film and released in part as a celebration of their 25th anniversary as a PUNK ROCK record label, A FAT WRECK: A PUNK-U-MENTARY (OPEN ENDED FILMS, 2016) is a documentary about the bands, employees and greater community that make up FAT WRECK CHORDS. prominent interviews include members of bands ranging from NOFX, LAGWAGON, GOOD RIDDANCE, BAD RELIGION, STRUNG OUT, GET DEAD, THE BOMBPOPS, NO USE FOR A NAME, PROPAGANDHI, RISE AGAINST, WIZO, ANTI-FLAG, THE LOVED ONES, BAD COP/BAD COP and AGAINST ME! among others, as well as the label heads of ASIAN MAN RECORDS and SIDEONEDUMMY RECORDS and, of course, FAT WRECK CHORDS founder/president (and NOFX frontman) FAT MIKE and his ex-wife, vice president ERIN BURKETT.
i think given the fact that this documentary was concerned primarily with the celebration of a community, it made the film a bit meandering and long-winded at times. but in a good way, because although FAT MIKE and BURKETT act as a narrative through-line for the film, what transpires is a seemingly kaleidoscopic perspective on what the record label means to a lot of people. and i thought that that sense of purpose was powerful and vastly made up for the films structural weaknesses.
so a few things that i thought were interesting:
i thought it was awesome that they totally got into the whole PROPAGANDHI making fun of FAT MIKE's PUNKVOTER campaign on one of their records. just goes to show the commitment of the label, and FAT MIKE specifically, to fight for his bands' creative freedom, even when such is at his own expense.
there is a line FAT MIKE makes about how for him business is personal. the whole "it's no personal, it's business" mantra of modern corporate culture is anathema to him. for him, the fairness and reliability of his record label is an extension of himself and his love for his chosen PUNK ROCK community. i thought that was quite touching and powerful. and it made business sense.
whats crazy is how much the world changed in 2016 with election of DONALD TRUMP. i would kill to know what FAT MIKE's take on that debacle was but this film came out right before the shit hit the fan. i guess since im on the topic, itd also be interesting to see how PROPAGANDHI may try to conflate TRUMP with CLINTON just like they did in this film with KERRY and BUSH. i get it that they are a legendary stridently progressive political PUNK ROCK band and all, but seems to me BUSH was way way worse than KERRY. seemed kind of a no-brainer even back then so im a little confused on where they were coming from with that. their take seemed pretty naive. then again, im not CANADIAN.
regardless, i really enjoyed this documentary and suggest anyone watch it that is interested in the history of modern PUNK ROCK, HARDCORE, POP PUNK or POST HARDCORE. that or anyone interested in the power of music to bridge together communities. sounds trite but this whole film is a full-throated testament to that.
at this point there is a whole cottage industry of DAVE GROHL-directed media products, from documentaries (SOUND CITY, WHAT DRIVES US) to tv shows (SONIC HIGHWAYS, FROM CRADLE TO STAGE) to his recent memoir THE STORYTELLER: TALES OF LIFE AND MUSIC (DEY STREET, 2021). oh yeah, and he makes music.
GROHL obviously has one of the most storied careers of any modern musician, having cut his teeth as a teen with the 1980s DC HARDCORE stalwarts SCREAM before serendipitously joining the legendary 1990s ALTERNATIVE ROCK group NIRVANA and then forming his own band, FOO FIGHTERS, after their demise. he's collaborated with everyone from LEMMY KILMISTER and TRENT REZNOR to CAT POWER and JOHN PAUL JONES. his side projects include PROBOT, THEM CROOKED VULTURES and a brief stint in QUEENS OF THE STONE AGE. but most music fans are familiar with his biography.
and i believe he knows that, which is why his memoir is not a straight chronological telling of his personal narrative, but rather notable moments or vignettes told in sequential order. structurally it was very reminiscent of A HOUSE ON MANGO STREET. and i think such was a smart idea because it freed him to really dive into the meaning of certain rights of passage of his youth and that of his family without having to worry about how they fit into a broader context. again, most of these stories are familiar to anyone who has watched or read his interviews over the years or even read former KERRANG! editor PAUL BRANNIGAN's laboriously compiled biography THIS IS A CALL: THE LIFE AND TIMES OF DAVE GROHL (review linked HERE). what THE STORYTELLER provides is a perspective of a ROCK AND ROLL life rooted in family. GROHL goes to great lengths to show that his love of music was almost a manifestation of his unconditional love for his mother, who supported and sacrificed tirelessly on his behalf (a contrast to that of his father). but beyond his mother, his love of music connected him to an ever widening mandala of similarly minded friends that includes both the famous and the obscure; and they are both written about with equal wit and empathy. his childhood friend JIMMY SWANSON is as much a part of his personal narrative (perhaps more so) as that of KURT COBAIN, which is very endearing. given his public profile and immense cultural influence, it was likewise heartwarming to see GROHL give respect to his predecessors and influences: from NEIL PEART, PAUL MCCARTNEY and JOHN BONHAM, to LITTLE RICHARD, JOHN FOGERTY, AC/DC and JOAN JETT. even numerous obscure HARDCORE bands from his youth. THE STORYTELLER is in essence a vehicle for shining a light on the connective, reinvigorating force that is music, which is a common returning theme in all of his film and tv projects. by extension music makes everyone kin. everyone is connected on the same wavelength.
aside from its focus on musicians, the core of what i found engaging about THE STORYTELLER is how music connects him with his children. how he takes inspiration from their courage to perform publicly in front of their school peers during their elementary years or how they relate to it on the same emotional wavelength that he does. this made me think about how i have that same musical relationship with my dad and how for GROHL and his children THE BEATLES are that connection point, THE STRANGLERS and THE SMITHS are the same with my father. i havent read about that intergenerational connection in any previous rock memoir, maybe with the exception of KEITH RICHARDS and his mother in LIFE (review linked HERE). i should point out that i found it odd that GROHL mentions his wife in passing (unlike his mother and daughters). it was an interesting omission.
i thoroughly enjoyed this book and its focus on family and the nature of human connection through music or more elementally, love. i know most readers just want to hear COBAIN stories, but i thought he walked that line of audience expectation adroitly and with much care and empathy. THE STORYTELLER is well worth reading and i look forward to future non-musical efforts by GROHL and his ever expanding army of collaborators.
