Monday, September 26, 2011

New Wave for the New Week #136

During their brief existence, Cowboys International® may not have been the most well-known band around, but a nifty little who's-who of musicians made stops in their lineup on their way to or from bigger-name projects.

In its earliest form in the late '70s, Ken Lockie's band of Cowboys was called The Quick Spurts, and included Keith Levene, who had been an early member of The Clash (he co-wrote "What's My Name?" among other early Clash singles), and who would go on to form Public Image Ltd. with John Lydon (and have a rather nasty falling out with the former Mr. Rotten as well!). Adding original Clash drummer Terry Chimes (a/k/a "Tory Crimes") and bass player Jimmy Hughes from The Banned, Lockie changed the moniker to Cowboys International® and off they went to record their lone album of the era, The Original Sin, which hit the shelves in 1979.

Neither the name Cowboys International® nor a pedigree that includes former members of  The Clash and future members of PiL suggests that the listener should be expecting smooth synth-based New Wave pop, but that's what the album consisted of. And it was damn good, too! The singles "Thrash" and "Aftermath" are obvious standouts; other highlights include "Pointy Shoes," "Wish" and "M(emorie)."

While on tour supporting the album, Terry Chimes quit the band to join Generation X and was replaced with Paul Simon (the drummer from The Radio Stars, not the partner of Garfunkel); original guitarist Rick Jacks was replaced with once-and-future Adam Ant sideman Marco Pirroni.  Pirroni, in turn, was replaced by Steve Shears from Ultravox.  After playing a final show in Berlin in 1980, Cowboys International® folded completely.

Lockie went on to join PiL himself briefly in 1981, and then turned to collaborations with other musicians, reaching his highest success in 1984 working with Dominatrix on the club hit "The Dominatrix Sleeps Tonight."

In 2003, 20+ years after it's release, Lockie oversaw a CD reissue of the then lone Cowboys International® album. Retitled The Original Sin Revisited, it appended various remixes and demos to the original album. The following year he revived the Cowboys International name (without the "®") for a brand new album, The Backwards Life of Romeo, which compares favorably to Lloyd Cole or The The.  A pleasant surprise.

For this week's NW4NW, we reach back to the early days for Cowboys International®'s first single, "Thrash," and a clip of the band performing "Pointy Shoes" on The Old Grey Whistle Test. Enjoy!

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Sunday, September 18, 2011

Recommended Reading: Last One to Die

My interest was piqued when Michael Essington, a/k/a Mike E. over at the blog Strange Reaction (if you're not a regular reader, fix that error immediately!), sent me an email a couple months back asking if he could use one of my quotes in his new book.  New book? After taking a few moments to kick the writer inside of me ("Other people are writing books. Get off yer bum and write something fer crissakes, wouldja?!?") I found myself really looking forward to reading Mike's work.  The record reviews he writes and the anecdotes he shares on the blog are always enjoyable, and often leave you wanting to hear more.  His new book, Last One to Die, available now through Create Space, does not disappoint.

In essence, Last One to Die is a compendium of short stories, some revised and revisited pieces he has shared online or in his past column for Flipside, organized under the vast umbrellas of Friends & Family, Life, Music and Inspiration.  Each anecdote stands completely on its own, and many could fit equally well under any of his four categories, yet when taken as a group they provide a loose biography of a bit of a misfit kid growing up in southern California and finding Punk Rock to be the perfect soundtrack as he goes about the task of trying to figure out Life.

Mike is maybe a year older than I, so I can very easily relate to many of the background details here: the music, the pop culture references, etc., are of my time. But what makes Mike's writing work is that the details aren't the thing, the gut feeling is.  His writing is visceral, and anyone who has lived past the age of 25 can relate to these tales.  We've all had the idiotic friends, the family fights, the relationships we wax nostalgic over, the decisions we wish we could take back, the celebrations and successes, and the tough lessons to learn.  His story is everyone's story: what the hell are we doing here anyway?

