to say KISS is controversial is putting it mildly. virtually all my friends HATE this band and everything they stand for: crass commercialism, misogyny, dubious musical ability and heavy reliance on gimmicks. these points are all well taken, but my response has long been that unlike most bands, KISS are unapologetic about who they are, including all those aforementioned attributes. they aren't even concerned with mercurial things like authenticity or artistic credibility, they just want your money and to out-perform and entertain every band on any bill ever. ironically, you could even say they have a very working-class mentality despite their reputation. dare i say DIY PUNK ROCK ethic?
in fact, in his memoir KISS AND MAKE-UP (THREE RIVERS PRESS, 2001), GENE SIMMONS basically recounts his upbringing, career choices and life philosophy and sees about reminding other rock bands that everyone is in the KISS business. and for me that is the main takeaway of this book. all bands have an image that they are selling and every time they sell related merchandise (apparel, posters, etc.), they are inherently in the branding business. maybe KISS takes it to another level selling everything from condoms to caskets, but essentially its the same concept.
a lot of this concern with money and capitalism can no doubt be traced to SIMMONS tight-knit upbringing by his single mother of HUNGARIAN JEWISH descent who was the survivor of her family from a concentration camp during the HOLOCAUST. they had little money and few prospects in ISRAEL, where SIMMONS was born and he oddly enough grew up isolated and obsessed with TV and especially AMERICAN culture. at 8 he immigrated to NYC and settled with his mother in QUEENS where he stumbled initially being fluent in the AMERICAN dialect, despite being fluent in 4 other languages. the torment of those years of being called slow and stupid by other kids for his speaking skills certainly contributed to his combative psyche and he makes no bones about the fact to him, money is purely a conduit to power and influence.
an interesting thing about SIMMONS throughout the book is his disregard for the wider ROCK AND ROLL community. in his mind he was and always will be an outsider. he went to shows not to bask in the glory of the songs ore the communal atmosphere of the audience, but rather to take notes on set design, lights and stagecraft. there was no big message they were attempting to convey or specific consciousness they wished to express, which is incredibly interesting given the revolutionary ethos of the counter culture that has come to define rock music from ELVIS to NIRVANA. there is always a push and pull with culture that pushes the limits of what is acceptable in polite society. KISS in this respect is as shallowly corporate as PEPSI or DISNEY. they are completely populist in that they serve the audience they seek, which is the widest possible.
i just find it interesting, and not in a pejorative way, that someone could be so completely fixated on extracting financial benefits rather than thinking of other intangibles as legacy or cultural influence. it is fascinating to me because ROCK AND ROLL is the bastion of social misfits and experimenters and SIMMONS isolated upbringing should have promoted such. instead he made artistic choices based on popularity, such as his work with people like CHER, MICHAEL BOLTON, DESMOND CHILDS, etc.
fascinating book in that regard. the lecherous sex stuff as well as the infighting between band members bored me to no end. this book would not pass muster in the #METOO era since women are just used and discarded like tissue paper throughout his story. there seemed to be some cognitive dissonance between this behavior and his adoration and hopes for the future with the birth of his daughter. that was confusing.
again, interesting read and recommended for anyone looking for a completely unique look at music not as a vehicle for expression, but financial gain. good luck.
if you do anything creative (not that i am claiming to be such), there will come a point at which you feel like you've cornered yourself into a pattern and can't get out of self-imposed rut. during my teaching career this was something i was aware of an constantly attempting to shift from, even though the smart thing to do would have been to codify my plans and never experiement or stray away from that which worked before. sadly most successful educators i came across in the field did the later and not the former, which is partly why i am still so down on the profession.
maybe i blame CAPTAIN BEEFHEART. he is the ultimate tinkerer and was a gifted multi-instrumentalist/composer that is renowned for his solo recordings and vague association with FRANK ZAPPA and his merry band of musical freaks back in the 1960s and 70s. the dude was attuned to what was going on in the FREE JAZZ and AVANT-GARDE worlds as well as the then-current BLUES-based BRITISH INVASION-influenced music of the time. but he was unconventional. he was constantly messing with the formula. on his renowned TROUT MASK REPLICA (STRAIGHT RECORDS, 1969), which quite honestly is required listening for any music fan of any genre, he had his band play instruments they weren't familiar with in order to garner an "unbiased sound." in my family calling anyone "unbiased," whether they be a politician or critic, means they are unbiased by previous knowledge or in other words, completely clueless.
