Tuesday, June 30, 2009

New Wave for the New Week #16

The line between some of New Wave's goofier records and the "Novelty Song" genre was sometimes a very thin one. Think of The Flying Lizards' covers of "Money," "Summertime Blues," et al., or The Vapors "Turning Japanese," or even The B-52s' "Rock Lobster". The fact that self-parody, a sense of humor, and a sense of fun were integral to the scene caused that line to be very blurry indeed.

Mix in a bit of British Monty Python-esque humor, and you wound up with bands like Yeah Yeah Noh, Stump, and this week's entry, A Tribe of Toffs.

A Tribe of Toffs gave the world one great single, "John Kettley (Is a Weatherman)," and disappeared forever. In fact, very little can be found online about the band save for this brief Wikipedia entry. But what a wonderful novelty they left behind.

The instantly-hummable song states plain fact about Mr. Kettley, who indeed is a weatherman (and so is Michael Fish). The video is no great shakes, but Kettley was good enough to make a cameo in the clip for his uncomissioned theme song.

Not much more to tell you. Enjoy this week's New Wave for the New Week, "John Kettley (Is a Weatherman)" by A Tribe of Toffs, prepare to witness Mr. Motch Bondouch and his amazing cheese and pickle solo, and ponder whether it's worth anyone writing a song about Al Roker...



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Friday, June 26, 2009

Yesterday Kept Getting Sadder

Sky SaxonSky Saxon
via last.fm

When I wrote my post about Farrah Fawcett's passing yesterday, I had no idea what was yet to come.

I had determined this time around I wasn't going to trot out the old line about celebrity deaths happening in threes. We lost Ed McMahon on Tuesday, and now Farrah, but I would resist the urge to say it. And then I turned on the TV.

Understand that I have never been a fan of Michael Jackson's music or antics. Not my thing at all. Back in high school, during the height of Thriller's popularity and at the height of my Punk Rock snarkiness, I wrote the lyrics for a song called "Michael Jackson, You Suck." Couldn't stand him.

But I sure didn't expect that he would be number three.

I also didn't expect the media circus surrounding his demise. I understand that, despite my dislike for him, millions adored Michael Jackson, or at least his music. I get that he is considered a pop icon. But hour after hour of coverage during which basically nothing of substance was reported? Constant video of...nothing really? He passed, and that is sad, but come on! I almost expected to see Chevy Chase show up to say, "Our top story tonight: Michael Jackson is still dead!"

Most of all, however, I did not expect there would be a number four.

Less well-known to the mainstream, but an important musical figure nonetheless, Sky Saxon also passed away yesterday. Saxon formed The Seeds in 1965 with Daryl Hooper, Jan Savage, Jeremy Levine and Rick Andridge. They had a minor regional hit with their first single, "Can't Seem to Make You Mine," but achieved national notoriety with 1966's "Pushin' Too Hard," which reached #36 on the US charts and has since been covered by roughly a gazillion other bands.

The Seeds were the ultimate '60s garage band; listen to their records today and you can spot every sonic stereotype of that era and style. That's because these were the guys who practically drew up the blueprints for that sound. The band continued through some minor shuffling of the lineup and a slight name change to Sky Saxon & the Seeds before calling it quits in the early '70s.

When that signature sound came back into vogue in the '80s through bands like The Chesterfield Kings, The Fuzztones and The Cynics, Sky Saxon was back on the radar screen. After some solo stuff and collaborations with other bands, Saxon formed a new version of The Seeds and had been performing and recording intermittently ever since.

So, sadly, it turns out that these things don't always happen in threes. This week, it was four, with three in one day. May all four rest in peace.

Listen to The Seeds:





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Thursday, June 25, 2009

On the Passing of My First Celebrity Crush

Farrah Fawcett Poster (Charlie's Angels)The Poster via Flickr

Like many other males of my generation, I had The Poster.

That's all you had to call it, too: The Poster. The one where she's wearing the red bathing suit - an iconic '70s image if ever there was one. Among my circle of friends at age 10 in 1977, all of us getting ready to become teenagers, none of us fully understanding what was about to happen with our hormones despite those woefully worn movies our teachers showed us in school about "becoming a man," the measure of whether or not you were leaving behind childish things and preparing to enter manhood was whether or not you had The Poster.

She really was stunningly beautiful; a "California" (by way of Corpus Christi, Texas) blonde with sparkling eyes, a gleaming smile, an athletic body and the hairstyle that would come to bear her name. (In fact, at the height of her popularity, she sold her own line of shampoo!)

She was the personification of what, at the time, was referred to as "jiggle TV," even though she only starred in only one TV show for only one season. She struggled to be recognized as an actress rather than a sex symbol; her jaw-droppingly intense turns as a battered wife and as a would-be rape victim who victimizes her attacker earned her critical acclaim and awards, but still when people spoke of her, it all went back to jiggle-TV and The Poster.

