Thursday, January 30, 2014

Throwback Thursday: The Dead Boys "Young, Loud And Snotty" (1977)

Young Loud and Snotty
Young Loud and Snotty (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
If you had to chose only one record to play for someone so that they understand what Punk Rock was all about, which do you choose?  The Pistols? Ramones? The Clash or The Damned? Dead Kennedys or Black Flag? All solid, head of the class picks for sure, but if it were my decision to make I wouldn't think twice.  I'd immediately reach for The Dead Boys' Young, Loud And Snotty.  And I'd crank the stereo up to eleven.

The title is pitch-perfect: five sneering, snarling, unkempt and uncompromising punks who landed in New York City via Cleveland bathed in the fallout from the explosion of protopunks Rocket From The Tombs, stripped of any of that band's artier pretensions (that piece became Pere Ubu) and dunked in the spilled beer and slosh of CBGB's.   They played sloppy rock-n-roll of the heavy, loud and fast variety, like an amphetamine-fueled hybrid of The Stooges and The New York Dolls jamming in a garage at 2:00 AM and pissing off the neighbors on purpose.  The frontal attack of Stiv Bators, Cheetah Chrome and Jimmy Zero seethed and slashed, propelled by the driving power of Jeff Magnum's bass and Johnny Blitz's drumming.

The Dead Boys were swept up in Sire Records' campaign to pluck the best of the burgeoning scene (Ramones, Talking Heads and Richard Hell were other CBGB's regulars who also landed on Seymour Stein's suddenly-hip label), and in 1977 delivered their debut album. Stiv starts the album by spitting out the opening lyric, "I don't need anyone!," and closes it with a strangled scream of "Down in flames!" In between those moments is a little under a half an hour of frenetic, puerile, vulgar yet undeniably catchy and fun Punk Rawk. Young, Loud And Snotty is utterly without pretense.  There's no political agenda, no social commentary, no deep message here - and certainly no silly love songs (unless your idea of romantic crooning includes lines like "I don't really want to dance/I just want to get in your pants.")

The album opens with the band's finest track, the searing "Sonic Reducer," an aural stun-gun that leaps at you like a caged beast.  I daresay "Sonic Reducer" would be a strong contender for best punk rock song ever; it certainly sets the bar extremely high for the rest of the album.  While not every track reaches the dizzying heights of the opener, everything ranges from very good to excellent.  The album is definitely front-loaded however: side one also gives us the anthemic "All This And More," the straightforward rocker "What Love Is," and a perfect bored-youth celebration in "Ain't Nothin' To Do," all of which are five-star efforts.  Only the occasionally draggy gloominess of "Not Anymore" offers any reprieve from the head-thunking assault.

Side two pales slightly, suffering from some same-y sounding material and a decidedly immature and misogynistic streak (see "Caught With The Meat In Your Mouth" and "I Need Lunch," the latter supposedly written about/directed at Lydia Lunch), but by this point in the proceedings you know what you're in for.  You can either snicker along like a fourth-grader just discovering dirty jokes, or move along to the next track.  A cover of The Syndicate Of Sound's 1960s garage-band hit "Hey Little Girl" is a pleasant surprise, foreshadowing Stiv's later solo efforts in that genre, and the two songs that close the album, "High Tension Wire" and "Down In Flames," bring us full circle back to where we started, if considerably more exhausted than when we began.

Young, Loud And Snotty is everything a Punk Rock album should be: loud, fast, abrasive fun.  The Dead Boys would follow this with a second album before finally burning out, and many years later alternate takes of the debut's tracks would be issued as Younger, Louder And Snottier.  The second LP, We Have Come For Your Children, is worth seeking out; the cash-in on the debut is best left on the shelf.

Sonic Reducer by Dead Boys on Grooveshark

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Thursday, January 23, 2014

Throwback Thursday: Violent Femmes (1982)

Violent Femmes (album)
Violent Femmes (album) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
"I wrote this song about Stefanie Jackson at Rufus King High School. There. I said it." 
- Gordon Gano, explaining "Gone Daddy Gone" in the liner notes of the 20th anniversary reissue of Violent Femmes, 2002
Nearly a dozen more years have passed since Gano's revelation/confession, yet it remains the perfect explanation for one of the most unique and entrancing three minute (and three seconds) singles of the 1980s. With its shuffling drum-brush beat, adenoidal vocals, faux-ambivalence swagger, nagging xylophone (!) line and mid-song hat-tip to Howlin' Wolf, "Gone Daddy Gone" remains one of the finest descriptions of a high school crush rejection ever written.  We've all had our Stefanie Jacksons...

