IT'S A LIVING… BUT IT'S NOT A LIFE #8.5
The So-Called J Church / Honey Bear Records Newsletter

 

REMAINING J CHURCH DATES FOR 2000…

Here we go kids. Riding on the heels of our "smash hit"* West Coast Tour with The Radio Fours and The Dismemberment Planners… J Church is back in live mode. Dig it.

NOVEMBER

14 Philadelphia, PA ­ Pontiac Grill ^
15 New York City, NY ­ Brownie's ^
16 Cambridge, MA ­ The Middle East Café ^
20 Brighton (UK) ­ The Lift ^^
21 London (UK) ­ Camden Underworld ^^
22 Leeds (UK) ­ The Cockpit ^^
23 Manchester (UK) ­ The Star And Garter ^^
24 Glasgow (Scotland) - 13th Note ^^
25 Derby (UK) ­ Victoria Inn ^^
26 Winchester (UK) ­ Railway Inn ^^
27 Bochum (Germany) ­ Zwischenfall
28 Aachen (Germany) ­ AZ
29 St Niklaas (Belgium) ­ Kompas
30 Bienne (Switzerland) ­ Coupole

DECEMBER
01 Torino (Italy) ­ El Paso
02 Rome (Italy) ­ Forte Prenestino
03 Firenze (Italy)
04 TBA
05 TBA
06 Berlin (Germany) ­ Wild At Heart
07 Kassel (Germany) ­ Arm
08 TBA
09 Apeldoom (Holland) ­ Gigant

* - Industry term for "mostly successful with the exception of maybe Bakersfield".
^ - With the assistance of Ted Leo and the Pharmacists.
^^ - With the assistance of Japan's The Urchin (Broken Rekids).

 

THE YEAR 2000 POST-SEASON SUMMARY

What can I say? Not much. Just thinking about it hurts more than the vocals on Dag Nasty's Can I Say? record. What was Mark Gardner doing at bat with the bases loaded in the 9th looking like a butcher at a vegan potluck? Is it fair that Joe Torre be allowed to worship Satan to give the Yankees the upper hand? Is it justice that the Rockefeller's of baseball (the Yankees) should beat the Ché Guevara's (the A's)? Were the Mets pitchers confused by the amount of make up Jeeter wears?

I don't know. It's all very depressing. The greatest season of baseball that I'd ever seen quickly became the worst. I only have one thing to say to the Mets: If you can't win at baseball, at least beat the Rocket with a bat to the head.

 

ANOTHER CRINGER CD (sorta)

Yeah, the folks at Hawaiian Express dug up an old radio show from when we were in High School and asked about putting it out as a mail-order item. I just listened to it for the first time (the first time I'd heard these songs in almost 15 years) and I kinda like it. I mean, it's not a great representation of what most people think of Cringer. I play guitar and don't sing. But it's pretty fun to listen to despite the so-so recording (that kick drum is louder than anything I've permitted since!) and a few clams on the band's behalf. Anyway, if you're interested in it you should e-mail the folks at Hawaiian Express at hwnexp@aol.com. Tell `em I sent ya…

 

SOME MUSINGS

The next few things I wrote for Skyscraper Zine. I don't know which (if any) Andrew will choose to use. Regardless, here they are in naked form for you, dear reader…

 

THE PROFOUND (Unfortunately) AND LASTING (Really unfortunately) INFLUENCE OF SID VICIOUS IN PUNK ROCK

Sid Vicious was probably a good guy. He hated the Bromley Contingent. He loved Abba. He couldn't play bass to save his life.

Yet he's remembered for being the fuck up of the Sex Pistols who allegedly (though probably didn't) killed his girlfriend and then himself for no reason other than self-hatred. He was addicted to heroin. He thrived on being socially inept and obnoxious (swastika t-shirts, wasted disposition, loudmouth idiot) even if it meant revealing his own self-hatred and fragile inner self. He was an image and nothing deeper than that. He was the personification of style over substance.

"Born to lose" has always been a really stupid theme in punk. Even more so than that other pathetic loser, Johnny Thunders*, Sid Vicious encapsulated all of the worst, self-destructive cliches of rebel-without-a-cause, youth rebellion. These clichés, for many insiders and outsiders to the "scene", became the archetype and definition of punk. This ignoring of the creativity and energy and freedom of the original punk scene is far more offensive than all the swastika t-shirts. It's revisionist history.

