Remember the old days when such a creature known as the "rock critic" existed? This was a time when most if not all major news publications had 'em on their staff, and not only that but student newspapers at your local college campus or free imitation VILLAGE VOICE weekly had at least one of 'em on the masthead so-to-sprechen. You could say that rock magazines even had 'em and some did, but once you got down to it the people who were writing for such publications, the Lester Bangses and Richard Meltzers and the people who followed directly in their wake, weren't as much "rock critics" as they were "rock fans" who were people just as you and I only they got to rah-rah about their personal faves from a bigger soapbox than any of us could imagine. The best thing about these rock fans was that they were working from inside that nefarious system trying to tear the entire mutha down from within destroying the boundaries between fan and professional in ways where sometimes it seemed impossible to tell one from the other. And, at the times when they succeeded in doing this, these writers were just about as much "thee" stars of the scene as the Stones or former Beatles were and it was all for the better, mainly because for once, "they" really were us!
And because of this sudden elevation of the rock fan to snide professional (and it was true) these rock crits (and even rock "fans") really were just as important a part of the biz as the managers, promoters and maybe even the acts themselves. If I recall correctly, these scribes were being lavished with free records and expensive promo items of all kinds, and even if the pay wasn't that hot they could always exist by cashing in those free records for the coin of the realm to help pay the water bill with. Rock critics were even being wined/dined and laid all over the place thus keeping the economic wheels turning and escort services at their busiest levels to date. And all these people hadda do was pump up certain musical acts and berate others which is why you used to see people like Bruno Bornino and Anastasia Pantsios lavishing heaping schmalzy praise upon various groups that had the big bucks backing 'em while ignoring, distorting, half-truthing and downright lying about the really interesting and high energy aspects of what was happening right under their very noses and for whatever not-so occult reasons existed within their pointy heads! (And yeah, I know that Pantsios actually did a piece on the one-off Mirrors reunion a couple of years back which is strange considering her loathing of the entire Velvet Underground ethos but really, here in the 21st century is that impact as important or as crucial to a long-dead era as it would have been had she written positively about the Styrenes or even Serena WilliamS Burroughs back '78 way?)
Nowadays rock critics (not "fans", they've been purged from the mainstream press loooong ago!) are getting fired left and right. Newspapers that are losing readers hand over fist in the age of immediacy can't afford critics of any stripe especially when they can barely stay afloat supporting their dull political columnists and lazy reporters, and considering how there really ain't that much "rock" to write about why bother employing 'em inna first place? Besides, by the eighties there were thousands of spanking brand new upstarts popping up amongst the weekly papers and fanzines of the world who were willing to do what the crits were making a living on and for nada at that (maybe just to see their name in print and get a free platter in the process), and frankly these kids were doing just as bang-up a job shilling as the professionals so why pay for dodgy quality when you could get the same level of dodginess for free? True maybe a few rock writers whom we know and revere were also pushed to the back of the kitchen cabinet along with the typical hacks, but then again it is always good to see the bloated, self-righteous and pious beyond nausea crits who acted as the tastemakers of the past having to resort to real life jobs more suited to their talents like emptying out refuse tanks at abortion clinics or volunteering for experimental hemorrhoid surgery.
And with the rise of blogs you can get higher quality opines on music old and new and with the same quality that a fan put into a 1972 fanzine dissertation on Alice Cooper, and with the mere flick of a mouse t'boot. No more do we have to be bothered with the shrill tones being emitted by harridans the likes of Pantsios who pretend to be the lone rebel voice fighting against the machine when in fact they are the machine! It is much better hearing about rock & roll from some disaffected kid or oldster who's been around the block a few times (like myself?) who at least believes that he has a mind and soul closer to the Big Beat. And when I talk "soul" I mean one which continues to affect him in a positive, life-reaffirming way while other have been moved and swayed by trends that never should have been conceived in the first place.