i like to think that i strive for an unbiased opinion as much as possible diving into things i wasn't trained or schooled in, such as photo manipulation or video editing. when i was teaching i would have a skillset i was attempting to impart and would attempt to think of new ways that would benefit my students as well as me intellectually. remember, i taught in unfamiliar places such as MYANMAR, VENEZUELA, ALBANIA and JAPAN and i know from feedback over the years that that my former students enjoyed teaching me about their culture. to me those experiences are invaluable but would not have been possible without accepting and giving in to my ignorance.
to that i thank and blame CAPTAIN BEEFHEART. his music as well as its production was unique and no doubt influenced countless musicians since such as JOHN FRUSCIANTE, DEVO, PJ HARVEY, THE BUTTHOLE SURFERS, SONIC YOUTH, PRIMUS, THE RESIDENTS, MARS VOLTA, THE BIRTHDAY PARTY and FAUST among many, many other freaks.
photo manipulation by nacarowe
its funny how with everyone wearing beanies these days it almost looks like a scene out of the classic animated film THE POINT! (MURAKAMI-WOLF PRODUCTIONS, 1971). its even more interesting given that the children's film deals with themes related to identity and conformity, main character OBLIO wearing his unique cone-shaped hat to hide the fact that he doesn't have a pointed head like all the others in the POINTED VILLAGE.
this film was the brainchild of criminally underrated songwriter HARRY NILSSON and director FRED WOLF (ALVIN & THE CHIPMUNKS, DUCKTALES, TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES, PUFF THE MAGIC DRAGON), who both co-wrote the screenplay, and boasts an incredible list of voice actors that includes RINGO STARR, DUSTIN HOFFMAN, ALAN THICKE as well as various others that worked on everything from ROCKY & BULLWINKLE to THE BRADY BUNCH.
im fascinated by films from the 1970s in general because it was the initial period when the creative albatross known as the production code was pretty much a thing of the past and with it the last remnants of the STUDIO SYSTEM. it also predated modern marketing (we can thank STEVEN SPIELBERG and GEORGE LUCAS for that - JAWS, STAR WARS, E.T.) so what you get is creatives taking on interesting projects without later shackles of focus groups, marketing strategies and the pressure of cross-platform media promotion. the stakes were lower but the products churned out were unique.
now i originally saw this as a child and what hooked me then as well as now is the music. unlike DISNEY films, past and present, these songs are genuinely haunting and very much evoke the loneliness and desperation of OBLIO as he goes about his journey with his pet ARROW to find his point, because by law everyone must have a point. NILSSON had such a tender, lilting quality to his voice and the songs are just powerful. i remember them hitting me very hard as a child, with lines about teardrops falling into the ocean and being eaten by fishes that were eaten by other fishes, who in turn was swallowed by a whale who grew so old, he decomposed. blew my mind. lyrically its very out there and very much the result of a unique songwriter given full control at the height of his powers. i also love the message that you don't need a point to exist. such a deep movie that is far superior to the drivel thrown our way by DISNEY and the like.
i cannot recommend this film any more passionately. its a favorite from my pre-elementary years and is compelling for both young and young-at-heart audiences.
guilty as charged
written at the turn of the millennium in a jovial, conversational style in first person, WHITE LINE FEVER: THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY (CITADEL PRESS, 2002) by legendary MOTÖRHEAD frontman LEMMY KILMISTER is an engaging look back at a most interesting career in music and the legend's almost ZELIG-like ability to be connected to various cultural movements and figures over the years.
i would like to get the drawbacks of this book out of the way before i go all fanboy, because obviously the draw of reading this is to learn more about one of my all-time favorite bands, who really cemented the attitude of PUNK ROCK in a more technical METAL landscape, even if he was a precursor that ultimately transcended both scenes. the tone of the book feels like you are in the presence of a great storyteller at the end of a bar drag on about his life and the reasons for past decisions to date. this is a double-edged construction for a book since all bases are covered chronologically but can come off a bit forced and repetitive at times, especially give the life of a successful musician with the requisite recording and live performance schedules. about halfway through this book i had a good idea of how the trajectory of his narrative was going to pan out and the book didn't disappoint, which was unfortunate as you want the reader to not be lulled into boredom by being predictable.
