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!

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