Sunday, January 17, 2016

My Shitty Is Gone, by Dava She Wolf, of Star and Dagger

Text © Dava She Wolf, 2010; introduction by Robert Barry Francos
Originally printed in
POPULAR 1 magazine, in Spain
Reprinted with the kind permission of Donna and
Popular 1
Photos © Robert Barry Francos


UPDATED (Originally published on March 5, 2010)

This is the first guest article this blog has ever presented, and when you read this you will know why. It's just too good to be seen only in a magazine from Spain (no disrepect to
Popular 1 intended).

Dava She Wolf was the singer / guitarist in a powerful New York metal-based band, the She Wolves, and is now the guitarist of Star and Dagger. In an earlier incarnation, to which she refers to in the article, she was known as Honey 1%er, a vocalist in the Cycle Sluts From Hell, and wrote what is arguably their most famous number, "I Wish You Were a Beer." Plus, she is as sweet as she is certainly fierce. I am also proud to call her my friend.

As I nod my head in respect, adminration, and affection, I am proud to present her view of life in lower Manhattan in the '80s.


I feel like a ghost.

The New York Shitty I used to know is presently unrecognizable. Most of the original rockers, skinheads, punks and junkies have faded away. Now it’s investment bankers, stylists, trustafarians and hipsters.

All the great clubs and bars, one of a kind record shops, and cheap second hand stores are a dim memory.

Old New York Shitty never had retail chains. I remember when the first Gap landed where the St. Mark’s Cinema used to be. What an affront! Everyone was outraged and bricks were thrown.

Familiar haunts are now Duane Reades, Pottery Barns and slick lobby entrances of overpriced high-rises, where cookie cutter units house cookie cutter people. Mundane crap obliterates sacred spaces where miscreants, fiends and freaks could congregate when New York Shitty was xxxtra special.

Naturally, I don’t miss any of the bad shit, like no heat in the winter, no air-conditioning in the summer, the guns in my face, the knife to my throat, bruises from the occasional bar room brawl, the garden variety muggings on the way home from work, having all my shit stolen. I don’t miss any of that.

I began bartending just so I could live in whatever Lower East Side
shit hole I could afford. I wanted to sleep late, have a good time all the time and escape the norm; not sure want the norm was, but I wanted to escape it. I worked at many different places which, sadly, no longer exist. Places where I saw some strange, incredible shit. Some incredible shit that can’t be written about, I prefer to live out my natural life span.

But some dives, less famous than CBGB, are worth mentioning. New York will never see the likes of them again, no matter how bad the economy craps out.

Disclaimer

Sorry if a few details are flawed, it was an agonizingly long time ago, spent mostly under a haze of whatever was being offered.
A few names are dropped. Some are dead, some alive.

Berlin

My first bartending job was at an after hours club called Berlin, on 21st Street. It had relocated from its Broadway location and it might have been in another spot before that. Berlin was hands down the most freaky, surreal, scary, bizarre bartending gig I have ever had. And that’s saying a lot.
Shit and Corruption were Alive and Well in New York Shitty, which meant if the bagman didn’t get paid, law enforcement would descend to raid the place and arrest all us low-level urchins and misfits just trying to eke out a living to make the rent on our respective, crumbling, pre-war hellholes. These raids were dramatic: bright lights, shoving, screaming, and everyone running like cockroaches for an exit, while guns were being drawn and drugs were being dropped. Good times!

Our clientele consisted of other club workers getting off of work, badasses, musicians, artists, addicts, ne’er-do-wells, tranny-hookers and irregular folks in pursuit of a perpetual narcotic-induced faux sense of well-being. Berlin was a huge loft, painted all black on a derelict floor in a non-descript office building. There was a front bar attached to a back bar, actually an island, which was divided by a wall. The front bar looked out on an elevated DJ booth and a dance floor used for dancing and other activities.

On a good night you could catch a famous celebrity doing very bad things and on a great night you were invited to do very bad things with them. One of my favorite directors, Martin Scorsese, filmed some scenes for his movie After Hours at the club in an attempt to capture the indescribable insanity and ridiculous absurdity that was Berlin. Ha! Forget it. The cinematic version was outlandishly overdone and nowhere near the real thing. Sorry Marty.

After work I’d stash my spoils and head over to another after-hours club for a drink and more what not. In normal person time this would be around 7 a.m. Usually I ended up at the Nursery, or Brownies - “home of the losing slot machine” - on Avenue A and 11th Street. By afternoon if I finally had enough, I’d go home, get a grip and start all over again.
Danceteria

Before starting my glamorous shift at Berlin it was ritual to
fuel up across the street at Danceteria. Easy to do, thanks to something called “club courtesy”. You give me drinks, I give you drinks, and you always tip the bartender. It's pretty hilarious that the word “courtesy” could come into play at either Berlin or Danceteria, but there you have it.

Danceteria was a Mecca for all who were cutting edge and trendy. There were several floors with elevators. In case you got bored on one floor you could go to another and dance, or eat, or drink, and you could hang out on the roof if the weather was nice. Lots of options for the jaded and easily disinterested. The staff there even had their own lingo. If something was very cool they’d say it was either Fierce or Ruling, sometimes both. “Your hair is really Ruling tonight” “The way you threw that drink in her face was so
fucking Fierce”, etc.

