Thursday, December 6, 2012

Countdown #43 - if I can dream

Broadcast December-01-2012 - 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).  Nor is every record represented here.  To hear them all, you've got to actually listen to the podcast.

Public Image Ltd - the order of death
It's 1984.  Public Image Ltd are playing the War Memorial Gym, and every punk and proto-hipster in town is there to bear witness, gob if necessary.  The opening number is The Order Of Death, the title track (sort of) from the new album, This is What You Want … This is What You Get.  It's moody, grand, anthemic.  But it's not really a song, just a chant  ... this is what you want ... this is what you get.  With big lights and showbiz sheen.  The only thing missing is Bono waving a white flag.  The gobbing starts maybe halfway through, and it never really stops.  At first, Johnny Rotten is mostly just unimpressed.  "It's all been done before," he sneers, "And better."  But after maybe twenty minutes, he's had enough.  The band bails.  People are angry, raging, feeling swindled.  But there's no riot.  It's all been truth in advertising.  This is what you want ... this is what you get.  Perfection really, in a punk sort of way.

Killing Joke - requiem
Other than being an astonishingly powerful sonic assault, smart and intense, the key thing here is the 1980 release date.  Killing Joke were way ahead of their time, shredding the status quo (including the fast settling Punk orthodoxy) in all the right ways.  I still remember the first time I heard Requiem.  1981 sometime.  I walked into a friend's place and his roommate had it cranked down the hall.  I had to know more.

Einsturzende Neubauten - yu gung
They did this at Expo 86.  A free show at the infamous Xerox Theatre.  It was June sometime, or maybe July.  I remember it was raining.  I remember the noise erupting out into the surrounding plaza, like a palpable monster.  I remember two little girls crying, their mother in a rage.  "Music like that. It does things to people."  I remember Neubauten setting the stage on fire, oil rags carelessly tossed, fire extinguishers hustled to the scene.  This wasn't staged.  I remember thinking, yeah, so this is true heavy metal!  They're actually hitting, grinding, hammering chunks of actual heavy metal.  I remember a terrorist bomb going off on the McDonalds barge (the world's first floating McDonald's) and watching it sink into False Creek, no survivors, just blood and oil and from the deep fryers mixing, fouling the water.  But the concert carried on.  The cops were afraid to stop it.  Eventually, the military was called in.  Actually, that last part was probably a dream ... or maybe it was the acid. 

Monkees - circle sky
The pre-fab four prove they really can do it, write and record a song that actually matters.  Too bad it came so late, 1968, from the soundtrack to Head, a movie so weird only people who hated the Monkees liked it, except none of them went.  It took us decades to figure the whole thing out.  We're all just dandruff in Victor Mature's hair ... and something to do with Frank Zappa and a cow.  And Vietnam, of course.

Translator - everywhere that I'm not
This is hell of a record.  The kind of thing that shoulda/woulda been HUGE if the music biz of 1982 actually cared about superlative POP.  But it didn't.  All it cared about was cocaine and related bullshit.  So Everywhere That I'm Not got ignored pretty much completely.  Although I did see Translator play the Pit Pub.  Unfortunately, they got destroyed by the warm-up act 5440, who were all kinds of powerful and chaotic in their early days.  But the song's still pure gold.  About John Lennon apparently, who'd only recently been murdered.

Husker Du - pink turns to blue
You know something's gone horribly wrong when that person you love is changing colour on you, turning the wrong shade of blue.  It's the heroin, asshole.  Snap out of it.  Do something.  This is Husker Du at their absolute peak, defining that moment where punk finally kicked its shackles, embraced psychedelia and everything else, became eternal.  But Pink Turns To Blue is also Husker Du hinting at their inevitable demise.  Or more to the point, Grant Hart, the drummer, the guy who wrote and sang it.  Fucking junkies ruin everything.

Three Johns - death of the European
My friend Lucille couldn't get enough of this one for a while in the mid-80s.  The Yuppie Apocalypse, she called it, tragedy of a soulless man having the wrong kind of epiphany as he realizes he's been feeding a hungry beast his entire life, every dollar earned an investment in his own death.  The 80s were full of such moments, but they were seldom backed by such kickass guitar psychedelics.

