Thursday, May 19, 2016

"Happy 40th Anniversary, Fleshtones!" from the World

The Fleshtones debuted at CBGB on May 19, 1976, 40 years ago today. “We were very wound up and blasted out our handful of songs at a ridiculously fast tempo,” Peter remembers in Sweat. “Still, people liked us and some even danced along, an unusual event at super-cool CBGB’s. We were invited back for another audition.

“Finally, we were a real band.”

In recognition of the Fleshtones' 40th anniversary, Parisian Super Rock fans Carole Bigaud and René Simon have compiled an International Happy Birthday video for Keith, Peter, Bill, and Ken (and by extension, Lenny, Marek, and Gordon), the cheers from fellow musicians, friends, and fans coming from all corners of the world. Sending their best are:
Died Pretty, Andy Shernoff, Southern Culture On The Skids, Bernard and Mika Laurent, Cathy Mini, Crummy Stuff, The Dustaphonics, Hoodoo Gurus, Vibeke Saugestad, Emmanuelle Jowa, Nascha Streng, Dana Saravia, Sam Novak & Isabelle, Jean-Pierre Soulignac, Jimmy Descant, The Vindicators, Laine Berman, Marc Minelli, Phast Freddie & Nancy Garder, Ludwig Dahllöf, The Jackets, Ivan Andreini, The Parisian Beat (Thomas, Nath, Pascal, Miss M from Space, Gabba, Carole, and René), T Birds Bassano, Yuri Margarine, Gail Wetton, Anita Verdun (& Family), Handsome Dick Manitoba & Palmyra Delran, Fran Fried, The Nomads, Dom Mariani, The Midnight Kings (Fabrizia Perlin, Domenico Denti, Allesandro Montrasi, Simona Badsimo, Tiziano Carozzi, and Corrado Montanaro), Linda Pitmon & Steve Wynn, Anne Tek, Tony Truant, Marc Tison, Kim & Alex Sharpe, Katia Samson, Violent Femmes, Les Grys Grys, Parker Dulany from Certain General, Gabba, Lindsay Hutton, Fuzzy Vox, Randy Johnston & Michael Shink, Emily Seah & Robert Jaz, Eduardo of Flaming Sideburns, Jimmy Gracia, "The Professor" Mighty Manfred of The Woggles, Bébert Playboys, Johnny Hentch, Saxon, Wendy Case, KellyJean Caldwell, and Birdie, Daddy Long Legs, Certain General, Pierre Ivanov, Max Lebreton, and Carole & René.
Watch all of the Super Well Wishes here:

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Do the 1970s Begin at the 1:58 Mark in this Song?

Deep Purple recorded "Highway Star" in December of 1971 in Montreux, Switzerland, on "the Rolling truck Stones thing just outside." Improvised on a tour bus on an acoustic guitar by Ritchie Blackmore and Ian Gillan, the song became a concert staple, and famous as the opening track on Machine Head, released in 1972.

The song's first two minutes contain everything great about rock and roll: a three-chord, mock-heroic, revved-up opening and then a head-banging rush of eigth notes; crunchy power chords; and singalong yelping about a cool car and the girl inside it. At the two minute mark, something—virtuosity, perhaps, a desire for something grand and epic—enters the song, and the calendar changes. The last 2/3 of the song is given over to intricate, carefully played organ and guitar solos, and what began as a simple but urgent rock and roll song about a highway star ends up a fussy. Organist Jon Lord acknowledges that the organ and guitar solos originated from chord sequences influenced by Johann Sebastian Bach. To my ears, the decade begins when a snotty, AM-radio garage song about a fast car and a faster girl morphs into FM-radio ornateness with elongated guitar solos from the Baroque era.

For better or for worse. What the hell, it's still a killer driving song.



Photo via Metalship.

Saturday, May 14, 2016

The more you delve and backtrack and think...

In Brothers and Keepers, his terrific, difficult memoir, writer and teacher John Edgar Wideman charges himself with figuring how he and his brother Robby, incarcerated for life on a  manslaughter conviction, could each originate in similar circumstances but end up so far apart. Think James Baldwin's "Sonny's Blues" writ large.

"You never know exactly when something begins," Wideman observes.
The more you delve and backtrack and think, the more clear it becomes that nothing has a discrete independent history, people and events take shape not in orderly, chronological sequence but in relation to other forces and events, tangled skeins of necessity and interdependence and chance that after all could have produced only one result: what is. The intertwining strands of DNA that determine a creature's genetic predispositions might serve as a model for this complexity, but the double helix, bristling with myriad possibilities, is not mysterious enough. The usual notion of time, of one thing happening first and opening the way for another and another, becomes useless pretty quickly when I try to isolate the shape your life from the rest of us, when I try to retrace your steps and discover precisely where and when you started to go bad.
Good luck. Halfway through his book a troubled Wideman gives up and turns the story over to his brother so that he can narrate his own life, one of the more surprising, and moving, gestures I've encountered in a work of autobiography. How can I know someone else's story if I can't know mine?