So next time you hit your favorite music blog (not necessarily this one!) thank the writers for doing a grand job of it. As for me, I don't know what I would do without blogs now that the fanzine era has pretty much dribbled down to a precious few. THE HOUND BLOG remains my fave even if Jim Marshall has gone on yet another hiatus while THE NEXT BIG THING would rank even higher if only Lindsay Hutton would get off his royal hiney and write a buncha reviews 'stead of mopin' 'round the castle feeling sorry for himself (I'm having enough trouble feeling sorry for myself as it is!). And really, we could use some blogs from Eddie Flowers, Imants Krumins, Paul McGarry, Michael Weldon and many more out there whom I know have something really groovy to say.
Or look at it this way, would you rather read Robert Hillburn or Joel Selvin the rest of your born days? I sure as poop plops wouldn't!
***A SMALL PACKAGE OF VALUE WILL ARRIVE SHORTLY: Amidst the bills and junk mail that usually hit the box what should show up in my mail box but a parcel from none other than Bill Shute! As you may know, his Kendra Steiner Editions imprint has been branching out into real flesh and blood soundscapades as of late, and after the previous explosion of rare ltd. ed. CD-R's on this new label comes a series of tiny three-inch diameter recordable Cee-Dees that sure look nice and nifty but are harder to store in your disque collection than 10-inch platters are with your good ol' vinyl!
Most of these releases might be categorized as "musique concrete", that sound that my father once said sounded as if it were made by people who looked as if they were hit with a big slab of concrete which I know ain't that funny but it's good enough to warrant yet another mention on this blog. Some of this reminds me of that weird, haunting sound that was "Sisyphus Part Two" on UMMAGUMMA while others seem to be the direct descendant of those old Pierre Shaffer experiments and whatnot that were so much the rage amongst collegiate phony intellectuals back in the fifties. But the biggest surprise of the batch just has to be SENESCENCE, a psychedelic slice of mystical wowzerism that was more/less put together by a group which calls itself Kuschty Rye Ergot. This outta-nowhere act with the rather lysergic moniker features the talents of one John Stanton, a name that somehow rings a bell in my clogged up mind (and yes, I am ashamed of re-using that oft-tread joke!). Recorded live in Our Nation's Capitol, SENESCENCE begins with a floating amorphous acoustic guitar sound that reminds me of the better aesthetics of early-seventies space music sorta reshaped for modern day ears. Really pleasant and (to coin a phrase) "dare I say relaxing?", at least before it turns into this great long jam that comes off like a cross between the Pink Fairies and the live bit that opens side two of the first Faust album. If only Ash Ra Tempel ended up sounding as good as this on those mid-seventies albums!
***As you can see, this week's pickin's are mighty slim indeed. In fact if it weren't for the pizza review located at the end of this post I don't even think this blog would be worth tuning in to. Not that I've been giving up music as some sort of self-penitential way of atoning for my evil life (or lack of it you may say)...I have been playing more than a few golden greats repeatedly such as say, the Troggs' TROGGLODYNAMITE CD featuring a hefty sampling of mid-sixties numbers that were and were not on the original album of the same name, but you don't want to read my opinions on those sides again now, do you? Hopefully when I get some more motivation comin' my way (in the form of records and such that should be winging their way here soon) this blog will pick up a li'l in the high energy dept., but for now let's just say that I'm just coasting, just tryin' to get by with what I have and until then well, it's a good three anna half decades of backlog and nothing else, y'hear?!?!?!
Talk about here today and gone tomorrow. Or make that here long long ago and gone just long ago. In the late-sixties and early-seventies Anthony Braxton was just another smart up-and-comer on the avant garde music scene who'd made some recordings while in Chicago for Delmark that earned him slight recognition, then he hightailed it with the rest of his "Creative Construction Company" to Paris for a couple of albums that continued on the same tangent that teetered between the new jazz and the classical tradition of John Cage and the rest of those New York School types. Then suddenly WHUMP!, Braxton somehow gets noticed as the brash up-'n-comer he's been for the past six or so years and is signed to the budding Arista label, thus garnering him a large college kid following and a whole lotta airplay on those college stations lucky enough to have a free jazz slot snuggled somewhere between the dulcimer hour and lezbo chit chat. Braxton's back catalog suddenly came to light, rare recordings are issued on labels like Inner City and Muse, and Braxton's now consider so important to the entire jazz scheme of things that he even plays alto on Dave Brubeck's own avant garde album on Atlantic. That's a fact I'm sure didn't phase Meltzer one bit since he did mention in the 77 things about '77 year-end roundup for PHONOGRAPH RECORD MAGAZINE that Braxton was the seventies equiv. of Brubeck and he didn't mean it in a positive, life-reaffirming way either!
