Saturday, May 02, 2015

It happened late December of last year only I heard about it now...r.i.p. Josef Vondruska, Czech rock 'n roll dissident, singer, writer, lyricist, poet, collage-ist and leader of a variety of groups both Iron Curtain bound and beyond including Umela Hmota, Umela Hmota 3, Dom and (later on) the Laser Fuckers. True the name probably means nil to you unless you too were front and center in the mid-seventies Czech rock underground (or spent your nineties rock reading time combing through a certain crudzine I will refrain from mentioning by name), but a self-professed authority such as myself WILL definitely go out on that cliched limb and say that a man like Vondruska was, for all intent purposes, as important to the growth and spreadth of rock 'n roll (as that international youth language we used to hear about) as Peter Laughner and a myriad assortment of fallen rock prophets who either spoke to deaf ears or to downright hostile creatures who have yet to get their comeuppance for ruining the once grand world of rock 'n roll. But in the world of rock (as well as real life), what else is new?

A fan and follower of the fabled Plastic People of the Universe since their late-sixties inception (as well as a one-time member of the Czechoslovakian Army, conscripted I believe), Vonsdruska was an on-the-edge personality who perhaps epitomized that indulgent rock lifestyle we've heard so much about even if some of us were too chicken-hearted to fall into it. By late-'73 he became, along with Dino Volpalka and Alfred Michl, one of the leaders of Umela Hmota aka "Artificial Matter" aka "Plastic" (get it?), a group whose first concert came off like one of the most primitive scrapes of sound taking the early zeal of the Stooges and Fugs to even lower levels (Wild Man Fisher was an inspiration) complete with screeching violin, thudding guitars and a drum solo that sounded like a seven-year-old trying to ape Ginger Baker before petering out beddy-bye style. The Third Generation coming to fruition, though friction eventually broke out between Vondruska and Michl after the former wanted to introduce some blatantly pro-heroin lyrics into the group's repertoire. (Vondruska later had a falling out with Dino over some matter that Michl could not remember but there had been hard feeling over the years...Michl saying that it was a mistake to have invited him to perform at  a '92 Umela Hmota reunion show but why should I dig into the memory of a dead man who I admire anyway?)

This split did result in the formation of two Umela Hmotas, one with the original lineup sans Vondruska and one with Vondruska leading a new group, the acts therefore being known as Umela Hmota 2 and Umela Hmota 3 respectively. Both were high energy early punk rave rockers with clear Detroit/Velvets leanings along with noticeable references to local heroes the Plastic People and DG-307 that did add a certain local edge to their approach. Fortunately both of these groups' rehearsal, studio and live material has been reissued and can be available rather readily from various Czech music sources, and of course they're highly recommended for fans of mid-seventies just pre-punk primitive rock acts like the Electric Eels or James Chance's Death. (Try if you so desire.) And if you're whipped up by my description of these acts and want to read more just search this very blog for my own reviews which I must admit are some of the better scribble I've put forth to pixel these past ten or so years.

Vondruska's Dom followed, a late-seventies group which sounded to me kinda like Bryan Ferry singing with the Cramps, also highly recommended. However, with the Czech government cracking down on rock 'n roll dissidents who were sullying up the enlightened atmosphere of the place with a voracity, Vondruska skedaddled to Austria before making his way to Australia where he got a job spray painting automobiles for the Ford Motor Company becoming rather ill in the process. (He remained out of sight for the most part, though his correspondence with Czech writer Egon Bondy eventually made it into book form and remains highly desirable among connoisseurs of the East Bloc struggle.)

After the fall of the communist government in '92 Vondruska was back home writing, making collages and singing in the Laser Fuckers (any recordings available out there?) while working as a janitor for the sole purpose of reality. Rumor has it his health was deteriorating and his own mood took a downturn after his wife died, and soon he was out of work living on the dole as they like to say in England. Dunno the exact whys and wherefores of his passing, though I would (probably erroneously) guess that it was a combination of high energy living, work-related lack of precautions and a general run-downness that led to the man leaving us so early (age 62). Another one from that great rock 'n roll generation no longer with us, and certainly a man who shoulda gotten his dues only all of you rock snobs ignored him probably because """""I""""" (unrepentant blogschpieler willing enough to stick a death mirror up to your face) had championed him as a TRUE rock hero.

