Monday, May 28, 2012

Chapter 8: NO FUTURE: Punk's Reactionary Roots and Retro Aftermath

Who Put the Bomp

Named after a 1961 doo-wop hit by Barry Mann

James Taylor Marked For Death

Full title: "James Taylor Marked For Death (what we need is a lot less Jesus and a whole lot more Troggs!)".  

A sample from Lester Bangs world-historical essay

I could listen to Chicago or Santana anytime… I don’t think anybody as crass and commercial as they are could possibly be the Enemy.  My spleen is reserved for Elton John, James Taylor, all the glory boys of I-Rock.  I call it I-Rock, even though I just made up the name, because most of it is so relentlessly, involutedly egocentric that you finally actually stop hating the punk and just want to take the poor bastard out and get him a drink, and then kick his ass, preferably off a high cliff into the nearest ocean.

Matter of fact, if I ever get down to Carolina I’m gonna try to figure out a way to off James Taylor.  Hate to come on like a Nazi, but if I hear one more Jesus-walking-the-boys-and-girls-down-a-Carolina-path-while-the-dilemma-of-existence-crashes-like-a-slab-of-hod-on-J.T.’s-shoulders song, I will drop everything (I got nothin’ to do here in California but drink beer and watch TV anyway) and hop the first Greyhound to Carolina for the signal satisfaction of breaking off a bottle of Ripple (he deserves no better, and I wish I could think of worse, but they’re all local bands) and twisting it into James Taylor’s guts until he expires in a spasm of adenoidal poesy.
EXTRA! TRAGEDY STRIKES ROCK! SUPERSTAR GORED BY DERANGED ROCK CRITIC!! “We made it,” gasped Lester Bangs as he was led by police from the bloody scene.  “We won.”               — Rolling Stone

But fantasies and jokes – none of that is really any good.  If they just don’t seem to be playing your song much right now, well, stop feeling sorry for yourself, scout the terrain and see if we can figure out where to go next.  Because there’s always gonna be something around in the tradition.  But fuck the tradition, I want the Party!

And here's another:

"When I get really dour sometimes, I wonder if it'd be possible at all to write a song today like, oh, say, 'Wild Thing.' People are just too superconscious of every creative move made in their lives of infinite possibilities and friendly niceness to do anything anymore that's … just a simple expression of something with no real ramifications, at least none that the creator consciously put there: if some clown like me wants to come along and tell you that 'Wild Thing' is the supreme manifestation of Rock and Roll as Global Worldmind Orgasm plus Antespurt to the Millennium, you have the privilege of laughing in his face and telling him to shut up and go back to his orgone box. But if the writer of "Wild Thing' had actually had any considerations in mind even remotely related to that kind of stuff when he sat down and made it up, you can bet it would have been a terrible song"

true rock as retarded adolescence, eternal teenage
In another of his legendary early Seventies piece (this time for CREEM and celebrating The Stooges),  Bangs warned that rock was set to mature nto a "chamber" music or a "system of environments."  He argued that  true rock'n'roll was "essentially adolescent music… it can't grow up."   

Greg Shaw likewise declared that "rock'n'roll is not 1955-58; it's 12 to 17."

Dark Ages scenario / Monks of Lindisfarne

The role "'trustees' or custodians of the past" (as heritage scholar Patrick Wright puts it). 

In a 1971 letter to Shaw, Bomp!/CREEM writer Dave Marsh declared "CONTEMPORARY ROCK AND ROLL IS DEAD. We really are Rosicrucians waiting for the second coming of the Bopper or Brian Jones…".

 Shaw himself pretty much only listened to rockabilly, doowop and bluegrass in those days.  In one Bomp! article, he cautioned, "if we can't learn from our history, we may be condemned to endlessly reissue it."  Which is what he did with his anthologizing of mid-Sixties British beat for United Artists's Legendary Masters series and Sire's  History of British Rock series.
Some Bomp! types were morosely resigned to the fact that (as Mick Farren put it) theirs was an "ultimately lost cause, doomed at best to be nothing more than a perpetual hymn to all that went before".  In other words, literally "no future, no future, for us".

alternative economy of indie labels and fanzines

Shaw saw Bomp! as a kind of propaganda organ for the resistance and thus an instrument of  "getting back to where we started."  Slowly but steadily, what Shaw called the "fan network of true music lovers" came into being thanks to Bomp! (and similar magazines) and togethre developed the theories "upon which the aesthetic of 'punk' would soon be built." 1970-1975, then, became seen as "a formative lull in pop culture, a depressing hangover after the previous decade's wild party" -- but only a temporary pause, while the true believers mustered their strength and the will to turn back the clock.  

