Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Goodbye, Poly

Those of you who follow this blog's Facebook Page or Twitter account saw two announcements yesterday: one, that this week's NW4NW post was being postponed to today; and two, that there had been an unconfirmed rumour that Punk legend Poly Styrene had passed away just three weeks after the release of her comeback album.

I had hoped to make this week's NW4NW a celebration of that album, Generation Indigo.  Less than a week ago I received a nifty package containing a copy of the album on vinyl, a limited edition CD issue housed in a beautiful book that also included five prints of Poly's graphic art, and a pin and tote bag each sporting Poly's logo.  You know that I have been talking about her comeback and the impending release of this album over the past few months, since it was first announced with the release of her holiday single "Black Christmas" last November, so you can imagine how excited I was to have the album in hand!  It has been on high rotation here in Ruttville since its arrival. The album certainly lives up to expectations, and I wanted to review it for you here.

Sadly, the rumour of Poly's passing was confirmed this morning.  At the far too young age of 53, Poly Styrene (born Marianne Joan Elliott-Said) fell victim to breast cancer.  She had made the shocking announcement of her diagnosis on her own website and on her Facebook page in February; two months later, she is gone.

In lieu of a NW4NW entry this week, I'd rather simply take a moment to say goodbye, Poly. I still want to tell you how great the album is, but I don't have the words right now - I am shocked and saddened by the sudden loss of one of the more creative and trailblazing female voices in all of Punk Rock/New Wave/whatever-the-hell-you-wanna-call-this-stuff.  She will be missed.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

My New Favorite Chair

The comedienne Rita Rudner has a funny bit about what she refers to as one of God's great practical jokes: men reach their sexual peak around age 18 - 20, while women reach theirs closer to age 35 - 40.  Therefore, she clarifies, women are reaching their height of sexuality around the same time we men are discovering we have a favorite chair.

In my typical style, I am reaching this particular furniture-based male life event a couple years late, but as of yesterday morning there sits in my living room a brand new La-Z-Boy recliner (the Forte Reclina-Way model, to be specific), and in the short 24 hours it has been in the house, it has most assuredly claimed the title of My Favorite Chair.

Plush, sturdy, and sizeable, it is more comfortable than I can describe to you in words.  It has already made all of the other furniture in the living room noticeably jealous, as it is not only a thing of beauty but also a thing of functionality.  It is the perfect TV viewing chair; it is quiet reading area; it has proven its worth already as a prime napping spot.  Why, set me up with a mini-fridge within arm's reach and there would be virtually no reason at all to ever get up!

Since we do live in an era filled with overly-litigious morons who require the most common-sense concepts to be spelled out for them lest they sue for damages caused by their own stupidity, a page of warnings came with my wonderful new chair.  Just how dangerous can a recliner possibly be?  You'd be surprised:
  • WARNING! To avoid tip-over, do not throw your weight against the back of the unit. (That's right, there will be no moshing in this chair.  I just pray for my own safety that I'm not overcome by full-body spams or violent seizures while reclining in luxury.  Actually, that last sentence is true even without the phrase "while reclining in luxury...")
  • WARNING! Keep hands, fingers and body parts away from the mechanism. (First of all, don't know about you, but I always consider my hands and fingers body parts themselves, not separate entities.  Goes to show what I know! Also, how in the blue hell are people getting body parts, specific or generic, caught in the mechanism - which is beneath the chair - while seated in the chair?  Who is that unfamiliar with how a recliner works?)
  • WARNING! Only the occupant should operate the unit. (Damn, there goes my idea of hiring a harem of beautiful, scantily clad women to recline and unrecline the chair for me.  Sorry to announce, applications will no longer be accepted for that position...)
  • WARNING! To safely exit the unit, bring the back upright and close the legrest. ("Safely exit?" Wait, did I purchase a recliner or a roller coaster? Do I need to install a sign that says "you must be this tall too sit here?")
  • (My favorite:)  DANGER! To prevent suffocation keep plastic bags away from children. (Well, yes, this is good advice, but this is a chair, not a bag of groceries.  It was delivered not only with no bags whatsoever, but with no plastic wrapping of any sort.  This warning seems to have been added to the list just as a general reminder.  Unless there are folks out there who get themselves comfortably reclined and holler out, "Hey Maude, I'm awfully relaxed here! Hows about going and getting me a plastic bag or two and I'll really do this up right!")
Regardless, the new recliner is mine, mine, all mine, and is hereby named as My Favorite Chair.  I will defend my chair with same vigor that Archie Bunker defended his.  I will luxuriate in its comfort, I will happily snooze in full reclination (it's a word, OK?), I will proudly take this first step into old-man-hood: the rest of you are on your own to find your own comfort!