The Umela Hmota 3 snaps that pepper this particular portion of the blog were taken from a Czech documentary on the whole Charter 77/anti-government movement of the day (hence the Youtube bug) and, if I do say so myself, look pretty cool what with Umela Hmota 3 playing those cheap East Bloc guitars and posing with their long hair, not forgetting Vondruska and his Ron Asheton shades. And if any of you out there think that this sendoff to one of the greatest unsung rock 'n rollers (of all time!) is a lotta hooey and that I should be concentrating on more up-to-date and therefore "relevant" matters this is all I have to say...radši bych byl z kamene!

Of course I should mention that it was Vondruska who also helped me greatly with my various underground Czech rock articles and gave me permission to use his UH and Dom tracks on the CD which accompanied issue #22 of my own crudzine. Not only that, but he expressed pleasure with the resultant platter, expressing a refreshing affinity for the Milk Tiny Tim medley that appeared on it and seemingly felt some pride that his music and art was being appreciated somewhere outside of the former Czechoslovakia! So maybe this is one reason I'm willing to prop up and support a true rock 'n' roller like Vondruska while  poo-pooing a good portion of moderne drek that has been passing itself off as "cutting edge" and "socially significant" for eons awlready. If you can't appreciate that you deserve all of the latest webhype that's been inundating us ad infinitum ("listen to this! I discovered it first!!!----sheesh!) and deserve it GOOD!
Well, after a whole lotta struggle and rather Hindenburg-esque gutbusting pain (healthy foods will do that to you!) here are this week's reviews. Gotta say that I believe this is a pretty good crop of 'em (thanks to the contributions of not only a certain Mr. W. Walter but certain Misters B. Shute and P. McGarry), and I must admit that I've had more fun listening to this batch of freebies than I have some of the batches sent my way o'er the past few months, hand-licking mongrel that I was and shall always be! So while I'm still in a good mood (which won't be for long) here are the writeups!

Deadly Orgone Radiation-POWER TRIPS CD (Copepod UK), Henry Kaiser/Damon Smith/Weasel Walter-PLANE CRASH TWO CD (New Atlantis), Lydia Lunch Retrovirus-URGE TO KILL CD (Widowspeak/Brava)

Three newies that have none other than Weasel Walter as the common denominator, and as you know I can always use some of his special soundscapading to get me through these rather low-fidelity times.

Deadly Orgone Radiation features Weasel on drums and the dual guitar lineup of James Sedwards and Alex Ward, the latter also throwing in some alto sax. The result is shattering, with the guitars raving it up almost like Bruce Anderson and Sonny Sharrock having an all-out while WW plays even deadlier than Sunny Murray could have thought up.

Henry Kaiser actually sounds gnarlier on PLANE CRASH TWO than he has for years. Maybe it's the presence of WW that brings out the angular in him. Not that I'm an expert on the man, but I gotta say that HK is one of the more interesting guys holding a stringed contraption these days---maybe it was all of his blabber about Eddie Van Halen being one of the best guitarists extant that soured me on the guy way back inna eighties.

And lo and behold, it's none other than Lydia Lunch making a return to the recording studio after who knows how long a break...anyway she's in fine form here even though she's really hoarse and scratchy throat-wise and doesn't do the ol' bleating game like she used to. But her band is almost as good as 8 Eyed Spy and they really coagulate to her eternally PMS'd visions fantabulously. Even to the point where it's almost 1981 again and the only thing we have to look forward to is Max's Kansas City closing up for good. A surprise hit outta nowhere because frankly, I thought it was gonna suck.
Various Artists-BACK FROM THE GRAVE VOLUME 10 CD-r burn (originally on Crypt)

Hot on the heels of #9 comes this hotcha volume of BACK FROM THE GRAVE and boy is it a lou-lou and I don't mean Reed! Dunno where Crypt compiler Tim Warren snatches these platters up but he's got some real rarities here and none of 'em are of the hazy late-sixties introspective pretensioso psych vein either! Maybe there are a few tracks that don't grab me where my cojones used to be (sold 'em for a copy of DENIM DELINQUENT #1 twenty-five years ago)---kinda more suited for those early-teen PEBBLES if you ask me---but most of this is hot snot enough to have appeared on those early BACK FROM THE GRAVEs and that's really saying something, Chollie!