BROOKLYN-based PUNK ROCK band SURFBORT is probably the most transgressive artist i have come across since this side of discovering the BUTTHOLE SURFERS and GG ALLIN as well as the films of JOHN WATERS and GREGG ARAKI back in the late 90s as a teen. this band is everything i love about ROCK MUSIC: RAW, UNHINGED and UNAFRAID of crossing cultural mores dealing with sex, politics, power structures or gender.
can't wait to see how this band develops. SURFBORT are most definitely worth checking out.
photo by nacrowe
much like the previously reviewed UNDER THE BIG BLACK SUN: A PERSONAL HISTORY OF L.A. PUNK (linked HERE) KIDS OF THE BLACK HOLE: PUNK ROCK IN POSTSUBURBAN CALIFORNIA (UNIVERSITY OF OKLAHOMA PRESS, 2011) by DEWAR MACLEOD deals with the LOS ANGELES PUNK ROCK scene that began primarily around HOLLYWOOD in the late 70s and then quickly proliferated to the surrounding suburbs and statewide thereafter in quick succession.
whereas UNDER THE BIG BLACK SUN is by design an oral history by participants of the original scene with some HARDCORE musicians sprinkled in, MACLEOD's take on the subject is of a more academic, anthropological variety including economic, media criticism and social historical insights. unlike UNDER THE BIG BLACK SUN, he analyzes both scenes, those being the original LOS ANGELES scene and the fragmented suburban scenes it spawned, with equal critical attention and weight.
in UNDER THE BIG BLACK SUN there is the presentation of HARDCORE as the bastardization of the original scene which was described as diverse and inclusive of various art and minority communities. the almost exclusively WHITE MALE kids that made up the HARDCORE scene in the suburbs where abrasive, boorish and exceedingly violent and their music was a sped-up, dumbed down, sonically conservative variant. that was general criticism of such from that book.
MACLEOD here presents HARDCORE instead as a progression of an art form by kids who grew up within communities that by definition had no center, no core, no essence as they were part of the seemingly infinite suburban sprawl. their communities were defined by shopping centers and shallow consumerism. HARDCORE and its community was both a rejection of that complacency and a brutal, primal return to a cultural of year zero, L.A PUNK that preceded it included. these were not sophisticated art kids that jumped on PUNK as a means of expression as the original scene originated in the wake of the example of the SEX PISTOLS and the BRITISH variant's social and stylistic concerns, which were mimicked. HARDCORE, as MACLEOD argues, was the manifestation of a generation of kids raised in the suburbs with seemingly no locust of control over their surroundings, it was this dislocation, this imbalance that led them collectively to seek out HARDCORE in its extremities as a public sublimating ritual for control. that was what i gathered from this book regarding the violence that grew out of HARDCORE with the transition from BRITISH inspired "pogoing" to "slam dancing" behavior.
with HARDCORE in a SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA context you also have to be aware of the sensationalism behind its portrayal at the time by the media. cops at shows became a regular occurrence after the inexplicable 1979 ELKS LODGE MASSACRE, a show played by first-wave L.A PUNK bands like THE PLUGZ, THE WEIRDOS, THE SKULLS and THE DICKIES among others that was famous infiltrated by plainclothes police and resulted in a mini-riot and the public beatings of PUNK kids. after that event and the media attention that followed, the scene in LOS ANGELES was viewed as volatile and senselessly violent, which only drove those types of people to future shows, creating a self-fulfilling prophecy. thereafter the scene ceded control to the masses.
one other thing that interested me about this book was MACLEOD's sociological read of the early scene which included various participants, cliques and independent zine writers/editors all attempting to define the scene to no avail. when i think of NYC where PUNK originated i think of closed, defined, claustrophobic spaces, both physical and spiritual. PUNK was a burst of energy and a claim to identity rooted in this perceived hostile environment. with LOS ANGELES, you dont have that sense of enclosing space like in NYC. but what you do have is the sense of the painful vacuous, vapid nature of the middle AMERICAN mindset, which i would argue is just as reductive and spiritually exhaustive.
interesting book that presents lots of interesting reads on a scene that no-doubt has had ripple effects on modern AMERICAN culture beyond the HARDCORE scene of the 1980s. definitely worth seeking out.
as i mentioned before in my FACE IT book review, my brother works at a big box electronics retailer and within the past year had an older customer come in about her phone. my brother started looking over the phone and asked the customer "are you?..." to which she said "yes." at that point he went in a back room with the phone to begin repairing it and told an associate "that's pretty wild that DEBBIE HARRY is outside" to which his coworker asked "who's DEBBIE HARRY?"
well, DEBBIE HARRY is the legendary singer of BLONDIE, one of the most iconic NEW WAVE bands that came out of the original PUNK ROCK scene at CBGB's in the late 1970s that also famously nurtured TELEVISION, PATTI SMITH, SUICIDE, THE DEAD BOYS, TALKING HEADS and, of course, THE RAMONES. i know there is much debate about what specifically constitutes a PUNK band versus a NEW WAVE band and where BLONDIE fits into that schema. such talk never really interested me. all i know is that PARALLEL LINES (CHRYSALIS, 1978) is a great pop record with all that entails: great hooks, powerful performances, thoughtful lyrics and sheer charisma. there is a reason that HARRY is so beloved and has been a touchstone for everyone from JOAN JETT, ELASTICA and MADONNA to GARBAGE, R.E.M. and NO DOUBT. i dont want to get away from the obvious fact that DEBBIE HARRY is a female cultural icon in the vein of MARILYN MONROE. there is a reason ANDY WARHOL did portraits of her during the last decade of his life. but i think that image also has an underbelly and such is that she is criminally underrated as a singer and a recording artist due to her commercial appeal and status as a pre-internet celebrity.
