at all even if various "pop" moves are supposed to do just that to my "rockist" sensibilitie. Nice enough as in I wish more up-and-coming En Why See rock of the early-eighties came off like this even if this was done in '90. Pretty nice slow burner if I do say so myself: