Saturday, March 10, 2018

Review: L.A.M.F. Live at the Bowery Electric

Text © Robert Barry Francos / FFanzeen, 2018
Images from the Internet
Note: there are no ads on this page, so no profit is make from use of images

L.A.M.F. Live at the Bowery Electric
Directed by James L. Reid and Margaret Saadi Kramer
Jungle Records / Industrial Amusement Inc. / MVD Visual
47 minutes + 22 minutes extra, 2017 / 2018

There are always raging question, such as “Who was the first punk band?”, or “What was the first punk release?” For me, a more important question is “Which is the most influential punk album?” Yeah, there are lots of them, such as The Stooges, The Velvet Underground & Nico, The Ramones, The New York Dolls, and Never Mind the Bollocks. The simple answer is… I don’t know. But I’m pretty sure near the very top of the list is the Heartbreakers’ L.A.M.F., originally released in 1977.

Richard Hell-era Heartbreakers
The Heartbreakers were Johnny Thunders (vox, guitar), Walter Lure (vox, guitar), Billy Rath (bass) and Jerry Nolan (drums). Of them, Walter is the sole survivor. He’s been playing with his own band, the Waldos, for decades now. For the 40th anniversary of L.A.M.F.’s release, he decided to play the album from beginning to end. Of course, it couldn’t be as the Heartbreakers, but he and Jesse Malin put together an all-star group and named it after the album to be played. For this gathering at the Bowery Electric during November 2016, Walter is joined by Clem Burke (drums) of Blondie, Wayne Kramer (guitar) of the MC5 and Gang War (in which he was a member with Thunders), and Tommy Stinson (guitar, vox) of the Replacements and Guns ‘N Roses. In one form or another, I have seen all of them play, including guests Cheetah Chrome (guitar, vox) of the Dead Boys and Jesse Malin (vox, guitar). The sole newbie to me is vocalist rocker Liz Colby.

The new line-up played three shows at this venue, all of which sold out, and this DVD is a compilation of the best of it. They played the album from start to finish. While I wasn’t there, I’m grateful to have the opportunity to view this. Plus, the visuals and sound are crystal clear (with the exception of a few fuzzy images here and there), unlike the muddled original pressing of the album, thanks to Nolan’s tinkering.

Let’s face it, part of the charm and importance of the Heartbreakers isn’t the band’s music al clarity. The playing is sloppy, the vocals are equally so, and the songs range from pretty silly to drugged out bashing. But it was a combination that so incredibly powerful for just those reasons. I loved to go see the Heartbreakers. When they were there, they were a force. That is sort of what I was expecting: sloppy yet stormy. And that’s just what this is, thankfully.

Stinson takes the lead with “Born to Lose,” which has the great lyrics, “Living in a jungle, it ain’t that hard / Living in the city it will tear out your heart.” One of the names often given to this Thunders’ masterwork is “Born Too Loose,” and Stinson plays it just that way, screaming up into his microphone in modified-Lemmy fashion. The man can’t sing to save his life – not that Johnny was a stunning vocalist, but had a discernible and unique sound that was endearing. But Stinson has the energy and heart, matched by Kramer’s excellent guitar riffs. He also covers the next song, “Baby Talk” which doesn’t quite have the chantable chorus of “Born...” Damn, I can’t help but compare it to Johnny’s (both recorded and live), and the melody of the song gets lost here in the way he raspily shouts it.

I have been a fan of Walter’s since the first time I saw the Heartbreakers. Not surprisingly, he seems really at ease with one of my fave songs off the album, “All By Myself” While I always preferred the Live at Max’s version over the L.A.M.F. one, that’s not to say it’s any less great. Here, the retired Pharmacist and Stockbroker is in fine form, even though occasionally his voice sounds a bit scratchy. Shit, I’d still go to see him play at a moment’s notice. I smiled all the way through it, and even mouthed along with the song (well, I did that with most of it, but don’t tell anyone).

For the next two numbers, D Generation’s Jesse Malin (and co-proprietor of the Bowery Electric) hops up on stage, doing well to channel Johnny in the raucous “I Wanna Be Loved,” and the ballad “It’s Not Enough.” Jesse is vocally sloppy in a similar way to Johnny, so it’s a great fit.

