Saturday, December 31, 2005
What a beautiful dream
That could flash on the screen
In a blink of an eye and be gone from me
Soft and sweet
Let me hold it close and keep it here with me
If you're like me, you love Neutral Milk Hotel's In The Aeroplane Over The Sea with a passion that few other albums achieve, and you have been looking forward to the 33 1/3 book for as long as you've known about it. Well, ok, there's probably only 1000 or so people in the country who fall into that category, but MAN, what a great album and what a great book about it.
Kim Cooper (the editrix of Lost In The Grooves, Bubblegum Music Is The Naked Truth, and Scram Magazine) gets to the heart of the story about this album. As NMH fans know, Jeff Mangum produced only one prior NMH album, On Avery Island (released in 1996), which was pretty much created without a band, then brought in a group that became the NMH that we all knew and loved. NMH put out the amazing In The Aeroplane Over The Sea in 1998, went on a short tour to support the album, then more or less disappeared. I remember when they came to Chapel Hill on that tour, but I didn't go see them because I thought I'd have plenty of options to see them again. I was wrong.
Cooper spent some time with Jeff Mangum while researching the book, and it shows, despite his unwillingness to be directly quoted, in her insight into his elusive genius. She also spoke with the other major members and friends of the band, who provided her with the in-stories that show exactly how this band bottled the lightning in 1998. Cooper's depth of research and sympathy for her subject are wonderful to read.
I pitched Richard and Linda Thompson's Shoot Out The Lights to 33 1/3, and I can say with confidence that this is exactly the sort of book I'd attempt to write about that album if the editors give me the go-ahead. Some of the other 33 1/3 books have been too much about the ego of the author; Cooper disappears into her narrative, and her book is infinitely better for it.
Thursday, December 29, 2005
Monday, December 26, 2005
Sunday, December 25, 2005
Thursday, December 22, 2005
I had my official Devo energy dome with me. I bought it for $6.00 at their Rutgers University show in November 1981. That was the first real concert I ever saw, and perhaps still the best. I'll never forget it. I was 15 years old and a sophomore in high school. In 1981, it was still dangerous to be a known punk (or new wave) sympathizer. High school jocks and burnouts would call you "Devo" as an insult, or they'd sing "Turning Japanese" to you sarcastically. When word got out that I attended an actual Devo show, the abuse only increased until I finally told the burnouts to, and I quote, "fuck off." I got the crap beaten out of me that afternoon. I didn't care. I felt righteous. So to be in a room with hundreds of people who actually liked Devo, and who weren't going to make fun or hit me for my musical taste, was like nothing I experienced in my own daily life. Of course the band was great as well; They opened with videos (still a novel concept at that point) and played songs from all their albums. They were still riding a wave of fame from "Whip It" and Freedom of Choice the year before, and apparently used the money on their stage show: the set resembled a futuristic jungle gym, complete with treadmills. For the encore, Booji Boy came out and sang "Beautiful World."
To Devo it was probably just another unremarkable night on tour. But to me, this concert was a life-changing event. By 1981 I was already a hardcore music nut: I'd been buying new wave albums since 1979 and had discovered college radio and Young Marble Giants earlier that year. But actually attending a concert, being surrounded by other Devo fans, pushed me over the edge. For the first time, I knew for sure that I wasn't alone in my interests and obsessions. It was a revelation. Nothing would ever be quite the same.
Tuesday, December 20, 2005
The auction URL for #28 is
Monday, December 19, 2005
label: Cherry Red Records
personnel: Morgan Fisher (all instruments except...) Maggie Nicols (voice), Lol Coxhill (sax), Joel Cutrara (xmas appeal), Iain McNay (speech), Chris & Valerie Ross (voices)
tracklisting: we three kings, o come all ye faithful, deck the halls, coventry, holly and ivy, no st. bernard, listen the snow is flling, dead ducks, good king wenceslas, happy xmas (war is over)
this week, what could be more appropriate than to review a Christmas album? however, i doubt that 'Claws' (geddit?) will be played at many Christmas parties.
hatched from the warped universe of former Mott the Hoople keyboardist (!) Morgan Fisher - with a notable guest slot from saxophonist and friend Lol Coxhill - the basic premise of 'Claws' is to take traditional Xmas fare such as 'O Come All Ye Faithful', and seriously mash it through a Flying Lizards' filter. the results are, at times, truly bizarre. by keeping the songs moving at a frantic pace and almost exclusively using a pitch harmoniser to raise his voice, Fisher's efforts hurtle headlong towards the realms of other high octane kitchen sink experimenters like Renaldo and the Loaf. as you would expect, much of it is meticulously pieced together, particularly the percussion loops and mandolin (?) of opener 'We Three Kings'. side two is thankfully more sedate. 'No St. Bernard' features label boss Iain McNay providing an amusing 'I hate Christmas' monologue over gentle synths and samples of old Xmas hits drifting in and out of the mix. meanwhile, Maggie Nichols' a capella folk song 'Dead Ducks' remains genuinely affecting. concluding with Pinky and Perky's very own version of 'War is Over', tongues are firmly returned to cheeks.
guaranteed to excite the child in you at Christmas, 'Claws' is a cracker!
erik - www.cultwithnoname.com
Wednesday, December 14, 2005
The book’s opening chapters relate the history of the Elephant 6 Collective, beginning with Mangum’s humble beginnings in the tiny college town of Ruston, La., as told through interviews with fellow Collective members including The Apples in Stereo’s Robert Schneider and Scott Spillane of The Gerbils and NMH. (Noticeably absent are any quotes from the notoriously reclusive Mangum.) While the back story is thin, Cooper works with what she has, telling some nice stories about musicians sharing boom box recordings.
A later chapter finds Cooper analyzing the record track-by-track, offering some compelling readings of the album’s often impenetrable imagery. The book concludes with an account of Mangum’s suspected psychosis, using quotes from his close friend (and longtime Elf Power bandmember) Laura Carter to refute them. When it’s all over, there seem to be more unanswered questions than we started with. Still, the ride is certainly worth the price of admission.
—Brian Heater, NY Press
The devout, ever-multiplying cult of Neutral Milk Hotel should perhaps prepare for a second coming. By Rob Harvilla
The most influential indie-rock record of the past decade reverently declares I love you Jesus Christ, features the songs "Two-Headed Boy" (parts one and two) and "The King of Carrot Flowers" (part one, then parts two and three combined), uses semen as a lyrical motif, crushes heavily on Anne Frank, lists a zanzithophone player in its liner notes, and whips up an unholy racket like several punk rockers and a Bulgarian wedding band trapped in an elevator together, desperately screaming for help. Stranger things will never happen.
Fortunately, Neutral Milk Hotel's In the Aeroplane Over the Sea, a carefully guarded secret upon its release in 1998, has been happening ever since. The record's vibrant, chaotic Salvation Army Marching Band sound and surrealist wordplay has inspired current big-shots from the Decemberists to the Arcade Fire to Clap Your Hands Say Yeah. Mysterious NMH mastermind Jeff Mangum -- who all but disappeared shortly after Aeroplane's release -- became a full-fledged reclusive genius deity, a beloved Salinger for the Pitchfork set. Pitchfork itself, meanwhile, recently deep-sixed the tepid Aeroplane review the online rock-crit site had originally run and replaced it with a fawning, triumphant 10.0 coronation.
