Finally, something to make Drowning Pool relevant and interesting:
I can’t really say I’m disappointed even though, when I first heard of OFF! ,I was interested in hearing what Keith Morris (Black Flag/Circle Jerks) had come up with. The story is Morris was working with producer Dimitri Coats (from the laughably atrocious Burning Brides) on what was supposed to be a new Circle Jerks album. (Nevermind that the last time the Jerks brand name was trotted out [1995’s Oddities, Abnormalities and Curiosities] it managed to fail in every imaginable aspect.) Well, during this process Coats and Morris starting working on tunes of their own and, voilà, OFF! was born. Add in Steve McDonald (Redd Kross) and Mario Rubalcaba (Rocket From The Crypt/Hot Snakes) and the circle jerk (ha!) of forming a California “punk” all-star group was complete. The rest of the boring bio stuff can be found here. (It’s recommended reading, too, if only for its desperate tone of insistence upon the band’s relevance.)
You’d think, at least, between Morris and McDonald something passable might happen. Nope. It’s as if the last 31 years (from 1979, when Morris left his founding role in Black Flag and, uh, now) never happened! There’s not even a smidgen of the humor and melodic creativity of Circle Jerks, who did several great records many years ago, here. Every single one of the sixteen tracks on The First Four EPs is ripped off from the early years of Black Flag. There’s even a compilation you can buy from this era of Black Flag named (DUH!) The First Four Years! As if to make the connection all the more obvious the cover artwork is done by Raymond Pettibon (AKA Raymond Ginn, Gregg Ginn’s brother; the guy that made Black Flag records/flyers look distinctive. He also did the cover for Sonic Youth’s Goo). Every song clocks in at about a minute long (PUNK!), too, and each seems to inhabit this space by virtue of nothing but tradition as opposed to the brevity of each being a conscious (yet reflexive) punch against the rules of their day. It’s classic rock for the elder skater set. These aren’t even proper EPs. Everything was recorded in a couple of sessions and now they’re just being split four ways (but still being sold altogether as a 7″ box set.)
Above all, OFF! is a patronizing waltz band whose style of hardcore was long-codified by 1981; it’s positively fossilized now.
Hardcore, specifically North American hardcore, has been on an upswing for the past few years (which means it’s about to plateau, then fall again, pretty soon). OFF! is completely unrelated to this new currency. Rather than take years of collective experience and funnel it into something legitimately creative and new, they simply trod ancient ground that at least one of them (i.e. Morris) helped form. He could likely do this in his sleep. If it wasn’t so insulting you might feel sorry for them.
(As an aside, there hasn’t been a single thing put out by Vice Records that has done anything for me, which is kind of a shame because I really do like Vice Magazine. It consistently features some of the best culture writing from around the world and they appear to actually pay writers and that’s a gol-darned added bonus in today’s publishing climate.)
Black Flag (1978):
In his introduction to Hüsker Dü: The Story of The Noise-Pop Pioneers Who Launched Modern Rock author Andrew Earles tells us upfront that he never saw the band live. For some, that’d be a deal breaker but for me it wasn’t because I only barely got to see them myself (exactly once on February 28, 1987) and I’ve been plenty passionate about plenty of bands I never got to see live. And Earles is clearly passionate about the band. But is that enough to make a decent book?
Well, yeah, mostly.
Earles quickly establishes the members’ biographies and the founding of Hüsker Dü and really does a good job of explaining the founding and operation of the band’s own label, Reflex Records. He also does a fine job explaining and exploring the early Minneapolis hardcore/club scene. The supposed rivalry between The Replacements and Hüsker Dü is put to bed as fairly false pretty immediately, however Earles continues to make this point throughout the book. His careful attention to the contextualization of the bands catalog throughout is a wonderful change from the way most authors treat this material.
There are, however, a few things that disappoint and I’m not sure that they were avoidable. That is, there are areas that remain unexplored but if Earles had pushed (or opened up) these points perhaps he wouldn’t have gained/retained the entrée he needed to complete the book. (Bob Mould didn’t participate, in any case.)
Although Earles is completely correct in saying that way too much ink has been wasted chit-chatting about the bands drug use and sexuality, I’d say it’s always been a case of too much pointless chatter. If one believes, as I do, that these things most likely influenced the actual songs (and Earles spends a bit of time describing how drug use alone influenced the dynamic of the band’s interpersonal relationship) then a proper exploration of them isn’t undue nor would be necessarily exploitative. If we believe the songs are important then trying to untangle their origin might serve a good purpose. Some exploration of lyrics would have been good. If we’re to believe these songs have meaning, especially to Earles, then it would be nice to know where, in particular, he finds this meaning.
