STUFFS & THINGS & THINGS & STUFF (STTS-009)
Fishbone, Creem, Alex Chilton & Lesa Aldridge, Dolman's Progressive Ambiance Playlist, Cope's Hardrocksampler Playlist, Long Ago Chicago Show Report(s), Amancio Da Silva, Alton Ellis, Eno
Calling all other 1990s Alternative Nation 120 Minutes brats out there, those of us who heard fIREHOSE before we heard the Minutemen, and Forbidden Places before Up on the Sun, and aren’t ashamed to admit these and other transgressions: was it just me who hadn’t realized that Fishbone’s “Servitude” is one of the absolute greatest heavy jams of the entire AlternaGrunge 90s? In fact, I’m now imagining “Swim” and “Servitude,” the two opening tracks of Fishbone’s fourth full-length album Give a Monkey a Brain and He’ll Swear He’s the Center of the Universe, as the A side and B side of a theoretical 45 RPM single released in 1993 that is to nu metal what the Bad Brains’ “Pay to Cum” 45 was in 1980 to hardcore. The first Korn album came out a year later in 1994, the first Deftones album in 1995, you can’t make this stuff up. The rest of Monkey has plenty of that Fishbone eclectitude that of course means they will never officially be considered a nu metal band, but there are more heavy guitar tracks than “Servitude” such as “End the Reign,” also a dark and powerful song written by the shredding founding guitarist Kendall Jones, who left the band under heavy troubled circumstances soon after. The band was never the same; the fact that Jones’s other/third solo composition on the album, the classic-sweet-ska-with-contrastingly-heavy-lyrics single/video “Unyielding Conditioning,” is its least nu metal, shows what a multifaceted creative force he was for them.
Finally caved and subscribed to the reboot of Creem magazine. Gotta hand it to the marketing team over there, they really got their hooks into me one claw at a time. First they pulled me in with the free access to the Creem Archives for 30 days, every single issue of the magazine’s entire classic run from 1969 to 1989 scanned and readable online, almost like flipping through the yellowing pulp itself. I quickly learned that 30 days wasn’t going to be nearly enough to do the deep-diving I wanted to do into all the articles, news columns, photos, film and book and of course record reviews, and that to have access to them for a year was going to cost me $60. That’s $5 a month, which isn’t outrageous at all — hell, it’s the same as this here Blastitude Substack costs (if you’re kind enough to choose to pay for it, and believe me, someday you might not have a choice, even nom de plumes gotta eat) — and then they told me that for a mere $20 more I’d also get a year’s subscription to the print edition, four issues mailed right to my doorstep. I mean, that’s only half as much as an annual four-issue subscription to Maggot Brain costs, and who knows, this new Creem might be (almost) as good as Maggot Brain. Still, I wasn’t pulling the trigger… until they got me with the Pettibon cover. Pettibon covers are still like catnip to me, even now, well into the 21st Century, even after following and unfollowing him on Twitter (easily the most annoying twitter account I’ve ever experienced, sorry Ray), and all it took was yet one more enticement, specifically a one-off David Bowie special issue that is free with the annual subscription, for me to immediately enter my credit card number and let them charge it for 80 big ones. First issue has arrived, and… it’s a lot. For one, it’s really big. Kind of hard to sit and hold and read, tbh. But it looks great, really high quality publishing, no doubt about it. And I will say that I did indeed read it cover to cover, and mostly enjoyed it, and have barely heard music by any of the bands and artists featured, at all. I mean, I haven’t even heard Amyl and the Sniffers. Not one note! I did check out Special Interest after reading their feature, and that’s an interesting band. Looking forward to issue #2! (Worse news so far is that their photo captions have turned from punk humor to dad humor, which is not exactly surprising, but still disappointing.) P.S. Now that I think about it, I also recently renewed my Maggot Brain subscription as soon as I saw the first issue I’d miss if I didn’t: #9, with a beautiful full-color surfing-series cover painting by, you’ll never guess, Raymond Pettibon.
