Thursday, November 24, 2011

I know it...I'm not supposed to come out and admit that I like early eighties new wave acts like the Social Climbers. I mean, why should I show my insecurities in public even more than I already have? And really, why should a living and breathing lump such as myself care if the likes of a Gerard Cosloy or Patrick Amory think I'm "cool" or not even if throughout my growing up years the first and foremost thing that was rammed into my mind was to be popular and "with it" just so's people would like me. Those days are (perhaps thankfully) gone forever, and since people still loathed me even if I tried so hard to be one of the gang why shouldn't I just come out and say that I don't give a flying fanabla what you think regarding what I think of the Social Climbers' LP/EP-set that Drag City has rescued from the chasms of eighties new wave obscurities.

I like this not only because the group has enough "hooks" they can sink into my rockist psyche from leader Mark Bingham also being the mastermind behind Bloomington Indiana's Screaming Gypsy Bandits of yore as well as MX-80 Sound producer not to mention the Climbers' omnipresence on the early-80s CBGB scene, but because for being an early-eighties new wave band complete with the usual trappings (though not as retch-inducing as what the mainstream concept of new wave was at that time) the Climbers sure put out some rather energetic and definitely non-rote music. Yeah, in some ways it is typical 1980 beatbox electrofodder, but good electrofodder at that which coupled with Bingham's smart set songwriting certainly doesn't bug ya the way too many of these New York acts rife with members trying to look like early-sixties heartthrob pop singers of Italian heritage, and I'm even talking the girls, most certainly did!!!

It's true that the Social Climbers sound "dated", but at least they're stuck in a rather good warp twixt New York innovation and scene disintegration. You already know the score I've been ranting for ages about how the downfall of Max's Kansas City (where bonus track "Tickhead" was laid down) and the passing of Lester Bangs heralded a new era of Ameriga goin' squeaky-clean 'n flabby, and where Ameriga goes the rest of the world follows 'n all that which certainly doesn't add up to funtime jollies on any count. The sounds to be found herein do straddle the punk generations rather swimmingly, even though at some point I would say that Bingham and crew seem to be falling way too hard into then-contemp Talking Heads art emote with a bit of sacrificin' on the rock 'n roll. But before you're ready to head for the nearest vomitorium the crew can cook up some hotcha and unique ideas, at a few points even coming pretty close to what the Monks were up to on "That's Why" and hey you know that they never even knew who the Monks were until a few years later like the rest of us! And thankfully these guys ('n gal) spare us the horrid new wave whine vocals that were so prevalent amongst various acts with David Byrne haircuts and trust fund bankrolls.

Only real bummer to this 'un is that Drag City blew a good opportunity to pad out this platter with the wide array of Social Climbers material available on various samplers (such as the SEGMENTS cassette as well as the one-minute slice of a live jam recorded with jazz guitarist John Scofield taken from the STATE OF THE UNION album) and elsewhere for all I know. As it is, the only bonus fodder that pops up here's the aforementioned Max's track as well as version of Bernard Herrmann's "The Day The Earth Stood Still" that was laid down when ex-Theoretical Girls drummer Wharton Tiers joined the act. C'mon Drag City, you coulda done better, unless you were saving all of this stuff for a future endeavor...

If you can't get enough Mark Bingham here then why don't you try this solo album of his entitled I PASSED FOR HUMAN that was released on the Dog Gone label during the decidedly non-musically interesting year of 1990. Although the lingering dinge of post-new wave pop moves does permeate this platter I found myself enjoying this for what it was, an outta-nowhere mildly rocking effort that doesn't offend even if it doesn't quite inspire. Jazzy in spots, experimental all over and even the eyeballing towards mainstream pop moves doesn't make you wanna rip it off the laser launching pad perhaps because Bingham does have a sway with the lyrics and the music isn't anything to wanna slay crippled nuns 'n orphans over. Not only that, but Bingham gathered up some good name musicians to help out in one way or another including Scofield, bassist Steve Swallow, Peter Stampfel (who once joined the Social Climbers onstage at CBGB during their first anniversary concert, something I wish would have ended up on the Cee-Dee reviewed above!)  and none other than famed Man Boy Lover Allen Ginsberg who fortunately doesn't get into his kreesh-na-kree schtick or any explicit ravings about the kid fresh in from Biloxi he met in some bus depot last night.