All the girls that operated the elevators and tended bar at Danceteria were Fierce and Ruling. Despite all efforts I could not score a gig there. I had Fierce down, but was not yet Ruling. Still, it was a fascinating place where one could behold a pudgy, though no less self–absorbed Madonna, monopolizing the dance floor.
Always one to push an envelope, it is alleged the Material Girl was beaten over the head with a shoe (I’m guessing a Doc Marten) after pissing off a certain Fierce and Ruling bartendress, notorious for not taking shit from anyone, which includes Madonna. Legend has it that Madge was abusing her free drink privileges, repeatedly shuttling cocktails to an elite herd of mystery drinkers without ever leaving a dime and paying only lip service - which culminated in an immediate Zen response. If accurate, this story is of historical significance, because it details the only comeuppance Madonna has ever received in her entire life.
The World

The World was a huge old venue (a former Polish or Ukrainian chapel, I think) on East 3rd Street and Ave C. I can vaguely remember a motif of ornate wrought iron in garish surroundings. I got to bartend here, on and off. My bar-back would later go on to become the ill-famed club kid Michael Alig (Party Monster).
Long after we’d worked together I watched his rise, decked out in
over-the-top drag, on television and in the papers - and then watched his tragic fall exploited throughout the media. It was utterly shocking. When he had bar-backed for me, which was often at many different clubs, he was a hard-working, totally sweet kid. I don’t know what happened in the time that lapsed but I was sad to see his fate take such a wrong turn.

The World was run by legendary club impresario, Arthur Weinstein, and his partners. Arthur was responsible directly, and sometimes indirectly, for the success of some of Manhattan’s best clubs: Hurrah’s, The Jefferson, The Continental, The Milkbar, The Limelight… I can’t remember them all. I found him intimidating, but loved working for him. He was sharply dressed, fond of sarcasm, and had a genius for ambience and lighting, transforming any space into a destination where everyone felt important. Even if they sucked. Someone should make a movie about Arthur Weinstein.

Parts of Talking Heads video: “Burning Down The House,” featuring the ubiquitous comedian/performance artist/actor Rockets Redglare, were shot at The World. Rockets, a gargantuan persona in myth and in girth, was a real character who is remembered for some very infamous things, none of which will be mentioned here. Even though we were probably about the same age, he looked like a big goofy kid, sporting eyeglasses with retro frames, like the ones in news clips from the Kennedy assassination. Rockets made many cameos in several movies. But that pales compared to the amount of cameos he’s made at every bar I’ve ever worked at, especially at The Aztec Lounge during “Happy Hour” (if you want to call it that). Rockets would belly up to the bar as if he was the only customer, since usually he was, and regale me with fantastic Tales of Bullshit and Real Shit while sucking down vodka cranberries faster than I could pour them. Had I not been going toe to toe with him I probably could remember one or two of his incredible stories.

The Aztec Lounge

The Aztec was on 9th Street, between 1st and A, and it was truly a dump. At the time, I was very down and out, but had a nice friend there who hooked me up as my survival depended on it. I started out with day shifts, which were very depressing. At first my only “regular” was this old guy with real bad shakes, always buttoned up in his dirty, worn out, tweed coat. He’d always show up right after I opened. He reminded me of Ray Milland in Lost Weekend, only way older and way, way worse, and he’d only order Blackberry Brandy. I never charged him cause it was the crappy Mr. Boston kind and nobody else drank that shit anyway. Plus it was obvious he was flat broke. I figured he must have been a regular from when it was still The Park Inn, before it became a skinhead romper room. Poor fellow.

A little later, after noontime, all the snotty little squatter kids would show up: aspiring shit-starters and budding skinhead ‘tweens and teens that had no money, and no place to go if it was cold out.

At the time there was thriving hardcore scene. The energy around that part of the East Village was nothing at all like it is now. It was like a powder keg could explode at any minute. Lots of beefing going around over dumb shit, but when you have nothing, dumb shit is important. Sleeping in squats or in the park was not easy and these kids had steam to blow off. Of course they couldn’t drink at my bar. There was no quicker way to get arrested and lose the liquor license than to serve a minor a drink, unlike when I was their age and going to bars and clubs. Back then all you needed was some bullshit I.D. from Times Square and an attitude. Haha. Those were amazing times.

So I had to listen to these youngsters whine, complain and threaten me until their will was completely broken and they finally just gave up. Still they’d come in every day to drink from “the bottomless soda mug”. They were a tough bunch; some were miniature motherfuckers, really, and I’d get to listen to their assorted little stories while I wiped their falafel debris or greasy pizza mess off my bar.
Until “Happy Hour” arrived, I was less like a bartender and more like a warden at a juvenile detention hall.

Once in a while I’d have to bust open a bathroom door to throw out the occasional junkie trying to shoot up. The kids loved that.

One cool thing about those days was that I could bring my dog to work with me. He was a stray named Jack, and was part coyote. He was very protective, but he and the kids got along well and kept each other occupied. It worked out pretty good until one smartass decapitated his Snoopy squeaky toy. Back then I was so fucking broke that even an idiotic rubber squeaky toy was a luxury item. Plus this was a really disrespectful act so I threw all them rotten kids out and 86’d them for a few days. That showed ‘em. They promised to behave again after that and everything was fine, more or less. I always knew I didn’t want kids but my time at Aztec sealed the deal.

