i recently came across the longstanding GERMAN live performance series CARDINAL SESSIONS on YOUTUBE that showcases singer-songwriters in UNIQUE settings (parks, backstage, sound-checks, side-streets, restaurants, etc.) with very much scaled-back, MINIMAL setups. from what i could gather online, CARDINAL SESSIONS is a series conducted by a private company IMPRINT at whose SPARE production aesthetic puts the focus on the songs themselves and the HUMAN ELEMENT. no reverb, no EQ padding, no trickery, bullshit.
i remember in an interview DANIEL LANOIS once spoke about the fact that when musicians play together in ACOUSTIC settings sans amplication, they are able to naturally balance themselves relative to each other organically through mutual INTERACTION and active listening. for me this series is built on that level of INTIMACY and really celebrates the power of the HUMAN VOICE. minus all the usual sonic decorations and embellishments, its interesting to see if the songs themselves and their performances still stack up to the originals. from what i have experienced watching this series, such is the case.
CARDINAL SESSIONS is definitely worth checking out, especially performances by the likes of PETE DOHERTY (of THE LIBERTINES), MAC DEMARCO, THE BRIAN JONESTOWN MASSACRE, MIKE HERRERA (of MXPX), CONOR OBERST (of BRIGHT EYES), IRON & WINE, THE AVETT BROTHERS, TWO DOOR CINEMA CLUB and STELLA DONNELLY among many others. very cool stuff.
i came across THE WHITE STRIPES during my sophomore year in high school, which was spent at a boarding school in western MASSACHUSETTS. friends of mine that were massive INDIE ROCK heads saw them play small clubs in nearby NORTHAMPTON and AMHERST as they were promoting their self titled THE WHITE STRIPES (SYMPATHY FOR THE RECORD INDUSTRY, 1999) debut and follow-up DE STIJL (SYMPATHY FOR THE RECORD INDUSTRY, 2000) albums at turn of the millennium. to me they seemed like one of many celebrated but firmly UNDERGROUND groups at time like NEUTRAL MILK HOTEL, THE FLAMING LIPS, THE DELGADOS, THE MAGNETIC FIELDS or PAVEMENT. the most noteworthy aspect of their band was their UNCONVENTIONAL, MINIMALISTIC presentation and sonic aesthetic. two players with three basic elements: guitar, drums and vocals.
i had moved to KUWAIT my junior year to live with my family when WHITE BLOOD CELLS (SYMPATHY FOR THE RECORD INDUSTRY, 2001) blew up behind the single "FELL IN LOVE WITH A GIRL," and i had the damnedest time trying to figure out why. to me that song and the record as whole was not entirely different than that of its two predecessors. there was FOLK / BLUES hybrid thing going on with plaintive ballads and introspective stompers in "HOTEL YORBA," "DEAD LEAVES ON THE DIRTY GROUND" and "WE'RE GOING TO BE FRIENDS." maybe it was the fact that MICHEL GONDRY sprayed his INVENTIVE cinematic pixie-dust all over the LEGO-animated "FELL IN LOVE WITH A GIRL" video or maybe it was just good timing as their seemed to be a whole slew of like-minded 2000s ROCK REVIVAL bands bubbling up and gaining popularity at the time like THE STROKES, THE YEAH YEAH YEAHS, MGMT, THE LIBERTINES, INTERPOL, THE ARCTIC MONKEYS, TV ON THE RADIO, LCD SOUNDSYSTEM, THE DARKNESS, BLOC PARTY and ARCADE FIRE among many others.
what has really knocked me sideways in the years since is how their unconventional yet lean and highly potent two-person format has gained popularity in the years since, most famously with bands ranging from THE BLACK KEYS, DEATH FROM ABOVE 1979, SHE & HIM, PHANTOGRAM, CHAIRLIFT, NO AGE and LIGHTNING BOLT to JAPANDROIDS , THE KILLS, CULTS, PURITY RING, BEST COAST, SLEIGH BELLS and ROYAL BLOOD. someone out there is more knowledgable than me could probably name a precursor to this format, but i cant name or think of one. its pretty stunning that THE WHITE STRIPES got the ball rolling with the idea of ROCK N ROLL duo.
like all their records, WHITE BLOOD CELLS is a THOUGHTFUL, heavily BLUES-based album that brings together the best of GARAGE ROCK and INDIE ROCK in a SPARSE, MINIMALIST package by design. also like their whole discography, this record is an INTERESTING experiment in creating MEANINGFUL art from imposed LIMITATIONS that force the artist to transcend their CONSTRAINTS. that aspect of their work i will always find COMPELLING. definitely worth checking out.
to my ears, the DUBLIN-based band FONTAINES D.C. sound a like a THROWBACK in both tone and presentation to the INDIE ROCK scenes of the 1980s and 90s across the pond. im talking about bands ranging from THE SMITHS and OASIS to THE FALL and even THE LA's. a sound that resonates with clean MELODIC guitar lines and SARDONIC, passionately delivered vocals without compromising their native accent. and that has always been one of my pet peeves: BRITISH and IRISH bands that sing with an AMERICAN accent. i understand the perception that it makes them more commercial, but its always a welcome sight when new bands stay true to themselves in that regard.
really digging FONTAINES D.C. as they hit the sweet spot of one of my favorite cultural movements in ROCK N ROLL history, while carving a niche for themselves. definitely worth checking out.