Moody Blues - have you heard + the journey
It was one of the first times I got properly psychedelicized.  A summer evening, low key outdoor party scene, shifting sweetly into twilight, everybody else moving inside but I'm still out, looking over the lawn, a train passing way in the distance, everything else quiet and still.  Except the music.  Someone had dragged the stereo outside way earlier.  Various mixtapes playing all day and now, fortuitously, as though ordained from on high, the Moody Blues, the epic and spacious finale to Threshold of a Dream, Have You Heard, The Journey, Have You Heard -- the way it seemed to contain everything, hold the whole complex moment in apprehension, like looking at a painting, a still life.  Like the music had become that painting.  Later there was a seance inside and the girl I had the hots for ended up with some hippie flute player.  It was summer 1980 and I was fast on my way to finally embracing punk rock ... but not quite there yet.

REM - talk about the passion
It's hard to put into a words how big a deal REM were when they first hit in 1983, except maybe to say, everything about them was punk, except their sound.  They did it their way, no bullshit, Michael Stipe resplendently inarticulate, the other guys jangling along with deceptive power, reminding us all that there was way more to music than just the corporate crap we hated and punk's necessary vomit antithesis.  Which was the key, I guess.  All that beautiful and mysterious stuff in between that wanted exploring.  All that passion.  And yet, for me, REM never really topped that first album, Murmur.  They'd never be that essential again, even as their sound got sharper, tighter, and Mr. Stipe stooped to enunciating, getting all art-like, saving the world.

Richard + Linda Thompson - wall of death
Sometimes you've just got to push harder, faster, to the edge and beyond, just to know you're alive.  That's what this one's about, working the momentum up until gravity's no longer your master, just a thing to be played with straight up the wall of death, which is an amusement park thing in Britain.  Guy riding a motorcycle in a circular pit until he gets up enough steam to defy nature, pull stunts, get the crowd roaring.  Gravity will win in the end, of course, but that's life, isn't it?  Not defined by where you end up, but all the crazy mad moves you pulled en route, the eschatons you immanetized.

Bob Marley + the Wailers - crazy baldheads
I believe that's us he's howling about.  The crazy baldhead white-skinned devils, agents of Babylon, sewing the devil's reign on Planet Earth, making a mess of everything.  Sorry. At least, we seem to have inspired some powerful music. 

Elvis Presley - if I can dream
When Elvis died in 1977, John Lennon was smugly heard to observe that he'd already been dead for almost twenty years -- eve since he joined the army back in 1958. But  I give him another ten years.  To 1968 and  the big deal comeback TV special he did on NBC.  Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy had just been shot, the Vietnam war had officially gone to hell, the Beatles hadn't played live for years.  But Elvis wasn't worried.  He had a secret weapon for the show's finale, a brand new song written by a guy named Earl Brown called If I Can Dream.  "I'm never going to sing another song I don't believe in," said Elvis when he first heard it, 'I'm never going to make another movie I don't believe in,"  And yeah, Elvis did sing If I Can Dream on NBC with deepest belief, a performance that reached deep through the strange vacuum of the cathode ray tube and touched the hopeful soul of maybe all humanity, maybe even saved the world.  And then he proceeded to eat doughnuts, sing awful songs, make worse movies, and finally die nine years later, all alone, sitting on the toilet, unable to move his bowels.  Poor guy.  The King of Need, the Residents called him. 

Queen - ogre battle + the faerie feller's master stroke
I was already a huge Queen fan by the time Bohemian Rhapsody hit.  I bought the album (Night at the Opera) pretty much the day it was released, hustled home, put on the headphones ... and was disappointed.  It just wasn't as cool, as insane, as ever-changing rawking, popping, opera-izing crazy as what had come before, the first three albums.  Yeah, even Bohemian Rhapsody.  It just wasn't up to the deliriously mad fun of the two tracks that kicked off side two of Queen II -- Ogre Battle and The Fairy Feller's Master Stroke.  Ogres battling, a two-way mirror mountain, a tatterdemalian, a junketer, various nymphs and fairy dandies, Oberon and Titania ... and all of it moving so fast, so dense.  Hell, it took me at least until Grade Twelve before I realized how profoundly silly it all was.  And yet it had heart as I re-discovered maybe fifteen years later.  Which is the secret of Queen, I think -- the early stuff anyway.  Silly and true.

