Sunday, April 13, 2008


Again, a return to the olde-tymey BLOG TO COMM mega-review format!

NO WAVE by Marc Masters (Black Dog Publishing, 2008)

So here it it after what, thirty whole whopping years, a tome for our time detailing the rise and nova of the late-seventies New York no wave phenomenon that in one nice little 200-plus page swoop finally tells us starved for rockism music fans all about those primitive bands that proved that musical deconstruction was a whole lot more than just another Marxist cultural role-play game for disaffected young 'uns with trust funds. And believe-you-me, for a guy who Fall '78 bought NO NEW YORK sight unseen after reading some hot Adele Bertei-related news in THE COVENTRY EXPRESS, such an all-encompassing no wave tell all book is just the thing to get my juicy-juices flowing! And truth be told, author Marc Masters does a good job in at least giving us the main who whats'n whys of the entire movement, or at least he presents enough important info just to remind one as of why back in the day musical morons such as I used to scour whatever sources at hand there were to find out as much about this thing called punk as we possibly could.

But despite all of the promise and potential one might expect from such an ambitious endeavor, NO WAVE only gives us a basic rundown on the groups and the scene without any major epiphanies to be found...not that I was expecting anything totally out of the ordinary, but it sure woulda been nice if Masters threw a couple of surprises at us to chew on, or at least a few more ultra-rare snaps and flyers here and there just so those of us who were payin' attention while it was all still happenin' don't nod out too soon.

Maybe I shouldn't complain. It is grand to once again read all about that whole primal punk reaction that hit lower Manhattan in '77 'round the same time the rest of Ameriga was still in shock over the likes of the Ramones and other bands who seem so everyday suburban wholesome in retrospect. After all, you do get the sagas (albeit "expurgated" to an extent) behind all the major movers and shakers of no wave, the NO NEW YORK bands naturally getting the brunt of the attention while such "lower-tiered" acts as the Theoretical Girls, Rhys Chatham's various groupings and Red Transistor gobble up some precious space only because their members went on to do major works in the post-no wave eighties and nineties. (An era that is touched upon in this book even though for me it makes for one of the less exciting chapters given the utter boredom that decade doth wrought...still, I might just be changing my opinions re. those old Live Skull discs after reading Robert Palmer's various reproduced raves!) Even such outta-the-loopers as Ut seem to get brought up if only because they lasted as long as they did outside the no wave timeframe (albeit as English post-punkers, but who cares?), and what's more there's even a nice chapter on the short-lived no wave cinema movement which turned Max's Kansas City into a hotbed on underground movie mania with frequent screenings of Scott and Beth B films on the same bill as a whole slew of those no wavers Max's was rakin' in hefty dinero with at the time! Even with my hard-to-conceal reservations about this book I must admit that the resultant spew should be hot enough to get even the more passive aficionado of late-seventies avant rock a tad slobberin'.

And though that aforementioned last chapter on the scene in the eighties and beyond might just remind you (as it did Brad Kohler) as to why all of your seventies hopes and dreams seemed to get flushed down the toidy overnight, the main bulk of NO WAVE does have that expected underground "dinge" that seemed so enticing back when you were a lot more inexperienced and just eating up all this hard blare up for what it was worth, which at the time sure seemed like a lot!

But as for the untapped potential...was it because Masters just didn't have the space to mention it all, or did he just do all of his research by reading the no wave special issue of THE NEW YORK ROCKER as well as choice VILLAGE VOICE and EAST VILLAGE EYE reviews and left it at that? An over-exaggeration true, but sheesh, considering what information there is out there and what he didn't use this book should have been at least twice as long!