To say that Sid Vicious was an accurate representation of the punk movement ('76 to '80, and that's being generous) is to deny the creative and productive elements of punk. The creativity and imagination of Patti Smith, Richard Hell, Television, The Ramones, The Modern Lovers, Sniffin' Glue, Siouxsie And The Banshees, The Clash, and everything the Sex Pistols did before coming to America was more than just a caustic reaction to the world. It was never as simple as a bunch of rebels without a cause. In the states it was an inevitable break from years of ennui and restlessness created by the stagnant fallout of the '60s which evolved into `70s self-indulgence. It was an attempt at finding a different path once explored by the beats and confused by the mainstream co-opting of the counter-culture (even the most radical elements were tamed and marginalized by 1975). In England, it was a form of class war as much as it was a way of creating your own reality while living in massive poverty and unemployment.

This is also why there is never as big a contradiction as a punk rock kid in the U.S. obsessed with Sid Vicious. In America, punk rock was a movement of the middle class and the upper middle class. This is why it spread to the suburbs and not to the streets. Punk rock in England was from the streets and was a reaction to the poverty and class boundaries as much as it was a reaction to society as a whole. This isn't to say that those bands can't be appreciated in the States for more than their music. Of course, their music can be appreciated like any other great musical gesture that affects the culture (Velvets, Albert Ayler, MC5, Black Sabbath to the Spice Girls, Culture Club, Radiohead) in it's context. But have you ever seen a kid walking around with a leather jacket, jeans, a dog collar and spikey hair being drunk and obnoxious in front of the 7-11 and wondered, "how is this guy's attitude any different from that of the drunk jock at the frat kegger?" Well, he's not. He's just borrowing someone else's image.

But what really bothers me the most about the fascination with Sid Vicious is that he was, in as many ways as not, a creation of the media. But he was more than happy to do exactly what the media wanted and expected him to do. He was a tool for the media to create it's own sellable (in terms of copy) version of punk. When the press dealt with punk, they were never interested in the issues and the circumstances that the movement grew out of (what's new?). It was all vaudeville and circus. Punks are obnoxious. They spit. They're violent. They look funny. They're totally marginalized.

Sid Vicious really did exemplify this image. Not only was he used as an example, but he began to believe his own press. He became as big a phony, wasted loser as any member of the Eagles or Def Leppard.

Like most of you, I'm a little too young to have been around for punk. My only real recollections as a kid was reading an article about the Sex Pistols when they were on the cover of High Times and them being on Good Morning America (or something of the sort) and maybe something in Cream or Hit Parader. This only makes it more confusing to me as to how Sid Vicious became punk's martyr. The real martyrs are the people who were left high and dry in the wake of the Sex Pistols implosion. For a long time, Johnny Rotten was punk's martyr. His career collapsed in an effort of pure integrity to destroy the punk myth when he followed up his work with the Sex Pistols with the adventurousness of the first few PiL records. He could have easily have started up a new band that sounded like all the other bands we now associate with the '77 sound. But instead, he took a step that both expanded the boundaries AND said "fuck you" to all the second and third generation poseurs and Pistols wannabes.

Punk rock as a media sensation and as an event in pop music history died with the Sex Pistols at Winterland. It would be pretty hard to deny that Sid's drug addiction and general self-destruction was a major part of the band's collapse. The story of the Sex Pistol's U.S tour (the conflicts with Malcolm McLaren, the route of the tour, the estrangement of band members) is ancient history. But with the ninth, tenth, or billionth version of punk happening all around us, I can only hope that the creative elements of the first generation can become as acknowledged as the continual fashion revival. But if history is any guide, I don't have my hopes up.

Punk rock and Sid Vicious: let's hear it for the pathetic, self-destructive losers and all of their half assed copycats. Fuck off!

* - I really love LAMF as well as Never Mind The Bollocks. But Johnny Thunders is just another example of style over substance. He was more about drugs and good hair than he was about music. Perhaps that wasn't always the case. But his success only encouraged his self-destructive image and I challenge anyone to say it didn't severely affect his creative talent for the worse. He had to die for people to forget that 95% of his live performances were total shit and 100% of his post-LAMF recorded material was also shit. He was a lead guitar player. Can anyone point out a signature performance with complete confidence?

(And on a similar note…)

 

THE DEAD HAVE RISEN

A couple of years ago, I made the mistake of accompanying my friend Lily to the "Holidays In The Sun" punker festival in England. Saying it was a mistake is entirely a reflection on the festival and not on Lily who was generally great company. My only complaint is her overwhelming enthusiasm for has-been punk bands running through tired old sets of their greatest hits from the `80s like they're the new Sha Na Na or something. Hey, at least Sha Na Na had costumes that fit. Half the bands at "Holidays In The Sun" looked like your Dad on Sunday after the big game. The others looked like your Dad going through a mid-life crisis wearing his high school football jersey. Blech!

