photo by nacrowe
i always found it interesting with movements, whether they be artistic, social or cultural, are entities constantly in flux with new blood constantly reevaluating, interpreting and contextualizing what came before into a new modern amalgamation/expression.
PUNK ROCK is such an artistic/social/cultural phenomena whose innate value and very definition is forever a controversial topic to its many participants and stakeholders. personally, that discussion has long bored me (dating back to high school) and it is refreshing to know that KEITH MORRIS, iconic frontman of 80s HARDCORE legends BLACK FLAG and CIRCLE JERKS, felt much the same as well.
KEITH MORRIS makes a point in his memoir MY DAMAGE: THE STORY OF A PUNK ROCK SURVIVOR (DA CAPO, 2016) to elucidate upon why he got into music (i.e. passion and personal expression) and how such a foundation has maintained itself over his career as an under-appreciated (in my opinion) cultural force.
it always happens that underground bands like THE VELVET UNDERGROUND, THE STOOGES and THE SEX PISTOLS all had cultural influences that far outweighed their record sales and BLACK FLAG was no different. their ability to refine and harden PUNK's edge into a more potent, punishing musical variant has influenced bands far outside the PUNK community. i'd argue modern METAL music is indebted as much to BLACK FLAG in its ethos and attitude as it is to the doomed riffage of BLACK SABBATH. again, my opinion.
one aspect that caught my eye about MORRIS was the energy and genuinely altruistic (to the point of naivete) he put into the community of artists in southern california, irrespective of genre or scene. for every anecdote dealing with members of THE ANGRY SAMOANS, SOCIAL DISTORTION, CRO-MAGS or THE ADOLESCENTS, there are others with members of RATT, VAN HALEN or THE RAVEONETTES.
to me PUNK ROCK is almost a religion and its not surprising that core, unassailable members of its royalty are by no means interested in the "punk police" bullshit that well-intentioned fans, and in some case other peers, hoist on the public. he really makes a point that this idea that to be a true appreciator of PUNK ROCK you need to wipe away all that came before is sad, pathetic and just wrong. in his career this came full circle with the formation of OFF! where his younger bandmates had many outside influences that didn't coincide with his. to him it was an opportunity and the idea of a bands as a democracy (both artistically and financially) is something that has been constant in his post-BLACK FLAG career.
growing up i got tired of PUNK ROCK fans that just shat on everything else. it just seemed so counterproductive and stunting on a human level to have up barriers like that. its nice to know part of the underground cultural vanguard of the 80s had his ears open to the street.
still does. do damage.
as i probably made abundantly clear in a recent review of the book MEET ME IN THE BATHROOM about the early 2000s stateside indie music scene, i have a strong bias against rock music of that period. my main gripe was that the bands generally were too nostalgic and ultimately poor imitations of bygone scenes and eras.
two forward-thinking bands that standout during that period who obliterated that safety net were EL PASO's AT THE DRIVE-IN and LONG ISLAND's GLASSJAW. both were abrasive and quirky and seemed to be informed but not beholden to the POST-PUNK, HARDCORE and INDIE scenes that preceded them.
i'll save AT THE DRIVE-IN for another day, but in my mind both bands are similar in that they seemed to delight in creating obtuse sonic and lyrical landscapes that were impressionistic and expansive which allowed the listener to project themselves onto. GLASSJAW to me is particularly all about vibe. vocalist DARYL PALUMBO is renowned for his phrasing style which is equal parts CHINO MORENO (DEFTONES, TEAM SLEEP, CROSSES, PALMS) and MIKE PATTON (FAITH NO MORE, MR. BUNGLE, FANTÔMAS, TOMAHAWK, PEEPING TOM, LOVAGE), which found him changing keys and tempos as he saw fit creating a jarring yet incredibly melodic compliment to guitarist JUSTIN BECK's crushing angular riffage and reverb-drenched ringing waves of distortion. the closest analogue i can think of is JANE'S ADDICTION and TOOL at their most expansive and adventurous, when they seemed content with just exploring sonic space to create hypnotic looping mantras of blissful feedback and poly-rhythmic drumming.
to me GLASSJAW split the difference between the brutality and immediacy of HARDCORE with the dynamism and experimentalism inherent in the best INDIE music of the 80s and 90s. i'd even trace their use of odd song structure elements and instrumentation to that of earlier POST-PUNK tradition. that's all well and good, but to me their music comes off as incredibly deliberate and personal, without being obvious. they are definitely pointing at something and i just haven't figured it out yet and maybe that is the point. great art is supposed to be about a reaction and i have always listened back to their catalogue to remind myself of what rock music is still capable of.
