CMJ -OR- How Everything Never Seems to Change...
Five years have passed and it feels like nothing has changed.
The Dirtbombs are again playing CMJ.
And again me and one other band member had to make the lonely 9-hour drive to New York without any of our other stagemates to pass the time.
Back in 2002 it was just me and Tom Potter. Mick and Jim both flew out, Pat drove out early to see the Whirlwind Heat. It was Devil’s Night and Tom picked me up from my Wednesday night photojournalism class at Wayne State.
I’m terrible at night driving and honestly drove no more than one hour of the entire trip. We slept in rest stops along the way. Tom was confused during an early-morning rest stop. He comes back to the van and says “Man, it was weird in there. Bunch of people in costumes and shit.” It took a second for either of us to realize that it was Halloween. Potter had a magnificent way of perfectly soundtracking the trip too. I can remember the sun lazily rising over the Delaware Water Gap coupled perfectly to “Fairest of the Seasons” by Nico. That same day I would venture to Rockit Scientist (at the old Bleeker/Carmine location) to buy my own copy of Chelsea Girl and still think it wonderfully majestic. An earlier trip had him introduce me to Trans-Europe Express and set against the rolling Pennsylvania hillside is how I’ll always envision that album.
This year found me driving with Mick. I picked him up and we motored well. The less people in the car, the fewer stops. And match that with no smokers in the vehicle and your skin fails to gain that awful nicotine film that makes a day in a van feel like a week.
We marveled at the unrivaled ferocity of the mid-Seventies Detroit punk band Death. Their single on Tryangle records is high atop many wantlists and the five unreleased songs are more wickedness that may be introduced to the world via the Dirtbombs covering them.
We got to Jersey with relative ease. We took up in Hoboken, popped our heads into Maxwell’s and then down the street to eat at Wild Ginger. Mick and I were both in blue jeans and blue jean jacket with defunct Detroit sports team t-shirts underneath. I was hoping no one would notice. It was the first thing our waitress mentioned. The food was good, I got something I can’t remember with brown rice…maybe a udon noodle with chicken and mushroom. A few doors down we explored inside Frozen Monkey Cafe for a laugh and ended up both buying large waffle cones of Red Velvet Cake ice cream. Can you even imagine a tastier flavor? I’ll save you the time and tell you “no.”
We crashed in Jersey City where Mick became accustomed to Curb Your Enthusiasm while I slept through a toilet overflowing.
Soundcheck on Thursday was at 1pm. Surprisingly, every single band member was on time. This is a feat in and of itself. And of course, the soundman was an hour-and-a-half late. Just our luck. We used mostly the backline gear with me in particular rocking a sweet DW drumkit. Try as we may but we can’t find the issue of the Voice with a lampooning cartoon of the CMJ (or “Costly Musical Joke” as they dubbed it) shitterati. The only shining moment in the Bagge-like scribble is a goofy, blonde dude carrying a bass drum that says “Dirt Bombs” on it. I saw it online and thought it hilarious. I mean, everyone knows it’s one word.
From there, a quick sojourn to the beloved Rockit Scientist. If there is one consistent with any of my New York visits, it’s a trip to this unbeatable record store. Mick was already inside. I ended up with a handful of 7”s (Eat Skull, Cult Ritual, the Shebangs, Wolf People) a 12” comp called God in the Garage and an ESSENTIAL 3-CD collection of the first three years of Sun Records.
I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not even that big a Sun Records fan. But I will also say I’m a fan of proper documentation and history and chronological order. So starting with Joe Hill Louis in 1952 and ending with Johnny Cash’s earliest recordings in 1954, what you get is one of the most important spells of recorded music in American history. Sure there’s Elvis’ first two singles, but what about Rufus Thomas? “Bear Cat” and “Tiger Man” are just as savage and wicked as anything laid down by the King. And Dr. Ross’ “Chicago Breakdown” finally introduced me to the original the Gories had based their “Detroit Breakdown” on. The combo of raw rockabilly, dirty blues, primitive rock and roll, twangy hillbilly honky-tonk and gospel vocal balladry is such a perfect amalgam of Americana that I challenge anyone to name a label that’s covered more, better, in their first three years.