Byrds - you ain't goin' nowhere
In which the Byrds hook up with Gram Parsons and invent country rock (even if most of his vocals get removed from the final mix for some stupid reason or other).  You Ain't Goin' Nowhere gets special notice because it's a song Bob Dylan aimed directly at the Byrds' main man Roger McGuinn (even name-checking him in the lyrics).  And what's McGuinn's response?  Drop the offending line and make it his own -- smoother, bouncier, altogether more fun than the original.  The perfect steal. 

Neil Young - powderfinger
From his last truly necessary album, the one where he acknowledges punk rock and reminds us all that he and Crazy Horse had been making a garage racket long before the Clash, the Pistols, the Ramones.  But there's also an entire acoustic side and even the electric side has a gem like Powderfinger -- tragic, sorrowful, epic.  I always imagined it was about the American Civil War, a young kid left behind to defend the farm (or whatever), facing down an approaching, losing everything he has forever.  But that's just my read.  What's yours?

Spirit - Hey Joe
History had completely forgotten this album when I bought it, so I think I paid all of a buck.  Two records/four sides of loose and meandering and beautiful psychedelic reflections on the nature of America, an utterly humbled nation in 1976 (its bicentennial).  Vietnam had been lost, Nixon was gone, the whole hippie thing had faded with nothing palpable (yet) to fill the void.  And so you get a take on Hey Joe (not written by Jimi Hendrix -- he covered it, too) that speaks to this void, this vagueness and uncertainty.  And it still goes very well with marijuana and endless months of rain. 

Derek + the Dominoes - key to the highway
It's a 1970 album but it didn't cross my consciousness until summer 1972 when they finally got around to releasing Layla as a single.  Which led to my friend Malcolm getting the album, most of which quickly went way over our heads -- all that loose jamming (and the drugging behind it).  But I'd eventually come around to it all maybe twenty five years later, particularly Key To The Highway where misters Eric Clapton (already well into a heroin addiction), Greg Allman (due for an immenant fatal motorcycle accident), Jim Gordon (fated to go batshitinsane and murder his mom) and others sort of lay back and paint a big picture of what is to be young, white and free.  For a few minutes anyway.

Sun Ra - nuclear war
You can't do justice to the universe expanding alien immensity that is Sun Ra with only a few words.  So I won't bother trying.  Just look into it, please.  Explore at least some of those extra-stellar sonic regions.  As for Nuclear War, I think it speaks well enough for itself.  We're fucked if we even allow for its possibility in our stratagems.  True in 1945, true in 1982, true forever to the limits of the time and space. 

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Countdown #42 - gravity's pull

Broadcast November-24-2012 - 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).  Nor is every record represented here.  To hear them all, you've got to actually listen to the podcast.

Kraftwerk - numbers + computer world [part 2]
Michael, I think his name was.  Sort of slimy guy that we used to buy dope from back in the late 70s, early 80s.  He lived in a high rise near English Bay, always had the stereo on loud, usually playing shitty pop-disco or whatever.  Except this one time, a beautiful spring day, sun glowing in off the bay – it was this crazy sort of machine music.  Kraftwerk, I would've guessed, except Kraftwerk weren't around anymore, were they?  A couple of gimmicky records in the mid-70s and then back to Germany.  I was right.  It was Kraftwerk, their new album called Computer World.  I was wrong.  They were anything but a gimmick.  They'd never stopped cranking out the future.  Clearly, I had a pile of exploring to do.  I'm still at it.

Last Poets - wake up niggers
Performance (the movie) needs to be seen.  It's the one where Mick Jagger plays a sort of Satanic rockstar who's messing with the mind of gangster who's on the lamb.  Mainly out of boredom, it seems.  But that sells it way short.  Look no further than the soundtrack and a song like Wake Up Niggers by the Last Poets.  It has no particular reason to be in the movie.  Other than to be that cool, that on the mark of what was going down in 1970, the whiff of violent revolution still very much in the air. 

