Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Drugs, Attitude, Youth. (And a Record Collection)

"If I didn't make a complete break with the music that was going on, I wasn't gonna ever make it as a musician. So we had to stop what was going on and make up something new. And the answer is it was done with drugs, attitude, youth, and a record collection."

   —Iggy Pop, quoted in Jeff Gold's Total Chaos: The Story of the Stooges

Saturday, January 27, 2018

Anarchy: Super Rock in NOLA

I love this small Wavelength article that Jimmy Anselmo posted to the "‎I Attended Concerts At Jimmy's Music Club in New Orleans" facebook page, a description of a 1985 Fleshtones show at the late Big Easy rock and roll joint, a favorite Fleshtones haunt. "All the rules of how-you-should-watch-a-concert were out the window," Nick Marinello wrote. "But it was Zaremba and the Fleshtanes who had broken the rules first: the second encore didn't begin until 10 minutes after the lights had come on at Jimmy’s and half the people were sticking keys into their car's ignition. But when the uptown neighborhood began to rock again, the crowd flooded back through the doors and then onto the stage."
Then the anarchy mounted, and it was only when the singing and banging and general delirium was about to unglue Jimmy's that Zaremba began the hypnotic reiteration or “we're back, we're back” and this apostle of lunacy regained control at the stage. The audience began to relax, and as the drummer slackened the fervor of their pounding most people receded to the floor. The Fleshtones were allowed to continue the song and end the set. When it was over Peter Zaremba hopped lightly off the stage and, with a broad, gentle smile, walked into the audience, which welcomed him with open arms.
More on Jimmy's here.

Photo of Jimmy's t shirt via My Spilt Milk.

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Musings from the Originator

"Some guys play with real mellow tones that I could never do. I'm not what you call a guitarist; I’m a showman, an’ I’m not downin' myself when I sat when I say that."
There is a difference: the cats that do all that pretty finger-work, now they are guitarists. I could never do that: my fingers are too slow... but my hands are fast, y’understand
"I figured there must be another way of playin’, an’ so I worked on this rhythm of mine. I’d say it was a 'mixed-up' rhythm:"
blues, an’ Latin-American, an’ some hillbilly, a little spiritual, a little African, an’ a little West Indian calypso... an’ if I wanna start yodelin’ in the middle of it, I can do that too.‘ I like gumbo, you dig? Hot sauces too. That’s where my music comes from: all the mixture. I got those beats so jumbled up on "Bo Diddley" that they couldn’t sort ’em out!‘
      —Bo Diddley, quoted in Bo Diddley: Living Legend, by Charles R. White

Bo Diddley (1958)

Bo Diddley In The Spotlight (1960)

Bo Diddley's Beach Party (1963)

Bo and Jerome, bringing it

Monday, January 22, 2018

Our only truth

"There is no way by which the events of the world can be directly transmitted or recorded in our brains; they are experienced and constructed in a highly subjective way, which is different in every individual to begin with, and differently reinterpreted or reexperienced whenever they are recollected. Our only truth is narrative truth, the stories we tell each other and ourselves—the stories we continually recategorize and refine. Such subjectivity is built into the very nature of memory and follows from its basis and mechanisms in the brains we have. The wonder is that aberrations of a gross sort are relatively rare and that for the most part our memories are so solid and reliable." Oliver Sacks, "The Fallibility of Memory," The River of Consciousness

Chasing Stories, painting by Karla Beatty via Fine Art America

Sunday, January 21, 2018

"I play the electricity"

Richard Lloyd (with Fred Smith)
I was born at 8:15 PM, October 25, 1951, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. I only know that it was Pittsburgh because I was told that it was Pittsburgh. Pittsburgh is just a word, and my memories are full of hearsay.
Richard Lloyd's new memoir Everything is Combustible: Television, CBGB's, and Five Decades of Rock and Roll, is a curious book. In sixty-nine loosely linked, non chronological vignettes, Lloyd moves from recounting a fiercely interior, self-aware, and precocious childhood toward his wandering, drug- and alcohol-soaked twenties, up to the present day (Lloyd, with a backslide or two, has been clean and sober since the mid-1980s). In an oddly childlike tone, he writes about his favorite guitarists, lots, and lots of sex, lots, and lots of drug use (cresting with a crippling heroin addiction in the early 1980s), and his recording and touring career as a founding member of Television and as a solo artist and session musician.

