Saturday, May 15, 2010


RETURN OF THE CASSETTE CULTURE!

It was around the turn of the seventies into the eighties or so, don't remember exactly when, but given that I was a person of limited finances but wild-eyed desires I was more than anxious to hear just about every little blip and bleep that was fermenting in my mind under the guise of "punk rock". Or maybe it was new wave by that time, but I'm talking about that whole underground schtick that certainly meant a whole lot more musicwise then than it would later on after becoming diluted and inbred beyond belief. But in 1979 it was still very exciting...no, not the more annoying aspects which Bill Shute would so accurately describe as "gnu wave" in one of the two issues of his INNER MYSTIQUE fanzine but jaded yet refreshing, experimental and downright cacophonous sounds that were more apt to get written up in THE VILLAGE VOICE back when the likes of Bangs, Meltzer and even Lauren Agnelli were ruling the roost in their music section. All that coupled with the genre's fifteen or so years of conception and germination from the six-oh garage bands and Velvet Underground up through the Detroit frenzy and early-seventies En Why See rumblings with a whole buncha Flamin' Groovies albums tossed in. We're talking one hefty and unashamed legacy here, but what's a poor boy who couldn't afford even the $1.00 for a flea market find to do anyway other than pout out???

Well, one smart idea I had was to befriend a number of good guys who were willing to tape for me their rare singles and albums thus saving me a whole load of filthy dosh. Thanks guys, wherever you may be buried. Another even more smart idea I had was to write to all of those guys advertising their lists of rare and UNRELEASED cassette wares in the pages of TROUSER PRESS and try to hear some of the groups I was veddy interested in that way. I figure that for the then-exorbitant sum of $7 per C-90 tape I could hear at least two albums worth of music even if it was recorded on a portable seventies-vintage deck and the quality was pretty much iffy. But look at the quantity I was getting in the deal, and with the choice of recent live shows as well as old faves to choose from (not to mention recent John Peel Sessions and the like) I found cassette tape trading a pretty budget-conscious way to upgrade my collection, and my own musical knowledge of what was interesting out there at the same time.

Within a few years and the acquisition of an extra cassette deck I was making and trading tapes myself, and although by that time the music scene had definitely slipped from the feral seventies to the squeaky-clean eighties I was keeping abreast of the developments (and pratfalls) in what had become of the seventies punk idiom by getting hold of even more tapes, recording shows myself and going whole hog into this entire underground scene to the point where I was writing about it and even putting out my own little rag where I could spout off in Bangs-imitation about a wide variety of musics that had and were being made, w/o the strict editorial hand of Editor Powertrip out there mutilating my wordage or neglecting to edit properly when the occasion arose.

By the late-eighties I was mass-trading cassettes with folks all over this big bright beautifal globe of ours, though within a few measly years with the obvious dropoff in underground rock quality and the penchant for less-exciting and downright obtuse acts to grab all the glory that should have gone to the groups who were still approaching music with a 1975 New York attitude I pretty much slowed down to the point of quitting this tape thing altogether. Besides, the digital era of CD-Rs and new modes of recording things that I don't even know about was coming into vogue and cassettes were definitely on the way out. At this point I couldn't care less especially with rock & roll having taken way too many wrong turns to mean anything crucial on an international youth language level like it had in the seventies when more and more groups began using fear and energy as a way to get their particular point across.

So with the current lack of big bucks coming my way I figured that, rather than sit and boo-hoo about it why not break into a box of some of my old cassettes (items that I had either been given, traded or even bought on my own) and give those a whirl after a good decade-and-a-half of neglect. No "factory cassette" versions of popular vinyl fare here or even "first run" material issued by various groups who thought they'd get a good writeup by giving me a FREE (oh boy!) tape of my very own...these are live recorded in the fields tapes or perhaps some radio broadcasts or maybe even a few studio outtakes or rehearsal things that may have even seen a legit release since the days they were first being tossed about on the trading circuit! Really, I don't know what all is going to be listened to, or even found in the box I found neatly tucked away in my closet, so this one's going to be about as much a mystery to ME as it will be you, the ever loyal BLOG TO COMM reader! (And if you want to hear any of the material written up here tough turds...I've had enough trouble handling the operation of a cassette player and my technological knowledge hasn't progressed much if any since 1980 other'n my getting from here to there on this darn computer. If you're on the lookout for downloads or mp3s or anything along those lines I guess you're gonna hafta wait another three decades for BLOG TO COMM to catch up to 2010 standards, and who knows where we'll be by then anyway!)