Structurally, I wasn’t entirely thrilled with the book. Earles revisits information already covered in previous chapters many times (and it often seems the only purpose is to use up a storehouse of quotes from different characters) but never provides additional information. The effect is like that of a television news-magazine program that does a quick recap after commercial breaks. Additionally, I would have liked more exploration (any, really) into the financial aspects of Hüsker Dü’s relationship with SST. Again, not for the purpose of exploitation but contextualization.
One aspect that was totally refreshing and needed is Earles’ challenging of Michael Azerrad’s writing on Hüsker Dü in Our Band Could Be Your Life. It’s not that Azerrad’s book is bad (it’s actually excellent) but it’s nice to see someone take a stab at the book that has, for better or worse, become the go-to bible of the 1980’s underground. Criticism is a good thing.
It was always going to be difficult for me to review a book on Husker Du objectively. If I’m being totally honest, no other band has had so much influence over the music I’ve played in my life and lifelong Dü fans tend to be a possessive bunch. Earles clearly falls into this obsessive category and has created the first sizable document on the band he rightly characterizes as having been the invisible hand that moved college rock from the left-of-the-dial ghetto into people’s living rooms.
Any misgivings I might have about the execution of this book seem particularly unique for me. For once, I don’t feel like I’m frustrated with an author for getting something wrong. It’s more a case where I feel like Earles is a fellow traveler and we just disagree on what should have been covered.
Am I glad I read it? Definitely. But I’m much happier that someone wrote it. Earles deserves commendation for tackling this task. Any future books or writing on Hüsker Dü will owe him a huge debt. For my part, I agree with Earles’ own assessment from his introduction, “This book is not perfect. ..[it] does, however, come from the right place.”
I’m opening this back up.
So I hated life, because the work that is done under the sun was grievous to me. All of it is meaningless, a chasing after the wind.
<Redacted for privacy>
Joe Meek wrote “Telstar” in tribute to, and fascination with, the space age excitement of the early 1960’s. It’s simultaneously whimsical and melancholy. A lawsuit (resolved in his favor after his tragic death) prevented him from collecting royalties on the record during his life. I never knew that last part until a few years ago.
Meek had a lot of problems. He was tone-deaf and paranoid. He was gay ( a jailable offense in England at the time) and most likely manic-depressive. He was brilliant but died in a murder/suicide of his own causing. I knew none of this when I first heard “Telstar” as a child. And I hate to make necessary a connection between a persons art and a person’s life. But life informs art and knowing these things about Meek make me wonder how different “Telstar” would sound if it had been written by someone who didn’t need the hope of another world; someone who was content here on earth.
Men gazed at the stars for thousands of years before Meek but the stars became graspable during Meek’s life. It was with this hope that Meek wrote “Telstar” which makes it as much a love song as anything else.
Generally speaking, things pile up while I’m looking straight at them.
I’ve been pretty busy sorting out things for the Athens PopFest this August but that’s not been so much of a burden that I can really blame it for anything. The heat in Athens, GA is already a’swelter and even after over two decades in The South I have a hard time taking it.
A review I’ve been trying to write for months on The Gary‘s full length Logan is still brewing. I couldn’t be happier,though, that they’re going to make the trek to Athens to play the PopFest as they’re undoubtedly in my top 10 bands happening right now in the US.
I’ve been listening to Cold Wave and Minimal Electronics, Vol 1 nearly everyday as well as the comp of Dinosaur L (Arthur Russell) tracks 24->24 Music that came out in 2007. The first Golden Palominos album, too.
And that’s that. The vids below are samples of all this stuff and that’s all I have to say for now.
(Note: this song by Absolute Body Control isn’t actually on that Cold Wave comp I mentioned but I really like this track so deal. The band’s song “Figures” does appear on the comp, however.)
It’s not like I haven’t been working, you know.
Things may have gone dark around here about 8 weeks ago but I’ve been plenty busy writing Threats & Promises for Flagpole (which I finally decided I’m going to start linking here), maintaining the Athens PopFest website (as well as its Facebook page, Twitter account and horribly clumsy and damn-I’m-about-to-delete-it MySpace account) and generally answering tons of email from bands who were really late on the uptake and are trying to get booked at the last minute. Even though we’ve been booking this thing for almost 7 months.
But, I digress…
I’ve listened to a ton of records during this time, started a YouTube page just to have a place to dump all the video I shot at SXSW , “reorganized” my books, read a ton of 1970’s rock criticism and watched a lot of documentaries. And a ton of old episodes (hell, they’re all old) of Lou Grant.
Mostly, I’ve been thinking. But that’s cool, too, because I have a degree in thinking.
So, that’s that. Sure, I’m not saying much but writing it out made me feel better about not saying much.
Honestly, it’s writer’s block.
Ever since I returned from SXSW I’ve had the worst block I’ve had in a long while. I’m able to get my assignments done for Flagpole and such but other than that I’ve been nearly blank. I’ve got several records piled up on which I really want to do pieces. I’m just having a hell of a time breaking through right now.