Another good thing about having the day shift was that I could play whatever music I wanted. I had cassette tapes that made up a well rounded mix of new stuff from bands that I knew, like Sea Hags and Jane’s Addiction (I had gotten hold of their first demo, which was excellent), the usual ‘70s stuff, predictable punk standards, hardcore for the kids, and a smattering of Sinatra for the few old timers that were left. I liked to keep everyone happy.

After a spell, I had a somewhat disheveled but animated little following and my numbers increased, so I was rewarded with some coveted evening shifts. All the patrons at my bar were awesome. It should have been great, but I didn’t share the same musical tastes as the management. I was making more money but I was also subjected to long, insufferable nights of Pet Shop Boys, Simple Minds, Malcolm McLaren, Bananarama, and other sonic atrocities that made me want to put a staple gun to my ears. It was the final straw.
The Lismar Lounge

Several blocks south and one block east of The Aztec was the Lismar Lounge. I liked going there because they played music that I loved, and there was a pool table. They even had a downstairs area where bands played; to call it a stage would be pushing it. Although owned by a miserable, crooked, Chinese slumlord, Lismar was now being run by a very magnetic guy, Glen Benson, who I knew from Danceteria. Glen was an absolute sweetheart and had all sorts of people flocking to him, including myself. I had no idea how radically my life would change thanks to Glen. He was sweet enough to throw me a bone with some bartending shifts and for that I was grateful, and then things just snowballed from there.

Lismar had a highly charged atmosphere, different than all the other East Village dives. It was an exciting place, full of gorgeous women and cute guys in bands who were always drunk, mostly on themselves. Turns out, this little scum hole would go on to establish an entirely new era in the New York rock scene. Bands like White Zombie, Circus of Power, Warrior Soul, Raging Slab, The Throbs, Cycle Sluts from Hell, and others were all spawned at Lismar Lounge. Joey Ramone frequented the place, and impromptu performances by Joe Walsh and Jane’s Addiction just added to the bar’s status. There were also performances by great local bands like The Skulls, Freaks, and a particularly disgusting shit-drenched spectacle by G.G. Allin. It wasn’t long before every A&R guy in the city was drinking at Lismar, looking for the “next big thing.” If you were hanging out regularly at Lismar and your band didn’t get signed, it must really have sucked.

Glen was dynamic at turning an average night into an event. He came up with something called Cycle Slut Thursdays. All the girls who bartended there were now dubbed Cycle Sluts, and someone eventually tagged on the “From Hell”, probably Glen. We put on a little show during one of those Thursday nights. One thing led to another and then my life changed dramatically.
The next six years would provide a folly of a different sort.

A lot can be said for being in the right place at the right time.

Those places and those times are gone for good.

Friday, January 15, 2016

DVD Documentary Review: Song of the South – Duane Allman & the Rise of the Allman Brothers Band

Text © Robert Barry Francos / FFanzeen, 2016
Images from the Internet

Song of the South: Duane Allman and the Rise of the Allman Brothers Band
Written and directed by Tom O’Dell
Narrated by Thomas Arnold
Sexy Intellectual Films / Prism Films / Chrome Dreams Media
131 minutes, 2013
www.chromedreams.co.uk
www.mvdvisual.com

Before watching this documentary, here is just about everything I know about the Allman Brothers Band: formed by Duane Allman on guitar at the start, he died young in a motorcycle accident; his brother Gregg, also in the band, married Cher, fathering Elijah Blue and the union ended in a messy and public divorce; and the last is the omnipresent WOLDies die-hard “Ramblin’ Man,” ironically the band’s biggest and lasting hit that was released after Duane’s demise. But you see, that’s what’s great about this British series, at over 2 hours long, you can learn a lot in relatively a short amount of time.

Of course, this documentary is not only about the Allman Bros, per se – at least not the first the first hour – but rather about the rise of Duane Allman from just a minnow in Daytona Beach, FL (remember, Tom Petty is also from F-L-A, as Freddie Cannon once sang). Though only living to 24 years until wasting his life away in a motorcycle accident, he is given the credit for practically single-handedly creating Southern Blues Rock, and highly influencing the likes of Lynyrd Skynyrd, The Marshall Tucker Band, and Talking Heads. Okay, I’m kidding about the last one.

While long guitar virtuoso freeform guitar has never been my cuppa, I know how to respect the talent, and I have no argument with someone towards the end of this documentary commenting that Duane Allman deserves to be up there with the likes of Hendrix and, well, pick a Yardbirds guitarist. His influence is felt in what has become known as Southern Rock, but I would also argue that there are probably a lot of post psychedelic blues-based bands that learned a lick or two from ol’ Duane.

