I Like My Pockets Fat and Not Flat (May 17th, 2018, driving around Columbia, MO, in my truck)

The following is adapted from a Facebook post I made yesterday on a group page inhabited by other music fanatics. We are all–of most of us are–fans of the great, time-tested music critic Robert Christgau. He himself has tested time as few critics have. On the page, we occasionally tout albums that Chriztgau underrated, overrated, or…failed to date at all. It’s that last category that fascinates me, and it just so happened I’d dusted off the above CD to reacquaint myself with in “The Lab” (my truck cab, where I engage in pure musical meditation and try to operate the vehicle simultaneously).

I’d been introduced to the album by a friend in 1992. My wife Nicole, Mark, and I had been invited to a party thrown by Nicole’s co-worker; the majority of the other partygoers would be rap and r&b fiends, and Mark, who happened to be visiting from out of town, insisted on bringing Runaway Slave to force on whoever was selecting. It (along with Redman’s debut and a 12″ of EPMD’s “Headbanger“) turned the gathering out, and I got myself a copy the following week. I listened to it constantly for several weeks (and failed to turn my 10th graders in to it), then it disappeared into the stacks for the better part of 26 years.

Played it twice in the truck yesterday, then purt-near ran into the house and wrote this:

A classic rap album Xgau didn’t even deign to acknowledge. Aside from a run of wreck-catchers (“Fat Pockets,” “Still Diggin’,” “Soul Clap,” “Silence of the Lambs,” “Party Groove,” the title song), aside from the great horn-powered, beat-bejeweled production by Showbiz and the underrated Diamond D, aside from it being light on misogyny and peeled caps, aside from the two MCs being distinct and in synch, it’s pretty fucking conscious, with self-determination a thread throughout and considerable science dropped re: systematic racism. On heavy rotation in our three-room apartment in ‘92, and it still sounds phat, yet crisp. An “A,” easy, and one of the peaks of so-called “Golden Age” hip hop.

Hours later, I’ve calmed down, played it again, and rdeduced I’m exactly right…though perhaps not praising enough! Time: the revealer.

FLASHBACK: Boring Stories, Indeed–Springsteen and E-Street Bland, Live at Kiel Auditorium, St. Louis, 1999

Bruce & E Street

I used to commandeer a website called The First Church of Rock and Roll (b. 1999ish, d. 2005ish). While doing so, I assumed the persona of The Reverend Wayne Coomers, a Pentecostally influenced rock and roll ranter who held all music he encountered up to a single important question: did this move me? As I do on this blog, I seldom wrote about things that didn’t move me, but, on this occasion, I couldn’t stop myself. Nicole and I, for less than a ten-spot, had watched the much-missed Illinois band Local H just blow the doors off The Blue Note in Columbia, Missouri–two folks in the band, multiple chips on those four shoulders, and ENERGY! Plus: 45 minutes, and they were out. The next night–and we were most excited–we went to see Springsteen live for the first time. He’d hung the moon for me from ’75-’88…then I read some things…then he stumbled a bit…then he kind of rounded into a staid institution…but we had no reason he wouldn’t raise the short hairs on our necks live, especially reunited with his musical family. Here’s the story, without adjustments; I’d send you to the original site, but even The Wayback Machine can’t help there. I thought nothing dies here (that’s a fact)–that everything that dies will always come back. Guess I was wrong.

Sitting at a booth in a Bob Evans, the tension was ping-ponging between the four of us. Morning-after concert discussion–somebody finally asked the question I was fearing: “So what did you think of the show?” One might well wonder why it had taken nearly twelve post-show hours for someone to bring it up.

It had all started when, during a drunken evening, one of us had suggested a road trip to St. Lou to take in a Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band extravaganza. Nicole and I, long-time fans (perhaps an understatement in my case: Bruce was one of the reasons this music is my life), had never witnessed one of the great Rawk spectacles, and our two friends were among the benighted, but ready to dive in, in part as a birthday present for one of ’em.

I labored hours over a 3-cassette comp to prepare them, and, in the making, I found myself pretty damn re-amazed at the Mighty Greaser’s hard-fought hacking through lots of dark forests to keep his audience honest and his own bad self lean, mean and relevant. Not for him the fate of the protagonist of “Glory Days”; he’s long displayed a gift for getting inside beautiful losers to show us how to keep winning, or at least hold life to a draw. So I was primed to finally be there, and had every reason, given what his work had to say, to expect, well, more progress. Progress: a tangly concept any serious Rawk-lifer has to grapple with daily. Either it’s the end-all be-all in the face of rot, anathema to the Rawk ethic, or it’s the fucking hemlock that kills the basic feels-so-right urges that legions of garage rockers and die-hard rockabillies strive to strangle out of their axes. Where was Springsteen?

Motorheads don’t generally have ten guitars waiting in the wings, each on labelled stands with different tunings for different songs. On the other hand, Springsteen’s musical set-up–“big” horn, a willingness to use synthesizers and Spector-operatic piano, an odd aversion to expressing himself consistently, particularly through riffs, on guitar–doesn’t exactly lend itself to primitive noise (Wouldn’t it be fascinating, though, to hear him really strip his shit down, not like a Nebraska or The Ghost of Tom Joad, which were “folk” albums, but like, say, Pink Flag, or Ramones, or even New York? It’d certainly cut down on the pomp ‘n’ corn–if he’s reflective enough to notice, it’s, uh, shtick). That leaves writing. Surely he’d been writing. And there’s been no shortage of raw material for a working class hero to mold into an epater le bourgeousie for his increasingly comfortable, always snow-white audience, not in these here times.

