Wednesday, February 28, 2018

15 Years Later I Can Reveal...Ben Blackwell is Nick Zinner

     Just shy of 15 years ago, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs did a quick West Coast tour opening for the White Stripes. Towards the end of the trek, Nick of the YYY's was scheduled to do an interview with a magazine about hearse culture called Night Doings. Nick did not want to do the interview. So being up for the challenge, I subbed for him. It was a crackly 2003 cell phone, but even then I felt like the interviewer thought something was up. I clearly remember standing on the loading dock for the RIMAC Arena in San Diego. I also distinctly remember Nick saying to me afterwards something along the lines of "Wow, you really seemed to know what you're talking about."

     For YEARS I never thought this zine ever came out, but bored googling a few years back actually turned up a webpage with a still-active PayPal button that I excitedly clicked on to buy this issue. The publisher wrote back, confused, saying "I don't even know how you were able to send me money." Nevertheless, a copy was dug out and sent my way.

     I only feel slightly bad about this now. I'm still kinda proud of it.

Monday, January 01, 2018

How Michigan is the Fifth Member of the Stooges – OR – A Cultural Cycling Through Three-Hundred Years of Bullshit Historical Anecdotes and Arbitrary Facts to Argue that Geographic Demarcation Can Be Personified as a the Embodiment of a Musician

Regardless of my job, I was asked to write an essay for the "Total Chaos" book with the suggested topic of "How Detroit Was the Fifth Member of the Stooges." I quickly clarified with main author Jeff Gold if I could change "Detroit" to "Michigan", he concurred, and it was with great excitement and sense of accomplishment I completed the piece below. It was the SECOND essay I had published in a book about the Stooges, an honor that is not lost on me.

At the party celebrating the release of the book, Iggy told me two things...

1) That I looked EXACTLY like the guy that threw a bottle (pie?) in his face at some show in Michigan back in the day.

2) That I'm a good writer

That's all I needed to hear. Enjoy.

The borders of Michigan are arbitrary…the survey lines of the Northwest Ordinance of 1787, a southeasterly adjustment for a bloodless war with Ohio for the desirable international port of Toledo (the loss of which Michigan got its Upper Peninsula as compensation) and a veritable shit-ton of lakes cut a cute geographic form that can equally be called America’s high-five or America’s hand-job.

Despite this, the entire state of Michigan is incredibly average. There’s nothing of note that really makes it any different from Ohio or Wisconsin or just about any other boring state that doesn’t have mountains or an ocean or hieroglyphs or any sort of cultural accelerant.

So, too, with Ron, Scott, Iggy and Dave. They all came from an entirely average, middle class world. That is the only place from which they could emanate. To be more specific, Michigan is the only place a cultural roundhouse kick like the Stooges could ever be birthed.

As the birthplace to both Domino’s and Little Ceasar’s pizza chains (two of the top four pizza dispensaries in the world, both raking in BILLIONS of dollars every year), it is the unique incubator of Michigan that has a knack for taking what may have been considered low-brow or intended for the edges of society in the mid-1900s and perfecting it, simplifying it (the $5 Hot’n’Ready is marvel of modern economics) and making it understandable for a widespread global audience. As some of the first Western records pressed in the newly opened Russia after the fall of communism in 1991, the hand-illustrated, Cyrillic-bedecked covers of the band’s first two albums are proof positive that this is exactly what Iggy and the Stooges did with their brand of juvenile delinquent-inspired rock and roll. Which coincidentally, goes hand-in-hand with pizza.

And being birthed in Ann Arbor is fitting. With the University of Michigan looming large over the entirety of the town, everything in that city has an air of elitist self-importance. The classic joke goes, “How do you know someone went to the University of Michigan? Let ‘em talk for five seconds...they’ll tell you!” Coupled with the town’s overwhelming left-leaning politics (the Stooges were close friends with folks who bombed a CIA office in the city in 1968) and it’s clear the only place to birth the Stooges, wholly unconcerned with politics or elitism, is a town boiling over in it.

