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.