Odds & Sods Rock Biz

iPod vs music snobs

I found this little gem in the links column over there on the left side. It actually appears in the New Republic.


by Michael Crowley

Post date 08.24.05 | Issue date 09.05.05

the dawn of rock, there have been individuals, usually young men, of
argumentative tendencies who have lorded their encyclopedic musical
knowledge over others.” So states the introduction of the recent Rock Snob’s Dictionary,
compiled by David Kamp and Steven Daly. I like to believe I’m not the
insufferable dweeb suggested by this definition. Certainly, much of the
dictionary’s obscure trivia (former Television bassist Richard Hell is
now a novelist; Norwegian death metal stars actually murder one
another) is news to me. But I do place an unusual, perhaps irrational,
value on rock music. I take considerable pride in my huge collection
and carefully refined taste. And I consider bad rock taste–or, worse,
no rock taste at all–clear evidence of a fallow soul. I am, in other
words, a certified Rock Snob. But I fear that Rock Snobs are in grave
danger. We are being ruined by the iPod.

While the term “Rock
Snob” has a pejorative ring, the label also implies real social
advantages. The Rock Snob presides as a musical wise man to whom
friends and relatives turn for opinions and recommendations; he can
judiciously distribute access to various rare and exotic prizes in his
collection. “Oh my God, where did you find this?” are a
Rock Snob’s favorite words to hear. His highest calling is the creation
of lovingly compiled mix CDs designed to dazzle their recipients with a
blend of erudition, obscurity, and pure melodic dolomite. Recently, I
unearthed a little-known cover of the gentle Gram Parsons country
classic “Hickory Wind,” bellowed out by Bob Mould and Vic Chestnutt,
which moved two different friends to tears. It was Rock Snob bliss.

some ways, then, the iPod revolution is a Rock Snob’s dream. Now,
nearly all rock music is easily and almost instantly attainable, either
via our friends’ computers or through online file-sharing networks.
“Music swapping” on a mass scale allows my music collection to grow
larger and faster than I’d ever imagined. And I can now summon any rare
track from the online ether.

But there’s a dark side to the
iPod era. Snobbery subsists on exclusivity. And the ownership of a huge
and eclectic music collection has become ordinary. Thanks to the iPod,
and digital music generally, anyone can milk various friends,
acquaintances, and the Internet to quickly build a glorious 10,000-song
collection. Adding insult to injury, this process often comes directly
at the Rock Snob’s expense. We are suddenly plagued by musical
parasites. For instance, a friend of middling taste recently leeched
700 songs from my computer. He offered his own library in return, but
it wasn’t much. Never mind my vague sense that he should pay me some
money. In Rock Snob terms, I was a Boston Brahmin and he was a Beverly
Hillbilly–one who certainly hadn’t earned that highly obscure
album of AC/DC songs performed as tender acoustic ballads but was sure
to go bragging to all his friends about it. Even worse was the
girlfriend to whom I gave an iPod. She promptly plugged it into my
computer and was soon holding in her hand a duplicate version of my
5,000-song library–a library that had taken some 20 years, thousands
of dollars, and about as many hours to accumulate. She’d downloaded it
all within five minutes. And, a few months later, she was gone, taking
my intimate musical DNA with her.

I’m not alone in these
frustrations. “Even for a recovering Rock Snob, such as myself,” Steven
Daly told me, “it’s a little disturbing to hear a civilian music fan
boast that he has the complete set of Trojan reggae box-sets on his
iPod sitting alongside 9,000 other tracks that he probably neither
needs nor deserves.” It’s true: Even if music leeches don’t fully
appreciate, or even listen to, some of the gems they so effortlessly
acquire, we resent them anyway. One friend even confessed to me in an
e-mail that “I have been known to strip the iTunes song information off
mix CDs just to keep the Knowledge secret.”

But resistance is
futile. Even the Rock Snob’s habitat, the record shop, is under siege.
Say farewell to places like Championship Vinyl, the archetypal record
store featured in Nick Hornby’s High Fidelity. “The shop smells
of stale smoke, damp, and plastic dust-covers, and it’s narrow and
dingy and overcrowded, partly because that’s what I wanted–this is
what record shops should look like,” explains Hornby’s proprietor, Rob.
Like great used bookstores, the Championship Vinyls of the world are
destinations where the browsing and people-watching is half the fun. (A
certain kind of young man will forever cling to the fantasy of meeting
his soul mate as they simultaneously reach for the same early-era
Superchunk disc.) Equally gratifying is the hunt for elusive albums in
a store’s musty bins, a quest that demands time, persistence, and
cunning, and whose serendipitous payoffs are nearly as rewarding as the
music itself. Speaking of book-collecting, the philosopher Walter
Benjamin spoke of “the thrill of acquisition.” But, when everything’s
instantly available online, the thrill is gone.