Then just as suddenly as he rose from obscurity the entire bottom dropped out of Braxton's notoriety, or fame or what-have-you. Well, not exactly, but after being given free reign at Arista to record 100-piece tuba orchestras and having enough moxy to sit in with Dixieland bands as nonagenarians looked on with puzzlement while Braxton tooted out old rags on his contrabass clarinet it was like Braxton was suddenly on the outs. Maybe it was a new age dawning which had little use for the extreme avant garde or maybe Arista began looking at the books a little closer and figured they couldn't afford being modern day patrons of the arts in this costly fashion but whatever, Braxton was scrambootched from the confines of Clive and back to recording for small labels as if he never was one of the chosen faces of the new world of jazz to begin with. Heck it was the feelygood eighties anyway---leave the whole voice of new jazz thing to Al DeMeola who at least could churn a few more bux outta the smooth jazz huddled and not be so offensive like I assume Braxton had been.
This '82 sesh must have been one of the first post-purge Braxton recordings which finds him working with former MEV member Richard Teitelbaum on a series of saxophone/electronic duets. Not the first time the two had gotten together...in fact there was an entire album with 'em doing a live show that came out on Arista/Freedom at the height of Braxtonmania. That album entitled TIME ZONES has long escaped my grasp, but I would assume that this particular sesh recorded a good five years afterwords captures the experimental meeting of minds just as well. And hey, this one surprisingly isn't as stodgily offensive to my own tastes even though I never did like Teitelbaum's work in the old MEV one bit!
The entire disque is subdued and lulling without the crash of the typical AACM/BAG "little instruments" to rouse you from whatever bout with ennui you might be induced into after listening to this 73-plus minute offering. Braxton does fine with his spacial noodling while Teitelbaum adds the perfect textures of sampled sound (in fact, he's so good I thought there was an actual grand piano being banged on the opening track) and you can read or even sleep through this w/o the fear that all of a sudden you're going to be deluged by the mad clanging of gongs and log drums like on those old Art Ensemble of Chicago forays that switch from European classical to Wild Man of Borneo with the drop of a hat.
I am reminded of Idiophonic, this electronic jazz group who not only performed at the legendary freeform series at the old CBGB Lounge but released their own disque on the Rent Control label. I wrote it up a long time ago...too lazy to link the revew up but if you want to read it bad enough you know what to do. Idiophonic had the same electronic buzz as the Braxton/Teitelbaum duo only with a drummer and even more modern electronic equipment which could reproduce acoustics perfectly to the point where you'd swear there were chimes and choirs somewhere around. That's a good one to keep an eye out for and if you can find this one somewhere in whatever they have left of record shops (excuse me, "Cee-Dee emporiums") these days maybe it would be worth picking up. Nothing essential, but engaging enough at least for people like myself who used to prowl the record bins wondering...wha' th'???
***Captain Beefheart-DICHOTOMY CD-R
I usually ain't the kinda guy who ritualizes his listening experience though I sure usedta do just that, like f'rexample making sure that the last record that I listened to on 12/31/79 was WHITE LIGHT/WHITE HEAT and the first one of 1/1/80 was exactly the same, as if to frame the "decade" (yeah I know, the eighties technically began on 1/1/81 but let's not get too analytical!). Fortunately by the time 12/31/89 came around I was too smart to engage in such meaningless behavior, but back when I was younger I thought doing something like playing certain records at certain moments would bring about positive change akin to the coming of the Comet Kahoutek, or at least the local TV station buying up the rights to show SUPERCAR once again.
