Monday, November 28, 2011

New Wave for the New Week #138

Husband and wife Randy Stodola (guitar) and Dianne Chai (bass) first made noise in the L.A. Punk scene as two-thirds of The Alley Cats.  With drummer John McCarthy rounding out the trio, The Alley Cats issued their debut single, "Nothing Means Nothing Anymore," on the influential Dangerhouse label in 1978.  Playing a swampy style of garage punk that placed them somewhere along the spectrum between X and The Gun Club, The Alley Cats proved to be a popular live act.  Chai's exotic look and outstanding proficiency on bass was an obvious drawing card; she and Stodola shared lead vocal duties, a large part of the band's unique personality and appeal. That first single is probably the closest they ever got to capturing the reported energy of their live shows on any of their recordings, however, and over the years The Alley Cats have somewhat faded into history.

It would be three years until their first full length LP appeared.  After signing with indy label Time Coast, they released Nightmare City and its concurrent single, "Too Much Junk."  A decent-to-very-good album, it not only boasted the new single but several other excellent tracks ("Give Me A Little Pain," "Today," "One More Chance to Survive") and a snappy re-recording of "Nothing Means Nothing Anymore."  Although the album drags in a few places and Stodola's lazy enunciation comes off as somewhat affected at points (and somewhat grating at others), those bright spots make it a hidden gem worth digging up.  Nightmare City was eventually reissued on CD, but has been out of print for some time.

1982 saw The Alley Cats make another change in labels, this time landing on MCA for their follow-up album, Escape From The Planet Earth.  Despite receiving the typical major-label treatment (slick, sheeny production that sands off the rough edges and a few obvious bids at commercial radio airplay), the band's personality is still evident here.  Highlights include "Breath Of The Barfly," "Waiting For The Buzz," "Just An Alley Cat," and the fantastic title track.  The band pushed their envelope a bit on this record, and not everything works, but nonetheless it's an album worth searching for.

After a few year's hiatus, the trio returned with a brand new name.  Their ongoing game of label hopscotch continued as they found themselves back on Time Coast, but now rechristened as The Zarkons despite no change in line up or sound.  1985's Riders In The Long Black Parade treads similar sonic waters as Nightmare City, although not as successfully.  What sounded fresh in 1981 now seemed stale, and lukewarm production with vocals buried too deeply in the mix didn't help.  The high point of the album, Chai doing her best Grace Slick imitation on a cover of "White Rabbit," was somewhat underwhelming; the remainder of the record is not bad - just unnecessary.

Changing drummers and adding a fourth member, The Zarkons were back in 1988 with Between the Idea and the Reality...Falls the Shadow, about which the less said the better.  The band broke up soon after.

A "best of" compilation, 1979-1982, appeared in 2007, pulling ten tracks from the two Alley Cats albums and nothing from either Zarkons record (although inexplicably excluding undeniable classics like "Nothing Means Nothing," "Too Much Junk," or "Give Me A Little Pain").  The accompanying DVD with five video clips is a nice touch, however, and this CD remains the only in-print example of The Alley Cats' work.

For this week's NW4NW entry, here are two clips of the band performing live.  First up is "Too Much Junk," followed by the band's appearance in the must-see URGH! A Music War scorching through "Nothing Means Nothing Anymore."  Enjoy!

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Monday, November 21, 2011

New Wave for the New Week #137

If The Only Ones are only ever remembered for their most popular song, the indispensable "Another Girl, Another Planet," their place in Punk/New Wave history is rightfully earned.  Still, it would be selling the band a bit short, given that they released three very solid albums in their day, all of which are readily available on CD.  Bands like The Replacements or Green Day owe a huge debt of gratitude to The Only Ones. If you missed out on these guys, it's your own fault - and something you need to correct immediately!

Formed in late 1976 by singer/songwriter Peter Perrett and guitarist John Perry with Alan Mair on bass and Mike Kellie on drums, The Only Ones debuted in 1977 with a self-released single, the likeable but pessimistic "Lovers Of Today" ("We ain't got feelings/we got no love/we ain't got nothing to say...").  This opening effort was solid enough to get the band signed to CBS/Epic, and by 1978 they had released their masterpiece as their second single, and along with it their first full length album, The Only Ones"Another Girl, Another Planet" is one of those songs that almost defies genre. Searing guitars, driving beat and Perrett's nasally faux-Pete Shelley vocals combine to create a classic that has been covered many times by artists from Greg Kihn to The Replacements to The Mighty Lemon Drops; more recently Blink-182 and Belle & Sebastian have taken stabs at it as well.  It has even been adapted by The Nutley Brass in an easy listening version and interpreted in a 1920's Tin Pan Alley style by The Ukelele Orchestra Of Great Britiain.  How's that for reaching a wide audience?