Benjamin also
savored the physical element of building a collection–gazing at his
trophies, reminiscing about where he acquired them, unfurling memories
from his ownership. “The most profound enchantment for the collector is
the locking of individual items within a magic circle in which they are
fixed,” he said. But there’s nothing magic about a formless digital
file. I even find myself nostalgic for the tape-trading culture of
Grateful Dead fans–generally scorned in the Rock Snob world–who used
to drive for hours in their VW vans to swap bootleg concert tapes. My
older brother still has a set of bootleg tapes he copied from a friend
some 20 years ago during a California bike trip. Having survived global
travels from Thailand to Mexico, the tapes have acquired an almost
totemic quality in his mind. I feel the same way about certain old CDs,
whose cases have become pleasantly scuffed and weathered during travels
through multiple dorm rooms and city apartments but still smile out at
me from their shelves like old friends. Soon our collections will be
all ones and zeroes stored deep in hard drives, instantly transferable
and completely unsatisfying as possessions. And we Rock Snobs will have
become as obsolete as CDs themselves.

Let me just say this about all this IPOD nonsense: yeah, you can have a ‘great music collection’ instantly, but if you don’t know what it is, you don’t appreciate it and love it, you’re still nobody.
You’re just nobody with a lot of tunes but you listen to the same 300 over and over and you might as well be listening to the radio. You’re the person who puts Sgt Pepper and Pet Sounds and the 1st Velvet Underground album as your faves because they’re supposed to be great. I talk about my friend Michael Leone and roll my eyes when I hear he’s collecting the re-mastered
Monkees, but he knows what he likes and tells me why I should like it too. [Though I still think he’s throwing away money getting all those collection CDs of the Beatles and Stones when he HAS all the originals: burn your own for the
road, dude!]

Taste isn’t MADE by what you own, but in how you can define yourself by what you own. I had a lot of 80’s hair bands at one time, but I sold them because I didn’t listen to them… throwing them on once every five years didn’t justify me having it in the pile any longer. I hope someone else went into Half Price and went ‘Man, that’s JUST WHAT I was looking for!’ I wish everyone had a Rory Gallagher or Johnny Winter or some Peter Green era Fleetwood Mac, but some people are contented being spoon fed trend following cows and buying the top 40 and accepting music is only what got played on the radio and ‘classic rock’ is Elton John, Styx, Journey, and Eric Clapton and that all blues is Stevie Ray Vaughn. They’re not impressed by, oh the Warren Zevon collection Genius [except that ‘Werewolfs’ song] and would not understand what I would find appealing in an old black man playing slide guitar on an acoustic 12 string like Mississippi Fred McDowell’s Long Way From
, which are my pickups from this weekend.

so you can have your IPOD and you can have your 10,000 songs; like anything else, it’s just a possession to you. “I have ALL these albums and songs.” Give me my whittled down 900 albums or so, [what is that about 9000 songs?] because about 99% of them really MEAN SOMETHING
to me.

Reviews and Suggestions

Missed Gem

REVIEW: Rich RobinsonPaper [2004 – Keyhole Records]

So you were disappointed by Chris Robinson’s solo albums? They seemed
interesting, but not … complete? Like Chris needed a band that
understood him? Well friends I have the antidote and the cure and the
acorn did not fall far from the tree…

From the first stuttering riffs of Yesterday I Saw You on Rich Robinson’s Paper,
it’s as clear who is the soul of the Black Crowes. As clear as the
difference in the Mick Jagger and Keith Richards solo records.

Don’t misunderstand, I love Chris Robinson’s lyrics, but Rich is a
capable singer, and the music carries this record far. I don’t mean
that as a swipe; Chris was probably trying to move beyond or away from
the Black Crowes sound, where as Rich embraces and expands it a little,
and that familiarity draws you right into this record. Rich has none of
Chris’ yelp or strut in his singing voice, but that’s okay.

What can you expect? Well the first three cuts are walls of
swirling guitars; Yesterday I Saw You, Enemy and Leave It Alone
picking up where the Crowes Lions left off. Know Me
and it’s slide and lower production value harken back earlier days
sounding like a lost late era Zeppelin track, something cut at the same time as Wearing and Tearing and Ozone Baby that came out on Coda. Forgiven Song and it’s
slow funeral speed, pedal steel and fiddles play like Jerry Jeff
Walker’s Lost Gonzo Band doing the Stones Moonlight Mile. Veil and When You Will are
cousins of the Crowes’ Evil Eye and Non Fiction.

But with Places Rich explores an evil feedback drenched
overdriven riff unlike anything ever heard on his other band’s records.
Not Black Sabbath heavy, not CCR swampy, it’s just a plodding and
insistant groove that just drags you under with it. The mood is
lightened by Begin and it’s pre-Joker Steve Miller sound with nice
keyboards by Crowes mainstay Eddie Hawrsch. Falling Away is a great
slow acoustic ballad over which Rich lays some of his signature blues
bending. The keyboard driven Baby and Oh No allow Rich some open
tuning slide time. Answers with a string quartet in the background
and It’s Over are rhythym driven tracks, Answers being a bouncing
rhythym and It’s Over following a turnaround waltz !?!.

I say again, Rich is no singer, but his voice is as passable as
anything. I want to use Steve Miller as an example, but he’s even more
deadpan than that. But that’s not the point. This is a GREAT album that
you may have missed.

** And do NOT forget friends, that the Black Crowes are on tour this summer and fall WITH Steve Gorman back on tubs and a clean and sober Marc Ford back in the fold, leaving only bassist Johnny Colt out of the amazing and dynamic Amorica or Bust touring band.