Kool + the Gang - funky stuff + more
One of those bands that had to change for the worst before they'd really rule the charts, which sucks, because their pre-disco stuff is James Brown level KOOL.  Which remains my major dig against disco (the initial surge 1975-76) – it just swept so much great stuff aside, all these incredible bands doing deep, weird, wonderfully funky stuff.  Suddenly it all had to be 4-4, boomp-boomp-boomp, with cheesy strings in the mix … and the clubs were full of assholes.

Tuxedomoon - incubus [blue suit]
I never really dove in and listened to these guys.  Maybe the records were just too hard to find.  Incubus found me via BEST OF RALPH, a compilation that went a long way toward turning essential parts of my brain and soul inside-out and sideways, all in the interest of driving home the point that the world wasn't just stranger than I imagined, it was stranger than I could even begin to imagine.  And this is a good thing.

Sonic Youth - silver rocket
This may be the perfect Sonic Youth nugget.  On one level, it's a ripping cool pop song.  On another, it's a metaphysical hand grenade that blows a gaping hole through the reality barrier into the next nineteen dimensions.  And it does it all in barely three minutes. 

Wire - map reference 41-N 93-W
I looked it up.  The map reference.  It's a placed called Centerville, Iowa, for no reason I can grasp … other than being the absolute center of Absolute Middle America (speaking of the psychic topography here).  But it's the sound that matters here anyway.  Cool hard power pop, all angles and fierce light.  The future c/o 1979 … and they got it mostly right.

Bob Dylan - tombstone blues
Lately it's been the geometry of innocent flesh on the bone causing Galileo's math book to get thrown.  But maybe six months ago, it was the king of the Philistines, his soldiers to save, putting jawbones on their tombstones and flattering their graves.  Back in 1993, I remember it being John the Baptist (after torturing a thief) looking up at his hero the Commander-in-Chief, saying, "Tell me great hero, but please make it brief.  Is there a hole for me to get sick in ?"  In other words, it's Tombstone Blues, the Dylan dada-machine, roaring down Highway 61 mercurial, eternal even.  Particularly if you're driving long haul, gobbling No-dose, smoothing the edges with cheap red wine, aim west and just go-go-go, hit the Pacific at sunset, northern California somewhere, take some pictures but for some reason all you've got is black + white film.  So the moment is captured in shades and grains, the ocean pure white, an atomic bomb.  Yes that's right.  The world ended in June 1989, just south of Oregon, and I have pictures to prove it.

Love + Rockets - no new tale to tell
Love + Rockets were definitely fresh when they first hit in 1985.  Ex-Bauhaus players laying down strong psychedelic pop at a time when pretty much nobody else was thinking that way.  But by the time their third album hit, Earth Sun Moon, I guess I was looking elsewhere, because I didn't really notice No New Tale To Tell until at least 1989.  A friend's car, bombing along the Coquilhalla at speed.  It was the flute solo that hooked me.  Not since Jethro Tull. 

Yes - perpetual change
As a friend once put it, Perpetual Change is the secret to everything that was great about Yes (up until 1975 anyway).  Because they were perpetual change.  Not just an ever evolving, ever changing sound, but often as not ever changing within the songs, which were, of course, ever-changing as this extended live version makes clear – taking a nine minute epic and pushing it even further, higher, deeper ... except for the drum solo.  Rave about 1970s live albums all you wish (I sure do) but the drum solos are pretty much all crap.  

Talking Heads - I Zimbra
The whole Fear of Music album's a killer, but I Zimbra stands out for the door it kicks open – the first solid hint of what would happen if the Talking Heads (and producer Brian Eno) were to maybe leave the whole punk/new wave thing behind, take a wild dive into the whole weird, wild world. 

Led Zeppelin - trampled underfoot
Funky Zeppelin.  Sort of.  It's still a bugger to dance to.  From Physical Graffiti, their last truly great album, which went a long way toward saving my life in 1988, thirteen years after it was released.

Roxy Music - bogus man
Brian Eno only did two albums with Roxy Music but that was enough to change everything forever, with Bogus Man as weird and funky as things ever got.  And weird is definitely the word for 1973 – the gutters still littered with confused hippies coming down from that long strange trip known as the 1960s.  And here were these glammed up sophistos strutting down Main Street, aiming for the future.  It must've made no sense at all.