For the first time at this point in the DVD, it’s easy to spot that there is a visual melding all three shows together as he dressed differently for each of the three shows, even though the sound is continuous from one of them. The cut-and-pasted images would be continued throughout the show.

I was at this show
While DeeDee Ramone wrote the song, and the Ramones also sang it, it was the Heartbreakers that first brought “Chinese Rocks” to the studio, and it’s rare to hear me say it, the Heartbreakers did it better. Again, I’m a fan of the Live at Max’s take, in which Walter adjusts the lyrics (i.e., making it not radio-friendly), and 40 years later, with Walter and Tommy at the vocal forefront, it still kicks ass. For this number, Kramer plugs in Thunders’ actual guitar. I’d like to add that Burke does well matching Jerry Nolan’s stand-out drumming on the song.

“Get Off the Phone” is another Walter classic, and I use that word sincerely. Walter handles it with aplomb – as always – again getting everyone to sing along. More than Thunders, Lure usually wrote songs whose choruses are more enjoyable to sing along with – said with no disrespect to Thunders’ who wrote some great numbers as well, of course.

Picture disc L.A.M.F.; I have it
Malin is thankfully back doing his best Thunders with “Pirate Love,” bringing up Cheetah Chrome to join in. Chrome is an excellent guitarist – always has been – and I’m glad as time has gone by, more people recognize it (and while you’re at it, check out his excellent autobiography, Cheetah Chrome: A Dead Boys’ Tale, but I digress…).

“One Track Mind” originally was a Walter Lure/Richard Hell composition, beginning its life as “Love Comes in Spurts.” After Hell – err – left the Heartbreakers, Walter changed the song around a bit and came up with another strong piece that was one of the Heartbreakers’ tunes on heavy rotation in the old Max’s Kansas City days. It definitely holds up (as does “Love Comes…” but I guess this isn’t the time or the place for that). And yes, I sang along. Kramer takes on Thunders’ guitar break, with Walter taking over at the end. This shows something important about what made the Heartbreakers so special. Kramer is a stunning guitarist, but he is quite clinical, without Johnny’s sloppiness. Walter is as loose as ever, and the contrast here puts firmly why Walter and Johnny were so great together as they complemented each other. Here, the sharpness of Kramer and the looseness of Walter sounds a bit strange. Wonderful, but strange.

Wayne Kramer and Liz Colby
I miss Johnny singing with Joy Ryder (d. 2015); usually they did “Great Big Kiss.” I bring this up because Liz Colby brings a dose of feminine rock to Johnny’s “I Love You,” a solid song that blasts, and she is up for the task, giving it an occasionally smoky, bluesy texture. She also made me think, “Wow, Johnny never jumped around the stage as much as she does”; then again, he usually couldn’t. He was more of a stage roamer with his tongue often doing the most movement.
Cheetah comes back on both guitar and vocals knee deep with “Goin’ Steady.” While it is not as rough as Stinton’s, Chrome’s gritty voice matches the sound and the mood of the song, doing the Heartbreakers proud. Same can be said about Kramer, who takes the lead for “Let Go,” a powerhouse of a number. The rave up has a great chorus, especially when the band sings along.

Appropriately, Burke sings “Can’t Keep My Eyes on You,” which was a contribution to the album by drummer Nolan. Of course the song is about fashion, as that was one of Nolan’s (many) specialities. Burke’s vocals are a bit rough around the edges, buy hey, so was Nolan’s. Still a great song, though, and it gets the respect it deserves. Same with Kramer taking on the Thunders cover of The Contours’ “Do You Love Me,” which is a high-energy song to end the set.

Walter, Cheetah, Tommy, Clem
For the extras, there is a 3:08 minute interview with Clem Burke about how he came to be included, and his fandom of the Heartbreakers, especially Jerry Nolan. Next up is 3:29 of Jesse Malin who also discusses his love of the Heartbreakers and Walter in particular. For 3:10, Stinson fuckin’ talks about how fuckin’ important the fuckin’ record is and how fuckin’ drugs fuckin’ influenced it. In other words, he doesn’t really say that fuckin’ much that the whole fuckin’ world doesn’t already fuckin’ know. Walter’s bit is 4:41, and he discusses the place of the Heartbreakers in the local musical spectrum of its time, and his relationships with other Heartbreaker members. Last up is Wayne Kramer at a full 7:04, who waxes poetic on how Beethoven, Charlie Parker, rappers, etc., were punks, and how ignorant he was about the Heartbreakers’ music, even though he knew some of the songs as he was in a band with Thunders and played some of them live before.