Two recent posts on the RNR Report, one on the return of the summer posting schedule [ah, I do wish I had summers off again] and the mix tapes got me thinking about summer songs. And there are a ton that have the word summer in them [proved by a search on Amazon]… a few off the top being Summer in the City by the Lovin’ Spoonful [sorry, still do no think they are RNR Hall of Fame worthy], lots of people doing Summertime from Porgy and Bess, the best rock version being Big Brother and the Holding Company’s version on Cheap Thrills, Summer by War [more on that in a minute], Summer Nights from Grease, Sly and the Family Stone’s Hot Fun in the Summertime… just to name a few.

Anyway, it put me in the reflective mood thinking about how certain songs get associated with summers, especially your summers as a kid. For example, certain songs remind me of summers spent in the state parks of West Virginia when we lived there: Band on the Run by Paul McCartney and Wings, Miracles by Jefferson Starship and Grand Funk doing The Locomotion. And there’s certain songs I associate with summers with my grandparents when I was much younger like Do It Again [remember AM radio?] by Steely Dan, Dead Skunk by Louden Wainwright, Tie A Yellow Ribbon by Tony Orlando and Dawn, Hooked on A Feeling by Blue Suede and a terrible song called Playground in My Mind by Clint Holmes that was an AM hit in Pittsburgh one summer…

There’s also been some stinkers that get played every summer like Summertime, Summertime by the Jamies {I think, you know the onewhere they sing ‘Summer time, summer time, sum sum summer time’ with some thick East Coast acccent} and In The Summertime by Mungo Jerry. Geez what schlock!

Then of course there are the standards for summer like the Beach Boys and Jan and Dean and all those beach and car songs. I submit that a good War ‘Best of’ collection should be essential summer gear. All those great songs that just seem to be a soundtrack to the 1970s summers: Why Can’t We Be Friends, Cisco Kid, Low Rider, Summer, Spill the Wine, All Day Music, City,Country,City… talk about old school jams!

My high school years [1982-1985] are also dotted with classic summer songs like Magic by the Cars, Photograph by Def Leppard, Centerfold [and Love Stinks from the previous summer] by the J Geils Band, Who Can It Be Now by Men at Work, Jessie’s Girl by Rick Springfield, Cheap Sunglasses by ZZ Top, Tom Sawyer by Rush, Whitesnake’s Slow and Easy, Van Halen’s cover of Pretty Woman, Knocking at Your Back Door by Deep Purple … but those days we were getting into albums. We’d pile into someones car and go running around blasting Van Hal en, Sammy Hagar [pre-Van Hagar: remember Three Lock Box and Standing Hampton?], Led Zeppelin, ZZ, Whitesnake’s Slide It In, Don’t Say No by Billy Squier, the whole Pyromania record, Rebel Yell. Judas Priest’s Defenders of the Faith [Freewheel Burning still gets the old blood pumping!]…

The last summer I remember ‘summer music’ was the summer of 87: working in a record store and still young enough to not give a hoot. There were a few hot records that year: Faster Pussycat’s debut, Whitesnake [the one where Coverdale fired John Sykes and hired Adrian Vandenberg and Viv Campbell and they’d do all the Tawny Kitaen videos], Aerosmith’s Permanent Vacation, Metallica’s 5.98 EP of covers, Bon Jovi’s Slippery When Wet [I still hate it because I heard it so many times], the Cars under-rated Door to Door, Prince’s Sign O the Times, GNR’s Appetite, REM Document, Def Leppard Hysteria, U2 Joshua Tree, Replacements Pleased to Meet Me, Dwight Yoakum’s Hillbilly Deluxe…. what did I do that summer besides drink beer, play sand volleyball and listen to music? Oh, and go to work and listen to more music…

In the years since, sense of summer, other than the hot of Texas, has lost its meaning. There’s very few albums I still associate with summer since: the Smithereens Green Thoughts, Los Lobos Colossal Head, Superchunk’s Foolish… a few years ago I made a Summer Tape; actually I made all the Four Seasons in honor of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons… I just dug it out again to review and there’s not bad stuff: the War, Big Brother, Car Jamming by the Clash, Pulling Mussels from a Shell by Squeeze, White Lies by Jason and the Scorchers, Rockaway Beach by the Ramones, Iggy’s Lust for Life, Pretenders’ Night in My Veins, The Kings great from the summer of 1980 The Beat Goes On/Switching to Glide, Jimmy Buffet’s Livingston Saturday Night, AM Radio by Everclear…

Is there still something about summer we can all remember, days when you had absolutely nothing to do and had all day to do it? Summer days you’d play sandlot ball and hang out and ride bikes and play and play and play and not have a care in the world?

So next time you catch yourself staring into space in your cubicle or you’re driving home by some kids playing ball or riding bikes that are out for the summer, just kind of ask yourself how long the tape of your summertime memories would have to be and what songs you’d have to put on there…

Reviews and Suggestions


No Thanks! The 70’s Punk Rebellion

No_thanksThis 4 CD set, the forerunner to the Left of the Dial set, is an excellent collection of US and UK ‘punk’ from about 1974 to 1981 or so. Yes, a lot of these tracks were anthologized on Rhino’s D.I.Y series… sell them back. [Keep the Boston, Mass one!] Yes, there are a lot of tracks by the usual suspects [Ramones, Clash, Damned, Buzzcocks, Blondie, the Jam, X. Television, Patti Smith, Elvis Costello, Dead Kennedys… several of whom have catalog on Rhino!] NO, the Sex Pistols are not on the set. There were apparently sticky negotiations, but you own THAT ALBUM anyway don’t you?