Clash - Sandinista
The genius of the Clash circa 1980.  Take a line from Apocalypse Now, build a worldview around it, then tear it all apart.  Meanwhile, the music's just fine, easy even, interpolating helicopters and fever-visions.  I remember a friend telling me heard it on the radio while hanging out in a beach side bar in Jamaica.  It made so much sense, it didn't even register until a few hours later.  The Clash getting played on Jamaican radio?  Didn't they have enough of their own reggae in Jamaica?  They did invent the stuff.  Were the Clash really that good at it?  Apparently so.

REM - gravity's pull
It had to be 1984.  REM finally made it town and a sold out Commodore was waiting for them, no doubt including at least one member from every even half-cool band in town.  They opened with Radio Free Europe as I recall, which killed, but equally notable was Michael Stipe's hair.  It was long.  Not art-weird long.  Just long, uncut for at least a year, hippie long.  Which just wasn't done in those days.  Punk had accomplished that much, hadn't it?  Long hair and cool no longer belonged in the same sentence.  Jump a head a year to 1985 and REM were back, playing to another sold out Commodore, and now there was all manner of hair in the audience, hippie wild and free.  Except now Michael Stipe's had his cut short.  People were confused.  Until the band kicked into their first song, Gravity's Pull from the new album – strong, dark and heavy without being obvious about it.  People quickly forgot about the hair.

Pink Floyd - dogs
I almost didn't include this in the Countdown, post-1971 Pink Floyd being hardly unrepresented out there in the normal world.  But then I asked Motron and he said, go for it, Dogs is essential, Dogs is punk rock on bad acid and then slowed way down … but in a good way.  In other words, Dogs was the epic Pink Floyd track that you couldn't put on when you and your high school friends all got high.  You'd get maybe three minutes in and some idiot would say, "Ah, come on, let's hear Dark Side of the Moon instead.  It's so cool when all those clocks go off."  I came to HATE Dark Side of the Moon.  Still do (sort of), or maybe I'm just allergic to it – way too much exposure.  None of that kind trouble with Dogs and its withering 17 minute rip into all things corporate, capitalist, evil.  And the thing is, it found eighteen year old me a very pivotal moment, forced a consciousness that I'd been flirting with anyway.  Something to do with just saying NO to every greed and conformist based assumption I'd been fed by every parent, teacher, coach, priest, expert I'd ever encountered.  They're all wrong, it shouted.  Do what they say and you're already dead, dragged down by a stone.  

Monday, November 5, 2012

Countdown #41 - buzz the savage

Broadcast November-3-2012 - 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).  Nor is every record represented here.  To hear them all, you've got to actually listen to the podcast.

Pretty Things - buzz the jerk
Right back to the beginning of the pop apocalypse.  It's 1965 and whatever's going down in London, whatever mix of drugs, fashion, overall youth discontent is erupting -- it's good, it's working, it's immortal ... for slightly less than two minutes anyway in the case of Buzz The Jerk.

Small Faces - whatcha gonna do about it?
It's the noise that hooked me on this one.  Only 1966 and it was already way out of control, yet the Small Faces grasped it long enough to deliver a shard of sheer fun and spite. 

Eurythmics - savage
The Eurythmics were actually quite cool at first, a real breath of fresh and soulful air in amongst all the synth-pop of the early-mid 80s.  But by 1987, I'd lost interest … except for Savage, the song.  It was just so strong, bitter, yet vulnerable, too, like some 1950s hard-as-nails movie beauty losing her looks, maybe resorting to murder, but you couldn't stop feeling for her.  Joan Crawford would have played her.  And you would have cried at the end. 

Bill Laswell - upright man
Lay down a hot, funky groove, set some of the top musicians in the world loose over it, but tell them not to get too busy.  Then drop in a few mysterious samples from the old testament, and 1982 suddenly sounds eternal. 

