Wednesday, September 21, 2011

BOOK REVIEW! C'EST LA GUERRE, EARLY WRITINGS BY BYRON COLEY ( L'OIE DE CRAVAN, 2011)


There's no denying it...Byron Coley was definitely the #1 A uno best and perhaps only true talent to have popped outta that putrefied ball of stench we call eighties rock pressdom! Can't argue the fact not only because the field was rather dearth-like (face it, rock writing was to the eighties what feminine hygiene was to the seventeenth century) but because what competition there was via the mainstream and underground rock press didn't have a proverbial leg to stand on. Yes, while most of the various "big rock 'critic' types" who proliferated the mags and even cheap-o fanzines of that decade were more or less content on regurgitating the worst musings of such pathetics as Dave Mush and Greil Marcuse with a dabble of Christgau on the side complete with the worst aspects of Lester Bangs during his socially conscious phase (re. "The White Noise Supremacists"), Coley was driving his hard steel rod in the RIGHT direction regurgitating the various apexes of hero R. Meltzer not forgetting Bangs at his less pandering with a little of classic Tosches (not that crankout crap he was dabbling in throughout the eighties) and plenty of seventies fanzine accomplishment which certainly made his writing stand out in a sea of shallow pretenders. Only Billy Miller, Miriam Linna and a few others could claim to have been as much of a force in good eighties rock scribbling as Coley, though even these "competitors" were more or less products of the seventies despite their own calendars having stopped off at 1966. Coley (although also having been published in the seventies) was an eighties phenomenon, and from a twenty-plus-years-later vantage point it's plainly obvious that his writings were eons ahead of whatever else there was on the young buck upstart bandwagon and don't let anyone tell you different!

However, the strangest thing one could say about Coley's that, although this man was perhaps the top notch-est of the new guns coming out of the milieu of rockscreeding throughout the eighties and beyond, even you, a longtime fan and follower of rock 'n roll as a gnarling creature, might never have even heard of him! Never saw him published in a rock mag like CREEM (a rag which woulda jumped at the gun to print his wares a good decade back but ignored him once the seventies staff gave way to the pallid eighties crew) let alone the lines of a STONE. I mean, here was this talent that the entire rockism world was more or less WAITING FOR, and what do the mag publishers do but fill their pages with snooty emote and amerindie oneupmanship written by college paper grads who were still getting all pant-gooey excited over Genesis playing their local concrete bunker. I mean wha' 'appened? Well, I sure know what did, and it wasn't the Evil Hoodoo that did him (and us) in!

Y'see, what did happen was that once the eighties rolled around the rock mag editors decided that since we were entering into an age of nice and squeaky-clean music which mirrored a nice, squeaky-clean lifestyle there would be none of that raucous p-rock stuff nohow to clutter up the landscape. And frankly, the last thing "we" needed were a buncha upstart gonzos ruining the game field with a pantload of their snotty musings about old Seeds albums and local hard-noise grunt merchants, many of whome were in ample supply throughout the early to mid eighties! Hell no, these new magazine crusties didn't want to have to duck out when Buddy Miles came bursting into their offices threatening to kill the editor because of a bad review...everything was going to be sweetness 'n light and the first thing the mags hadda do was ditch alla the free-form and under-the-counterculture types who helped create the image of the punkoid rockscribe that put those garage ideals way ahead of the latest Joan Baez scushgush!  And that's exactly why comparatively zilch-talents such as Chuck Eddy were given a hefty amount of space to let their arid opines known to a new generation of pseudo-rock nebbishes while the likes of Coley were starving inna gutter piling up enough rejection slips to save on toilet paper for the next umpteen years!*

Thankfully there were a few with-its who were willing to publish Coley at a time when his brand of hard-edged/on'd scree was more or less classifiably verboten. Like for example Andy Schwartz, the guy who had eventually taken over the editorship and main helm at the legendary underground rock tabloid THE NEW YORK ROCKER even though a number of people I know say he was a jiz of an editor who played favorites worse'n channel 43 ever did (inside Cleveland joke there). Maybe Schwartz was (and perhaps remains---haven't read a word of his in eons) a schmuck, but at least he was an intelligent enough schmuck with loads of good taste (at least enough to catch you off guard), and he even earned his rockism credentials contributing reviews of RAW POWER amongst other 1973 picks to click to Kenne Highland's old staple-together fanzine entitled ROCK ON which better earn him a few more laurels on his thinner 'n mine crown because what were YOU doing in 1973 anyway? And of course who could fault whoever it was at the off to a rocky start and continuing on rockily enough to this day SPIN, a rag that I had thought would've continued on a hard-edged CREEM path exp. when that seventies pub was still suffering under the post-Bangs miasma that was infecting it for nigh on a decade. But for the most part, if you wanted to experience Coley in full force and in plentiful supply, it was the fanzine circuit and a few of the small weeklies that were willing to give the guy the opportunity to flaunt his rather knowledgeable rockism for a world that didn't seem to care the way it once usedta.

