Saturday, July 30, 2011

Denver Scene Report (one of a series)

The Dirty Lookers: Somewhere, the front cover for the first New York Dolls album beams proudly. *smiles*
I've been a Denver-ite (Denverian?) for four months now. As of two weeks ago, I've moved into my first apartment here, and began training at job I feel optimistic I can hang onto awhile. It looks like I won't struggling so much. (That is, unless the House Republicans wake up a week from this coming Monday and realize, "Oh, shit! Guess the President WAS right about raising the debt ceiling and all that, huh?" But it's too soon after breakfast to be thinking about potential disasters, isn't it...?)

*AHEM!* Anyways, I've firmly fallen in love with my new adopted town, and am setting roots apace. I've even been enjoying some tentative explorations into my town's sounds. Denver is hardly Austin in the '90s (nor Denver in the '90s, for that matter), nor is it even NYC in the late '90s/'00s. But no place is, including Austin and NYC. But I am finding some crackin' rock 'n' roll here, though. One fragment of which actually rehearses right outside my bedroom door.

The Dirty Lookers comprises four long-time vets of Denver's punk scene (Pam Puente [who, full-disclosure, is my housemate], Sara Fischer, Gerry Feit, and Chris Kieft), crankin' out a juicy, bluesy New York Dolls-moving-into-the-garage punk rock grind. Puente knows how to weave a three-chord ode to waking hungover and stinkin' of cigs and sex, and has a whiskey-and-tobacco-stained wail that would have done Kat Arthur proud in Legal Weapon's heyday, or even Lynne Von in Da Willys/Trick Babies. If you're wondering where The Dirty Lookers are coming from, covers of Blondie and Irma Thomas should tell you a lot. (Even "Cry On" author Allen Toussaint has given The Dirty Lookers' version his stamp of approval.)

The rest of the world gets to meet The Dirty Lookers next week, when they release their eight-song mini-LP Audio Voyeur, followed shortly by their maiden tour of the east coast and midwest. Whatever Denver readers I may have can check the band out tomorrow, July 31, when they throw a free record release party at longtime Denver record store institution Wax Trax. Meantime, enjoy this clip of The Dirty Lookers ripping through Pam's "I did WHAT?!" anthem, "Whiskey, She's A Liar." Ciao!

Saturday, July 23, 2011

A Message To Our Leaders

Just fucking do it. Get it done. Time is wasting.

To the members of Congress: This game of 'tis-'t'ain't you're playing over the budget is complete and utter bullshit. You are holding our future as a nation hostage. Threatening to allow default is fucking criminal. If this happens, I suggest we, the American people, start a drive to have each and every one of you removed from office and vote in high fiber people who can do the job right and not put our future on the line.

To President Obama: You're not going to get any cooperation from these smug bastards. Just issue an executive order to raise the debt ceiling. Just do it. It's in your power. Then you guys can hammer out a budget. If you get threats of impeachment? So what? America will not begrudge you trying to save our skins. Trust me.

I'm so over this tug-of-war. I think we all are. This is what happens when we place our votes in the hands of politicians, rather than human beings. Maybe I'm being simplistic. But it sure seems simple to me. *shakes head* Silly earthlings....

P.S. - R.I.P., Amy Winehouse. You were the one pop singer out there who could actually sing, actually had good songs. So sad to see such talent go.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

How To Name Your Band In Three Easy Lessons

Okay, enough is enough! It was bad enough I lived through the '90s, which gave the world really crappy one-word band names like Tool and Helmet. It got to the point where a friend and I would sit around making up fake grunge band names, like Godpussy. (Actually, that one is pretty good, come to think of it.)

But every time I turn around lately, some young indie band comes along giving their band a really annoying name. Like Get Cape Wear Cape Fly. Or the one I saw this evening, Snake Rattle Rattle Snake.