The Unabomber, Ted Kaczynski, was educated at U of M, leaving the institution in late 1967. The possibility of him crossing paths with Iggy are nil, but it’s not too big a stretch to correlate that the anarcho-primitivism argued in Industrial Society and Its Future (“The Unabomber Manifesto”) is in some bizarre way in concert with the precisely sparse lyricism and uncluttered instrumentation of the Stooges’ self-titled album. That’s not to say “I Wanna Be Your Dog” is tantamount to serial killing...more like the absolute inverse. As Kaczynski and Iggy are on completely opposite ends of the spectrum, but both so completely laser-focused, so singular, so undistracted by the noise clouding around them that it’s clear the environment had to be somewhat instrumental in fostering those traits.

Jack Kevorkian went to U of M too, but I can’t find the connection there.

This cannot happen in socially-conscious San Francisco of the same era. It would not happen in the fading Village folk scene in NYC as it slowly transformed into glam and punk. Ann Arbor, Michigan, where the rural abuts with the avant-garde on a daily basis, was the only incubator that could birth these bozo geniuses. Michigan is not just where important and relevant moments of this band and its story happened to take place, it is a driving factor and overbearing presence throughout their existence, whatever the locale may be.

You see, Michigan is not a state where anything happens. Outside of Detroit, and a much lesser extent Ann Arbor, it’s all ho-hum humdrum non-descript bullshit. So of course, leave it to Halloween night, 1967, at a house party in Ann Arbor to be the moment this wrecking ball descends into public consciousness. Of course this primitive shit music is taking place at an “invite only” party. Of course John Sinclair and the MC5 (both already important leaders in the countercultural underground of the time) are there. Of course joints are being passed around liberally. Of course it sounded like the Melvins, (as Iggy himself would claim decades later). Of course, of course, of course. Because all roads of all these variables intersect in Michigan.

With the Grande Ballroom in Detroit acting as the de facto Fillmore Midwest, every major rock group of the era stopped in town. Out of sheer stubbornness, dumb luck, or not knowing any better, the Stooges (in tandem with the MC5) were able to act as the unofficial house band for 1968-1969, opening for just about anyone and everyone...Butterfield Blues Band, Blood, Sweat & Tears, Sly and the Family Stone, The Fugs, Blue Cheer, Love, Cream, the James Gang, John Mayall, BB King, The Who, Frank Zappa and on and on and on. No need for U of M, that’s a college education right there. You learn how to perform. Day in, day out. A working band. Imagine that.

Not only did the Stooges figure out how to play, while on stage, in front of a crowd, but also had an almost weekly opportunity to glean from whatever hot-shit or shit shit touring act was coming through town at that moment. The Stooges are not a band that made their bones on tour. They were by no means even “reliable” at home. Old-timers in Detroit took pride in relaying stories of HOW BAD the band actually was saying things like, “we would purposefully show up LATE to the Grande so as to AVOID seeing the Stooges for the umpteenth time.” Only in Michigan would you have the greatest band in the world playing weekly and folks bragging about avoiding it.

So for Iggy to expose his dick (purposefully or not) onstage in Romeo, bumfuck of a town if there ever was one, population just shy of 4,000 back in boggles the mind. This is a town known for a Peach Festival and being the home of Kid Rock. Nothing happens there and nothing will continue to happen here until the end of time. It’s the kind of town where someone would make the trip to the police station to let them know the lead singer’s dick is hanging out. Only in Michigan.

The Goose Lake International Music Festival of August 1970 took place in Jackson, Michigan a burg fittingly known for being the longtime home of the state penitentiary and the birthplace of the Republican Party. Before a crowd of upwards of 200,000 people, Dave Alexander fails to play a single note on stage. Be it because of nerves, chemicals, a combination of the’s irrelevant. This would be the biggest crowd the Stooges would see in any iteration (including reunions) and they utterly blew it. Dave was fired, probably rightfully so, but the fact that barely two years prior merely thirty miles down the road these guys were playing their first show in a living room with no prepared material...these guys traversed the entire gamut of a show business career, a musical lifetime, in the span of time it takes to potty-train a child, across a space that’d render as a speck on a map of the United States, Earth or the Universe. All self-contained in Michigan.

Sadness reigns outward from Alexander’s exit. Roadies, also rans and ne’er do wells filter through the ranks, pathetically culminating in a show at Wampler’s Lake Pavilion in Onsted, Michigan, population 555. In an embarrassing adherence to the contractually obligating dictum “the show must go on,” Ron, Scott and Jimmy Recca play the gig without Iggy or James Williamson. A fan (Steve Richards) sings with them for a portion of the night. There are recordings to evidence this. The jams are actually not totally shit. What happens in Onsted doesn’t necessarily need to stay in Onsted.

