STUFFS & THINGS & THINGS & STUFF (STTS-012)
ZZ Top, Aretha Franklin, Jefferson Airplane, Dylan Nyoukis, Mr. Hageman, P.R.O., Butthole Surfers, Augustus Pablo, Jello Biafra, Steven Krakow's Secret History of Chicago Music, The Stooges, et al
Jesus may have just left Chicago but ZZ Top is playing live on the Tube in 1983 and Billy Gibbons is laying down the sickest, fattest, funkiest, meanest, most mechanical, mineralized, black-tarred and charred guitar tone ever. And he and bassist Dusty Hill did the side-to-side sway move for decades straight and it has simply never gotten old, not one time you see it, not one sway. RIP Dusty (1949-2021), and although ZZ Top is still playing, and new bassist Elwood Francis looks and sounds great, YouTube evidence is telling me that he doesn’t do the sway move with Billy. Truly the end of an era.
Been obsessed with Aretha’s “Day Dreaming” for a minute, what a beautiful and ethereal (and low-key extremely funky) song, the 1972 million-seller of course, but how about this live in Chicago version from 1985 as embedded above, where even in a me-decade shot-on-video hotel-residence context an artist like Aretha can pull all kinds of new stuff out of an old song, very much taking this love song to church, getting extremely deep in real time with the background singers, so much music in there, and in less than 3 minutes (I wish we could hear the song she was segueing into). Seeing what she does here proves that Aretha was in that godtier, right up there with interstellar contemporaries like John & Alice and Nina and Ra, so much music so much time…
P.S. Why be a Deadhead when you can be a Planebrain?
J/k, of course you can be both, and btw the most underrated aspect of mid-period Jefferson Airplane/Starship/PERRO/et al is Grace Slick on piano.
In the comments section of a recent Instagram post from the nascent Thinking Fellers Union Local 282 account, Dylan Nyoukis referred to the 1995-released Mr. Hageman Twin Smooth Snouts LP as a “gonk mind classic.” (This happened as I’ve been diving back into the TFUL282 catalog, man they were good, all those 1990s records and songs and riffs and melodies, and all that practice space noise improv, and you never knew when, bobbing up somewhere in the middle, a song with such complete aptitude and artistry as say “Empty Cup” might come along, and it would happen more often than you’d think.) Immediately my collector/aficionado brain started wondering what other LPs would be considered gonk mind classics. Might as well include anything by Nyoukis himself, starting in the 1990s with his teenage project Prick Decay, not missing the monumental 2000 solo LP The Shield That Pierces the Earth, and to this day plenty of 100% gonk minded recording and releasing to keep up with via his in-house label Chocolate Monk. It should be noted that I first learned of Nyoukis and Prick Decay in Bananafish magazine, issue #10, the entire run of which was of course the gonk mind bible, so basically any record written about in its pages was a gonk mind record. Would you believe that same issue #10 was where I also first learned of Couch, Macronympha, and Vagtazo Halottkemek, the latter being merely the greatest Hungarian shaman punk band of all time? Pretty good issue. So yes, this micro-specific home-recorded post-industrial noise/experimental cassette culture from the 1980s is basically gonk mind ground zero, but as far as I’m concerned it marched right into the 1990s, and however distorted by MTV/Lollapalooza culture it was in those pre-internet 1990s, the gonk mind carries on expansively to this day. (I call it “blastitude”). But, just a couple hours later, after a nice solo dinner of instant oatmeal and two slices of leftover pizza, I’m putting Tauhid on the stereo for the first time in awhile, and for a specific reason: I was driving around earlier today listening to a podcast where Mike Watt says the Stooges’ Dave Alexander took the bassline of Pharaoh’s “Upper Egypt & Lower Egypt” for “Little Doll.” RIP Pharoah Sanders (1940-2022). Had to A/B ‘em when I got home, and to do that I’ve gotta listen to all 16 minutes of “Upper Egypt & Lower Egypt” first, chronological order and all, and while I’m waiting for the final movement containing the bass line in question, I’m asking myself how is Tauhid not also a gonk mind classic? Who cares if it was released way back in 1967 — that’s less than 10 years before Throbbing Gristle after all, and that grinding intro guitar by Sonny Sharrock is so gonk-minded alone… or that brief but potent unaccompanied bass section by Henry Grimes… total gonk mind atmospherics. And how were the Stooges not the most gonk-minded rock band in history? By the way, I can see how Dave Alexander took that one-chord bassline from the final movement, at least the way it swings that one chord, but he left out a couple notes (the extra 1 or 2 on the turnaround), making it even more minimal, but then unlike Pharoah/Grimes ran that same riff through I-IV-V changes, suddenly not so minimal, in fact now with changes! Can you believe the Stooges took a jazz tune and added chords to it?
Dig that (even more laid back) “Cripple Creek” back beat on “Blacky Joe” by P.R.O., and don’t miss the next track on their sole 1976 LP either, a 14-minute medley of what I think are three P.R.O. originals, “Midnight Woman”/“Mary Jane”/“Faded Jeans,” featuring nice extended groove segue sections complete with blazing/phasing post-Ernie Isley lead guitar.