***
MATERIAL-LIVE AT CBGB 3/8/80

Having seen the Daevid Allen and NY Gong show at the Kent Creative Arts Festival in April of 1979 (also appearing were the Styrene Money Band, Tin Huey and a dull local prog act called Orb) I was already familiar with the Zu Band by the time they were starting to get a little bit of notoriety under the name "Material" a few months later. Heck, I even remember seeing the gig listing for their show at CBGB with free jazz saxophonist Byard Lancaster wishing to all heck that I coulda been in New York for that very evening, and of course when Sonny Sharrock became a full-fledged member in July of '80 my interest was piqued even more. It took quite awhile for me to latch onto their TEMPORARY MUSIC EP which didn't quite tickle my fancy but MEMORY SERVES satisfied quite a bit, at least until I could find the Affinity reissue of MONKEY POCKIE BOO that eventually were hitting the budget lists within a few years.

This March '80 show features Material with their original guitarist Cliff Cultieri (hope I'm spelling that right) right around the time they were getting tagged as a pompous Floydian art shuck by the people at THE NEW YORK ROCKER. Well, the ROCKER always did seem to have their share of writers who were rather superficial in their appreciation of the new underground and little else, and these opinions only prove this because frankly I find Material at this point to have been a good enough under-the-covers band that fit in to the standard "new wave" genre yet had enough Floyd/Crimson/Eno influences to make their music different from both the punk carbon-copies or the giddier-than-thou pop groups on the New York scene of the day. Now really, I don't care for King Crimson much if any (haven't spun them in thirty years and my mind has been filled with memories of more pleasant soundscapading) but the way Material can take such import rock as theirs and do something with it was akin to TV Toy's similar mix of English art rock and Ramonesian fury. Interesting, if not downright invigorating at times. The so called "pretentious" lyrics mentioned in the ROCKER review thankfully couldn't be discerned, and the music itself at least kept my attention throbbing along with the beat so I'm not complainin'! Even contains an Eno cover ca. ANOTHER GREEN WORLD (or was it "China My China"?) but it sounded just as good as the time they did "Sombre Reptiles" when I saw 'em at Kent!
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THIS HEAT-LIVE AT ACTIN SPACE, LONDON 7/17/81

From the flipside of the above. Don't come across many This Heat live recordings so this one is but a gold nugget in a sea of poop, and the way it fits in with the late-seventies/early-eighties cusp o' British avant noisesqueal sure does bring back memories...of the days when I thought that Rough Trade was perhaps the single saving grace in that menopausal land they call Great Britain. (I got over my infatuation with that company around the time they signed the Smiths, a group that I will have to 100% disagree with Nick Kent as far as their fortitude and willingness to wrestle the sceptre of British pop away from the Culture Club like Kent somehow envisioned them to have done!) Noisy as all heck get out avant garde rock & roll here which sounds kinda like the way I'm sure many people woulda thought the AMM or even Pink Floyd woulda come 1973 or so. Fits in snugly with your Cabaret Voltaire fetish as well as old Renaissance Records/Systematic catalogs wallowing around somewhere in your vast resources (like they are in mine!)
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THE PLANETS-LIVE AT CBGB 1977

Here's one I got from Bernard Kugel, the famous rock critic and inner circle confidant of Billy Miller and Miriam Linna (as well as former editor of the much-missed late-seventies fanzine BIG STAR). This was taped personally by Mr. Kugel for posterity I presume, and given the lack of Planet waves available legally this surviving artyfact sure helps us to see what all the fuss was about back in the seventies when they were wined, dined and then left cold by more than a few record company execs. The Planets perform some pretty good hard rock at this gig, not quite heavy metal but poppish in a way that conjures up both the Raspberries and Stooges with perhaps a little bit of Cheap Trick tossed in. Definitely attuned to the better portion of the late-seventies rockmind, yet so good that you know these guys really didn't have a chance in heck making anything other than an album or two that would get instantly cut out (which was good for depression-era wage kids like me but not for the rock groups who got dumped for their efforts!). Former frontman Tally Talliafarro is definitely MIA, so this must have been recorded right after the bit split between him and guitarist Binky Phillips (fortunately they were pals enough to reform the group in 1982, and later on during the final days of CBGB where they played a show which I actually reviewed after experiencing it in cyberspace). Again, one of the mighta beens on the New York City scene who struck out while the likes of Blondie and Talking Heads made way too many home runs but still lost the game anyway.
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THE MEAT PUPPETS-BEYOND THE FLESH (studio/live tape from '81)