parodies & text by nacrowe
with the tragic passing of TAYLOR HAWKINS and the second tribute concert set to take place in LOS ANGELES within the week, it got me thinking about how bands and creative entities in general move past the loss or death of a PROMINENT member. its a very tricky thing. HAWKINS himself was the drummer of the FOO FIGHTERS, usually a backup supporting role, but in the context of that band he was the second most visible and charismatic member next to DAVE GROHL himself.
the most recent example i could think of in which a band successfully moved on form the untimely passing of a CELEBRATED member is ALICE IN CHAINS with the ascension of WILLIAM DUVALL for the late ALTERNATIVE ROCK icon LAYNE STALEY. for me, ALICE IN CHAINS was a foundational band (along with FAITH NO MORE and JANE'S ADDICTION) that very much defined the soundtrack of my adolescence, so the idea of them reforming with a new unknown singer during my mid-twenties was... let's just say i was SKEPTICAL. that is until i heard BLACK GIVES WAY TO BLUE (VIRGIN, 2009) and was beyond moved by the proper loving send-off they gave their fallen brother. such was done in true AC/DC BACK IN BLACK (ATLANTIC, 1980) fashion, meaning they acknowledged their loss and publicly mourned such in a manner fitting that member (i.e. making music of QUALITY and INTENTION).
obviously ALICE IN CHAINS and AC/DC lost their frontmen, but in the case of LED ZEPPELIN and THE WHO, like the FOO FIGHTERS, they lost their drummer. ZEPPELIN famously called it a day after JOHN BONHAM passed and THE WHO continued with diminishing returns in the wake of KEITH MOON's death. both drummers were larger than life exemplars at their craft. my gut says that GROHL will continue FOO FIGHTERS, but only after a long period crafting a fitting tribute to his fallen brother. i dont think this is the end of their story.
with the case of ALICE IN CHAINS, DUVALL held his own as his own man and showed a long suffering fanbase that he had his own gifts to bring to the role and help resurrect a genre-defining band from cultural extinction. his MUSICALITY (STELLAR VOICE, GUITAR-PLAYING ABILITY and SONGWRITING) spoke for itself and won over skeptics, like myself, over. like DUVALL, HAWKINS was the only member of his group to be primarily recognized for his work in that band, as all others were notable members of previous groups: DAVE GROHL (NIRVANA), PAT SMEAR (THE GERMS), NATE MENDEL (SUNNY DAY REAL ESTATE), CHRIS SHIFLETT (NO USE FOR A NAME) and RAMI JAFFEE (THE WALLFLOWERS). its doubly tragic since in recent years HAWKINS was on the cusp of spreading his wings on several high profile solo and side projects (NHC and THE COATTAIL RIDERS) that were beginning to gave his singing and songwriting talent its well-earned time in the spotlight. given his long association with the FOO FIGHTERS, i feel like his lasting sendoff and ultimate legacy will be on a future FOO FIGHTERS release dedicated in his honor a la BLACK GIVES WAY TO BLUE and BACK IN BLACK. that is my hunch at least, because itd be unfortunate if the group went the way of LED ZEPPELIN or even worse, THE WHO.
RIP TAYLOR HAWKINS, LAYNE STALEY, MIKE STARR, BON SCOTT, JOHN BONHAM, JOHN ENTWISTLE and KEITH MOON
enjoy this episode of DEER GOD RADIO with a playlist celebrating ALICE IN CHAINS shot from my brother's couch during the pandemic way back in march 2020.
in the wake of the breakup of JANE'S ADDICTION, frontman PERRY FARRELL and drummer STEPHEN PERKINS both collaborated with guitarist PETER DISTEFANO and bassist MARTYN LENOBLE (who was later replaced on the next album by MINUTEMEN/FIREHOSE veteran MIKE WATT) on a project called PORNO FOR PYROS. like most of the splinter groups related to JANE'S ADDICTION, their is a sense of both continuation and departure with the former group. whereas guitarist DAVE NAVARRO (of JANE'S ADDICTION) had a majestic sense of textured dynamics and guitar heroics that was equal parts JIMMY PAGE as it was DANIEL ASH and ROBERT SMITH, in DISTEFANO there is a decidedly more traditional approach with LATIN influences and even FLAMENCO stylings thrown in the mix. i can only imagine how daunting it must have felt to essentially be replacing ALTERNATIVE ROCK royalty, but DISTEFANO more than held is grown, especially on the subsequent GOOD GOD's URGE (WARNER BROS, 1996) follow-up release.
lyrically on their debut PORNO FOR PYROS (WARNER BROS, 1993) recording FARRELL ditches the pseudo-CATHOLIC hagiography of SEXUAL DESIRE predilections of his former group and paints a decidedly direct picture of early 1990s LOS ANGELES, complete with EMPATHETIC profiles on prostitutes ("CURSED FEMALE") and those that solicit their services ("CURSED MALE"), gang violence ("MEIJA") and even the LOS ANGELES RIOTS ("PORNO FOR PYROS"). the band's moniker is a reference to such widespread PANIC, VIOLENCE and ARSON in the wake of the RODNEY KING verdict. what makes the records fun is the EXPERIMENTAL yet chill and free-flowing nature of the music, no doubt indebted to DISTEFANO's layered guitar textures and PERKINS mantra-inducing grooves, as well as the IDIOSYNCRATIC obsessions of FARRELL. these include thoughts about the waves of emotion that induce depression ("SADNESS"), or what it would be like to be subjugated by extraterrestrials as playthings ("PETS"), or date someone from another culture ("BLACK GIRLFRIEND") or even the finer points of inducing the female climax ("ORGASM"). despite himself these self-referential narratives are quite profound and would be sleazy in lesser hands.