PARALLEL LINES often gets attached to the PUNK and NEW WAVE movements, but in my estimation the movement that should be referenced is the POWER POP movement that sought to modernize the modern classicism of THE BEATLES. This is evidenced in the excellent covers of THE NERVE's "HANGING ON THE TELEPHONE" and BUDDY HOLLY's "I'M GONNA LOVE YOU TOO" as well as all the CHRIS STEIN written/co-written tracks such as "PICTURE THIS," "SUNDAY GIRL," and of course "HEART OF GLASS." all showcase a way with a memorable pop hook that was not attached to their more experimental brethren at the time. that sense of melodic appeal and pop sheen has been a sore spot for many when compared to the likes of PATTI SMITH, TALKING HEADS or THE RAMONES, but in my mind they all carved their own lane. why do they all need to sound the same. it is the same case when one realizes that GREEN DAY and NEUROSIS came from the same EAST BAY scene and where admirers of one another. life is complicated, get over it.
Perhaps my favorite moment on PARALLEL LINES is "ONE WAY OR ANOTHER" written by HARRY and based on her experience with a stalker. the song is from the perspective of the perpetrator and the lyrics really counteract that celebratory upbeat vibe of the music. its an interesting juxtaposition that subverts listener expectations and showcases the psychological complexity of a deranged mind focused on the object of his/her obsession. it many ways this voyeurism is mirrored in the deification involved in celebrity culture, something i am almost certain was not lost on HARRY who was the object of said attention.
i want to close by mentioning that guitarist CHRIS STEIN is also criminally underrated as a songwriter. his sense of melody, structure and arrangement is often overlooked among his peer group. i feel the influence of BLONDIE on modern music is as much his legacy as HARRY's, who obviously was the public-facing member of the group. on top of that he is also a talented photographer.
definitely check out PARALLEL LINES and take in its sublime pop bliss. and then listen to THE RAMONES.
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in the past few years there have been a number of books published to address the critical void in PUNK ROCK history surrounding the LOS ANGELES PUNK ROCK scene that emerged in the late 1970s and transitioned into the more aggressive, militant and arguably influential 1980s HARDCORE scene made up of bands from the SOUTH BAY and nearby outlying counties (ORANGE, VENTURA, SANTA BARBARA and SAN DIEGO). this includes X guitarist JOHN DOE'S UNDER THE BIG BLACK SUN: A PERSONAL HISTORY OF L.A. PUNK (DA CAPO, 2016), MASQUE venue owner BRENDAN MULLEN's WE GOT THE NEUTRON BOMB: THE UNTOLD STORY OF L.A. PUNK (THREE RIVERS PRESS, 2001) and LEXICON DEVIL: THE FAST TIMES AND SHORT LIFE OF DARBY CRASH AND THE GERMS (FERAL HOUSE, 2002) and STEVEN BLUSHES's AMERICAN HARDCORE: A TRIBAL HISTORY (FERAL HOUSE, 2001) among many other notable titles.
what makes VIOLENCE GIRL: A CHICANA PUNK STORY (FERAL HOUSE, 2011) by ALICE BAG of THE BAGS a compelling memoir is not only her unique perspective on the initial scene, which she was an active participant in, and its notable participants (THE GERMS, THE WIERDOS, X, THE MIDDLE CLASS etc.), but also how her upbringing as a LATINA in EAST L.A. affected her worldview. in my estimation, that distinct perspective is what is missing in other recent books on the subject and makes this autobiography a particularly noteworthy and vital addition.
regarding that perspective, BAG presents a scene made up of misfits and artistically-inclined eccentrics with varied interests and backgrounds who created an anarchic, underground and ultimately inclusive community of like-minded individuals. in her description of this early scene there is very much a sense of FREEDOM at play, where PUNK ROCK had opened the doors to personal expression with no expectations. and the initial community, which was quite INTIMATE and SELF-SUSTAINING, supported such. much like other scenes that blew up, its success was its downfall as it transitioned into the HARDCORE scene. audiences from the suburbs flooded in and transformed the scene into something quite different entirely, arguably a more REGIMENTED, VIOLENT and ultimately CONSERVATIVE affair.
much of this book is focused on that of her family and the aggression and rage inherited from her father, who on occasion mercilessly beat her mother in public view of her neighbors. you really get the sense of the generational TRAUMA of such TOXIC MASCULINITY and how it affects and inhibits your ability to interact and navigate relationships and the wold in general. lucky for BAG, her music and the support of her community allowed her a unique avenue for sublimating such for position change, but it is interesting how she feels somewhat culpable for the transition the scene ultimately took towards a more orthodox and less inclusive community that seemed NIHILISTIC in its almost ritual celebration and fetishization of VIOLENCE. her music was violence and aggression as a catharsis and means of deeper communicating and engagement with her audience. what later emerged was music as a background soundtrack to sanctioned random AGGRESSION.
an aspect i really appreciated about this memoir was how it was written and structured. BAG has a real gift for being direct and concise while providing intimate details of what it was like being an adorable music-obsessed dork growing up in the 1970s complete with loving descriptions of her clothing, hair and that of her peers, especially with regards to her fandom and emulation of ELTON JOHN. the book is structured as a series of short chapters that almost serve as small vignettes, each one providing a glimpse into a wide narrative without making it to fragmented in the process. it is a remarkable narrative strategy that more than mirrors the ethos of her music, which likewise is VISCERAL, MEMORABLE, CONCISE and ultimately quite IMPACTFUL.