What makes me saddest though is that this set points out the inadequacy of the Left of the Dial set. LotD is spread too thin, trying to cover all the cool bands in one fell swoop and really kind of failing to do any of them justice. Which points to a glaring need for a second LotD set or perhaps one called Riding the New Wave focusing on say 1980-1985 and then letting LotD intermix from college radio bands say 1984-1989 [Grunge]… Anyway, back to the great No Thanks.

Like LotD, I found a LOT of interesting things here I had not heard before. Just random playing right now, there’s Mink DeVille’s Loaded era-Velvet Underground sounding Let Me Dream If I Want To, Pere Ubu’s dark and spooky Final Solution, the Saints’ I’m Stranded and the Stranglers, who I have all ready gone and bought another collection by. I know I’ve heard Richard Hell’s Blank Generation, but I swear this is a cleaned up version that sounds so much more powerful than I remember. Same with the Stooges’ Search and Destroy. And OH MY GAWD, the X-Ray Spex Oh Bondage Up Yours! HOLY COW, where did Poly Styrene come from? And that’s just disc one!

There’s a well of the lost here: Generation X with Billy Idol up front come off very well with Your Generation and Ready Steady Go… the early Boomtown Rats tracks here, Lookin’ After No. 1 and She’s So Modern are so far removed from their “hit” I Don’t Like Mondays its hard to believe it’s the same band. The Avengers’ We Are the One is a fantastic lost cut. Ditto Don’t Dictate by Penetration, Homocide by 999, [My Baby Does] Good Sculptures and Top of the Pops by the Rezillios, Babylon’s Burning by the Ruts, Borstal Breakout by Sham 69… you get the idea.

Yes, there are some things I could do without… putting Joe Jackson’s hit Is She Really Going Out With Him? over some of his more exciting punk things like Look Sharp! or Got the Time or I’m the Man; Elvis Costello’s Radio , Radio and Joy Division’s Love Will Tear Us Apart AGAIN… but it’s a few little personal things versus a really great and dedicated set.

I hope this leads some people to buy Stiff Little Fingers and the Stranglers, the Jam, the Damned [whose Strawberries and Machine Gun Etiquette are out on re-issue!], the Vibrators excellent Pure Mania and the Dead Boys. As for myself, I think I will begin looking for the Avengers, some Soft Boys and the Rezillios…

4.0 Stars… that’s 4 Safety Pins through the Cheek to You!

Rock and Roll Reads

Too Weird For Ziggy

A while back, the Rock and Roll Report ran a fiction essay contest, which I happen to have won [probably by being the only entry, but a W is a W, though I am still waiting for my pat on the back from former Rolling Stone editor Ben Fong-Torres, by the way…], but I happened to be in the bookstore last week and I found a book that could have won easily with any of the short stories contained within: Sylvie Simmons’ Too Weird for Ziggy.

This collection of 18 stories, most running between 12-15 pages, though a couple go for 20, centers loosely on several recurring characters, mostly British rock stars, managers, hangers and journalists [including the author taking a first person perspective in a couple of the tales]. You’ll recognize the inspirations for the characters: Pussy, the sex kitten front woman who goes into seclusion when her songwriting guitarist/boyfriend dies in a car crash; Cal, the LA surfer boy who locks himself away from the industry for 10 years; Reeve, who channels the spirit of Jim Morrison for his ‘Tribute Band’ and winds up a German TV talk show host; Lee Ann StarMountain, the country singer with the fire and brimstone mama from Hell; Jeanie, the obsessed groupie who writes her letter of devotion on a roll of hotel TP to be delivered by the maid…

Some of the stories are downright WEIRD, like Allergic To Kansas, a tale in which the alpha male lead singer grows female type breasts in some sort of stress reaction and Too Weird For Ziggy in which a manager attempts to revive/reanimate his ‘dead [thought it never says physically or just dead career wise] Bowie-type star.

But there’s also the wickedly funny Spitting Image, in which a spoiled pretty boy star buys his robot/puppet likeness from an exhibition and throws it a reception only to receive an ear and a Polaroid from somewhere, but not a ransom note… and continues receiving them until one day in Hollywood… Close To You about a series of apparitions of the true holy mother Karen Carpenter and the Karen Clubs that spring up in their wake [blasphemous to be sure, but with a wink and a grin]…

This book just reads like a series of vignettes for a straight to DVD Rock and Roll Twilight Zone movie. Picture three people, a writer, manager and roadie all sitting in a bar swapping war stories and gossip… My speculation is that this is the stuff real rock and roll writers do while waiting in bars, airports and hotel rooms. According to her credentials, Simmons has done her share of waiting, writing for Mojo, Rolling Stone, Kerrang, Q, Sounds and Creem [BOY HOWDY!].

There’s nothing earth shattering here; it’s not Dante’s Inferno or even Psychotic Reactions and Carburetor Dung. But it’s a quick and fun read, easily devoured during a week of lunch breaks or wherever you do your reading.

Odds & Sods

I Love You… Now Change?

