Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Tono Bungay/Tower Recordings-RULES OF THUMB 10-inch LP (Squealer)

Yes yes mother dear, I know that I have been giving a lot less space to, paying a lot less attention to much of the newer underground rock that has been coming atcha these past two or so decades. But (as usual) I do have a good reason for doing so. It was just due to a fear of getting burned, as I have been repeatedly, wasting money (and time opening promo packages) on new hip flashes that never did pan out with their half-baked concepts that were getting praised as "new" and "innovative" by alternative labels and hip-pocket critics alike. But hey, I still do fall for a few of these groups who are claiming to cut the edge as if it has never been cut before and yes, maybe I have been a sucker for even the latest u-ground aggregate to break outta the garage if, God willing, they somehow conjure up enough hot sixties/seventies ideals and reference points to make me think that they truly are the latest in the evolutionary line which began with the likes of Link, Bo and Chuck that sorta solidified itself with the mid-sixties Brits and got an image with the late-sixties punks and grew on and on until...well, you know the dealschpiel by heart now, dontcha!

Maybe that's why after about two decades of their existence I've developed a slight interest in the En Why See-oriented group Tono Bungay even if they did cop their moniker from an H. G. Wells (noted eugenicist and spiritual father to all that is evil in this world) novel. This act does seem like something more than willing to sneak up my alley, and reports had 'em as yet another one of those new groups aping an early Velvet Underground force and style w/o coming off like cute cherubs or anything remotely revolting to my own sense of rockism. Their myspace page was engaging without making me want to puke, with these ozobs devoting a nice portion of their page listing a whole slew of influences ranging from the best of krautrock to Amerigan underground '69 worthy of Nurse With Wound! And frankly, if anyone is going to tread the same path of atonal righteousness as those early pioneers did 40 years back THEY BETTER DO IT RIGHT, as noisy and as antisocial as possible w/o coming off like the next piece of produce off the conveyor belt. In udder words, Tono Bungay sound promising especially in a world where I couldn't bear to listen to something recorded after 1990 even if Lindsay Hutton fercryingoutloud said it was safe to do so.

But still, I did have my doubts if only because of the presence of a Mr. Bob Bannister in the ranks of Bungay. Y'see, I gotta admit that I do know who Mr. B is, and have had for quite a long time ever since the days of the late-eighties rabble rock underground and frankly the feelings I have towards the fellow aren't exactly rosy. They're not as vociferously vocal as the ones I have towards Dave Lang, Jay Hinman or Ken Shimamoto but it's not like I'm gonna send him a get well card should the need arise. And I know that I'm not supposed to divorce my feelings about the artist and the artist's work or else I'd never listen to Lou Reed or Iggy Pop again (let alone 99.999% of the music moiling in my collection) but, well, when you've had personal contact with said artist and things have gone south twixt points a and b that really can change the way you think of and listen to the creation at hand.

I must give you at least a little background as to why I have such feelings directed against Mr. Bannister. In the beginning we were getting along rather swimmingly when he was sending me the latest issues of his publication ON SITE in exchange for my own screed of the day entitled BLACK TO COMM. I forget who instigated the idea that we get in touch, but we did and soon we were corresponding with each other with me pumping him for various bits of information I desired and he vicey versey I believe. Whatever, it was two guys who were clinging to the lowest rung on the ladder to instant fanzine recognition and all the records you can get for free who just happened to get together more or less, just like in the days when science fiction and comic book fans would connect via their own personalist fanzines and heavy-duty long distance phone bills.

At the time Bannister was involved with what I would call an under-the-counter New York rock group called Fire in the Kitchen (also featuring Bungay cohort Robert Dennis) who were a shall-I-say "talented" bunch that I believed distilled some of the better elements of Television and the mid-seventies En Why See bands along with a good hunk of the Velvet Underground and some of the lesser-appreciated local acts like Band of Outsiders amongst others into their surprisingly unique sound. Fire was a group that really did need a kick-start, kinda being stuck playing small outta-the-way dives as well as the old CBGB Canteen, rarely if ever playing the main CBGB stage next door. A shame since their original material, songs such as "Madame Curie" and "You're Not Alone" (if that was the correct title) were on par if not better than much of the music coming out of what was left of the NYC "underground", a scene that had seen some of the better acts there getting ignored in lieu of instant commercial flash ever since the original era of bands fizzled out somewhere between the demise of Max's Kansas City and the birth of Danceteria. These guys even did a cover of Eno's "Third Uncle" which sounded like something Verlaine and boys mighta whipped up around the release of TAKING TIGER MOUNTAIN if they were that keen on doing any more covers in their rep.

