Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Countdown #55 - heroes + idiots

Broadcast April-6-2013 - podcast available here. All comments are from Philip Random's notes (with some editorial diligence). Links are not necessarily to the exact same recordings we played on-air (but we tried).

Malcolm McLaren - buffalo girls 

I'm pretty sure the first time I heard what I'd call rap, it was Grand Master Flash and the Furious Five in around 1982.  To my ears, it was just another pop-gimmick, albeit a pretty cool one.  Jump ahead a few months though and no less than Malcolm McLaren (the man who helped invent the Sex Pistols) seemed to be singing (for lack of a better word) this new form's praises.  But it wasn't just about the rapping, it was also the sampling (not that we had that word yet), grabbing beats and pieces from wherever you could find them (an old funk 45, a square dance album, the backstreets of Soweto), and just sort of jamming everything together, smacking it all around, squeezing a song out.  The insane thing is, it worked.  In fact, I'll always remember the party where I first heard it, a friend's living room, everyone trying to get excited about Elvis Costello or whoever and suddenly this other tape got put on.  So immediately something, all you could do was dance to it.

Dinosaur Jr. - just like heaven
I've never been one to buy many singles -- something to do with coming of record-buying-age in the early 70s when albums were the thing.  But every now and then, you've got to adjust your strategies.  Like hearing Dinosaur Jr's planet killing version of the Cure's Just Like Heaven on the radio one sublime summer day, and immediately needing the record.  But all they had down at Zulu was the 7-inch.  So 7-inch it was, which if I'd been truly cool would've triggered a whole new phase for me, 7-inches being dead cool as the 80s turned over into the 90s, particularly if you were into that raw indie-rock sound.  But I always seemed to find myself going past the 7-inch racks to those huge bins of used LPs accumulating in the back, as everybody was dumping their vinyl for CDs.

Beatles - she said she said
If you want to impress John Lennon while you're tripping with him on LSD in a hot tub up in the Hollywood Hills somewhere, go ahead, start talking about how you died once when you were a little kid.  Guaranteed, you're going to going to send the coolest Beatle to some place dark and scary, the only way out of which will be to write a stunner of a song in which A. he tells you, you're making him feel like he's never been born, and B. he and his band go a long way toward perfecting the psychedelic power pop song almost before it's even been invented.

Brian Eno + David Byrne - Jezebel spirit
I believed I've already rhapsodized at length about My Life In The Bush Of Ghosts, how it changed everything forever, put sampling into the cool  toolbox, set more than just the white man free.  But it was also a hell of a fun album in a creepy way, and nowhere more so than Jezebel Spirit, the track that had audio from an actual exorcism, which yeah, is pretty dime a dozen in certain goth and industrial circles these days, but this was 1981.   Ronald Reagan had barely been sworn in as President, John Lennon had only recently been murdered by a guy who was no doubt hearing voices.  Mix in the strong acid that was suddenly so plentiful in my little corner of Americaland and let's just say some deeply weird realms were explored, entities encountered.  And you could dance to it. 

Neu! - hero
Neu being German for New.  Hero being the closest thing Neu! ever came to a proper song with lyrics and singing and everything.  Meanwhile, at pretty much the exact same moment in time, somewhere down the Autobahn, Kraftwerk were inventing what would come to be known as techno-music.  So call this a proto form of punk, beat simple and four-to-the-floor, everything else snarling melodically along, then screaming toward the end.  And seriously, who better than some malcontent Germans to call bullshit on the whole notion of heroism?

Pink Floyd - interstellar overdrive
I can't remember who said it, but it's stuck.  Jimi Hendrix (God bless him all the way to the edges of the nine known universes) gets maybe a little too much credit for defining what one could do, psychedelically, with an electric guitar, in 1967.  Because it's not as if Syd Barrett wasn't also brewing up his own weird and infinite stews.  Maybe he didn't have the licks, the dexterity, the voodoo blues bubbling from his soul straight through his fingers … but he did have the angles, the great sheets of discord and noise that it was going to take to get this new souped up music out of the earth's orbit, off into the beyond, even if it was ultimately within, which in Syd's case, would prove a bottomless void.  The rest of the band weren't half bad either. 

King Crimson - red
I remember hearing Red for the first time when I was maybe sixteen, and it actually frightened me.  There was no respite, no calm anywhere, just full-on fierceness in the shade of red, that sort of mist we see when our rage gets the worst of us (or perhaps the best) and all we can do really is let it howl.  In retrospect, it's no great surprise that Robert Fripp shut the band down almost immediately afterward.  There was really nowhere else to go … not for six or seven years anyway. 