It's been so long I forgot exactly what a trashed-out mess a group like the Meat Puppets were. Dunno the origin of the tape offhand or whether or not it was a legitimate cassette release issued by the band but I recall getting this 'un in the mid-eighties from none other than Imants Krumins, a man whose vast record collection is near and dear to my heart, on a C-90 filled with some other wonders which I will mention shortly. Whaddeva, this forty or so minute excursion proves that the Puppets were more than just another early-eighties next step in the evolutionary development of punk rock but a talented free-splat trio with a load of humor (as Puppet Derek Bostrom's association with BREAKFAST WITHOUT MEAT would prove) to spread around in a scene that was too distraught and self-conscious of itself to let loose once in awhile. Features live covers of "I Wanna Be Your Dog" and "Everybody's Talkin'". As a bonus, Mr. Krumins helped fill up the one side of the tape with the Ramones' appearance on the ol' SHA NA NA show doing "Rock 'n Roll High School" where it sounds as if the famed greasers themselves were helping out on the chorus. Since that show vamoosed from the local tee-vee screens about a year before the Ramones' 11/23/80 appearance are there any viewers out there brave enough to tell me whether in fact this did occur? (C'mon, I won't tell anyone since heck, I used to watch SHA NA NA myself!)
***
THE BUTTHOLE SURFERS-THE ANUS PRESLEY TAPES

Flipster of the above featuring what purports to be some early demos though most of this sounds just like the group's eponymous debut with maybe a few outtakes tossed in. Since the Surfers were one of those groups that I kinda lost interest in around the time the nineties were beginning to check in at least it was nice getting this refresher course, but I ain't runnin' to ebay to see what I can pick up at "buy it now" prices nosiree! Two tracks from the Television Personalities' John Peel sesh from '77 follow as does an outtake entitled "Back to Vietnam" which does help sate my yearly fifteen or so minute listen to this band rather well. Following that's Roky doing "Heroin" which I assume is the same version that had come out on vinyl around the same time I latched onto this tape as well as a Swell Maps rehearsal of "14th Floor" that would have been served better had it appeared next to the TVP tracks, but it's not like I'm picky or anything...
***
MAXIMUM ROCKNROLL RADIO SHOW #9

It's hard to imagine now, but back in the eighties the MRR empire really held sway over the budding p-rock kultur of the land. Well, it was a different era and a different scene than the underground rock of the seventies, which was jaded and nihilistic in its own way. By the eighties punk was still jaded to an extent yet just brimming with enough altruism to brighten up a dozen Shirley Temple movies. You could find a lot of that in the pages of not only MRR but a few dozen fanzines which seemed to mix the latest news with a starry eyed euphoria that if anything seemed to reflect the sickening radical bent of the early ROLLING STONE mixed with a good heaping portion of the underground press that didn't get the jokes that the underground cartoonists and the cadre that would later make up what would be punk rock was lobbin' at 'em.

Fortunately the music being aired on this particular broadcast doesn't quite hit the save-the-world levels that hardcore punk could aspire to on a good day. The interviews don't come off as unintentionally laughable as the ones where certain bands did their best to wear their Marxist compassion proudly or that one where some blanded out chick from the Amerigan branch of Existencil Press tried to make her point as emphatically as possible (for an emotionally-repressed Enemy of the State) that the music of Crass et. all, was not entertainment (nor could it ever be construed as such) but pure social/political commentary that should and COULD not be taken any other way! Don't even try it! Given the grim nature of this liberating music it's sure nice listening and reacquainting myself with some of these early-eighties hardcore and punk tracks that I seemed to jettison with the radical stance of its practitioners, a case of throwing the baby out with the bathwater if anything!

Naturally a good portion of this doesn't quite zone the frontals like it should being one big hard blur which can work on some levels if you allow it. But being the stickly reactionary that I am I didn't feel like doing that so it's not like I'm going to rush out and pick up the next Cause For Alarm disc I see. The English "funny punk" set brought back hoary old nostalgic feelings since I haven't played any Exploited or Toy Dolls in quite some time, while the Australian stuff did surprise, not only the Birthday Party from a John Peel session but X and the Mystery of Sixes, an occult bunch who prove that the devil not only lives in Australia, but that his daughter needs a new liver asap!