When Captain Beefheart died last December I oddly enough did not grab any of his platters to spin as my own special way to mourn. Now if he deep-sixed thirty years back I sure would've been spinnin' the discs in his memory but nowadays maybe I'm too old fogey, or jaded, or better yet a combination thereof to do something as ritualistic as that. However, I'm still not old enough to be shamed into doing such things which is why when Brad Kohler wrote me about spinning some of his Beefheart items in solemn recollection I felt "guilted" enough into doing the exact same thing myself. My attempt to spin the CAPTAIN BEEFHEART, THE EARLY YEARS Cee-Dee bootleg last night ended when, in typical cheapo bootleg press fashion the thing started sticking halfway through, and in desperation what should I do but...dig into an old collection of burnt offerings that Bob Forward sent me ages ago which not-so-coincidentally included this bootleg which came and went as these usually flash items tend to do in a market that is certainly too small for the rabid audience that exists for Captain Beefheart bootlegs, that's for sure!
If you wanna track listing and another human's review just click here, and while you're at it there may be a download of this platter available somewhere out there in megabyte land that won't cost 'cha a dime. But for now lemme just say that DICHOTOMY is a better than average Beefheart boot and that's in a field where just about every Beefheart boot you come across is just about as much a winner as the legit artifact! This's got outtakes from all of the hot periods in Beefheart's career from TROUT (though I suspect these are merely elpee takes...I mean, how could they come up with a sound like this TWICE?) through his late-seventies rebirth and all good points in-between. It even has, for this zillionth time in bootleg history, "I Was a Teenage Maltshop"! And now that Beefheart's dead and there's nobody around to pay royalties to I'll bet it's all gonna come out in droves, right?
I remember back in the early or mid eighties when a local pizzeria began offering what they called a Hawaiian pizza (basically a plain cheese 'n sauce pizza with ham and pineapple on it) and I thought "whatta stoopid idea!" Well, the ham part seemed OK since using sausage, pepperoni and even meatball and bacon on pizza had been goin' on for quite some time but the pineapple part just came off like a practical joke par excellence. Was thisreally a new taste treat created after hours of culinary trial and error, or more likely somebody's idea of pulling a major gag on the collective psyches of the pizza eating world? My bets were on the latter. I mean, what's next...Polyps Jubilee? Smegma Surprise???
Being not quite the brave soul you might have thought me to be it took a long time for me to even think about giving a Hawaiian pizza a go, and since Card Holders at the local supermarket were getting a few bucks off I figured eh, why not go in for an experience bound to make you sit up and take notice? Always being on the hunt for a good eating experience (and a good subject matter for this blog) I actually bought a frozen Hawaiian pizza that was produced by the California Pizza Kitchen company, an outfit that I will admit makes rather delicious Margarita and spinach pizza-type wares that sure make for a funtime tasty treat on those days when you wanna pizza and are too lazy to go out and buy a fresh one (or too stingy to tip a delivery boy). And today was the day that I just HAD to try one since nobody was home thus sparing myself the embarrassment of having anybody see me eat a pizza with pineapple on it!
So, what was the thing like you ask after these past few paragraphs of puff? Well, actually not too bad, but nothing special. The ham part is OK, tasty and smoky which goes with the not-overbearing sauce and the by-now crunchy cheese around the rim. Those meat lovers pizzas that the national chains advertise which load up on the carnivorous matter must be extremely delicious albeit cholesterol-laden if they have such tangy cured items as ham on 'em. I will say one thing, and that is next time I order a tray from the local pizza dealer I might just have 'em put ham upon it, and maybe even pay extra for a double helping!
As for the pineapple, well it wasn't as obtrusive as many would lead us to believe but frankly I could do without it. Doesn't detract from the overall effect yet it doesn't add anything to it either. It kinda sparks things up like when people sprinkle raisins on baked fish (an idea I find nauseating) but unlike say, an actual baked ham with pineapple rings or sweet and sour pork the tropical fruit just doesn't work as an integral part alongside the sauce and cheese plus whatever else you decide to put on the dough. I'd eat it again and not even under protest, but otherwise I find that I coulda gone another thirtysome years w/o having any touched my ever-hungerin' palate!