Her refusal to accept that typecasting saw her tackle many difficult roles in film and on stage, but she virtually disappeared from TV for many years; when she came back, it was in a rambling, semi-coherent appearance on "Late Night with David Letterman" that left many scratching their heads. Her life took her full-circle back to TV at the end, having recently shared the details of her battles with cancer in a documentary special on NBC.

Farrah Fawcett lost that two-year battle with cancer today. She was 62.

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Monday, June 22, 2009

New Wave for the New Week #15

There has always been a kinship between New Wave and good old-fashioned '60s Surf Music. Bands like Agent Orange, The Raybeats, and The Surf Punks made (and, in some cases, are still making) music that would make The Ventures and Dick Dale proud. In fact, those and many like-minded bands often chose to cover the original classics from such revered surf artists in addition to pounding out their own updated take on the style.

One would expect such bands to have formed on California beaches, and in many cases that was so. There was one glaring exception, and they may have been the best - if least heralded - of the bunch.

The Insect Surfers were formed in 1979 in - of all places - Washington, DC. Their influences were quickly made clear by early covers of The Nazz's surfy 1968 hit "Open My Eyes" and Wire's dour 1979 post-punk single "Ex-Lion Tamer". The band chugged along for a few years, releasing a handful of really fantastic records before their wave crashed to shore in the early '80s.

The band reformed in 1986 and has been playing and recording ever since, with a sound hewing a bit more closely to the traditional Surf Music style Check out their MySpace page here to hear some of the more recent material and, if you like what you hear, support the band by picking up a CD or two.

For our purposes here, however, we look back fondly on the original incarnation of the band. Their vinyl debut was a 1980 single, "Into the Action," and is our New Wave for the New Week entry this time around. Granted, the sound is somewhat dated (not as much as the fashions and the neon though!), but it still sounds great to these ears. You can see and hear the enthusiastic amateurism here, and if you compare to the clips on their MySpace page, you'll appreciate how far they've come in 30 years while never really ever leaving their own little rift in time.

Here's the clip - enjoy!



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Sunday, June 21, 2009

Happy Father's Day!



To my own Dad, and to all the Dads who are reading this blog, I wish you all a very Happy Father's Day!

"The older I get, the smarter my father seems to get." -- Tim Russert

"My father didn't tell me how to live; he lived, and let me watch him do it." -- Clarence Budington Kelland

"My father taught me to work; he did not teach me to love it." -- Abraham Lincoln

"A father is a man who expects his children to be as good as he meant to be." -- Carol Coats

"When I was a kid, I said to my father one afternoon, 'Daddy, will you take me to the zoo?' He answered, 'If the zoo wants you, let them come and get you.'" -- Jerry Lewis


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Tuesday, June 16, 2009

And the "You've Made A Poor Choice" Award Goes To...

Kimberley Vlaminck wins the "You've Made A Poor Choice" Award for...well...just look:



According to the article on the UK's Daily Mail website, Vlaminck told the Romanian tattoo artist in both French and English that she wanted three small stars tattooed near her left eye. She then claims to have fallen asleep during the tattooing process, and when she awoke, she found that the tattoo artist had confused "three" with "fifty-six" and "near my left eye" with "all over the side of my face."

Ahem.

SHE SLEPT WHILE SOMEONE TATTOOED HER FACE?!? How is that even possible? Come on, if someone is using a tattoo needle on the side of my head, I'm not dozing off. Are you?

Of course, the assertion that there was no real issue until she got home and her father and boyfriend simultaneously hit the roof tends to lead one to believe that perhaps she's reaching for a cover story for what is surely one of the poorest choices possible.

But let's give her the benefit of the doubt and assume she's on the level with her story. It's still the winner of the poor choice award on several counts:

1. Wanting to a get a tattoo is fine. Tattoos have become pretty much accepted and somewhat celebrated by mainstream culture. Wanting to get a tattoo, no matter how small, ON YOUR FACE is simply a poor choice. Who has a tattoo on their face? Mike Tyson. Charles Manson. People in mug shots. These are the role models you're choosing? POOR CHOICE.

2. If it takes trying to explain what you want in more than one language, you've probably made a poor choice of tattoo artists to patronize. Clearly this tattoo artist understood the "stars" concept. How difficult is it to get across the concept of "three"? If it requires speaking another language, you've made a POOR CHOICE.

3. Deciding that it was a good time to take a nap while the tattoo artist does his work after it has taken two languages to try describe the tattoo you want on your face? POOR CHOICE.

Congratulations, Kimberly. You win this one hands-down!

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Monday, June 15, 2009

New Wave for the New Week #14

LONDON - MAY 09:  Nick Cave of Grinderman perf...Image by Getty Images via Daylife

If you had asked me 25 years ago to speculate on who would become the elder statesmen of Punk/New Wave/Post Punk/Alternative/Whatever-you-wanna-call-this Music, Nick Cave's name would not have been anywhere near the top of my list. His band at the time, The Birthday Party, while one of my favorites, was certainly an acquired taste, often spewing out discordant shrieking mutant swamp-blues like Captain Beefheart in a foul mood. Nick himself seemed unlikely to survive the next 25 years. His infamous heroin habit left him a gaunt, almost spectral figure to behold; pictures of him in full-blown junkie nod were common.

