I’d heard of the Silver Jews, but I never listened to them. I had no idea that Berman started his first band with Stephen Malkmus, who soon after started Pavement, one of the most successful of the 90s indie bands.
I like Pavement a lot, on record. I saw them twice live and didn’t think things held up. The tension that made the records strong was lost on stage. But the records are really good.
And when David Berman died this week, and I read more about him, I was sorry I hadn’t checked him out sooner. He was a satirist, a romantic of sorts (as satirists often are), and even more shambolic than Pavement. What I wasn’t prepared for when I put on American Water, his 2008 record that is generally considered his masterwork, was how much it felt like Pavement.
But I’m not here to figure out where dividing lines are. Malkmus plays and sings on American Water. Pavement was never a hit, but they were selling albums and playing lots of shows at this point. It’s hard not to imagine that Malkmus was suggesting getting a little more dynamic, putting more into the mix, whatever. I don’t know.
What I know is that American Water is a pretty good record, and my favorite parts were those that Malkmus wasn’t singing, wasn’t playing. Berman’s voice is not that of a singer, but his words are those of a lyricist who comes from poetry. They’re good! And the songs aren’t always songs, but they’re useful settings for the words and some guitar solos that can capture you for a moment, and then seem to forget why they’re there.
So, trying to figure it out I visited Pitchfork and found a near perfect record review/appreciation by a guy named Mike Powell. It was only written 19 years or so after the elpee came out, but that doesn’t matter. Listen to the album, read this review. I’m not sure how much there is to all of David Berman’s musical career, but this is a great place to start.
Laughner was a member of Rocket From the Tomb and Pere Ubu, influential, more heard of than heard bands from Cleveland. He said he wanted to be to Cleveland what Brian Wilson was to LA and Lou Reed was to New York, but instead died in 1977 at age 26 mission unfulfilled.
A record company called Smog Veil has just released a five-LP box set of all known Laughner recordings, mostly self recorded in the late night by himself. The NY Times has a story about the release today.
While you read it, here’s Ain’t It Fun! Laughner’s hit, which was later covered by Pere Ubu (if that’s a cover), the Dead Boys and Guns and Roses.
It took a while, but I found a fine Colorado radio station out of Fort Collins called KRFC. The frequency is 88.9.
But of course in this modern age, and I’m in Boulder, the radio signal is kind of weak (though they’re running a fund raiser to go to 50K watts) so I get a lot of static, unless I load the website.
Anyway, KRFC is fantastic, one of those radio stations that gives the programming to the DJs and stays out of the way. I keep hearing live shows at noon of local talent. Some good, some not, always worth listening to. I think that’s the bar. Are you worth listening to?
Live and learn. I found the source for my Wicked Lady post. Dangerous Minds.
There was also a band called Wicked Lady in the Netherlands in the late 70s. This clip is from 1981.
If you listen to the songs linked in the Dangerous Minds story you’ll find some good sounds with some pretty weak songs. This might be the best of them, if you don’t count Girls cover of Cherry Bomb. Plus that’s a nice guitar solo. Not that punk.
I don’t really know how I found this. I think it was a story about girl rock bands from the 60s, though when I found a short biography of the band it was quickly clear that these were blokes in this band.
These were Englishy blokes who got together in 1968 and quickly had a following of bikers who discouraged club owners from booking the band. After too much drinking and too many drugs they broke up, then reformed with a new bass player and recorded their songs, which were then pressed in a very limited run for band members and their families.
They seem to have had a bad attitude, they reportedly played the same song over and over again at one gig until the owner threw them off the stage, and once again broke up, this time for good. All this biography is from a page at AllMusic.com.
At some point a compilation of Wicked Lady’s song was released by Kissing Spell Records, which is when the band went from anonymous bangers to psychedelic revival candidates. One of their newly found fans created this excellent home made video on YouTube in 2012. You can find their tunes on Google Music and Spotify. In the end, it looks like Wicked Lady is kind of immortal.
Seems that the music is now licensed to YouTube by a Spanish record company called Guerssen.
So Mötley Cruë made the movie of their story, and it’s on Netflix. It’s called The Dirt, and it is about the band’s life told through the voices of its members.
This is standard modern narrative. You have a narrator or narrators who know more than the characters, and who know where the story ends up, cracking wise while moving the story along quickly. And, if you like naked women, eye poppingly.
I spent all of watching The Dirt wishing I was sitting in my TV room with Steve Moyer, not because he admired the Cruë, but because he loved tales of rock ‘n’ roll life, and this is definitely that. I’m ambivalent. The scenes of debauchery are debauched, but are mostly offensive because the premise seems skewed. What is misogyny is played for the cutes. The naked ladies are jokes, at least until the lady leaves, at which point love is lost. Boo hoo, and boys are sad.
This isn’t a sophisticated look at the way the world works, but the movie feels like a somewhat accurate look at the adolescent rock life, and the way it changes with rehab and maturity. It way underplays the tunes, which you would think a movie produced by the band would try to promote. But they’re all sober now, and maybe better understand their weird moment in rock history.
Steve, how do you feel about this one? I watched the whole thing, even though Vince Neil looked like Wayne or Garth from Wayne’s World (I forget which one), which bothered me a lot. You may not have.
No link to a Cruë song. I never paid attention to them, but I did watch their movie. Weird.
I bought the Basement 5 album 1965-1980 unheard. Cool logo, promise of reggae-punk fusion, and I’m not sure what else. Did I know the drummer was in the Blockheads? I don’t think so, but maybe I did. Don Letts sang with the band at some point, but they weren’t Clash or PiL associated that I remember at the time. But who knows, it was a long time ago.
I stumbled across the artwork yesterday, remembered I owned the disk, then found that the elpee had been rereleased recently on vinyl by Rough Trade. And then I stumbled upon this Peel Session recording from 1980, which sounds a whole lot better than the album did. Or does.
I was talking about this at dinner last night at a friend’s house, the song immediately appears on our host’s Spotify over Sonos magnificent sound system from the elpee, and it sounds terrible.
Peel Session sounds great. Last White Christmas is a keeper. My attention has wavered on and off after that one. But for an obscure one-off from a long time ago, having one song worth listening to is pretty darn good.