More aimless walking and without much dough in my pocket I chow econo with a Twix bar and a 25-cent bag of chips. They hit the spot, but I was far from sated. A random turn at a since-forgotten intersection lead me directly to the Ice Cream Man.
Matt Allen is a blessing. He drives all around the country setting up at music festivals like Bonarro and Coachella and gives out free ice cream. He tricks up some corporate sponsorships to cover his costs and has a blast doing it. Hell, this summer the White Stripes cooked up their own promotional ice cream boxes just for this guy to pass out around the USA. So while sucking down a creamsicle, we get to talking. He asks what band I’m in and when I say the Dirtbombs he responds with “I LOVE THE DIRTBOMBS.” He then goes on to tell me how the Gories are possibly his favorite band ever and that he was lobbying hard all summer to try and get the Dirtbombs at McCarren Pool in Brooklyn. We had a good talk and even had super-top-secret discussions about possible coups at Coachella 2008. Please do check out his website at www.icecreamman.com
I really barely saw anyone play at the Mercury Lounge when I really wanted to see EVERYONE play that night. The Turbo Fruits wholly won me over with the ringing, Who-esque power chords and nimble, “Achilles Last Stand” reminiscing bass picking of a song called “Broadzilla.” It was far and away the best song they would perform, with a cover of “Ramblin’ Rose” that was memorable as well.
I watched a couple of Cheap Time songs and can’t remember what I thought. My mind was not in it.
The Intelligence were next and the sloppy, fat bass lines coming out of their teensy-weensy Korg synth were all I needed to remember how much I love this band.
Miss Alex White and the Red Orchestra are so fucking underrated it hurts. Her Space and Time record makes me feel good all over. Songs like “In the Snow” with it’s Misfits-meets-Stooges meter, or the heartwarming lyrical simplicity and brilliance of “Space and Time” recalling a Goffin-King composition for the Crystals, there’s nary a dud on this album. And the handful of minutes I watched them live was as exceptional as I’d hoped. They could very well be cursed as one of those bands who’s appreciation will never measure up to their importance. These songs are timeless and you’re a sap if you fail to realize.
Jay Reatard is more genius than you can shake a stick at. While I was too late for his original version of the Reatards and only ever liked about ¼ of the stuff the Lost Sounds did (“Plastic Skin” is definitely worth your search efforts), his solo output is impeccable. And in the live theater, he does everything right. With a set that tops out at 20 minutes, there’s nary a breath in between songs. Instead, it’s song-after-song of four count drummer intros exploding into breakneck pop-punk paralysis. The band is crazy tight and jams like “Hammer I Miss You”, “My Shadow” and “I Know a Place” are what the label bigwigs are listening to when they’re losing their shit over Mr. Linsdsay claiming he could be the Golden Child who dethrones emo. Universal, Matador, Geffen and Polydent were all in attendance this night, chomping at the big to get Jay to wax for their imprints. Even money says he Hancock’s with whoever offers the most cheese and delivers them a steaming-pile of Metal Machine madness, laughing all the way to the liquor store.
The Dirtbombs were alright. Not great, not terrible. It was one of those shows where the band felt non-plussed by the performance, but anyone with a tongue was wagging it with praise afterwards. Meh.
Breakfast in Jersey City. Mick got shitty service but I was happy with mine. Our orders were included together on one check. He left a $1 tip because the waitress wench goofed up his order big time. But with our bills included together, how’s the best way for me to tip the lady accordingly, yet make it clear Mick was dissatisfied with his service? There’s no simple answer here and the entire situation is rife for lampooning on an upcoming episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm.
Mick and I drove through the Friday Brooklyn rain in search of the Academy Records Annex. I’d gleaned good things about the shop online and from Jeffrey Novak (who’d run into Blowhan Kugelberg the last time he visited the shop) so despite tepid warnings from our booking agent (and I quote “It’s not worth your time,”) we slowly inched our way down the BQE and made upon the shop.