Paul McCartney - too many people
I believe I've been over this ground already.  Paul McCartney has only ever really mattered as a solo artist when he's, to some degree, doing a John Lennon.  In the case of Too Many People, that means lobbing a vaguely pissed off open letter at his former band mate and song writing partner, in which he takes him to task for his dubious Power-to-the-People sympathies of the moment.  Because, ummm, well there's too many of them –  people that is.  But what matters most is that it rocks, Paul the nice Beatle having not yet forgotten how to do that.  But he would soon.

NoMeansNo - self pity
The memory is of getting pinned to the wall by this one at the Arts Club on Seymour, 1986 sometime, taking respite from the Expo 86 atrocities that were currently underway  maybe half a K away in False Creek, the whole world having come to town to show off its ugliness.  But none of it was cutting through as effectively as these three guys from Victoria who could rock their punk as hard and bloodthirsty as any band on the planet, but they also had this whole other universe of depth and invention going on.  Call it epic and I wouldn't argue.

Van Morrison - summertime in England
Of course, I discovered this in springtime in Ireland, on cassette to begin with (though I'd later buy the vinyl, of course), one of a small handful of them that I had with me as I wandered around the so-called Emerald Isle, drank Guinness, wondered what the hell I was actually doing there.  Hint:  it had something to do with a trip to London gone wrong, turned into a soap opera that I'll not get into here, except to say I had to escape and a friend-of-a-friend tipped me that Ireland was the place, pretty much in a depression at the time and thus dead cheap.  Anyway, my rent-a-car eventually got me to a place at the northwest of Donegal known as the Bloody Foreland, so called because every now and then, at sunset, everything turned a fiery, almost unearthly red.  And I saw one of them.  With Summertime In England playing, of course, the last half particularly memorable, where ole Van really goes to Church.  One of those moments that makes you shut up and know.  God does exist and he's Van Morrison fan.

Daevid Allen - poet for sale
It doesn't get much hippier or dippier than Daevid Allen plucking away on an acoustic guitar, waxing loose and cosmic on various things relevant to the plight of the poet in modern times.  Except he suddenly starts to bite at the end.  Like he's been doing a Rip-Van-Winkle for the past decade, but he's suddenly snapped awake, and holy shit, it's 1977, punk rock's erupting off in the distance, and this anger stuff, it feels good, it feels like life itself.

Richie Havens - no opportunity necessary, no experience required
Yes covered this on one of their first albums, had some pompous fun with it.  But Mr. Havens' original is much rawer, tougher, cooler.  And it sounded more or less perfectly in sync with the times when I finally found it, 1998, a freebie at the dog end of a yard sale.  Decades may pass us but there's still no opportunity necessary, no experience required.  Whatever that even means.

Bob Marley - Mr. Brown
Definitely the most garage I've ever heard Bob Marley sound, which probably means Lee Scratch Perry was behind the mixing board, conjuring his special magic.  Not that the liner notes help much in this regard.  Just Rasta Revolution, a compilation of various pre-fame Marley and the Wailers odds and ends.  But they're good ones, raw and full of grit.

Fleetwood Mac - albatross
The melody's nice but it's more the overall mournful mood that sets Albatross free.  But, of course, the early Mac being a blues band, it's not really that kind of albatross, is it?  It's the kind that you carry as a curse, hung around your neck, weighing you down, reminding you and all the world that you blew it, you killed a beautiful thing.  Which is sort of what happened to Peter Green, the man who wrote it, his career pretty much over within the year, psychedelic drugs and mental illness finding each other in yet another tortured genius as the 1960s ran down.

Laurie Anderson - big science
It's 1982 and Laurie Anderson (who no one I know has ever heard of) has suddenly painted a picture of the future.  Equal parts beautiful, yet strangely, already haunted.  The whole album's a gem but the title track deserves special mention for the way it delivers this future – all shopping malls, drive-in banks, every man for himself, and yodeling.  And then there's the big science itself, those cooling towers off the edge of town, higher than any church steeple ever reached, hissing and droning, liable to melt down and explode at any moment.  Hallelujah to that.

Manfred Mann's Earth Band - father of night, father of day
In which a sub two minute Bob Dylan acoustic ditty about the glory of God etc gets amplified, extended, expanded, glorified.  I remember hearing it on late night radio when it was new, maybe 1973, getting all excited, then discovering the serious Dylan-heads hated it.  They thought it was a horrible thing to do with a Bob Dylan song.  And anyway, this Bob Dylan song was dumb.  It was like he believed in God or something.  How uncool was that?  Little did anyone realize ...