Okay, looks like I have to take you titbabies by the hand and SHOW YOU HOW TO NAME YOUR SHITTY LITTLE BANDS! Just so I can stop sounding and feeling like the cranky old guy yelling at you to get off my lawn. It won't make your music any better, nor will it make you cool or worth a damn. On second thought, maybe that's why your band sucks: BECAUSE YOU DON'T KNOW WHAT A CONSTITUTES A GREAT ROCK 'N' ROLL BAND NAME!!!

  • STEP ONE: NO SENTENCES - I'm sorry, but writing a book when you're trying to name your band is instant loserville. It didn't work in the '80s for Hornets Attack Victor Mature, Fishing With Elvis, or Duck Duck Goose. It really isn't working for you. You suck. And you will never be the exception to this rule.
  • STEP TWO: DEFINITIVE ARTICLES ARE YOUR FRIENDS - There's this word. It's called "the." Learn it, use it. Put it at the start of your band's name. You will thank me later. Oh, and always make sure it's capitalized.
  • STEP THREE: PLURALIZE - Dear Snake Rattle Rattle Snake: Your band would rock 100 times harder if you were The Rattlesnakes. Ask The Ramones, The New York Dolls, The Yardbirds, and so many others. Yes, there have been exceptions, like The Who, Buzzcocks, Big Black, Sonic Youth, etc. But remember, you suck. You're amateurs. I'm having to show you how it's done, because I've left you alone for this long, and look at the mess you've made. Trust me: The Rattlesnakes. Get Cape Wear Cape Fly? Either become The Capes or The Flies. Actually, I'd go with The Flies, even though two older bands cooler than you'll ever be used that in the '60s and then the '80s, respectively.
 Okay, I'm done. No, you don't need to thank me. Just please stop giving your bands such shitty names! Enough, already! And while you're at it, maybe buy a Ramones record or two? Those '70s folk albums you're basing your careers on sucked back then. Thank you

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

'80s Indie Crunch, part two

Let's continue on with my very personal series on The Other '80s, the one which you'll never see anthologized in '80s necrophilia shows like "I Love The '80s." (See Part One here.) This is about an '80s that spoke more to alienated American kids who wouldn't be caught dead with an alligator on their chest. Who'd rather be in a sweaty, dark club on a Friday night slamdancing with 50-200 of their closest friends as they damaged their hearing, rather than seeing what wacky hijinks Uncle Jesse and the Olsson Twins were getting up to. Who were sure Ronald Reagan and Wall Street greed culture were destroying America, but were powerless to do anything about it except shout out loud, and maybe buy a Dead Kennedys record.  It's a time that is not too different from the one we inhabit, which means we could use music and philosophy this loud, this abrasive, this independent, this different, wrapped in a lifestyle that emphasized breaking off and living in a self-sufficient, economical, ethical, and community-minded fashion.

That way of life was termed, in their unique parlance, "jamming econo" by one of its foremost practitioners, San Pedro's Minutemen. Much has been made about how these guys lived up to their name in song lengths. But they really cut across the prevalent hardcore grain: Going funky when they could have thrashed, and having jazz-worthy chops. And as lefty as they were, their's was more the populist politics of someone like Jim Hightower rather than Crass-style anarchism. And it got couched in George Hurley's explosive drums, a bottom-end from Mike Watt's "thud-staff" that is everything Flea wishes he were, and the passionate bark and nagging-itch, trebly guitar of this bouncing, 200 lb. ball of energy named D. Boone. The Minutemen knew what was up, they knew how we were living, as opposed to the images on TV of how we were living. They knew "This Ain't No Picnic."