Seven years later, the record's influence and capacity to fascinate have swelled to gargantuan proportions. Now, Los Angeles-based writer and critic Kim Cooper -- a devout lover of bubblegum pop and so-called "unpopular culture" via her zine Scram -- has taken the first real crack at unraveling Aeroplane's mystique, penning a tome for Continuum Books' immensely popular 331/3 series. Each selection is a pocket-sized hundred-or-so-pager devoted to the genesis, construction, and aftermath of one record, and although the series has enjoyed success with paeans to classics like the Smiths' Meat Is Murder and Prince's Sign 'O' the Times, Cooper's Aeroplane volume might be its biggest hit yet.
The record's ongoing critical revisionism has helped, of course, but Kim insists that word of mouth has slowly turned Neutral Milk Hotel from near-unknown to near-mythic. "I think it's just based on how many people love it," she explains. "People get very evangelical about this album. A record review can't do that. Who really cares if the record's got a 10.0, compared to sitting down with a friend who plays a song for you and it blows your mind?"
Kim's book is a fairly straightforward rise-and-fall narrative, beginning with a gang of Louisiana college radio rats who migrate on a whim to Athens, Georgia, while slowly coalescing into the Elephant 6 collective, a loose-knit crew of psychedelic-pop artistes who've found success with bands like Olivia Tremor Control and Of Montreal, but undoubtedly peaked with Neutral Milk Hotel. In-depth interviews with friends and collaborators -- including pop aficionado Robert Schneider, who produced Aeroplane at Pet Sounds, his Denver studio -- fill it out, but the famously distant Mangum transcends and haunts it all. He doesn't talk to Kim on the record -- "He didn't immediately say no, and ultimately he didn't say yes," she explains -- but you get just enough of a sense of the guy, from his affinity for rehearsing in the bathroom to his night terrors to his apparent obsession with Anne Frank's harrowing WWII artifact, The Diary of a Young Girl.
Aeroplane perfected a psychotic carnival sound (from expertly fuzzed-out barnburners like "Holland 1945" to sweet, cryptic ballads like the title track), but Mangum's surrealist lyrics still dominate, filled with lovesick two-headed freaks floating in jars, semen-stained mountaintops, and flaming pianos, apartment buildings, and human heads. Cryptic Anne Frank references abound, but on the chilling "Oh Comely" -- a showcase for Mangum's mournfully strummed acoustic guitar and braying, famously polarizing voice -- he careens though verses of fantastically twisted imagery before settling on the shockingly direct:
And I know they buried her body with others
Her sister and mother and five hundred families
And will she remember me fifty years later
I wish I could save her in some sort of time machine
The Jeff/Anne love affair is a strange and sometimes uncomfortable pairing. "Picture the Franks in their Dutch hidey-hole, 1944," Cooper writes. "Picture the Elephant 6 gang fifty years later, rock 'n' roll and road trips and DIY. Incongruous worlds, but the sets collide, and somehow fit perfectly together." Maybe not perfectly -- though plenty of critics hate E6 and Neutral Milk in particular, it's doubtful they've ever seriously considered genocide.
Over the phone, Kim explains it a bit more convincingly. "I think it was a personal connection with her as a writer and as a person, this really lovely adolescent who was just kind of flowering and becoming an adult and an intellectual, and it was all just wiped away by forces so much more powerful than her," she explains. "Some people think that he was in love with her."
Does she think so? "I think he loved her the way that you love anyone whose story really touches you. You want the best for them, and you can't help them, and that's where you get I wish I could save her in some sort of time machine."
At first it's off-putting that Kim largely avoids probing the meaning or backstory behind Aeroplane's beguiling lyrics -- she tacked on a track-by-track analysis at her editor's request -- but ultimately it makes sense to leave all that to your own inclination and imagination. Mangum's seclusion is also a fuzzy affair, but though his refusal to record, perform, or submit to interviews shortly after the album's release was partly due to private, personal issues, Kim's book heavily implies that much of it was showbiz, borne of Mangum's desire to go out with a bang, slowly work his devotees into a deifying lather, and then descend from the mountain years later with a spectacular follow-up. Urban legend insists he's gone completely bonkers, but the facts suggest he knows exactly what he's doing -- in her text, Kim makes the point of noting that Mangum is alive, lucid, and sane.
"If you listen to the music, it's obvious that there's a lot of thought that goes into everything," Cooper says. "It's not very random. ... There's a certain elegance to just walking away and leaving this kind of resounding note in the air."
And lo, just as Kim's book comes out, new Neutral Milk Hotel demos surface online, capping a year that also saw Mangum show up onstage with old E6 buddies such as the Circulatory System and Olivia Tremor Control. The Aeroplane revival has reached critical mass, and the Great Comeback may in fact be upon us.
"That's certainly what [paramour and, coincidentally, zanzithophonist] Laura Carter thought he was doing," Kim concludes. "That he was echoing artists from the past he liked who disappear for periods, and then come back when nobody's expecting something, and really blowing people's minds. I hope he does." Whether you know it or not, so do you.
This review appeared in the East Bay Express, December 14, 2005
Monday, December 12, 2005
So before posting a link to "Let's Go Go Go With Ringo" so you, too, can get this thing stuck like goo in your noggin, I had to ask, how did three New York City girls end up faking British accents in an aural love note to the schnozziest Beatle?
Bibbe replied with the inside scoop:
"Charlotte Rosenthal, Janet Kerouac and I were all downtown street kids in 1964 New York City. While panhandling, we three met songwriter Neil Levinson ("Oh, Denise") and hustled busfare from him. On the bus ride we fell to chatting. The Beatles had just come out big in the US and Neil had written a girl-song response to “I Want To Hold Your Hand.” Would we be interested in hearing it? We met him later that day at Steinway Studios on 57th Street and together finished the lyrics and music for “I Want To Talk With You.” It was a classic girl group riff and we dug it. That same day we went to a half dozen record companies auditioning the song without any takers. As a last resort, Neil called Colpix label’s Don Rubin from a payphone. When Don said he would see us we ran all the way over to the audition. We sang the song and within the next couple days we were signed to Colpix and to DuLev Productions. DuLev was Levinson’s company with his partner, Steve Duboff. For the B-side Neil brought in pal Jean Murray (Jean Kauffman) who had co-written the Darin hit “Splish Splash” with Darin and her son, DJ Murray the K. Oh, that she only wrote us another “Splish Splash!” Instead it was the rather silly and insipid “Go Go Go With Ringo.” We loved the A-side but weren’t too wild about the Ringo song. Over the next few weeks we rehearsed daily, shopped for matching outfits and had 8x10 glossy promo pictures taken. At one point we were introduced to the group The Tokens who apparently were now 1/3 owners of our act along with Dulev (1/3) and Jean Murray (1/3). Our percentage was apparently not accounted for under this bookkeeping arrangement. Similarly, I have no idea how Don Rubin and Colpix were supposed to get their cut.
Within a few weeks we were recording. The record was pressed—at least dj copies. We got a box of these records to split between us. I believe it was released however briefly but nothing much happened with it. I heard our masters were sold to Laurie Records at one point. Later I heard we’d charted somewhere in Canada. Shortly before she died, Janet Kerouac told me her Rhino Records lawyers were looking into that and had found that we were owed a little bit of money. Apparently not enough to bother collecting from what I can tell.