i feel that VIOLENCE GIRL: A CHICANA PUNK STORY is an effective introduction to the story of the LOS ANGELES PUNK scene and its transformation. given her perspective as a minority and a woman it is really interest a treat to explore her experience in the scene. it makes me wonder why more of these books do not exist regarding PUNK ROCK in general as the community is far more diverse than the literature would suggest. after this i am definitely primed to seek out THE SPITBOY RULE: TALES OF A XICANA IN A FEMALE PUNK BAND (PM PRESS, 2016) by SPITBOY drummer MICHELLE CRUZ GONZALEZ.
if anyone is aware of other titles hitherto not reviewed in this forum, please let me know.
im really digging the loose POST HARDCORE insanity of the BRITISH outfit IDLES, especially when it comes to the spoken word intensity of WELSH frontman JOE TALBOT. all too often it feels like BRITISH bands modify their singing voice to accommodate or pander towards a potential AMERICAN audience going back to THE BEATLES. when i hear TALBOT rant it brings me back to the best tradition of that poetic common-man deadpan lyricism of MARK E SMITH of THE FALL, IAN DURY or even SHAUN RYRDER of THE HAPPY MONDAYS.
it doesnt hurt that the group he fronts is pretty brutal. IDLES is definitely a band worth checking out.
the title a reference to a former BRIXTON sound-system enjoyed long ago by JAMAICAN WINDRUSH GENERATION immigrants, SUPERSTONIC SOUND: THE REBEL DREAD (3FILMGROUP, 2010) is a film about famed director and PUNK ROCK icon DON LETTS and the CULTURAL and PERSONAL HISTORY of BASS over three generations of his family in BRITAIN. its an interesting topic criminally overlooked, especially since, as DON states, "bass is JAMAICA's gift to the planet."
the film is a dialogue of sorts with his son JET, who is an upcoming DUBSTEP producer, which interestingly continues a family legacy that was started with DON's father ST LEGER who set up a small sound-system on the steps of a church after service. in a sense, this intermingling of RELIGION and MUSIC was what got that first generation of immigrants through ECONOMIC, POLITICAL and CULTURAL racism from a new home country that rejected them.
what i found interesting about the film was the interplay between ROOTS REGGAE and the beginnings of BRITISH PUNK ROCK in the late 1970s and how such carried over to NYC HIP HOP in the early 1980s. the through-line between such seems obvious in retrospect (REBELLION, PERSONAL FREEDOM, UNINHIBITED CREATIVE EXPRESSION), but the seeming recognition and collective interest of such at the time by active participants in each scene is pretty remarkable. it also provides an explanation for the formation of BIG AUDIO DYNAMITE (of which DON co-fronted), which was a band i never completely understood after being raised on THE CLASH.
i also found it remarkable how levelheaded JET was about the legacy of his father, how he doesnt feel a need to live up to some outside expectation, but nonetheless appreciates to learn what he can from him. and his father in return sees value in his evolution and appreciation for the use of BASS in his music. it is pretty remarkable.
of course this film was recorded long before the catastrophe of BREXIT and the UNITED KINGDOM's fall back into state-sanctioned RACISM and rampant XENOPHOBIA that led the way for TRUMP and globally ascendent authoritarians worldwide. i can only imagine what this film would look and sound like just 6 years later. my sense is that a common love of BASS would nourish that family's soul and provide a respite just as it did during the post-WORLD WAR II period with the WINDRUSH GENERATION. scary to think about.
sometimes the less you know the better.
that was definitely the case with COMMANDO (ABRAMS BOOKS, 2012), a posthumous autobiography by PUNK ROCK icon JOHNNY RAMONE written during his final years while battling prostate cancer. its not that i dont appreciate or love his music. shit THE RAMONES are one of the bedrock bands of my entire music listening life, its practically them and THE BEATLES in my mind for most consequential bands in ROCK N ROLL history. its just the dude on paper comes off as a real DICK. and not even a likable one.
i understand that there is a bit of hagiography going on when writing one's memoir, that makes sense. it is after all a book where the author and subject are one in the same so there should be some blurring of that line of credibility. but COMMANDO seems intent on making JOHNNY RAMONE the center of the narrative at all times. it makes sense that TOMMY wrote the preface forward because he is the only other band member that is not characterized as an adult juvenile delinquent. that was unfortunate, given that by the time of its being written, JOEY RAMONE had been dead for more than half a decade. and that is the flaw of this book: its remarkable pettiness.
JOHNNY loves presenting himself as a working-class AMERICAN to point of caricature. he really digs into the concept of an ugly AMERICAN, criticizing EUROPEAN countries for being lackluster because their television was horrible and not in ENGLISH and he didnt like the food (he wanted BURGER KING). its laughable until i realize the unique opportunity this guy had traveling the world only to have his own EGOTISM and MYOPIA step in. for him to think, even in retrospect, that such was cool or to be celebrated is just SAD and PATHETIC. he comes off like a real small person and for him to think that such was him being a REAL AMERICAN makes me cringe. and it appears he wholesale believed such. i really feel for JOEY. JOHNNY RAMONE seems like the quintessential UGLY AMERICAN.
this and his repeated use throughout the book of MISOGYNISTIC and HOMOPHOBIC slurs leads one to believe that he was in fact the emotionally, intellectually and psychologically stunted member of the group. or just another cretin, pinhead or (ENTER YOUR PREFERRED RAMONES REFERENCE HERE). his criticisms of JOEY or anyone that disagrees with him seem to be simple projection. even his assessment of his peers and the early PUNK ROCK bands out of ENGLAND was their similarities to THE RAMONES. its not like he couldnt understand how PUNK ROCK as a template could be expanded by THE CLASH or others with different sounds. its as if he could understand how they wouldnt want to purely emulate THE RAMONES. its total egomania. furthermore, he cant seem to handle the world as it is with any complexity and relied heavily on easy, and unreliable, signifiers of value.