photo by nacrowe
so much of this HIT SO HARD (DA CAPO, 2017) by HOLE drummer PATTY SCHEMEL is about self-destruction. the enduring image of KURT COBAIN, a friend and former collaborator and even housemate of SCHEMEL, is seen as an example of being too far down the road of despair and drug abuse to turn back. he isn't portrayed as a victim as much as someone resided to their own fate. with SCHEMEL we see someone who took that road to its logical conclusion, losing literally everything: friends, family, financial independence, even her sexuality.
this memoir is less concerned with the story her journey from being an awkward, red-headed lesbian teen from eastern WASHINGTON who found in HARDCORE and drums her identity as it is about the harrowing depths of depravity associated with her road to recovery from opiate addiction.
her being a famous musician is only noteworthy within the arc of this book in that it showcases the cottage industry of enablers and hangers-on that provide celebrities with the means of their own destruction within the entertainment industry. i feel like reading as many biographies as i have about musicians, the recurring trope of drug abuse is a known cliche. that being said, any jadedness i had to the topic was obliterated by the honesty and clarity by which SCHEMEL dissects her actions and behavior and the wake of destruction that followed for bother her and those that cared about her.
to me this hit home, because an overriding theme of this book was kinship. the connection between musicians that is almost asurrogate family. there are surrogate families that fall apart (HOLE) and others that come and go as a means of support from friends (JULIETTE & THE LICKS, IMPERIAL TEEN). even her actual family, especially her brother and father, support her even when all was dire and hopeless. i have family and some friends that have been on similar trajectories, though nothing thankfully as harrowing as described in this book, and it feels comforting to know that an addict like SCHEMEL sees love and human connection as a means for maintaining sobriety.
and that is what makes the death of CHRIS CORNELL so poignant in this book, not just because it bookends the death of fellow SEATTLE musician KURT COBAIN. CORNELL's recovery mirrors that SCHEMEL and serves as an example that once you are an addict, always an addict. recovery is always ongoing and having a support system is your lifeline. which ultimately positions this book as being earnestly involved with the redeeming potential that hope and human connection can foster. it is easily one of the most affecting memoirs i have read to date.
best show i've ever seen was PRINCE at MADISON SQUARE GARDEN on his MUSICOLOGY tour back 2004 (honorable mention goes to RAGE AGAINST THE MACHINE at ROCK THE BELLS 2007). he had recently self-released his comeback album and this tour was basically a greatest hits package tour to appease his fans. it was so sick. i should also mention i had 8th row seats. sighhh, what a great time that was.
what i remember most about the actual show, other than thousands of people bringing out their umbrellas for the encore of "Purple Rain" (people had them on-hand because it was down-pouring outside), was PRINCE speeding around in a flurry of movement and virtuoso musicianship, seemingly at will. dude would be playing a solo while waddling around in a CHUCK BERRY-esque duckwalk, the throw his guitar without looking offstage to a roadie only to further slide into a keyboard and then pelvic thrust his way to a microphone, all in heels and in time. i mean, this was a SHOW. hadn't seen anything like it since and i'm sad to say he was the last of a breed. dude was a monster showman.
he could also get away with saying some pretty corny one-liners. at one point he was playing an acoustic guitar alone in the spotlight and played off the first couple bars of ELVIS PRESLEY's "Heartbreak Hotel" before halting abruptly and stating "you can't be no king without being no prince." indeed. i wasn't gonna argue.
i should mention that opening the show was MORRIS DAY AND THE TIME. seriously, how cool is that? after seemingly every song DAY would ask the crowd what they wanted to hear. an immense roar of "JUNGLE LO-O-O-O-OVE" would resonate loudly through the building. when he finally did play it the place GOT DOWN.
and i guess in summation that is the allure of this show to me 15 years later, the fact that you had so many people in the crowd dancing. it didn't feel like people were watching, rather they were participating in a great party. total communal experience. it was a religious experience. to this day i don't trust people that can't appreciate PRINCE. dude was a shaman, a high priest of FUNK.
amen to that.