I ran into Steve Duboff once around ten years ago in LA. We talked on the phone. He’d been living in Hancock Park and was just then packing to move out to the beach. He thought he had some copies of the record somewhere and said he would look for it as he would love to give me a copy. We lost touch and I never saw him again. I heard only last week, he’d died of cancer in LA, February 2004. Janet Kerouac came to visit Sean and I in California a couple times in the early 1990’s. It was great fun to reconnect. I haven’t seen Charlotte Rosenthal since 1965."
Ladies, gentlemen and little children, click to hear The Whippets Sing.
What is certainly surprising and ultimately dismaying is the sheer volume of music that - much like the title of this blog - becomes lost; that this exclusionary interpretation passes over. To these ’77-told-the-truth’ cretins and their Q‘ed-in coterie, the whole of the 60’s can be pared down to approximately five groups (Stones, Stooges, Velvets, Silver Apples, MC-5) while the cupboard of the early-to-mid 70’s echoes back even barer (Eno, Bowie, Mod Lovers, New York Dolls).
...And the fate of a band like the Dirty Angels - non-Marxist, American, all male with one member sporting a mustache and no members playing the electric lathe? ‘Well…they just ain’t ideologically groovy enough, mate, sorry, have you heard Flux of Pink Indians yet?’ All groan.
Condemned to trample the outer court of paradise forever though they are - as well as surely destined to never grace the jacket-backside of any self-respecting Vice Squad fan or receive an invite from Thurston Moore to play at All Tomorrow’s Parties - Boston’s Dirty Angels were a truly marvelous Stonesy guitar band who played upbeat, driving pop to the obvious delight of very few. No one remembers these guys it seems, which is odd because to me the Boston ‘indie/punk’ scene was always one of the more forgettable - notable exceptions (Reddy Teddy, Real Kids, Nervous Eaters, DMZ) aside. For those that care though, the core of the Dirty Angels grew out of a funky, soul and blues group called White Chocolate (one LP, ’73 on RCA - don’t stop reading yet!) which had actually begun its life as Arthur Lee’s backing/touring band in the early 70’s (they don‘t sound anything like ‘Vindicator,’ I assure you). Adjusting the name of the band to something less distasteful, the DA’s became one of the first signings to Seymour Stein’s newly reorganized and nascent ’new wave’-friendly Sire label in late 1975. Nevertheless, the relationship between Sire and the Angels did not last long, the band remaining on the label just long enough to issue its debut single: a competent airing of Tim Moore's ‘Rock ‘N‘ Roll Love Letter’ (yes, the same one the Rollers did - how’s that for ideological commitment!) which, with no label support, unsurprisingly failed. Still, it appeared that at least someone had taken notice of the band; for as quickly as the band had been dropped, New York’s Private Stock label scooped them up, pairing them perfectly with early Blondie producer and ex-Strangelove, Richard Gottehrer.
Now, here’s the part where I am supposed to succumb to the predictable string of Bangs-ian hyperbole. About how not since Icarus has one band of believers soared so high amongst the vaulted heavens. About how the Dirty Angels struggled like Solzhenitsyn in a Stalinist gulag of merciless mediocrity and universal downer-despair. And how the LP produced by Gottehrer and the Angels cries out for reissue like that child in the burning rubble of Nanjing.
Well…uhhh, it’s pretty darn good actually. Amazing even, in light of the amount of cachet spewed over even the most middling of New York or Boston 'punk' acts, that has somehow - for whatever reason - managed to leave this stone undisturbed.
Sounding as if the poppiest tendencies of Richard Llloyd and Tom Verlaine mated with the classic girl-centric themes of very-proper-Bostonians Piper and the Sidewinders, the Dirty Angels first LP, ‘Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye,’ is every bit as seductive as the Cagney film from whence it takes its name. The production is patent ’Instant Record’ Gottehrer - sparkling and pristine - while the lead-off track and first single, ’Tell Me’ - with its ascending chorus and Telecaster riffing, seemingly tailor-made for a Greg Shaw end-of-year list - is every bit as good, if not better, than the Sidewinders’ ’Rendezvous’ or Piper’s ’Who’s Your Boyfriend.’ Though nothing else on the record quite equals it, the remaining eleven tracks on the album are all above-average pop - offerings stacked high with ample licks of spry, non-groin-grinding guitar.
Former New York Dolls champion Marty Thau is also thanked on the record’s reverse sleeve, leading me to believe that - contrary to the utter lack of information - the group were at least somewhat well-regarded amongst the New York/Boston cognoscenti. Be that as it may or may not, the Dirty Angels would no doubt have done better to engage the services of the mighty Thau on a more official, business basis; for despite a captivating LP’s worth of music of a consistently high quality and extreme hum-ability, ‘Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye’ failed to make a commercial or lasting critical impact. Following the LP’s almost pre-ordained death, Private Stock and the DA’s soon parted ways and no one wept.
The most common pit-fall of groups playing pop in the mid-to-late 70’s could best be summarized in a borrowed lyric from Howard Devoto - ‘shot by both sides.’ Spurned by the heavies, ignored by the teens, bands like the Dirty Angels were left to wither on the vine. And though the group did manage another LP on A&M two years later, it’s nothing on the strength or promise of their debut. As earlier stated, there is a dearth of available information on the Dirty Angels; seemingly, their only legacy was to groom the future bassist for the Joe Perry Project (!!!) - a fate I would not wish upon my worst enemy. ’Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye’ is an amazing and important record and not simply because it predates much of Boston or New York punk. It’s a record that should have succeeded in making the band stars…but, for whatever reason, did not. Still, if you come across ‘Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye’ in the mass graves of the cut-out bin or have ever wished for a more poppified Television in love with Tommy James instead of Rimbaud, the Dirty Angels are your band.
Chicago Blues Reunion is the house rocking collective of six legends of the blues behind Buried Alive In The Blues, the critically acclaimed DVD/CD package from Out The Box. Just awarded a four star review in the current issue of Rolling Stone, Buried Alive In The Blues documents their history, music, inspiration and legacy and now the band members are making a direct connection the cyber world on www.CBRband.com (click on “Online Forum” in spinning wheel).
Barry Goldberg (Hammond B-3), Nick “The Greek” Gravenites (vocals/guitar), Harvey “The Snake” Mandel (guitar), Tracy Nelson (vocals), Sam Lay (drums/vocals) and Corky Siegel (harmonica/vocals -- each one, individually, an icon of the genre -- have come together, not only in the band but online, as well. Each is now manning an interactive discussion board on cbr.com where fans can get their questions answered and discuss aspects of their respective careers. Mentoring younger musicians is another facet of the new feature that has just been launched on the band’s site.
Sunday, December 11, 2005
The Germs reunion
at the Echo, Los Angeles, Tuesday, October 25, 2005
by Falling James
Death has been good to Darby Crash; the paradox, of course, is that he hasn’t been around to enjoy it. Though there used to be a certain finality to his foolish suicide overdose in December 1980 – precluding the possibility of his ever selling out and becoming a stadium-level rock star -- it’s since become somewhat acceptable when the Doors, INXS, Human Hands, Lynyrd Skynyrd, and even Pat Smear’s faves, Queen, carry on without their presumably irreplaceable leaders. (Or when bands like the Misfits, Dead Kennedys and “Creedence Clearwater Revived” continue without their still-breathing former singers.) So why not the Germs? Punk’s not dead, even if Darby Crash is. If nothing else, these reunion séances are a clever promotion for the upcoming Germs movie. The crush of nostalgia trumps authenticity.