I was thinking the other day [instead of concentrating on my JOB] about R.E.M. because of the impending [as in doom] release of the Warner Bros. years catalog [remastered, bonus tracks, all the bells and whistles]. And I asked myself, why did I grow to … loathe this band so? Did I turn away from a band that did some very good/bordering on great work in the 80’s or did they turn away from me? Which led me to a broader question: How is it that we can complain about bands who change and also complain about bands that stay the same?

Let me state up front that this is not to bash R.E.M.; I wouldn’t buy one of their new records if they were giving away gold bricks with them, but I can say the same for U2 after the disasters that were Zooropa and Pop. And while I see myself interested in only ONE of the WB catalog, the under rated Monster; maybe Greenused, and I still believe they should have followed their original plan and broken up with the millennium [or when Bill Berry quit… Buck lost a powerful part of his rock and roll voting block there and Mills and Stipe took advantage of the power vacuum], I can see that some people still did them. I don’t get it, but I don’t get a lot of things. Who are they making record for these days? Is there some urgent void in music that only they can fill or is it because it’s what the DO, the only thing they CAN do??

Staying on R.E.M. for a second: they made those great jangly records in the early 80’s that no one was making anymore. Peter Buck and those Rickenbacker’s and clean arpeggios ringing out like bells instead of sludging around in power chords like everyone else… it was another breath of fresh air. And that group was frighteningly original, the bass player and drummer only falling together by accident most of the time, not locked into each other like every other band, and Michael Stipe like a big old fog horn in the middle of it all. [Thanks to Musician magazine for the imagery]. They showed a touch of roots in folk, musically and politically] beginning on Reconstruction of the Fables/ Fables of the Reconstruction [Green Grow the Rushes, Wendell Gee], but by the time of their major label debut, Green, featuring the worst pop song in the history of music, Stand, they seemed torn between folk and rock, not really finding a middle ground, and it seemed the album suffered as a result. I was disappointed in their next effort, the decidedly un-pop but very popular Out of Time [well produced, but kitschy], never heard much of Automatic for the People, reveled in the return to rock of Monster, then got lost in the lushness of New Adventures in Hi Fi, bought Up, listened once and sold it back…

The band changed, but so did I. Why was I unable to roll through these changes? What was it about these albums that made me want to retch? How about the Replacements fan who put on Don’t Tell A Soul and said ‘What happened to my favorite band?’ Neil Young changes styles and bands like some people change their jeans, and not that I like every one of Neil’s records, but you can never be sure so you have to check them out. David Bowie is also famous for his changes and shifting gears and again, some of it works better than others. Ryan Adams is struggling with who he wants to be. I think part of him wants to be a rich and famous Rock and Roll STAR, and part of him wants to be the guy with the guitar singing sad songs in bars, and the only time he’s put them both together in a completely satisfying way was Gold. Unfortunately I can no longer buy his records on the strength of his name. Unfortunately Aerosmith is stuck making their 90’s records over and over and now they’re something I can’t stand the sight of anymore. They updated their sound for Permanent Vacation, a good [not great] record, Pump rocked, they they [or their record company] decided they have to sound like Bon Jovi and they have ever since, much to the dismay of those who remember and still worship Toys in the Attic and Rocks. U2 also updated their sound with resounding success on Achtung Baby, but then did one okay record and one over the edge record and now I am no longer interested, no matter how much you tell me they sound like Boy or War. Wilco continues to make challenging and interesting albums, refusing to be locked into anyone’s box. There may come a day when I say Tweedy too has gone to far though.

On the flip side of the coin, we have bands that don’t change: the safe as milk bet. Son Volt made Trace, then Trace 2 and Trace 3… or so it seems. One was a critical hit and a good record, why didn’t the other two connect in my mind? The Stones changed way back in ’68 and grew into something great, but they’ve been regurgitating that formula ever since ’72 with mixed success… only Some Girls and Tattoo You seem to have had any lasting bite in the last 25 years! AC/DC continues to go in and out of style, but they rarely alter the formula. The Black Crowes regurgitate the Stones, Faces and Zeppelin but I love that…

I guess I just need to know if we’re all thinking the same way: we want what sounds different but the same from out favorite bands. We want them to grow but not grow. We want to grow up but not change too much. We want to have it both ways.

The great part of music is that what I like and dislike and what you fellow listeners like and dislike are all matters of opinion. I try to make you a convert to what I like and vice-verse. We argue, we debate, but I think in the end we agree that we will never all agree. And that’s the fun part. You make me explore something I haven’t heard before and I turn you onto something. The we all gang up on someone else and make him listen to something we both like. And the beat goes on, eh?

Rock History

Eulogy for Dr. Gonzo

Reflections of Hunter Revisited: Last Thoughts on Hunter S Thompson

After a couple of weeks to reflect [and a wickedly funny tribute in this week’s Doonesbury]
to review and reflect on HST. In reviewing that last book, Kingdom of Fear, I still think that the The Doctor’s writing
had been sliding, but it is only in comparison to the strikingly
radical work he did in the 70s. No respectable journalist had ever
inserted themselves as part of the story. A GOOD journalist was
supposed to present the facts as a disinterested observer and let the
reader draw his own conclusions. Hunter not only injected himself,
often violently, into his stories, he often let his biases and opinions
be slathered all over a story like barbecue sauce on a brisket. It’s a
style few have been able to copy, though PJ O’Rourke seems to be able
to pull it off on a less grand scale.