So Alex Chilton, of course we know he’s great, children by the millions and all that, but just go back right now and take another listen to his (technically Big Star’s) interpretation of Lou Reed (technically the Velvet Underground)’s “Femme Fatale.” It’s simply one of the best vocal performances I’ve ever heard on an ostensibly rock album, not just for the sheer beauty of his sweet and fragile falsetto, but for the powers of reinterpretation on display, the way he takes such an iconic song by an iconic songwriter, already unforgettably interpreted by an iconic vocalist Nico, and somehow makes it something completely new and his own. Add the “high school French” backing vocals by his then-girlfriend Lesa Aldridge, and I’m literally melting. (There’s a good story about Jim Dickinson protecting these precious backing vocals from a post-breakup erasure campaign during the sessions, look it up. That’s what a producer is for.)
I keep seeing these impeccably-decorated super-gentrified pre-apocalyptic hip-city cafe/gift-shop hybrids (pop-ups? specialty stores?), you know the ones that all have iPads instead of cash registers, and play the most detached and authorless “chill out while studying” background music over the store speakers, and it’s all made me wonder if a highly curated and intentionally progressive music playlist that also serves as non-offensive background music at the urban cafes and boutiques of today is something that could even exist. My attempt lives on Sp____y and it’s called “A Progressive Ambiance,” and I don’t feel like I exactly nailed the premise, but hey, there are some highlights. It starts out with “Since I Last Saw You” by Jackson Heights, a progressive-era British band founded by Lee Jackson just after he stopped being the bassist/vocalist for The Nice because of Emerson meeting Lake and Palmer. I had not heard of Jackson Heights, until Tony Rettman put this song on one of his Sandpaper Lullaby mixes just a couple years ago, and I still don’t know much else about them except they had an actual Hipgnosis cover design for their first album (King’s Progress, 1970) and a fake Hipgnosis cover design for their last album (Bump ‘N’ Grind, 1973), but I do love the haunting mood of “Since I Last Saw You.” Dig those drony vocals by Jackson, and even that gross “you’re just sixteen” line doesn’t take me out of the zone. [EDIT: I just assumed a hairy British rock musician singing about someone being 16 years old was some gross leering groupie action, but listening to this song again I’m realizing it’s not that at all, it’s a heartfelt and autobiographical line about he and/or his friend having to grow up too soon and become disillusioned with the world at a young age - sorry Mr. Jackson!) Next is the always-mystical “Love From Room 109 at the Islander (on Pacific Coast Highway)” by Tim Buckley, and we’re talking David Friedman-era Tim Buckley, as in Tim Buckley with vibraphone which means it’s my favorite Buckley, not to mention Lee Underwood’s scorpio guitar rising at the 2:04 mark, and that field-recorded surf sound throughout (captured from directly underneath Tim’s built-on-stilts oceanside cottage at 19550 Pacific Coast Highway, incidentally nowhere near the actual Islander Motel presumably being referenced in the title, also on the PCH but 30 miles down the road in the city of Wilmington). Next I went with what is my single favorite Thinking Fellers Union Local 282 song if I had to pick one, “Hell Rules.” Not sure it belongs here, I just wanted to hear it again. Then Minnie Riperton’s “Les Fleurs,” which may not be the greatest transition out of “Hell Rules,” but is one of the greatest songs ever from Chicago hands down, another production by the Chicago G.O.A.T. Charles Stepney. (Although anyone who produced “That’s the Way of the World” is automatically in the Worldwide G.O.A.T. conversation, and by the way have you heard Stepney’s home-recorded solo synthstrumental demo version of said Earth, Wind & Fire classic, recently unearthed and now released by International Anthem?) Oh man, next up is “Volo magico n. 1” by Claudio Rocchi. I don’t think this quite fits the bill either, Rocchi’s vocal and melody too cracked and straining with emotion to sit comfortably in the background. But I do love this song too… I think I was just putting songs I liked on here, as long as they could for any reason be described as “progressive,” regardless of their ambiance. Never mind, go back to your much safer “chill beats for studying” playlist and enjoy your $7 hibiscus lavender infusion drink. It is indeed a #bigmood and a #wholevibe!