Flamin Groovies

Flamin' Groovies and Skydog, the French label

In Paris, a cult for all things garage was being pushed championed by the music journalist Yves Adrian


Rockabilly purist Dave Edmunds

Who'd scored a big trans-Atlantic hit with 1970's "I Hear You Knocking" , a cover of  the song that was recorded by Smiley Lewis and got to #2 in 1955 on the Billboard R&B singles charts. 

Malcolm McLaren and Let It Rock

Vivienne Westwood and Malcolm McLaren found their services called on by movie and TV people, looking for costumes and vintage artifacts for things like That'll Be The Day, a film about the British 1950s starring David "Rock On" Essex and Billy Fury. 

 But McLaren quickly grew bored with catering to "the BBC wardrobe department and their dreadful revivalist TV shows,"  he recalled in a 2004 newspaper reminiscence. Worse, he'd grown disenchanted with the Teddy Boys who loitered in Let It Rock, a narrow-minded bunch he described waspishly in the same article as "whining semi-literate, pimply, racist wannabes debating whether to buy pink or yellow fluorescent socks".  

He recalled in an interview with The Guardian, Friday 28 May 2004,how, in the first place, boredom with early 70s hippie-hungover nothingness drove him to the past, and then, in the second palce, boredom with that dead end of retrostalgia drove him to start something new:
"For me, the answer lay at my first store on 430 King's Road, where I sold the ruins of pop culture - a jukebox stood proudly in the centre of the store. Among this rock'n'roll debris of posters and memorabilia and old records, stood some fine ancient jackets in leather, velvet and tweed resembling clothes worn by such dead stars as Eddie Cochran, Gene Vincent and the Shangri-Las.

"All of this stuff was situated in a field of glitterdom that I had named Let It Rock in 1972. Within a year, I was bored with it all. Bored with the same surrogate suburban teddy boys that drifted in from God knows where. Bored with the hippies and refugees of Chelsea's swinging 60s looking for charity and kindness. Bored with the demands of the BBC wardrobe department and their dreadful revivalist TV shows. I felt like Steptoe and Son. I was lost in dead tissue. I wanted something new."

Vive le rock T-Shirt / Adam Ant / Sid Vicious

Sid Vicious covering Eddie Cochran

New York Dolls

In his pre-punk survey From the Velvets to the Voidoids, Clinton Heylin describes The Dolls as "reactionaries, in sound if not in image." But even the transvestite look was an echo of the Rolling Stones wearing women's clothes, wigs and make-up for the cover photograph and promo film of "Have You Seen Your Mother, Baby, Standing in the Shadow?".   That suggests another reason for the Dolls failure to rise above cult popularity: redundancy. All through the group's lifetime, The Stones were still strutting their  campy stuff on tour, putting out albums like It's Only Rock'n'Roll.  The Stones sounded sloppy and enervated, the Dolls sloppy and energized--but that just wasn't a big enough difference. 

Besides, if you wanted Stones clones you had Aerosmith. And right in the heart of the mainstream  there was The Sweet, who wore women's clothes and whose tough-yet-poppy hard rock  histrionics sounded a bit like  blow-dried, lip-glossed punk.   Arguably, the Dolls just weren't needed.

According to Lester Bangs, various theories were mooted for this "zip-zap rapid ascent and declension", including their constant intoxication, their "rudimentary" instrumental skills, and the fact that "all (or a great many) of their songs sounded almost exactly the same" while "the lead singer had one note" and "so did their compositions".  And this is from Bangs, a fan!