Also on Greg Ginn's SST Records was the band who inspired the Minutemen to record a competitive double LP, Double Nickles On The Dime. That band was Minneapolis' Husker Du. Once they matured into their post-Zen Arcade work, they'd gone beyond the ringing metallic thrash that made their initial name into a burly and loud classic pop sound that leader Bob Mould would spend an entire solo career refining and expanding (including a highly successful [if brief] foray into leading a second band, Sugar). The first indication any of us had of how the Huskers were changing and developing was a pre-Zen Arcade 45 of their cover of The Byrds' "Eight Miles High", where they now sounded like a far more brutal and dangerous Buzzcocks. This clip, despite the rather low fidelity, really shows what a breathtaking, surging and dynamic arrangement Husker Du gave the song. Note how adeptly it whips the slam pit into fits and starts, too.

SST also, for a time, hosted a band who really rewrote the standard guitar vocabulary, Sonic Youth. This might partly have to do with guitarists Lee Ranaldo and Thurston Moore having served in the avant-rock ensemble of of composer Glenn Branca, who composed around masses of alternately-tuned electric guitars played really loud. Or blame it on the fact that Sonic Youth initially could only afford cheap guitars that only worked if they weren't tuned in standard fashion, and then had a drumstick jammed under the strings and got struck by screwdrivers. They found a beauty and a whole new way to write songs working in this fashion, resulting in music that could chime as well as scream and cry. There was certainly a time I thought they were the new Velvet Underground, and it thrills me they exist to this day as a prime example that you can thrive in a long-term fashion as a totally outside, self-contained art enclave.

Time to wrap this up and get on with my day. More to come, obviously. So long, and be inspired!

Monday, July 4, 2011

Happy Birthday, America!

It's July 4th, a day to wave flags, eat hot dogs, and set off decorative explosive devices. (And hopefully not lose a finger in the process.) Me? Not sure how I'm celebrating - I'm kinda hard to reach, with my phone being off over a week and me unable to get it turned back on until tomorrow.

I do know I'm always of two minds about my country. I've never been a blind patriot - we tend to be a big bully, at home and abroad, and not mindful of the little guy. That disappoints me. We also are seriously damaged as a republic and in serious need of mending, and no two people can agree on HOW it should be done. Which bodes ill for us all. This may be an eternal problem, however: Witness Husker Du's 30-year-old protest classic "In A Free Land," here taken at a slower, more classic punk rock pace than the more hardcore version on their 2nd 45. Still, Bob Mould's guitar and words ring harshly in indicting our system: "Why bother spending time/Reading up on things/Everyone's an authority/In a free land." Sadly, this still holds true, Bob....

Still, America is a great country that's offered a lot to this world culturally. Dave Alvin knew this well when he penned "American Music" for his then-band, The Blasters. I still can't figure out why he didn't include punk rock in the roll call of great musics America has given the world. And I could add a shitload of great artists (Andy Warhol, Jackson Pollock, etc., etc.), poets (Walt Whitman, Allen Ginsberg, Emily Dickinson, Sylvia Plath, etc.), and authors (Raymond Chandler, James Ellroy, J.D. Salinger, Jack Kerouac, etc.):

Ultimately, I can think of no better celebration of the American spirit than the moment Jimi Hendrix took the stage at Woodstock and played the national anthem. Here he was, a man whose country had long crushed his people, and he rose above that and became an artist of unparalleled vision and force. Then he applied that force to a song written by a pair of slave owners, which had become his nation's rallying cry. And as he played the national anthem in the midst of a brutal war we had no reason to be in, this former US Army veteran added a crying, wailing tone to "The Star Spangled Banner," as well as all the rockets redglare and bombs bursting in air we'd sung about all these years. It's hard to ever sing this, after hearing how Jimi did it:

There you have it, Irregulars. My feelings about this country I love, yet weep for, expressed the best way I know how: Through song. Maybe I'll finally write my own American musical epic today. Who knows? I suggest you celebrate in the way you see fit. And let's report back in a few days. Be good out there!