I’m amazed at how young so much of the audience is in these three sold-out shows, and yet they’re singing along. That shows the power and influence of the Heartbreakers. My only annoyance – and this shows my age more than anything else, is how much of the view is blocked by people taping the show on their cellphones. Either get the pro cameras higher (if that’s possible or even realistic), or have a no taping policy. Yeah, I’m a curmudgeon about this, because I want to see the musicians through the lens of either my own eyes or the camerapeople, not the blue glow of the cells.

Just sayin'...
Now if I had a choice between seeing the capture of this reunion show or something like Scorsese’s The Last Waltz, about the last show of the Band, there is no question in my mind that I would plug in this. The odds are better of my not falling asleep with Uncle Walter and Co. I care more about being told to get off the phone than finding out about the night they driving old Dixie down. Hands down. Now how about a Rent Party show, Walter?

Bonus video (not included on this one):

Thursday, March 8, 2018

Photo Essay: Praba Pilar Lecture and Performance at the University of Saskatchewan, March 7, 2018

New Feminist Lecture Series: Praba Pilar
"Situated Embodied Resistance to 21 Century Necro-Techno-Colonialism"
Images below (c) Robert Barry Francos / FFanzeen, 2018
Description and flyer from the University of Saskatchewan

This lecture was held at the Gordon Snelgrove Gallery on March 7, 2018. Introduced by Dr. Marie Lovrod (Coordinator of the WGST Program) and videotaped by the Marcus Miller (Director of the Snelgrove Gallery), it was described as addressing "how contemporary technological corporations such as Facebook, Google and others from a global apparatus of surveillance capitalism; this is ...necro-techno colonialism that adapts the 'salvation narrative' to proclaim a future of liberation ad instrumentalize faith. In this way, online data brokers convert biological life into an extra-judicial colony in service of exploitation, dominance and control."

Essentially, this can be viewed as a Media Ecological view of how the use technology can be used to control aspects of a users life in a way they were not expecting. While she did not use the term, it falls close to the "First we use technology, and then technology uses us" way of thinking.

After the lecture was a performance by Pilar which fell into three segments, the first being aggressive, the second passive, and the third was giving maize products to indicate life, all for viewing the militancy of technology, and the earth's forgiveness (at least that's my interpretation of it).

There was a question and answer period afterwards.

Monday, March 5, 2018

BEING JAPANESE: North Carolina Post-Punk [1986]

Text by Jim Downs / FFanzeen fanzine, 1986
Introduction © Robert Barry Francos / FFanzeen, 2018
Images from the Internet

This column was originally printed in FFanzeen, issue #14, dated 1986. It was written by musician, photographer and friend Jim Downs. Though I met Jim in New York in 1981 by sheer coincidence, l we had been having a pen-palish relationship about his band from Boone, NC, called Gangrene (no relation to the Boston hardcore group with a similar name). We were good buddies for years after that, though eventually, as things often do, we have lost touch. Would love to hear from you, Jim! Meanwhile, this column is a fun mix of band life and, well, “real” life. – RBF, 2018

“Hello Benjamin.”
“Jim, how are you? I haven’t heard from you in so long. Where are you, in New York?”
“Well, no. I’m here in Boone. See, I broke my collarbone in three places.”
“Good Grief…”
“Yeah, so I really can’t do anyting. I was going crazy just sitting in my apparmtnet and watching TV, so I decided to come down here for a vacation.”
* * *
“Attention passengers. Piedmont Flight No. 114 to Greensboro, North Carolina, will now begin its pre-boarding procedures. Any persons needing assistance in boarding or with small children, should go to the gate at this time.”
* * *
So it starts, “Escape From New York 2.” I grab my camera case and go toward the gate. In front of me is an old lady with a walker. She has on a blue house dress, Ace bandages around her calves, and pure white Brillo Pad hair. A flock of flight attendants cluster around her in order to catch her if she falls. I, on the other hand, am dressed in black, with black hair, looking like I’ve just gotten off stage with the Stranglers. The only sign that I need “assistance” is the dirty white sling my arm is in.

“Would you like me to help you with that bag?” The attendant smiles and extends his arm. I feel like I’m in a commercial. “Uh, sure, I guess.” As we walk towards the door, I see the other passengers eyeing me and the sling. “A scam,” they’re thinking, “but I’ll use it next time.”