Still, like any intense writings on rock & roll, NO WAVE leaves you thirsting for much more. The trouble may just be that perhaps you're thirsting for way more than what was provided, and little bits and pieces that I thought should have been included seem to have been totally forgotten by the author. For example, a pre-no wave historical overview is left to a few paragraphs about the Velvet Underground, Captain Beefheart, Yoko, krautrock and Suicide (in other words, the same old no wave rap you've read on the web the past ten years), but a band that was about as important to the development and growth of New York no wave as anyone or anything, mainly Kongress, is mentioned solely in passing. I doubt that Masters would've had any opportunities to hear the tape of Kongress opening for Television at CBGB in '74 creating a sound as ferocious and perhaps way more feral than anything laid down by Lydia Lunch or James Chance, but you woulda thought (if he wanted to be a little more exhaustive in his research) that Masters would have contacted Otto von Ruggins for some input. Unfortunately he didn't (or perhaps von Ruggins was unwilling), but a book covering such an important (and still under-documenteed) genre as no wave should have dug into the obscurities to at least give us the whole picture.

Masters also glosses over, perhaps due to lack of pertinent information, some of the no wave acts who didn't hit the jackpot but deserved at least a tad li'l bitta thirtysome-years-later notoriety. Bands such as the Communists (with future Kongress warbler Iolsa Hatt), Elodie Lauten's Terminal and Glenn Branca's other group Daily Life are basically tossed aside. And even one of the better-known names to come out of the no wave, electronic violinist Walter Steding, sure gets the short end of the stick here with only a mention in connection with the infamous GLENN O'BRIEN'S HOUSE PARTY cable access program! True a few of the locals at the time didn't consider Steding to really be part of the no wave "scene" probably because of his allegiance with the Blondie/Chris Stein/Warhol axis of instant stardom, but I surely would have done a nice hunkerin' chapter on the guy even if his outlook on life was a whole lot more positive than all of those nihilistic sots' combined! And yeah, as Masters says right at the tippy end of the book, apologies are to be given to a whole buncha bands that just didn't make the cut, but really, given the importance of the subject matter I wish a whole lot more acts did!

Maybe what I am looking for in a no wave history will be remedied by the Byron Coley/Thurston Moore book that is currently in the works. At least I can hope to encounter enough unveiled-for-the-first-time bits of knowledge regarding such acts as George Scott's pre-Contortions aggregate Jack Ruby as well as all of those Von Lmo short-lived/one-off groups like the Shortwave Band, Antenna and Von Lmo's Refrigerator not forgetting other flashes that never did get to register a blip on the hipster press radar. More on the influx of avant garde jazz to CBGB and Max's in the wake of no wave (talkin' the likes of Phillip Wilson's Magic, Luther Thomas, Ronald Shannon Jackson and of course Sonny Sharrock) which in fact continued steadily until CBGB's very demise would also have been appreciated instead of the space given to such early-eighties thuds as ESG who may have hit it big with THE NEW YORK ROCKER and VILLAGE VOICE gang but seems like way too much hipster cross-breeding shuck to me. Perhaps I am asking for too much in a book (which I hope I will get with Coley and Moore's endeavor), but for now I'm sure NO WAVE should satisfy the casual aficionado and maybe if you're not as anal-retentive as I am you'll coax some major pleasure outta it as well. And, in case you couldn't discern...HIGHLY RECOMMENDED ANYWAYS!!!

MAGICAL GARDEN CD-R (no label, Japan)

Many of these new Japanese post-Les Rallizes Denudes-styled bands might not live up to expectations created by the influence, but that doesn't mean they're all a buncha doofs. This 2004 recording by Magical Garden is living proof of that. More reminiscent of Suishoi No Fune's free-flowing dual guitar workouts than Denudes' psychedelic stomps, Magical Garden weave in an out with a guitar freakout style that's just about as much heavy metal as it is lysergic and as melodic as it is atonal. Imagine extended forays into transcendental guitar lines patterned on either Sonny Sharrock's GUITAR overloads or the Bruce Anderson solo tapes of the late-eighties and you'll be halfway there. Made good soundtrack music while reading the NO WAVE book and perhaps it will with any valid rock tome or fanzine of your choice. Volcanic Tongue was sellin' 'em but seem to be out at the moment. Check back periodically for availability.
OF THE ID CD (World In Sound, Germany)