Grateful Dead - Blues for Allah
What did one Deadhead say to the other when the drugs wore off?  "These guys suck."  Funny but wrong.  Because I really tried to dismiss these guys, and even pulled it off for a while as long as I focused on their more normal stuff.  But then something like Blues For Allah sneaks in at the end of the album of the same name, and you don't even need acid or peyote or shrooms (though they do help), it takes you to a high, deep place. You have no clear compass on where you are, but there's Allah himself sitting next to you, his feet dangling over the edge ... of all eternity.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Countdown #40 - heroes + lunatics

Broadcast October-27-2012 - 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).  Nor is every record represented here.  To hear them all, you've got to actually listen to the podcast.

Pere Ubu - thirty seconds over Tokyo
Pere Ubu were one of those bands you started hearing about in 1977-78 as punk finally reached the suburbs (the underside of them anyway).  Not that I really heard them, just of them.  But Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo would eventually find me.  Because it's so damned good.  I think it was the title first, reminding of the movie, a jingoistic World War 2 thing, American heroes bombing Tokyo, a suicide run, just like the record says.  Except the record's so much better, and recorded way before punk, it turns out.  In 1975, Cleveland, Ohio of all places.  No, let me rephrase that.  Cleveland, Ohio, of course.  Because it had to all start in Cleveland, whatever it is that got started, that's still going on, that mad suicide mission to drop bombs, make war on all NORMALS, figuratively, of course.

Fun Boy Three - the lunatics have taken over the asylum
It's 1982 and the Fun Boy Three (a terrible name) are laying it down in so many words.  The clinic full of cynics has had its way, the lunatics are in control, we're all gonna die.  No party was complete without it.

Tom Waits - clap hands
Motron's been bugging me again.  Why so little Tom Waits on the list?  Because it's an act.  All that blue and boozy, nicotine infused soul and cool – that's not really him.  If it was, he'd have been dead long ago.  But it's a damned strong act, I'll give it that, and it really had me with Rain Dogs, I admit.  Like it's 3am and you're miles from home, polluted drunk, getting rained on.  Except it's not real rain, is it?  It's Hollywood rain, and Hollywood lights, too.  Probably wasn't even real whiskey. 

David Bowie - heroes-helden
Yeah, yeah, you've heard it a million times already.  We can be heroes, we can be dolphins, yadda-yadda-yadda.  But have you heard the mixed German/English edit that showed up on the soundtrack for Christianne F, the most depressing movie ever?  That complicated language does something to Mr. Bowie's delivery, gets it to deeper, more wrenching depths of soul and enunciation, gets you right to the heart of Berlin, late 70s, still a divided city – two opposed universes of politics and animosity grinding up against each other.  Forever.  Or so it seemed at the time.

Wire - the 15th
Tight little pop song with the kind of sharp, icy edge that defines a sonic future for all mankind.  Which is exactly what Wire did in 1979 with the album 154 and songs like the 15th.  Hell, I didn't even hear until at least six or seven years later, called up the DJ and had to know what this new song was. 

Elton John - madman across the water
But what does it mean?  I remember my friend James' big sister's boyfriend saying it was about Richard Nixon and Watergate, the crazy mess he'd made of things.  He was the madman across the water.  Which kind of made sense in 1974.  Except it was a 1971 record, I eventually realized.  The Watergate break-ins didn't even happen until 1972, and even then didn't amount to much media coverage until at least 1973.  Not until after Mr. Nixon got himself massively re-elected with pretty much the biggest majority ever in American history.  Anyway, those were confusing times, lots of shadows forming, maybe throwing time itself out of joint.  Who knew the what of anything?