Thirty plus years on, though, many people forget - or never realized - that "Gone Daddy Gone" was the single from the Violent Femmes' self-titled debut album.  The assumption often is that "Blister In The Sun" must have been the single; it's the better-remembered and more often chosen cut to be spun by the "classic alternative" stations these days.  Even "Add It Up" seems a more likely candidate looking back, if only the lyrics hadn't crossed that line and guaranteed no early-80s radio airplay at all by bluntly asking the question on every teenage boy's mind since time began, "Why can't I get just one fuck?"

But that's what makes Violent Femmes such a remarkable debut: of the ten songs found in its grooves, at least eight could have been singles.  From the sha-la-la "what have I got to do?" sing-along on the chorus of "Prove My Love" to the obsessive enumeration of reasons for taking pills in "Kiss Off" ("I forget what eight was for...") to the pseudo-reggae despair of "Please Do Not Go" ("what can I do?/I fall down dead/she never see the tears I cry") and on, each song has its own character, its own personality, its own reasons for being memorable enough to stick in your head.  Taken as a whole, no album has better captured what life is like when you're a 16 - 20 year old male who doesn't feel like he fits in, and yet been hook-filled enough for the 16 - 20 year old females to dance to.

It's somewhat amazing to me that today Violent Femmes is looked back upon as one of the essential albums of its time.  When it was issued in late 1982, the reaction wasn't so kind.  While radio was playing Rush and Journey and Def Leppard and Quiet Riot, Violent Femmes just didn't fit.  The sparse, minimalist, acoustic sounds that occasionally veered off into angular shards of guitar ("To The Kill") or collapsed into chaotic crumbles ("Confessions") wasn't the kind of thing the stoner kids could absent-mindedly strum along with on out-of-tune guitars in their black-lighted bedrooms.  The angst-ridden lyrics might have been just a tad too hip for that room as well, not to mention the fact that the guy singing sounds like a nerd.  Those of us who "got it" also got laughed at for listening to it.  Yet nowadays those same folks who laughed then are often among the first to shout "Yes!" when the opening da-da-de-dum-dum of "Blister In The Sun" pours out of a speaker somewhere.  Go figure.

For those of us who were there from the beginning, the album is an old friend.  My original copies of both the "Gone Daddy Gone" single and the album itself were nearly worn smooth from constant play; I know every lyric and every note by heart.  They remain my all-time favorite song and album, respectively.  The Femmes went on to release several more albums over the years of varying quality, but even the best of their later output pales compared to the debut LP.  The post-album UK single "Ugly"/"Gimme The Car" probably comes closest.  (In fact, another common misconception is that those two tracks were on the album originally as well, as they have been appended to every CD issue of the LP.)

The album stands up well three decades later.  If you don't own it, there is a gaping hole in your music collection which needs to be repaired immediately!

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Sunday, January 19, 2014

Recommended Reading: Life Won't Wait

Mike Essington's new book, Life Won't Wait, was released a few months ago; I wish I had been in a better head space then and could have properly heralded its arrival.  I wasn't, I didn't, and now I'm catching up, but I sure as hell am not letting any more time slip by without taking the opportunity to say that if you don't pick this one up, you are seriously missing out on the work of a gifted storyteller.

I have been a fan of Mike's writing for awhile now, from his weekly Mike Check column over at the excellent Strange Reaction blog to his must-have debut effort, Last One To Die. He has the ability to relate his stories and reminiscences in a way that puts you right there.  You know these characters, you have experienced these same things, or know someone who has. He never shies from nor attempts to dress up the grittier language or seamier situations of some of his exploits, but that's part of the power of his writing.  It may be rough going at times for some, but it's never vulgar just for shock value.

Mike has shown that he can handle himself in the world of fiction as well (check out the recent chapbook done in collaboration with David Gurz, Under A Broken Street Lamp), but the short autobiographical vignettes that populate his column and made Last One To Die such a stunning read are his wheelhouse. Life Won't Wait certainly follows in its predecessor's footsteps stylistically, but that is no complaint.

Once again, Mike's character studies both entertain and provoke.  I found myself in turns cheering him on to beat the hell out of his half-sister's boyfriend, being surprised at how much empathy I felt for some of the folks he met while incarcerated, and chuckling out loud at his efforts to help Eddie Money buy a pair of Levis.  He shares more typically crazy exploits with his friends, talks about his early days of going to shows (Mike was fortunate to have grown up around L.A. and have access to an incredible early punk scene), and allows us along for the ambulance ride when he thought he might be dying. Each story opens yet another window through which we get to learn a little bit more about Mike himself: punk rock kid, angst-ridden young adult, caring father, regular guy just trying to figure out Life. He's seen and done a lot, believe me.