While there is some detail in the second half about the Allman Brothers Band [ABB], I was more intrigued by the earlier period of Duane’s life, during the 1960s, flittering around in bands like his first in 1961, the Uniques, the Escorts, and the Allmen (or, sometimes, All-Men), where he grew his musical chops. The music of choice for Duane was the Blues, as the number of blues clips shown in the documentary attest to his influences. For the acid (nascent Southern) rockers of his 20s and especially the guitarists, Blues was the backbone as much as rock and roll. Yes, there was quite  a bit of country mixed in there, especially with pre-ABB superstars like the ‘Dead (who combined all those sounds into what would be called “Americana”), but artificial substances would affect nearly all the musicians at the end of the ’60 and into the ‘70s. I give you Janis, for example. Duane and his band the Hour Glass moved to the West Coast pre-ABB at the hippie high-point (pun intended); there are a couple of albums released by that collective, influenced by the counter-culture.

The Hour Glass was especially interesting to me, because they sound more Left Coast than Southern Bayou, leaning towards Chicago and Blood, Sweat and Tears (though an overhanded producer is credited with that horn sound more than the band themselves). While brass and rock’n’roll has always been a bit on an oxymoron to me, the clips they play here didn’t sound too bad. Well, no worse than the two bands I mentioned, anyway.

After an attraction to Taj Mahal’s sound, Duane learned slide guitar, and then moved on to the infamous Muscle Shoals Studio in the Deep South, where he honed his talent further by backing up numerous soul and blues musicians. For the Allman fan, I’m not stating anything new, and for those who are Allman-curious, there is a whole lot more detail I’m not giving way.

I found it interesting that not only was blues an influence to the band, and especially Duane, but that he also had a later dedication to jazz, which was introduced to him by ABB drummer Jaimone Johanson. That helps explain some of the wild Miles and Coltrane flairs he had on incredibly long jams (their double-sided At the Fillmore LP had on average two songs per side, definitely giving the Dead a run for their money).

One moment I had joy with was the discussion of how Duane influenced Derek and the Dominoes when he briefly toured with them, taking “Layla” – one of the early ‘70s best rock period songs – from a ballad to what it became (of course, Clapton would have a hit with it again decades later in its slowed down, acoustic version). Again, not old news, but it’s always a joy to hear that song, even for a snippet.

The Chrome Dream formula is followed to a tee, with short, under 30-second clips of songs (both live and played over purchased b-roll, such has having images of cars and roads for “Midnight Rider,” the ABB’s first hit), talking head interviews with musicians and recording studio engineers who were there, and biographers and music historians who talk about second-hand stories and the band’s influence – as usual, no voices of women anywhere; not even wives are mentioned, let alone talking. Of course, Southern Rock is not exactly known for being a bastion for women musicians, but good ol’ boy drinkin’ and carousin’ – and a wonderful narration by Thomas Arnold.  There is also a 1970 radio interview with Duane heard in snippets full of musician-talk soundbites like “man” and “cat”; it’s the only time we hear his voice when he’s not singing. The one thing I would change if I could, given what it is, is I would put the person identification sporadically throughout, rather than only the first time the person talking is shown. Perhaps this is an assumption that the audience would know who they are? This is a minor pet peeve of mine. In fact, there is more, detailed information I would have liked to hear about, such as Duane’s OD in October 1970, which is only briefly touched on in one of the extras.

The one oddity I found is that nearly everyone on here, while discussing the importance of the other members, such as Gregg and Dickie Betts, and how they were as talented in some ways as Duane in their own rights, the consensus seems to be after Duane died, the ABB when downhill afterwards. I find this weird because, as I said, the one song that is the most identifiable with the band, Betts’ “Ramblin’ Man,” was recorded after Duane’s motorcycle accident.  The song is not mentioned here, even when talking about the “decline” of the band after Duane’s death.

There are two extras, not counting the text of the contributors’ bios. The first is the 8-minute “Willie Perkins: Life Amongst the Brothers.” He was the road manager for the band, and is represented throughout the main documentary. This is more an extended scenes that anything else; this is not meant in any demeaning way, as he tells some interesting tidbits about the man. The same is true for the second short, the X-minute “Recording the Allmans: The Albert Brothers and Criteria Studios.”

As a music historian myself, it’s always good and interesting to fill in some of the gaps of my knowledge base (hey, punk is mentioned once at the one hour-19 minute mark!). I’ll probably never purposefully purchase an ABB slide, as I don’t have one in my collection now, but I do feel more informed about the topic. That’s one of the things Chrome Dream and Prism Films is best at, yawl.

 
Bonus, non-disk video:



The Coachmen [Thurston Moore's Pre-Sonic Youth Band, 1980], by Elodie Lauten

Text by Elodie Lauten © FFanzeen fanzine, 1980
Introduction © Robert Barry Francos / FFanzeen, 2015
Images from the Internet

This review was originally printed in FFanzeen, issue #5, dated August/September 1980, page 30. It was written by award-winning Poet/Postminimalist Musician/Scenester Elodie Lauten.

I’ve never seen the Coachmen live; hell, haven’t seen Sonic Youth (d. 2011), the band Thurston Moore is infamous for, but I did get to sort of hang out with him and then-partner Kim Gordon when I worked as the floor manager for the cable access show Videowave in the ‘80s (see clip at bottom). They seemed a bit distant, but pleasant.