with FARRELL its all a celebration of life, the good and the bad. and in a way that celebration is a reflection of his deep affinity for LOS ANGELES and all its contradictions. fascinating record by a group that was just getting started. highly recommended.
i first became aware of CLEVELAND-based artist DEREK HESS by way of the album covers he produced in the early 2000s for ascending POST-HARDCORE bands, notably CONVERGE and UNEARTH among many others. his EXPRESSIONISTIC, SKELETAL drawings often depicted CONTORTED, faceless bodies in a moment of PHYSICAL and SPIRITUAL DISCONNECT. i found his work to be emotionally charged and unflinchingly VISCERAL. like CARAVAGGIO, its art that is very much concerned with the individual's connection to the PHYSICAL BODY as a vessel that bears intense emotions of ANXIETY, GRIEF, SORROW, REGRET and PAIN. in many ways, it fit the potent HONESTY and PATHOS of those albums like hand in glove.
FORCED PERSPECTIVE: THE STORY OF ARTIST DEREK HESS (COAT OF ARMS, 2013) is a poignant documentary that reveals the artist and his connection to not only art as CATHARSIS, but art also as a vehicle for DISCOVERY and CONNECTION. it tracks his evolution from comic book aficionado to trained figure artist to concert poster designer to celebrated fine artist and serial entrepreneur whose work is part of the LOUVRE's collection among others. it really is quite the career trajectory but the essence of this film is not so much on his career milestones, but his dual connection with the CLEVELAND-based cultural scene he helped nurture and foster as well as his own relationship with his SOBRIETY and BIPOLAR DIAGNOSIS. coming to AUTHENTIC, hard-fought terms with his own physical limitations and learning of the impact his actions have on those around him is at the heart of what this film is about. it is the basis and foundation from which his art can develop and self-renew without being clouded by CHEMICAL DEPENDENCIES. his work is so powerful it almost requires an UNBLINKING, unadulterated gaze straight into the soul. his work is the seeming very definition of SOBRIETY in how it depicts and evokes the COMPROMISED PHYSICAL and SPIRITUAL nature of the HUMAN CONDITION without wincing or turning away. it shows the distance between our ASPIRATIONAL selves and our own dreary reality as is. and that DUALITY is something i very much appreciate about HESS' work.
i had no idea going in how much an inspiration SILVER AGE OF COMICS pioneer GIL KANE had on his work, especially with his dramatic use of foreshortening and forced perspective in order to evoke scale in a representational composition. KANE and his peers utilized such techniques as a narrative device in order to draw the viewer into the PSYCHODRAMA at play in the comic book. it feels like HESS utilized such as an EXTREME means of depicting INTERNAL, often SELF-DIRECTED CONFLICT at scale. its an INVENTIVE and CLEVER inversion.
ultimately HESS' ability to visually depict powerful INTERNAL PROCESSES related to INTENSE EMOTIONS is what he is renowned and celebrated for. in that he is a SINGULAR visionary. this film gets at the man behind the artist and his own personal struggles that feed his art. i found this documentary to be quite courageous in its depiction of HUMAN FRAILTY and would recommend to anyone interested in art as well as recovery from CHEMICAL DEPENDENCY and MENTAL HEALTH-related issues.
there is no stigma. only the determination to be yourself and showcase your own truth.
in the fall of 1998 i entered my freshman year of high school at a BOARDING SCHOOL in MASSACHUSETTS. the previous three years i spent living and going to school in NIGERIA, where my parents relocated for work and were still living at the time. before AFRICA, i grew up in SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA. its funny to look back on everything now, but arguably the CULTURE SHOCK of attending a BOARDING SCHOOL was a bigger DISRUPTION to my system than moving to AFRICA. for all of its cultural and political differences with the CALIFORNIA, NIGERIA was really not that different. sure you had to adjust to things like overt corruption when dealing with the police and reduced access to clear water and electricity, but really life in AFRICA was a variation on a theme.
BOARDING SCHOOL, however, was another beast entirely. it was an OPAQUE system filled with UNSPOKEN POWER HIERARCHIES and agreements. i found this period to be incredibly CONFUSING and still do to this day, especially given how it later fed into an equally mysterious college system that favored the BYZANTINE influence structures of the elite.
which brings me to J.D. SALINGER's THE CATCHER IN THE RYE (LITTLE, BROWN & CO, 1951), a novel seemingly everyone has read in high school. funny enough, this was one of a dozen books i was assigned to read the summer before freshman year. it was a funny choice: a book about a kid who hates the PHONINESS of BOARDING SCHOOL that was being read by a kid about to enter an elite BOARDING SCHOOL.
i had a hard time identifying with HOLDEN CAULFIELD. i couldnt figure out the source of his complaints and his gripe with his peers. maybe that was the point. maybe he was like MARLON BRANDO's character in THE WILD ONE stating "what have you got" when asked what he was rebelling against. maybe he is a cypher for youthful rebellion in general, unable to verbalize or locate his anger within the context of a COMPLICATED ADULT WORLD he is about to enter. i got that sort of existential dread, as i was soon to be leaving my parents a hemisphere away, but not the ANGER. not that sense of projection of FEAR and SELF-LOATHING misdirected at his peers.