And Metallic K.O.? What a glorious implosion, swiftly aided by the menacing pressure of local biker gang the Scorpions, at where else...the Michigan Palace, the same spot in Detroit where Henry Ford built his first car back in 1896. It’s captured on tape and does kinda sound like shit. But beer bottles breaking against guitar strings is an apropos sound/image in a coincidental building at a time where the city and region are falling apart, as the domestic auto industry begins its freefall in the thick of the Oil Crisis.

Nigh-on three decades would need to pass for the band to wholly prove themselves to their Michigan brethren. In a way that belied maturity or progress, the Stooges performance at DTE Energy Music Theater (I die a little just from having to type such a bummer of a name) was proof-positive that the band had their shit together. One wouldn’t want them to become cerebral or philosophical and thankfully, the band understood that.

As my first live experience of about half a dozen with the band, it was not only the best performance I’d ever see from the Stooges, it is still the best performance I’ve seen by anyone in my thirty-four plus years. Sure, the show takes place in a huge embarrassingly-named shed, too far out into the exurbs to feel culturally like anything other than a blob of land, with $15 beers (watered down) and $10 parking (clusterfuck), but all the corporate grabby-ness of dollars could not sully the metaphorical boot mark the Stooges imprinted across the entire state of Michigan. America’s high-five has appropriately been met with a swift kick and it’ll never be quite the same.

Thursday, November 30, 2017

The Unusual Sound of Chris Crown...


Chris Crown

“I Need Lovin” b/w “Hug Me”

Damn. This one is just straight-up odd.

Listening to it yesterday, from one room over, Swank messages and says “This song is scaring me.”

I agree. I just can’t figure out what in the hell is going on here. Feels like some “Grey Gardens”-type shit. Equal-parts long-con, delusion and “Florence Foster Jenkins”

Attached is the only writing I could find about the release, from the Detroit Free Press 1967.  Is it illegal for me to share here? Oh well. Absolutely some of the most bonkers stuff I've ever read. So happy this was recorded and saved for all to hear.

There's also a Christmas (?) single she released that I am absolutely DESPERATE to hear. Will pay top dollar or trade fine and sundry goods in exchange.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Ain’t No Radio Stations Getting Blown Up On My Watch

In remembrance of the legendary Fats Domino, here’s a collage I did a few years back for the Johnny Brewton Kut-Up zine. Utilizing almost exclusively materials that were within immediate reach from the desk in my TMR office, my inspiration for this piece came from the first broadcast of Mick Collins’ Night Train radio show around a decade back.

As the story goes, there was a deranged man repeatedly calling and threatening a radio station. Kept on demanding they play Fats Domino or he was going to bomb the place. There was a big to-do, the offender was tracked down and charged with the appropriate crimes. As Mick tells it, no one ever thought to just play some damn Domino. So with all the determination of a man on a mission, Mick proudly declared “Ain’t no radio stations getting blown up on my watch” and launched in to a half hour of music from the master. This is how he STARTS his public radio career. With style.

It is undoubtedly the favorite radio moment I’ve experienced in my lifetime and I was overjoyed to commemorate it in collage form.

Someone actually bought the original of this for something like $75. Insane.

Saturday, September 30, 2017

Record of the Week: Mattiel



Burger Records

scum stats: limited quantities on cloudy-clear semi-transparent vinyl, a shit ton on black

I don’t ask much of you folks. I offer up my half-baked opinions here, a link or two and hope it connects with your souls. If not…oh well.

But today, I really, 100% sincerely implore you to put the time and energy into listening to the entire debut album by Mattiel.

I cannot remember the last time I’d discovered a new record that made me feel this good. Personal and the Pizzas Raw Pie? Tyvek’s Fast Metabolism? This is HIGH praise.

The album is flawless. The Jonah Swilley/Randy Michael production team is deadly. Mattiel’s delivery, voice and lyrics are all incredibly inspired and unique and entirely hers. Her confidence is staggering. There is no comparison.