With the success of early punk reunion tours (Stiff Little Fingers, Buzzcocks) and the bands that never really took the hint and knew when it was time to leave the party (Vibrators, I dunno, if that fucker hadn't died, Johnny Thunders would probably still be playing half assed versions of Chinese Rocks and Born To Lose to a whole new generation of tourists), it seems like every band that's been broken up five to ten years is now on the reunion path. It's like Night Of The Living Dead. A comet must have hit Earth with something causing all the dead to come back to life. No, not Slaughter And The Dogs, no!

When did it become acceptable for bands to do reunion tours? Remember the good old days when a con was a con and everybody knew it? A "Greatest Hits" album meant the band was having trouble coming up with material before the Christmas buying rush. A "concept" album meant that the artist had gone off the deep end of pretension and was believing their own press. Any song over five minutes long (with the rare exceptions of possibly Light My Fire and most of Black Sabbath) could not possibly be rock-n-roll.

In the same league, a reunion tour meant the band was prepared to erase their legacy from the history of rock-n-roll. Either they needed the money and nothing they were currently doing was gonna bring in enough dough or they were going through a mid-life crisis. This is certainly true to varying degrees for the biggees. I still wanna puke whenever I hear about the Stones or the Who or the Velvet Underground going out on a reunion tour. It's an insult to their legacies. In some cases, I kind of think that the legacy was so much bigger than the actual members that made up the band, I don't really see how they feel like they've got the right to undermine that legacy.

Despite what a lot of punkers I know seem to think, The Who were a really remarkable band for a lot of their existence. Along with the Yardbirds, they were responsible for drastically broadening the possibilities within the realms of rock and pop music. This was particularly crucial to a time when rock and pop music were at essentially at a stalemate. Their early experimentation brought new elements of freedom and new boundaries of acceptable sounds into the mix (Anyway, Anyhow, Anywhere, My Generation, A Quick One). Those early songs were both breakthroughs in defining rock musicians as artists as well as simply being great songs harnessing anger as an energy. Despite what Pete Townshend thinks, the Who never lead any youth movement. But they became artists in their perfect reflection of youth violence and energy. That's to say nothing of the work between Tommy and Who's Next?. What right does that buffoon Roger Daltrey have to mess with the Who's legacy just so he can prance around onstage wearing his plastic surgery and hair implants like a clown? Roger Daltrey (and certainly Jagger) goes on tour as an attempt at displaying his youth and therefore confirming it. But the Who on tour in the year 2000 is an act of cowardice. Roger Daltrey is frightened of death and he thinks that if he walks the walk, rock will make him immortal.

Sadly, the same can be said for most of the punk bands on their reunion tours. Every obscure band from under every rock is now coming out to play gigs. But unlike the monsters of `60s and `70s rock, they're sticking around. There are new albums coming out from all these second, third and fourth generation punk bands on the reunion circuit. What use does the world have for Cocksparrer now?

And what is there to say about all the new material? Stiff Little Fingers, Buzzcocks, Vibrators, Business, Cocksparrer, etc. All these bands are putting out records and they're mostly horrible. But still, everyone goes out of their way to give these bands the benefit of the doubt. But it's a veneer holed up by the writer's own dismay. When the Buzzcock's first record since their reunion (and the Business' for that matter) turned out to be average, passable pop punk, they were immediately showered with good reviews. But all the reviews hinted at the truth. Within every review is this phoney sounding joy over the fact that the record wasn't complete shit. It was just somewhat shit. But nobody was going to say that. The fact that the Buzzcocks had produced something sellable to the newest generation of alternative kids was reason enough for celebration. They didn't completely humiliate themselves and that was good enough for the punk media sycophants.

But I guess I really can't complain. Though the reunions are totally pathetic and embarrassing to me (I say that as a fan of most of the original incarnations of these bands), it does prove a point that I've always felt about "Punk". It's been dead for a long, long time. Kids dress up punk and they listen to punk and make fanzines about punk. But so do fans of rockabilly, mod, ska, surf… Like those genres, punk happened a while ago. It ended and has been constantly in a state of revival ever since. I've lost count. I don't know if we're in the fifth or tenth or hundredth punk revival. But that's all it really is.

Yeah, there's this other thing going on called "punk". You know, the people at Maximum Rock-n-Roll, Punk Planet and Heart Attack can tell you all about it. It's cool. I dig it. I'm with y'all. Sometimes literally and sometimes in spirit.

But when those punks start getting too closely involved with the older generation, they get involved in the revival. That's not a bad thing. But if the older generation is their only reference point for punk, then they are revivalists. Who wants to be that?