As for the Parisian-born Elodie Lauten (d. 2014), well… we didn’t have a great relationship, honestly.  After this piece, she wrote one more for FFanzeen on, I believe, Chubby Checker that was so stream of consciousness, it was unreadable, not even as poetry. Yes, I was a Neanderthal when it came to stuff like that, and could not appreciate it back in the early ‘80s. Perhaps I would now, if I read it again. When I asked her to rewrite it and why, I became an enemy of the/her state, as it were, and she would bad-mouth me in public, as I was told by someone who had talked to her (honestly don’t remember who, though). I was a punk, and I wasn’t hurt by it, but all these years later, I wish I would have handled it a bit better from my end. She was quite accomplished in the Arts, and it is worth checking out her Website (HERE).

Anything in [brackets and italicized] is written by me, in 2015. – RBF, 2015

John [J.D. King]
When started in rock’n’roll: 1977.
Foods: Nova [lox] and cream cheese on bagel (tomato and onions).
Drugs: Beer and vodka.
Instrument: Fender Guitar.
Favorite song: “Gee Whiz” and “The Hustle.”
Politics: Left.
TV program: “Leave It to Beaver” and “Dick Van Dyke.”
Job: Watchman.
Ideal job: Talent scout.
Favorite type of girl/guy: Smart, non-vindictive.

Bob [Pullin]
When started in rock’n’roll: Year and a half ago.
Favorite idol: Tibor Gergely [Hungarian-American artist of children’s picture books].
Drugs: Alka-Seltzer Plus.
Instrument: Telecaster bass.
Favorite song: “Marquee Moon,”
Politics: Not very.
Religion: Not very.
Job: Illustrator / art supply sales.
Ideal job: Children’s book illustrator.

Thurston [Moore]
When started in rock’n’roll: 7/25/58.
Favorite Idol: John Garfield.
Foods: Coffee rolls.
Drugs: 3-D.
Instrument: Fender Guitar.
Favorite song: “Stir It Up.”
Politics: Spartan.
Religion: Roman Catholic.
TV program: “Little Johnny Jewel.”
Job: Masterdisk.                                                   
Ideal job: Bank robber.
Favorite type of girl/guy: Movie stars.
Describe yourself: “New York Rules.”

Dave [Keay]
When started in rock’n’roll: Beatles.
Favorite Idol: Martin Scorsese.
Foods: Burger King.
Drugs: Alcohol.
Instrument: Ludwig drums.
Favorite song: “Sister Ray.”
Religion: Catholic.
Best friend: Fear.
TV program: “Rockers ’80.”
Job: Book store.                                                    
Favorite type of girl/guy: American.
Describe yourself: American.

FFanzeen: I compare you to the Beach Boys – the part that the vocals play in the Beach Boys is done in your band by guitars. What do you think of that idea?
Coachmen: That’s nice, thanks; the Beach Boys are favorites.

FFanzeen: So, what are your songs about? Reality? Fantasy?
Coachmen: We’d like to do more love songs. They’re kind of tough to do. Smoky Robinson does them – soul; music is all about love. Lately, most love songs seem rather cynical.

FFanzeen: Are you a democratic band?
Coachmen: Yeah. We improvise and feel around and figure out our own parts to an arrangement. It’s all pretty constant and open as far as change and progression go.

FFanzeen: You seem a very New York group. Are you stars?
Coachmen: Well, New York is home. We’re not stars, really.

FFanzeen: Such a casual image. Are you anti-stars?
Coachmen: No.

FFanzeen: What’s a good description for the Coachmen?
Coachmen: Well, we’ve always been a garage band. Experimental. The intent is music to dance to, so… some of us are still a bit shy…

 

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

VIDEOWAVE MONITOR: Video Reviews [from 1983]

Text by Alan Abramowitz / © FFanzeen fanzine, 1983
Introduction © Robert Barry Francos / FFanzeen, 2015
Images from the Internet

This review was originally printed in FFanzeen, issue #13, dated 1983. It was written by Alan Abramowitz, who produced the cable access show Videowave. You can see many clips of the show from over the years on YouTube. Occasionally it is still taping. They had so many amazing guests over the years that it is hard to pick just a few. The show’s slogan was “Before you heard about it, it was on Videowave.” And for good reason.

Note that Alan was given free reign over what he wanted to write about, and our tastes overlap, but are definitely different.  The videos are included where available, usually from YouTube. We own no rights to the music or video, and we do not advertise on our site, so this is merely promotional, for you into legalese.  – RBF, 2015

I dare you to watch MTV, Friday Night Videos, Hot Tracks, Top-40 Videos, etc. What started out as a good idea is like most successes – it’s getting abused or Velvet Jones-ed to death [reference to an Eddie Murphy character on Saturday Night Live that was overplayed; now they would say he “jumped the shark.” – RBF, 2015]. I really can’t believe they’re still pushing “Billy Jean” [Michael Jackson – RBF, 2015] on Hot Tracks. Find some other “black” videos for goodness sake. Put on Tyrone Brunson or some other ignored video.

Leave it to “Big Business” to screw up. The land of music videos. They’re spitting out mediocre-to-miserable videos faster than Ford could assemble a Model-T. The Almighty Dollar (the real symbol of America) is being looked up to in reverence (God, liberty, ideals, fun, cheese in dog food) while the quality of good music videos are deteriorating rapidly. These crummy videos are pervading video shows. They show evidence of being made merely to attract the eye; commercial style with bad sit-com plots.