The front album cover photo…it looks badass and imbues an added layer of IMPORTANCE to everything. Someone standing on a horse confers impending greatness in my book. Like an army general ready to conquer an oncoming horde of marauders.

The “Cass Tech” song put me on the verge of tears, everything else crisp, fresh and inviting. I do not peddle in exaggerations. This is truth.


If you at all consider yourself barely a collector, do yourself a favor, buy the colored vinyl now and thank me later.


I cannot say enough good things but it feels like I’ve already said too much. Please…on this one, just trust me. It is worth your time.

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Record of the Week: The's go ska

“Mothra” b/w “Dream Boy”
Time Bomb Records
Limited to 500 copies

Sometimes I marvel when I consider the multiple intersections of my life with the’s.

My first serious, in-person conversation with Mick Collins was at a’s show at the Magic Stick in Detroit. I was 17, we’d talked on the phone previously about me joining the Dirtbombs, but when talking in person, he asked “Are you in high school? Or college?”

I was in high school, I still got the job.

Five years later, the’s are opening for the Dirtbombs at the Magic Stick at the height of “Woohoo” post-Kill Bill exploitation. A LOT of folks in the crowd who’d never seen the Dirtbombs before and would never see us again. In all honesty, we probably should have been opening for the’s.

Six years after that, the band is in Nashville, not only recording a live show, a Blue Series single AND a Vault single, but also celebrating Third Man’s reissue of their seminal self-titled LP. Still one of my absolute favorite moments in TMR history is hearing them tear through Ralph Nielsen and the Chancellor’s “Scream” in the Blue Room. There’s no truer distillation of said “Back From the Grave” classic song in my book, not even the original. The’s own it.

This is a band that is not of my age, is not from the continent I’m from and can barely speak the only language I am conversant in. By all accounts, we should not be in the same orbit. But we are and I am eternally grateful for it.

I would have a hard time naming a more fully-realized band than the’s. Everything about them feels absolutely perfect. Even their first single, slightly off-brand projecting more of a 50’s greaser juvenile delinquent vibe is still so…them. The impeccably dressed, brimming with style Japanese girl-group approach to American surf, garage and (occasionally) rhythm and blues is valhalla. They exist on their own plane. They have no worthy heirs or imitators. They…be.

I became aware of this single way too long after it was released. Probably a year ago? It sat on my Discogs wantlist, ready, available, for nearly a year. I just couldn’t motivate myself to spend $30-ish on the record. I kept on thinking in the back of my mind “There’s got to be a better way.” And for the record, the’s are a band that I collect HEAVY.  I’ve got approximately seventeen of their 7-inch singles and that’s a LOT for a band of their vintage (and damn-near every one they’ve released).

Not too long ago it came into my mind that I could just ask their Japanese label, Time Bomb, if they wanted to do a trade. DUH. I was able to include a couple of their LPs I hadn’t grabbed as well and it was as smooth a transaction as possible.

The tracks themselves are an interesting veer from their standard, straightforward garage rock approach. “Mothra”, (originally written as the mightily orchestrated theme song to the 1961 Japanese horror movie in the “Godzilla” vein) echoes with shades of 1960’s ska. Now if I’d read someone else saying that about the’s I would immediately mumble “bullshit” under my breath. But when you actually listen to the song, it 100% makes total sense. Just like their foray into traditional Japanese-styled folks songs on their Blue Series single, they’ve made this “ska” approach seem and feel entirely within their wheelhouse.

“Dream Boy”, originally features on the band’s 1996 EP “Bomb the Twist” EP in a more sedate, traditional 50’s R&B doo-wop persuasion. But this song too is presented via the lens of 1960’s ska music. And it’s suited wonderfully.

And now it all makes sense. Taking the pre-existing songs, running them very loosely through a stylistic filter and pairing them together, released in a limited edition of 500 copies through a Japanese record label. Simply beautiful. The continued existence and output of the’s puts a smile eternal on my face. Were they ever cease, I would be truly, truly sad.

P.S. the’s (in that form) is my favorite band name to type. Every one of those periods pounds out of my keyboard like a foot-stomp along to their tunes

Monday, July 31, 2017

Dissecting the White Stripes First Ever Live Performance...