New York Dolls as critics's pet

"One of the first bands who the critics felt they owned, or at least felt that if they were in a band, that this was the type of band they would want to be in…" recalled Todd Rundgren, who produced the debut album.  "As far as I was concerned, they were simply a sort of imitation Rolling Stones who would get dressed up in drag for sleeve photographs." 

New York Dolls and proto-retro tendencies

As Chuck Eddy points out, Johansen's  "record-collector rape-and-pillage of rock'n'roll's past" anticipated the "semi-ironic postmodern/post-mortem scavenger-hunting" of the Eighties. Indeed post-Dolls, Johansen would actually do an outright retro act under the alter-ego Buster Poindexter, a cocktail-sipping, tux-wearing lounge singer

Pub Rock

Dr Feelgood

As he did with the Dolls, Clinton Heylin is forced to embrace tautology: "it was the reactionary nature of the Feelgoods that made them seem so revolutionary."

"Butch coarseness" is how Mick Farren described their sound.

garage bands of the Sixties / Sixties punk

In the mid-Sixties, every big regional city and small town across the United States had its complement of teenage bands busily bastardising  the  already  crude caricature  of black  rhythm-and-blues perpetrated by Brit Invaders such  as the Stones, The Kinks and The Yardbirds.  The result was a comically exaggerated   hypermachismo whose barely concealed subtext was virginity  blues: hence's volcanoes of pent-up sperm such as  "Action Woman" by The Litter, where the singer threatens  to trade in his current girl for a more compliant  model who'll provide "satisfaction," that highly-charged  buzzword of the Sixties. 


Lenny Kaye,in his sleevenotes, described his potted accounts of then-forgotten bands like the Thirteenth Floor Elevators and the Electric Prunes as just a sketchy, provisional "map of names and places which even at this chronologically short distance seem to belong to another world."

This optical-historical illusion was a byproduct of the sheer surge of the 1963-68 period.   

Kaye's emphasis in his Nuggets notes is actually more psychedelic than later garage punk cultists would allow for: he emphasizes the LSD, the long hair, even the peace signs--that's to say, the very things that the punks of 1976 would spit upon.  

There's no sense in Kaye's sleevenote that this lost world could resurrect itself; "punk rock" in his text is an entirely historical term.

Patti Smith, "Gloria"

The Them classic, much covered by Nuggets-era bands, to which Smith adds her the immortal intro about Jesus Christ “dying for somebody’s sins but not mine.”  Because of Smith's androgynous image, it was taken as an anthem of lesbian lust, although Smith says it was more a form of artistic projection, of her taking on the persona of the archetypal  horny, on-the-prowl, macho-wannabe garage punk. An unsurpassably grand entrance to rock's world stage, "Gloria" is also an act of rock criticism.

Patti Smith, "Land" as iconography and rock mythography

 The middle, “Land of A Thousand Dances” invokes rock’n’roll’s early dance crazes,  connecting the teenage frenzy of the Watusi to voodoo trance-dances, whirling dervishes and ecstastic Protestant sects like the Shakers. 

In the final section, Jimi Hendrix himself materializes like an apparition, with the lines “in the sheets/there was a man/dreaming/of a simple/rock’n’roll/song”.  Smith told me, “That’s Jimi, ‘cos he died in his sleep. ‘Land’ is structured backwards, the whole song is something Jimi’s dreaming.” 

The song's last lines  -‘I think it’s sad, it's just too bad, that our friends can’t be with us today’"--are stolen, or borrowed, from Jimi's '"1983... (A Merman I Should Turn to Be)" .  

Patti Smith and Bruce Springsteen as comparable figures / Bruce as the "street punk we've all been waiting for so long he now seems corny" (Bangs)

Okay, Springsteen's reference points--Dylan, Spector, Van Morrison--weren't the Nuggets canon. But his everyman persona, his urban street imagery,  the punchy, solo-free songs and sweat-soaked , high energy performances  did represented a populist, back-to-basics move in the context of American arena rock. 

James Wolcott on CBGBs: "A Conservative Impulse  in the New Rock Underground"

He did however celebrate the punk bands's low-rent egalitarianism as "a counterthrust to the prevailing baroque theatricality" of the arena rock mainstream.