Oh, and risks be damned, I still like the harem idea.

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Monday, April 18, 2011

New Wave for the New Week #120

The old Punk Rock slogan "The kids will have their say!" was never truer than in the case of first wave Londoners Eater.  Formed in 1976 by school chums Andy Blade (vocals), Brian Chevette (guitar), Ian Woodcock (bass) and Dee Generate (drums), they initially drew attention for their ages: Blade and Chevette were 16, Woodcock was the old man at 17, and Dee Generate was easily the youngest regularly working musician in the Punk scene at the time. Depending on the source you choose, his age was reported anywhere from 13 to 15.  They went to school during the day and played Punk Rock at night, often in clubs which they were not old enough to legally enter had they not been the band; they wrote their earliest singles, "Outside View" and "Thinking Of The USA" (which was named one of the most essential Punk singles of all time by a 2001 UK magazine poll) while they should have been paying attention in chemistry class; they said Johnny Rotten was "too old" back then!

Yeah, they were snot-nosed kids, but man could they play.  Their sonic buzzsaw attack was not without merit, despite reviews at the time that dismissed them out of hand as more novelty act then legitimate band.  Their originals were certainly less lunkheaded than many of their contemporaries' songs, and real pop structures lurked beneath the lound-n-fast black leather fuckitall pose.  Their choices of cover songs were telling: Alice Cooper's "18" (smartly reworked as "15"), Lou Reed's "Waiting For The Man" and "Sweet Jane," David Bowie's "Queen Bitch."

All of these were included in Eater's 1977 album, The Album (released, naturally, on The Label), along with the excellent "Lock It Up," which was one of the earliest Punk Rock singles to catch my ear back when I was but a kid myself.  They followed a year later with a four-song EP called Get Your Yo-Yo's Out, but by 1979 they called it quits.

Eater's material aged far better than anyone at the time would have expected, and has been collected numerous times over the years in various compilations, all of which essentially recycle the same song list.  The Compleat Eater, released in 2004, is the currently available version, and well worth picking up.

For this week's NW4NW entry, enjoy these two audio-only clips: first, the classic "Thinking Of The USA," and then the wonderful "Lock It Up."  Enjoy!

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Tuesday, April 12, 2011

The Dragon Speaks

at about seven for 700 and turn her over
half past time for Aurora
ramp her call her and there
call you up for 10 at half

I want to buy the caravan embroiderer
cook for seven
okay to pick up anything
tough time at the author

her -- a red hot health care
for art work
for her to have better
but I'll call that number

I am bored on our route
I'll want to order them by Deville
they're going on how to help

are you meeting and English on our international?
shortly for me and getting audio online
and remind you that how you're doing today
for the "love you baby, thank you please"

do you want to talk?
where are you?
thank you again
for picking up the headlight for my life right then

the resolution on the situation
is not authorized to think again
in the ongoing thinking-plague
equal for the energy and that very picky country

I'll hunger for others unaccounted for
and get by in local time near lakeview
because you can get dissected
having called the doctor

Monday, April 11, 2011

New Wave for the New Week #119

This week's NW4NW entry may take the prize for Most Obscure Entry.  Here, in handy bullet-point format, is the totality of everything I know and was able to discover about The Nelsons:
  • They were from Lubbock, TX.
  • They entered and won one of the earliest rounds of MTV's Basement Tapes, a competition for unsigned bands, with their homemade video for the song "I Don't Mind."
  • They released an EP, Bag Your Face, in 1983, which contained "I Don't Mind."
  • They also released a single circa 1986 for a song called "Nuke The Prom;" the flipside of the single featured an even more obscure band, Rambo Bambi, performing an odd composition called "Eating Out Is Fun."
  • After discovering that Ozzie and Harriet Nelson's sons were using the name "Nelson" and were about to break big, Lubbock's Nelsons changed their name briefly to Unexplained Cattle Mutilations (source).
  • The Nelsons most high-profile gigs saw them opening for Culture Club and performing at Farm Aid.
  • They also performed as a straight blues band, calling themselves The Texas Blues Butchers (source).
That's it.  That's all I can tell you, other than the fact that "I Don't Mind" is one of the greatest cartoon-y New Wave songs of its time, and thank heavens someone had the foresight to post the long-forgotten video on YouTube!