The White Stripes
“The First Show: Live on Bastille Day”

All of this is from memory. Sometimes memories are false. But anything here is not purposefully false.
I have far more explicit memories of the show the White Stripes would play a month later, their first “full” show with proper setlists and flyers and more than ten folks in attendance.
To me, I remember this as a one-off, as a lark…that Jack and Meg went to the Gold Dollar open mic with little-to-no warning to just test out what it was like being on stage.
As Jack recalls in the Under Great White Northern Lights interview (some of this may be unpublished…you heard it here first!)
Mr. Historian:  What do you guys remember, I wasn’t there, but what do you remember about the first show you played, open mic night at the Gold Dollar?
Jack: Open mic night at the Gold Dollar, I remember there being maybe just a few other people, like 7 or 8 other people there and Neil the owner, and I think all the other bands were from Downriver they were all from Wyandotte or something.  Which is pretty funny they drove all the way to play open mic night in the Cass Corridor.  It was only a three minute ride for us.   We played three songs.
Mr. Historian (Ben):  What three songs?
Jack: I think "Love Potion #9"
Meg: Yeah definitely.
Jack: Which we changed to "Love Potion #10"
Meg: Was it "Screwdriver"?
Jack: Maybe "Moonage Daydream."  "St. James Infirmary" maybe?
Ben: It wasn’t "Moonage Daydream," I want to say maybe "Jimmy the Exploder."
Jack: "Jimmy the Exploder," "Screwdriver," and "Love Potion # 10"?
Ben: Yeah.
Jack: Anyways I remember the band after us did a cover of "Born to be Wild" [laughs].  And after we were so drunk and wasted, I was sitting there with Neil and they started the song, which sounded pretty note perfect, but then the singer says “get your motor running head out on my asshole!”  Which we didn’t seem to understand what he meant by that [laughs]. Not a typical impersonation of "Born to be Wild", maybe Downriver in Detroit, I don’t know [laughs with Meg].
Ben:  So then after that you guys did, like a month later, you guys played two more shows at the Gold Dollar.
Jack: Was it that week we played or a month later?
Ben: So that first show would have been Bastille Day July 14, 1997.
Jack: Ok.
Ben: And then the shows with Rocket 455, and the Henchman were the 14th and 15th of August.
Jack:  Oh I seem to think we went to go do open mic night the week before we went and did those shows
Meg: Yeah I thought so too.
Jack: Because we were worried that we weren’t going to know what we were doing when we got up there.
Jack:  Maybe Bastille Day was our first practice Ben?
Ben: Maybe?
Jack: I can’t remember, but yeah then we booked the show with the Hentchmen outside the Demolition Dollrods show, we had a copy of the album out in front of the Magic Bag and the Hentchmen walked by.  I said hi to them.  That was the first time we met them. 
Meg: That’s right.
Jack: Remember I gave him my upholstery card.  He wasn’t sure about booking us for the show, but he did say he may have some upholstery work for me in his Piermont wagon. 
Then we booked a show with the Hentchmen first.  And then we booked a show with Rocket 455 after that, because we went and saw Kitty Wells (to Meg) remember? Play at that old senior citizen center?
Meg: I don’t think I was with you.
Jack: Went and saw Kitty Wells with Dan and Tracee from Blanche, we were starting Two Star Tabernacle at the time.  Dan, Tracee and I, and Damien Lang who drummed for the (Detroit) Cobras, and then we went and saw Kitty Wells at this senior citizen community center, and we met Jeff Meier from Rocket 455, so we booked a show with Jeff opening up at the Gold Dollar after the Hentchmen, but we actually played with them first, so they both are always laughing and arguing over who we played with first, where our first show was.  But the first three shows were at the Gold Dollar, that’s for certain.  An old... it used to be a drag queen bar in Cass Corridor.
Anyway, folks have said it before, but it cannot be stressed enough…damn-near EVERYTHING that made the White Stripes “THE WHITE STRIPES” exists right here, day one, without waver. Yet they had absolutely NO idea it would ever get this big. From another interview I did with Jack back in 2003…
BB: I remember you saying, when the White Stripes first started playing “Two Star Tabernacle, I can see us getting really huge, the White Stripes, maybe we’ll do a record or two, be some kind of cult band.”  It’s kinda changed since then, don’t you think?
JW: I don’t remember saying that, but I guess it’s just the opposite.  The Two Star 45 is like a cult thing.  The White Stripes have become some insane institution…in some sense.