True this was happening a good fifteen years after Lisa Robinson amongst others discovered the NY scene and about seven after many rock fans pretty much forgot it, but Fire were a refreshing group, a spirited change from the alternative doldrums of the day and I thought it was a shame that they were kinda stuck playing on bills with dingbat new folkies and the rest of the brood that seemed to reflect more or less the eighties New York City "woe is me" attitude that really had nothing to do with anybody even remotely outside of our gene pools, as if any of us really were as twisted with hate like these new radicals were by any stretch of the imagination.

So for the sake of SAVING THE MUSIC WORLD (something which I never thought I could accomplish but, being so altruistic and all why not chip away?) I decided to do what any big name publishing mogul would and feature an entire page on FITK via a short yet sweet enough interview in issue #14 of my rag. Thought that would be a good way to get the ball rolling, and while I was at it I figured that reviewing the handfulla Fire tapes that I received from Bannister was another way to spread the word. Nice guy that I am huh, and even given my efforts to go outta my way to help not only a good group but I guy I considered a "friend" as much as we could be given the distance between us its not like I was expecting much in anything in return. Maybe a few records and more tapes y'know, but nothing humongous, y'know?

Well, for my troubles it was nice to see the band get an album out thanks to Darran Wells over in Las Vegas, a record which got FITK some international publicity as well as more chances to play the major CBGB stage and perhaps even other venerable hotspots, but then again it's wasn't exactly a happyhappy experience when I opened up the next issue of ON SITE only to read this mention of me where none other than Bannister attacked me personally mentioning how yeah, I do like black people and I'm no racist, but my opinions regarding gays and women are so neanderthal that it's such a mystery how someone with my societal/political beliefs in this day and age can not only listen to underground rock music but the kind that the all-knowing Mr. Bannister dares to release! Oh, such a dichotomy!!!

Not surprisingly it wasn't like I was exactly cozying up to many of the opinions that Bannister himself was spouting off in the pages of his own mag. His own personal outlook seemed to be more akin to the radical bent coagulating in New York at the time, the very stringent radicalism that magazines like the VOICE and others including the biggie NEW YORK TIMES were mouthing off which condoned violent ACT UP protests and public funding of art that went out of its way to offend the beliefs of the people who were funding it with their tax dollars in a strange form of sucking off the system. Naturally in this case "the system" was midwestern lower class day laborers but I guess they deserved it, being so STUPID as to ignore the Big Brother helping hand of the modern-day equivalent of those turn of the century "uplifters" who plied these "downtrodden" types with all the compassion and birth control they could afford.

One bit of Bannister brilliance that really set me off was in his review of local poet/wannabe punker Emilio Cubiero's spoken word album entitled DEATH OF AN ASSHOLE which mentioned how the views expressed on that album such as how people who engage in non-procreative sex for total pleasure were not responsible for their actions if they contracted AIDS and that children experience sexual pangs could be found in any liberal paper around which only goes to prove to you why liberal newspapers are dying. Speaking of the children, the part of the album Bannister was referencing referred to a vignette where Cubiero espies a man having sex with his five-year-old daughter in some bushes and the daughter was enjoying it so how could this be wrong, and please tell me, am I really that much of the prude to find this sort of thought totally repellent and worthy of universal condemnation? In a world of things being "beyond the pale" I found Cubiero's views to be quite in the extreme, and really it is hard to figure out who was worse, the decadent chic poet spouting this manure out or the wishy washy liberals who were defending such views!

Now, I must admit that Bannister seemed rather, I dunno, not exactly apologetic 'r anything but he wanted to remain in touch and he did enclose a review of Patti Smith's HORSES written by Greil Marcus which dropped the name of Hackamore Brick (a group that I had been championing in my own gosh-darn retrospective way at the time), but I was shall I say a bit miffed over this act of political/personal oneupmanship and what some might call downright back-stabbing (mixed in with Bannister's expressed delight in ideas that most people should consider abhorrent no matter what the gals on THE VIEW may think). I told him so, in perhaps a not-so-subdued manner as I'm wont to do via a letter of response and Bannister wrote back again taking me to task for my overall political views which were so outside-the-(New York City)-mainstream that I was in need of serious rehabilitation. (He really seemed to be taken aback by some of my "vile" comments regarding gays that I wrote in YOUR FLESH, a magazine that expressed many a vile view that I'm sure Bannister would agree with!) Maybe a gander at some gay porn would help, advice which as you'd expect really turned me off and made an irritable situation seem totally ghastly.