So enjoy a rare slice of early 80s New Wave goofiness, "I Don't Mind" by The Nelsons.  And if you can add any more info about the band, whatever happened to them, or where they are now, by all means speak up!

Monday, April 4, 2011

New Wave for the New Week #118

Back in the good old days of New Wave and Punk vinyl, one of the ways that those of us who were into the music discovered new bands was by picking up records released on certain labels.  If you knew the label's "identity" or signature sound, and you liked it, you could safely bet that chancing a couple bucks on a band you never heard but who recorded for that same label would result in the discovery of a band you couldn't wait to tell your friends about.   In Punk circles, labels like Dischord, SST, Dangerhouse and Posh Boy each had very identifiable sounds; in New Wave it was Sire, Mute, and - my personal go-to label when searching for something new, I.R.S.  Originally starting out as Illegal Records in the UK, I.R.S. Records was the creation of Miles Copeland, brother of Stewart Copeland of The Police.  Indeed, the first release in the label's history was The Police's debut single, "Fall Out."  The I.R.S. sound was guitar driven but not without synths.  I.R.S. bands often rode the grey line between New Wave and Punk (The Stranglers and The Dead Kennedys and The Damned all put out records on I.R.S., but so did Wall Of Voodoo and The Alarm and The Go-Go's), but the music was always good, always interesting, and always creative.  And it was through my tendency to pick up anything on I.R.S. that I discovered Skafish.

One of the earliest signings for I.R.S. (in fact, the first non-UK act that Miles brought on board) was an odd fellow by the name of Jim Skafish.  Jim was a strange-looking nasally-voiced performer making some waves in the Chicago underground scene for his infectiously catchy songs and nearly alien physical appearance.  He was actually a classically trained jazz musician, but Skafish and his namesake band made somewhat off-kilter,  jagged rock music using a wide variety of instruments both acoustic and electronic.  The first Skafish release, the 1979 single "Disgracing The Family Name," was a wonderful cacophony of multi-layered instruments so wobbly that the song seems ready to collapse in on itself at any moment, yet so dense as to avoid that fate as it races to its conclusion.  In many ways, it is an almost perfect representative of the I.R.S. label's sound: if like this, you're gonna like just about everything else!

Enough people did like the sound, it seems; Skafish received more column space in a 1980 Rolling Stone Magazine article about a concert where they were the opening act than the headlining (and quite well established) Stranglers received!  I.R.S. wanted to get a full album out while the buzz about Skafish was still going, but Jim was spending a lot of studio time and almost all of his recording budget tinkering and rerecording and perfecting the songs for Skafish (1980).  In the hopes of recouping lost time and money, the label mixed the record rather quickly and rather shoddily, and while the material on it was quite good, it sounded terrible and did not sell.

Skafish got noticed again in 1981 for their performance in the concert film Urgh! A Music War, where they performed the somewhat controversial (for it's time) "Sign Of The Cross."  With renewed interest in the band, I.R.S. took a gamble on a second album.  1983's Conversation flopped even worse than its predecessor, mainly because the music had taken an unfortunate turn toward too-slick dance-pop.  Jim parted ways with I.R.S. and headed back home to Chicago, where he continued to write and perform for many years.

Skafish suddenly resurfaced in 2006, over two decades since their last record, with the surprising Tidings Of Comfort And Joy (A Jazz Piano Trio Christmas), whose title accurately describes its contents.  A pleasant holiday diversion, but who expected it?  Two years later, Skafish released an odds-and-sods compilation of early material called What Is This? (1976 - 1979), which includes early versions of "Disgracing The Family Name," "Sign Of The Cross," and other assorted goodies.  The title here would indicate that perhaps another installment may be planned covering Skafish's post-1979 work, but so far none has appeared.

For this week's NW4NW entry, here is Skafish's classic, "Disgracing The Family Name."  The clip was put together to coincide with the release of What Is This?, and includes footage from throughout Skafish's career. Enjoy!

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