The twist here is that the three surviving Germs are joined by actor Shane West, who portrays Darby Crash in the biopic. West doesn’t look or act much like Darby (he’s physically more suited for the lead in The Metal Mike Story), but at this what-we-do-is-secret show he did a decent job of mimicking Darby’s surly singing growl. The problem, however, was his incessantly annoying chatter between songs, saying obvious things Darby never would have said. His tuff-guy bravado was punk enough, but just the narcissist macho rambling of any generic singer. West loved himself too much, it was clear, to channel the suicidal despair and complexities & contradictions of the real Darby Crash.
West tried too hard, when more mystery would have sufficed. Of course, he had the thankless job of replacing a legend, much less trying to communicate Darby’s poetic acuity or the irony that such a wasted punk rocker, who garbled incoherently, often away from the mike, was actually singing such refined poetry as “Let me brush the tips of inculcated desire.” Perhaps West will settle down given time. He kept throwing beer bottles into the packed crowd; he's lucky no one was hurt. The rest of the band should seriously consider giving West a shorter leash . . . or a script.
Didn’t Darby realize they’d just get some actor to replace him after the proper 25 years of mourning had passed? If only he'd realized that the simultaneous John Lennon assassination would crowd his performance-art rock & roll suicide out of the newspapers . . . Oh, Darby Stardust, you just needed a vacation, maybe some sunlight and vitamins. You shoulda stuck around.
When I arrived at The Echo, poet/belly dancer/singer Pleasant Gehman was stalking around outside with some lucky boyfriend. She looked like a vintage movie star/garishly glamorous goddess. After a set by the Adolescents and several delays, Donnie Popejoy introduced the Germs, while Don Bolles made smart-ass wisecracks about Donnie’s rambling remarks. Guitarist Pat Smear stood smiling impassively by his amp; reclusive bassist Lorna Doom showed up last onstage, out of nowhere. It was genuinely thrilling when Bolles kicked into the extra-splashy cymbals intro of “Circle One,” which skittered madly out of control once Pat and Lorna locked down into those flapping, slapping quick chords. “Lexicon Devil” followed with stomping exhilaration. “American Leather” was crushingly powerful, while Smear’s searing arpeggios lit up the slower-pulsed “Our Way” with sinister beauty. Lorna played those classic, simply doomy bass lines in between Don’s snare-spanking and cymbal-hectoring. Smear chopped up compactly crunchy, fuzzed-out-wacky riffs, dotted with occasional short-&-woozy solos among the fat power-chord punches.
The crowd was a weird mixture of surly young punk types, old scenesters like me, and a bunch of indifferent beautiful people who didn’t seem to be fans -- perhaps they were crew from the film or in the Industry or there to be cool. A couple of guys were filming, with big, expensive cameras, and were bumped around occasionally by the folks who’d taken over the dance floor with their crazy sideways dancing. The pit stirred fitfully, especially on “We Must Bleed” and “No God,” but the moshers, whoever they were and why ever they were there, were lethargic much of the time, slamming showily then getting tired halfway into a two-minute blast. How punk. Don’t dance if you can’t finish the song.
The Germs didn’t whip out rarities like “Golden Boys” or do any covers; they mostly ran through songs from G.I. (though not “Shut Down”) and the first E.P. Not that I’m complaining: Even at this strange and partial theatrical re-enactment, I enjoyed hearing the classics live, including “What We Do Is Secret,” “Media Blitz” and “Manimal” -- the stuff that rearranged my teenage life patterns. On “Strange Notes,” Pat Smear didn’t play the album version’s overdubbed bleary, sliding lead, which sounds so mesmerizing in the midst of this fast pre-hardcore song, but he filled the spaces live with his trademark harmonic shuffle-strum accents. He’d muffle his strings but still play with power and attack and get some great, ominous chunka-chunkas without having to thrash all six strings blindly like most guitarists.
An unexpectedly extended version of “Let’s Pretend” tripped out with Lorna’s primal bass throb and Don’s tom-tom rumble, as Pat’s psychedelic solo soared up the neck like a supersonic (youth) jet. Astonishing. That alone made the concert worthwhile. (Bolles pointed out that everybody got their money’s worth – it was a free show.) The set closed savagely with “Lion’s Share” and the Sisyphean patterns of “My Tunnel.” Darby once sang, “We don’t care how you get your kicks/We just care about Lorna’s trip,” so we tried to revel in this rare visit by the enigmatic Ms. Doom, and the chance to be to get torn up again by Smear’s flurry of rabid chords, instead of lamenting that Elvis -- and the ghosts -- had already left the building.
Maybe we shouldn’t have been there. Maybe this reunion without Darby was wrong and should never have happened. Maybe we were breaking into a haunted house, but it was inspiring to hear those Pandora’s-boxy chords and lyrics again, the manically thrashed and rushing drums, the coolly nonchalant bass plucking . . . these echoes at The Echo of the late or maybe just too early Darby Crash, echoes of his scabrous help-me-hurt-you baby wailing and sky-clawing nihilist poetry. “Gather up the broken chairs . . .” It could have been worse, and soon it all will be.
title: A Dog, A Dodo And A Fool
label: Smiley Turtle Records
personnel: Louie Simon (voice, drums, percussion, vocoder, bass, piano, tapes), Mike Bosco (voice, guitars, bass, piano, percussion, toy saxes, tapes, synthesizers) + guests
tracklisting: mrs. delicious, betty's pleasure, whatever happended to protocol?, a dog a dod and a fool, amber mitchell, beverly, crack in the mirror, she's a fish, pronto bill gets born, bomb me baby, the world's largest egg
POU weren't even from Utah. they were from Ohio, although I have no proof. where we do have evidence, it is of a desperately overlooked combo who managed to hone the, at times, ubiquitous Devo/Xtc/Residents-influenced 'rock' of the eighties to absolute perfection.
'A Dog, A Dodo And A Fool', marked the first in a series of excellent albums. not unlike the much lauded Tall Dwarves, Simon and Brosco are like two children let loose in a couple of music shops, raiding the vinyl racks and instrument drawers to produce deliciously warped songs that demonstrate real inventiveness and a talent for infectious melodies. tracks such as 'She's a Fish' and 'Amber Mitchell' showcase the band at their most eccentric (but still charming), whereas the likes of 'Betty's Pleasure' and the amazing 'Crack in the Mirror' are simply excellent songs with mildly unsettling undercurrents. the use of sampled vocal snippets throughout, plus the very different vocal timbres of Simon and Brosco themselves (one hiccupy and high, the other soothing and low) keep the album diverse and thoroughly engaging. the warm instrumental piano ballad, 'Beverly', and tempered audio experimentation of 'The World's Largest Egg', simply serve to extend the programme even further.