which is odd given the subject of this book. KILMISTER led an anything but normal life, even by ROCK AND ROLL standards. he was an ENGLISHMAN who grew up primarily in WALES to a single-mother and grew up in the 60s scene where he was able to see THE BEATLES pre-fame at the CAVERN CLUB, roadied for JIMI HENDRIX and found himself a part of the 70s PROG ROCK culture fronting HAWKWIND before ultimately venturing out with the PUNK/METAL juggernaut MOTÖRHEAD for the rest of his life.
while this book does provide some interesting asides and stories about his upbringing and friends, famous and not, throughout his life, the tone of this book feels like that of a ROLLING STONE in the BLUES sense, in that he doesn't seem to stick too long to any subject before moving on to something else. this includes losing friends (and even a lover from his youth) to heroin. heroin is a drug he acknowledges despising because it took so many of his peers but often instead of diving deeper he glibly goes on about getting on with his life. on one hand you get the sense that you are listening to the ultimate ROCK AND ROLL survivor, but it feels like a lost opportunity in that these disappointments are what inform his decisions and trajectory as a major cultural figure for over 30 years (at the point of publication). as a reader i wouldn't mind if more attention were paid to such instead of giving it the same care as his many screeds against cliche fair like record companies and concert promotes.
thats my gripe. i wish this book had been a bit more in depth on his life but really, this is his book to have written the way he wanted. i don't think this is the definitive MOTÖRHEAD book but i look forward to reading such when it is ultimately written.
the MC5 was an explosive, powerhouse DETROIT rock outfit that both infused revolutionary politics with an unbridled, kinetic energy that made good on the promise of the recent BRITISH INVASION. if anything, their sound was the answer to how AMERICA does BLUES-based ROCK AND ROLL and paved the way for THE STOOGES, NEW YORK DOLLS and PUNK ROCK in general. kick out the jams, indeed!
and essentially that is the starting point for legendary guitarist WAYNE KRAMER's stellar memoir THE HARD STUFF (DA CAPO, 2018). while this book does dive deep into his career and cultural influence, its focus is far more concerned on how his experiences in federal prison in the 70s on drug charges informed his politics surrounding social justice and drug policy.
first off i want to say that this memoir is remarkably well-written. cogent, thoughtful and very direct. in particular, his description of the lost promise and debasement of DETROIT from its post-WWII peak as an economic and industrial juggernaut to its steady fall from grace and how such affected long-simmering race relations (due to racist labor practices and union self-dealing) was artfully written. KRAMER expertly provides a vivid firsthand eyewitness account at the DETROIT riots of 1967 and how they were fueled by race resentment fear and resulted in a further distancing of the races by the subsequent WHITE FLIGHT to the suburbs, leaving the urban center destitute and long-suffering. you really get a sense of how destabilizing and demoralizing such was in the psyche of a young idealist. it basically set up DETROIT as a political metaphor for the 60s idealism and the frustrating limits of the AMERICAN DREAM, the very chaotic backdrop by which the revolutionary politics of the MC5 were born.
the mismanagement of the MC5 and their inability to make good on their promise, for a variety of factors both external and internal, resulted in a career that flat-lined, which saw KRAMER fall into the seedy drug underworld of DETROIT that had shifted markedly from the late 60s into the 70s. if anything it became more corporate and opiates had taken over. his decent into a series of bad choices involving relationships, drugs and money resulted in KRAMER going to federal prison in KENTUCKY for a period in the mid 70s.
a central argument from this book is the nature of recovery and rehabilitation and how such is seeded in hope. from his vantage point incarceration should be a place of providing opportunities and hope for inmates largely not equipped to function on the outside within the usual guardrails. they need assistance and providing them fear and discouragement only fuels their unsuccessful reintroduction to mainstream society upon gaining back their freedom.
its hard not to see the WAR ON DRUGS as a colossal failure. this testimonial only one more drop in that ever-growing bucket. i just don't see MIDDLE AMERICA ever waking up from their slumber and seeming existential fear of the other.
we need empathy and that is basically his realization. he caused damage from his choices and all he can do now is help others in this moment when possible. not in the future. now.
this centering of the locus of control in his mind from longstanding macro structural failures of the AMERICAN political and economic apparatus (that the MC5 fought against) to making good personal decisions in the moment is quite the narrative arc.