ROBYN is my spirit animal.
it took me a while to come around to dance music in general. i went through baby steps with artists like KYLIE MINOGUE and BJORK, but discovering norwegian singer/producer ROBYN in the late 00's during the impressive second wave of her career was a revelation.
it was probably the first time i heard modern pop music that was really affecting, triumphant yet melancholy. her conviction, range and energy is just downright contagious. in an industry where talent, especially young females, are constantly discarded for the new shiny object, ROBYN has proven to be quite the survivor, even becoming an in-demand producer and songwriter in her own right.
just great songwriting and incredible pop hooks sung with a sense of earnest heart-on-sleeve conviction with a very welcoming, inclusive vibe. a little hard to believe that this is from the same country that gave us BLACK METAL, which is essentially the inverse of that vibe.
like a lot of people these days, i'm pretty ambivalent about american football. with all the long-term health issues associated with CTE impacting veteran players, it seems as if we are witnessing a blood sport that is literally dismantling players before our very eyes. don't believe me? watch this interview with BEARS quarterback JIM MCMAHON. its absolutely heartbreaking.
aside from health concerns there is also the matter of the draconian business practices and labor rules that govern the league which are anti-free market and anti-american. you are essentially watching economic fiefdoms battling each other where "owners" have near total control over salary negotiations and incentives that serve their interests and not the players.
lastly there is the matter of politics and race relations, which the NFL is sorely behind the times, no matter how much money they throw JAY-Z's way. i won't even get into COLIN KAEPERNICK, only to say that the dude is the most significant player of his generation and will one day be revered among MUHAMMED ALI, JIM BROWN, JACKIE ROBINSON, BILL RUSSELL, KAREEM ABDUL-JABBAR and other prominent athletes that took a righteous socio-political stand despite the personal and professional ramifications. these choices showcase greatness that transcends sports.
this is all to say that what i do not feel ambivalent about when it comes to football is JERRY RICE, often considered the greatest player of any position the NFL has ever witnessed. what i love about him specifically is his humility and work ethic.
when DEER GOD started i was transitioning from working in education to something well outside my comfort zone, the world of recording studios and recording artists. in the past 2+ years since returning stateside from MYANMAR i've been around people that talked a lot bit did very little. my whole ethic was to underpromise and outperform, to do whatever i could to at the very least not be the weak link in the chain.
if you ever get the opportunity you should definitely watch RICE's legendary HALL OF FAME speech in CANTON. it was right after fellow inductee EMITT SMITH gave a sermon passionately espousing how he self-made himself into a generational running back based on sheer perseverance and his own self-identified greatness. listening to SMITH was such a bore and an exercise in being crass and self-aggrandizing for the sake of self-mythology.
RICE on the other hand spoke about growing up in the south the son of bricklayer who got paid per brick. RICE would assist his family on construciton sites by passing bricks along in a chain. he literally did not want to drop a brick as it would result in his family getting fewer financial resources. he carried this mentality to the field where his only motivation was not to show off, but rather to not fail. his whole singular HALL OF FAME career was an attempt in trying his hardest to not let others down. think about that. it is beyond humbling to consider the sacrifice he made as a matter of pushing forward the idea of teamwork and collaboration. it is quite remarkable.
literally one of the great speeches i have ever heard by an athlete and further evidence that in a league that cannabilizes on its own and disregards common sense, personal freedom and human decency without a second notice, here is a gentleman who has elevated this shit league from the morass of its own cowardice and self-interest to higher noble ideals more in keeping with the better nature of this american experiment.
fancy way of saying you should check out his speech. worth your time.
kraftwerk parody by nicholas crowe
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as always, you can access all past episodes of THE SYNTHESIZER SHOW via the DEER GOD website as well as those of MAKE HER SPACE, NOWHERE FAST, DEER GOD RADIO and CLASSICAL-ISH WITH NUTMEG.
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getting into instrumental rock music can be difficult. too often it gets ahead of itself and becomes a self-indulgent wankfest by "muso" musicians so clever they've ended up regressing. there is something about rock music that demands immediacy yet spontaneity, unlike say a JOE SATRIANI or an EMERSON LAKE AND PALMER record, no disrespect intended. to me listening to a RAMONES record is more in the spirit of ROCK N ROLL than say DREAM THEATER since the later are inherently more concerned with their off-time paradiddles a obscure scales than the experience of the listener. only my opinion.
experimental rock band BATTLES is one of those groups that can pull it off since their highly inventive and kinetic, propulsive rhythms demand the attention of the listener in the tradition of BEBOP JAZZ, 70s PROG ROCK and AFROBEAT.
its hard to explain how good these guys are since they all have chops, but the music is composed and constructed in a way that things build and overlap and crescendo, with interesting sonic textures and non-traditional instrumentation being utilized to enable a cogent musical idea. its remarkable. and i highly encourage anyone to seek out the instrumental music of BATTLES. definitely worth your time to explore.