as i stated before, my original context of reading this book was within the confines of living and attending a BOARDING SCHOOL. as a primer to that experience, i didnt share his reaction. his fictional experience was that of a PRIMAL SCREAM directed outwards. mine was completely internal. the unrelenting competitiveness, the arcane rituals, the unspoken agreements, the double standards all led me to doubt myself. i entered a fish out of water and i left equally unsure of my place. i remember an older student in my dorm was busted for selling PCP on campus, but was quietly reinstated after a brief suspension, his father after all was a famous businessman from NEW ENGLAND and a soap magnate. i guess they wouldnt want to sour his reputation with public knowledge of his son's extracurricular activities. to make it worse the school had the father give a speech soon after about the business implications of BUDDHIST precepts surrounding the NOBLE EIGHTFOLD PATH. it was the height of hypocrisy. i could go on. a 'C' student was one of a handful that got into YALE UNIVERSITY, his father being a corporate lawyer in the auto industry.
it was all CONFUSING and UNJUST. it was a great entry point into the real world. for me THE CATCHER IN THE RYE is about that moment when childhood ends and one becomes numb, jaded and less IDEALISTIC about their place in the world. maybe i wasnt that different from CAULFIELD after all.
the pandemic obviously killed the ability of bands to tour and generate income. the LEVITATION SESSIONS is an ongoing livestream series of live performances by various EXPERIMENTAL and PSYCHEDELIC INDIE ROCK bands that has the extra benefit of being committed to vinyl for posterity. its a pretty cool concept since it reintroduces that bit of DANGER that comes with live music that seemingly is lost with crowd-less performances. give the fact that bands are on sound-stages means that PROFESSIONAL recording standards are in play and the sound quality here is pretty STELLAR.
past participating bands include OHSEES, ACID DAD, RINGO DEATHSTARR, SLIFT, NIGHT BEATS, FUZZ, POST ANIMAL, FRANKIE & THE WITCH FINGERS and DEAD MEADOW among many others. since the pandemic has wained these sessions have transitioned to NONTRADITIONAL locations and performance venues in front of actual audiences. definitely worth checking out.
given the similarities between his name and mine, i was basically indoctrinated by my parents from an early age by much of NICK LOWE's discography. which i am thankful for. this includes his incredible debut JESUS OF COOL (RADAR, 1978), which was renamed for the AMERICAN market PURE POP FOR NOW PEOPLE (COLUMBIA, 1978) over concerns of our overzealous religious sensibilities. god, how depressing is that? its almost like we cant take a joke (we can't).
despite his influential career, LOWE still feels to me like a criminally UNDERRATED songwriter who never really got his due amongst the music consuming public (unlike NEIL YOUNG, TOM PETTY, ELVIS COSTELLO, BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN and the like). among musicians he is much beloved as his song "(WHAT'S SO FUNNY 'BOUT) PEACE, LOVE AND UNDERSTANDING" off of his sophomore album has been covered by everyone from ELVIS COSTELLO, AUDIOSLAVE, JOSH HOMME, THE FLAMING LIPS, CANDI STATON and WILCO over the years. at this point it is basically a modern standard. what draws me to his songwriting in general is his preternatural ear for vocal melodies and POWER POP-inspired hooks. not to mention SARDONIC insights into the mundane nature of daily life dressed up in LUSH orchestration and tight, thoughtful song constructions.
standout examples from JESUS OF COOL / PURE POP FOR NOW PEOPLE include "SO IT GOES," "I LOVE THE SOUND OF BREAKING GLASS," "NUTTED BY REALITY" and "MARIE PROVOST." all four songs ive heard throughout my childhood and are embedded permanently alongside songs from THE SMITHS, THE KINKS, THE STRANGLERS, THE WHO, THE ANIMALS and THE BEATLES. whats funny to me is i have no idea what they are specifically about. they seemingly are all full of OBLIQUE references to situations, histories and feelings by ENGLISH communities from over 40 years ago. if anything you get the sense that LOWE is deeply aware of the discrepancies and underwhelming aspects of the human experience, but does not wallow or feel deferential towards it. if anything, his HUMOR shields him, as well as the listener by extension, from taking it on full tilt. that gallows humor feels very ENGLISH to me. just take life as it comes but dont be afraid to laugh at your own misfortune.
i have to get better at that.
look into JESUS OF COOL if you are interested in smart, thoughtful NEW WAVE songwriting or just great ROCK N ROLL craftsmanship in general. definitely worth checkin out.
when i learned about the CHILEAN trio ADELAIDA i was already on their side by the sheer fact that they were from VALPARAISO. that coastal city was the most welcoming and naturally beautiful place i visited during my time in SOUTH AMERICA when i worked for two years in VENEZUELA. just culturally rich with artists, artisans and craftsmen abound being CREATIVE. i fell in love with that city on site. so right upfront, that is my bias.
that being said, the band has a POWERFUL sound that borders genres ranging from the more experimentally DISSONANT end of POST-HARDCORE (GLASSJAW, AT THE DRIVE-IN) to sheer NOISE ROCK (BOREDOMS, SONIC YOUTH) to straight up DELICATE, ANGULAR INDIE ROCK (YO LA TENGO, DINOSAUR JR). depending on the release, they very much are an ACCOMPLISHED band that seemingly has no limit to their sound. definitely worth checking out.
parodies by nacrowe
the more i stop to consider the HIP HOP duo RUN THE JEWELS, the more i come to the realization that they have quietly become the most significant rap group of the past decade. there are so many concurrent threads and movements in HIP HOP, some cane be described as geographic (SOUTHERN, EAST COAST, WEST COAST) while others are socio-political (NATIVE TONGUES) or hyper-literate (WU-TANG CLAN, EMINEM, RAKIM) or just plain entertainment. whats interesting to me is that RUN THE JEWELS seemingly covers all those bases.