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Subcultural Cooking Shows

Happy Sunday afternoon, y'all! As soon as I get through posting this, I'm probably heading to the neighborhood bookstore, for distraction's sake (as well as getting me outta the Temporary Denver Napalm HQ!). (Shit, even some exercise might be nice, eh?) But before I get into this, I should let you know there was an exchange of Facebook messages with my UK colleague John Robb, another punk rock vet with a couple of notable bands under his belt (Goldblade and The Membranes) and a parallel career as a rock journalist (check out his excellent recent histories of both punk and post-punk). (Actually, I haven't read the latter yet, so perhaps I shouldn't be calling it "excellent." John, think you can send me a signed copy so I can check its' excellence?) Anyway, before I get too Rev. Norb in these diversionary, parenthetical tangents, the point of this now-rambling paragraph is that John has asked me to do a blog for his excellent musical/cultural site, Louder Than War. Which means, at least a twice-a-month, A Heartful Of Napalm will be a part of Louder Than War. I can't say I'm more pleased for the opportunity to spread the Napalm Disease farther and wider. Thanks, John!

Now, about food....

Some of you who follow me either on Twitter or Facebook already know that, much as I love Denver, steady, solid employment's been scarce. Shit, I transferred my longtime political fundraising job here, and was let go after three months! I keep saying living punk rock in the '80s prepared me well for surviving in the modern economy. Part of DIY living is rejecting the urge to scarf burgers at McDonald's (or whatever) and learning to cook on your pitiful resources. (I've even been teased, in my search for recipes from my more talented-in-the-culinary-department pals, that I should start a series here called "Cooking With Napalm." Give me a chance to actually get good at this first, please.)

Thankfully, all us lumpen-whatevers have some fine resources at our disposal. And I don't just mean killer cooking blogs like Kimberly A. Morales' excellent Poor Girl Eats Well (for which I have my longtime pal Melia to thank, and which also works if you happen to not be a girl), or my particular favorite, Cooking For Assholes (which should work even if you're not an asshole). (Man, do the jokes get cheesier by the minute or what?!) For one thing, thanks to the magic of YouTube, there's now a whole shitload of alternate universe cooking shows available to us Anthony Bourdains-in-the-making. One of my faves for the past year is actually hosted by a fan of "Radio Napalm," a Las Vegas-based boots-n-braces type named Eddie Petro, hosting a show called The Skinhead Gourmet. It's pretty simple: Eddie, his cropped head, and his Doc Martens shows you how to prepare something inexpensive and tasty, as killer Oi! and bootboy reggae blasts in the background. (I've done the cat's Olde E Fried Chicken, and I would say it's my own lack of skill that made it turn out weird!) Why don't ya try out this SHARP's Menacing Mac 'n' Cheese to start?

Eddie's got some serious competition, however, from a new upstart from what I've always felt was a shitty musical world. (Personal opinion. It's my blog - fuck off if you disagree.) *ahem* But seriously, how can anyone - even a confirmed carnivore like me - not instantly fall in love with The Vegan Black Metal Chef (yet another Melia recommendation)?

Not sure I want to either go vegan, and I really hate cookie monster satanic metal. But damned, if I don't want some of that Pad Thai!

Okay, enough of this web-nerd shit. I need to seriously go from URL to IRL. Enjoy your time in the kitchen. Coming soon: More '80s Indie Crunch, and my thoughts on Bob Mould's book. Let it rock, Irregulars!

Friday, July 1, 2011

'80s Indie Crunch, Part One

Hello, all. As you can see, the blog's gotten a stripped-down, brighter, and hopefully easier-to-read redesign. I'm hoping this eradicates the eyestrain some of you closer to my age have been complaining about. Believe me, I get it: I never think of myself as being in my 40s, or any age, and hate thinking of myself as "old." But now and again, my body tells me otherwise....

My Facebook friends have seen me, the past few days, talking about music I call "'80s Indie Crunch," for lack of a better term. This got triggered by Bob Mould's excellent new memoir, as well as a re-read of co-author Michael Azzarad's now-classic '80s American underground rock chronicle, Our Band Could Be Your Life. It's shaped my listening the past few days, and made me realize this music was my roots as much as late '70s punk rock was, or oldies radio or '60s country music were.

