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.

    Sunday, April 17, 2016

    "OK you guys, where are we goin'?"

    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. Here are several hand colored cut-out photos from Soul City, M. Henry Jones's 1977–1979 animation video of the Fleshtones.

    Peter Zaremba

    Keith Streng

    Marek Pakulski

    Lenny Calderon

    Here's the groundbreaking Soul City in full. Read all about the making of the video in Sweat.

    Monday, April 11, 2016

    "Caution: Fun Garage Rock Inside"

    In advance of the Fleshtones' 40th anniversary this year, I'll be combing through the Sweat: The Story of The Fleshtones, America's Garage Band archives for some little-seen nuggets. This one'e new to me: a promo "lab kit" sent out by Ichiban Records in support of the Fleshtones' 1995 Laboratory Of Sound, recorded by Steve Albini. Via the Ebay listing:
    The Fleshtones—Laboratory Of Sound, Promo CD kit, includes sealed CD, 2 viles, protective gloves, a tiny glass container, in a plastic, zip sealed, "specimen bag".  Has a sticker on front that says "Official Fleshtones Laboratory of Sound Lab Kit, This Fleshtones Lab Kit belongs to ----------". 

    I don't think that the promotion helped all that much. Laboratory Of Sound didn't sell well, but the recording experience did lead to the band's late-1990s/early-2000s era of self-producing with Paul Johnson, a period that generally revived the band.

    Meanwhile, Peter Zaremba was annoyed for another reason. From Sweat:
    Peter was stymied by Ichiban’s publicists who again overruled his choice for the album art, an in-joke photo montage of the guys devolving from Bill in a lab coat to Keith as a longhaired Hippie Rock Guitarist. Ichiban chose a somewhat dull, green-and-black color palette and a generic cover image of a scientist-at-work. “To avoid sales and people noticing the record, Ichiban actually came up with a camouflaged record placed next to other brightly-colored records, so that no one would even notice it,” says Peter, drolly. “And many people didn’t.”
    What might have been. The image was used on the vinyl version released on Hitch-Hyke Records ‎in Greece.

    Sunday, April 10, 2016

    An urban ruin is a place...

    Rebecca Solnit on the redemptive power of urban ruins, from her essay "Abandon" in A Field Guide To Getting Lost:
    A city is built to resemble a conscious mind, a network that can calculate, administrate, manufacture. Ruins become "the unconscious of a city, its memory, its unknown, darkness, lost lands, and in this truly bring it to life. With ruins a city springs free of its plans into something as intricate as life, something that can be explored but perhaps not mapped. This is the same transmutation spoken of in fairy tales when statues and toys and animals become human, though they come to life and with ruin a city comes to death, but a generative death like the corpse that feeds flowers. An urban ruin is a place that has fallen outside the economic life of the city, and it is in some way an ideal home for the art that also falls outside the ordinary production and consumption of the city.

    The Barber-Colman Company factory in Rockford, Illinois. More photos here.

    Thursday, April 7, 2016

    The American Beat

    In advance of the Fleshtones' 40th anniversary this year, I'll be combing through the Sweat: The Story of The Fleshtones, America's Garage Band archives. (Recent posts here.) In 2007 Larsen Records (France) and Dirty Water Records (UK) released Vindicated! A Tribute to The Fleshtones, a compilation featuring twenty-three international bands covering songs spanning the Fleshtones' career. (Disclosure: I wrote the liner notes for the vinyl edition.) Of the many terrific tracks here—which span four-on-the-floor House to retro garage to swampy acoustic to surf instrumental in their approaches—the standout might be the last, a monumental pairing of Sweden's great and long-running Nomads with New York City front-man and bar-owner extraordinaire Handsome Dick Manitoba on a ripping version of "American Beat," the Fleshtones' 1979 debut single. (The Fleshtones re-recorded it in 1984 for the soundtrack of the Tom Hanks vehicle Bachelor Party).

    If you haven't heard the Nomads/Manitoba track, it's killer. The Nomads provide a characteristically heavy backing track on top of which Manitoba commandeers Peter Zaremba's lyrics extolling the virtues of American rock and roll—and adds his own roll-call riff of legends at the song's close. An international alliance in tribute to Super Rock:

    The Nomads (l-r, Björne Fröberg, Nick Vahlberg, Hans Östlund and Jocke Ericson)
    Richard Manitoba

    Monday, April 4, 2016

    "Do you feel that you can really know something?" Monson and D'Agata

    Ander Monson's new interview with John D'Agata is rich and absorbing. It's a lengthy conversation, and if you're interested in writing and in the essay's history and possibilities as a genre, as well as in the limitations of taxonomy, I recommend you read it. The whole thing's good, but this particular passage is illuminating, as D'Agata drills down into some of the autobiographical origins of his deep—as he says "spiritual"—distrust of facts:
    So...on an aesthetic level, I don’t put a lot of stock in verifiability in nonfiction because for me there are other exciting ways to make nonfiction. But on a deeper level, on a spiritual level, I also just don’t believe in the conceits of facts.

    John D'Agata
    Some of this comes from how I experienced the world growing up. I grew up in a very loving home and a very supportive home, but it wasn’t a stable home by any means. We were poor. The most vivid and consistent memory I have from childhood is of my mom crying through the night because we were always on the brink of losing our home. I was kicked out of high school. (I am a certified high school drop-out.) My brother and I were apparently the only kids at our school from a “broken” home, which we sometimes got bullied for, even once by a teacher in my brother’s case. And I figured out that I was gay just as AIDS was hitting the mainstream consciousness, so that my sexual awareness was not only a reluctant identification with a thing that my culture was telling me was “wrong,” it was an identification with a thing that was so “wrong” it was apparently going to kill me. So, you know, if you’re 10 or 12 years old and God seems to be on a rampage to kill all the faggots, how do you trust your own feelings (how do you trust your gut, your instincts, your very nature) when even Nature itself seems to be telling you that you’re mistaken, that you’re on the wrong path, that your very heart cannot be trusted. If the feelings in your heart don’t go away, what do you do? What do you trust?

    Andre Monson
    My brother and I grew up together, and we’re still really close, but as adults we’ve reacted to the instability in our childhoods in different ways. My brother lives a nearly perfect life—gorgeous wife, gorgeous kids, gorgeous home, gorgeous friends, and a spectacularly successful career in finance that pretty much guarantees that he will never experience instability again. He’s constructed a life that’s almost an antidote to how we grew up. And while I too live a much more comfortable life now (thankfully), I’ve chosen to respond to our background differently. I like exploring the uncertainly that’s at the heart of things, the instability that I think is hiding under almost everything that we experience.

    I think that defines a lot of artists’ work: not whether or not we recognize the instability in the world, but what we do about it. Some of us want to mask that instability and some of us want to expose it. You can see this reflected aesthetically in artists’ work across media. But the reason why this issue gets particularly heated in nonfiction isn’t because it’s an issue of different aesthetic tastes, but rather because it’s a reflection of different spiritualities. Fundamentally it’s a reflection of how you experience the world. Do you trust? Do you believe? Do you feel that you can really know something?

    For some of us the answer is yes. For some of us the answer is absolutely not. So when we challenge each other regarding the verifiability of facts, it feels sometimes like we’re challenging each other’s belief systems. And that can feel scary, and it can hurt. I suspect it hurts in both directions.

    Graywolf has just published The Making of the American Essay, D'Agata's third anthlogy in his excellent trilogy on the history, theory, and practice of the genre.