So what’d we get? Sitting in the mezzanine, lined up straight-away center stage (a $45 ticket that would have been more than a third of his typical protagonist’s weekly salary–a very optimistic estimate, at that), we got:

1) Muddy sound: 4 guitars (it’s nice to get the gang together, but come on: platoon some o’ the bastards!) doing nothing much but strumming and grinding those plodding, unfunky-white-guy rhythms. Even Bruce’s and Miami Steve’s occasional solos were either arena-rocky or out-of-tune.

2) Umpteen VERY marginally-differentiated “Big Man” solos–the show/tour may be about loyalty and friendship, but my god, hasn’t the motherfucker grown a few chops? Maybe jazz and ’50s r&b has spoiled me (not to mention Randy Newman’s devastating parody on Trouble In Paradise’s “Life is Good”), maybe they are a bar band, but millionaires get paid to make some hard decisions.

3) 90% 1985-and-earlier catalog, arranged exactly the way they were played 1985-and-earlier. Even a bottlenecked “Born in the USA” was a by-the-numbers recreation of the demo version on Tracks. The only faintly new song was a Weavers-esque Guthrie-rewrite called “This Train,” which might be described as Springsteen’s “Forever Young,” one of the worst things in Dylan’s ouevre. And since I’ve mentioned the grouchy old fart, who spent years in limbo squeezing dollars from his back catalogue only to come roaring back again–heard “Things Have Changed,” from the Wonder Boys soundtrack yet, or Time Out of Mind? Nicole and I took a smoke break with a suspiciously large segment of the upstairs concertgoers and came to a mutual appeciation of Uncle Bawb, who, with the previously mentioned exception, hasn’t really ever given a shit about giving the public what it wants. OK, he’s disgusted, but, hey, who isn’t? And with about 10 years on Bruce, he sure isn’t showing signs of taking a fall-back position.

4) A dearth of spontanaeity. The only two moments that raised my short hairs to half-mast were the only radical rearrangement, of Tunnel of Love’s “If I Should Fall Behind,” where 3 E-Streeters got a verse, including Mrs. Bruce, who sounded a lot like Ronnie Spector–the chick should definitely sing more–and a weird Springsteen somersault in the middle of the third encore, as if to say, “OK, can I go now?” Actually, the old man didn’t really move too much throughout the 3-hour show–yep, he still does ’em, and he did sing pretty well, I admit. But a rock and roll show must be alive. Working hard ain’t enough. I’m sure Phil Collins sweats.

So, to crystallize it, he had nothing to say, other than, “These are my boys” (and they definitely got more props than the woman) and “I’m still here, but the Muse is all gone.” Where can he go from here? Hell, lots of places. How about a four-piece, or even a trio? How about taking on the WTO? How about collaborating with Patti, his wife (ala Double Fantasy)? Can his kids play yet (remember Old Skull)? He could get back to his roots–amazingly, he’s never done that before (perhaps to his credit, but it sure worked for McCartney). Or duet with Ed Hamell. The possibilities are much more open than he may think.

Back to Bob Evans. I said my piece (see above). One of our guests turned to the other and said, “I don’t feel like sharing right now…we’ll talk when we get home.” Pissed my ass off–nobody can disagree anymore, and they don’t know what they’re missing. True argument is the road to enlightenment. Perhaps Bruce won a new fan–albiet a 25-year-old that wasn’t familiar with him in 2000. Where’s she been? Is it unfair to expect the former “future of rock and roll” to at least function in the present, even if he is still donating major proceeds to our country’s food banks? Doesn’t he look in the mirror and sometimes realize that he’s fallen victim to Blue Oyster Cult Syndrome–becoming what he used to shake by the lapels? He used to hope he wouldn’t sit around thinking about ’em, but all he seemed to be beseiging his audience with at this show was boring stories from his glory days.

Teachers: Write Your Own Model Essays!

One of the most effective strategies I’ve used in teaching across four decades is writing models of the kind of essays I’m assigning students to do. This practice has so many advantages, and demonstrates so many essential ideas:

  1. That you are not above the task you’ve asked them to do.
  2. That you can actually complete the task you’ve asked them to complete.
  3. That the work can be fun.
  4. That you’re not afraid to open yourself up to critique.
  5. That, being a teacher, you can do and do do.
  6. That there is a way to do the task correctly.
  7. That thievery is an essential action in creation (“Take from me, my child!”)
  8. That communication between writers about writing is hugely advantageous.
  9. That teaching, in case you or your students have any doubt, is about leadership.
  10. That, being a teacher, you are not above Trojan-horsing into the classroom material you’re enthusiastic about!

Why am I going on about this? Well, my freshman comp/pop music students are taking their first steps toward writing their first record reviews, and of course I am preparing a model for them to look at and possibly follow. I will lead them to believe I just wrote it, when, in actuality, I’ve been tinkering with it for almost exactly a year. Of the many I’ve written, this one is the best. It’s clean, focused, true to my actual voice, specific, and–here’s the tough part–as well-angled to my 18-and-19-year-old audience as I can get it. That last is what I’ve mostly been tinkering with. If you’re curious, take a look!