Mike again closes the book with a section collecting a few interviews he has done over the years: James Frey, Texas Terri Laird, and Steve Jones of The Stepmothers.  And just like the hidden track at the end of an album, make sure not to miss the Epilogue.  It's a brief poem that damn near brought tears to my eyes.

Life Won't Wait is available through Create Space or through, as are Last One To Die and Under A Broken Street Lamp.

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Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Don't Call It A Comeback:
8 Quick Notes On My Return To The Blogosphere

Some of you may have noticed that it has been awhile since the last time I posted anything.  Three months, to be exact.  The holidays are always a hectic time in Ruttville, as we add both my brother's and my birthdays into the mix of Thanksgiving/Christmas/New Years.   This year, I also went through a very rough patch in my constant battle with my demons (more about that in a moment), and continue to work hard at rebuilding my career and digging out of the hole that nearly five years of under/unemployment put me in.  Let's just say I didn't feel much like writing.

Now that we're on the 2014 side of the ledger, though, things are looking up! There are positives to celebrate and stories to share, plus so much good music, writing, and other assorted whatnot to tell you about.  So, here I am, posting again.  A good thing, I think.

Three months is a fair span of time, and things happened while I was away.  Here are some quick notes about my world since we last spoke:

1. I went back into therapy.
As I noted above, my demons really ganged up on me as 2013 drew to a close. The panic attacks started coming fast and furious, and a few friends and family members got to experience a full-out Bryan breakdown or two - never an enjoyable thing, for me or for anyone around me.  Decided to stop trying to fight alone and ask for help.  Actually found the same therapist I worked with over a decade ago, the one who originally diagnosed my OCD and Social Anxiety.  Getting back into regular sessions with Dr. Atkins has proven to be the right move.  She has already helped me so much, and I plan to keep working with her for the immediate future, anyway.

2. I began practicing meditation.
Ties in with my return to therapy.  Dr. Atkins also happens to run a two-part meditation workshop, which she recommended to me and I decided to go.  I am so glad I did.  I am learning how to be calmer, more mindful, and more accepting of the world around me.  I wasn't seeking any religious or spiritual guidance, and the workshop was not presented as such; rather she focused on the health and relaxation benefits of meditation.  I recommend it highly.

3. I grew a beard.  Then I shaved it off.
I'd never worn a beard before.  Well, OK, a goatee at one point for a short while, but it was the 1990s and I think it was required that everyone wear a goatee at one point.  Anyway, decided to take part in No Shave November.  Was kind of surprised to see how much grey came in with those whiskers.  I mean, I've been going bald for some time now, but never grey!  I kind of liked the look of the beard, and then I didn't.  Then it itched like all get out, and after a few more days it didn't. I liked it again at that point, and then later on I didn't like it.  I figured if I'm waffling that much, it's not meant to be kept.  I suppose I'll never be a mountain man.

4. This blog passed the five-year mark.
Yep. Half a decade.  December 13th was the anniversary, which passed unnoticed this year.  I'm proud this li'l ol' corner of the Internets is still around - five years is an eon in cyber years, you know.  With luck, it'll be here another five...

5. Briefly, I considered shutting the blog down altogether.
I wondered if, after five years, I wasn't writing because I had no more to say.  Had the blog run its course? Was it time to just say thank you and goodbye, everyone?  I came damn close to archiving everything and pulling the plug, but at the last minute decided to wait and see if the muse came back.  Glad I did!

6. Amadeus' nose changed colors.
I've written before about how my one cat, Edison, has had his coat change color as he has grown, from a snowy white Siamese kitten powder puff to a dark brown and golden tiger-stripe.  Not to be outdone, his brother has had his nose change color.  No, really.  Took the cats to the vet for their annual rabies and distemper vaccinations.  The distemper vaccine was given nasally, with an eyedropper.  Edison tolerated it well, but Amadeus developed a very severe reaction to it.  He would sneeze so hard his whole body convulsed, and he had rubbed his nose so raw it was bright red.  After he got better and his nose healed, it had gone from pink to black.  The vet says it's hyperpigmentation, much like when we get freckles or darker scars.  It may go back to pink over time, or it may not.  Either way, Amadeus is fine.  Oh, and he's not getting the nasal vaccine ever again.

7. I celebrated another lap around the sun.
47 as of January 6th.  How did I get so old?  Good celebrations with family and friends, and even had "Happy Birthday" sung to me by the CEO, President and Vice President of the company I work for.  So it was a pretty good birthday, I must say. (And I am still promised a sushi dinner or two!)

In the immortal words of George Costanza...

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