Meanwhile, the British videos, which have captured the eyes of youthful music TV pioneers, are being ignored. There, more quality is paid to how it’s done, obviously, in a time span lengthier than American videos. But in the rush to sell albums, American record companies have been turning out MOR, heavy metal, and new wave disco videos at an alarming pace, without regard to plot, viewer intellect, song/video compatibility, originality, etc. But does America make good videos? Sometimes. Underground band sand video artists are making videos that are fun to watch, even after the 15th viewing. The following are a sampling of American, British, and independent music videos.

Billy & the ButtonsWhole Fam Damly (independent)
Here are two videos in a row done in an amateur way with amateur, but courageous techniques (video directors in NY & LA take note!). “WFD” is a tale of a girl bringing home a boy to meet her family. Good editing tells the story well. A plain song/video tactic that’s so rare, that this is refreshing. Good punchline, too.

Billy & the ButtonsWant Want (independent)
This shows us to what lengths a guy will go to get his girl back. This looney-gooney video betrays its roots. Pop images with backyard humor: dogs with police hats, the suitor in a Pythonesque priest costume, and the cat-impersonation (love it!) make this a garage band’s garage video. It’s irreverence for the final product makes this funny without Hollywood pretense.

Jim Carroll BandSweet Jane (Danspak Co-Directions)
Travel the Game of Life with the Jim Carroll Band. Obviously, Jim Carroll, being an anti-video rock’n’roller, only settles for the very best when making a music video. Like “Imitations,” by Strange Party (see below), this one is by Merrill Aldighieri and Joe Tripician [they were also interviewed on Videwave – RBF 2015]. And like that one, it is unjustly under-publicized. Quick-paced editing (always a plus) with pixilation move the video at a breathtaking pace. Performance shots were done at CBGB’s. Lou Reed also does a special cameo appearance. [This is a Lou Reed cover, for those few who don’t know; also noteworthy is Lenny Kaye, front and off-center, whose own underrated band, The Lenny Kaye Connection, backed Carroll – RBF, 2015].

Chesterfield Kings99th Floor (Living Eye Productions)
Well done independent video. I love the psychedelic graphics, the go-go girl, the film animation (along with cut-outs of band members!), all cut between a lip-synch performance. The black & white images evoke clips from Shindig or Hullaballoo. Imagine if they were signed to a major label! [This is a cover by the garage band The Moving Sidewalks – RBF, 2015]

Chesterfield KingsShe Told Me Lies (Living Eye Productions)
If they showed this on MTV, they would be besieged by calls. A lot of work went into this. This video is made up entirely of sequential pixilations of photographs – some colored, some not. It’s heavily influenced by the Beatles movies directed by Richard Lester. See it if you can!

Dead Or AliveThat’s the Way (I Like It) (Epic)
Yes, it’s the KC & the Sunshine Band song, done in an entirely new interpretation. Filmed in the locker room of London’s Arsenal Football (Soccer) Club, it features the British Body Building Association’s female weightlifting champs in this performance of sex reversal and androgyny. The sensual, long-haired singer [transgender Pete Burns – RBF, 2015] starts out by losing an arm wrestle with a demure young lad. Extolling the beauty of female bodybuilders alongside the unisex a la Boy George, it shows sexuality isn’t restricted to Victorian sex role models. Dead Or Alive evokes a macho version of the male/female depolarization that Culture Club first brought to America last year.

 
Heaven 17Temptation (Arista)
This one should be nominated for best performance by a group in a video. Ditto for improvisation. While 3 Ministers (Heaven 17) warn us of the evils of temptation, a na├»ve girl (played by Karol Kenyon) is lured into a new decadent identity by a sleazy character (Glen Gregory of the band). Angled shots, theatrical sets, and lighting symbolically represent the struggle in all of us between good and evil deeds. Kenyon’s beautiful soul vocals make this a video, again, under-publicized.
[Many life versions available, but the only music video as Alan describes is shown backwards – RBF, 2015]

LederknockenAmok (Island)
This really should not be categorized as a music video. It’s an avant-garde film posing as a music video. However, it’s distributed as one, therefore I’ll review it. This vide0/film is a montage with etched-in optical effects. If I knew German I could tell you what the words mean. From West Germany, it deals with chaos (punk chaos). A general rebellion against standardized forms. It ridicules society’s values and contradictions, which explain the porn images. And the girl barking to “Shake Your Booty.”

 
Psychedelic FursThe Ghost in You (Columbia)
Once again the video has nothing to do with the song. Lead singer (Richard) Butler poses in front of a mirror and performs with his band while some animation resembling Mirage video animation is superimposed over the band. Great care has gone into this performance. Muted colors are used in the colored ball (Mirage imitations). What it has to do with the song, I’ll never know, even though I like the song.