Phillip M. Overeem

English 107

February 28, 2018

Every Day Above Ground: Jinx Lennon’s Past Pupil Stay Sane (Septic Tiger Records)

            Though the 21st century’s first seventeen years have not exactly been an easy ride, 2017 proved so turbulent in its first two months that the name “Woody Guthrie” crossed many a music fan’s mind. Guthrie, the Oklahoma-born songwriter, poet, and memoirist, though an intricately flawed human being, was a master of speaking truth to power during the first half of the last century, in songs like “This Land is Your Land” (the uncensored version, of course), “Deportee,” and “Jesus Christ.” He even wrote a distinctly unflattering song about our president’s dad. Where is our Guthrie now, you can hear crusty old musical and political history buffs (like me) asking.

            Only I am not asking it, because we have a Guthrie. Sort of. He isn’t an American; he’s from Dundalk, County Louth, Ireland. He isn’t a star; in fact, he’s only played across the pond on scant occasions, and he isn’t even well-known in his home country. However, the ideas he sings about, and how he sings about them, are what we desperately need right now, and that his songs are about the struggles of the people of Dundalk (“I Know My Town,” he titles one of the songs here—and he does) should be no barrier for us. We have the same struggles.

            Mr. Lennon’s musical attack is basic. Though he is sometimes described as a rapper, he is more accurately a yeller, a concept familiar to any rock and roll fan, except Jinx sings like he’s yelling over Saturday night pub noise, sometimes inserting a “YEAH!” to make sure we’re paying attention and getting his point. His accompaniment is spare: a guitar (usually acoustic, but sometimes amplified), a drum machine, occasional alien instruments (like a trumpet), and back-up singing (from his wife Sophie). This basic attack adds up to something important: a sound anyone can make, uncluttered but unpolished, that is direct. That is a compliment one cannot extend to so many of the sounds we’re hearing stateside right now.

            The album title also communicates something important. Mr. Lennon’s songs are indeed about staying sane amidst the welter of bellicose social and political messages that sting our ears and unsettle our guts on a daily basis. One reason to buy this album is that we can feel less alone in the knowledge that U. S. citizens aren’t the only ones grappling with their mental stability in times of upheaval. From health care crises (“Bed Blocka,”in which Jinx sides with ailing working-class patients against fast-processing hospitals: “Why you shoutin’ at them like that?/Who do you t’ink you are?/These people built the country around ya!”) to amped-up consumerism (“Shop Thy Neighbor”) to money worries (“70,000 New Jobs”—in this song, not a number over which to rejoice) to immigration (“Not Bad People”), the subjects of Lennon’s songs about post-Celtic Tiger Ireland suggest he might as well be American.

However, the beauty of the man’s art is that he doesn’t leave you wallowing in despair over these ills; countering every song that gives one a reason to be anxious is another illuminating a reason to be cheerful. In “Chinaman in Dundalk Town,” the song’s persona rejoices in a simple moment experienced with an immigrant: “He spoke to me!” He reminds us that “Every Day Above Ground is a Good Day.” He commiserates with us in “Don’t Let the Phone Calls Annoy You.” He proves quite gallant and empathizes with women (worthy of lauding always, but especially lately) as he chides a fellow pubgoer to “Learn How to Talk to Girls.” He recommends the liberating quality of playing music in “God is In My Guitar.” He even lionizes the humble “Water Meter Man.” Perhaps most striking, though, in Lennon’s efforts are his urgings—the first step toward our recovery—that we not retreat to a state of denial:

            Yeah, there’s good t’ings, and there’s bad t’ings ‘ere.

            Yes! WE CAN LOOK AT IT!

            We can do it! Let’s do it—YEAH!

            I will walk the railway line out the countryside

            Where my grandparents used to live:

            They built a big motorway right t’rough the center of it. (“I Know My Town”)

It isn’t easy to deny denial—but it’s necessary. Lest you think Jinx’s relentless focus on the travails of real life might be hard to take over the course of a 24-song album, the man is also very (and very frequently) funny: Future and Lil’ Wayne might get a laugh themselves from Lennon’s song “Cough Medicine,” and, as for “Fireman Meets Samurai Sword” and “45 Degree Angle Phone Face”? Let those be a comic Siren call to the uninitiated!

            What’s not to like about this record? First-time samplers may require time to get used to Lennon’s in-your-face delivery, as well as his reliance on repetition in order to make sure his messages stay gotten. No doubt the hour-long-plus running time and 24-song playlist could stand some pruning; with an artist as ebullient, energized, and boisterous as Lennon, the listener must be game if she does not want to be worn down.

            On the other hand, though, the same listener might just enjoy a good, long drink of something clean, clear, powerful, and empowering after many months of having to force-guzzle dirty water. During the Great Depression, Woody Guthrie inspired many citizens to endure—to not give up on their fellow men and women. Jinx Lennon is capable of the same, if we can reach across the water (via Bandcamp) and pull him across. As critic Robert Christgau pungently writes: “All he wants is to keep us out of the circle of shit and help make a better world….”

Works Cited

Christgau, Robert. “Jinx Lennon: Know Your Station Gouger Nation!!!” Robert

Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics. http://www.robertchristgau.com

          /get_artist.php?name=Jinx+Lennon. 2015. Accessed 8 March 2017.