Personal faves...The Four's "69" (which sounds more 1966 to me, confusing ain't it?), The Orphans' "Hey Gyp" (better'n the Animals, Donovan and even the Yardbirds but not as good as Greg Prevost), Nobody's Children's "Mother's Tin Mustache" (kinda reminds me of a long-forgotten Stooges studio goof track) and (best of all!) GMC and the Arcells's take on the Sonics classic "The Witch"! Sounds like someone got this IQ 70 nutzoid from the local asswipe factory to giggle and sing it while a less than professional (yet still gung ho) buncha pre-teen rockers aspiring to be the Kinks but reaching about as far as the Marquis Chimps pounded it out. Too bad I didn't get the liner notes for this ' they're a hoot!
THE BEST OF THE MARSHMALLOW OVERCOAT CD-r burn (originally on Garage Nation)

I believe that I was beginning to tire of the whole "garage revival" movement of the eighties by the time these guys (and one gal) hit the scene, but I do recall liking their first EP way back when. And even this late in life the Marshmallow Overcoat sound a whole loads better'n alla that crap that plagued the eighties music scene (which was one of the worst at least until the nineties, oh-ohs and teens hit). Rather palatable psychedelic rock which might be a little bit candy coaty for some, but it sure pleases me more'n some of the competition which didn't quite capture the rec room and UHF tee-vee atmosphere of the original movement (at least as it was related to by certain suburban slobs like myself). Might be worth a spin or three.
Elliott Murphy-AQUASHOW DECONSTRUCTED CD-r burn (originally on Blue Rose)

There's a hot idea! Re-record your debut album the way it should be done these days, and although I would usually poo-poo such an idea as being more of a lack of direction or innovation it's sure fab hearing a fave rave album like this again done up totally different-like. Murphy still cooks despite a few rather recent fizzles, and this platter dredges up all of those positive feelings I have about seventies rock without the bad taste that much of the music produced during that time can leave in your mind. No gimmicks or technological whizzes here! So good that even the "Marilyn Monroe died for our sins" line ain't gonna make you upchuck like it woulda in the hands of lesser seventies singer/songwriter emotive types like Billy Joel or Bruce Springsteen.
GYPSY ROSE LEE REMEMBERS BURLESQUE CD-r burn (originally on Stereo Oddities)

Boy is this one dirty...dirty enough that I kinda get the feeling that if you were searching through your bachelor uncle's record collection when he wasn't home back '63 way and found this album stashed in between the Billy May and Bill Dana your mother would be givin' ol' unc' a scolding worse'n the time when you forgot to lock the bathroom door! Yes, this is a documentary album about the history of burlesque narrated by the famed stripper herself, complete with comedy asides and more double entendres than your sophomore English teacher would have dared let you get away with. Hotcha naughty spins for the just into the double digit crowd, but then again I get the feeling that most of you sincere pud piddlers will continue to stick with LACTATING LOVELIES and wouldn't be caught dead rising to this release in a millyun years.

When Bill took the photo that accompanies the cover I was wondering whether or not those were his sunglasses wallowing in the bottom of the "fountain" and in fact if he gathered up the manhood to reach in and pick 'em up, rinse 'em off and put 'em back on his bean! Kinda reminds me of the time I was really broke and there was a nickel down there in the pee-can and at that time I really sure coulda used it!!! I didn't reach in for it though because well...there were people in that restroom and after all, how would it LOOK? 

Cheap tendencies aside (no more urinals for me, though sidewalks and parking lots are fair game), I gotta say that I really enjoyed Bill's offering. Never heard the pre-Stiff era Mickey Jupp, but his Legend are hokay country neo-rock, sorta in the same vein as future Stiff artists Ian Dury and Nick Lowe who were playing neo-rock with reggae (Dury/Kilburn) or neo-rock with West Coast hippie moves (Lowe/Brinsley) before slipping into the new wave shape of things. Delores Early's organ r&b was crunchy enough for those of us who like that Jimmy McGriff-styled pre-gentrified black sound. Bob Storm's song poem plays it both patriotic and ecological while the Strawberry Children were better than I would have expected---West Coast-styled folk rock right around the time it was all going to fall into the hippie chasm that typified the seventies music scene to rather disgusting effect.

The rest varies from Scab Cadillac doing a slow grind that comes off either post-hardcore or post-heavy metal depending where you like to stick your posts, while the Stone Canyon Band (not the Rick Nelson group as the liners say) do a good if rather lackluster version of the Chantays hip "Pipeline". Bandanna sound like the Grateful Dead when Donna Godchaux was singing with 'em, while the unknown acetate's some typical late-fifties doo-wop that doesn't settle well with my more, er, "refined" first generation rock tastes (Wray, Holly, Hurricanes...).  But considering the decadent depths of giddy anti-rock 'n roll depravity we've sunk into I'll take it all over the latest Ringo Starr and I get the feeling that you would as well.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

thanx a lot chris for your words on vondruska's deahth.It's really moving...