Thursday, August 30, 2007

Kristal follows CBGB’s

Hilly Kristal, founder of the landmark rock club, CBGB, died Tuesday, August 27. Sadly, lung cancer took him out. He was 75.

Opening the club in 1973, Kristal became the proprietor of punk rock in America, facilitating its historic beginnings with appearances from The Ramones, The Talking Heads, Television and Patti Smith to name a few.

Not being a fan of the music that made his club popular, (CBGB stands for “Country Blue Grass Blues,” and was originally meant to host such bands), Kristal’s only real rule for any band playing there was that they had write originals. He didn’t want any cover bands playing there. As a result, he wound up booking a lot of bands that other venues wouldn’t touch; relative unknowns that would wind up changing music’s soundscape forever, while harboring the unhappy miscreants that these bands spoke to.

It was during the late 70s that an overall disenchantment with music led to an increase in aggression and a decrease in extravagance. Arena bands and progressive acts were viewed as full of themselves and boring and disco was enough to make any music enthusiast give up and slice their arms open with broken vinyl. Seminal acts like The Velvet Undergound and The Stooges were some of the first groups to air their overall displeasure with the socially conscious hippie acts that would later cash in all their hope and flowers for a shot at the big time. These fractured rhythms and this aggressively ear-splitting discord culminated in what eventually turned out to be “punk,” and CBGB became its soapbox.

In 2006, a rent dispute led to the closing of CBGB. Patti Smith took the stage for the club’s final performance, thanking Kristal for helping start it all and doing his best to keep it alive.

With the club gone, Kristal’s death would almost seem like a footnote or an afterthought. But, Kristal made that club important. The bands made it historically relevant, but Kristal allowed that to happen. Keep this in mind when you throw on Rocket To Russia, or Talking Heads ‘77, or Easter, or Marquee Moon; keep in mind that, without Hilly Kristal, they may never have reached your ears.

Letters From A Tapehead

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Roach I Presley

Thursday, August 16th, exactly 30 years ago, Elvis Aaron Presley, the King of Rock n’ Roll, was found dead. On the same day, while media personalities and fans everywhere were recalling Elvis’s demise, Max Roach, jazz drummer and co-architect of Bebop, passed on at age 83.

A while ago, while reading Chuck Klosterman’s latest collection of anecdotes, reviews and essays, I was particularly drawn to one article that examined the juxtaposition of two superstar deaths. One was Dee Dee Ramone, who died on June 7th, 2002, of a heroin overdose. The other was Robbin Crosby, lead guitarist of glam band, RATT, who succumbed to AIDS on June 6th, 2002. Klosterman went on to compare the two deaths, pointing out that these events’ validity would be extremely one-sided due to the fact that one of these guys was in an “important” band and the other was essentially a flash-in-the-pan. Did anyone notice whether or not the guitarist from RATT died, other than the band’s remaining fans? Compared to the amount of people who’ve felt the impact of the Ramones, and their undeniable influence on music in general, no: Crosby’s death meant very little in correlation with the loss of Dee Dee Ramone. It had nothing to do with talent. It had nothing to do with personality. It had everything to do with impact.

So, August 16th, in the wake of Elvis’s 30th year anniversary, I had to wonder if Max Roach was going to suffer the same fate. Granted, Roach is no flash-in-the-pan, but his accomplishments are unfortunately specific to one area of music and one type of music fan. Elvis IS music in the eyes of many, so his loss is on par with JFK in that “Do you remember what you were doing when blank happened?” kind of way. More people are familiar with “That’s Alright, Mama” than they are with “Salt Peanuts” and that’s something that has to be expected. It’s hard to inform pop culture that it needs to pay attention to more than the surface when it’s mostly based that way. It’s “pop” because it’s “popular,” not because it gives a fuck about art.

This is in no way any indictment of Elvis Presley for being too popular for his own good. The guy changed shit and the honoring of him and his music is deserved, so it’s not as if this is ill-gotten notoriety. It just happens that he is the John Holmes of notoriety, and his death hasn’t led to any decrease in its size. It’s not the first time that a celebrity’s passing went somewhat unnoticed due to Elvis Presley’s death: Groucho Marx died three days after Elvis and that event probably would’ve received more notice had Groucho stuck around a couple more months. Thirty years later, Groucho’s still overshadowed by Presley. The timing, to put it simply, just sucks.

Thankfully, Roach’s death was not completely overshadowed. Even up against the King, Roach got some coverage that will hopefully enliven some curiosity about the man, his music, his activism and his appreciation of hip hop. Plus, you can’t really discount the collective cry of a million jazz fans. Bebop’s greats are leaving us so Roach’s death is, to put it lightly, pretty significant.

I’m unfortunately under-exposed to Roach. The couple CDs that I own where he appears are Charlie Parker CDs, though one is The Quintet: Jazz At Massey Hall, which is one of the best jazz records I own. Listening to it, you can understand why Roach is as revered as he is.

So, thirty years and the King is still gone, but not forgotten. And hopefully, those in his wake, aren’t forgotten either.

Letters From A Tapehead

Saturday, August 11, 2007

“All the punks still singing the same song” & Other Observations From The Self-Proclaimed “New Wave”

Against Me!
New Wave
Released 7.10.07

Rating: 3 out of 10

“Let breathe new dawn this art is dead!
No signs of original thought in the mainstream.”

There was a point in time, years ago, when bands claiming to be punk rock actually were. Against Me! is astounding, not because of how UN-punk rock they really are, but because of how unbelievably high they place themselves on their own pedestal. And, honestly, as much as they’d like to think otherwise, they’re exactly the type of band they lambaste in “Piss and Vinegar:”

”I would be lying to you if I did not say something/
That would make me feel like a politician/
A middle of the road opinion that no one finds offensive or challenging.”