Lennon, Jinx. Past Pupil Stay Sane. Septic Tiger Records, 2016.

          https://jinxlennon1.bandcamp.com/album/past-pupil-stay-sane        

 

Psst! If you’re intrigued? BUY THE RECORD!

This post is dedicated to Liam Smith, my Irish friend who is directly responsible for me knowing about Jinx!

You must buy Aram Bajakian’s DALAVA: THE BOOK OF TRANSFIGURATIONS

I want to shine SPECIAL light on Dalava: The Book of Transfigurations, by Aram Bajakian and Julia Uleha. The record consists of Moravian folk songs collected by Julia’s great-grandfather and translated into English (for the CD booklet) and sung (in Moravian) by Uleha–songs that poignantly express the title theme of form-change as well as of life’s interruptions and general impermanence (so often the three are connected!). Bajakian is a versatile, imaginative, and powerful guitarist–he’s often associated with Marc Ribot, who’s surely an influence but whom he’s separated himself from with his last three projects–and he, Uleha and his band put these true people’s songs across with real commitment and a complexity of emotion. Surely one of the most impressive musical achievements of the year, and if I have somehow hooked you, get the hard copy, because the 36-page booklet is worth every extra penny.

The Stash Dauber and I Team Up to Evaluate the Threat in Jim Jarmusch’s Stooges Documentary GIMME DANGER

I have been quiet of late: teaching, reading, and worrying about, then recovering from, the election have kept me plenty occupied. However, a recent visit with my fond friend and fellow music obsessive Ken Shimamoto (aka “The Stash Dauber” on Blogspot) resulted in an idea we had fun with a long while back when the Velvet Underground’s Quine box came out: reviewing something together. That something was Jim Jarmusch’s Gimme Danger, a documentary about the legendary Michigan band The Stooges. We both had high hopes (both of us have played–in Ken’s case, still plays–in bands that have covered Stoogesongs, and both of us worship the band’s best work), we both lamped it Saturday night, and we met on the Innertubes yesterday morning, afternoon, and evening to evaluate it. Below, I reproduce his transcript of our conversation, as well as cut in (in segments) the intro I gave for the film at Ragtag Cinema in Columbia, Missouri; it is no piece of scholarship–as always, with me in these matters, it is an explosion of enthusiasm–but perhaps worth entertainment and minor enlightenment to you. Thanks to the Ol’ Dauber for keeping us both focused on the light yesterday!

At the end of a week that knocked lots of folks for a loop, my buddy and Missouri teachaholic Phil Overeem and I both had the chance to view Jim Jarmusch’s new Stooges documentary Gimme Danger and put our heads together via intarweb chat to share impressions. Here’s the resultant chinwag.

Ken: I thought Jarmusch did a good job, appropriate to the material. The MC5’s story was a big story with heavy socio-political significance. The Stooges’ was a little story about young guys growing up together through music. Iggy performed the same role in this as Wayne Kramer did in MC5: A True Testimonial, which is appropriate, because Ig’s a good storyteller. I like that Jarmusch stuck to “family,” with no Dave Grohl/Slash commentaries. James Williamson and Kathy Asheton added interesting sidelights. Steve Mackay and Scott Asheton both looked ravaged and didn’t have as much to say (although I found Scott on Dave Alexander particularly poignant), but they belonged in this. I would have liked to have seen more Danny Fields, but he has his own doco now, I guess.

The big question in my mind going into this was what would Jarmusch do visually, given the paucity of footage (James Williamson told me, “Film stock was expensive and not worth wasting on us”). The synced footage from Cincinnati and Goose Lake that everyone has seen on Youtube was used well. There was some better quality vid of a performance from the Ron era without sound, and some B&W footage without sound from the ’73 Academy of Music show in NYC that I didn’t know existed. Jarmusch used a lot of photo montage, and employed animation to illustrate some stories in the same way the Beware of Mr. Baker filmmaker did. I thought the visuals supported the story well.

Phil: I can’t disagree with any of that. Jarmusch had some serious technical limitations as do so many directors trying to do similar things, and I was hoping he’d be a little more imaginative in overcoming them, but the movie seemed to swing metronomically between talking Ig and content, talking Ig and content, talking Ig and content. Plus clip-recycling and animation (which I admit I found amusing), which are like check-boxes. Also, a little light on L.A. And stretching a short story into a novel, so to speak. I enjoyed it, but it dragged a bit. I love your point about the band as family. That was a major strength of the film.

Ken: By L.A., I presume you mean the “death march” time after Raw Power. Some folks, I reckon, are disappointed there’s not more about the drugs and debauchery. I figure they can read Please Kill Me. The story I was interested in was how these absolutely typical American kids went about becoming a band, and what happened after. I liked that Jarmusch started at the end — kind of like Sunset Boulevard with Bill Holden “narrating” the story facedown in the swimming pool.

Phil: Well, I certainly wasn’t craving drugs and debauchery (I know it well), but for a general audience it’s certainly part of the story, right?

Ken: I don’t think they glossed over it. There weren’t a lot of stories, but it was acknowledged in the context of the band’s deterioration.

Phil: It seemed pretty minimal compared to the reality, to me. But not a huge deal-breaker, true. Also, how did you feel about Ig’s discussion of Bowie’s role? That combined with the stock footage of the plane taking off to Europe made an interesting statement.