Proof of Utah managed to successfully cram so many influences into their albums, that they should appeal to almost anyone. of course, the only way to prove it would be to get your hands on this classic lp.
erik - http://www.cultwithnoname.com
Saturday, December 10, 2005
The chamber group and vocalists that accompany her lilting folk-rock meanders are utilized in unsettling ways that highlight the record’s understated weirdness. On the opening track, “A Day Away,” the players’ subdued burble rises gently like the sound of a band just downstream, while the listener floats closer, not knowing who or what he’ll see there. Elsewhere, they hum like bees in the garden, just out of reach, sometimes buzzing along with the lady, sometimes in opposition. Through it all, St. John slides along unflappable, a Fernand Khnopff sphinx on the River Cam. A small record, yet one that fills the room and lingers. (Kim Cooper, this originally appeared in the book Lost in the Grooves: Scram’s Capricious Guide to the Music You Missed)
Demy wanted the ominous throb of a brightly horrible city, and so brought in L.A. pysch maestros Spirit after seeing their live act at the Kaleidoscope. The band (formed in 1967 out of the Griffith Park love-ins) was in the middle of recording their sophomore LP (1968’s The Family That Plays Together) when Demy offered them the score and small roles in the movie. Some of the tracks wound up on Clear, the band’s next release, and the perceptible chill of that album hits absolute zero on this soundtrack. Spirit’s one national hit, the joyous “I Got a Line on You,” climbed into the Top Twenty just before the Model Shop sessions, and future prospects were excellent.
Spirit’s jazzbo/psych sound is indispensably Angeleno in its hard-edged hippie drooginess, evoking the skullbake irreality of the city’s pink sunsets and unhinged loners. Here the wit and cynic mysticism expressed in songs like “Fresh Garbage” and “Silky Sam” is bypassed in favor of cold atmosphere and improvisation. Usually given to mixing and matching songwriters, band compositions predominate on this disc, with hypertrophied solos and gnomic lyrics bobbing in an icy groove. Jay Ferguson was the band’s signature vocalist, addressing the Cahengua Ave. mob on “Now or Anywhere” in his doomfreak Yippie politician’s yawlp and returning to blister again on a spare version of Family’s album closer “Aren’t You Glad.” John Locke’s keyboards form the spine of these sessions, with Ed Cassidy’s drums and Randy California’s freakish guitar slapping brawler’s muscle onto the melodies. Tracks like “Fog” and “Green Gorilla” are revelations as to where soundtrack jazz might’ve gone had not Isaac Hayes invented soundtrack funk soon after.
Spirit’s discography can well stand as the loose-limbed American answer to late-sixties Traffic and Pink Floyd, with this missing piece as essential for jazz and movie-score enthusiasts as the original lineup’s first four albums are for everyone else. (Ron Garmon)
Friday, December 09, 2005
Here's the beginning of a tribute page to Bill-Dale Marcinko and his work, including AFTA zine, described as perhaps "the first comics 'zine distributed to book and comic shops that combined comedy, politics and reviews on books, films, and comics. It was very much an underground version of Crawdaddy, though with vastly personal content."
Thursday, December 08, 2005
So I have put a cap of 30 on signed, numbered copies of my new Neutral Milk Hotel book. 25 of those have already been assigned to the members of the band and the people who helped with the book. Book #30/30 is currently being auctioned at the link below. Maybe it would make a nice holiday present to the Neutral Milk Hotel lover in your life (or yourself).
thanks for looking,
Wednesday, December 07, 2005
Holiday Madness Sale! We at Scram have lost our minds. Our noodles are fulla doodles, and that's why for a limited time we are offering the following insanely crazy deals:
Subscribe your friends, three for the price of two. That's right, when you purchase any two Scram subscriptions, you get a third one free. Renew yourself or a pal, and provide names and addresses for two more friends to get four issues of Scramtastic joy in the months ahead. See subscription prices and much more info here.
Pay $25, get a priority flat rate envelope stuffed with Scrams. (Non-US customers, it's $33.) How many Scrams fit in a flat rate envelope? Around 9, give or take. Please state if you want Denny Eichhorn's Real Stuff book in place of some of the Scrams.
All Scram Holiday Madness Sale prices are valid through December 30, 2005. Payments can be made by check, money order or cash to Kim Cooper, PO Box 31227, LA CA 90031, or via paypal to scram @ scrammagazine . com. Please note what you are ordering and all subscription addresses and instructions, and include the words "I'M GLAD SCRAM'S GONE INSANE!"
Monday, December 05, 2005
For while the Burton-Sawyer team were highly skilled soul-pop craftswomen providing hits to the Young Rascals, Lulu and others, Lori Burton had the vocal chops to sell songs that would have tried the best singers of the day. Raunchy, breathy, emotional-yet-controlled, eating stupid boyfriends like hors d'oeuvres, hers is one of the great forgotten voices, and the big Spectoresque production serves it beautifully. “Nightmare’s” isn’t even the best first line on the disk. If you dig distaff sixties pop, you want to hear this.
Sunday, December 04, 2005
label: CBS Records
personnel: Henk Hofstede (vocals, dulcimer, keyboards), Robert Jan Stips (vocals, polysix, variophon, grand piano), Michiel Peters (vocals, mandolin, guitars), Rob Kloet (drums, lyra)
tracklisting: a touch of henry moore, unpleasant surpirse, vermillion pencil, springtime coming soon, tons of ink, jardin d'hiver, nescio, walls have ears, spirits awake, walter and conny, the cold eye, shadow of doubt
those in the UK get a very special treat this week when one of the world's most overlooked bands takes to London the stage for it's first ever full UK concert. despite clocking up no less that 30 years of boundless creativity, Dutch group The Nits still remain all but unknown outside pockets of continental Europe.
'Omsk' was in fact The Nits' fifth album, and it signalled a colossal leap forward in the band's outlook from eccentric new wave to an esoteric, if arty, maturity. 'A touch of Henry Moore' is quick to ring the changes. with its layered synthesized percussive textures and counterpointed vocals, it simply sounds like no-one else but...The Nits. even better are tracks such as 'The Vermillion Pencil' and the evocative 'Nescio', which show Henk Hofstede to be a Lennonish songwriter of enormous talent. similarly noteworthy are the subtle keyboard, drum and production touches that have become central to The Nits' sound. the drum fx on 'Spirits Awake' and aforementioned 'Nescio', are a handful of very many examples. and whilst the occasional track is unsubtle enough to remind you of The Nits of old ('Unpleasant Surprise' - very apt!), 'Omsk' remains one of the most defiantly individual, and adult, synthpop records of 1983.
from this point on, The Nits just got better and better, accumulating a massive body of work in the process. take your (nit)pick. you won't regret it.
erik - http://www.cultwithnoname.com
Friday, December 02, 2005
Thursday, December 01, 2005
Over on the weirdly formatted livejournal blog Zatara2000's "Confessions of a Pop Culture Addict," there's a great interview with Norb Soltysiak, who played Chet "Chubby" Morton in the live action Hardy Boys. Check the archives for more Hardy Boys scholarship.
Wednesday, November 30, 2005
The Amazon sales rank this morning is the highest I've seen: #3525
(7:30pm update: #2216!)
Shannon posted a comment to this blog pointing to her MP3 site, where she's just uploaded a few fascinating samples from a tape of unheard Jeff Mangum tapes that she inherited when she moved into Jeff's room in the legendary Monroe Street House. Tune in and enjoy.
And in more Continuum news, my brilliant Bubblegum/Lost in the Grooves co-editor David Smay--trust me, most of the best lines in those books were his--let me read his provocative and intriguing pitch for a 33 1/3 book on Tom Waits' Swordfishtrombones, which was a knock out. Series editor David Barker already has 70+ pitches to read for the series, and I am hoping this one will rise to the top of that stack.