In the prologue, Lloyd makes an interesting distinction between autobiography and memoir, insisting that he's composing the latter, which allows writers to wander among life's events, untethered to chronology, and to "understand [themselves] a bit and to share their lives from the inside." Yet for the most part, Lloyd observes, with detachment, his life's worth of sensual, pharmaceutical, and artistic adventures in the world's "lunatic asylum"—occasionally floating theories on spirituality, mysticism, Dharma energy, and psychology, especially in the book's ponderous final pages—with nary a note of self-reflection. We shouldn't necessarily expect deep character excavation in rock star memoirs, but we can hope for some measure of stock-taking, of wisdom or perspective arriving with the long view. For the most part, Lloyd seems uninterested in that; rather, Everything is Combustible reads like a dispassionate diary, closer in tone to Walter Benjamin's "Hashish in Marseilles" than to a revealing memoir.

That said, the book's juicy as hell. In the late-60s in Los Angeles, Lloyd palled around with the idiosyncratic guitarist and performer Velvert Turner, a protege of Jimi Hendrix's from whom Lloyd claims to have learned tricks on the guitar. For a time in the mid-70s he hung with Anita Pallenberg and Keith Richards, the latter of whom invited Lloyd down to Jamaica with him on a whim. Alcoholism and drug abuse permeates the book, and the extent of Lloyd's recreational drinking and drugging is astonishing; that he's alive is a remarkable testament to, as he sees it, his stamina, native curiosity in the expanding limits of body-testing, luck, and prayer. Lloyd's other major preoccupation in the book, sex, is mostly of the mid- and late-70s one-off variety, much of it emotionally engaging for Lloyd, a lot of it degrading and tawdry, and sometimes mean-spirited, for both parties. There's a funny scene involving Keith Moon in a tux, and a great revelation that Joey Ramone wrote his early Ramones songs on a guitar with only two strings. Lloyd gets digs in at his fellow band mates, particularly Tom Verlaine, whom he barely tolerates, endeavors to correct one or three errors in others' memoirs of the era and scene, and details the up-and-down recordings sessions of Television's three albums (Marquee Moon, Adventure, and Television) all with an innocent, wide-eyed view of the wonder of the world and the strange people doing strange, sometimes weird, sometimes tragic, often funny things on it.


Two of my favorite moments in the book revolve around music, unsurprisingly. One occasion is couched in a very particular moment in time. In 1978, Television's second album Adventure entered the English charts at #7, but as Lloyd observes, "the timing of our tour for the record was all wrong. While on tour we received a sample of The Cars’ new record. That’s when we knew we were done for in terms of mainstream radio airplay."
We were sitting on the tour bus while listening to it and Tom [Verlaine] threw up his hands and said, “Well that’s it—that’s a commercial Television. Elektra now has a band that is commercial and they are going to forget about us.”
Verlaine, however despairing, was on the money about Ric Ocasek's band; they were just on this side of pop in their arty songwriting, a Top 40 instinct that Television seemed to lack. Lloyd: "Too bad, but we broke up later that year anyway."

The other moment is more universal. Lloyd's hanging out with Keith Richards at Richards's house in Connecticut, when Keef asks Lloyd if he'd "like to have a play." Nervously, he says yes. "Two acoustic guitars soon arrived," Lloyd recalls. "This shocked me a little bit because I was used to playing electric guitar and hardly ever played acoustic."
I always say that I play the electricity while the guitar plays me and the three of us dance while the music comes out.

Photo of Richard Lloyd and Fred Smith of Television performing at CBGB's in New York City on March 14, 1980 via Getty Images

Saturday, January 20, 2018

South Toledo Talking Blues

The Mods, 1966, left to right: Terry Smith, Larry Music. Larry Smith, horizontal, Fred Jablonski

So baby I know we had a good thing going
And now I see you comin' down the sidewalk and you're playin' your radio
And baby, you knew you done me wrong when you went out with all the high hipsters
But baby now you're back and you're the one whose gonna get a hard way to go

Info on the Mods here.