Ken: I think it was fairly accurate. At that point, Bowie was as manipulated by De Fries as anybody. But he definitely gained cachet from the help he rendered to Lou and Iggy. I think Ig showed nice humility — and perhaps, self-awareness — in allowing them to skip his entahr solo career until the reformation.

Phil: I thought about that. Jarmusch was wise to just jump that (for the most part–there are a few vid clips from that time) for scope’s sake. We are agreeing for the most part on the content; I think my disappointments were technical and structural, though I too like the way he chose to open. I have been struggling with the question, “Well, how would he have done it differently?”

Ken: I’m glad it exists to bring all of that material together in a coherent way (because I hate watching shit on Youtube). And I still have my grainy Nth generation VHS of Cincinnati. I think it was important to do it while as many of the cats were still living as possible. Ron passed relatively early in the filming, but they did get some good material with him. It wouldn’t have been possible to make a great film like MC5: A True Testimonial or The Kids Are Alright because the Stooges just weren’t filmed that much. Prior to 2004 or so, no producer would have countenanced the making of a Stooges doco. Luckily, Ron told his stories lots of times to lots of folks, so his side of the story is well documented.

Phil: That, to me, was so fortunate: to get Ron’s and Scott’s takes. Also, I was very impressed with Williamson. To your last comment: yeah, that’s part of my struggle in trying to suggest a more imaginative approach–it’s just that I have put so many docs under my belt in recent years I found myself calling the next move. BUT the most important thing is to get it all in one place, coherently, with relative artistry. He did that.

Ken: I like that Ig and Scott gave props to Dave Alexander, and I found the bits on the making of the various recs to be useful.

Phil: I suppose he could have, ala Julien Temple, provided more musical context for what they were doing, instead of mostly the IMMEDIATE context of the MC5 and VU and free jazz. What about the crap that made The Stooges such a shock? I also agree pretty completely with you about keeping the commentary in the family, but it might have been nice to have a few more old dogs other than Danny to record what it sounded like fresh. Was expecting more story on the making of Funhouse, but maybe what was said was the main thing.

Ken: It’s a fan’s document, but still a more coherent narrative than The Kids Are Alright. Most of the people who will see this know the story, from Please Kill Me and From the Velvets to the Voidoids. Not to mention the Paul Trynka and Bob Matheu books. The crap — from Fabian to manufactured flower power — was addressed.

Phil: Yeah: a fan’s document. OK, maybe I disagree a little that the film is just FOR the fans. I mean Jarmusch has his own following that might conceivably not know much; there were several such in the audience. I asked for a show of hands. But Fabian was long past and flower power was waning anyway. Confessional singer-songwriters?

Ken: “Marrakesh Express.” I think you’re correct — they focused on main things. It was longer than I expected it to be. To make a movie of viewable length, excessive context is dispensible. They could have made a longer film crammed with more minutiae, but that wouldn’t have served the Stooges or the viewer any better.

Phil: I initially understood your phrase “fan’s document” as meaning “Jarmusch’s document” but you mean more than just that.

Ken: I mean a telling of the legend for people who already love the Stooges.

Phil: Yeah, I think that was what he was doing, but shouldn’t one reach a little further, at least? I am thinking now about what WAS in there that could have been cut…There will be, I am sure, the inevitable bonus material.

Ken: To your comment about going from Ig to visual, I think that’s why the animation was added — to break the monotony. The best use of stock footage I’ve ever seen was in the Howlin’ Wolf doco. But then again, in comparison, Wolf was filmed extensively. Mike Watt was his loquacious self, and reminded me of the Wylde Rattz thing that Ron talked about when I spoke to him in ’99. (BTW, I hated Velvet Goldmine.)

Phil: I couldn’t make it through VELVET GOLDMINE. Watt was a burst of energy into the proceedings, and THAT was a great example of the occasional details that even solid Stooges fans (like me) might not have known–the genesis of the reunion. That might have been widely circulated, but I missed it. Further example: the band’s decision to just stay in one place when they went on stage!!! Another highlight was Iggy serially dismissing claims that the Stooges were “rock,” punk,” etc–they just were. Surprise for me was SO much about the Five in there. I knew it would be there, but not so developed (“big brother – little brother”).

Ken: I’m not sure it’s possible to make a person under 40 understand what it was like before everything was available all the time. Or what the draft was like. It’s like, I’d dig to see a doco about Buddy Bolden that shows his importance, but such is not possible. But I think Jarmusch focused on the universality of their experience, rather than the uniqueness, for that reason. I know the MC5: ATT filmmakers struggled with narrowing the focus. It could have been a ten hour social history of ’60s America. But I think they made good decisions, as did Jarmusch.

Phil: You said, “I’m not sure it’s possible to make a person under 40 understand what it was like before everything was available all the time. Or what the draft was like.” I honestly would have liked to see a stab at at least the former, and how the latter affected their legend. Thanks for giving me more ammunition!

Ken: Part of the point is that while they were “real communists,” they weren’t involved in “causes” like the Five were. And that is addressed.

Phil: Funny Reagan Republic Ig talking about communism!

Ken: The difference between practical and ideological. “If you live in the same house, eat the same food, and share your money, you’re a communist.”

Phil: Hey, I know you hate this, but what grade would you give it? You’ve moved me up to a B+. BTW, I thought the text seemed either eye-rolling (bleeding? well, I get the connection, but we didn’t see much of that) or cheap.