I took Julian Cope’s HARDROCKSAMPLER (1968-1975) playlist he posted on Head Heritage and tried to approximate it on Sp____y. It’s hard not to get excited when Cope is listing off a bunch of wild and woolly bands and songs and records, but out of all the genres of music we love, this particular kind of late 60s/early 70s plodding heavy blues hard rock has got to be one of the worst. The key word being plodding; if you’re going to play three chords in a rudimentary fashion and bellow histrionically over the top, you better make that shit rhythmically interesting. Black Sabbath sure knew how to, but apparently hardly anyone else did; not Bloodrock, not Sir Lord Baltimore, not Bang, not Hairy Chapter, not Speed, Glue & Shinki, not Dust... certainly not ultimate plodders Grand Funk Railroad, who don’t make the playlist… the only real non-plodding exceptions on here are the super-wild Ronson/Visconti/Woodmansey power trio lineup on David Bowie’s The Man Who Sold the World LP (seriously one of the greatest power trios of all time, though very short-lived, and a sound Bowie never really revisited, sorry Tin Machine), Budgie because Budgie will rule forever, and “Parasite” by Kiss literally made me 13 years old again blasting my $3 used copy of Hotter Than Hell, banging my head furiously for its entire 3:02 running time. (Wait, this Bang track “Future Shock” seems to have some sort of double-tracked Glitterbeat production on the drums, which kinda rules, but it’s still soooo plodding, which to his credit Cope readily admits with this hilarious line: “a song driven at a crawl so tractor-driver slow that you can hear the rest of the songs on this compilation screaming: ‘Fucking pull over and let us pass, you bastard, we’ve got homes to go to as well!’”)
Just did a bunch of research to figure out the dates and lineups of two different shows at the Empty Bottle, both of which I attended at two various points in the 2010s, and which had begun to conflate in the nebulae of my memory. It wasn’t easy to nail down this information, and now I don’t want to have to re-google it, so I will stuff (record) these things (memories) into this edition of Stuffs & Things & Things & Stuff (STTS-009) for posterity. And you know, that last sentence reminds me of stuffing things into boxes, because this whole past month my 19-year-old son has been packing up to move out for the first time, and into his own apartment. He’s filled seven or eight boxes full of various stuffs and things from the room he’s lived and slept in since the age of 12, stuff he wants to keep but doesn’t want to haul to his new place. He’s been marking these boxes with a sharpie: “Memory Box 1,” “Memory Box 2,” and so on, and I’m like… it’s all just Memory Boxes, right? Every single thing that is or was, except what you can see when your eyes are open and you look around at any given moment? To wit, WED 1/8/2014 CHICAGO IL @ EMPTY BOTTLE: TODAYSHITS (RECORD RELEASE), AXIS:SOVA, TROPICAL TRASH, CDYSOUND. Good god, in about 5 months this will be 9 years ago. I had no idea who the Todayshits were, or are, or what record they were releasing, or if they even played that night, because I left well before they took the stage. As for the other three bands, I wanted to see all of them, Axis:Sova because vocalist/guitarist Brett Sova is a good guy on the scene and I knew he could rock because I had seen a previous (power trio!) band of his called Mass Shivers lipsync live at a Chic-A-Gogo taping, Tropical Trash because they’d put out a couple wild thrashy/proggy neo-weird neo-screamo 7-inches back in those heady heavy times of the early-mid-twenty-teens, and Circuit Des Yeux, a solo voice-and-guitar performance by Haley Fohr, apparently billed as CDYSound on this night (I didn’t realize that was the billing until looking up this old show listing). She was the first act of the night, and not a lot of people were there yet, and not everyone who was there were watching/listening. Maybe 10-15 people? It’s not like a whole lot of people came later either, it being a pretty sparsely attended show overall, but Circuit des Yeux were not as well-known as they are now. The Overdue LP had just been released in the fall of 2013, just a few months before this show, and a few months before that, also in 2013, she had released the CDY3 10-inch EP, which I had impulse-bought at Reckless at some point that same year. That little 3-song record had blown my mind, not only their blown-out cover (actually a resetting) of Springsteen’s “I’m On Fire,” but especially the song “Lithonia,” which she played a pretty righteously angsty solo version of this night, much appreciated by this new fan. Still a fan, as CDY seem to outdo themselves with every new record. Tropical Trash played and were as wild as the 7-inches. I’m not sure if I saw all of Axis:Sova’s set — this makes at least two sets by them I only saw half of because it’s very hard to stay out late on a weeknight anymore. Todayshits I didn’t even remember being on the bill, and it was their release show, so now I’m listening to an album they released in 2014 on Bandcamp, and it’s really good! Laid-back bedroom-recorded drum-machine power-pop bubble-gum rock’n’roll. Literally 1000 times better than Wavves. Remember Wavves? Lol, now I see that the Todayshits’ Bandcamp album is called January 2014, released on January 1, 2014, and the show was on January 8, 2014. Wish I’d stuck around! Bandcamp says they’re from Lexington, Kentucky. Have they been heard from since? Also, SUN 12/20/2015 CHICAGO, IL @ EMPTY BOTTLE: STATE CHAMPION, SAPAT. My old friend Kaptain Molasses was in town from Louisville, Kentucky with his somewhat rarely seen travelling proto freak folk circus act Sapat, so I absolutely had to go, especially when learning that another friend, Ryan Davis of the Sophomore Lounge label, was headlining the show with his band State Champion. (Full disclosure, anyone?) I think this is one of those shows where I somehow knew nothing about it, got a text at like 7pm, and still managed to will myself there on a bleak wintry school night while exhausted. Sapat were too big to fit on the Empty Bottle stage so they entirely set up on the floor, with the not-too-big-but-decent audience kind of interspersed around and near them. They were great, and I hope I get a chance to see them again this decade as well. State Champion also sounded great, touring and playing selections from their excellent 2015 LP Fantasy Error, but I almost entirely heard and did not see their set, because at the time Kap Mo and I hadn’t caught up in years and found ourselves stuck in the Bottle front room (you know, by the pool table?) doing just that.