The Mods recorded the two songs in Toledo, Ohio on the PECK label in the basement of Buzz 

Friday, January 12, 2018

My silver-painted face

KISS signs first recording contract with Neil Bogart's Casablanca Records, on November 1, 1973
In his 2011 autobiography No Regrets (co-written with Joe Layden and John Ostrosky), Ace Frehley sifts through decades of drunken, drug-ridden shenanigans, blackouts, Guardian Angel-vouchsafed impaired driving; groupies, brushes with the law, stays in therapy and rehab, professional lows and highs, excesses of all kinds, to tell the story of a left-of-center, lazy kid from The Bronx who had only one ambition in life: to be a rock guitarist in a wildly popular band. Against unlikely odds, Frehley satisfied that ambition a thousand-fold.

As always, I find myself most interested in the early chapters of a rock star's memoirs. Frehley's stories of seeing the Who, Hendrix, Steppenwolf, Mitch Ryder, and other giants in New York City in the late 1960s and early 1970s, and his hilariously lucky propensity to find himself backstage often, are loaded with the kind of wide-eyed, fanboy, rockist, beer-soaked details that are still clearly dear to him. Similarly to Keith Richards's Life, Frehley regularly brings his musings (you can hear the borough accent) back to his great love: rock and roll. He admits that his favorite memories of playing in the dysfunctional KISS are the early days, when the band hustled for gigs, made their own fliers, sewed their own costumes, learned how to put on makeup by trial and error, played for an audience of a dozen as if there were tens of thousands there, and stuck together as a band of brothers.

I especially like Frehley's description of personally buying the first KISS album. "We were doing things differently in KISS, putting the cart in front of the horse, creating a brand, with a unique marketing concept before we'd even developed a following," he writes.
So I guess it shouldn't have been a huge surprise that the first record didn't exactly take the world by storm. Hardly anyone knew who the hell we were, or why we were wearing this ridiculous makeup. Was the band a joke? A gimmick?

No, man. We were dead fucking serious. But it took some time to convince everyone else.

On that February day I walked into (the now-defunct) Alexander's department store on Fordham Road in the Bronx, right across the street from Fordham University. Alexander's stood near one of the busiest intersections in the borough. There was always a crowd hanging out nearby, and the traffic in and out of the place seemed never to slow. I'd been shopping at Alexander's since I was a little kid—bought a big chunk of my album collection there. So you can imagine how I felt walking through the store, my heart racing as I headed to the music section. You can imagine what it must have been like for a guy who had bought his first Hendrix record—and his first Led Zeppelin record, his first Who record—in this very spot to suddenly be thumbing through the stacks of vinyl, looking for a record of his very own.

And there it was, staring out at me from a wall of new releases:


I picked it up, held it for a moment, flipped it from back to front. I smiled and laughed a little as I looked at my silver-painted face, gazing stoically from the upper right-hand corner.

Then I walked to the cash register, pulled out a ten-dollar bill, and paid for the record without saying a word.

Alexander's department store, Fordham Road, The Bronx, New York


Monday, January 8, 2018

"My mind is blown"

The Cramps, Max's, 1977
The Fleshtones' guitarist Keith Streng, on seeing the Cramps for the first time, in 1977: “I flipped.... It was probably the most amazing show I ever attended."
I went to Max’s on some Tuesday night to see Suicide, and the opening band was the Cramps, their first show in New York City. Within half a song my mind is blown. It was probably more shocking to see them than to see the Ramones, because when you saw the Ramones they already had a following. At Max’s there were, like, 28 people in the whole place on a Tuesday night and you’re watching the Cramps do their thing for the first time in New York City. They had their gig way down, they were really professional, they knew what they wanted.
Shortly after the show, an inspired Streng wrote "The Dreg (Fleshtone-77)," the lead cut to the Fleshtones' debut album, a stone-cold Super Rock classic, and a fan favorite forty years down the line.

"The Dreg (Fleshtone-77"), Roman Gods (1982)

"The Dreg" (and "Theme from 'The Vindicators'") at Vicolo Bolognetti in Bologna, Italy, July 11, 2015
The Fleshtones, Queens, New York, 1977