The nostalgia for the '80s really frustrates me. What is celebrated is an experience that was not my own. I'm sorry, but Reagan-era politics, bad TV and movies, and MTV heroes like The Police, Def Leppard, and Depeche Mode did not speak to me, nor to a sizable amount of young Americans back then. What did was a wide-ranging set of sounds that was really the American post-punk reaction.

It could be hardcore, it could be stuff that sounded like the classic punk rock template, it could also just be noisy, spiky, abrasive pop music that didn't really fit anywhere. Point was this was not false glamor, it was gritty and real, and spoke to a generation of young Americans like me that did not fit, probably read more books than the average person, didn't feel beautiful or at peace with "morning in America." College radio and self-published fanzines spread the word on this music in pre-internet times, and you really had to search out these independently released records, maybe mail-ordering them. The bands toured on a shoestring in clapped-out vans, playing on pawn shop gear, sleeping on fans floors and eating whatever they could find, sometimes going days without being able to shower, often booking the tour itinerary on the fly, based on info other bands on the circuit handed down.

This was the mythic, independent, pioneer American spirit taught in history text books brought to life in the rock 'n' roll world. This was the dawn of indie rock, when that term did not mean a fear of loud guitar amps or abrasive sonics. This was when "hipster" didn't mean a clueless, "ironic" college student you wanted to beat up on principle.

It meant bands like Boston's Mission Of Burma, who some authoritative rock critics like Byron Coley feel were Husker Du before there was a Husker Du. (Bob Mould acknowledges Burma had an impact, and his later band Sugar even covered Burma's "That's When I Reach For My Revolver.") This whirling dervish of obtuse pop melodics, crushing volume and noise, and rhythmic thrust, Burma, like many bands I adore, never received their due until after they were gone, sacrificed to guitarist Roger Miller's worsening tinnitus. And like some seminal bands, Burma reformed in the past decade and played to larger and more adoring crowds than they enjoyed in their heyday. You can see why in this clip from their dawn, 1979, ripping into one of their best, "Peking Spring":

Then there was Big Black, the nasty mojo children of future recording studio genius Steve Albini, as controversial a figure as the American underground has seen. Big Black, Albini's introduction to the world at large, were gloriously explosive and dangerous: Sheet metal guitar tones, cement mixer bass, and the relentless hammering of Roland The Drum Machine (which was a big fuck-you to the then prevalent technopop and dance culture, as well as to naysayers who felt you couldn't rock with a drum machine). And to match the unrelentingly ugly sonic mood, Albini as a lyricist pulled back the rock that was American culture and scooped up the worms and bugs crawling underneath and rubbed them in your face: Racism? Check. Domestic violence? You bet. Small town boredom turned to petty destruction? Absolutely. An entire small midwestern town populated by pedophiles? Uh-huh. This was the sound of the Gang Of Four gone mean and nasty and direct....

Of course, the oft-cited band that paved that indie trail for the '80s hellspawn of punk rock was Black Flag. I stated last night, posting this same video at my Facebook wall, that Black Flag's Damaged LP really touched a nerve in me. They sounded to me like a louder, nervier Iggy And The Stooges with Captain Beefheart as musical director on one hand, and what I always had wanted heavy metal to sound like on the other. And guitarist/songwriter Greg Ginn's knack for clawing at his own nerve endings and turning his own neuroses inside out in a painful fashion offered a different take on punk rock angst, one only implicitly political and less preachy. This was emotional, committed, explosive, intense rock 'n' roll that still stands to this day. Here's the lineup that created Damaged, with a young Henry Rollins who had yet to see many gyms or tattoo artists....

This is just a handful of samples of the scree I'm talking about. More to come for sure - I never like spending longer than an hour working on these posts. Hopefully, this can create a dialogue on what we can still learn from this aesthetic, and the ethics and values it cherished and practiced. Be careful out there.