Tuesday, November 29, 2005
Monday, November 28, 2005
I went to school for nearly six years. By school I, of course, mean university or college and I can’t for the life of me say why. I guess my Baptist upbringing coupled with too much teenage ‘existentialism’ somehow fooled my flintlock-brain into thinking that ‘yes, life is suffering…self-martyrdom is the way…you may have a choice, but it is in seeing the correct path and spurning it that you fully assert your fetterless free-will’ (this also shows that my high school self hadn’t quite grasped what existentialism actually was, though, with hindsight, I suppose that’s just as well). Throughout my late teens and early twenties, inertia ruled my life more than anything else. Graduated high school, kept going, got my B.A., kept going, had a slight nervous breakdown, thought I was gay, decided against it, got my M.A, stopped - again, not for any reason mind you, my academic inertia had simply run out with no Peter Cook around to top me off.
Leaving academia behind, I found I was less interested in things than ever before. At least in school, I had my rituals - the angst, the stress, the sleepless nights, the daily inscribing of I HATE SCHOOL on my hand in dripping, red felt-tip. Now where was I? Where do we go from here; Rex Smith didn’t know, so what hope had I?! An old, dead Dane once said in reference to life and things in general that ‘I can swim in existence, but for this mystical soaring I am too heavy’ and if I’m honest, I’m probably a little too doughy to fit through that camel’s eye myself. Luckily, and I should probably say providentially, I have plenty of records which do the mystic soaring for me and carry me with them - if only for a while - in faithful congress towards a vanishing-point infinity where I am resigned and contented. I don’t need to know what my life is all about; only that the next two to three minutes of it will be worth experiencing.
This is what truly great pop music is for. All the residual post-graduation badness and madness I was feeling - gone, eviscerated, melted away by this absolutely stunning disc of tunes by a late 70's pop combo from Tasmania named Beathoven (pronounced ala the Germanic composer, not the silly UK new wavers).
I wish I could find a better picture - you should see 'em! Full Dickensian Artful Dodger kit -- top hat, tails -- enough to make Martin Newell look underdressed -- dreamy wisps of brown, semi-longish hair -- all four of them prime dreamboat material as well as genuinely teenaged. Combine this with a slick, high harmony sound that is TOTALLY Beatles/Hollies-lite (note the Fabs homage in the band's name) and you have the Rickenbacker thunder-from-down-under that was Beathoven!
I came across these guys - Charlie Touber, lead guitar and vocals, Greg Cracknell, bass and vocals, David Minchin, rhythm guitar and vocals and ‘Beep’ Jeffrey, drums and vocals - as I’ve come across numerous other music industry casualties, through that lecherous king of the writing credit, Kim Fowley, who in ‘78 ‘discovered’ Beathoven after they were already a near-two-year-old sensation on their home shores, quickly slamming them in a studio to produce a few sides. Fowley - who had come to Australia in search of ’the next ABBA or Beatles’ - seemed impressed by the band’s ability to provoke - on command - mass amounts of underage female undress as well as their obvious debts to the structures of Vanda and Young. Predictably though, after declaring the band 'the future of rock ‘n’ roll,' Fowley quickly lost interest (most likely still smitten with the girl-band bug) and Beathoven were cast adrift. Nevertheless, this did not stop the four boys from Tas from tearing it up-and-down on the Oz tour circuit (ambulances were kept waiting outside their shows to deal with hysteric female fans) or from cranking out a killer album, the first single from which, 'Shy Girl,' ranks with the best of the Paley Brothers or Rubinoos (who, it should come as no surprise, were and are huge admirers).
The future seemed luminescent-lavender for the four Beathoven featherweights. Female fan hysteria not seen since the storming days of 'Easyfever' was a regular fixture at Beathoven gigs. Greg Shaw's pop-standard BOMP! magazine dubbed them ‘dynamite’ (the '78 Nick Lowe issue for all my fellow Shaw cultists) while the band's lone album also went directly to number one in ten states, flying in the face of all that was hard rock and nascent new wave. The four lads were even offered the honour of their own signature ice cream line - the late 70’s equivalent to the promotional cereal box - which would naturally have featured the boys’ charming name as well as ooey-gooey likenesses.
Nevertheless, by the end of ’78, after nearly two years of teeny bopping supremacy, it was clear that the members of Beathoven were deep in the clutches of the sickness-unto-pop-death known as the quest for artistic legitimacy (all sigh). Strangely however, this dread monster began to rear its stodgy head at the exact moment in which Beathoven were also enjoying their greatest flush of national notoriety. In December 1978, after a twelve month touring blitz of high schools and dances and numerous appearances on staid Antipode chart-show, Countdown, Beathoven were nominated as ‘Most Promising New Group’ (aka the Kiss of Death prize) on the annual ABC King of Pop awards. Beathoven’s competition on the night included Adelaide hoon-rockers Cold Chisel, Graham Parker copyists, Sports, token-punks the Teenage Radio Stars (very soon to revamp themselves as eighties art-popsters, the Models) and soft-rockers the Sutherland Brothers. Ostensibly, the award-winner was to be decided strictly upon the number of phone-in votes each band received. And obviously, amidst such a tacky line-up and knowing full well the demographic of people who actually call in to those things (90% pubescent females), Beathoven were the clear choice for victors. Nevertheless, in a result fixed by shady anti-pop industry types representing Mushroom Records, Mushroom recording artists Sports miraculously triumphed on the evening to wide jeers from the largely live audience. This set-back at the hands of a corrupt media-industry opened the first fissures in Beathoven’s pop foundation; cracks that would ultimately culminate in the band’s dissolution.
Still, bloodied yet unbowed, more sensational touring and Countdown appearances followed. By early ‘79, the membership roster for the Beathoven fan club numbered in the thousands as Beathoven performed for over 150,000 teenagers at various Australian high schools - a sonic-glimpse into one of these lunch period riots is provided on the CD and the sheer ear-shredding volumes of shrieks and screams rivals the final hours of Jonestown. By late-1979, however, the rot had definitely (not maybe) set in for the group; specifically, the band’s desire to be taken seriously - the death-knell for all pop! After a few line-up shifts too many (’let‘s sack the drummer!’) and outright hostility from their parent label, EMI (never the most tolerant of companies), Beathoven reinvented themselves in 1980 as sparkly-new-wave-popsters, The Innocents. Off went the top hats, tails and Lennon/McCartney fixations - on went Ian Hunter shades, close crops and short-back-and-sides Paul Weller complexes.
Though debuting with a resoundingly sound first single, 'Sooner Or Later' - a late Beathoven raver toned down for Jam fans - the Innocents soon stalled, seemingly more concerned with distancing themselves from their teen-pop past than they were with building upon their impressive first-fruits and making actual pop records. Much dawdling and cleverness then ensued with song titles like ‘Boeotia Blue‘ and ‘Beyond The Moon‘ if that gives any hint. The Innocents finally called it a day in 1986, after many line-up changes and a score of uneven, unrealized attempts at the selfsame pop golden ring they had rejected nearly eight years prior.
The Innocents/Beathoven story reads as a tragic textbook test-case of what becomes when self-consciousness meets pop. The two oppositional aesthetics mix like hobo moonshine and repel all, but the most desperate of egoists. Beware! Let Beathoven’s greater tragedy be a lesson to all and any who would seek the summit of teen power pop glory. Confucius say you don't come down from the mountain peak just to admire yourself in a different shade of light. Stay where you are and enjoy the view, you big dummies!