This is probably what finally made me come to the conclusion that Bannister indeed was one of the same overbearing sort of Modern Day Social Planner types who wants to mind your business and save the world (for whatever abstract definition of "women" and "gays" they adhere to) at the same time. And for his troubles all I felt like was some ethnic outta-the-beltway blue collar worker with my own life and ideals as to what my place is in this mess we call earth is once again being lectured by someone who "obviously" knew the righteous road to love and understanding that has made this world such a lovey-dovey place for the past forty years. And when I mean lectured, I mean TALKED DOWN TO the same way you see syndicated Big City columnists repeatedly say just how much they really love Southerners, uniformed day laborers and middle Ameriga, no doubt about that, but they sure hate their ways of life and beliefs and if we could only be like those SOPHISTICATED VILLAGE VOICE READERS who were still rooting for Castro and teaching children proper dildo usage and care (remember CHILDREN OF THE RAINBOW?) oh how great this world would be just like that old Coca-Cola commercial with the United Nations trying to teach the world to sing in perfect harmony. Naturally, I wasn't buying any of this, and the fact that Bannister was penning a book on the merits of progressive rock (!) at the time didn't quite help that much either.

Of course this doesn't detract from Fire in the Kitchen or even Bannister himself, after all, he has a right to mouth off his well-gestated New York Radical mutated into late-eighties Liberal opinions just as much as every other New York Radical cum (no sic) Liberal even if my right to pontificate contra seems beyond the pale to some. It's just that being treated like some errant Dennis the Menace with the hand in the cookie jar, or at least its 1989 equivalent, wasn't something that I was about to take lying down so I pretty much dropped all contact with Bannister feeling like there was such a dinge on me I needed to take a bath in Lestoil for my efforts. There were more important things to worry about and listen to, and given the amount of stress and strain I have had to endure for quite some time it wasn't like I wanted to add any more of it, if you know what I mean.

But twenny-one years later maybe the coast is clear and I can once again enjoy Fire in the Kitchen without pangs of prior angst abounding. In fact, I have been on the hunt for those early (and best) tapes and heck, if I find them I might get someone to put 'em on disque so I can enjoy 'em one stretch at a time!

But what does that all have to do with the album? NOTHING really, just some all-important background. But this '96 effort on the still-active in you can believe that Squealer label does remind me of something that would have gotten the ol' heave ho during the creation of some of the latter issues of my very own fanzine. Back then this kinda stuff was perhaps the last thing that I wanted to listen to, much preferring obscure early-seventies garage proto-punk offerings from German teenagers we never heard of before and never would hear from again, and frankly this "new" material wasn't exactly the kinda thing a fun listening experience down at BTC hq would quite entail.

Flash forward a good decade-and-a-half and guess what? I find RULES OF THUMB a quite pleasing and dare-I-say entertaining bitta underground flaptrap that doesn't even dare to bore the bejabbers outta me. What it is, is a selection of freeflow free rock that alternates between the Bungay boys and the Tower bunch (of whom I know practically nothing about) trading off shards of tracks and riffage in a way that reminds me a whole lotta that Smegma/Guided By Voices TROPIC OF NIPPLES EP/CD that was making the rounds about a good decade back. TRANSLATION: you get the outta-sphere noise and incomprehensibility true, but then again just when your brain is about to hit the coma level some discernible rock riff will churn you back into the land of the living. It all works its way into being a glorious whole, which will really please many of the glorious holes that I know tune into the blog from time to time.

I don't detect very many strong early-Velvet points anywhere here, unless you count the very Klaus Schulze-ish pulse ca. CYBORG that takes up a good portion of side two. I believe that 'un's from Tower Recordings, an extended li'l ditty entitled "Swarm Cha Cha" that does mix the more brainaddled specters of late-sixties psychedelia with the standard eighties-nineties post-industrial cassette culture squeal that has been in vogue, at least amongst antisocial tape snortchers like the kind who used to read OP. Tono Bungay fare pretty snat well on their numbuhs which sound first-time basement rehearsal and even English folk whimsy, three in all but like hey, it's their album as well and they figure into the rock as noise credo just as strongly on "Vortex Burger, Medium Rare", "We Cut Glass" and of course the ever-popular "Tell the Bees". It's sure nice to know that abstract expressionism lasted well into the nineties rock world in at least some capacity.

Verdict here is straight ahead free-form rock LIVES!!! and hey, both bands did proud making this total slab of incongruous bleat that fortunately lives way beyond the stale "freak rock quotient" that has given us too many musical jackoffs presented as honest and unrelenting artistic expression. Am I going to head for ebay to see what other wonders I can extract at budget prices? You bet I am! Am I going to forget about Mr. Bannister's posthippie neo-communist credo where only the enlightened New York subculture radical elements will RULE THE LAND at the expense of the knave-ish traditionalist-credo base? Well. I dunno about that...

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