IT'S A LIVING… BUT IT'S NOT A LIFE #10
J Church / Honey Bear Records Newsletter - Early 2002
Call out my name and I'll be there…

 

NEW SHIT

First off, our split record with Annalise from England is now out. Took me a while to get it together, but here it is. Our songs are Fuck School and Asphyxia By Submersion. I'm about 99.9999% positive that neither of these songs has been used on anything before. I sort of stumbled on a bunch of old songs some of which were finished and others that needed guitar or vocals added. The record is out on Beat Bedsit Records. But you can get `em from me for $3.50 ppd.

I got the new issue of Some Hope And Some Despair out finally. Number 4 contains my interviews with Kronstadt Uprising, Lack Of Knowledge, The Mob and Semiautomatic. Loads more of my writing (most of which you've already seen in this newsletter) and a few cool photos I had lying around of the Mummies and Doom (of all bands). It's $3 ppd from me.

 

SXSW AND NEW HONEY BEAR STUFF

Okay, I've got a few records coming out this year.

First of all, I'm doing a 7" (haven't done one of those in a while) with local Austin hardcore band, Storm The Tower. One of the best new bands I've heard in a while, they're a mix of old school DC style hardcore with a unique approach that, while I can't quite put my finger on it, makes them especially great. They're recording at the beginning of March, so you'll see it soonish.

I'm also finally reissuing the Flowers In The Dustbin stuff on CD. It will include all the material from their records on Mortarhate, All The Madmen, 96 Tapes, and Cold Harbour. I really dug that band and I'm glad all of their stuff will be available again.

I'll also be doing a CD with DFI. A one-man band, DFI are a mixture of progressive music with new metal (maybe Fucking Champs or something of that nature). Great production and amazing musicianship.

I'll also be doing some sort of J Church CD this year. It's the band's 10 year anniversary so I was thinking I should do a major live album sampling 20 or so songs going all the way back to our first shows…

If for some reason you are going to be here in Austin during South By Southwest, come on down to the Honey Bear Records showcase! It's on Friday the 15th at Sound Exchange. Storm The Tower and DFI will both be playing along with four or five other bands. Should be a great time. I'm going to make little grab bags of funs stuff to give away for free at the door. Oh, it's free.

 

UPCOMING J CHURCH STUFF

I've mentioned the live record. The split with Petrograd is in the works. I've got to re-master something due to some fuck up which was probably all my fault. But it's coming…

We've also got stuff coming up on loads of different comps. The next closest one I can see is the giveaway CD with the next issue of Law Of Intertia. I just sent them a CDR of our cover of the Mice's Not Proud Of The USA which I don't think has ever been on anything else. That should be cool as LOI is a really cool zine. There are a few other comps we may be on and I'm gonna try to sort something out for David Hayes' new comp about drinking. Maybe something about mixing gin and tonics with metroprolol…

 

WHAT HAPPENED TO R & B?

I was watching that stupid Jackson Five reunion show on TV a little while back. Yeah, it was way over the top and stupid. But despite the really embarrassing stage show and the personal meaning of a middle aged Jackson 5 deep in the back of my mind, I was still pretty stoked when they did the all too brief parade of classics. The sound was terrible and their voices are all pretty done, but since these were some of my favorite songs of all time I was still excited. For some reason even this totally horrible version of I'll Be There still makes me teary eyed.

I turned off the TV before the morons like Brittany Spears came on, as I really didn't want to know. After my 15 minutes of Motown nostalgia was over I was overwhelmed by depression. What happened to R & B?

I'm a huge fan of the commercial shit. I'll admit it. As much as I dig the Stax box set, I've always been more of a Motown fan. Yeah, I'm one of those people that prefer the Supremes to the Beatles. I also think the Philadelphia sound was as revolutionary with it's mixture of music and politics as the avant-garde jazz scene.

But where is that music now and why is there such a huge difference in what is considered R & B today? Where did the songs go? When did the production values go from the warmth of Hitsville USA to MTV/VH1 slick bullshit?

When Destiny's Child were on Saturday Night Live a few months back I actually found myself enjoying their second number. Pretty soon I realized that it was a cover of Samantha Sang's Emotions written by the Bee Gees. Shit, nothing is new anymore. Hollywood can't make a decent new movie and the best they can come up with is bullshit remakes of films like Abres Los Ojos. I guess it shouldn't be any shock that nobody in the big, big leagues of pop music can come up a decent tune and so the best they can do is a remake of a Bee Gees throwaway.

I know nobody agrees with me. But I guess I equate the death of R & B with the death of punk rock. Commercial interests eventually outweighed artistic interests. Of course, it's still arguable in any art form that you're fate is sealed once you even begin to consider commercial interests. But for all the music press and political ideas that many people in both genres claimed, some of the more basic day-to-day living realities were never taken into account. Punk rock died because it was afraid to become an art form and in it's confusion became part of the rock business that had taken over just a few years earlier. R & B was never allowed to be taken seriously as an art form and with everything happening in black America in the `60s and `70s; they had bigger fish to fry.