We preboarders and escorts head down toward the plane. Progress is slow, the old lady and the walker are having trouble with the ramp. She keeps trying to pitch forward over the top of the walker and onto the ramp. If she succeeds in doing this, she and I will be able to trade notes on how bad our collarbones hurt.

Slowly, slowly the door of the plane gets closer. I take shuffling steps to avoid knocking the lady over and, as I walk, I make moaning noises as my shoulder starts to hurt again. I really want to sit down and rest, but instead of the ol’ subway rush hour push-em-out-of-the-way, I shuffle along as quietly as I can. After all, the attendants wouldn’t like it, and there’s more of them than there are of me. Only 10 more feet… 8… 6…
* * *
“…So, Benjamin, how’s the music coming along? Do you have a band?”
“Oh, yes, it’s called Discord. We have drums, guitar, me playing bass, and a percussionist.”
“He’s from the West Coast. He has congas, timbales.”
“And the music?”
“Well, it’s hard to describe. Sort of loud and different, like Bauhaus and Scrapping Foetus Off the Wheel, but different. You know, we’re playing on campus tomorrow night at this club called Happys.”
“It’s where those cover bands play. But there’s a festival that I helped organize of local original bands. They’ll be 3 bands each night. We’ll be playing last, tomorrow.”
“Sounds good. How much is admission?”
“Uh, you see, you can’t get with without being a student, and you have to have an ID. I know, I’ll tell them you’re this reporter from New York…”
* * *
I’m standing in a large room about a block square, with a low ceiling. It used to be a supermarket before the university bought it and turned it into a recreation hall. Mom would buy groceries while I would beg and plead for comic books and cereals with prizes inside.

I’m wearing a suit. People are saying, “Look at the reporter from New York.” People who know me are going, “Look at Jimmy Downs with the broken collarbone.” I took off the sling (it didn’t go with the suit, and besides, I need both arms to take pictures), but word has gotten around to all my old friends about the accident.

The crowd is quite – err – diverse. It’s a strange mixture of flower dresses, beards and long hair, Izod shirts and tan slacks, teased mops of hair a la the Cure and Sig Sig Sputnik, and an occasional white Rastafarian. I’m impressed. It’s like the set for a high school B-movie. The different factions lend a surreal air about the whole event. It’s almost as though it’s a theme event: “Come as Your Favorite Lifestyle.” Sort of the Village People of ’86.

All along I’m thinking, “I’m not really in my home town.” I remember all too clearly just a few short years ago the abuse my old band would get from the frats. Just because of the music we played and the clothes we wore. But now, M-TV has changed all that. It’s cool to be “different.” In a town where there are pickup trucks with shotgun racks, there are replicas of Robert Smith (of the Cure), but with a Southern drawl. And these guys are playing their own music and people love it. Too many times in the past, people have asked sincerely for “Freebird” and “Stairway to Heaven” while you were trying to break some new ground. On the other hand, those insincere screams for the above mentioned songs just meant you stunk.

The bands came on stage, played, and left, and while they were all good, the one that impressed me the most was Discord. Not from the fact that I knew one of the members, but that they really were original. You couldn’t say that they sounded like Bauhaus or the Cure or the Clash; they sounded like themselves. The fact that sounds like that could come from Boone, North Carolina, is strange enough, but that you could hear it live in this town is stronger still.

“I’m not really in my home town.”
* * *
“I can’t believe that you were in Gangrene with Benjamin.” Colby is sitting across the table from me, eating pizza. “And that you’re from New York, too.”

He had an amused and puzzled expression on his face.

“Well, reality is stranger than fiction. But why do you say that?”
“Uh, you just don’t look like it.”

I glance across the table at Benjamin. In his blond mop he has braided two strands of hair, and with his sharp features and French accent, he looks dangerous. I, on the other hand, with my sling, look like someone was dangerous with me.

“You see, Colby, it’s not how you look, it’s how you play and feel. Most of the bands I know look pretty normal, although the hair is getting longer.”