which bring me to his bizarre recurring preoccupation and fascination with MONEY. i understand that all of THE RAMONES felt that they were never paid what they deserved over the arc of their career, especially given rise of 1990s ALTERNATIVE ROCK and PUNK-inspired bands of that era who made a killing. i get that. but no fan really cares about their finances. to the fanbase, their music has a non-pecuniary value. so hearing him relate value with money is just off-putting and makes him come across again, as selfish and self-interested.
interestingly, the closest i have come to this level of NARCISSISM in a memoir is PAUL STANLEY's FACE THE MUSIC (review linked HERE) and GENE SIMMONS' KISS AND MAKE-UP (review linked HERE). in both cases, the KISS frontmen, who came from the same era as JOHNNY RAMONE, were upfront and transparent about their ambitions from the outset of attaining fame and wealth. all aspects of KISS (from the songs, artwork, stage presentation, personnel decisions, marketing, etc.) where made from that perspective. they werent necessarily concerned with personal expression, artistic integrity or even any notion of authenticity. it was really odd hearing this same line from one of the key members of THE RAMONES. it was actually pretty sad to hear. like KISS, JOHNNY RAMONE speaks about how the band would film themselves (even at the outset) and basically choreograph their stage show. i couldve lived without knowing that.
i will admit that at least JOHNNY RAMONE was honest. ill give him that. with regards to his apparent NARCISSISM, MISOGYNY, HOMOPHOBIA, AVARICIOUSNESS and even his REGRESSIVE RIGHTWING POLITICS (the dude was a DITTOHEAD, after all), i could have done without knowing how small his world actually was.
i cant advocate COMMANDO because i wish i didnt read it. i dont know whether to blame his publisher, his editor, his estate or even JOHNNY RAMONE himself. in my opinion this publication should never have been made available to the public as it tarnishes his reputation. makes me want to search out films and books that focus on other members now. specifically JOEY, who seems a more fitting PUNK ROCK icon for the ages than this sad man.
i dont question his influence or greatness, but he is now a part of another subset of notable artists with terrible flaws. like RICHARD WAGNER, R. KELLY, PHIL SPECTOR or even MICHAEL JACKSON.
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given DAVE GROHL's reputation for being an affable, righteous dude i had some initial misgivings about reading the biography THIS IS A CALL: THE LIFE AND TIMES OF DAVE GROHL (DA CAPO, 2011) by former KERRANG! editor PAUL BRANNIGAN. i was worried it would veer towards hagiography, especially given author's decades-long relationship interviewing and covering the towering ALTERNATIVE ROCK musician. but i am glad to report that THIS IS A CALL is a pretty even-handed accounting of GROHL's sprawling career up to the point of the FOO FIGHTERS' WASTING LIGHT (ROSWELL RECORDS, 2011) record a decade ago. this book is unauthorized but includes interviews with past band members and the man himself, many culled from past publications and documentaries, but also from BRANNIGAN himself.
i should state that i have read numerous NIRVANA books at this point, but what makes this book interesting is obviously seeing it from GROHL's perspective. at this point in 2021 GROHL is effectively the flag-waving elder-statesman of ROCK AND ROLL writ large. this has only been further cemented given his actions over the past decade (since this book's publication) in connecting more and more musicians and their stories to a wider audience with his personal television (SONIC HIGHWAYS) and documentary projects (SOUND CITY, WHAT DRIVES US).
so it is interesting being taken along for the ride with GROHL, as his story in popular culture is so unavoidably intertwined with his time in NIRVANA and its doomed frontman KURT COBAIN. and that is unfortunate, because the sense you get from THIS IS A CALL is that for GROHL the defining relationship of his life is with music itself. time and time again you sense that for him music was a means of community, escape, passion and above all else, fun. like COBAIN, GROHL lived a childhood marked by divorce. unlike COBAIN, GROHL grew up in a nurturing, supportive environment. my sense is that PUNK ROCK to GROHL represented an extended family/community of like-minded individuals with a similar pragmatic DIY ethos towards life and art. i am not sure that was the case for COBAIN, who seemed to have boundless ambition maybe in hopes of proving his value. im playing armchair psychiatrist here, and i probably shouldnt, but it seems obvious from the get-go that GROHL never had the same hangups or guilt in following his musical ambitions, especially post-NIRVANA.
again, from the beginning GROHL's enthusiasm was all about chasing the fun of playing music. as a child he became aware of the neighboring DC HARDCORE scene and started teenage bands in his native VIRGINIA. from his first serious project in MISSION IMPOSSIBLE to his stints in other outfits like DAIN BRAMAGE and local PUNK legends SCREAM, you get the sense these experiences provided him a vocabulary about how to interact with others. and obviously the musical shorthand faired him well in his later career with outside projects (THEM CROOKED VULTURES, PROBOT, LATE!, QUEENS OF THE STONE AGE), session work (GARBAGE, NINE INCH NAILS, SLASH, DAVID BOWIE, KILLING JOKE and TENACIOUS D) and soundtrack work (TOUCH, RISING SUN: THE LEGEND OF SKATEBOARDER CHRISTIAN HOSOI).
but a lot of this i already knew, what made this book interesting for me where the details about how if personal life affected his lyrical content in the first few records. there are several songs i didnt read as autobiographical that now i can plainly see were. i also appreciate the fact that BRANNIGAN didnt shy away from presenting GROHL at times as being highly opportunistic and unempathetic to the feelings of his "friends" like former FOO FIGHTERS WILLIAM GOLDSMITH and FRANZ STAHL, both unceremoniously booted with little patience or grace, just echos and silence.
if anything, this biography is a great primer for GROHL's upcoming memoir which will highlight stories from his career. make sense, the dude is about connecting people. it is what makes him, well, him.