After Perrett and Kellie took a break to back up Johnny Thunders on his solo album So Alone (specifically on the fantastic "You Can't Put Your Arms Around A Memory"), The Only Ones released their follow-up LP, 1979's Even Serpents Shine.  While no individual track reaches the heights of "Another Girl," the album as whole is every bit as good as the debut.  Highlights include "From Here To Eternity" and "Miles From Nowhere."   Hoping to crack the US charts, Epic released Special View later in the same year, combining the best tracks from the first two LPs and throwing in "Lovers Of Today" for good measure.  A perfect introduction for those unfamiliar with the band!

1980 saw their third LP in three years, Baby's Got A Gun.  While still a very good effort, it falls about a half-step behind the first two.  "The Big Sleep" is the star attraction here.  The Only Ones stuck it out for another year or two before finally calling it a day in early 1982.

Fast-forward to 2007, when "Another Girl, Another Planet" was revived in an advertisement for UK company Vodafone.  The renewed interest in the single inspired the original band to get back together, and they have been playing live ever since, although they have yet to release a new album.

For this NW4NW entry, here are the classic "Another Girl, Another Planet" and their debut, "Lovers Of Today."  Enjoy!

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Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Well Damn...

So, no sooner do I put up a post raving about One-Eyed Doll and being psyched that they would be playing close enough to Lancaster for me to actually go see them, then this news from Kimberly Freeman herself:

Just my luck.  No word yet on why the cancellation, but the date is off of the band's tour dates page.  That's a bummer.  But, check their tour and if they're going to be near you, go see them!  And tell them they need to come to PA!

Since I won't get to see them live, I'm taking this opportunity to post another clip.  "PAO!"

Still Here! Updates, etc.

Realized that it's been over a week since my last post, so I figured I should bring you folks up to date on a few things happening in this neck of the woods:

NaNoWriMo - Started the month out with a bang, writing like a fiend!  It's much easier to do, I've discovered, when you have a clear goal (1600 words a day) and fellow writers aiming for the same goal with whom to compare notes, celebrate milestones, and cheer each other on past the hurdles.  It's been neat watching my short story grow and take shape, and getting to know the characters who populate the story better.  I have most of the novel outlined now; at this point, I am putting flesh on the bones.  Should be easy, right?  Nope - I hit a wall this weekend and must admit to letting a couple days pass without writing a word.  I'll be back at it tonight, though.  My local writers' group meets tomorrow night, so I better have something to show them!  (Right guys?)

NW4NW & 6WS - The Monday New Wave for the New Week posts and weekly Six Word Sunday entries are on indefinite hiatus.  I don't know whether that's a concern or not: the poll I ran here in October about continuing NW4NW sent me a decidedly mixed message.  The votes that came in were 100% in favor of continuing NW4NW; however, despite there being an audience that includes 234 who follow on Facebook and 933 who follow on Twitter, only 4 (4!) of you voted.   So, for now, I've decided both series of posts are getting a rest.  I am still open to your thoughts and opinions (hell, I'm practically begging for them!), so please post either in the comments field below, or on either the Facebook or Twitter pages.

What's The Name of That Song? - Still have yet to discover the title and artist for the remaining mystery song posted here a month ago today. Please take a moment to listen - someone out there has to know who and what this is!  It's still driving me crazy, and - no promises - but there just may be a reward in it for you:

mystery song #1

Recent Discoveries - A couple of nifty websites and a truly awesome band have landed on my radar screen in the past few weeks, and, as always, when I find the neat stuff I share it with you!  The two websites are actually Tumblr blogs, and have been added to the blogroll on the lefthand side of the screen here (keep scrolling down; you'll find it! And while you're there, check out some of the other sites I have linked there).

First is Things Could Be Worse, a wonderful collection of dryly yet wickedly funny drawings by Benjamin Dewey, referred to as the "Tragedy Series."  Almost like a virtual set of trading cards, these one-panel webcomics are brilliant visualizations of Dewey's warped reminders that, no matter how bad your day is going, someone else somewhere at some point in time has had it worse.  One of my faves:

Those of you who follow my posts about my challenges with Social Anxiety will join me in celebrating the second site, Social Anxiety Things.  Most of the entries are simply that: brief descriptions of those moments all of us who battle Social Anxiety Disorder know all too well.  For those who live it every day, it's a bit of the constant reassurance we need that we really are not alone; for those who are fortunate not to suffer such anxieties, the site offers a bit of a window into the worlds of those who do, which may help you better understand friends or family who experience it.  The site takes submissions from readers, so scattered among the regular items you will occasionally find folks sharing stories of both anxiety attacks and successful "wins" when they overcame the hurdles anxiety threw into their paths.  The occasional video shows up as well, and suggestions for coping skills are offered.  Together, these varied entries make up a reassuring and wonderful site, and I for one am glad it exists!  As an example, here's a recent Social Anxiety Thing that I certainly relate to:

And now, my "band of the moment": My friend JK introduced me to Austin, TX's punk/metal/awesome duo One-Eyed Doll about a week ago, and they are all I have been listening to since!  I have become utterly smitten with singer/guitarist/driving force Kimberly Freeman, who, together with drummer "Junior" (Jason Rufuss Sewell, who also does most of the production work), is putting out some truly original, highly enjoyable, often hysterical and always intelligent material which ranges from death metal screaming to pretty pop balladry to children's-song chanting and back again, often within the same song.  Not ones to sing about the mundane, One-Eyed Doll tackle lyrical subjects like the difficulties serial killers have in making friends ("Be My Friend"), the troubles with dating the undead ("You're A Vampire"), the joy of video game victory ("Battle On"), and the sheer delight of being insane ("Committed").   As luck would have it, One-Eyed Doll will actually be playing near here (The Crocodile Rock Cafe in Allentown, PA, to be exact) on November 25th.  We will be there, and you'll be treated to another road story afterwords!  Meantime, here's One-Eyed Doll's fantastic "You're A Vampire":

OK, that should about catch you up from my world.  More neat stuff coming up in the near future!

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Tuesday, November 1, 2011

And So It Begins...

The calendar flips to November 1st today, which means it's time for me to put up or shut up.  I've talked a lot about being a writer and wanting to write more, about wanting to be held accountable to the task of putting words down on paper, and about getting past my own loud, progress-stopping inner critic and just put my writing out there to stand or fall on its own merit.  This month, I shall bring all three about.  I am participating in NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month).

What is NaNoWriMo?  For those of you unfamiliar, it's described as well as anyone could on the NaNoWriMo website itself:
National Novel Writing Month is a fun, seat-of-your-pants approach to novel writing. Participants begin writing on November 1. The goal is to write a 50,000 word, (approximately 175 page) novel by 11:59:59, November 30.

Valuing enthusiasm and perseverance over painstaking craft, NaNoWriMo is a novel-writing program for everyone who has thought fleetingly about writing a novel but has been scared away by the time and effort involved.

Because of the limited writing window, the ONLY thing that matters in NaNoWriMo is output. It’s all about quantity, not quality. This approach forces you to lower your expectations, take risks, and write on the fly.

Make no mistake: You will be writing a lot of crap. And that’s a good thing. By forcing yourself to write so intensely, you are giving yourself permission to make mistakes. To forgo the endless tweaking and editing and just create. To build without tearing down.

As you spend November writing, you can draw comfort from the fact that, all around the world, other National Novel Writing Month participants are going through the same joys and sorrows of producing the Great Frantic Novel. Wrimos meet throughout the month to offer encouragement, commiseration, and—when the thing is done—the kind of raucous celebrations that tend to frighten animals and small children.
Now, celebrations that frighten small animals and children are the kind of thing I can really get into! But 50,000 words in 30 days seems a daunting task.  That means an average of about 1660 words a day, give or take.  Every day. Every damn day.

Confession time: I'm hedging my bets on this project just a wee bit.  I am showing up with the core of a story already in place.  I submitted a story to the Gloaming Gap website (if you don't have Gloaming Gap
bookmarked already, do so! It's a fantastic site where writers contribute short stories with either a horror or supernatural plot, or, like mine, something of a more psychological Twilight Zone-like bent), which will be appearing there after the turn of the year.  In this nascent form, it's about 1400 words - the right size for Gloaming Gap, but hardly enough in which to really explore the potential for the characters and the story.  Ever since I wrote that short story version, it has been nagging at me to do more with it.  So, I will.

Let's see, 1400 words already in means I only have to average 1620 words a day. Yes, that's much more manageable.  *headdesk*

Anyway, you can follow my daily progress here by clicking on the "Stats" tab (you can also see a brief description of the story and a short excerpt here).  Eventually there will be a widget here on the blog as well to let you know how I'm progressing, and I will surely be sharing my ups and downs through the process here as well.  Why? Well, I'm hoping you all will both cheer me on and keep me honest! A few "attaboys" will go a long way this month, I'm sure; similarly, a few kicks in the butt to get moving and get writing will be needed, too.  The more folks supporting me that way, the better!

So, it begins.  If all goes well, I'll have something of a novel by November 30.  As I said when signed up for this project, quoting David Byrne, " God, what have I done?"

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