So now both music forms are in another state of resurrection in mainstream music. I don't have to bore you with another rant about major label punk rock. So what? Punk has a thriving underground and DIY scene. Besides, mainstream punk rock is just about done. But what happens to R & B as we knew and loved it? Is it dead?

It really is true that R & B has never totally gotten the respect it was due. Not to diminish the importance of the Beatles (as if I could!) but it is important to remember that the Supremes were charting competitively in the US at the time. Especially in the mid-`60s, the arrangements of both groups were equally innovative. But I don't think it's any surprise that because of race issues, Motown never got the same intellectual analysis and that has had a resounding effect.

Even when other musical forms of the black community crossed over to R & B it was looked at as a kind of dumbing down. When Albert Ayler and Rahsaan Roland Kirk began crossing over, it never shed new light on the importance of R & B. Rather, that music was seen as being low points for both musicians creatively. Albert Ayler was even accused of playing R & B as a sell out move.

Personally, I quite like both of those ventures. Blacknuss is probably one of my favorite Rahsaan Roland Kirk records and I actually love all the different versions he's done of My Girl (in a concert in Hamburg shortly after the release of this record there's a version of that Temptations cover at breakneck speed). I also really like the simple joyfulness of Heart Love on New Grass. Yeah, I like the vocals. I don't know why that's such a hard stretch to make. If part of the joy of listening to someone like Ayler is listening to him stretch for the high notes and not always hit them, then missing certain notes with the vocals can also be acceptable?

While there may or may not have ever been completely altruistic artistic aspirations in the Motown scene or the Gamble / Huff scene of Philly, there was also no encouragement from most of the music establishment. With no alternatives and certainly no role models, the direction of R & B was co-opted (like most other things) in the material `80s. God, the `80s were a fucking miserable time.

But like punk rock, the materialism of the `80s was only one aspect of the problem and blaming it entirely on the "Me" Reagan years is an oversimplification. The rise of hip-hop in the `80s (probably the last important occurrence in pop culture since punk rock) also had an unexpected effect on music.

In it's earliest incarnations, the music was a simple backdrop for the MCs to rap over. The simplicity of early Sugar Hill records production was partly due to limitations of the technology at the time. But as any Grand Master Flash record will show you, given the freedom there was a lot of room to move creatively. In other words, simplicity in backing music was somewhat desirable as not to detract from the vocalist and/or message.

From early on, R&B songs were occasionally sampled (Chic for example) to build backing tracks. Of course, the popularity of this style has grown and grown to now where it's a more common than not format in hip-hop.

In the late `80s and early `90s, a new trend began with DJs remixing current R&B singles often with instrumental tracks. The next step, of course, was to bring in MCs to rap over extended mixes. As hip-hop grew and grew in popular consciousness, its importance in the music business surpassed that of R&B switching the dynamic of supply and demand between DJ and R&B artist.

Currently, R&B finds itself cashing in big with music that works better as back up to rappers rather than pop songs. The vague tunes just barely existing in the ether of TLC or Destiny's Child are secondary to the slick production and pedantic professionalism. The music is a mechanical product like I Macs or Big Macs or new VW Beetles. In my most cynical, I'd imagine R&B in the future would exist solely as music with the one hope of eventually being used as a sample.

 

IN THE J CHURCH LISTENING ROOM

THE DIRTBOMBS - Ultraglide In Black LP

This record fuckin' rocks. I couldn't think of a better way to start my new year than with this pumping party album of classic covers fucked up and rocked out by the genius that is Mick Collins. I've been a big fan of this guy since the Gories and while this may just be done in fun, it's really hit a chord with me and a lot of people.

This tribute of sorts is largely remarkable because of Collins' rich vocal stylings. Using other peoples words and music as a vessel, he conveys so much emotion in a short pop song, it makes me wonder why no one else is able to even come close. There's an earnestness that shows whatever he's trying to convey is real. It is especially effective in his updating of Stevie Wonder's classic Livin' For The City.

This record was built by the band's 10th line-up, which has a consistent sound as they still maintain the unique two bass and two drums attack. The sound at times is almost like large group recordings with Sun Ra. There's a weird order in the cacophony and it's seeming randomness in arrangement always somehow ends up perfect.

I've listened to this record a dozen times now and I still can't find anything wrong with it.
(In The Red)

MELT BANANA/THE LOCUST - split 7"

It's the end of February and this is already probably one of the 10 best records of the year. Once you've gotten past the quasi-Lichtenstein via Mexican comic book art of the front cover and the Orange Julius colored vinyl, you'll find yourself listening to some of the most advanced hardcore and thrash imaginable. Actually, it's totally unimaginable. Three or four years ago, even with these bands already existing, I never could have predicted music like this from them or anyone else. I'm not sure I even know how to explain it other than to say it's great.