What I’m not telling him is that this is making me feel old. The combination of the town changing, my shoulder hurting, being in Gangrene “back when,” and seeing bands in a room full of college kids makes me feel old. Benjamin and I naturally spend time talking about “back when”: back when people would walk out of the shows; back when people would yell at us; back when we got thrown out of our rehearsal space. I feel older by the second.
* * *

“So, Jim, when are you going back to New York?”
“Tomorrow, Benjamin. It was great to come back, but I don’t fit in this town anymore. It’s changed, but not enough. I’m too used to the freedom in New York. To be able to do what I want. I’m a tourist this time around.”

Thursday, March 1, 2018

Vanity Plate No. 7: Interviewed for the YWCA Saskatoon Blogsite

Story and photo by Lyndall Mack
Note that there are no ads on this site, so I do not profit off other's work

This article / interview was originally published on the YWCA Saskatoon Website/blog on February 13, 2018. Its original title was "A Heart of Gold: Passion for Working at the YWCA.” The link to the original article is HERE

Robert Francos is a team member at the YWCA Employment and Learning Centre, a YWCA staff long service award recipient with a passion for his chosen career. He shared what makes his role at the YWCA so rewarding, not only to the clients he helps, but also for him.

Francos, who has been part of the YWCA team for since 2012, highlights the skills and experience that can be gained through the resources offered at the Employment and Learning Centre and illustrates some of those services through the multifaceted nature of his own role.

“I have two positions,” said Francos. “The first is the Computer Lab Instructor. I teach a number of different classes: Introduction to Computers, Internet & Email, two levels of Word, two levels of Excel, PowerPoint, Publisher, Social Media, and Job Search Online in a non-judgmental, patient way. My second job title is Skills Coach, where I help people look for jobs online, assist with wording and formatting of résumés and cover letters, and aid with emails and applying for online jobs.”

Improving employable skills

The YWCA’s Employment and Learning Centre supports both women and men who are seeking skills that will further them in finding a career. Francos speaks on the variety of resources at the centre, which has something for anyone who is trying to improve their skills.

“Everyone who comes into my computer lab is different, and the challenge is to figure out what they need, and what is the best way to help them approach their search,” said Francos. “Some people are desperate, or scared (scared of computers, or scared about where their next rent payment is going to come from), and it’s my job to figure out the best path in how to help them.”

A newfound satisfaction

Prior to joining the YWCA team, Francos worked for a Fortune 500 management consulting firm. He admits the corporate experience was draining at times, but now he has a newfound satisfaction in directing others on their own search for the right career by giving them the tools and teaching them the skills that will ultimately aid in their success.

“Here, I get to help people find jobs,” expresses Francos. “As for the most rewarding? First, when I am instructing a computer class and I see someone get it, that makes me feel great. My favorite thing to hear is when someone tells me, ‘I wish I would have known this when . . . It would have made my job a lot easier.’ Second, when I’m out and about in the city, and I run into a former student working at their job, and they tell me that I helped them learn the skills to get that position. That really feels great.”

Conquering the fear of technology

Francos teaches skills that are beneficial in each step of the job hunt process. This starts with résumé help, and then continues with training in computer programs like Excel and PowerPoint, considered valuable skills by companies who are seeking a well-rounded candidate to fill a position. Not surprisingly, many of those sought-after skills are technology-related. Francos asserts that there is something for everyone who is willing to learn and enhance their chances of starting a career.

Something for everyone

“There are many resources in the Employment and Learning Centre,” explains Francos. “For example, beyond what I do, there are a number of Employment Counselors who do one-on-one services for job searching, résumés and email; a comprehensive program called Trade Journey to help women begin careers in the trades; a library of job search/résumé writing/interview questions books; a three-week program called the Job Finding Club; and shorter workshops. I’ve been through many of the other programs in the city, and have found that the YWCA is incredibly comprehensive and suited to most people.”

The Trade Journey program Francos describes is a 16-week program that assists women in beginning and succeeding in construction trades, such as carpentry, plumbing, welding, electrical or sheet metal. The program teaches participants the necessary skills and knowledge in order to advance in their chosen trade.

Keeping an open mind

Searching for the correct job or career path can sometimes be a job within itself. Francos’ words of advice? Perseverance and keeping an open mind are keys to success when it comes to finding the right career.

“Nearly every job I’ve had has started as part-time, temporary, or casual, and has grown from that, including this one,” confesses Francos. “It’s important to not be intimidated by a lengthy job posting, because there are a lot of transferable skills you already possess that may make you more suited for that job than you realize.”