 
Bruce SpringsteenDancing in the Dark (Sire)
It’s a freak! [That’s a reference to an SCTV sketch – RBF, 2015] Here’s a performance video by someone they were calling Uncle Brucie a couple of years ago. True, he’s an apostle of rock’n’roll, but I never cared for the likes of songwriters who can’t sing (e.g., Dylan, Knopfler). When I first heard Springsteen’s “Born to Run,” I felt it was good, but I don’t like it. Ditto for “Born in the U.S.A.”; except for “Dancing in the Dark.” Why I like the song probably has to do with the fact that I was enthralled by the video first. It’s a Brian DePalma production that didn’t rip off Hitchcock or anyone else (it’s too simple to do). Its driving beat guides the song. Springsteen’s facial expression and paced movements tell us the song. He’s narrating the dilemma. DePalma’s editing pace never lets our attention drop. Every scene shows everyone hang a good time listening (grooving) to this tale of identity crisis in a young man. When he picks a girl [Courtney Cox in the role that first made her famous – RBF, 2015] out of the audience, it seems farthest from the actuality of being staged (I recognized the girl from a NYNEX commercial). Zoom back to see Springsteen and the girl dancing. An excellent (so what if it was staged) video that may actually compel me to go out and buy a Springsteen record (the single, of course). And that’s what it’s all about.

 
Strange PartyImitators (Danspak Co-Productions)
Probably the best independent video I’ve seen this year. Film and film animation transferred onto video and edited with squeeze-zoom-type effects. Makes this surrealistic video one Salvador Dali would be proud of. Ann Magnuson and Joey Arias [both of whom were interviewed individually on Videowave – RBF, 2015] recreate their pop image performance as Edie Sedgwick and Andy Warhol. Kudos to Go-Directions for a video that Music Television missed again (can Twisted Sister really be American’s answer to music?).

 

The The  This is the Day (Epic)
Keying is the key. The video uses the elementary special effect of keying over of images. You can’t tell whether the person in the scene is actually part of it or was simply superimposed over it. Advances in video technology have eliminated the familiar video noise surrounding keyed images. Vocalist Matt Johnson walks from one scene to the next, fading out from time to time, while his accompanying accordionist follows him when his cue is up. Never has a simple effect been used imaginatively without being Velvet Jones-ed to death. [Could it be said that Alan is Velvet Jones-ing the Velvet Jones reference? – RBF, 2015]

 
T-Venus Dragging the Bottom (Independent)
Julia Heyward [yes, also interviewed at some point on Videowave – RBF, 2015] certainly doesn’t drag the bottom in this metaphorical tale of love caught in the undertow. Underwater shots of wildlife, Julia, Pat Irwin (of the Raybeats fame), organic forms of trees, ferns present a fun post-30 search for serious love. A great song underscores this great music video. Dissolves and keying make this watery tale of mud so much fun to watch. I especially love the last scene in which Julia supers her lips over a still image of herself.

 
X-Teens  Change Gotta Come (Dolphin)
This video received “light rotation” (if at all) from MTV. My eyes lift up to heaven in wonderment for this one. It’s a great spoof of Raiders of the Lost Ark and other serial adventure shows (e.g., Hope & Crosby road movies). However, the song concerns a cry for the lost morals of the ‘60s (“What ever happened to the Love Generations?!”). My test for a great video is if it gets better with repeated viewings. This passes. MTV deep-sixed it. Why? Why?!

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Interview: Night of THE TROGGS [1978]

Text by Todd Abramson / FFanzeen fanzine, 1978
Introduction © Robert Barry Francos / FFanzeen, 2015
Images from the Internet

This interview was originally printed in FFanzeen, issue #3, dated Winter / Spring 1978-79. It was written by Todd Abramson, who published the Young, Fast and Scientific fanzine. Todd was pretty young when he wrote this piece, and I’m going to guess that his tastes are a bit wider, though I haven’t talked to him since the early ‘80s. He also went on to book some clubs, and become part owner / booker of the late and missed Maxwell’s, in Hoboken, N.J. He now books Jersey City’s White Eagle Hall, and is also a radio DJ at WFMU, the coolest radio station in, well, anywhere.

When The Troggs played Max’s Kansas City in 1978, as Todd describes below, it was an amazing show. The Fast were the opening act, and they were both in top form. While the band had many hits, “Wild Thing” is probably with what is most identified, and at one time, there was hardly a band that did not start off by learning that song. But Todd does a great job explaining their history, so I’ll leave it to him. The Troggs lead singer, Reg Presley, died in February, 2013, at age 71.

This interview is listed as “Continued next issue,” but for some reason I no longer remember, it was not. – RBF, 2015

Due to the enormous amount of the great music made in the 1960s, both here and abroad, a tremendous number of fab gear ravers did not get the recognition / riches they deserved. The Troggs fared better than most in this respect, making great music and coming up with some legendary world-wide smashes (you know the ones) at the same time.

What separates The Troggs from other great ‘60s bands is pretty clear: most of the great American punk bands of the ‘60s ended up dissolving for various reasons (the major one being disregard by their fans who turned into Sgt. Pepper’s zombies or something). Their last recorded work usually doubles as their worst (Elevators, Sonics, etc.). Even the immortal Trashmen ended up in the disposal bin.