i think what got me think about KILLER MIKE and EL-P recently was the fact that they were set to open for RAGE AGAINST THE MACHINE on their recent comeback(?) tour that was cancelled due to ZACK DE LA ROCHA's on-stage leg injury. it made me consider that the last time RAGE AGAINST THE MACHINE had a high profile HIP HOP tour-mate was when they co-headlined with WU-TANG CLAN in the late 1990s. its safe to say that at this point in time WU-TANG is a cultural institution that has stood the test of time, both for their lyrical dexterity and creative production, but also for what they represent as a unit of black artists who have supported each other for decades. when i consider RUN THE JEWELS and the communities KILLER MIKE and EL-P represent, they seem positioned to be a likewise beacon for creative stability and potent expression on behalf of their audiences as the speak truth to power. literally.
KILLER MIKE is famously from ATLANTA and is associated with OUTKAST during his early career. he has released several solo albums and in the wake of success with RUN THE JEWELS was a vocal proponent of BERNIE SANDERS 2020 presidential campaign. EL-P is a celebrated NYC producer and MC, who previous to RUN THE JEWELS was essentially ALTERNATIVE HIP HOP royalty. his work with COMPANY FLOW and time running the label he founded DEFINITIVE JUX, make him an icon of sorts for underground HIP HOP heads. the fact that this unlikely pairing of respected (but not previously bankable) MCs have become so widely successful is quite extraordinary.
what i appreciate is that their time in the spotlight has been utilized deftly as a platform to promote social change by discussing prison reform, police violence and education policy openly in their lyrics. that stance alone puts them in unique company. makes me think of them alongside PUBLIC ENEMY, ANA TIJOUX, KRS-ONE, A TRIBE CALLED QUEST and TALIB KWELI among others that leverage their popularity to advocate causes they believe in. for me that is their true legacy and i look forward to seeing how their music and politics evolve for years to come.
below is an episode of DEER GOD RADIO from July 2020 on nonprofit NYC radio station MAKERPARKRADIO.NYC celebrating RUN THE JEWELS. enjoy
there is something LOOSE and FUN about listening to the second RANCID record LET'S GO (EPITAPH, 1994). for all intents and purposes the band came on my radar in 2000 when i moved to KUWAIT and fell in with a group of friends that were big on EPITAPH and FAT WRECK bands like PROPAGANDHI, ANTI-FLAG, PENNYWISE, LAGWAGON, RISE AGAINST, MILLENCOLIN, NO USE FOR A NAME, BAD RELIGION and NOFX among others. up until that point my foray into PUNK ROCK beyond the 1970s originators were HARDCORE groups like DEAD KENNEDYS, BLACK FLAG and DESCENDENTS as well as POP PUNK bands like GREEN DAY, BLINK-182 and NEW FOUND GLORY.
so it was a bit of an education. i always think of music as a social phenomenon that is very much centered on relationships and exposure. for me geographically, there was a period of seven years growing up where i attended something like five schools, many times on different continents. so ive always learned about stuff out of cultural context, which is interesting.
for me, the act of discovery for the LET'S GO album is invariably linked to my experience first seeing them play live in VENTURA in 2001 on the VANS WARPED TOUR. there is just something undeniable about the SPARTAN quick-in-quick-out song construction but loose on-the-floor feel of tracks like "SALVATION," "RADIO," "LET'S GO" "THE BALLAD OF JIMMY & JOHNNY," and "NIHILISM" among others. thematically these songs center around stories celebrating their EAST BAY community that serve almost as allegories about living life under the duress of society's thumb. THE CLASH influence is absolutely undeniable in terms of sonics and SOCIO-POLITICAL OUTLOOK but TIM ARMSTRONG in my opinion is a much more TALENTED songwriter than JOE STRUMMER ever was. going back to his days in OPERATION IVY ARMSTRONG has had way with MELODIC and lyrical hooks that are both UPBEAT and EMPOWERING while being intensely EMOTIONALLY CHARGED. even at this early stage he was a force to be reckoned with.
seeing RANCID live and hearing them play these songs shortly after hearing them for the first time was a thrilling experience and a defining cultural moment of my late teens. that summer was amazing and its still crazy to think that only a month later 9/11 happened and the world shifted, as did my time in KUWAIT. listening to this record again just reminds of that period before everything became so tragic and heavy over the next few years.
LET'S GO is a record definitely worth checking out.
there is something identifiably AMERICAN about CANDY DARLING.
as a relatively new country, throughout our history there has always been this unique capacity to SELF-MAKE ourselves in some optimistically divined utopian vision of what we could and should be, unhampered by centuries of triumphs and mistakes. in essence we are collectively in the process of bringing a more perfect vision of ourselves to fruition. the SELF-MADE, projected figure of ANDY WARHOL superstar and cultural icon CANDY DARLING showcases that distinct TENSION that comes between LIVED FANTASY and LIVED REALITY.