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Something Old, Something New: The Fleshtones at 9:30 Club, 1991

In recognition of the Fleshtones' 40th anniversary this month, I've been combing through the Sweat: The Story of The Fleshtones, America's Garage Band and online archives for some little-seen nuggets. Here's a full—if interrupted—show from 1991 at the old 9:30 Club in Washington D.C., at that point a regular and welcoming venue for the Fleshtones, who'd play Friday and Saturday weekends there. (It's where I first saw them, in 1983. The club at this location, F Street in NW, closed in 1995 and later moved to V Street.) These videos come from Jimmy Cohrssen, who worked at the club and took some terrific photos of the band there in 1983 or '84. 

This show's a bit chaotic, and reminds me, not entirely pleasantly, of how ragged Fleshtones shows could get in the late-1980s and early-1990s. Ken Fox had been in the band for only a year—his post-Jason and The Scorchers shaggy hairstyle still visible—and the band was working through some compatibility and drug issues. Fox would spend a few years in the band before things started to jell onstage. Here, he looks like he's playing catch-up, Keith Streng often looks confused, and Peter Zaremba looks like he's playing with a different band in his head. At the end of "House of Rock," a woman comes onstage with whom Zaremba wants to dance, so he orders the band to stop the song cold and start playing a twist, a not-unusual command from him. But the band looks clueless, and Zaremba, exasperated, vanishes with her while the rest of the band jam on three chords for a while. Zaremba eventually reappears. It could've been worse: a few years earlier at the Bayou in D.C., Zaremba leaped from the stage halfway through a show and never came back.

Part of the problem may have been that by 1991 four long years had passed since the last Fleshtones album (Fleshtones Vs. Reality), a label-free lag time that Zaremba dryly references during "Mod Teepee," this set's opening number: "No one knows this song!" he acknowledges, and how could they? "Mod Teepee" wouldn't come out for another year domestically, on Powerstance, an album that provided several unfamiliar songs for this show. The guys seem well-received, and the show is a good sample of the post-Gordon Spaeth years—Steve Greenfield and Joe Loposky ably handling the horn duties. In 1992, the Fleshtones signed with Ichiban Records, giving them some measure of stability. (But the fate of that label's another long, convoluted story. You can read all about it in Sweat.)

The set list: "Mod Teepee," "Told Me A Lie," "I'm Gonna Knock You Out," "Down On Me," "Way Down South," "Screamin' Skull," "Let It Rip," "The Dreg," "Stop Fooling Around," "House Of Rock" (part), "F-f-fascination," "3 Fevers," "Pickin' Pickin'," "Hey You And The Wind And The Rain," "Girl From Baltimore," "Critical List," "American Beat," "Living Legends," "Theme From 'The Vindicators'," "Leather Kings," "Roman Gods," "Hall Of Fame," "Candy Ass."



Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Let's Go in '87

A young Robert Warren in action
In recognition of the Fleshtones' 40th anniversary this month, I've been combing through the Sweat: The Story of The Fleshtones, America's Garage Band and online archives for some little-seen nuggets. A couple years ago, Super Rock archeologist Bartolo Delfin posted (in four parts) the full Fleshtones show recorded for television in 1987 and broadcast in the Basque Country in Spain. It's another nice nugget from the Robert Warren Era, complete with Warren's American flag jeans. Warren would leave the band within a year, replaced for touring and session work first by Fred Smith and then by Andy Shernoff, paving the way for Ken Fox joining the band—for good—in July of 1990.

The set list: "When The Night Falls," "Lets Go In '69," "Treat Her Like A Lady," "Return To The Haunted House," "Watch This," "Screamin' Skull," "Cara Lin," "Way Down South," "Ride Your Pony," "Next Time," "Shadowline," "This House Is Empty," "Mirror Mirror," "I Was A Teenege Zombie," "Nothing's Gonna Bring Me Down," "The Dreg," and "Hexbreaker."





~~

On May 2, 1988, Olivier Païssé recorded a handful of songs at a Fleshtones gig at ENTPE, in Vaulx en Velin, France. Here's a stirring "Lonely Bull" and groovy "The Turn-On Song," featuring Mark McGowan on trumpet, and Jerry Lee Lewis's "It'll Be Me." The following month, after a show in Martinique in the Caribbean, Warren left the band.