SEX STAINS was a fun PUNK ROCK / mixed-media project featuring members of BRATMOBILE (ALLISON WOLFE), WARPAINT (DAVID ORLANDO) and PRETTIEST EYES (FRANCISCO GARCIA) along with choreographer / professional dancer MECCA VAZIE ANDREWS.
to my ears this band seemed to have a playful, angular, upbeat, kinetic and experimental sound that was definitely within the tradition of the POST PUNK, RIOT GIRRRL, ALTERNATIVE ROCK and straight up PUNK ROCK sounds of their previous bands.
definitely a group worth revisiting and checking out.
check out HERE this recent streaming video episode of DEER GOD RADIO that examines over 40 years of LOS ANGELES PUNK ROCK!
past episodes of DEER GOD RADIO are available here at the DEER GOD website as well as in the MAKERPARKRADIO.NYC archives.
and if you haven't done so already get the FREE PHONE APP for IOS/ANDROID and enjoy listening to MAKERPARKRADIO.NYC 24/7 at your convenience!
up until my family moved to NIGERIA when i was 12, we basically never went on trips. the two exceptions to that was a basketball camp i went to in ARIZONA and a memorable road trip to SAN FRANCISCO that included stays in MONTERREY, SOLVANG and SAN SIMEON. its funny because since our big move in 1996, ive now been to somewhere north of 60 countries in the past 25 years. which i admit is insane. but that trip north was a pretty big deal for me.
it was also the trip i got NIRVANA's last record IN UTERO (DGC, 1991) along with its predecessor NEVERMIND (DGC, 1991) at the former TOWER RECORDS in near FISHERMAN's WHARF on columbus avenue and bay street in SAN FRANCISCO. years later after graduating high school i got TRICKY's MAXINQUAYE (FOURTH AND BROADWAY, 1995) at that same store.
anyway, like most fans of INDIE ROCK, PUNK ROCK and ALTERNATIVE ROCK, for me NIRVANA was an important band. by the time i got the STEVE ALBINI recorded / produced IN UTERO, frontman KURT COBAIN had been deceased for a few months. what struck me about the record at the time was how raw it was compared to NEVERMIND, which stunned me. COBAIN is obviously celebrated for his preternatural sense of melody and opaque lyrics, but as a 12 year old that was beyond me at that point. really i fed off the aggression and sense of pain in his voice. specifically i am referring to songs like "TOURETTE'S", "RADIO FRIENDLY UNIT SHIFTER," "VERY APE," "SCENTLESS APPRENTICE" and especially "RAPE ME." to me that is the real power of NIRVANA in general. just that vibe of being dissatisfied with the world / yourself. in essence IN UTERO has been the soundtrack to me youth, from moving to AFRICA and visiting places like SPAIN, GHANA, ITALY and COTE D'IVOIRE. i hear the songs and i am snapped back to those trips with my family. alienation is a universal experience, but being a THIRD CULTURE KID really puts that sense of disconnect in perspective. at some point you come to feel comfortable in unfamiliar settings.
in some ways that is how i look at IN UTERO as an adult. COBAIN at that point in his life was at a point of great transition in his life, becoming a father, a generational icon and a hardcore drug addict. all that is reflected in his lyrics which i would argue the most poetic and meaningful of his career, due undoubtedly to the influence of his criminally underrated wife COURTNEY LOVE. dont believe me? read her lyrics from HOLE albums of the period and tell me they are not superior. i think it is beyond doubt that her influence, for good or ill, is indelibly reflected throughout IN UTERO. songs dealing with themes of childbirth, death and reproduction as well as the guilt, shame and lack of control associated with emotional dependence and drug addiction. i cant even begin to imagine the disorientation associated with becoming a media sensation in your mid-20s, especially given his isolated biography and inward artistic leanings. then again he feverishly chased that attention so at the very least the dude was a deeply conflicted and endlessly fascinating figure. with IN UTERO you are given a sense of his mindset post-fame with songs like "DUMB," "PENNYROYAL TEA," "HEART-SHAPED BOX" and "ALL APOLOGIES" being both intimate as well as caustically sardonic and self-lacerating. it really is quite the achievement.
this is one of those records that i feel strongly shaped my identity, worldview and even sense of masculinity from a pretty early age. because of that it is difficult for me to separate it from my own lived experience. it is easily one of my favorite records from the period, only SOUNDGARDEN's SUPERUNKNOWN (A&M, 1993), TOOL's ÆNIMA (ZOO, 1996), RAGE AGAINST THE MACHINE's RAGE AGAINST THE MACHINE (EPIC, 1992) and ALICE IN CHAINS' DIRT (COLUMBIA, 1992) are in the same ballpark in my opinion. culturally IN UTERO and NIRVANA in general represent the last impactful movement in ROCK AND ROLL.
its been 30 years and we're still waiting for someone to match it. still. waiting.
i know its hard to believe now, but there was a period - however brief - that THE OFFSPRING did not suck.