Bob Dylan - idiot wind
This one goes out to Angela.  We officially broke up in 1988.  It just took me three years to finally "get it", one long, strange, lonely summer day, that began with an urge to drop a little LSD, climb a small mountain, check out the sublime scenery.  And it was good.  But then came the descent, all that time for reflection in the solitude of the forest, and meanwhile, on the walkman I had Dylan's Blood on the Tracks playing, because I'd exhausted all the more cosmic stuff on the way up.  And damned if all that grit and spite didn't just start talking to me, particularly the bit at the end of Idiot Wind, how it doesn't just blow when you open your mouth, but also when I open mine.  Because like some smartass said just the other day down at the pub, there's no "I" in team, but there's two of them in idiot.  Welcome to love, I guess, the part they don't mention in all those fairy tales, which is why we need the music of Mr. Bob Dylan from pretty much any phase of his career.  Post-fairy tale all the way.

David Bowie - quicksand
Did Mr. Jones have any idea of how absolutely he was about to blow the cultural fuses when he wrote and recorded this dark little examination of his personal motives for stardom and glory, and surreal excursions from there (whispering about Heinrich Himmler, hints of occult knowledge, the beast himself, Aleister Crowley).  But in the end, it's all just the quicksand of one's mind.  Why can't we have pop stars like this any more? 

David Bowie - station to station
This is the one where he refers to himself as the Thin White Duke, which didn't mean much to me at the time, 1976, half-way through Grade Eleven.  It was just the title track from the latest Bowie album, which was disappointing to me on the level that it wasn't somehow a return to Ziggy Stardust and/or Diamond Dogs.  But I still couldn't help but get sucked in by the song Station to Station, the long slow build from noise to creepy groove, the switch at half-distance into full-on cocaine party rocker.  Later that year, I'd read the infamous interview where he spoke favourably of Adolph Hitler, how the Britain of 1976 needed a good, solid fascist government.  What an asshole, I remember thinking.  Years later, the story would come out that Station to Station was the album he had no memory of recording due, if you believe everything you read, to a fusion of cocaine, black magic, full-on psychosis and appearances on the Dinah Shore Show.  Which is just one more reason why I wouldn't a trade a teenage in the 70s for any other decade.  Exactly as strange as this young boy needed.

Public Image Ltd. - public image
Public Image was the first single from Public Image Ltd, the band that Johnny Rotten threw together amid the wreckage of the recently crashed and burned Sex Pistols.  And it was damned good, hell even I liked it on first listen from my mostly anti-punk perspective.  A serious call to … seriousness, I guess, Mr. Rotten making the point that he was more than just a cartoon character, a gimmick, that he knew a thing or two about music, how to sing a song, make a record, take steady aim with it, hit them all where it hurts.  And damn, what a hot bass line!

Can - mother sky
Because some stuff really does exists outside of time.  A fierce jam recorded live off the floor in 1969 sometime, Koln, Germany.  But I wouldn't hear it until at least fifteen years later, the mid-80s when such extremes were suddenly required.  Wild and unchained like punk and hardcore, but up to something deeper, longer, more sustained.  Call it a punk you could groove to.  Jump ahead another decade and there I am, Germany, May 1995, almost exactly fifty years since World War Two had finally come to an end, a day in which I'm milkrunning by train from Heidelberg through the former east, finally into the suburbs of Berlin at dusk with Mother Sky on the walkman:  final rays of setting sun slanting across a farmer's field, a line of abandoned cars rusting along one edge, a family of wild pigs crossing from the other ... with a slag heap in the distance, no doubt toxic.  By which I mean, beautiful.  One of those moments I'd never anticipated, but once experienced, knew had always had to be.  So much so that I found myself looking over shoulder, wondering which of my fellow passengers was the god that ordained it, or maybe it was just the sky.

Van Morrison - Madame George
All hail Lester Bangs on this one, his lucid raving about Astral Weeks in general, Madame George in particular, directing me to these nine plus minutes of mystical, magical longing, all childlike visions and the smell of sweet perfume.  It seems to be about a cross-dresser, Ms. Madame George, but it's really about all of us, how we'll never really grasp that thing we desire the most, and yet the reaching for it, the yearning, well that defines us, doesn't it?  Redeems us.

Pharoah Sanders - the creator has a masterplan [excerpt]
It was only a few years ago actually.  It just seems like a different age.  I guess I was high.  That afternoon at the flea market, packed as usual, a cacophony of vision and sound, anything and everything vying for my attention.  And then rising from the back of it all, a more marvellous cacophony, saxophones and drums and keyboards and voices, yodeling even.  Something about peace and happiness through all the land.   It draws me to the far corner, old Ike's vinyl stand and all the wonders therein.  And so I bought it, the album named Karma.

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