Ken: I don’t have the objectivity to rate this. Although I’m not close friends with these people, this feels like a movie about people I know. My expectations of it were apparently different than yours. I’d be curious to hear what a young person who was aware of the Stooges (or one that wasn’t) thinks about it. I’m glad they included Harry Partch. I knew of his influence from Please Kill Me and Velvets to Voidoids, but still.

Phil: Yeah, the Partch segment was a very pleasant surprise. OK, OK, I am coming around further. A few times I was made to rethink the Stooges music a bit.

Ken: What I loved about the Stooges was their ordinariness. The Who and the Five looked like golden gods. The Stooges looked like me and my bad acting buddies. I could imagine them sitting with us outside the deli, having spitting and farting contests and wondering why the really neat girls wouldn’t go out with us.

Phil: That last sentence connected with part of my intro, where I stole from what you told me about Iggy seeing the other three just being lowlifes and conceiving the Stooges from that. I don’t remember you using “spitting,” but I did…and polishing switchblades, which was a bit much. They looked like bad news.

Ken: The most revealing story is about the hood-type guys Ig was “friends” with coming over to the trailer and goofing on it and his family. An example of how the anger was fueled.

Phil: Also, “25 words or less.”

Ken: Key to the aesthetic. And Johnny Ramone hating the ’70 shows because they didn’t play songs he knew. They never dwelt in the past, even when they scarcely had any material.

Phil: Where do you think GIMME DANGER ranks against similar docs where the directors had similar disadvantages? You mentioned the Wolf doc and The MC5’s.

Ken: I can’t think of one where there was such a paucity of live footage. But again — as I said starting out, I think the scale and scope was right for the story. It was more like listening to a guy telling a story, with illustrations and digressions. Which is what you could do, given the available materials. I liked the voice recordings of the Asheton kids, which Kathy told me were discovered right before her int, but after Ron was gone.

To people of the Millennial generation and younger, the Stooges don’t sound unique because there are a million bands that sound “like that” now. I think the film recognizes that such was not always the case, but I don’t know how more examples or explanation would have made that point more strongly.

Phil: We are not so far apart. One point, though, that I made in my intro was that as easy as the early Stooges’ sound seemed to be to make, even THEY couldn’t replicate it when they reunited. I don’t really hear many bands sounding like them.  I hear bands trying on that attack but it just isn’t as primitive, as id-rock, as natural-sounding. Sidetrack: another of my favorite moments was Iggy’s analysis of how they came to be thought of as nihilistic (kind of related to the 25-words-or-less vow).

Ken: The reason for that is they learned how to play. Scott says the first time they played “Not Right” was the take. They became more skilled players, but they were more creative when they were reaching beyond their grasp.

Phil: Well, YEAH, they learned how to play, but few bands who don’t know how sound anything like they did when they didn’t!

Ken: By the ’70s with SRB, Scott had become more of a four-on-the-floor drummer. On Funhouse, he’s reaching for Clyde Stubblefield and Elvin Jones. Not making it, but doing something unique.

Phil: See, yeah, that’s it. And out of what did that spring?

Ken: I think Iggy might have been the “pusher.”

Phil: The jazz. The Partch. Yeah, the pusher!!!!

Ken: Free jazz was in the wind in Detroit/A2 because of the Five, Sinclair, and people like Charles Moore. As for Partch: Ig worked at Discount Records.

It was quite revealing that they couldn’t get a band take on the first album unless Ig was in the live room, dancing.

Phil: That’s really the secret. The movie tells it, w/o clubbing you over the head. A-….

Ken: They literally learned to play on the road in front of huge festival crowds. Before that, they were…an art project. The reason they sounded the way they did is because they weren’t copying a established sound, they were playing over their heads with a variety of bizarre influences that they couldn’t possibly have replicated. And then they got caught up in the momentum of volume, adrenaline, and endorphin. I like your “not clubbing you over the head” remark. Just tell the story, and if the viewer is engaged she’ll figure it out.

Phil: Nice. I’m a little overmatched here.

Ken: I’ve been obsessed with this music since 1970. But you and I are different kinds of fans/listeners. I’m a “just enough” guy. You’re a “more” guy. It’s not a criticism, just an observation.

Phil: No, I get that. I think it’s related to my tendency to listen as a gestaltist. I do not know where that came from.

Ken: I don’t think more data would have strengthened the case.You studied lit theory? I’m guessing. I listen more…intuitively. Like a monkey who finds a transistor radio. First it’s magic. Then I listen to it all the time. Then it breaks, and I find…something else. That’s an interesting observation, and I guess I do tend to hear parts before the whole, if they are audible.

Phil: Nope. Well, a little [literary theory]. I listen intuitively, too, on a song by song basis. Certainly I respond and write that way. But I don’t think it’s from that. I want the whole to be better. But see that’s why I don’t think we’re so far apart. I don’t necessarily want more data…maybe different…and different structure. But you’ve brought me over.

Ken: Maybe I went knowing the limitations that existed, and so didn’t expect or want anything more. I think it was done coherently and respectfully. I would see it again. I would recommend it to another fan, or a novice.

Phil: Gear-shift: what year was it when you first played a Stooges song live?

Ken: I didn’t play Stooges music until 2004. No one I knew back then dug ’em, although some of the older cats I knew saw them and the Five at Randall’s Island in ’70.

