Saturday, June 30, 2018

My Recommendations from 20 Years Ago Are Still Rock Solid...


Junior year of high school, Spring of 1998, a classmate named Al told me that he'd found a record store that sold local music. In one of the coolest questions ever asked of me, he said "What should I buy?"

Good thing the store was Car City Records, which basically served as my reason for being back then.

The scan above is the hand-written notes and recommendations I gave him back when I was still sixteen years old.

(Pay no attention to Ass Ponys, Mud Hunnie, Pestiside, Blood Rust, The Reble Rousers, Punk U, My Ass the Vampire, NoFX, KRS-One or Suicide Machines...he must've been getting info from some other punks who's tastes seem to not have aged as well.)

Al posted this on Instagram recently and I was shocked at how much I STILL stand by all of these claims and suggestions twenty years later. Either I'm extremely stunted, incredibly reliable, or a combination of the two.

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

How A Letter From A Failing Independant Record Label Buoyed The Self-Esteem of a Clueless 15-year-old Virgin and Set Him on a Path of Vinyl Righteousness...


Pulled this one out of the basement recently and was shocked at how responsive, thoughtful and courteous the entire conversation was. When I emailed some of my friends at Sub Pop, their initial response was "Uh oh, how mean a reply was it?"

But this simple letter, along with some "Powered by Sub Pop" stickers, two Eric's Trip pins, something promotional for the Blue Rags (guitar picks? I can't exactly remember) was just the slightest nudge I needed to venture further into the world of independent record labels and mail order. I was 15 years old. I was already asking for classic albums on vinyl. I was salty that the address on the Foo Fighters first album never wrote back to me.  I thought I was clever telling Sub Pop they were "swell."

I can never remind myself enough, but the smallest gesture can sometimes have the largest, most unexpected impact. Deep down inside, I don't think I would be on the exact path I'm on today 21 years later had I not received such a caring letter from a record label I adored.

Monday, April 30, 2018

The Dirtbombs Live, University of Toronto radio, July 31st, 1997


A garage rock time capsule to say the least.

Unheard since 1997, please relish in a time in the not-too-distant past where I was actually not a member of the Dirtbombs. The performance is the EXACT reason why I fell in love with the band and the interview with Mick is revelatory. I could go on and on, but just trust me when I say it's worth the listen. Much respect to Allyson Baker, the then-teenaged CIUT DJ (and now dear friend) who was able to convince these guys to do this performance and was smart enough to tape it! University of Toronto radio...hell yeah.

Saturday, March 31, 2018

The Beauty of La Vice and Company's "Two Sisters From Bagdad"

La Vice and Company  happily upload to YouTube if it happens.
La Vice and Company 
Two Sisters from Bagdad
Jazzman reissue, limited to 1000 numbered copies
Behold one of two or three LPs that I would actually pay more than $1000 for. This thing is deep in Detroit record collecting legend. Stories that folks have sent angry emails to Popsike asking them to remove completed auction listings so as not to obscure how rare it may or may not be. That hundreds of copies were destroyed in a basement flood. That it wasn’t really that good of a record.
The main driver behind the demand and apocrypha behind this record is the unparalleled funk of the track “Thoughs Were the Days” (sic). Featured on Numero Group’s “Good God” A Gospel Funk Hynmal” comp from 2006, that’s clearly how most folks became aware of this disc. But with literally no more than a handful of original copies known out there, even just getting to hear the rest of the album was a task, one even I was unable to accomplish until this straight full reissue landed in my lap. 
In the hubbub after the “Freedom at 21” flexi-disc had sold for $4000+ on eBay, I half-jokingly offered up a copy of said flexi as a straight trade for “Two Sisters From Bagdad” on the record nerd site Waxidermy. The response was “A one-tracker for a one-tracker.” Even just last week, a buddy deep and dear to this record said everything on this record except “Thoughs Were the Days” was “soft.”
So with the understated, repetitive opening of “Happy and Blessed” and I couldn’t help but feel frustratingly PISSED that I’d gone so long without hearing this. The variety on the album is wonderfully varied, slightly odd and the EXACT thing I imagine when I cannot sleep at night.
Background: this LP is the soundtrack accompaniment to a play of the same name that ran at Music Hall at Detroit’s Center for the Performing Arts for two weeks in August 1973. The production was a flop and the description below may explain why so few copies sold in the lobby of the performance…
“The play was the story of two sisters who met their earthly demise very early in life and were joined together in Heaven. But there was also a character named Jake, who was an agent from Hell whose job was to recruit people from Heaven because Hell was not getting the people they were used to receiving. Well, Jake got a little frisky with one of the sisters and it appeared that one of the sisters became pregnant and the two were kicked out of Heaven and had to go to Hell. Of course, the Devil took a liking to the other sisters while Jake was wrestling with this thing called LOVE.”
(quote from Ernest Garrison, composer/arranger for the album, brother-in-law to “Bagdad’s” playwright, La Vice Hendricks)
To me, odd, hodgepodge neighborhood productions, something only a couple hundred people ever saw, with no filmed evidence and (seemingly) no extant script…this is what I live for. Such a unique snapshot of a time and place, that no matter how in-depth liner notes may go, no matter how clear they explain the premise of a Hendrick’s “personal commitment to introduce non-racial comedy to a city that has been separated by crime, narcotic and racial differences” highlighted by an all-black ensemble…I will NEVER really know or understand what exactly it was like to witness the performance. It is the absolute definition of ephemeral. And honestly, I feel like the songs legitimately smoke and all those record nerds calling this a “one-tracker” are out of their minds. I STRONGLY urge to give this one a listen, even just to appreciate the industriousness of an endeavor, that while failed during its time, is beautiful and compelling near 45 years after its creation.
Side notes: 
- I think the drive behind my appreciation for this record is the same as my newfound and ever-spiraling appreciation for school band and church records. So many unexplored possibilities! So many flops! You’ll never know or find them all…that makes good collecting.
- My mother-in-law and her younger sister were literally “two sisters from Baghdad” (the production got the spelling wrong) living in Detroit in 1973. I oftentimes play fantastical feats of imagination and conspiracy theorist trying to make them the inspiration for this record.
- My grade school put on a production of a play I recall as named “Let’s Put on a Show” in the mid-Nineties. We did similar productions every year. Equal parts musical and spoken dialogue, I am DYING to know who in the hell actually wrote these things? How did they get into the hands of my music teacher? Was this a profitable endeavor for the composer? I believe my brother has a VHS copy of the entire show and I am DYING to see it, to go back and relive the awkwardness (each production had a token “rap” song that always received HUGE laughs from the largely white and moderately suburban parents that, even as a child, felt misguided). We never put on a production of ANYTHING that I’d heard of/seen ANYWHERE else. No “Annie”, no “Godspell”…just some random rinky-dink thing that I’d never hear/see again in my life…AND IT DRIVES ME CRAZY. I’ve gone on here before about the difficultly of a memory that has no outside corroboration…these things PAIN me. Bro is supposedly working on getting a transfer. I will happily upload to YouTube if it happens.

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 1968...it 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 two...it’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.