Of course Hunter had free reign at Rolling Stone,
a freedom that allowed him to ramble at great length between making his
points. So of course the 80s and 90s attempts to package Hunter into
bite sized easily digestible [and mainstream] columns were a failure.
It’s akin to having Michelangelo painting postage stamps or engraving coins. Some
people need large canvases for their work and Hunter was one of those.

that Hunter was a little older than the people he wrote for. When he
was 30 in 67 or 68, he was all ready a seasoned world traveler writing
for the National Observer, The Nation and Scanlan’s and he’d all ready written Hells Angels.
He’s go through Chicago, Nixon’s election and go hide out in Vegas
where that book was born of a depraved and drug addled mind. But
Thompson was able to turn all that warped perspective into a tool. He
was able to come back from mind bending binges and focus the razor
sharp insight and describe it to us. Something as simple as describing
tail lights flashing by at 100 mph at the end of Angels, just a simple
zaaappppp… Brilliant.

Think also of all the changes in media
during his career; from twice daily newspapers and large glossy
magazines to the instant news of the internet and satellite and cable
TV; from manual typewriters to the IBM Selectric to the PC and laptop;
the 18 minutes per page Mojo wire to the fax to instant email… I
don’t think Hunter wanted to see the first cyborgs, humans with instant
communication ports built into them; sit down at your laptop and think
it and it appears on the screen and is published on your web page.

make no mistake, Hunter’s impact is HUGE on the Blogger nation. There’s
thousands of us HST wanna bes out here and now we have our forum. The
BLOG has opened up media the way the four track recorder opened up the
music business… who knew there were so many after work Jimmy
Page/Eric Clapton/ Johnny Rotten’s out there? But we are all pale
imitations of the master. Surely his writing was an exaggeration, a
larger than life tall tale from a vivid imagination. He knew Americans
like their heroes BIG, like everything big, loud and bold, so he was.
But one could only maintain that peak, ride that wave for so long, and
it became obvious that the burnout was beginning by the time he covered
Ali/Spinks for Rolling Stone in 1978 [reprinted in The Great Shark Hunt collection].

guess my point is this: Hunter S Thompson will be remembered as a radical voice
for a radical time; in other words the right voice at the right time.
But like many of his readers he burned through the nova of the late 60s
and early 70s very brightly then imploded into… the stardustof Joni Mitchell’s Woodstock? The anger
and repulsion of the twin national nightmares of Vietnam and Watergate
took a heavy toll; what was left to do after the war was over and Nixon
dropped out of sight? Thompson seemed to wander aimlessly after the
fall of Saigon piece for Rolling Stone [also in TGSH collection],
occasionally surfacing with something to remind us of how great he
could be [the Roxanne Pulitzer trial coverage, A Dog Took My Place or his last words on Richard Nixon, both in RS], refusing to do another Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail, perhaps knowing you can only get away with that once. Mostly he retired to his compound in Colorado where he could only do harm to himself. Mostly.

many of out heroes, it’s hard, sad, almost painful to watch them in
decline. Think of Ali, still dignified but silent and shaking in the
throes of Parkinson’s. We Want to remember Ali as The Champ, the Ali of
the Rumble in the Jungle and the Thrilla In Manila. We want to remember
Elvis as a young vital newly minted rock and roll star, not Fat Vegas
Elvis. We like our heroes young and energetic. Jimi Hendrix, Janis
Joplin, James Dean, Jim Morrison, Marilyn Monroe: all forever frozen at
their peaks. We never suffered through bad albums, horrible movies,
fat, balding, rehab, etc. Jack Kennedy forever enshrined with his youth, enthusiasm and
energy still very much alive. And we wanted Thompson to be the Thompson/Raul Duke of Fear and Loathing forever. Now he will be.

Thompson wrote his own eulogy at the end of Hells Angels:

with the throttle screwed on there is only the bareset margin, and no
room at all for mistakes. It has to be done right… and that’s when
the strange music starts, when you stretch your luck so far that fear
becomes and exhilaration and vibrates along your arms. …The Edge…
There’s no honest way to explain it because the only ones who know
where it is have gone over. The others-the living- are those who pushed
their control as far as they felt they could handle it, and then pulled
back, or slowed down, or did whatever they had to when it came time to
choose between Now and Later.*

So long Hunter.

*from Hells Angels: A Starnge and Terrible Saga – 1966


Does anybody care anymore?

03/07/05- “BW&BK reports: To tide fans over before a new studio release, Velvet Revolver is planning on unveiling a live album and DVD at some point.

“We record everything,” Slash says. “We’ve done a bunch of shows where we’ve full-on multi-tracked and we’re actually mixing the stuff.”

What is going on here? A band has one album and they’re ALREADY talking live album? That’s insane!

There used to be a real spot in rock and roll for live albums. And live albums used to mean something. But now it seems they’re just part of the souvenir packaging available at shows. [Grabbing back, leaning on my cane…] Back in my day all we got was a lousy T-shirt or tour book.. and we liked it!