Phil: “I Wanna Be Your Dog” was a staple of my first band (’85) and “Funhouse” the climax point of my second one (’90). ‘Course, I didn’t play, I “sang”–but those were cathartic songs, especially the second. Lou [Reed] was a great model for me to be a non-singer because of his style but mostly for his verbal genius. Iggy was how to do it physically, release the id, plus…25-words-or-less made the song easy to remember.

Ken: The first Stooge song I played was “TV Eye,” sitting in with a band the night the Stooges played Coachella. Two years later, we started the Stoogeband. When we learned those songs, we started with the mistakes. I mentioned before Scott said the first time they played “Not Right” (not “Real Cool Time”) was in the studio. You can hear on the take, he plays through the break after the first verse. They left it in. We learned it. The beginnings of “Loose” and “1970” are chaos that coalesces.

Phil: Which I absolutely love.

Ken: Me too.

Phil: I guess the reason I went down this road was to try to think about how the movie worked for me just from the perspective of having been in a band of semi-reprobates who could not play (except for one guitar player). We weren’t together long enough to have learned much, but we had a reunion (minus one, with a different guitar player) that sounded like the reunited Stooges sounded compared to the original, now that I think about it. The other band: everyone could play (except me), and it was all covers, and I had anger to expel and often was altered. BTW, that reunion was just a few years ago, and the drummer and original guitarist could play very well, and the added guitarist had come out of SRV into garage punk.

Ken: I always say the MC5 worked harder, but the Stooges always won. Not then, but via historical validation. I think the simplicity of Stooge songs has given them more longevity than the Five’s with the exception of “KOTJ.”

Phil: But don’t you think that’s also due to Iggy’s visibility over the last forty years? And his being taken up as an icon? By the youth circa ’90s, I should say. I am thinking that the (for lack of a better term) grunge kids were the ones who first started to bring them up to me when I was teaching. I remember, too, a couple of videos and his Rock The Vote thing with Kate Moss.

Ken: By 2002, though, as he admitted, he was out of ideas and not selling records. The Stooges reunion was many things. One was a tonic to his career. Although I like that he gave the Ashetons a nice victory lap while they were still living.

Phil: Do not disagree. But he stayed in the public eye via the reunion and some movies and constant comparative references in the rock press, don’t you think? (Still trying to explain why the Stooges–though maybe I am just talking Iggy here–trump the Five for other reasons.)

Ken: The Five were better musos, saturated with Chuck Berry and Stones when they started. That made it harder for them to do something new. Their free jazz freakouts, all released in the ’90s, do not stand up to repeated listenings well. The Stooges were barely competent, and invented their music from the ground up as they went.

Phil: Oh, I agree. Especially about that last sentence. But I don’t think THAT’S the main reason the majority of us don’t think of them as much as we do the Stooges, though it ought to be, I think Iggy has in some ways cast shade over THE BAND–another reason for the documentary to exist.

Ken: The Five’s political aspect is harder for people to grasp.

Phil: Oh, I agree with that, too. Hell THEY had trouble grasping it, and sometimes rejected it.

Ken: Too complex. The Stooges were simple. “25 words or less.”

Phil: Hard to believe Iggy is the last man standing of the original group. BUT…BUT…do you think, say, had Iggy OD’d in ’73 we’d still be seeing the Stooges on a more important level? I don’t mean you and me, because we do, I mean rockdom.

Ken: Affirmative.

Phil: I have thoughts about whether the movie illustrates a band-forming process that is no longer common?

Ken: I don’t think that’s changed much in the fundamentals. What’s changed is what they aspire to. There are more roadmaps/templates/models. Musicianship is generally at a higher level.

Phil: Which, ironically, can be a barrier?

Ken: Yeah. If you have a certain level of chops, it’s easier to copy somebody else (cf. our earlier discussion of the Five). There are “Schools of Rock” now. A few years ago, the Stooge band drummer and I went to one to teach a bunch of 10-year-olds how to play “Search and Destroy.” It was innaresting.

Phil: And you can’t go backwards in time.

Ken: Nope.

Phil: The film really does nicely nail that.

Ken: But aesthetics haven’t changed much in the last 40 years. Even forms that were considered extreme now have conventions.

Phil: Indeed. But can you pretend to not be able to play and run smack into something fresh? Anymore?

Ken: “Pretend to not be able to play” is a concept beyond the scope of this inquiry, I think. You have the life experience that’s been dealt to you. You have all the knowledge you’ve acquired that affects your ability to express yourself through whatever medium you choose. You’re influenced by all of that whenever you try to create something.

Phil: Sorry about that! I was just thinking about the odds of really NOT being able to play and innovating. I mean, can’t musicians code switch just like folks do when they talk? Today, I mean.

Ken: A kid born in 1996 can’t pretend to be Ron Asheton in 1967. Nor would he want to be, I don’t think.

Phil: I would think “a kid” might!!!

Ken: It’s kind of like “Can blue men sing the whites?” You are the product of your time and place. You perform or express yourself in a way that mirrors that.

Phil: So you’re making me rethink the early portion of the film. Slowly pushing me to the “A” by demonstrating how MUCH Jarmusch DOES get in…

Ken: Again, I’d say that given the limitations (available resources, human attention), and the scale and scope of the story (small, human, not grand and epic), I’d say he did what needed to be done. There may be other movies about the Stooges, but this will be, um, hard to beat.

Phil: I think, having seen most of his films, I was looking for more of his stamp on it. But he ceded that to getting the story right.