Just learned that Humpty Dumpty LSD is a double-LP odds-and-sods compilation of stuff recorded throughout the span of a decade (1983-1994) in the Butthole Surfers’ career. For some reason I convinced myself it was one of two last post-“Pepper” full-lengths, in fact their last one, being released in 2002 one year after (the only actual one) Weird Revolution, and probably not great, but nope, it’s all from the glory daze, like the extended stomper “All Day” from 1987 (the year of Locust Abortion Technician) where Daniel Johnston blends right in as second lead vocalist (delivering a wild “bloody water” counterhook and I could swear he’s channeling “Admiral Halsey” by Wings) while Gibby hangs back and works what I suspect may have been his fave axe all along: the FX board he runs his vocals through. I do love how Gibby plays this non-instrument, not only serving the same electropsychotextural space-rock role Dik Mik served for Hawkwind, but also deepening the context further by nodding back to the post-magnetic-tape sound poetry movement of the 1950s and 1960s. (And, #SpeakingofDikMik, I keep chuckling about this passage from Mike Barnes’ A New Day Yesterday and I’m just gonna put it here: “The great exemplar of the stoned musician was surely Richard Michael Davies — or Dik Mik to his fellow cosmic travellers — who played synthesizer and audio tone generator for Hawkwind. His modus operandi was to turn up to the gig stoned, make bubbling and whooshing noises for the duration, without having to hit any particular cues, then go backstage and get even more stoned.”)
I know that tossing some prime bloody chum like “What’s the greatest dub track of all time?” into the shark-infested waters of today’s internet will get me a million bites, but would you believe that there is an actual correct fact-based answer? Which is “King Tubby Meets The Rockers Uptown” by Augustus Pablo, running time 2:33, originally released in 1974 as the A side of a 45 on Mango Records, a dub so great that the vocal version (“Baby I Love You So” sung by thee Jacob Miller) was on the B side? Not only does it have all the thunderous clipped/dislocated/ruptured vocal and instrumental echo-stab-fades you could ever want in a single dub track, it’s also got Augustus Pablo’s all-time classic melodica skanking, an almost ridiculously heavy roots vocal in Mr. Miller’s echo-boomed “ah ah ah ah” intro chant, a monstrous bass line of course, and most importantly some super hot and slashing rockers style drumming (is it Sly Dunbar? can any experts name the drummer in the comments?) wilding out all over the track (compare what goes on here to the more quaint and subdued drumming on the vocal side).
In over 20 years as a prolific music writer I have never once quoted Jello Biafra. But I’m about to, right here in this twelfth edition of Stuffs & Things & Things & Stuff. You see, I was randomly listening to a podcast in the car (again), this time Mr. Biafra’s recent (2021) appearance on the Movies That Made Me podcast, which I recommend any episode of, assuming you’re like me and love to hear Joe Dante call movies “pictures” while doing chilled-out film-savvy industry-insider co-hosting. In this particular episode Dante recommends Robert Altman’s rarely screened 1984 Nixon one-man show Secret Honor, which gets Jello talking about current politics yet again, as he does repeatedly throughout the podcast, in this particular case ending up in a rant about cancel culture. As unpalatable as that might sound, I thought I’d put his words here for consideration. I think his concern is that art will lose it’s ability to “punch up” and “afflict the comfortable.” I find this a valid concern, though I wish he’d actually made the “good point” about “people who are assaulted as children and other things”: “I am one big massive set of microaggressions. I am a punk rocker, and my purpose is to strike raw nerves and shake up your brain and get you to fucking think and if you don’t like it…. TOO BAD!! I realize some people who are assaulted as children and other things, I mean that’s a good point, I get that, but there has to be a way to keep blunt punk rock communication, radical communication, and cruel humor and sick humor alive!”
Quick way to blow your mind on a Sunday morning (also available Monday through Saturday mornings… and afternoons and evenings too): the August 26, 2021 episode of the Different Strokes for Different Folks show on Totallyradio in which Steve “Plastic Crimewave” Krakow gives us a Secret History of Chicago Music playlist with all kinds of music you won’t believe all comes from this city, even if you already can’t believe all the music that already comes from this city. If you’re feeling really adventurous, get a hold of Krakow’s lovely hardcover book My Kind of Sound: The Secret History of Chicago Music Compendium, as published in 2015 by the Curbside Splendor imprint (somehow currently for sale on their website for only $10, get ‘em while they’re hot), and follow along while you listen to bands/artists like Thunderpussy (sic, driving 1970s drama-prog), Boscoe (Afrocentric south-side funk), New Colony Six (vintage twinkling garage pop from the late 1960s), JT IV (scorching psycho-visionary loner punk from 1980), Ha! (dark & moody guitar-swirl post-punk from 1984), even experimental 20th Century composition from the mid-1960s by Edward Zajda. Chicago, Chicago… it really is my kinda town, and quite possibly yours as well. Which makes it ours.