Of course, it's a challenge as well. That's part of what is so brilliant about these two bands. They genuinely challenge the listener to expand their preconceived notions of punk rock and hardcore and, inadvertently, music. Okay, that sounds like a lot of bullshit. But I think it's true. I didn't buy this record to be entertained or to add to my collection.

Melt Banana are reaching out in a new direction this time around while maintaining the basic schematic. The addition of electronics and non-instrumental textures to an already abstract kind of music creates something even more devolved. It's almost as if this idea was floating around in the fields of ESP around the planet. One flash of it was planted in the gray matter of a Swedish straight edge band called Refused and became one thing. Another flash was deposited in the blood flow of Japanese noise thrash band called Melt Banana. Both times it lasted for just a flash and that seemed to be enough.

The Locust, on the other hand, is continually marching in seemingly random directions creating music that is certainly as expressive as it is aggro. Squeezing five songs onto their side, they manages to keep the lyrical ideas in real time encapsulating a fleeting thought pattern into a totally kinetic form of complex hardcore. Some people I know think of them as being sort of a metallic / moshcore band. I think this record will hopefully expand some minds.
(GSL)

ROSWELL RUDD - Broad Strokes CD

I sort of keep expecting either this guy or Archie Shepp to really bust out one of these days and put together something as blasting as they did in the `60s. Maybe that's just wishful thinking. Even the collaboration between Rudd and Shepp, while totally enjoyable, was pretty restrained. It's reasonable to assume they don't have the chops they once had. But there are other ways of challenging yourself.

With Rudd, the new challenge is work outside of his field. His trombone style, especially in large group collaborations like Charlie Hayden's Liberation Music Orchestra or New York Eye And Ear Control, is so strong that it can often carry a melody on it's own no matter the competitive voices in the surrounding. One of the few musicians pecializing in the trombone in the "free" or avant-garde scene, his uniquely almost barbed style is distinctive anywhere.

On this record, Rudd focuses on ballads, an area he's never been known to work in. The end result is a strange mixture of sounds ranging from total experimentation to almost smooth jazz. The recordings were made in several different studios with as many different groups and collaborators. The selection of music to cover ranges greatly from Herbie Nichols to Thelonious Monk to Elvis Costello. Needless to say, there is quite a varied sound on this collection.

At the same time, it's a very modern feeling record. Not necessarily because of Sonic Youth's contribution to Theme From Babe. But that he is acknowledging them and their contribution is generous and they seem to reciprocate with a respectful support role on the track. It's also interesting that Rudd name-drops Jennifer Jason Leigh in the liner notes when speaking to his cover of Costello's Almost Blue. It's interesting to think that her tortured version of the song in her film Georgia might have been some inspiration for his almost funeral march-like version.

The playing on this record is also very fluid. The production is crisp and his horn jumps right out at you and isn't ever overshadowed by the occasional vocals even on the soulful Stokey. Even his free improvisation with Sonic Youth is seamless. No easy outs here.
(Knitting Factory Records)

TELEVISION - Poor Circulation CD

Are you a big Television fan? I mean a big, big fan? Are you a huge Richard Hell fan? If not, TURN AROUND! GO BACK! WAIT ON DRY LAND! This is a collection of totally fucked recordings of Television from back in the days when Richard Hell plonked on the bass for them. The recordings are from two rehearsal tapes and a couple of live performances.

To get it out of the way, all of the shit you would expect from a bootleg record is realized here. The sound quality is pretty fucked. These probably weren't the band's greatest performances. They seem pretty damned loose. The practice stuff is barely complete.

But fuck it, you know? It's a fucking bootleg! What the fuck do you expect? Dark Side Of The Moon? This brief history of the band's incarnation features quite a few of Hell's songs that were never recorded. This original version of Blank Generation is also really fascinating. It's interesting to see how different guitar players approached that song. There's also an odd version of the Count Five's Psychotic Reaction recorded at Max's Kansas City.

It's also interesting from the early practice tapes how much more pronounced the Velvet Underground influence on them was. By the time they were thinking about Marquee Moon they must have had quite a bit of time to evolve.

Really cool packaging on this odd little CD of dubious origin. Lots of early photos of the band that I've never seen…

This record is a great document for nerds like me who can't stand the idea of anything Richard Hell or Television did going undocumented. It kills me to know that there really isn't a proper studio version of Fuck Rock N Roll. So discs like this have to suffice. It just seems too sad. But then again, maybe the problem is me. Yeah, I thought so.
(Punk Vault)

 

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