The short pieces he writes combine with his naturally conversational style to make you feel like you're sitting with an old friend trading stories that you've both heard a thousand times over, but you want to hear again anyway.  Others might use traditional book-review words like "stark," "unflinching," or "no punches pulled" to describe Mike's tone and outlook; I think "realistic" is a better choice.  No, he doesn't dress up the grittier aspects of his tales to make them more palatable, nor does he apologize for who he was in his youth or who he is now.  But then again, when you're sitting with your friend trading stories, you know that you'll call bullshit on each other if you try to make yourself look better than you were.  I never got the sense while reading that I'd be calling bullshit on any of Mike's tales.

The only complaint I have, and it's not a large one, is technical.  Mike's book could really use a proofreader in spots.  There are occasional misplaced commas, run-on sentences, unidentified antecedents and vague phrasings that turn up throughout, and of course my OCD spotted everyone of them.  At the same time, those things may well have been intentional: again, there is a very conversational feel here, and standing on ceremony is not required for good conversation. 

At just over 200 pages, Last One to Die is a relatively quick read, but a highly recommended one.  Mike's experiences as an amateur boxer, singer (and rapper of sorts, unintentionally), young Punk Rock kid and older husband and father make excellent fodder for stories that will, in turns, make you laugh, piss you off, cause you to shake your head, and bring to mind your own tales. 

Again, Last One to Die is available at Create Space. Do yourself a favor and pick this one up.

Six Word Sunday

Love the autumn chill this morning!

Monday, September 12, 2011

New Wave for the New Week #135

"Snatch represents collaboratory work between Patti Palladin and Judy Nylon, and anyone or thing of relevance attracted to it. Regretfully, due to logistics, it is impossible to note the numerous manifestations in exact detail. As with anything unique, one enters at one's own risk, and takes responsibility for their actions therein. Conspirators generally know each other and say nothing." - Patti Palladin

This quote, emblazoned on the home page of Snatch's website, serves both as perfunctory bio and formal mission statement for one of the more fascinating musical assemblages to form out of the Punk/New Wave scene.  As Palladin notes, Snatch was more collaboration than band. The term "band" tends to imply a fully-formed entity, which Snatch was in a sense, but certainly not in the same sense as most people expect.  Their songs are sparse, minimalistic pieces that constantly seem on the verge of blooming into beautiful, lush creations, yet never do.  Each composition is simplistic, but not necessarily simple; heavily rhythmic while seldom relying on the traditional drum and bass for rhythm; remarkably dense and claustrophobic while using a bare minimum of instrumentation.  It's all great stuff, what little there is of it.

Legend has it that Patti Palladin and Judy Nylon met on the telephone, not actually meeting in person until both had relocated to London from NYC.  Once they got together, they discovered a shared interest in the then-nascent Punk scene, and began writing and recording their own material in 1976, and by mid 1977 had their first single released on the Bomp! label. The outstanding "I.R.T" was a rather matter-of-fact description of the gritty chore of riding the New York subway, delivered  in what would become Patti's signature bored/barely attentive vocal style.

A year later the single "All I Want" appeared.  This record sounded a little bit harsher, but fared better in sales.  It even made the lower reaches of the UK charts.  Demanding, repetitive, yet catchy.  Two years later the duo returned once more with "Shopping for Clothes."  Verging on beat poetry and conjuring images of a seedy, smoky club, "Shopping" slinks and snakes along as Palladin and Nylon weave their tale of a sleazy salesperson and an equally sleazy customer trying to make a deal.  As a whole, the three singles demonstrated that Palladin and Nylon had a whole lot of tricks up their sleeves, and promised great things to come.  Unfortunately, nothing did.