After reading Greg Shaw's "Acid Punk" article in BOMP! (most of which was reprinted on the backsides of the essential PEBBLES VOL. 3 album in the very-late seventies), I just knew that I hadda latch onto this Id album that RCA of all labels had the audacity to unleash on us during the very early days of 1967. After all, the idea behind the song "Boil The Kettle Mother" sounded abstractly pleasant enough, with a spooky voice described as being Vincent Price-ish talking over a Yardbirds "Dust My Broom" riff came off especially enticing, especially to a kid who was spinning Red Crayola albums all day and sure wanted more. After latching onto a copy (via Rather Ripped!) I must admit that, although I enjoyed "Kettle" immensely and thought LP opener "The Rake" was pretty skewered itself I found myself filing my disc away for those moments when I would have to referentially return to it when it was time for me to do my own acid punk article. But surprisingly enough, that day never really did come.

Curiosity had me picking up this recent Cee-Dee reissue, and after all these years all I gotta say is that the Id were pretty much on top of not only the '66/'67 cusp of freakrock but Amerigan garage band aesthetics, for what they were. In fact, given the pedigreed histories of the band members involved (resumes proudly published in the enclosed booklet) all I gotta say is that Jack Good's liner notes about the return of pagan rhythms to pop music wasn't just another load of hyperbole. In fact, the Id just might have been the best example of professionals slumming as punk rockers to be heard at the time, at least until the advent of the Hombres a good year later.

Tunes I originally thought were pure miscarriages like "Butterfly Kiss" and the title track now seem listenable enough...I guess that the self-conscious '67-vintage pretensions sure went down smoother back then but if you put yourself in a sixties mindset they sure seem contempo! And for a bunch of industry hacks the Id could still rock out a good punk number like "Wild Times" and of course "Kettle", which really would've been strange enough to have been included on that third PEBBLES volume had Shaw only felt them, along with the Godz, worthy of a spot. Of course the "bonus tracks" really ain't 'cept for an instrumental backing to "Kettle" you can sing along to in your best horror star voice, but did you really expect anything special outta all those outtakes that've been tagged on at the end of Cee-Dee reissues all these years??? A surprise package that you just might want to check out even a little smidgin' bit.
While I'm at it, I thought I'd tag this clip of the Association doing "Along Comes Mary" on THE SMOTHERS BROTHERS SHOW way back in '67. I actually remember this program, not only the song but the way my mother flipped out in abject hatred at the opening schpiel which, once again, shows more of that '67 hipster snideism that the Id also tackled with some gusto (which is why I brought this Association clip up in the first place). Watch it with your mother and re-live alla that mid-amerigan generational gap loathing many a kid hadda suffer through:


Anonymous said...

" mother flipped out in abject hatred..."

So, this is an inherited thing?

Andrea said...

"House Party"?! Surely you mean "TV Party."

If anyone out there has an MP3 of Steding's "Secret Spy," I'd be every so grateful.

Christopher Stigliano said...

I remember it being referred to as "House Party" in various places back in the day (most ashamedly on the old DAVID LETTERMAN show...he used to mention it as being a personal fave all the time), but you're probably right since I wasn't there and you probably were and besides, my memory had me thinking O'Brien swiped the name of his show from the old Art Linkletter afternoon old lady gabfest perhaps as some strange form of homage. There are, or more likely were, clips from TV PARTY floating around on Youtube in case you're the least bit curious about this example of early-eighties NYC access cable programming which showcased a load of local underground bands of varying interest back during the tail end of one of the most invigorating times for rock & roll to be seen in a pretty long time.

Christopher Stigliano said...

After re-reading the book, I must concur that Andrea is most certainly right about the title of the Glenn O'Brien show. However, I will not correct my text if only to not disturb the "integrity" of the piece. Haw!