 

IN THE J CHURCH LISTENING ROOM

Okay, it's a really bad time for music right now. How do I know this? I keep desperately going to the local record store wanting to be inspired by something new. What did I buy on my last trip to Sound Exchange? The Kinks Muswell Hillbillies, Eric Burden & The Animals Winds Of Change and Lou Reed Transformer. The saddest part of all: I've already owned all of these records at one point or another.

"Why is that so pathetic?" you ask., "people buy and sell their records all the time."

No, not me, I don't. Sorry, I just can't do that. I sell records when I have doubles. I sell records when they wear out. Most often, I sell records when I dislike them or have just lost interest in them.

That was the case with these three records. But the state of music is so bad right now and my desperation to hear something new and add it to my permanent collection drove me to this purchase. I've been listening to these records and I have to admit that they're sounding good. Almost inspirational. Fuck, things are bad for music right now.

So, let's start with the Kinks' Muswell Hillbillies since I've got the least commitment to it. Yeah, yeah, yeah. It's the Kinks and despite the stuff they put out in the `80s, I find it really hard to dislike Ray, Dave and the guys.

Though you wouldn't guess it from the music press and the self-proclaimed guardians of rock-n-roll culture (Rolling Stone, basically), the early music by the Kinks was at least as groundbreaking and influential as all the early stuff from the Stones, the Who and the Yardbirds. There are hundreds of new garage bands all over the world that in some way or another are essentially re-working You Really Got Me or So Tired. They may cite some obscure German skiffle band as their inspiration. But it's all bullshit. The first dozen singles by the Kinks defined garage music and set the parameters.

But I have to admit I only own one record from that time period. When I was 12 or 13 I bought the Kinks Greatest Hits which basically covered all of their early stuff. I've never been compelled to buy anything else (although I am one of the few people I know that likes the live album with the Batman into So Tired jam). I love those songs. But if I ever feel the need to hear them, I can turn on any number of Classic Rock stations and have a fair chance of hitting one. Certainly one within the hour…

Muswell Hillbillies comes from the second period of great Kinks music. It was a time when everyone felt obligated to push the boundaries of rock-n-roll (thankfully) to catch up with what the Beatles had done. The results were both awe inspiring and pretentious (usually more the latter. But like in any war, there must be casualties…). The Kinks were certainly guilty of both as they went through a series of "concept" albums, which also included Arthur and Lola Vs. Powerman. Because of those two records, this is my favorite era of Kinks music.

I don't even want to get into the concepts behind these records. They're all really dumb and embarrassing and really have nothing to do with why I like the records. Fortunately, the story lines are usually thin enough that you can ignore them and just face these records as platters of well crafted music put together in an orchestrated and cohesive manner. It's not just a bunch of decent songs thrown together for the kids. There's a mood you can only get by listening to the whole damn thing.

There's a lot of stuff going on with Muswell Hillbillies musically. It's a very toned down record. Even the opening rocker (20th Century Man) starts off very slowly and the vocals never betray any sort of rock n roll theatrics. It's clearly the lead in song meant to draw in the listener (like how every action film starts off with something violent and predictable). Sure, this is the most rocking song on the album. But there are no tricks. No fancy production. No guitar bombast. One vocal track. Nothing up Ray's sleeves.

Most of the songs here are based around an acoustic guitar track. Sometimes keys. But there's not much all out guitar attack. That's not to say it isn't a full sounding and exciting record. It just means it wasn't recorded with the live performance in mind. I think this is why I rejected the record the first time around. I bought it when I was a lot younger. There was a time when most of the records I loved, I could only understand when I visualized them being played live. I imagined the band rocking out on stage to the fans all singing along. I played air guitar and wanted to be in the band. (On a side note, I think that's the real appeal of punk to most of us. A lot of kids don't want cerebral. They don't even want thoughtful. They want a song that a)they can play air guitar to and b) they can imagine the crowd at Gilman Street or wherever singing along to in unison. Nothing more and nothing less. That's why I can appreciate This Is The Angry by 7 Seconds AND Fox On The Run by Sweet.)

You can't play air guitar and you can't really imagine the Kinks playing Muswell Hillbillies live. There's some faux country on this record and Ray has been known to fashion a slight drawl from time to time. It's not that corny and the flat production keeps the record from veering into a Byrds' Sweetheart Of The Rodeo area (which is a great record in itself).

The band is great as usual and that's a lot of why this record works instead of falling flat on it's face like a bloated dose of Canned Heat. It's really easy to make a boring plodding record with this kind of formula. When you tone the music down, it's really easy to go too far into the oblivion of low key lightness. But the band keeps the edge in plain sight. I guess it's no surprise that the Kinks always have a really solid rhythm section. What do you expect after years of riffing on You Really Got Me?