Kids, always listen to your booking agent.
Don’t get me wrong, there were cool records there. But they were cool records I already owned. Academy Records Annex would have been a great place to visit when I was 15 years old. But now, I can tell that the hipster employees are snaking the primo stuff for themselves while what ends up on the racks is blah-worthy. I was prepared to spend big but bought absolutely nothing there
Soundchecked at Southpaw, ate leftover pizza in the basement and then walked the Park Slope streets with Mick. I stood outside Beacon’s Closet while Mick made some funk purchase inside. A couple feet away from me, a child, no more than 12-years-old, in moppish hair and Harry Potter specs, perpetually circling a tree and chatting on a cell phone. Here’s what I hear from the conversation:
“Yeah man, totally sorry we had to get out of there. Yeah dude, I’m really, really sorry. But do not worry. Come by later and we will totally get you in on this blunt. It’s gonna be crazy. You’ll have to get some of this blunt.”
It was then when I wondered if there was a phone number I could call to report possible pending pre-pubescent stupidity.
We eventually trek on down to Norton Records HQ. A more comforting place we could not find. Billy Miller and Miriam Linna are possibly the best hosts we will ever encounter. Not only do they open their expansive home and record collection for us to visit, explore, dig thru, etc…but they offer drinks, showers, t-shirts and all kinds of other hospitality that is refreshing. They apologized that the place was cluttered due to the upcoming WFMU Record Fair. Mick and I had no qualms, we sat back and listened to the hi-fi, explaining that nothing makes either of us feel more at home than a room packed to the brim with records, posters, magazines and all the ephemera and trappings of the record nerd’s life. I picked up the Los Saicos 10”, the new Mary Weiss single, King Khan and BBQ’s Crypt 7”, Ricky and the Impressionables Band “Baco Walk” single, the Sound of Young Sacramento 7” comp from SAMCC Records and a Prince Albert/Psychedelic Psymphone split single on Arcania International. I entirely recommend the SAMCC single, as the Fugitives doing "Blowin' My Mind" is the best Sixties garage punk I've heard since Quagmire 1 intro'd me to "Don't Want Ya No More" by Mogen David and the Grapes of Wrath. Both are essential.
A choppy phone call from an Australian promoter regarding Dbomb dates in March was unceremoniously lost to the ether when my cell ran out of juice. I missed the Turbo Fruits and only saw a bit of the Intelligence. I used the Southpaw’s house drum kit and it sounded/felt crisp. After a shaky start that involved gibberish lyrics to Black Sabbath’s “War Pigs”, we eventually hit on a groove and by the time we sunk our teeth into the Black Lips “Oh Katrina” we had the crowd eating out of our hands. It’s a great feeling seeing people the whole room over slowly realize that they know a song in another form. The raised eyebrows, re-assuring nods to friends and fists pumping in the air are much appreciated by this drummer.
The highlight of the show, the weekend and (in my opinion) the entire year was the way we ended “Theme From the Dirtbombs.” What usually descends into schloppy noise gunk somehow caught onto a wicked loop that we chewed on for near-on four solid minutes. I thought it kinda sounded like Can krautrock mixed with A-Frames atonality. I was playing my fucking balls off, hitting the drums as hard as I could after already playing for over an hour. It was a stuttered, Mitch Mitchell wannabe beat coupled with Mick’s effected, Mission of Burma guitar slashes and similar wickedness from Pat, Troy and Ko. The whole time we were locked in all I could think was “I can’t be the one to stop. I can’t be the one to fuck up.” It was SO-DAMN-INTENSE! And in the end, no one did either. While an internal test of wills, we were able to commence together and stumble offstage, wholly pooped. I felt a level of self-accomplishment that I’ve never really experienced before. We did an encore, but the show was made with that ending.