The idea of a two-piece band, wearing red-and-white, with a childish approach to their art was solidified on this day.
They were childish because of the extent of Meg’s skill on drums and because of Jack's intent on guitar. 
When TMR obtained multi-track masters of a bevy of White Stripes and Jack White-related live performances from the Gold Dollar, this show was, unshockingly, not available. The master of this performance exists as a cassette copy, mixed live by bar owner/sound engineer Neil Yee and handed to Jack immediately after the performance. Important stuff.
From there, this tape was deemed LOST (by me anyway) for a few years. In the pic below (pulled from the legendary White Stripes / Arthur Dottweiler video clips) you can see a big huge metal Coca-Cola sign on top of the refrigerator. That sign was there forever. It wrapped around all three exposed sides of the fridge. Behind THAT was an old-fashioned metal bread box that held all sorts of badass historic tapes. Not gonna lie…the lone complete copy of the Vegetarian Cannibals master was in that box.
Anyway, when the cassette was unearthed (I wanna guess 2002 or 2003) I remember listening to it and Meg not being terribly pleased with her performance. But she had literally been playing drums for no more than four months, and not on some insanely dedicated rehearsal schedule.
To start the whole performance with “Alright, uh, we’ll just bore ya for two or three songs…” is beautiful. What a start, a disclaimer! Jack’s solo after the second verse sounds like he forgot he had to play one at that point. But the way he exits that portion, with some chugga riffing and a sweet descending measure is excellent and would not appear on the rendition one month later in the first full show at the Gold Dollar on August 14th.
Also, THAT show is burned in my brain because Jack let me make a copy of that cassette early on. For the longest time, that was the ONLY recordings of the White Stripes I had to listen to. So the version of “St. James” from that show is primarily what I think of when I imagine that song.
The last verse struggles for a second to find footing amidst what could be a fake false ending. I would’ve liked to hear it play out with just Jack’s vocals and drums, but this boy will be left to dream.
“Jimmy the Exploder” is what I thought was the band’s “hit” single at the time. So much so that I was quite surprised when Jack told me that “Let’s Shake Hands” was going to be the a-side of their first single. They’d barely even played that song at that point. But Jack let me in on the secret, “I think ‘Jimmy’ is too good for the single. We’re saving that for the album.”
The album? “The balls on him” I thought. No one’s around trying to put out a White Stripes album in early 1998. But as is usually the case, he was totally right and exhibiting just the appropriate amount of foresight. This is why I would wallow in the barely-functioning independent rock and roll underground for years before being brought along for the TMR ride back in 2009.

Jimmy heroes about as complicated a drumbeat as Meg would tackle in the first few years and despite starting off rocky, I like the way that she inverts the beat around the 23-second mark (and the 50-second mark) as it is reminiscent of Scott Ashton's badass stutter beat on the Stooges "Dirt" at the 5:03 mark.

As Jack declares at the ending, "Jimmy the Exploder" is about a monkey who explodes things that are the color red. Or is it things that AREN'T red? "Green apples are gonna be exploding now" lyrics throw me off and I realize that in the intervening 20 years I've argued BOTH sides of argument and cannot remember where I'm supposed to end up.
Ending with “Love Potion #9” which for years was my favorite cover the White Stripes did, despite the fact that by 1998 it had all but disappeared from their set. I have a memory of Jack asking his brother Joe if he could borrow a copy of this song (the Coasters version?) on 45, and it seems like it was explicitly to cover it. 
THIS is so pure, so simple, two chords, one additionally thrown in for an accent here and there, Meg’s drums locking on waltz signature, the interplay with the audience, “What he said…one, two, three four!” and NAILING that next note. Wow. If we didn’t have this tape to prove it I would never believe the performance would’ve been so wonderful.
There’s no tangible way to measure how much joy, love, pain, stress and absolute great feelings in my life are ultimately tied to these inauspicious events that happened twenty years ago today. So I’ll just continue to listen, as I have been for the past twenty years, and marvel at what a beautiful sound could be made by two of my favorite people on earth.

Listen here...

The White Stripes The First Show: Live on Bastille Day 7-14-97