It's a subdued record that didn't really produce any lasting hits. Most people I know don't even know it exists. But now that I look back, I think it's a pretty great album. No Lola or Victoria. But sometimes you've got to walk away from the hit machine to produce something really personal.

I knew I was in for trouble when I looked at the gatefold of Eric Burden & The Animals' Winds Of Change. God, Eric Burden was such an asshole. I'm not sure if I've ever read such painful liner notes. Here's a sample of his thanks list:

"Roland Kirk ­ who is such an inspiration… Mick Jagger ­ who is really my brother… George Harrison ­ from whom I learn from being in the same room… President Johnson ­ whom I hope will listen. Ho Chi Minh ­ whom I hope will listen (maybe with L.B.J.)"

So, this a really pretentious record. A lot of it is just really, really bad poetry read over jams. It's the kind of thing you think of when you think of bad hippie dippy crap. Have you ever seen The Producers? (It's one of my favorite films of all time and it's certainly the best thing Mel Brooks ever did. I'd tell you why it's great. But you should really just go out and rent it now if you haven't seen it.) Anyway, for those of you who have seen it (which I'm hoping is most of you as it's a pretty famous movie), there's a scene where they're auditioning Hitlers for their musical. Love Power lyrically sums up most of this record.

Eric Burden had the nerve to write a song called Yes, I Am Experienced as a response to the Hendrix classic. What was he thinking? That's not even the worst lyric of the record!

Okay, here's where I start to sound like a sucker. What can I say? The band is great and if you can get past the lyrics, the songs are really well-crafted. Even their cover of Paint It Black comes off as urgent and fresh propelled by a drum sound that nobody has successfully recorded since (although the Flaming Lips are getting close).

The big hit on the record was San Francisco Nights. I always felt kind of embarrassed by that song having lived there for the past decade. But with a little distance, I'm not as annoyed by the naively utopian lyrics about the old Haight Ashbury scene and I can see that the music is really quite nice. It's part Rubber Soul era Beatles and part early Bee Gees or something.

There's a lot of bad stuff happening on this record. I can't deny that. But if you don't look at the liner notes and you just completely avoid songs like Black Plague and Man-Woman it's a pretty rocking little piece of vinyl.

So, I finally am starting to go back to Lou Reed. There isn't much of his solo stuff that I don't find totally appalling. But as each record gets worse and worse, I find myself going back to the stuff closest to the source. Back when he still had a little of the Velvet Underground's glow on him…

Transformer is a good record if you ignore who made it and what he was capable of. It's a good record when you consider it was produced by David Bowie and Mick Ronson who are usually pretty untalented at it unless it's their own stuff. It's a bad record when you consider that most people feel it's Lou's best stuff outside of the Velvet Underground. In that context, you really need to wonder: what was he thinking?

Vicious is the best song on the record. I'm not being objective here. It's the best song and you're wrong if you think otherwise. While it's not a perfecting of the Sweet Jane riff, it's at least an interesting re-working with enough guitar bite that you really get your hopes up high, high, high for the rest of the album. Yeah, the rest of the record is "nice". Fuck, I hate most of that glam shit that was happening and I think all the "Ziggy" era Bowie stuff needs a careful re-evaluation. Transformer certainly rises above that stuff. But there's not too much substance to battle the style.

A Perfect Day is a pretty, innocuous song. It's nice. It's really nice. I don't even mind that he talks about Sangria. Shit, he might as well have made the song about drinking wine coolers. Walk On The Wild Side … Yeah, it's a nice song. But essentially he's saying, "hey, look at the transvestites! They're WILD, man!" But something had to make that song stand out. You take away the lyrics and you're left with some tame, David Sanborn sounding pap. But I guess that's the beauty of the song. Lyrics about blowjobs and speed ultimately wind up deconstructing the parent rock of the music.

I think one of the worst problems with the record is the destruction of Satellite Of Love. Originally a Velvet Underground song, Satellite Of Love was an energetic rocker fitting nicely between We're Gonna Have A Real Good Time Together and Rock And Roll. But on Transformer it's transformed into something else. Light, Elton John pap. I mean, it would be great if Elton John came up with that song. But what was Lou doing? Was it purposely done to piss of Velvet Underground fans? Was it some sort of rejection of the early noise that was the foundation that allowed for his future creative freedom? Was he biting the hand that feeds again?

I don't know. I'm keeping this record this time around if that means anything. I mean, it's okay. But it's very confusing. I'm still left wondering: what was Lou thinking?

 

Back to Article Index