born in LONG ISLAND amongst the post-war newly built track houses and stifling suburban CONFORMITY of MASSAPEQUA, CANDY knew from an early age that she was different. watching a relatively recent documentary such as this reminds you instantaneously that the larger cultural discussion regarding SEX and GENDER identity has only become mainstream in recent years (about a decade after this film). the whole concept of not identifying with your assigned GENDER was completely taboo in 1950s AMERICA, where POLITICAL, ECONOMIC and RELIGIOUS CONFORMITY was practically a national value in and of itself. what makes BEAUTIFUL DARLING: THE LIFE AND TIMES OF CANDY DARLING, ANDY WARHOL SUPERSTAR (CORINTH FILMS, 2009) such an intriguing documentary is how it showcases a specific downtown NYC arts scene in the 1960s where SEXUAL EXPRESSION was not only tolerated but celebrated. in some ways these WARHOL superstars (JACKIE CURTIS, HOLLY WOODLAWN and CANDY DARLING) along with the likes of LOU REED were the trailblazers that opened the door that we have been walking through as a culture for the past half century. its been in the past five years that mainstream magazines like PLAYBOY and SPORTS ILLUSTRATED have used TRANSGENDER models in their publications and actors such as ELLIOT PAGE and LAVERNE COX have brought their powerful presence to film and television screens. despite modern troglodyte conservatives that wish to drag us back to the stone age with their REGRESSIVE GENDER PRESCRIPTIONS prescriptions and bullshit self-serving, binary moral constructions, we very much live in a new world that takes into account that life is complicated. people are complicated. deal with it.
that being said its interesting to hear writer FRAN LEBOWITZ' opinion on CANDY and the seemingly SUPERFICIAL, PERFORMATIVE conception of FEMININITY she arguably brought to life. as a caucasian CISGENDER man i feel more than a little out of my depth speaking on this subject, but there does seem to be some light in how much of our GENDER is PERFORMATIVE through our ADOPTION and INTERNALIZATION of SOCIETAL CUES and CULTURAL PRESCRIPTIONS surrounding BODY IMAGE, PRESENTATION, VOCAL AFFECTATION and even POSTURE. the fact that CANDY grew up a severely abused child who took SOLACE and ultimately ESCAPISM in the 1950s cinema. her ideation of FEMININITY was informed by silver-screen starlets like MARILYN MONROE, JEAN HARLOW and especially KIM NOVAK. in many ways her INTERNALIZATION and eventual formation into becoming CANDY was performance of such that seeming coalesced into an IDENTITY. again, i am not denying her ability to self-identify as TRANSGENDER, but i do think that LEBOWITZ angle regarding the performative aspects of gender to be compelling if not food for thought.
ultimately for CANDY this was her LIVED EXPERIENCE and her LIVED REALITY, and she paid dearly for it. one of the most heartbreaking aspects of this documentary are the diary entries where she confesses to the DESPAIR and ISOLATION she felt about not being accepted by SOCIETY and not being able to partake in normal life rituals like being in a relationship, having a normal job and even visiting relatives. after her death her mother basically disowned her memory after remarrying.
for me BEAUTIFUL DARLING is just another reminder of how we need to treat each other with a sense of DIGNITY and genuine COMPASSION. very moving film. well worth checking out.
EXIT WOUNDS (DRAWN & QUARTERLY, 2007) by ISRAELI cartoonist RUTU MODAN is a narrative concerned with the crippling PSYCHIC CONSEQUENCES that come with being SEPARATED from family. much of the narrative follows a cab driver named KOBY who learns that his estranged father may have been killed in a terrorist attack. given his distance from his father, the story unfolds as a series of echos and readjustments of this strained relationship as he meets more and more people that have varying degrees of remembering him, including a young wealthy girlfriend named NUMI. as the two seek out KOBY's father, the two find themselves likewise testing out their own feels of connection for one another.
its a very interesting dynamic that MODAN is adroitly manipulating throughout the graphic novel; that idea of CONNECTION and DISTANCE in a volatile geopolitical space. more than a decade ago i was able to visit ISRAEL and witnessed firsthand the extent to which public safety and calculated risk play a daily part of one's existence in major cities like TEL AVIV, JERUSALEM and HAIFA where i was visiting friends. there is a very real sense that anything can happen at anytime and that one's personal relationships are of paramount importance because there is the palpable concept of each day being your last. and that isnt hyperbole. within EXIT WOUNDS, you have characters that feel varying gradations of CONNECTION to one another, irrespective of this background noise of DANGER and wonton public VIOLENCE.
i think its an interesting choice that (SPOILER ALERT) KOBY never explicitly verifies his father's existence but is calmed and soothed that his new wife is such a pleasant person. it is almost as if the reverberations of his father's past actions and the BITTERNESS and PAIN they extolled are being replaced, effectively in abstentia, by a new set of reassuring echos of GRACE and UNDESTANDING. seeing this wonderful, selfless person who is nourished by her new relationship with his father is enough for him to move on as well and initiate a new sense of aspirational connection with NUMI.
its an interesting dynamic and very much reminded me of people ive met in places like VENEZUELA, MYANMAR and ALBANIA who make the most of life in volatile surroundings. life being experienced as ever more PRECIOUS. its something that i dont feel on AMERICAN soil, especially in recent years with the pandemic and political strife effectively bifurcating my country. maybe as some point we will all come to the same realization. definitely not.
parodies by nacrowe
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sometimes ROCK N ROLL bands overthink things. they try to get clever write songs that overly complicated and conceptually dubious for no reason other than because they can.
not TWISTED SISTER.
sonically id argue they are a back-to-basics TRADITIONAL band in the long GLAM ROCK-inspired bands like the NEW YORK DOLLS, THE RAMONES and even KISS. its no frills, meat-and-potatoes ROCK N ROLL but even under such limitations TWISTED SISTER went for maximum impact. look no further than their third record STAY HUNGRY (ATLANTIC, 1984) and their two MEMORABLE singles "WE'RE NOT GONNA TAKE IT" and "I WANNA ROCK."