Judy Nylon formed her own band, Crucial, and released a very good album (Pal Judy) in 1982.  She also went on to work with John Cale and Chris Spedding, among others.  Patti Palladin also released some solo material (the single "Siamese Lovers" and an EP, Rituals), and became known for her collaborations with The Flying Lizards and Wayne/Jayne County.  Palladin made her biggest splash in 1988 when she and Johnny Thunders released an album of excellent cover tunes, Copy Cats (you must find yourself a copy!).

A Snatch album of sorts surfaced in 1983. The self-titled compilation included the three singles (although "Shopping for Clothes" is in a re-recorded version here) and several unreleased demos.  All of Snatch's records are out of print, but can be found with a little effort and Google.  Same goes for the solo records.  Palladin's collaboration with Johnny Thunders had been out of print, but was just given a new UK reissue by Jungle/Hepcat. Pricey, but worth it.

For this week's NW4NW clips, here is an audio-only of Snatch's wonderful debut single "I.R.T.," and then a rare live clip, circa 1979, of Snatch performing "Dateline Miami," which would become a track on Nylon's Pal Judy lp. Enjoy!

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Tuesday, September 6, 2011

3 Decades Disappearing in One Night

In lieu of the usual NW4NW post this week, I instead want to share with you my rather enjoyable Saturday night when it felt like 1983 all over again.  Was at Lancaster's infamous Chameleon again for the second time in about a month, this time to see a couple of bands who belong on any sensible roll call of New Wave royalty.  The Psychedelic Furs came to town this weekend, and brought with them opening act The Tom Tom Club.

Thankfully, we did not have any of the issues that marred the enjoyment of the They Might Be Giants show a few weeks ago: not nearly so long a wait to get in, nowhere near as oppressively hot (although The Chameleon still lived up to its "sweatbox" reputation), and no drunken idiots lunging at the stage.  In fact, the first thing we noticed was that a barrier had been set up about two feet in front of the stage, creating a sort of moat between the crowd and the bands.  That Guy's legacy, perhaps?

The crowd also was surprisingly not as large as I expected it might be for two big-name bands.  When Tom Tom Club took the stage, the club was about half-full; by the time The Furs began their set, the place had filled in quite a bit.  Still, I'd be surprised if there were more than 300 people there. It seemed like the show was not well advertised around here - I only heard about it a week before it happened, and many I've talked to since then never heard about it.  Strange.  Made for a nice evening, though: it's refreshing to be able to see a band without being shoved against the stage (or barrier) like a sardine, and since the place wasn't crammed full, the air conditioning could actually occasionally be felt (such as it is - anyone who's ever been in the Chameleon will attest to the terrible ventilation there.) 

Seeing The Tom Tom Club was neat, especially considering nowadays they are about as close as we'll ever get to seeing Talking Heads again.  Tina Weymouth (bass) and Chris Frantz (drums), who founded the band in 1981, led the group through a great opening set that had the crowd dancing and really got the energy going.  Classics like "Man With the 4-Way Hips" and "Wordy Rappinghood" were met with energetic applause and sing-along vocals from the crowd; a pair of songs from their parent band's catalog ("Take Me To The River" and Heads' original "Psycho Killer") were happy surprises. The best reaction, though, was reserved for The Tom Tom Club's biggest splash, "Genius Of Love."  Check out this clip of the performance, taken by YouTube user vwall10411 (and keep your eye out for the band's DJ in the back, wearing the hat that says "BAD."  We were trying to figure out if that was actually David Arquette!)