Friday, May 6, 2016

At the Park

Among my earliest baseball memories is walking with my family up the creaky ramp at old Memorial Stadium in Baltimore and catching my first glimpse of outfield green. That park, and others from that generation such as Milwaukee County Stadium, which I visited the year before the behemoth Miller Park opened in 2001, would feel positively bush-league to young fans of baseball accustomed to the new parks in Cincinnati, Washington D.C., Minneapolis, Philadelphia, New York, etc.. These older, long gone, parks were cramped, rickety, and lacking in amenities, wide concourses, and varied food and drink concessions. Most of all, they were quiet. Not funereally so. They simply weren’t burdened with ear-splitting, eye-fatiguing distractions.

Baseball strings together routine, often dull, moments. There are big-splash plays, obviously, and nail-biting moments, but these are often subsumed by the 1-2-3 innings, the (way too) many pitching changes, the rain delays. Baseball’s best appreciated by fanly concentration on defensive strategies or on an extended plate appearance, but that leisurely attention is tested by the many minor moments on the field that feel unimportant, and, to many, are uninteresting. I get this. I wander off myself at times. But attention is rewarded, as when a batter who’s trying to move along a runner does so, or when a pitcher induces a ground ball after a lengthy duel with a slugger on a hot streak. And this level of attentiveness is difficult to sustain at ballparks now. A baseball game is very loud, its noise levels measured not only in decibels but stimulants across the spectrum, from walk-up music and LED ribbon boards to blaring team promotions and mic-in-the-stands features with spectators projected on enormous screens. MAKE SOME NOISE!! I’m commanded.

~~

As often as I can I attend games at Northern Illinois University in DeKalb, where I teach. Because “spring” is loosely defined in the Midwest, it’s often too cold to sit for too long until well after the semester has ended (the team begins each season on the long road with a string of games, usually brutal losses, against mega-watt schools in Texas and Florida, just to see some action). Though there’s a handful of MAC (Mid-American Conference) players who’ve made it to MLB for even a cup of coffee—and a few big names, most notably Hall of Famer Mike Schmidt (Ohio), and Steve Stone, Thurman Munson (both Kent State), and Orel Hershiser (Bowling Green), among them—the few games I attend are terrific less for the level of play than for the ease of the surroundings: hungover buddies and girlfriends of players, and parents and siblings of visiting players, sit and cheer politely, always friendly, always attentive to the game. Best of all I’m free to roam the bleachers, though I usually park myself directly behind home plate so that I can gauge the snap of a curve or the heat of a fastball. The only sounds between pitches are the noises natively generated by a dozen or so guys on a field playing a game in the sun. In the Majors, it’s hard to find such modest volume. Wrigley Field is one such place. At a game a few years back I was so startled and then pleased by the murmuring ambience that I recorded a minute or so on my phone, so that I could listen to it later when I needed the balm. Happily, on a visit to the Friendly Confines last summer with a couple of like-spirited friends I discovered that the new video board upgrades and other additions didn’t equal an obnoxious spike in noise levels. Head out while you can.





~~

I don’t know that baseball needs spectacle. Perhaps it’s an inevitable consequence of the once wildly-popular game having lived on in the age of distraction and Football America. Still, attendance is robust, despite steep ticket, food, and parking prices, and vast access to the games on television and the Internet. Yet something feels at stake: I’m not sure that we like to be bored anymore, or at least admit to the value of boredom. The lag time in a baseball game, once filled with the voices of others around us, from players on the field to vendors to a radio or portable TV behind us to the argument the next section over, has been over-produced, has been, in fact, ruled out. I wonder why we can’t sit in relative silence and enjoy a game. Aren’t phones enough to soothe the odious dullness? (I ask this, having myself stared at screens during games, though rarely out of boredom.) Does a ballpark need the equivalent of tickers running along the bottom of its screen?

In a 2014 Sports Illustrated profile of Roger Angell, Tom Verducci observed:
Baseball never has been more incidental to people at stadiums than it is now, the actual game made smaller by too-loud music, inescapable commercials, mobile technology and myriad food and retail options.
The then-94 year-old Angell—who as a kid saw Babe Ruth on the street, and who grew up at the Polo Grounds, razed in 1964—remarked to Verducci:
They line up to go eat in the middle of the game, which amazes me.
Me too. That I align myself with a fan born in 1920 gives me some pause, I’ll admit. I have to guard against sentimentality here. Nostalgia, as always, softens the sharp contours of memory: I believe that sitting in Memorial Stadium with little to distract me except a program and popcorn is a purer, greater experience than what a 12 year-old enjoys today. That’s solipsistic, and hardly an argument at all, as that kid will surely feel the same way about his coveted ballpark memories as he’s decrying the state of baseball fifty years from now. Later in Verducci’s profile, Angell characteristically rejects his own nostalgia:
It sounds like I’m heartbroken, but I’m O.K. It’s just different.