those two songs are the very poster children of bumper sticker song titles and instantly convey a sense of reckless abandon and directionless REBELLION. "WE'RE NOT GONNA TAKE IT" has been used at sporting and political events for decades now to the point that it is a fangless parody of itself. but in my estimation thats fine because it is such an ENJOYABLE and SUCCINCT hit of WARPED POP PERFECTION. its impossible to hear and not smile. "I WANNA ROCK" is my personal favorite TWISTED SISTER song because it just cuts right to the chase and never lets up. its a HARD-CHARGING track about the TRANSCENDENT JOY of anticipating and being a part of ROCK N ROLL. there is almost something TRIBAL and COMMUNAL about it. it definitely brings people together with its INCLUSIVE sentiment even if it is more than a bit GOOFY and CARTOONISH.
and that is where i respect DEE SNIDER, who wrote those two songs, as well as his primary collaborator (and TWISTED SISTER founder) JAY JAY FRENCH. they are unafraid to lean in with absolute abandon into the RIDICULOUS theatrics and crushingly SIMPLE song concepts and structures. to me it feels unquestionably RAMONES-y, almost like TWISTED SISTER are the intentionally forgotten LONG ISLAND step children of JOEY and JOHNNY RAMONE.
the rest of STAY HUNGRY is UNINSPIRED and INCONSEQUENTIAL, but those two singles are well worth the price of admission. just leave any semblance of good taste and rock snobbery at the door. you wont be impressing anyone with that here.
being a 90s kid, whenever i thought of SWEDISH pop music growing up the first thing that came to mind was ACE OF BASE, early ROBYN or really, anything touched by MAX MARTIN in general. i adore ROBYN's later reemergence in the 2000s and what she is doing currently, but way back then there was something particularly antiseptic and overly polished about exported SWEDISH pop music.
singer-songwriter TOVE LO feels like an EVOLUTION or two beyond such traditions and has a sound and image that is both INCLUSIVE and entirely TRANSGRESSIVE. in others listening to her brand of ART POP feels of the moment and quintessentially modern. her lyrics are both confessional and empowering and she embodies a sense of body positivity that is fearless and entirely unconventional among singers of any and all genders.
i believe strongly that TOVE LO is someone to keep an eye out on in the future and is most definitely worth checking out.
parodies & text by nacrowe
i find myself always returning to the music of MARVIN GAYE. there is just something so SOOTHING and AUTHENTIC about it. there is a sense of being emotionally overwhelmed by the MOOD and POSITIVE SENTIMENT of an artist you knew damn well had suffered a great deal. listening to GAYE almost feels like a SPIRITUAL CLEANSING or a PURIFICATION RITUAL of sorts. im well aware that his music as well as all of that from MOTOWN and TAMLA RECORDS was rooted in GOSPEL, and therefore the JUDEO-CHRISTIAN belief in RENEWAL.
im not even remotely religious, but you dont need to be to appreciate GAYE. aside from his SEDUCTIVE crooning and the undeniable GROOVE of his music, there is the socio-political messaging of his later work that was very much influenced by the senseless daily atrocities and steadily amassing body count of the VIETNAM WAR. the price was paid by the poor and those of the inner city. its hard not to see parallels to today with our seemingly hopelessly entangled web of tribal POLITICAL STRIFE and manufactured MONETIZED HATRED of our fellow citizen. it feels real bad right now and listening to GAYE for me brings about an irrational belief in something seemingly improbable: HOPE. hope that things will cool down and this political moment will melt away. like i said, i dont believe that will come about during my lifetime, but when listening to GAYE it feels emotionally like a tangible possibility.
enjoy this show dedicated in his honor from july of 2021.
LIVE THROUGH THIS (DGC, 1994) by HOLE was undoubtedly such a CONSEQUENTIAL album for me growing up in SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA. i have distinct memories of hearing COURTNEY LOVE's impassioned, almost feral or inconsolable, primal screaming on "VIOLET" blasting out of my parent's speakers from their HONDA ACCORD. i just recall wondering who that was and never questioning how fundamentally pained and pissed-off she sounded. this felt like a private exorcism paraded as a rock song. it felt and still feels unquestionably AUTHENTIC.
which is why its always baffled me the extent to which music critics and journalists ascribe LOVE's artistic achievements with that of her late husband KURT COBAIN of legendary ALTERNATIVE ROCK band NIRVANA. its worse than lazy, its inaccurate. both IN UTERO (DGC, 1993) and LIVE THROUGH THIS were written and recorded more or less concurrently. if anything you can see the influence of LOVE in the more CONCEPTUAL and deeply personal POETIC writing of COBAIN on that final studio album in songs like "HEART-SHAPED BOX" and "ALL APOLOGIES." ive always held the conviction that LOVE was a stronger writer who has never gotten her due as such. even in "VIOLET" there is that EVOCATIVE opening couplet "and the sky was made of amethyst / and all the stars were just like little fish." that was more SOPHISTICATED and lyrical than anything on BLEACH (SUB POP, 1989) or NEVERMIND (DGC, 1991). just saying. obviously COBAIN is a generational talent and a singular songwriter/cultural figure whose approach to melody and dissonance will be analyzed long down the line, i dont want to come off like i am dismissing his achievements. only point i am trying to make is that IN UTERO is more influenced by the influence LOVE than LIVE THROUGH THIS is by COBAIN. both are landmark records and my personal favorite by both bands. hands down.