The Psychedelic Furs are celebrating the 30th anniversary of their incredible Talk Talk Talk LP, but their set didn't focus solely on that album's material.  (For an excellent take on the album and the band, check out this post by Theresa Kereakes at her Punk Turns 30 blog.) It was great to hear "Pretty In Pink" and "All Of This And Nothing," though I would have loved a live version of "Into You Like A Train."  Over the course of roughly an hour, The Furs did a fantastic job of touching on the various eras of their career, and live they sounded like they haven't aged a day or missed a beat.  Richard Butler looked to be having a great time, doing his best Bowie-as-Thin-White-Duke pose and literally bouncing around joyously thanking the crowd after each song.  Brother Tim Butler stalked about the stage in wrap-around shades and bass in hand, playing to the crowd at every turn, and saxophonist Mars Williams simply amazed.  If you had never heard The Psychedelic Furs before, you would have walked away impressed; those of us who have been fans for far too many years to count were overjoyed.  Again thanks to vwall10411, here is a clip of The Furs performing one of their later hits, "The Ghost In You:"

The only complaint any of us had was that the night was over too soon.  The Furs could've played until dawn and not a soul would have left the club - it was a good crowd who loved both bands, sang along and relived happy memories.  For a time, inside that club, it could easily have been 30 years ago.  That, my friends, is the sign of a great show!

The Psychedelic Furs/Tom Tom Club tour runs through October.  Here is a link to the remaining dates - if they are coming within earshot of you, go. You will have a blast.  Pics from Saturday night's show will be up on the Facebook Page shortly.

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Thursday, September 1, 2011

Waiting for Calmness

Over a decade ago, when I first began therapy and discovered the names of my demons, my therapist said to me that my "work will never be done.  The goal is not to cure you because these are not things you cure.  The goal is for you to learn how you react to things and develop the skills you need to develop to remain in control."  It's the thing that those of us who live with anxieties hate to hear but must admit: this is how we are.  This is how we always will be.  It won't ever stop - but it can get better.  My demons cannot be exiled, but they can be tamed.

I liked the fact that she called it my "work." Actually, more often she called it "our work," because her part in the matter was to teach me how to do this work.  It truly is a full-time job to internally monitor my reactions to things.  Fortunately, by this point, it is work that is, a majority of the time, passive.  It's the work a smoke alarm does in your home.  You put the battery in the smoke alarm and forget about it, unless and until it screeches out its warning that there's an awful lot of smoke - and where there's smoke, there's fire, so you had better do something lest your house burn down.  Same thing.  My internal monitor sits there, vigilant yet passive, until something sets it off.  Then, it screeches out a warning and I know I have to react.

I haven't written about my demons in awhile, because they haven't tripped the alarm in some time.  In the past few meetings of the writer's group I belong to, I've shared that I have made no progress at all on my planned book about dealing with OCD, Social Anxiety and Depression, because they have not been at the surface of my awareness.  It's difficult enough to write about them when they are causing mayhem in my life, but it's damn near impossible to write about them when they aren't.  There's nothing to say, no story to tell.  It's as if I have to be in pain to write about pain. Well, for the past few months, the waters have been still.  So still, in fact, that I almost forgot about my demons.


When I became unemployed for the first time in 14 years this summer, I was ready for the demons to make an appearance.  Despite the fact that the company which had employed me all that time was shutting down and it was absolutely no reflection on my abilities or my work ethic, I just knew that my demons would relish the opportunity to remind me what a failure I am.  It would have been an obvious thing for them to latch onto, but they didn't.  And I'll admit I was very pleased with myself that I have come far enough in ten or so years of "work" that I could recognize that potential "fire hazard" and guard against it before it ever occurred.  That's not to say I wasn't upset or even somewhat depressed at being out of work - that's only natural, especially in our society where we are often defined by our careers.  But I didn't sink into the bleak despair that I might have had it happened a few years earlier; I didn't give the demons a chance to wreak their havoc. 

As a result, rather than sit around moping and hurting and beating myself up, I found an new job within about two weeks.  Or, so I thought.  As I've said to those with whom I have since shared the story, I had the unique experience of having been interviewed for, hired for, traveled to across the state to be trained for, even received business cards for a job that turned out not to exist.  I went from the extreme high of being able to announce to friends and family that I was back among the gainfully employed to the extreme low of realizing that no, I am still unemployed.  Now this was certainly where my demons would usually chime in: "You see! It was all a set up! All designed to make you look bad! They're laughing at you, Bryan! You're a failure! You don't deserve a good job!"  But yet again, I found myself on guard against their insidiousness, almost without realizing it.  I knew what to expect from them and was ready, and they never had the chance to strike.