I'm sure some would find it strange that jazz guitarist Scofield as well as former Ayler bassist Swallow would be working with the likes of Bingham, but in actuality the two camps go back quite a ways. At least as far back as '80 when Bingham was producing the Scofield trio's BAR TALK album for Arista. And hey,  I still recall that day eons back when I picked up the VOICE and noticed that the Scofield trio were opening for the Social Climbers at CBGB, thinking that either Scofield had gone underground no wave rock or at least was peddling his music to the jaded New Yorkers the same way everybody on the new jazz scene from Joseph Bowie to Sonny Sharrock were! Boy was I a stupe back then, though as time rolled on and I bought the STATE OF THE UNION platter I proved myself to be even stupider because when I saw the Social Climbers track (the one-minute segment of a jam to a tape loop of Jerry Falwell of all people!) and Scofield's name mentioned in the credits I thought he was a bona-fide member of that band as well!

Now that I'm older and can sort things out a whole lot more'n I could thirty years back the truth is plain to see, and that is BOY COULD I JUMP TO CONCLUSIONS ON THE FLIMSIEST EVIDENCE!!! Still, I am curious as to what might have transpired on that night when Scofield, Swallow and (I believe) Adam Nussbaum traipsed upon the CBGB stage, and although BAR TALK is going for a pretty penny these days at least OUT LIKE A LIGHT might give me an inkling of what the three were up to at least until a tape of the actual CB's gig makes its way to mine ears. Recorded 12/81 in Munich for the Enja label, LIGHT shows the three in a polite if restrained atmosphere trailing through various jazz forms from mainstream to avant, relaxing to engaging, and keeping my attention held throughout which I must say is a stellar deed considering my naturally born ADD. Nothing that I'm gonna feast heavily upon mind you, but still miles ahead of the dinner tie and jacket jazz mindset that's unfortunately overtaken that entire movement to the point where you know the Art Ensemble of Chicago might as well be Jan Garber to the whole lot of 'em!

And hey, considering how some guy (no names please!) once gave me the razz because he thought I was a fan of Scofield's, now that I've heard and digested more of him all I gotta say is hey...razz away! Don't do nothing to me and besides, the guy's gotta be a whole lot more lyrical and open to different variety of jazz and other modes'n the majority of recent experimental guitar players who have lost any semblance of swing and verve along with their hairlines ages ago! And yeah, a further dig into his back catalog just might be the thing, especially if other vistas of underground expression are being withheld from me as the years roll on...
In the interest of trying to adhere to at least a shard of a human nature, let me wish each and every one of you (at least here inna states) a Happy Thanksgiving Day. Thanksgiving was always a fun time of the year for me especially since back in the old days us schoolkids were guaranteed two days off right before the weekend, and considering this is the time o' year where it's usually too late to mow the yard and too early to plow the driveway there was much freebee time to be had! Nowadays overworked/underfunned me would murder for a good four-day weekend, and while I'm at it I sure could use some additional time off like I usedta get so's I could spend precious hours scouring the record shops looking for rare albums and new arrivals that would certainly tingle my tootsies. Only there ain't any record shops left nor can I find albums outside of the internet anyway and even if there were record shops they don't stock the kinda music they did back inna seventies an'... Awww, just forget I said anything! (drat!)

1 comment:

Jalmo said...

Wow Chris, many thanks for all this SC and related info!
I love that SC lp and have wondered for years if it would ever find its way to cd. Didnae know about the Mark Bingham solo. Back in 82 when this new wavery quavery beaut first strummed my central nervous system I soon found out how certain records seem made to be etched into one's brain: I was doing camera work for a talk show and one guest was a performance artist named Michael Smith. In a casual post show banter he apropos to nothing tells me he has recently been involved with some band called ...Social Climbers. My jaw dropped. And then back in the later 80's you hipped me to SC obscurities on the State of the Union comp. For this and more, many thanks.