Ken: Like J. Mascis ceding half of his set on the “Fog” tour to Watt (and later Ron) doing Stooge songs.

Phil: And just dealing with the band-doc conventions. Humility begets humility.

Ken: You can’t make it more than what it is.

Phil: And humility is a gateway to truth.

Ken: They were pariahs who were validated by history.

Phil: Well, yeah!

Ken: And historical validation wears the white Stetson.

Note: Please visit The Stash Dauber regularly for music reportage you will not get anywhere else.

Good to My Earhole, September 2016: TYLER KEITH AND THE APOSTLES–DO IT FOR JOHNNY! If ya got any guts!

THE highlight–THE HIGHLIGHT–of my last week’s listening (and that’s including Rosetta Tharpe, The Kinks, and The Electric Eels), based on a 10-point scale coordinated with my inability to quit playing the record:

Tyler Keith and The Apostles: DO IT FOR JOHNNY – 9.5 – You know what I think about a lot? Rock and roll (it used to roll) sprang from the other side of the tracks, sounded really dangerous, and skipped a lot of school, so to speak. That’s why it has meant so much to me, from the age of 13 to now, people. These days, it’s predominantly ‘burby or downtowny, makes nice (boasting credentials from the James Taylor 2.0 I’m-Sensitive-So-Lay-Me School), and studies its vinyl collection until 2 a.m. Which is why my eyebrows touch my scalp when I hear about a new Tyler Keith release. A church-raised, working-class Mississippian, Keith forged his previous bands, the Neckbones and the Preachers Kids (their records well worth your quest), into units that had too much Watts-Richards rhythmic spring to be stuck in the garage, and too much post-punk disrespect and dissonance (epitomized by Tyler’s snotty but passionate Richard Hell-goes-to-Popeye’s vocals and always-unruly guitar) to ever break college-rock. Those categories are pulverized now; it’s all a crapshoot, a REAL crapshoot, which is why you should just trust me and check out this release. Do It for Johnny is keyed to the title song, the greatest anyone will ever write about The Outsiders (and it ain’t just fandom–you might have noticed some socs vs. greasers cultural ruckus lately, or maybe not, and Tyler’s consciously tapped in), and kicks off with the class-conscious “Criminal Gene”–what current young white band of note do you know would admit to, describe fighting against, and just fuck it and give in to, such a characteristic? Like Mick, only with less care and delicacy–that’s a compliment to Tyler–he has no fear of a tough ballad to change the pace (“Dangling on a Wire”). He impressively shows off his Spanish on the narco-rocker “Vaya Con Dios” (the idea of a God’s never far from this man’s mind). He exposes imagination for the terror it really is on a sneaky, wildly rocking green-eyed monster song. He essays a less romantic, poor man’s versions of Springsteen’s “Backstreets” (the deceptively titled “Bright Side of the Road”). And he and his crack, sleazily loose band go out on a crime-beat Leiber-Stoller tribute that supports the old adage, “Tell the truth, then run.” Final temptation on the sticker? It features those time-honored tensions of–really, again, battles between–sin and salvation, youthful adrenaline and mature sedation, and class and, um, no class. It’s fully loaded, the best rock AND ROLL record of the year, available right here:

Good to My Earhole. August 10. Kama Sutra and Bondage. I give! My safe word: trumpets!

Jason-Derulo_Talk-Dirty_Cover

Highlight of my week’s listening–yep, that’s singular–ranked on a scale Thich Nhat Hanh’s teachings forced me to use:

Jason Derulo/TALK DIRTY – 9.5 – Okay. First, the sheer dam-bustin’ daily flood of music makes it impossible to hear everything right when it comes out, so get off my ass for just now bringing this up. Second, though I was apprised of the excellence of this should-be-illegal album long ago…well, look, I am a 54-year-old white dude, and it seems of shaky grace for me to be carrying around–or actively and avidly listening to–a record that has a cover like this one (I have a habit of picturing myself in the position of artists, and I collapse in laughter at the thought of me walking in ol’ Jace’s shoes there, or through the songs). Then I found out he’s involved in those…talent shows. HOWEVER–I decided to take the plunge for gits and shiggles. I have been feeling my age and mortality of late, and maybe I was questing after a jolt. Who knows? Too, I’ve always dug black music barely more than white (that distinction is slowly being erased, and bully for that), Al Green’s my man, so, as Sam Peckinpah wrote, “Let’s go–why not?”

I am helplessly in love with this record! Each of the first four songs are augmented with fabolous, tweak-ready, ALIEN noises: Balkan Beat Box-isms, what sounds like a toy flute, synthesized trumpets (?), corny oldsters Snoop and 2 Chainz, thonkin’ bass. Plus, besides singing ok, Mr. Derulo has a sense of humor–bondage and Kama Sutra? The lyrics are mostly dumb, but when I listen to it as pure music, under the guidance of Mr. John Cage, it’s irresistible. Maybe his Haitian heritage helps?

There’s a Black-Eyed Peas moment (still, though, pretty much an up, given our times), and some yawny semi-slow ones, but–returning to a nod above–no one who dug/digs classic era Al Green has a right to scorn this. Jason does NOT have those pipes, but the package is so physically stimulating you can’t afford to miss it. Like I wrote posting the title song to Facebook, “Uncle!” Let me up! I hate strip jointz, but long live bubble gum.