Tim Yohannon and pals ain't even doing their politically astute act here other'n when Mr. Y tells us that the Aussie group "Box of Fish"'s name is slang for a woman's unwashed "down there" pondering whether or not the femme guitarist for the band would take offense (I guess it would be "sexist" for a woman to practice proper feminine hygiene, especially for those in Yohannon's circle), and for a dude like myself who pretty much hated the eighties and continues to do so all I gotta say is at least some of these groups both championed by MRR or not represented a buzzing undercurrent of intensity and loathing under the veneer of general feely-good gush. I guess that's at least one good reason to listen. And although the mad radicals and pseudo-anarchists who made up the "scenes" from whence these groups sprang are now clearly the anti-free speech/enterprise mobsters in control I certainly wouldn't've thunk that then, which only goes to show you how naive I was as if the writing wasn't already on the wall!
***
UT-DEMO

Here's one I haven't spun in quite some time, a cassette that I netted in a trade with none other than Lee Ranaldo of Sonic Youth fame (see how I name drop the more important and meaningful amongst us in a sorry attempt to not look so provincial and outta-da-loop!). Tis a revealing enough thirty-minute selection of tracks that ain't just demos but taken from rehearsals and live showing off the nice primitive rant that this trio could work up without coming off like feminist effetes. I gotta hand it to Ut for not only keeping the no wave spirit of '78 alive and lasting well into the eighties (albeit in Merrie Olde) but not devolving into some of the more obtuse and non-inspirational music that many of the no wave originators begat in a short while. Dunno about you, but I really like the way these gals kept the true spirit of the noise-laden, snide seventies well into the restrained, giddy eighties without succumbing to the mindnumb that era so eloquently bestowed upon us (after all, that was the decade that gave us BLACK TO COMM).

7 comments:

diskojoe said...

Chris, you can find that Ramones performance on Sha-Na-Na on the Ramones Raw DVD, which also has their appearances on the Uncle Floyd Show.

diskojoe said...

Oops, that Sha Na Na performance, which dates from 5/19/1980 is on the It's Alive DVD, not Ramones Raw. As the 21st Century cliche goes, my bad.

the G said...

re: Ramones on Sha Na Na...

YES, it did in fact actually happen. I watched it while I ate dinner in my parents' kitchen the night it was on. I think I've seen it on YouTube too, & Johnny is using some kind of NON-MOSRITE guitar. Weird.

--the G

Trash Flow Radio said...

In case it would be of any use to you or your readers, I did recently digitize into MP3 format an old cassette tape that you were kind enough to send to me back in the 1980s: a live recording (made in 1976) of Peter Laughner's short-lived (mostly covers) band, Peter & the Wolves:

Peter (Laughner) & the Wolves - Live in January 1976 (12 tracks):
www dot sendspace dot com/pro/dl/5fp5b7.
[replace the word "dot" with actual dots!].

1. Barstool Blues (Neil Young)
2. Substitute (The Who)
3. Baudelaire (Peter Laughner)
4. It Takes A Lot To Laugh, It Takes A Man To Cry (Bob Dylan)
5. Betty Lou (Won't You Please Come Home) (Peter Laughner)
6. Sweet Jane (Velvet Underground)
7. I'm Never Gonna Kill Myself Again / Breaking In My Heart (medley) (Peter Laughner)
8. Walk On (Neil Young)
9. Dear Richard (Peter Laughner)
10. So Long(?) (Television)
11. French Girl Blues #2 (Bob Dylan)
12. Knockin' On Heaven's Door (Bob Dylan)

Christopher said...

Trash Flow, are you sure this is correct? I tried to get there using the address you've given (even substituting "." for "dot") without any luck.

Trash Flow Radio said...

Yes, it is correct. You also need to erase the period I inadvertently typed at the end of my sentence, after the "7". And when you substitute the "." for the word "dot," make sure you don't leave any blank spaces anywhere in the Web address. I wish I could just type the link here, but your blog doesn't allow commenters to leave Internet links. They don't show up on the page!

If you still can't get it, email me at trashflow at gmail dot com and I will email you the link.

Trash Flow Radio said...

And here are more tracks recently digitized from the same stash of unreleased Laughner cassettes that you gave me more than 20 years ago:

www dot sendspace dot com/pro/dl/5bmzoi

[Again, substitute a "." for the word "dot," and make sure you don't leave any blank spaces anywhere in the Web address.]