There was a period when the live album was used to break an artist, to use the energy that a band would feed off of during the live show to drive them to new heights. Of course, a lot of them seem rooted in that mythical time when rock and roll was going through it’s adolescence and not afraid to experiment a little, roughly 1969 – 1976… starting with, oh 1969’s Live Dead by the Grateful Dead and ending with Frampton Comes Alive or [maybe] the Stones’ Love You Live. Think about some of the great live albums in those years:

Allman Brothers – Live at the Fillmore East
CSNY – Four Way Street
Rory Gallagher – Irish Tour 74
J Geils Band – Full House
Humble Pie – Performance: Rockin’ the Fillmore
Kiss – Alive!
Lou Reed – Rock N Roll Animal
Rolling Stones – Get Your Ya Yas Out
Johnny Winter And… Live

Wishbone Ash – Live Dates

After this golden period, the live album became a ‘rite of passage’ or a ‘contract filler’…think about mediocre live albums like the Stones Still Life, Aerosmith Live Bootleg, J Geils Blow Your Face Out, David Bowie’s David Live, Fleetwood Mac Live, The Alice Cooper Show, any number of Grateful Dead double discs that could have been cut back to single albums… sure there were a couple great ones like Cheap Trick at Budokahn and Foghat Live, but they became exceptions.

Now it appears that bands are using the live album as another concert souvenir. I blame the Grateful Dead for this mess, but Pearl Jam releasing all those live shows and the Stones, Pink Floyd and Paul McCartney following each tour with a live album set an ugly and dangerous precedent.

A live album does not give the experience of seeing the band from your chair, trying to see around people or trying not to choke on all the smoke in a bar show and the guitar player taking an extra solo because the singer is yelling at the monitor engineer… but it DOES put a part of that experience onto plastic and freezes it like a photograph as compared to a video. Frampton found this out on his next tour following the live album. I remember reading an article in the 90s where he described the next tour as hell because ‘they didn’t want new music, they wanted the live album.’

My point is this: in a mass consumer, instant gratification age, where there is a lot of competition for the dollar, this is just bands taking advantage of people wanting to consume product and being obsessed with bands. Instead of saying ‘Use your dollars to check out some of the people who influenced us,’ I think this is saying [in the words of the Thamesmen a/k/a/ Spinal Tap] ‘Gimme Some Money.’ The Stones, Pink Floyd, Paul McCartney, Pearl Jam, etc need more of your dollars for their old age retirement funds.

In recent years there has also been a huge glut of previously unissued live works by ‘Classic Rock’ acts, such as the Live at the BBC series, Live at the Fillmore [Jefferson Airplane, Santana, Janis Joplin… you know Bill Graham also recorded AND FILMED a lot, if not all the acts that played there…] and the King Biscuit Flour Hour series. We’ve also seen additional or expanded live releases by the Who [Isle of Wight, and TWO expanded Live at Leeds packages], Jimi Hendrix [always a target for the questionably legal release, hopefullly the family is getting some $ for these releases], the Led Zeppelin live album that for years the band refused to do [saying The Song Remains the Same would be the only live release… how many Benjamins did it take to change Jimmy Page’s mind?] and the Doors Hollywood bowl appearance [with a rehersal added too! Which do you think Jim was more sober for?] and The Band’s Last Waltz. Again, all these recoding paid for and/or written off years ago. How many of these are truly quality performances? Is there historical significance to any of these performances? Okay, I’ll grant the BBC tend to be very good and the Zep is very good, but I do not have much interest in a lot of this any more; I am looking for something NEW, not rehashing past glories. Is this just the record company’s last grab at the Baby Boomer’s yearn for nostalgia?

This is the same argument I have against endless repackaging of bands. How many Best of the Doors are there? Aerosmith? The Stones? The Beatles? The Who? Record companies issue these because the material is all ready paid for several times over, it’s proven to sell and they usually pay a lower royalty rate on repackaged material. It’s a money grab by the record company!

I have nothing against getting a best of to check out a band you know little about, just don’t get fooled into buying the same song ten different times. And beware of the live album… once you have it you will forget your real concert experience and only remember what you hear on that piece of plastic.

Artists and Bands

Graham Coxon Live

The Departure sound, and look, like your typical nu-new-nu-wave band. Skinny boys with slightly stupid haircuts and straight clothes. Most of the songs sound the same, with verses about “you” and “I” and maybe a gap for some foppish posing. The songs churn past you, with the occasionally inspired elastic band riff to mark a bridge, or, if they’re feeling adventurous, a bit of feedback. “Graham Coxon is in the room next to us”, says the singer. “I’ve not been brave enough to go say hello yet.” That, you limp wristed mockery of masculinity, is because you realise that you are before a great man. Go away with your over-polished, under-mixed, asexual pop.

Graham Coxon is 35, going on 16. Despite flirting with the genre, in and around the ‘Modern Life’ era, he never really got on with the new wave, snappy kind of pop. It lacked room for chaos. Graham Coxon is a man who likes chaos. It may have been produced and EQ’d away on the albums, but live, you always knew Coxon had a penchant for destructive sound forms that bordered on the unhealthy, perhaps even, the maniacal. Despite having as many guitars, and even smaller amps, than the previous bands, Coxon’s group is twice as loud, several times heavier, and a lot more focused than the preceding acts.