Punk magazine

 John Holstrom has pointed out how elastic the term "punk" was at the point: "the word was being used to describe Springsteen, Patti Smith, and the Bay City Rollers…   AC/DC… and Eddie & the Hot Rods." The only common denominator was an impulse to "get rid of the bullshit, strip it down to Rock'n'Roll".

 The Dictators

Their absolute fanatical fixation on teenage as the zenith of human existence and the essence of true rock'n'roll resulted in Dictators anthems like  "Teengenerate,"  a title that lead singer Handsome Dick Manitoba lived out in real life with rampages of smash-it-up rowdiness a la National Lampoon's Animal House.

 Teenage Wasteland Gazette

With contributions from Lester Bangs and Richard Meltzer ("the first writers with real punk attitude before punk attitude in the media became commonplace," as Andy Shernoff later put it). Meltzer would also write the sleevenotes to Go Girl Crazy.

Dictators and Ramones: parallels and divergences

Like The Dictators, the Ramones had started out as a glitter band but then adopted a more street-tough look,  leather jackets and ripped jeans.  The Dictators and The Ramones both raided the Phil Spector/Sonny Bono songbook (" I Got You Babe" and "Baby I Love You" ) and even covered the same 1964 hit, "California Sun" by The Riverias. Even more bizarre, both groups were mostly Jewish yet shared a peculiar fascination with fascism: The Dictators had a song called "Master Race", The Ramones's did "Blitzkrieg Bop" and "Today Your Love, Tomorrow the World" (originally titled "I'm A Nazi, Baby," it featured the line "I fight for the fatherland").   

What distinguishedthe groups was sonic: where The Dictators modeled themselves on the Who and encumbered their music with solos and blustery powerchords, The Ramones honed in on a minimalism so stark and severe it seemed conceptual.  There was none of the blues-based raunch that clung to the Dolls or the Dictators.  

The Ramones: minimalism and retro tendencies

Their "naked kick/snare/high-hat beat …. never varied (no rolls, no crashes) from verse to chorus to break" (as rock theorist Joe Carducci put it).  Carducci argued the group's "strategic stupidity" resulted in a "quantum leap" for rock.   

Yet, in listing all the reasons why the Ramones appealed to historically-learned rockcrits, Carducci describes them as "retro (even as they invented the future)".

The Ramones: TV and retro-nostalgia 

"Danny Says," for instance, refers to "watching Get Smart on teevee".   Rock critic Tom Carson wrote about how "their leather jackets and strung-out, streetwise pose weren't so much an imitation of Brando in The Wild One as a very self-conscious parody".  Even at the time people pointed out their proximity to the Fonz in Happy Days, the Fifties nostalgia show that debuted in 1974.

Ramones and the Beatles / debut album's producer Craig Leon using A Hard Day's Night as template

As well as experimenting with  mono mix he tried the  peculiar mono-converted-to-stereo you got on early Beatles albums (the backing track all in the left channel, the vocals and maybe the tambourines in the right).

Some Ramones converts responded to the group as if they were the New Beatles. Legs McNeil described seeing them live for the first time and meeting them after the gig: "I really thought I was at the Cavern Club in 1963 and we had just met the Beatles." The Ramones wanted to be the Seventies equivalent to Herman's Hermits, a pop band not an underground cult. 

Power Pop

Pete Townsend said in 1967: "Power pop is what [The Who] play. What the Small Faces used to play and the kind of pop the Beach Boys played in the days of ‘Fun Fun Fun’, which I preferred."

Editorialising in Bomp!'s March 1978 edition, Greg Shaw traced a lineage from  The Easybeats and The Move through Big Star and Slade to the high-energy but hooky pop-punk bands like The Boys and Generation X.  Fronted by Billy Idol, the latter so Sixties-enamored that they titledone song "Ready Steady Go" after Cathy McGowan's  TV pop show and hired the Stones photographer Gered Mankowitz to do their LP cover photo. 