As for actually hearing Beathoven and not succumbing to the sickness unto death yourself, here’s your revelatory leap from the lion‘s mouth. While the original EMI vinyl remains decidedly hard to come by, your best bet for Beathoven or Innocents material if you're not in the Antipodes or possessed of a vast inheritance is a classy two-disc comp out on Zip records called 'No Hit Wonders From Down Under.' This really is the yardstick by which reissues should be measured: everything they recorded, liner notes, photos, period video clips (which are stunning), FAN LETTERS WRITTEN TO THE BAND and some of the best music to ever come out of the Southern Hemisphere (or the late seventies for that matter). Forget Young Modern, forget…well, actually, words can not properly convey what I would like to see done to the Hoodoo Gurus - suffice to say I would like to see all evidence of their distasteful existence expunged from the face of the planet. In terms of Aussie pop/rock or power-pop, only the Sunnyboys come close to outpacing Beathoven and even they’re a bit too moody (to say the least). The Zip records comp came out in 2001 so you can probably still find it if you dig - it is every bit as impressive and essential a collection as Black Vinyl Shoes or the lone album by the Toms. And you don’t have to believe simply me - just give a few of the fan letters below the once-over and practically hear the foam fizzing and dripping from rabid teenage jaws.
Dear Beathoven Fan Club,
Hi! My name is Andrea Coma [great punk name!] and I go to Moorligh High School. My problem is I love Beathoven. It's not realy a problem when you think about it, but every time I think about them, I get shaky, hot and sweaty. I've never felt this way about a pop group before and I kind of like it.
The concert last night was great. If you’re not doing anything Friday night, will you come out to my place? What did you do after you left the concert? I was going to come and kiss you goodnight. But then I thought I better not. Next time I see you, I will. My girlfriend liked the autographs. Give my love to David, he’s nice. When you come out to my place, don’t say anything about me writing to you - Mum would get mad with me. Thanks Charlie (for not saying anything).
Dear Beathoven - excuse the spelling if its wrong,
Hi Spunks - I'm one of the girls from Sunshine West High School. Remember when you'se came and had a concert at our school? You'se were just great, no doubt about that. That was our first concert we've ever had at Sunny West and believe me the whole school liked it as you'se all saw. The girls went wild over you'se (How's when CHARLIE went flying down the stairs - I wish you fell into my arms). I Imagine when you'se will be much bigger and for that I can't wait. After you'se left we had to get back to our school-work, but no one felt like working after all that. Anyway your names were all over the school furniture, desks, walls. It says on them, CHARLIE YOU SPUNK, and other nice things about you'se. And it was done it great big, black letters (!!!). I hope you'se have realized that your coat hangers are missing ‘cos a few of my friends happen to get a hold of them.
You know what to do.
Oh, and by the way, I'm Collin, my favourite colour's blue and I like my turkey deep-fried.
Sunday, November 27, 2005
label: Warning Records
personnel: Kurt Dahlke (all intruments)
tracklisting: minimal tape 1/2/3, it always rains in wuppertal, inland 1, minimal tape 1/8, danger cruising, inland 2, inland 3, minimal tape 3/7.2, barenstrasse, a have a good ride, inland 4, nord atlantik
despite being a contemporary - and member of - of other groundbreaking acts of the Neue Deutsche Welle ("German New Wave") genre, Pyrolator (aka Kurt Dahlke) has not been afforded the same level of recognition as the likes of Der Plan or Palais Schaumburg. he deserves much better.
by subtitling this instrumental debut album as 'muzak for daily live' (sic.), Dahlke probably did more harm than good, for 'Inland' is not some sub-par, Enoesque throaway, but rather a quite brilliantly recorded slice of experimental analogue moodyness. true, there are moments of engaging muzak, such as one or two of the 'minimal tape' pieces, but Pyrolator really excels on the mannered, melodic synth gurgles of tracks like 'Danger Cruising' and 'Have a Good Ride'. the album succeeds by squeezing real warmth from the synths, making even the occasional atonal track a remarkably pleasant trip (field recordings also help to add atmosphere here and there). the range of timbres expressed throughout will simply put any analogue synth fan into seventh heaven (especially on side two), and arguably challenges more well-known albums by the likes of Thomas Leer and Bernard Szajner for the title of...well, who knows what.
inland, but truly out of this world.
erik - www.cultwithnoname.com
Wednesday, November 23, 2005
As might befit anything at all that has to do with Dora, a few exculpatory and perhaps inflammatory words of introduction:
I'm going to piss members of the Southern California Surfing Industrial & Media Oligarchy off with much of what follows, and for that I offer no apology to any of them. They have their agenda, and I have mine. The two agendas hardly overlap at all, even in the water.
Especially in the water. I'm quite sure, that in their inimitably self-centered way, they will simply fail to deign to so much as acknowledge that the following words even exist, or, should the point be somehow forced upon them, they will belabor the position as loudly and longly as necessary that the worm who had the temerity to pen this prose could not possibly be LESS qualified to write upon a subject that they have long claimed sole ownership of, even as they continue to promulgate it as far and wide as their media skills and shills will permit.
Dora was a metaphor. Dora was several metaphors. Nobody owns a metaphor. Sorry guys, but that's just the way it has to be.
The Southern California Surfing Industrial & Media Oligarchy has unremittingly attempted, for their own self-interest and no other, to exercise sole control of surfing in the minds of all persons they can reach. These are people who seek to extract money and power from surfing, directly and indirectly. What happens to the people they exploit is of no concern to them and neither is what happens in any lineup as a result of their manipulations. You, and your wave are used and then thrown away and given no more regard than a piece of used tissue paper.
Further, SCSIMO is incestuously intimate with the Entertainment Industry insofar as that industry is centered in Hollywood in particular, and Southern California in general. The Entertainment Industry is, not to put too fine a point on it, an industry that is founded upon, deals in, and purveys to the greatest degree possible, lies. Brightly colored lies, and very seductive lies, but lies nonetheless. It's all "make believe." Except for when money gets put on the table.
Our authors, our book's "maker," and our subject are all irrevocably ensnared within Hollywood's tendrils of falsehood, and no matter how hard any of them protest falsehood in general and tinselly things in particular, it's abundantly apparent that they are all, in fact, part of the problem and not part of the solution.
Dora's tale is a cautionary one, among other things, and this aspect of the story is slighted right along with all the rest of what's slighted.
I WILL get to some encouraging words here sooner or later, I promise, but for now I feel I must go on with describing this book's glaring weaknesses, ok?
Dora's story arches far above the man himself, and most certainly even farther above his chroniclers. As a character for a "story" (and I find it interesting that the word "story" was inserted into the title as opposed to "biography") Dora is the equal of anything you might find in Greek Tragedy or Shakespearean tales of fatally flawed protagonists.
The shit's that good.
In a nutshell, the man drank from the Golden Cup and then, because of irredeemable personality flaws, immediately partook in the destruction of that cup for a handful of tarnished coins.
Once the Golden Cup had been taken away, Dora was reduced to a wandering life of exile that took him to high places and low, all around the world, but never returned to him that which he so foolishly had helped destroy with his own hands.