1994 was a big year in music for a lot of reasons, but i distinctly remember what it was like to be in elementary school in SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA when SMASH (EPITAPH, 1994) went big that year. at the time i was big into BASKETBALL and played lots of tournaments of with a traveling team, i even knew the coaches at the three high schools in my area (ORANGE COUNTY) as i was a known entity at that time. so i remember going to basketball tournaments all over the state when songs like "COME OUT AND PLAY" and "SELF ESTEEM" got played during warmups. at the time i knew THE OFFSPRING were a local band (BUENA PARK) and i knew the record was massive. i didnt have MTV as none of my friends had cable, but i did listen to 106.7FM KROQ out of LOS ANGELES. at the time i became conscious of music, the SEATTLE ALTERNATIVE ROCK scene was massive and ubiquitous so it was cool to know that a local band was on that level. this was a time that was before the national emergence of SUBLIME (LONG BEACH) and NO DOUBT (ANAHEIM) but concurrent with that of GREEN DAY (EAST BAY).
looking back now, SMASH and its predecessor IGNITION (EPITAPH, 1994) were both albums that were made by musicians that obviously had a love for LOS ANGELES HARDCORE bands like THE GERMS (HOLLYWOOD) and BLACK FLAG (HERMOSA BEACH) yet were noticeable influenced by the melodicism of other local acts like THE ADOLESCENTS (FULLERTON), AGENT ORANGE (PLACENTIA) and THE DESCENDENTS (MANHATTAN BEACH). to my ears this record is a marriage of those two approaches and a fairly successful one at that. for some odd reason which i cannot explain, after this record the band decided to go a more "WEIRD AL" YANKOVIC route and make novelty songs that double as lame social commentary. for me and a lot of other earlier admirers this really killed their appeal. i am almost certain that there are some reading this that share this antipathy for the band in general.
but there was a moment that THE OFFSPRING didnt suck. and this album was it. what caught me off guard was when i moved to NIGERIA in 1996 and met fellow classmates from places like ISRAEL, NORWAY, KENYA, LEBANON, ENGLAND and GHANA who knew about the band and were fans of the scene they came from. i realized then the true scope of this record. all future releases by seminal bands from my former hometown would be experienced as an outsider as i never moved back. i dont feel nostalgic about my time in SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA (i was happy to leave), but hearing this record, especially lesser known cuts like "GOTTA GET AWAY" and "NOT THE ONE" take me right back to being a pre-adolescent in ORANGE COUNTY.
seriously, how cool is it that someone finally made a documentary about the DESCENDENTS?
FILMAGE: THE STORY OF DESCENDENTS/ALL (ROGUE ELEPHANT, 2014) is basically a celebration of the music and legacy of legendary HARDCORE band DESCENDENTS and their fraternal twin band ALL. the common link between the two is drummer BILL STEVENSON who famously also was a member of BLACK FLAG in the early 1980s, as has also moonlighted as an in-demand producer over the past few years that has overseen albums by everyone from RISE AGAINST, THE LEMONHEADS and LAGWAGON to A DAY TO REMEMBER.
the film can be seen as a love letter from the PUNK ROCK community to a band largely credited with establishing the POP PUNK genre with its pummeling musicianship and anti-rock star frontman, the iconic MILO AUKERMAN, who sang songs that had melody and lovesick lyrics about not measuring up in high school. with peers like KEITH MORRIS (BLACK FLAG / CIRCLE JERKS), MIKE WATT (MINUTEMEN), BRIAN BAKER (MINOR THREAT / BAD RELIGION), GREG GRAFFIN (BAD RELIGION), BRETT GUREWITZ (BAD RELIGION), KIM SHATTUCK (THE MUFFS), DAVE GROHL (NIRVANA / FOO FIGHTERS) and subsequent bands they influenced like MARK HOPPUS (BLINK 182), FAT MIKE (NOFX), JIM LINDBERG (PENNYWISE), MIKE HERRERA (MXPX), TIM MICIIRATH (RISE AGAINST), TREVER KEITH (FACE TO FACE) and JOEY CAPE (LAGWAGON) all making enthusiastic appearances and giving praise about this criminally underrated band, it feels almost like THE SMITHS-level adulation. its touching.
what i found most interesting in this documentary was how it covered the split personality of DESCENDENTS with their counterpart ALL, which was essentially the same band without MILO. this was amicable as MILO left to pursue a doctorate and career as a researcher in MOLECULAR BIOLOGY. how PUNK ROCK is that? but his departure left a void that couldnt be filled by subsequent gifted singers that played with ALL. the band never got the critical recognition or fan adulation as the DESCENDENTS. DAVE GROHL was the perfect person to speak about this dilemma. famously he lived through it when establishing FOO FIGHTERS in the wake of the swift and brutally public demise of NIRVANA. choosing to start a new band in the wake of a successful band can only be done for the love of the music he argues. FOO FIGHTERS were financially successful, ALL not so much. but their friendship and brotherhood is intact and the PUNK ROCK community has continued to support them.
when i first heard the DESCENDENTS in high school i was immediately taken with how raw and almost uncomfortably exposed the lyrics were and how that contrasted with the aggressive nature of the music. they were HARDCORE band that went against any macho posturing. they sang about food and bathroom humor as well as being dumped; all with a melody. very distinctive. i had NERF HERDER as well in high school but to me it seemed more a straightforward POP PUNK record in the vein of many other bands. there was no tension or angst, just competent songs sung well without much fanfare or identity.
the lesson of STEVENSON's example, and in essence he is the central figure in this film, is to be passionate about who you do and go for it. despite being awkward and overweight and dorky. use that to your advantage. be an outsider. be original. DESCENDENTS are originals and that is why they continue to be celebrated.