I have since gone into business with my former boss and mentor to create a new marketing company.  You'll hear more about Independence Marketing Services in the very near future.  We're taking what we know how to do well and "rebooting," after a fashion.  Of course, like any other startup, it's hard work and long hours for little pay.  Once we get the ball rolling, that will change, but overcoming the initial inertia is a challenge.  I am pleased to be working and excited for the possibilities this venture presents.  But there has been a price, which I really only discovered last night.

With all of my efforts and attention being directed towards building the new company, I haven't been as vigilant in listening to my internal monitor.  My demons have begun finding small little cracks to chip away at - small chinks that have been quietly yet inexorably clawing away at until they can break through like an army of zombies bursting through windows boarded up against their approach.  They manage to get an arm through here, a head through there; they push and pound and scratch until the boards give way and they are in.

The first signs that they were finding ways in showed up when catching myself lying awake at night going into mild panic attacks over paying my bills.  Right now, Unemployment Compensation helps and will remain a help as we build the business to a place where steady income begins flowing; but it's not really enough and it will not last forever.  I have savings and I budget wisely enough that I needn't really start to worry for another month or so.  But the self-doubt: "You're not good enough to make this work. You're going to fail. You don't deserve success..."

I fight back by reminding myself that we have already completed one successful project for one client, and we have gotten paid for it - we have made a small profit on our very first venture! It was a client that I brought to the table and a project that I managed! On top of that, we're building a second project for another client, and have at least one more on the immediate horizon.  It IS working.  But the demons are relentless.

Last night, for the first time in a long time, they showed up in full force.  I was invited to join some friends for a bonfire at one friend's house for "drinks and philosophical conversation," the kind of thing I love, as anyone who has gotten into an esoteric debate with me about life, reality, theology, existentialism, etc. has discovered. I immediately said "count me in."  Of course, the old transportation situation came up: I don't drive, and our meeting place would not have been within walking distance.  So, we began figuring out the logistics of getting me to and from the festivities.  And then it hit.

"You better not leave your house! Something might happen to it - a fire, a burglary, vandalism - and you don't have the money to fix it if that happens! And you won't have the money, because you're not going to be successful in your new business!"  My stomach lurched, my head swam, and I wanted to run away, bury my head and cry.  I was sitting there, working out transportation with a friend on Twitter, perfectly fine, and within seconds I was in the midst of a full-fledged anxiety attack, as strong as any I've ever had.  My hands were trembling, I was nearly hyper-ventilating, and I was once again hating myself for going through this.

I begged my friend's forgiveness, explained that I was in high panic mode, and politely backed out of the evening.  Then came the embarrassment.  How could I let this happen again? I'd done so well, gone for so long without an event, and something so simple as "hey let's get together for a bonfire" sent me into a violent emotional whirlpool.  Next came the OCD demon replaying it again and again in my head, reminding me how insane this behavior is.  "See how messed up you are! See how silly you behave! It's a wonder you have any friends at all!"

It took some time to settle down, maybe a couple of hours.  It was then, in a more rational state of mind, that I could reflect and realize that it wasn't just one thing that set it off.  No, it's been the upheaval that my life has been through since I lost my job back in April.  And I reminded myself that my work will never be done, that my demons can never be exiled - only tamed.  I've also reminded myself that I have proven that I can tame them, and that even though they may occasionally win a battle here or there like they did last night, they haven't won the war.  I will continue to work towards seeing that they do not.  Once calmness returns to my life, it will be better again.

In case you missed them, here are links to my prior posts regarding my demons:

Table For One
Fighting The Demons Again
A Stalemate With The Demons
At The Moment
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