Mick and I would PATH train into Manhattan and as if lemmings to the cliff, once again found ourselves at St. Mark’s Place. I bought biographies of Ya Ho Wa and Moondog, Naomi Wolfe’s End of America and the audio version of Colbert’s I Am America and So Can You! A quick trip to Metropolis vintage clothing had me pick up another pair of Levi’s 517’s to throw on the ever-growing pile along with a rugby tournament t-shirt from ’79 and a classic yellow phys ed shirt from a school named Belleview. I live for vintage phys ed t-shirts and it’s a dream of mine to one day have a full collection of shirts of all the classic Detroit public high schools, with particular favorites I’m looking for being Henry Ford (Trojans), Cass Tech (Technicians), Chadsey (Explorers) and Cody (Comets). Any help or trade offers will be greatly appreciated.
Showed up at Maxwell’s late, took forever to park (but there’s always something great about ending up on the street Frank Sinatra Drive) and finally ended up playing my own shitty drum set. The cruddy penne pasta from the Maxwell’s band menu (a scourge among most touring outfits) was only saved by my foresight in ordering the Oreo Cookie cheese cake. Oh so good. I watched almost all of the Turbo Fruits set and I will again declare that “Broadzilla” is one of the best songs I’ve heard all year. I cannot wait to hear a recording of it and if Ecstatic Peace doesn’t have their grimey paws already all over it, I just may try and slip it on a Cass side.
The Intelligence were at their best at Maxwell’s. I was finally able to catch a sizable chunk of their set. Only complaint is that they didn’t pull-out the classic song from their debut single, “Mindfuck’em.”
The Dirtbombs set…whatever. Maxwell’s is home away from home for us. Ko didn’t have a guitar amp (originally supposed to borrow from Jay Reatard, but he cancelled and Turbo Fruits had to jet immediately after their set) so she used Troy’s and he played direct and couldn’t hear himself. We played a few tricks we haven’t done in awhile…like “Encrypted” and “Wheatland” and as per Lars’ request “Little Miss Chocolate Syrup” into “Can’t Stop Thinking About It” like we used to in the Potter-Diamond salad days.
Mick and I rose early Sunday morn and kicked Pennsylvania’s I-80 ass. Have you tried the cheescake bites from Arby’s yet? Oh my lord. Do so with utmost haste. And TA travel centers should still have the 3lb. bag of Haribo gummi bears for $7. Those things have lasted over a week and I’m still not tired of them. Mick and I spin the final, mastered copy of the Dirtbombs We Have You Surrounded and after “Ever Loving Man” he remarks “I don’t know if we’ll ever record a more perfect song than that.” And I have to agree.
And I guess I’ve kinda abandoned the original intended arc of this entry…comparing the Dirtbombs first CMJ five years ago with the one from 2007. I forgot to tell you about how I helped my boss at Car City load into the WFMU Record Fair at some ungodly hour. But because of said help, I was able to scour tables before the public was let in. I spent way too much money, but justified it by only being 20-years-old. I got an original copy of No New York as well as the Beaux Jens “She Was Mine” and a couple-hundred dollars worth of more records that I can’t remember specifically as I spent an equally-absurd amount at WFMU the following year and now they’re both kind of blobbing together in my mind.
We played with the Kills, Electric 6, Datsuns, Rock and Roll Machine and Von Bondies all on the same night. I have soundboard recordings of every band's performance that night. We unloaded from the Bowery Ballroom while OK GO was soundchecking the next day. We saw “Pray For Pills” spray-painted on a building. I helped a friend make a crossword puzzle. Ran into Steve Turner from Mudhoney on the street. I regretfully ditched a chance to sit front-row for Saturday Night Live featuring Jay-Z as musical guest so that Potter and I could be home early Sunday morning. We got lost somewhere on the Garden State Parkway. The van was cold. He again drove all the way. Much like I did this year. While time, characters and background may change, it all seems like the story is always the same. Records are bought, food is eaten, shows are played, and after some time, the differentiating details are lost amidst the hubris.