But here we are in 2009, and Nick Cave has been clean for ten years and has been making music non-stop for thirty-plus. After The Birthday Party dissolved, he formed Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds and created sinister pseudo-countrified dirges that were a bit easier on the ears; his solo work has seen him team up with fellow Aussie Kylie Minogue in a "this doesn't seem right but somehow it works" ballad "Where the Wild Roses Grow," which will haunt you to your core; his side-project combo Grinderman harkens back to some of the terror of The Birthday Party's finest moments filtered through Bad Seeds era eerie calm. He is a novelist, an actor, a painter. He has indeed become one of the most important figures to emerge out of that Post Punk scene.

But, oh, where it all started!

Nick and some of his school chums formed his first band, The Boys Next Door, in the early '70s; as the Punk and New Wave scene began to infiltrate his native Australia in the form of bands like The Saints and Radio Birdman, so The Boys Next Door's music began to evolve to mesh with that sound. The Boys Next Door would eventually release one incredible album, Door Door, and an EP, Hee Haw, both in 1979. That same year, they would have a decent Australian hit with a murky ballad, "Shivers," which was among the first things Nick Cave recorded that sounded like what most people think of when they think of Nick Cave.

Indeed, The Boys Next Door would essentially morph into The Birthday Party; Hee Haw would be re-released as a Birthday Party record with all references to the previous band name expunged.

Our clip this week is a real gem: a very young Nick Cave in front of The Boys Next Door in 1978, performing the almost bubblegum-sounding "The Nightwatchman." This gooey piece of New Wave goodness captures an nearly exuberant Nick Cave pre-Birthday Party muck, pre-Bad Seeds sinisterness, and obviously pre-heroin. Enjoy and be amazed:



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Monday, June 8, 2009

New Wave for the New Week #13

Under the Big Black Sun album coverImage via Wikipedia

Unfortunately, I didn't get to Baltimore for the X show Saturday night. I'll probably kick myself for not finding a way to get there, but sometimes the best laid plans go awry.

I figure the least I can do is pick an X video for this week's New Wave for the New Week entry, and I managed to find one I've never seen before! Their third album, Under the Big Black Sun (1982), was also their first on a major label. The main single from the album, "The Hungry Wolf," was played in light-to-mid rotation during the early days of MTV. But there was a second video shot from the album, for one of my favorites from their catalog of songs, "Motel Room in My Bed."

Forgive the rough quality here, but this is a rare one. The video is no great shakes - just a pretty straight lip-sync performance - but it does capture X at their best: John Doe and Exene Cervenka creating their at once beautiful and off-kilter harmony, guitarist Billy Zoom in full grin-and-pompadour stance, and DJ Bonebrake driving the whole band into a frenzy behind the drumset.

So, in honor of X's current tour and as a toast to Exene's health, enjoy this week's entry:





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Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Keep Good Thoughts Going Out to Exene Cervenka

Exene CervenkaImage by kathyp. via Flickr

Co-lead vocalist of legendary LA punk band X, Exene Cervenka, announced on her website today, "After some months of not feeling 100% healthy, I recently had some medical tests run and the prognosis is that I am suffering from Multiple Sclerosis. Apparently, it has been affecting me for quite some time."

Was planning to see X this Saturday night in Baltimore at Ram's Head Live; as of now the show is still on and Exene seems intent on continuing the current tour. While I would certainly love to experience the band live for the first time, the more important thing here is that Exene take care of herself. I have personally known one or two folks with Multiple Sclerosis, and while it is unfortunate diagnosis, it is one that can be managed with proper treatment and care. As one friend who suffers from MS once described it, "I don't live with MS. MS has to live with me!" Exene, take that attitude and keep doing what you've always done!

Please keep good wishes and good thoughts going out to Exene. If you feel so inclined, make a donation to Sweet Relief, an organization that helps musicians with Multiple Sclerosis. And check the tour dates on X's website here, and if you can, go out and support the band. I hope to have a road report from Baltimore after this weekend.

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Monday, June 1, 2009

New Wave for the New Week #12

Last week we featured Split Enz; this week we feature the band that resulted from Phil Judd splitting away from Split Enz.

The Swingers were formed in 1979, two years after Judd left the Enz. Their initial release was the single "One Good Reason (Gimme Love)," which reached Top 20 status in the band's native New Zealand. Within a year they had relocated to Australia where folllow-up single "Counting the Beat" quickly topped the charts. A third single, "It Ain't What You Dance, It's the Way That You Dance It," and a full album soon followed.

The band was given a showcase in the 1982 Australian comedy Starstruck, for which they rerecorded "One Good Reason (Gimme Love)" with much more production and polish, and the Counting the Beat album appeared in America. Internal tensions within the band were too great, however, and the story of the Swingers ended there. Really a shame because the album is excellent.

"One Good Reason" remains their best-remembered song. For this week's New Wave for the New Week, I give you both versions: the original, rawer 1979 single and the later, more polished version from Starstruck. Compare and decide:





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