Friday, May 27, 2022

Real kids, real problems

The Gospel according to John Felice:
Yeah it is derivative. Rock ’n’ roll, just by what it is, it’s derivative, and I can’t imagine it ever being anything but. That’s what you look for. Every band, every era, like the Beatles, they covered all the old girl groups, and both the Stones and the Beatles covered Chuck Berry songs. All those bands covered the guys that came before them and they just put their own little twist to it and left it for everyone down the road to decipher. You would have to be looking for trouble to call that bad, saying 'Oh, well they’re not doing anything new.' Shit man, it’s rock ’n’ roll and you’re not supposed to think about it. You’re supposed to dance and move to it.
Testify. When I caught Felice and the then-iteration of the Real Kids seven years ago this month in Chicago I sure as hell danced and moved, and was also struck by how Felice is able to wring freshness and urgency out of his songs, songs which, yes, follow a well-worn template. Felice pitches his voice—one of my favorites in rock and roll and one which, in its way, is as recognizable as Joey Ramone's and Bruce Springsteen's—somewhere between cocky and desperate, a unique and irresistible sweet spot that makes his songs feel as urgent as this morning's news. The Kids have been around in various lineups through various periods of activity/inactivity since 1974, releasing a handful of studio albums (including The Real Kids in 1977, Hit You Hard in 1983, and Shake...Outta Control in 2014) and bunch of live and demo compilations via many cool labels. I recently scored a sealed copy of their 1982 gem Outta Place, and I've been playing it to death, struck in particular by a trio of tunes—"No Place Fast," "Small Town," and Felice and Boudleaux Bryant's "Problems"—that captures this great band at their best. 

Felice's voice isn't "strong" in the conventional sense—he sounds like he's had a sore throat for forty years—but he pushes against its limitations in a show of strength, which is one in the same in my rock and roll book. What could sound weak or petulant instead sounds nervy and reckless. Wounded, he sings with a smirk. He can sound like a kid puffing himself up to be a tough guy in front of the bedroom mirror, yet onstage he delivers. And what he's singing about—the confines of a shitty, nosy, low-ceilinged town, a breakneck love affair, petty and giant problems everywhere you look—is eternal. You make a lot of noise but they don't hear a sound, he rasps in "Small Town," but hell if that's gonna stop him. The lines he chases in "No Place Fast" nearly elude him in every verse; it feels like he's catching up to the very song he wrote. And digging deep in the tattered bag for an Everly Brothers nugget? All Felice proves is that what was relevant in 1958 was relevant in 1982. And, yeah, I'm reminded of its relevance in this century, too.


Brooklynette said...

Just saw this, and you're right on the money. God I miss dancing to the Real Kids at Cantone's! I still play them nearly every day

Joe Bonomo said...

Great songwriter, great band! Thanks for reading.