Photo of Memorial Stadium via Dead Baseball.

Thursday, May 5, 2016

From the Evidence File: Fleshtones + Andy Shernoff

In recognition of the Fleshtones' 40th anniversary this month, I've been combing through the Sweat: The Story of The Fleshtones, America's Garage Band and online archives for some little-seen nuggets. Super Rock archeologist Philippe Angelica has recently unearthed visual evidence of the short-lived Andy Shernoff Era. Shernoff played bass with the Fleshtones in 1989 and 1990, touring with the band in the U.S. and Europe and playing on Powerstance. This era ended up being a hinge of sorts: Ken Fox played on Powerstance's "Living Legends" and joined the band in the summer of 1990 (while Shernoff went on to tour with and promote Manitoba's Wild Kingdom.)

Enjoy this rarely-seen footage of the Dictators' Master Mind holding down the bottom end for his fellow New Yorkers, all rock and roll veterans at this point in time. The twenty-minute excerpt comes from a July 7, 1989 show at Le Plan in Ris-Orangis, France, and includes "Let it Rip," "Way Up Here," "Brainstorm!", "We'll Never Forget" (recorded six years later for Laboratory of Sound), "I'm Still Thirsty," "Leather Kings," Hexbreaker," and "Hall of Fame," as well as tears through the Animals' "Cheating," Spirit's "I Got A Line On You," and Stevie Wonders's "Fingertips."


More 40th anniversary goodies here.

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Roman Gods, by David Arnoff

In recognition of the Fleshtones' 40th anniversary this month, I've been combing through the Sweat: The Story of The Fleshtones, America's Garage Band and online archives for some little-seen nuggets. While writing Sweat I contacted acclaimed photographer David Arnoff, who kindly let me reproduce a larger version of the shot of Peter Zaremba at the Whisky A Go Go in Los Angeles in 1981 that graced the back of Roman Gods. In going though my files, I was reminded that Arnoff had sent me higher resolution images of two other iconic images from the back of the Fleshtones' debut LP. He's allowing me to reproduce them here, along with his original proofs sheet.

Here are some indelible shots of the Fleshtones in action in she-la-la-la-land at the dawn of the 1980s. The party's just getting started.

More on Arnoff's work here.
Bill Milhizer, ON-Klub, September 1980
Keith Streng astride Gordon Spaeth, Whisky A Go Go, January 1981
General nuttiness, Whisky, 1981.

Saturday, April 30, 2016

Paging Dr. Milhizer

In advance of the Fleshtones' 40th anniversary next month, I'll be combing through the Sweat: The Story of The Fleshtones, America's Garage Band and online archives for some little-seen nuggets. Though peripheral to the band's history, here's some evidence of Pre-Super Rock erudition from one William Robert Milhizer, under the tutelage of his Major Professor Dr. Bain at Purdue University. I'm not sure where this 73-page Masters Thesis titled "Primary application and two types of orientations to voluntary associational membership" would've gotten Lucky Bill professionally. Thankfully, he opened another beer and opted for a career behind the drums.






Photo of Milhizer via Mondo Bizarro.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

"He looked cool in the jungle"—Moulty on rock and roll hair

Interviews in the essential Ugly Things magazine rarely disappoint. In the latest issue, writer Greg Prevost and editor and publisher Mike Stax talk with the Barbarians' legendary, hook-handed drummer Victor "Moulty" Moulton (in a conversation edited from two sit-downs spanning twenty years). Apart from some execrable homophobia —Moulton became a born again Christian after his career in rock and roll, and his attitudes about playing with the Barbarians in queer clubs in his hometown of Provincetown are unfortunate—the interview's a terrific glimpse into the Barbarian' rapid ascent and just as rapid commercial decline. It's another UT must-read for anyone interested in mid-1960s rock and roll and the record business.

My favorite line occurs when either Prevost or Stax asks Moulton about his band's notoriously long hair, a collective mane born in the band's small town which contributed to a pretty savage look (and sound) for 1964. Moulton explains:
We didn't have long hair because of music. We were all musicians all the time but we grew our long hair because we saw Tarzan on television. Johnny Weissmuller was our hero; he had long hair and he looked cool in the jungle.
"We saw Tarzan on television..."
"...he had long hair and he looked cool in the jungle."