in the summer of 2001 i visited a childhood friend of mine in SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA my hometown in ORANGE COUNTY. it was like a month before 9/11 and at that point i had spent my junior year of high school in KUWAIT. i didnt know at the time that within 2 months id be living with a relative in SACRAMENTO. anyway, this friend of mine was big into PUNK ROCK, specifically 80s HARDCORE. he basically opened my eyes to a whole scene of local ORANGE COUNTY and LOS ANGELES COUNTY bands id hitherto been unfamiliar with, bands like THE ADOLESCENTS (FULLERTON), T.S.O.L. (LONG BEACH), THE MIDDLE CLASS (SANTA ANA), FEAR (LOS ANGELES), THE DESCENDENTS (MANHATTAN BEACH), D.I. (FULLERTON), THE VANDALS (HUNTINGTON BEACH), CHANNEL 3 (CERRITOS), AGENT ORANGE (PLACENTIA) and, of course, SOCIAL DISTORTION (FULLERTON) among many others. it was a great trip, i got to see T.S.O.L. headline a show in POMONA with the NERVE AGENTS and saw a reunion show in SANTA ANA with THE ADOLESCENTS celebrating their iconic ADOLESCENTS (FRONTIER, 1981) with CHANNEL 3 opening. cant complain.
but i remember my friend really looked down on SOCIAL DISTORTION because they weren't a straight-up HARDCORE band, they wore their ROCKABILLY, BLUES and COUNTRY influences pretty prominently on their sleeve.
so obviously i gravitated towards them. to me they stood out because of those influences, because they werent a straight up HARDCORE band. they had depth.
maybe its because i spent a lot of time in NEW JERSEY, but when i listen to songs by MIKE NESS of SOCIAL DISTORTION i feel there is more than a passing resemblance to another songwriting icon: BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN. both are ROCK N ROLL lifers who are very much in the business of contextualizing the traditions of the genre through prism of their experiences and the ambtions of their respective communities. for SPRINGSTEEN that was the unfulfilled hopes and dreams of the working class greasers he grew up with in FREEHOLD and mingled with along the JERSEY SHORE. his music has an aspirational quality that is a through line with his lyrics, which often focuses on characters searching and seeking a better life for themselves and their loved ones. with NESS he may be speaking within the lexicon and iconography of FILM NOIR and the SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA CAR CULTURE he witnessed in FULLERTON, but its very much the same thing: his songs tend to be about establishing an identity within a new community. one he initiated. both have differing aesthetics, but harbor a belief in the gospel of glory, sanctity and regenerative nature of ROCK N ROLL.
some who find fault in NESS argue that his lyrics come off a bit confessional or transparent, especially in songs like "STORY OF MY LIFE" or "BALL AND CHAIN" off of their SOCIAL DISTORTION (EPIC, 1990) album that leave little to interpretation, but for me that is the sign of someone straddling the edge. to me there is a danger in that vulnerability which is something i dont associate with 80s HARDCORE, i associate it more with classic COUNTRY ballads and DELTA BLUES dirges. i think my friend in a sense was absolutely correct in not deeming SOCIAL DISTORTION a "real" PUNK ROCK band, since to me they transcend that genre. to me they are just a great ROCK N ROLL band with all that comes with it.
i remember getting REPEATER (DISCHORD, 1990) by FUGAZI at the recommendation of a childhood when i was visiting ORANGE COUNTY during the summer before my senior year of high school back in 2001. i believe i bought it at RADIATION RECORDS in FULLERTON. regardless, to my ears this record was a revelation because of its aggression, experimentation and sense of melody. since i was uninitiated into the world of POST-HARDCORE, at the time the nearest analogue i could think of was NIRVANA's IN UTERO (DGC, 1993). this record felt like a progression from that.
it wasnt until a few years later that i became acquainted with other bands like RITES OF SPRING, GLASSJAW, THE REFUSED and other seminal POST-HARDCORE bands that REPEATER gained a more apt context.
i can only count a handful of times where my world changed when hearing something unique for the first time. that happened in NIGERIA when someone who worked for my parents played FELA KUTI nonstop, specifically the ITT (WRASSE, 1980) and CONFUSION BREAK BONES (WRASSE, 1989) cassette tapes. it happened when i first heard both NOTHING'S SHOCKING (WARNER BROS, 1988) and RITUAL DE LO HABITUAL (WARNER BROS, 1990) by JANE'S ADDICTION on the same trip in SOUTH AFRICA. it also happened when i discovered DEVO in high school or THE SMITHS and THE STRANGLERS from track meet trips with my dad during my elementary school years.
i always wonder how much of your media diet is a reflection of your openness to new sounds, images and ideas during specific moments in your life. and who you surround yourself with. growing up moving all the time ive been around a lot of people with varying tastes and outlooks and i feel sometimes my exposure reflects such. in the case of FUGAZI, i was years late to that party. but i still find myself listening to this record especially standout tracks like "MERCHANDISE," "BLUEPRINT," "GREED," and of course "REPEATER" that all have a raw earnestness around them that is reflected in the lyrics and pummeling yet nuanced dynamism of the guitar assault.
now i hear their sound in other bands all the time, so it has dated a bit since i firts heard it, which of course was more than a decade after its release. great record i highly recommend checking out for fans of PUNK ROCK and HARDCORE.
JOSH FREESE is renowned as a studio musician of the first order having recorded and/or toured with the likes of everyone from A PERFECT CIRCLE, STING, NINE INCH NAILS, PARAMORE, THE REPLACEMENTS, WEEZER and GUNS N ROSES to BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN and QUEENS OF THE STONE AGE. and that credits list literally goes on. and on. but id argue that primarily he is known as the longstanding drummer of both the LOS ANGELES PUNK ROCK band THE VANDALS and the legendary NEW WAVE band DEVO.
less known or celebrated are his solo records and the one-off songs hes done over the past few years. they are often very brief, super catchy and hilarious. they are also normally off-the-cuff affairs with an almost FOUNTAINS OF WAYNE-esque POWER POP sense of melodicism and pop construction that seem designed to primarily embarrass his friends or make an ass of himself.
FREESE is an uber-talented musician that is literally capable of anything. i just love the fact that when he chooses to write and release his own material that it literally has nothing to do with his day job in tone or demeanor. definitely an artist worth checking out.