Primal Scream - higher than the sun
This will always be the Icarus trip for me, LSD on a mountaintop, the day we all went too far, got too close to the sun, and like Icarus, our wings melted but we didn't fall so much as untether, like astronauts overshooting our orbit, ricocheting off through oblivion.  Seriously, it felt like a million years before we found gravity again, got the earth beneath our feet.  But actually it all happened within the running time of this particular mix of Higher Than The Sun which we had with us on that mountaintop, on cassette, playing on the ghetto blaster that we'd dragged up with us, pissing off some German tourists.  So in retrospect, it wasn't the drugs at all.  Just Primal Scream at the peak of their powers, in total control the entire time.

Boo Radleys - Lazarus
Because everybody needs resurrecting every now and then.  I'm pretty sure that's what this is about, name-checking Lazarus, the guy Jesus raised from the dead.  I mean, we've all been there – so low we may as well be six feet under.  And yet miracles do happen – great crescendos of brass erupt from oceans of dub, like the Lord's own light, shining through, turning sorrow to joy, downpour to sunshine, undeath to everlasting life (there is a difference).  And in their greatest moment, the Boos got it on record.

Slayer - south of heaven
True story.  Los Angeles, 1993, a few weeks before Christmas.  I'm hanging with this band I sort of know who've got a day to kill between gigs, but precious little cash to kill it with.  Which means we're drinking cheap, shitty beer.  Lots of it.  At some point it's wisely decided that some drugs are required, marijuana to be specific.  Except Terry from Idaho who's supposed to be dropping off the weed only has heroin, but it's pretty much the same price.  And the thing is, none of us are that cool.  We've never done heroin, but here it is getting laid out in narrow brownish lines on the coffee table, and yeah, we're all just drunk enough to not give a fuck.  Even if you can die just snorting the stuff, particularly if you're not used to it, if your body hasn't built up a decent tolerance.  This is not good, I'm suddenly thinking as Greg the singer rolls up a dollar bill.  This is a scene from one of those movies just before everything goes horribly wrong.  And then Slayer comes crashing in.  Full blast on the stereo. It's Smith, the bass player, calling bullshit, enlisting no lesser ally than Lucifer himself from his haunt way south of heaven, commanding that we see things at least slightly straight.  Long story/short:  we just said No to the heroin, went out for burgers instead.  The next morning we woke up to the news that River Phoenix had died outside the Viper Room, maybe a mile away.  Some kind of overdose.

Magazine - permafrost
It's 1979 and man it's cold out there.  Back in the 50s, they called it wine, women and song.  Then by the 60s, it was drugs, sex and rock and roll.  Now, come almost the 80s, it's just, I will drug and fuck you on the permafrost.  And it's not even the Winter of Hate yet.  But you can definitely feel it coming.

Bee Gees - every Christian lionhearted man will show you
Bee Gees' first album, psychedelic and as good as they ever got, giving all as every Christian Lionhearted band must, complete with chanting monks and mellotron from days of future past.  They really are as good as the Beatles here.  For three and a half minutes anyway.

Procol Harum - in held twas in I [rando-EDIT]
Epic shit slung together from Side Two of Procol Harum's epic second album, released in 1968 when they were one of the hottest bands in the known universe.  Seriously, short of Dylan and the Beatles and perhaps Cream, they were maybe the most important act on the planet based on the monstrous success of their single Whiter Shade of Pale – the record that dared marry Johann Bach to rock and roll and utter far out poetry.  Of course, by 1973 when I finally got to hear Shine On Brightly, it was just a friend's big sister's record that she'd lost interest in.  I guess she just didn't care about the pilgrim or his glimpses of nirvana or the Dalai Lama and his incise clarification as to the meaning of life.  But I did.

In held twas in I
Joy Division - decades
The first I heard of Joy Division, they were a new band out of Britain who were doing a sort of new wave Doors thing.  The next I heard, their lead singer had killed himself.  But good luck getting to hear any of the actual music.  Radio wasn't playing any of it and the handful of their records that made it to town as imports were quickly scooped up by people far cooler than me or anyone I was connected with.  So it was all just mystery for a long while until finally, in some guy's car, I heard Decades (as suitable an epitaph as anyone ever wrote for themselves) on a mixtape.  And strangely, it was almost exactly what I expected.  Dark and deep just like Jimbo the Lizard King, except all the edges were hard, the lines sharp, the angles fierce.  Like nothing I'd ever heard before, but I could feel it coming anyway.