Dora was a sublimely gifted athlete, who received scant compensation for his abilities and grew bitter with the realization that he would never be compensated justly for his physical artistry, even as hucksters, greedy manipulators, and speculators all grew fat with profits extracted from the selfsame venue that he was the undisputed master of.
Dora was a fundamentally crooked person who parlayed socially engineered connections and his athletic gifts to gain entrance to venues he had no business entering.
Dora was a small time con man and thief who rose above his venality to exert an amazing influence upon an entire arena of human endeavor, an influence that redounds through the decades and continues to exert powerful sway over surfing to this very day.
Dora contradicted himself and everyone around him and maintained a laser-straight heading through life despite it.
Dora communicated elliptically at best, and yet managed to hit the mark squarely every time.
Dora loathed people but could not escape his need to be around them, whether to draw sustenance from them, mock them, gull them, or abuse them. His social skills were without parallel, but his fundamental inability to deal with most people honestly negated almost all their worth.
He craved possessions, but owned very little.
He hated bullshit in all its manifestations, and responded by attempting to bullshit nearly everyone he came in contact with to one degree or another.
He attempted to obfuscate himself, but could not resist speaking out in high-profile situations again and again.
He loved attention but he hated attention.
His surfing was both the creator and the destroyer of his life, even as he was a creator and destroyer himself.
I could go on with this, but I believe the point is becoming clear that Dora was a Gordian Knot of writhing inconsistencies, great beauty and insight inseparably coupled with the basest of motive and deed.
So then, where does any of this leave our book?
Choking in a cloud of dust, watching its subject disappear into the distance, for the most part.
Miki Dora is a fabulously rich lode of metaphor and allegory, and yet somehow this book fails to avail itself of any of it in a meaningful way.
To begin with, let's get back to the title, especially the word "story" therein.
A "story" is not a "biography" and the differences between the two words could not be better highlighted than through the thin framework of this book. The book itself seems to know that it's thin, and seeks to hide this as best it can. The page size is small, the margins are large, and the photographs seek to fill as much glaringly empty space as they can. Much padding shows through the words, not very many in sum to begin with, that fill its pages. It seeks to hide its inadequacies beneath a veneer of "artsy" gloss and pretension.
We are treated to a smorgasbord of small details concerning the man, but nowhere is there an overarching framework of extracted worth or merit taken from those details. As it stands, the book as a whole is achingly thin and watery, with no bone, muscle, or sinew to be found anywhere inside.
Dora is without doubt worthy of a serious treatment, but this book is not that treatment. This book is hardly any treatment at all, in truth. Instead, it is a swirl of self-absorbed pratings, done in a style that most closely resembles the sort of thing that you might hear from those who would cheer a squad of high-schoolers. "Hooray for our guy, he's the coolest, he's the best, rah rah rah!"
This unremitting self absorption and woefully blinkered "cool" approach are the stake that this book drives through its own heart. C.R. Stecyk III, to judge from the contents of this book, simply cannot write. There's really no other way to put it, unfortunately. Friend of Miki Dora he may have been, but writer he is not. Biographical details are substituted by endless name dropping. The whole self- absorbed Southern California mindset could hardly more accurately illustrated than it is through Stecyk's "prose." Endless lists of names, watering holes, and trivia are placed before us as proper information, but the masquerade is a porous one and easily seen through. Nothing is given any context, other than the context of cool. Miki is associated with all and sundry when it comes to Hollywood and Southern California Surfing (as opposed to surfing, simply, itself), and the fanboy characteristics of Stecyk's phrasing and sentence structure trumpet the fact that C.R. believes that we too, should stand in awe of the mighty coolness of California in general and Hollywood in particular, with especial awe reserved for the high and the mighty of the casting call aristocracy. In truth, none of these people actually DO anything, and instead merely exist to be looked at as opposed to the actual production of sensibly worthy output. Stecyk wants so desperately to be regarded as "cool" that he willingly poisons his own well in the attempt. His is a very small, very dark little planet, where just a few well-vetted chums authenticate his claim, and all else exists on the other side of an event-horizon that none of them are even aware of. It would appear as if being a "friend" of Dora comes at no inconsiderable cost.
Kampion suffers from the identical malady, but not to an equal extent. His symptoms are more subtle, and might even escape a casual glance from someone who wasn't looking for them in the first place. But they are unmistakably there, all the same. With Kampion's writings, you begin to wonder just exactly who this book was written for in the first place. That this kind of question even comes up, speaks volumes in and of itself. A biography is just that. The biographical detailing of a given person's life. Dora Lives is not a biography, whatever else it might be, or believe itself to be. And so the unanswered questions continue to dangle. Since it's not really a biography, then what is it? Kampion's prose fails to provide an answer, and instead seems to hold fast to the high school approach, thick with detail, thin on point. This book hovers fatally near pointlessness, and is only rescued at the last second by the size and solidity of its subject, no matter how poorly treated. Faux-profundity will never take the place of real investigation and the proper elucidation thereof.
So what shall we do with Dora Lives?
Reluctantly, I advise drawing it near as one might draw a very flawed family member near despite all the transgressions that have been committed.
Within this book there are words, and there are photographs, that will surely add to your understanding of Miki Dora. Take what there is to be had, and do not begrudge the rest.
For those who have never heard of Dora, this book will be very little help. VERY little. It presumes a foreknowledge of the subject matter and makes no attempt to examine that subject matter on any but the shallowest of levels, faux-profundity notwithstanding.
The subject of Dora is a deep one and still awaits its proper telling. It may sound odd, or even presumptuous, but Dora would have made a fine subject for the likes of Hemmingway or Steinbeck. Unfortunately, neither of those gentleman are around, and I really do not know who might take their place and give Dora his due.
What we would really like to see is a work that properly explicates Dora's story in all of its highly ramified implications.
Dora Lives tells us that Dora was regarded as the best of his day, perhaps the best ever, but aside from vague remarks about cat-like agility and similar puffs of smoke, completely fails to describe Dora's surfing. Why is this so? What was Dora doing on a surfboard that caused him to rise above all others? Would a proper book about an Olympic figure skater simply fail to describe the technical details of the skating itself? I hardly think so. So why is Dora Lives completely lacking in any technical discussions of Dora's primary claim to fame, his surfing? It seems absurd that such a vital piece of the puzzle could be left out, but that's what happened.
Dora Lives details numerous scams and contradictions, but fails to seek any larger meaning. Why is this so? In Dora Lives, Miki seems to exist in a cultural and moral vacuum, aside from the thin veneer of Southern California that envelops everything in a cloying, sticky wrapper completely devoid of all real substance. No threads are tied together, no lessons are learned, no real meaning is extracted from any of it. Instead, we have to make do with numbingly shallow conclusions that are haltingly drawn, as if by a child still groping toward a simple understanding of right and wrong. All of the deeper currents of human existence and meaning are completely ignored, and this utter failure to plumb the depths with precision and insight borders on the criminal. It is, after all, the crux of the whole Dora matter, and to see it given such short shrift is infuriating.
In conclusion, I can only hope that somewhere, somehow, there is someone out there with the brains and talent to tackle this most difficult subject, and that they will be given full access to all of the jealously-guarded information that will be required to do the job correctly.
Until then, we can idly flip the pages of books like Dora Lives, and hope for better days to come.
Monday, November 21, 2005
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The World of Neutral Milk Hotel:
Sunday, November 20, 2005
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