Forging their sounds from elements of pop punk and folk, Against Me! takes it upon themselves to right the wrongs of the mainstream, acting as purveyors of a spirit long lost in the mire of Green Day and A.F.I. and revivalists of a sentiment of a “protest” persuasion. They do this through the appropriation of Bad Religion riffs while trying to convince listeners that there’s a change coming and that it all begins with New Wave. And, if that’s true, it’s not just punk that’s dead: It’s music all together.

Beginning of course with the intended hope of the title track (”I am looking for the crest/I am looking for the crest of a new wave”), the album’s second track, “Up The Cuts,” is almost three minutes worth of brooding on the current state of music that does nothing other than sound like the current state of music. I mean, isn’t this what Yellowcard does? If not, then “Thrash Unreal,” definitely fits them into that mold.

“White People For Peace,” paints a portrait of war in terms of God and the singing of protest songs whose ultimate goal is to stop the fighting. The racial implication of the song’s title is not explained, unless the band is talking about themselves. If that’s the case, why bring race into it? It almost seems like a gratuitous attempt to add provocation where there really is none.

“Stop,” a repetitive disco-rhythmic piece of self-importance, wants you to believe that they’re the anti-rock star rock band: ”All of our lives dedicated to shoving it right back in their fucking face.” Yeah, you told ‘em. I almost wonder if these guys have ever HEARD a punk record that dated farther back than 1994 because, if they HAD, they’d possibly be embarrassed.

Only five tracks in, the band’s over abundance of statements against mainstream music only serves to put across exactly how scared they are of being sat amongst them. The inclusion of Tegan Quin, from chick-folk band, Tegan & Sara, for the song “Borne On The FM Waves,” seems like an attempt to look underground in order to evade being lumped into their most-hated MTV dogpile. “Piss And Vinegar,” the lyrics of which I’ve already transcribed above, amusingly adds to their struggle for integrity.

“American Abroad” at least throws a little rock-a-billy into the mix and then “Animal,” the album’s slow-rocker, bolsters up the songwriting quality an iota. The closer, “Ocean,” features a take on a Bob Marley riff and then has singer, Tom Gable, pulling a Maynard James Keenan for the finale and sounding more desperate than passionate.

The one thing New Wave has going for it, is that it’s only a little more than 30 minutes long. Otherwise, Against Me! has created a 10-song miss that almost breaks its own arm patting itself on its undeserving back. It also misleads the music-buying public, namely the kids, into believing that THIS is what it’s all about. If we hadn’t seen the demise of punk rock before, we’re definitely seeing it now and, what makes it worse, is that it’s at the hands of a band that quite possibly believes it’s bringing it back to life.

To quote the band, I would be lying to you if I did not say something.

Letters From A Tapehead

Thursday, August 09, 2007

New Appetite?

The cover story of the latest Rolling Stone was staring at me on my way out of the apartment a couple days ago, haphazardly stacked among mailers for missing children and strewn coupon rags:


I was on my way to braving the morning commute, and wound up thinking about the fact that Guns n’ Roses really did put out Appetite for Destruction twenty years ago. Wow. Twenty years. I turned 11 that year all the while agreeing wholeheartedly that the riffs on “Welcome to the Jungle” and “Paradise City” were fucking badass.

That was a pinnacle album. At the time, it was all about huge hair, neon lipstick and metal cheese. The external was the focus as bands partied hard and used their groupies to sell the image. It’s a lot like what’s happening now with rap music as its message has more or less been eviscerated by its masturbatory boasting of material wealth and “ho’s.” The music took a backseat and the crowd was okay with that, so long as there was something glamorous to look at and a superficial hook to sing along with.

Appetite made a bold statement that romanticized the ugly and made it all about the music once again. Raw and unapologetic, Gn’R somehow managed to capitalize on its anti-glamour and started a rift wherein glam metal was thankfully losing steam and the hair was starting to flatten. For me, it was their only good album. It all went downhill once Axl went Elton.

Since Appetite’s reign, there’ve been many breakthrough albums. Twenty years worth of blown minds, revived rebellion, vulgarity, drugged-out delusion, recycled sounds, samples, guitars, drums, turntables…it’s all found its way into your minds and into the minds of your impressionable children, ready to inspire or ruin. I had to wonder, though: Twenty years later, have we had an album like Appetite since? Has there been an album since that’s managed to cross into otherworldly territory and reminded the public how guitars are REALLY supposed to be played?

Any comments?

Letters From A Tapehead

August 9th: Now celebrating ANOTHER dead musician

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Baltimore Mayor Sheila Dixon proclaimed August 9th to be Frank Zappa Day. Baltimore being Zappa’s place of birth, it was decided that a day be set aside to celebrate the man and the music.

In honor of the occasion, Dweezil Zappa is taking the Zappa Plays Zappa tour to town for a show. Wouldn’t it be nice to be in Baltimore right now?

So, to all you Zappa freaks out there, time to dust off those Bizarre LPs and celebrate America’s last greatest composer.

Happy Frank Zappa Day.

Letters From A Tapehead

P.S. – To all you Deadheads out there, sorry for your loss.

New Selections — Emma Ruth Rundle, Tropical Fuck Storm, Primitive Man, Private Life, Uniform, Erika Wennerstrom, Djrum, Windhand

Starting August off with some new singles. Emma Ruth Rundle:  " Darkhorse " (via Rarely Unable /  Sargent House  / YouTub...