there are so many standout tracks on LIVE THROUGH THIS including the aforementioned "VIOLET" as well as singles "DOLL PARTS" and "MISS WORLD," but some of my personal favorites include "GUTLESS," "ROCK STAR," "ASKING FOR IT" and the stellar cover of the YOUNG MARBLE GIANTS track "CREDIT IN THE STRAIGHT WORLD." many of the songs deal with themes related to AMERICA's PERVERSE, UNATTAINABLE and downright PERNICIOUS CULTURAL EXPEXTATIONS regarding FEMININITY and feeling trapped by such. LOVE is such a compelling cultural figure because she is both fragile yet ferociously UNAPOLOGETIC, INTELLIGENT yet prone to impulse, loyal yet susceptible to CAUSTIC outbursts of provoked. she is such a CONTRADICTION which is to say that she is human. like all women, her FEMININITY is not confined by patriarchal prescriptions pushed on her from the news media and music press. the way i see it, she's out TOMMY LEE'd and NIKKI SIXX'd both TOMMY LEE and NIKKI SIXX. but somehow being a MOTHER, WIDOW and CARETAKER untangles such and renders her the target of scorn in the public eye. i will never understand that.
i know i did not due LIVE THROUGH THIS justice with this review, but trust me, this is a great record. it is well worth your time to check out if you are a fan of ROCK AND ROLL of any genre from the 1970s onwards that matters: PUNK ROCK, ALTERNATIVE ROCK, HARDCORE, GLAM ROCK, POWER POP and so on. it holds up and transcends most of what came out in the 1990s (and beyond) and i consider LOVE to be a singer and band leader without peer amongst her cohorts, including the likes of CHRIS CORNELL, EDDIE VEDDER, SCOTT WEILAND, BILLY CORGAN, SHIRLEY MANSON, MARK ARM, BRAD NOWELL, SHANNON HOON, LAYNE STALEY, GIBBY HAYNES, THOM YORKE, MARK LANEGAN and even her late husband.
she is ONE OF ONE and LIVE THROUGH THIS is her arguably peak creative work for both its unbridled FEROCITY and unadulterated VULNERABILITY. it is absolutely required listening.
summing up the cultural legacy of seminal 20th century experimental ROCK AND ROLL musician and composer FRANK ZAPPA neatly is such a difficult task, but accomplished BRITISH director ALEX WINTER (yes, of BILL & TED fame) does an admirable job in this recent estate-authorized documentary ZAPPA (MAGNOLIA FILMS, 2020). as such, this is the first film given access to the extensive ZAPPA archives and it shows since there is much intimate footage of the composer, THE MOTHERS OF INVENTION and all iterations of his band over the years, not to mention family footage of his four children growing up.
im convinced this is one of the better music documentaries i have seen in recent years, partly because of the respect WINTER pays towards his subject. this is not a hagiography by any means and ZAPPA is shown warts and all. we see him as a man possessed by a ferocious drive and manic creativity that is a result of his being a "slave to his inner ear." we also see him as a womanizer and someone that put career in front of family for much of his professional life. in fact, his hit only hit song "VALLEY GIRL" was created as an excuse by his daughter MOON UNIT to spend time with him. again, WINTER does not shy away from his shortcomings that made him a complicated figure.
an aspect concerning ZAPPA that i was unaware of was the extent to which he was independent after his time at WARNER BROS, establishing ZAPPA RECORDS and later BARKING PUMPKIN RECORDS to put out his own records as well as those of supposedly commercially unviable acts like ALICE COOPER and THE GTO'S. this commonplace now for major artists, but back in 1981 not so much. seems ZAPPA was trailblazer from a business perspective as well.
one thing that comes across in spades is ZAPPA's love of MUSIC and MUSICIANS. this can be seen not only in his numerous collaborations with talented musicians, but also with regard to his sticking his neck out at congressional hearings related to the PARENTS MUSIC RESOURCE CENTER and their efforts to censor music. ZAPPA and his music was not a target, but his stature and credibility provided the opposition to this wave of potential overreach with a fitting white knight and spokesperson. i dont recall seeing BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN, BOB DYLAN or TOM PETTY up their selflessly fighting the good fight. kinda sad that none of them did. with all the bullshit going on currently in FLORIDA with banned books and whatnot, it feels very much like we are coming full circle on this matter.
also im glad that a significant portion of this film was dedicated to the orchestral compositions written by ZAPPA throughout his life. it is a lesser known and criminally under-appreciated aspect of his immense oeuvre by the general public. especially at the end of his life when he was dealing with terminal PROSTATE CANCER, it was rehearsing and conducting these orchestral compositions that gave him great pleasure. so im glad that such was not overshadowed by his celebrated ROCK AND ROLL career.
when i think of ZAPPA i am presented with a towering cultural figure who more than anyone else i am aware of, never compromised his vision. he is the very embodiment of creative freedom. who knew the CZECH people agreed in that estimation. his music has not aged a bit and has influenced countless musicians that seek to challenge and push the medium forward. i hear his influence in everyone from ANIMAL COLLECTIVE, THE RESIDENTS, PRIMUS and SYSTEM OF A DOWN to THE FLAMING LIPS, THE BUTTHOLE SURFERS, KING GIZZARD AND THE LIZARD WIZARD and TALKING HEADS.
ZAPPA is an incredible achievement and is most definitely worth checking out.