excellent read that i would recommend to anyone interested in the 1960s counterculture, PUNK ROCK, free jazz, revolutionary politics or rehabilitation.
i found the recent memoir RECKLESS: MY LIFE AS A PRETENDER (ANCHOR BOOKS 2016) by CHRISSIE HYNDE of THE PRETENDERS-fame to be quite an affecting read. not so much because of her deftly-articulated descriptive accounts of growing up working-class in the midwest and watching the landscape, economy and culture shift around her or even her ZELIG-like ability to be in the center of the hurricane for culturally significant events (KENT STATE shootings, center of UK PUNK explosion).
what really caught my imagination with this book was her emotional distance from her own narrative. i don't want to make too much of this but it would seem that she has persevered through several traumatic events including the aforementioned shooting, sexual abuse and the untimely deaths of her friends, peers and band-mates. the perspective of this story seems to be one of a survivor unemotionally stating events or at most commenting on them from a remote perspective, which seems odd. as a male reader, i don't want to project any expectations of how a survivor of trauma should behave, as that is not my place. all i am saying is that it was something i noticed and found interesting.
i think what made this seeming omission that more glaring was the fact that this book pours an exorbitant amount of energy into describing her relationship with drugs. in fact, this book seems to be a cautionary tale about narcotics and how they effected her and those closest to her. to me this was probably the dullest aspect of the book, but i can see how it was vital in relaying her story as it was the basis for many interactions in various locales.
as a reader and a fan of her music my interest was more in the relationships she had with band members, past and present, but seemingly the story ends after the second PRETENDERS album and sparingly little about her work with PETA or any advocacy work thereafter. the same for her relationship with RAY DAVIES. i suppose exposing one's relationship with drugs is one thing, but delving into complicated adult relationships is another. that was a missed opportunity in mind opinion, but most likely a deliberate one.
my sense of HYNDE from reading her memoir is that she is a fiercely independent artist who takes risks aware but unencumbered by potential consequences. i can only imagine the chutzpah needed to leave AKRON for LONDON and making your way alone. it is more than remarkable. the fact that she collaborated with such a formidable list of musicians (MARK MOTHERSBAUGH, THE CLASH, THE DAMNED, etc.) during their formative years is a testament to her eye for talent and maybe just serendipity for being at the right place at the right time. the idea that her story may not resonate in a post-#METOO environment may also speak to her not wanting sympathy, or worse excuses, for her decisions or unfortunate situations she's encountered as a young woman. i read this memoir as someone who wants to OWN her past, not be passive participant in it.
in summation this was a great read. especially interesting to hear her descriptions of growing up a boomer and how the cultural and political landscape shifted post-WWII into the 1960s to create a generational divide that has never truly healed. one of the best descriptions of this tension that i have ever come across.
art by nacrowe
for those about to rock, you can watch HERE our most recent episode of DEER GOD RADIO dedicated to australian legends AC/DC.
past episodes of DEER GOD RADIO as well as other MAKERPARKRADIO.NYC shows like MAKE HER SPACE, NOWHERE FAST, and THE SYNTHESIZER SHOW are available here at the DEER GOD website.
check in and listen to TOM's latest installment HERE of the NOWHERE FAST show on MAKERPARKRADIO.NYC, straight from his recent trip to EUROPE as he plays the 30 most expensive records sold on DISCOGS in the month of june.
past episodes of NOWHERE FAST as well as other MAKERPARKRADIO.NYC shows like DEER GOD RADIO, MAKE HER SPACE, and THE SYNTHESIZER SHOW are available here at the DEER GOD website.
watch HERE for our most recent episode of DEER GOD RADIO dedicated to the cultural legacy of DAVID BOWIE.
past episodes of DEER GOD RADIO as well as other MAKERPARKRADIO.NYC shows like MAKE HER SPACE, NOWHERE FAST, and THE SYNTHESIZER SHOW are available here at the DEER GOD website.
tonight's episode of DEER GOD RADIO at 6PM on MAKERPARKRADIO.NYC is dedicated to the profound cultural legacy of DAVID BOWIE.
past episodes of DEER GOD RADIO as well as other MAKERPARKRADIO.NYC shows like MAKE HER SPACE, NOWHERE FAST and THE SYNTHESIZER SHOW are available here at the DEER GOD website.