This will likely be the coolest rock and roll origin story I'll read in a while.

Moulton also talks about the band's appearance on the legendary T.A.M.I. Show. The Barbarians played several songs that day but, because of their lesser commercial stature, only one song, "Hey Little Bird," was broadcast.

"Now, all the way from their caves in 'ol Cape Cod, the Barbarians!"


    Monday, April 25, 2016

    Pardon Us For Living...

    In advance of the Fleshtones' 40th anniversary next month, I'll be combing through the Sweat: The Story of The Fleshtones, America's Garage Band and online archives. In 2009, Geoffray Barbier released Pardon Us For Living But The Graveyard's Full, his hour-long documentary on The Fleshtones in which I (and folks far more interesting than me) hold forth on Super Rock:
    When a gang of suburban teens stumbled across a bunch of abandoned instruments and formed The Fleshtones little did they know that 30 years later they'll still be struggling to rock—and pay the bills. PARDON US FOR LIVING BUT THE GRAVEYARD IS FULL documents their formation and their subsequent struggles.
    Here's the trailer:


    You can rent or buy the documentary at Vimeo here.

    Sunday, April 24, 2016

    A Month In

    Of course I don't know how much luck any baseball team is granted over the course of a season; I just hope that the Chicago White Sox don't use up their allotment too soon. As I write, the team is in first place in the Central Division with a 13 - 6 record, one half game ahead of the World Champion Kansas City Royals. The Sox pitching has been superb: Chris Sale (30 innings pitched; 26 strikeouts; 3 walks; .667 WHIP) and Jose Quintana (24 innings; 22 Ks; 1.095 WHIP) are producing as expected. New starter Matt Latos (.74 ERA; .822 WHIP) has also been terrific, and I still feel good about the team's relievers. The Sox have been winning because of that pitching and because of stellar defense, especially via the leather thrown by newcomers Brett Lawrie at second and Todd Frazier at third, each of whom has been a major upgrade at his position for the team. The good news: proven quality starting pitching and defense do not go into slumps, at least extended ones.

    The luck? That the Sox are winning given how poorly the team is hitting. Slugging first baseman Jose Abreu is struggling mightily (.597 OPS; .183 BA), as is Frazier (.713; ,205). Melky Cabrera and Adam Eaton have been the only consistently producing hitters, and that small wiggle room for error created by underachieving hitters is going to close rapidly. For now the weakly batted balls are going where they need to, but the luck won't last. The Sox need to start hitting.

    I believe they will, when the weather warms up for good and the hitters get into their rhythms. Abreu is too good, and too professional, to stay dormant for long, and I like the looks of Frazier's at-bats. If the starting pitching and defense hold up, this will be an interesting and hopefully very fun summer on the South Side and in the Central. I gotta get to the park soon before the good seats get pricey.

    Here's hoping the luck lasts until the bats wake up. Jose Abreu by Jonathan Daniel / Getty Images

    Friday, April 22, 2016

    Prince, 1958-2016

    We lost a singular, gifted artist yesterday, a man who rocked and made it funky between the sacred and the profane, who made us smile and move by celebrating the joys and limits of freedom of body, mind, and spirit. I won't add to the tide of commentary, only to quote the opening verse of the funny, fun, and funky "Black Sweat," a minimalist groove from 3121, released in 2007. Prince seemed to be able to toss off irresistible pop like this with ease. What's hotter than the gap between resistance and yielding? Prince made a career there. I thought of these words as his manifesto then, and I think of them as a fitting tribute now.
    I don't want to take my clothes off, but I do.
    I don't want to take nobody home, unless it's you.
    I don't want to dance too hard, but this is a groove.
    I'm hot and I don't care who knows it. I got a job to do.
    Video here.

    RIP, Prince.

    Thursday, April 21, 2016

    Some Stray Tracks

    In advance of the Fleshtones' 40th anniversary next month, I'll be combing through the Sweat: The Story of The Fleshtones, America's Garage Band and online archives for some little-seen or -heard nuggets. Here's a handful of hard-to-find Super Rock tracks that you might've missed the first time around. The Fleshtones meet all of your needs, from a 12-inch dance club remix and guest ghostly lead vocals of Allan Vega to a romp through "American Woman" and the sonic mongrel that is Sam the Sham Meets Jim Hendrix. More to come....


    12" single (1981)


    Shangri-La: A Tribute to the Kinks, V/A (1989) 

    Abus Dangereux EP, V/A, (1992)


    New Rock—Sound Therapy, V/A (1997)


    b-side (1998)


    Abus Dangereux EP V/A, (2010)

    More Fleshtones 40th Anniversary posts here.
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