Opener ‘Spectacular’ was always going to be exactly that. Just shy of two minutes into the set and already Telecasters are in the air, strings are being bent to the point of snapping, picks are bludgeoned into strings, and amps are dragged, kicking and screaming, into feedback. The ears, too, are already ringing – Coxon has his own brand of tinnitus. No posturing here. He wears his guitars at a workman-like height; no low slung guitar thrusting. And if he needs to stick his leg into the air and hop until he falls over, then that’s just what he’ll do.

Perhaps he’s aware that his newer album really wasn’t what it could have been. Signalling that he’s fallen out of love already with his over-polished and professionally produced recent work, the majority of tonight consists of punky B-sides. Tellingly, only one other album is really featured: his quasi-metal horror movie, ‘The Golden D’, the very antithesis of the anaemic ‘Happiness In Magazines’. So bored with it, in fact, that the encore consists of just two songs – only one from the new album (the first closer being ‘The Sky Is Too High’s alarming ‘Who The Fuck?’) – and the very final one is the eight minute, planet-shaking instrumental, ‘Lake’. He walks off stage, without saying word, but leaving his guitar to feedback on it’s stand.

“I can’t believe he played Lake,” said a fan on the tube home. “It’s a typically Coxon “fuck you” to the fans.” What? He doesn’t understand. That was Coxon’s little gift to the people who go to see him, who want to hear him turn bad noise into good noise.

Matt Clark

Rebeckah Pearce and Matt Clark are veteran UK-based music journalists who have been published in numerous rock and roll mags like Kerrang! and Q.


Hey Rube!

It’s with a sadness in my heart I type on the death of the famed journalist Hunter S Thompson.

True I am one of the legions who felt Thompson’s writing had been ‘going downhill’ in recent years. So disappointed in 2003’s Kingdom of Fear [I felt it covered a lot of the same ground as Songs of the Doomed; Hunter seemed to be stuck in the Gail Slater-Palmer trial], that I skipped Hey Rube, as just a collection of columns for ESPN Page 2, some of which were entertaining and caused a smile, but nothing that lit the world on fire. Thompson’s last great work, for my money, was 1994’s Better Than Sex, a good mix of Thompson’s political view and humor. Thompson’s scattered work since his firing from Rolling Stone in the mid-Seventies never equaled that time again. As America sank into the mellow sounds of the Eagles and Fleetwod Mac and Steely Dan, Thompson faded into a self induced sunset, popping up only occasionally for his short run at the San Francisco Examiner and the ESPN column and an rare special in Rolling Stone. His piece on the death of Richard Nixon may have been his finest work of his last years.

Thompson will always be best known for Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, and well he should. It is truly a first person masterpiece of exaggeration and braggadocio. It will be the On the Road for a generation. Hells Angels: A Strange and Terrible Saga brought Thompson to the attention of mainstream America, not quite realizing that the journalist was about to spike its collective sugar cube the way the San Francisco bands were spiking the cube for rock and roll. Thompson said himself in Fear:

“San Francisco in the middle Sixties was a very special time and place to be a part of. Maybe it meant something. Maybe not, in the long run… but no explanation, no mix of words or music or memories can touch the sense of knowing that you were there and alive in that corner of time and the world. Whatever it meant…”

But in finding his own voice, a voice of the ‘Counter-culture’ that read Rolling Stone magazine, Thompson became a legend for all the wrong reasons. He became a cartoon, almost literally, inspiring Gary Trudeau’s Uncle Duke in the Doonesbury [another voice of the ‘Counter-culture’], for which he was never given a cent. [And, in my humble belief, inspiring the bald, chain smoking, drug and booze ingesting, city hating, firearm loving, gonzo political journalist in Garth Ellis’ excellent Transmetropolitan comic book.] Thompson became famous for his massive intake of drugs and booze, which no doubt fueled his own madness. I fear that in finding his own voice, Thompson locked himself in his own box. Like Jim Morrison, he had a reputation that had to be lived up to that may have ultimately lead to his demise.

Thompson quipped “I do not advocate the use of dangerous drugs, wild amounts of alcohol and violence and weirdness – but they’ve always worked for me.” Did they finally all take a massive turn on the depleted body and mind of Thompson? In coming days we may know if his mind or body [or both] were found in recent months to be deteriorating from disease or abuse… my guess if this is so, Thompson would not want to be seen as an aging deteriorated shell of himself as Ronald Reagan was for his last decade. Thompson had all ready lived fast, but somehow managed to avoid dying young; perhaps he was leaving a good looking corpse and the memory of him still in his prime.

We may really never know. Like Lester Bangs, HST is now immortal in the literary world. His genius can no longer be called into question. He did inspire a generation to just write what they had to say and not worry about the rules of the English language we were taught in high schools and colleges across America. You can even make up your own word to describe your style, like Gonzo, which is now a term for any writer who seems to break ‘established rules,’ whatever that means.

We suspected Thompson couldn’t live forever, all evidence to the contrary. I loved his writing, I loved his style [or non-style], though I have learned in recent years not to put too much trust into heroes, as they are only mortal men like the rest of us. His sad and shocking decision to pull the plug himself will only be equaled by Papa Hemingway’s suicide and the brutal murders of John Lennon and Darrell Abbott just for making music. We really don’t know what demons HST was fighting up there in his compound, nor for how long. I suspect though that once the decision was made, it put the man at peace.

So long baby,SALEH, EXCELSIOR and Amen.