By golly Konkan Dance by Amancio D’Silva is an international rock/jazz/folk fusion ripper. It just came up on my 298-hour Sp____y “Full Albums on Deck” playlist. I don’t remember adding it, but this album has ‘recommended by Aquarium Drunkard and/or Sp____y algorithm’ all over it.
Listening to Alton Ellis’s super-heavylight song “Black Man’s Pride” for the first time ever on headphones, suddenly noticing how he quotes Derrick Harriott’s “oh oh, I was born a loser” to set up the truly topical (both definitions 1 and 2) punchline: “BECAUSE I’M A BLACK MAN.”
Best bands/artists I’ve heard playing from my daughter’s iPhone and nowhere else: Cigarettes After Sex (from El Paso, Texas with an androgynous-sounding male singer that had me asking my daughter if she’d ever heard Mazzy Star, and indeed she did know “Fade Into You,” and by the way Grouper’s “Poison Tree” comes up on or at least after her playlists too, and hell yes Grouper should cross over and get some of that post-Mazzy Lana Del Rey neo-noir prestige-TV dream-pop money) and Lil Peep himself (RIP), especially the songs “Ghost Boy” and “Veins.” OK, by now I’ve heard Lil Peep elsewhere, but for a while it was only on my daughter’s phone.
“Those who don’t have nervous breakdowns have physical ones.” This statement by Brian Eno, from his 1995 diary A Year with Swollen Appendices, really hits home for me right now as an outwardly ‘chill’ member of society, keeping it cool under that ever-mounting 21st Century pressure (Lil Peep reference!), having wondered when all of this 21st C. first-world stress was going to catch up to me, and finally at age 51 started experiencing a neurological gait disorder (I can mostly walk just fine, but can no longer effectively run or even really jump… yeah, it’s weird, I’ll stop over-sharing, but if you ever see me in person and wonder if the reason I’m stumbling a little is because I’m drunk, the answer is “probably not”). Brian Eno always seems to keep it cool under pressure, although one might question how much pressure he’s actually under as a very successful artist; granted, constantly working with millionaire egos and having to be away from home all the time are their own forms of pressure, no matter how wrapped in creature comforts they may be. As you might guess, there are all kinds of intriguing thoughts and opinions sprinkled throughout this book in between the mundane daily activities that are also recorded, like having business meetings with his wife and manager Anthea Norman-Taylor, picnics and playtimes with their two very young daughters, the usual navigations of plane and car trips, and of course studio-rat stuff like producing Bowie and U2 records. Another great moment is when he and Lou Reed are going out for a drink on April 19, 1995 and Eno muses (maybe at the bar with Lou, maybe just to himself in the diary later, it’s not 100% clear but I think the latter) that his Discreet Music and Lou’s Metal Machine Music were both released during the same week in 1975, and that “they occupy two ends of what was at the time a pretty new axis — music as immersion, as a sonic experience in which you float. The roots of Ambient.” Plus other nugs, like Peter Greenaway constantly cancelling their meetings (Eno finally exclaims “What’s with this guy?”), Robert Quine making him mixtapes of Byrds outtakes, Bono sometimes actually seeming like a cool guy, much more…