So hey, Coley's got his own collection out, and it's a really wild one too which I must say helps fill in some of the missing gaps in my own collection while presenting some insight into the man's genius and particular tastes at a time when maybe I got a li'l too old to remember it all that clearly. It's a bit of a thin book too (only 140 pages) and get this...the left side of the  book (or the "even" numbers if you will) are actually French translations which really surprises me, because I wonder how'b hell anybody could translate words like "yr" and "felch" into the Gallic tongue! But Marie Frankland did just that, though she cheated quite a lot because she does leave the vowels in or substitutes words closer to Francais when the going gets tough. So French readers...just absorb this 'un in the original because otherwise you sure will be missing out on a whole lotta exciting reading!

Although there are what I would call many "glaring omissions" here (such as "Mighty Asses Tap the Mighty Black Flag" not to mention the Flesheaters Tour Diary, both from the much-missed TAKE IT!) there is enough to make at least two evening hours worth of bedtime listening more fun-filled if you pace yourself just right. Unfortunately Coley's very first published work, a review of whatever current Hawkwind album there was in '76 (probably ASTOUNDING SOUNDS, AMAZING MUSIC but don't quote me)  isn't here but there are some interesting letters he done writ to an Angela Jaeger which delivers a whole lot on the goings on in San Francisco (some funny, like the time he hecked the Jefferson Starshake with the title of a Great Society song ["Often as I May"] only mangling said title up which is why Paul Kantner looked at him so funny!). Now, I usually don't cozy up to reading other people's mail...it's sorta like reading St. Paul's letters to the Ephesians where he tells 'em how many times a week to clean their foreskins, but the info, coupled with the usual Coley anecdotes about working at McDonalds (!) etc. makes for some pretty hotcha reading, and only goes to show you what a pallid life YOU'RE living in comparison.

When Coley gets into the musical biz that's when he starts cookin', and the man is so good in that post-Meltzer/Bangs way that I'll even read his Devo piece even though I wrote those guys off after hearing their second album way back when it first came out. From there on in it's high-larity central as Coley skewers many of the sacred cows of the day from Bowie, Bo Diddley (a "pederast"!) and Jim Morrison, while bolstering the legends both living and dead of everyone from the Germs and Dredd Foole to the LA Free Music Society. Coley's survey of the early-eighties underground, an area that his influences seemed to have totally dropped out on due to either semi-retirement or death, also comes in handy if only to remind me of the strange world there was after the seventies punk era seemed to flutter away or mutate into directions that frankly didn't quite thrill me the way I thought they would only a few years prior.

Whaddeva, Coley is always a joy to behold and these classic nuggets o' joy just serve to remind me as to why the guy was always fun to osmose. I mean, he did fly in the face of all of the feely-good vibes and health-nut consciousness that made up the eighties and a good portion of what followed, and maybe in a way this guy was helping to extend the seventies junk credo long past its shelf life the same way that CBGB was booking the spiritual successors to groups like Manster and the Planets long after pre-Pistols punk seemed so retro. If you still have your own seventies aesthetics that you would like to resensify for continued use (and if you're reading this blog, why not?) then you know where your next $19.99's going, eh?
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*To be totally honest and upfront with you about it, I don't think that Coley tried  hard enough getting his writing "career" in motion, though there were the SPIN pieces and the "underground" column which was the beginning of a long and prosperous career for the man, culminating in that John Fahey article that I sure hope ends up in a future edition of collected flotsam.

2 comments:

Waldo Drogulus said...

In 1985, Crummy Fags lead singer SWH insisted that he had received a call from a party interested in the band. Initially he said "Byron Coley," but as the story progressed, the name became "Gerard Cosloy." SWH often convoluted names for his own amusement in order to annoy, confuse, or otherwise humiliate. He'd use "Malcolm McLaren" and "Marshall McLuhan" or "Pharoah Sanders" and "Fernando Saunders" repeatedly in the same conversation until nausea and vertigo beset a hapless conversant. Many people never caught on (including one dim and somewhat clueless lead guitar player - me). Shortly thereafter SWH disappeared and the band disintegrated. I still have no idea what he was talking about, if anything. Much later interrogation proved fruitless. - Phlegm

Serena WmS. Burroughs said...

Remarkable. Now who were you talking to again, Sean Hill or John Hall?