On the other hand, the great U.K. ‘60s groups for the most part continued on in one form or another. None of them, however, stayed true to their roots, and while some of their later recorded work is quite good, none of it comes close to their original fire; and a lot of it is trash (don’t pick it up). The worst offenders in this group are pretty obvious – The Stooges, Beatles, The Who, Kinks, Pretty Things, and Small Faces, via the Faces and Humble Pie.

The Troggs stand apart as never having sacrificed any of their original vitality. If you saw them on Bowie’s Midnight Special (in ’73 or so [November 16, 1973 – RBF, 2015]), you know what I’m talking about. “Strange Movies,” a 45 released in 1972, is the equal of any of their previous work and the two LPs from ’75 and ’76 (The Troggs and The Trogg Tapes, respectively) are much better than almost anything else released at the time, especially the former, which included the great “Summertime,” an original in the classic Troggs tradition (i.e., it’s full of sex).

In June of 1978, the Troggs came back to America for some gigs, included some at Max’s Kansas City. Recordings were made for a “Live at Max’s LP, which may or may not come out [it was released in 1981 – RBF, 2015]. They were still better than 95% of the bands playing Max’s and their set included “Strange Movies,” “Wild Thing,” “I Can’t Control Myself,” “Feels Like a Woman,” and a fantastic “Louie, Louie,” which undoubtedly proved The Troggs were still up there among the best.

This interview was done between the first and second sets, their second night in New York. For anyone interested in The Troggs (which should be everybody with a copy of this mag), Sire has a great Vintage Years sampler, a two-record set with all their hits and many rare cuts, which can be purchased for $4 or so.

Go, man, go and start boppin’ and shakin’! After all – The Troggs make everything groovy!!!

FFanzeen: Were you guys into Chuck Berry, et al., before The Stones came around?
Reg Presley (vocals): We got all the old R&B records from Slim Harpo and those guys, and we were doin’ them, but The Stones took off about a year, two years before we did. Shame, we might’ve beat ‘em to it. Shame really [laughter]. First come, first served.

FFanzeen: What do you think of the modern day Stones and Kinks?
Reg: I haven’t actually seen them in a long time, so I can’t voice any opinion, but I’m beginning to like The Stones’ new record, though I haven’t heard it much here [referring to Some Girls – TA, 1978]. They’ll probably go on forever.

FFanzeen: Do you know why The Troggs are so popular in South Africa?
Reg: Because we’ve had hits there that were banned in England. A long time ago when The Beatles said they were bigger than God, y’know, had a bigger following than Jesus Christ, which at the time they may have been right [laughter], but at the time, the South Africans took offense of that and they just banned all Beatle records. At that time, we were pretty strong in there, and they took over. When we released albums, they took numbers from our albums, and one of our numbers that we thought was a pile of shit, called “Little Red Donkey,” went Number One in South Africa for seventeen weeks. They actually had to change the chart system because it kept on going and nobody else got a turn.

FFanzeen: What was the first song The Troggs played together?
Reg: The first was a number called “Lost Girl.”

FFanzeen: Was the Bowie Midnight Special with your performance ever telecast outside the U.S. (great versions of “Wild Thing,” “I Can’t Control Myself “and “Strange Movies”)?
Reg: No, I didn’t see the finished show. Bowie asked us to do the show and he was all day doin’ his five numbers and he left us an hour at the end to do three numbers. We had to do these three numbers in an hour; God, it was a nightmare, y’know.

FFanzeen: Do you like any of the bands considered to be “New Wave”?
Reg: Ya know, they don’t get played too much on English radio. BBC again. So I buy records I haven’t heard. Now my kids are starting to buy them. Still, they’re learning my kids how to swear properly [laughter].

FFanzeen: Maybe your kids’ records’ll be banned too, someday. Was Bo Diddley a big influence?
Reg: Well, anybody that was there before ’62; all the old R&B had a big impression. All the acts: The Kinks, The Stones, even The Beatles I think, but not so much, and I know they had a big effect on me. The first time I was introduced to R&B, that was it, I knew it was the music.

FFanzeen: Can you guys get airplay on the BBC now?
Reg: We could, but we’d have to make such a pretty, pretty number for them; we wouldn’t want to do it anyhow, and every time we do something that’s raw and meaty and has a bit of lyrical meaning of today [? – TA, 1978], ya know, they ban it.

FFanzeen: Was “Love is All Around” written ‘cause that’s the way you felt at the time?
Reg: Well, the San Francisco love power, y’know, flower power and everything had come. It was a feeling at the time; I mean everybody all through time had gone through these feelings and it hit us just the same. It just came out. In fact, watching a religious program. Not intentionally, but on a Sunday afternoon in England, it just came to me. I wrote that in about ten minutes. It’s unbelievable. All the very big hits I’ve written, very quick, and the ones that took three months to write… nowhere.

FFanzeen: Whaddya think of the Vintage Years compilation? Were you pleased with the tracks they put on it?
Reg: Um, Yeah, I think it was a good overall picture; the thing I like even better than that came out on DJM with all the numbers on the first LP.

FFanzeen: Contrasts?
Reg: That had all the heavies on one side and the light stuff on the other side.

FFanzeen: I can never decide which is better (The Troggs rockers or ballads). Whichever sort of mood you’re in, I guess.
Reg: It all depends what climate you’re in, too.