Most Power pop, Shaw argued, was different from regular chartpop because it was groups operating as creatively autonomous units, as opposed to producers working with session musicians and puppet-like singers.  But it was different from rock because it was teenage as opposed to adult-oriented. Rather than the gritty, angsty aspects of adolescence that punk had introduced (unemployment, violence, etc), this was an eternalized teenage of love and lust and restlessness drawn from Sixties rock before it got "serious".

Power Pop, UK division, aka Thames Beat

The appeal to "fun" made by Shaw struck a chord with certain British music journalists, among them Sounds Chas de Walley.  In his eagerness to find the Next Big Thing after punk, de Whalley corralled together under the term "power pop" a disparate array of mostly united only by a love of melody, an aversion to political lyrics, and a sense of humour.  

 But the fad left just a small stain on British rock history in the form of an aside in The Clash's June 1978 single White Man In Hammersmith Palais", Joe Strummer sneering that "the new groups/wear Burtons suits."

Most UK journalists dismissed power pop as politically toothless

After Chas De Walley's big introductory piece on power pop, Sounds printed a riposte from Jon Savage on February 18th 1978, subtitled "The C&A Generation In The Land Of The Bland": 

"It's so inevitable in post-punk letdown – the Pistols' 'split': sooooo symbolic – that attempts would be made to swing us back; to divert us from the more difficult task of facing the present and the future, into nice nostalgic alleyways. Play in safety, children!

"To be expected. Because punk as it began – history time again: sorry – WAS and meant to be threatening, DID and DOES offer STILL a context for change – not of fashions, but of attitudes and lives. This sort of thing, of course, is not to be encouraged, and, of course, isn't what rock 'n' roll's supposed to be about: I mean it's all about fun 'n' barfing, eh, schoolgirls (corrrr!) and a piss-up, innit?
"So anyway punk is finally put to bed (last year's t'ing) after being turned by countless shoddy imitations (inevitably) into another quik cheap fashion to be gobbled up by the fast-fad industry and spewed out. Cut off dead, seemingly; any potential for growth or change to adapt to harsher, more realistic circumstances killed. Time for a new trend! But this time it'll be nice. So, suddenly, unbidden, largely unwanted except by threatened journalists not quick enough off the mark to understand punk and jump the-'trend', and record company execs bewildered as the punk tide swelled to an uncontrollable flood, appears 'power pop'!... "
He characterises "power pop" as a lazy construct and a distraction from the real challenges and opportunities represented by "New Musick" as vaunted across two issues of Sounds in November/December 1977: this is the real-deal "post post-punk projex", whereas power pop is a weak-nerved "return to the 60's golden age of pop – in today's context – and an insistence on being nice and 'popular' – wishing to be liked by everyone. The Pleasers..."
Inoffensive in themselves, these bands but "what's offensive is the way they've been uncritically and excessively hyped as the THE post-punk thing. IT WON'T WASH!"

The Pleasers

The Pleasures, leading figures of UK Power pop, aka "Thames Beat", kick off their inauspicious career with a cover of The Who's "The Kids Are Alright". Produced by Tommy Boyce, of Monkees fame. 

There is a shitload of Pleasers British TV appearances on YouTube. I guess the hype really was hot on these dudes.

But before long, phoney Beatlemania bit the dust. 

The Flamin' Groovies, Mk 2: Full-On Retro

The critics who championed the Groovies grappled manfully with the manifold contradictions. Reviewing Shake Some Action, Creem's Robot  A. Hull  in one breath railed against "the living dead" who'd extinguished rock's vitality with their "disco for the dead", and in the next hailed the Groovies as zombies who "nourished themselves on every great '60s band… with cannibalistic fervor." But by the following album Now the back-to-1965 gambit started to look like a dead end.  Not only were the six original tunes out-numbered by eight covers, but the covers were pretty darn obvious ones too, like the Stones's "Paint It, Black" and The Byrds's "I'll Feel A Whole Lot Better".

Bomp! and Greg Shaw's post punk retreat to Sixties garage

Power pop was a blatant attempt to separate punk from the militant politics and arty pretentiousness that had in Shaw's view been glommed onto the movement in the U.K. But Oi! and its approximate American equivalent hardcore were even less appealing, their  machismo and menace and melody-deficit promising "no fun" either . That left nowhere to go but the past.

A final, completed but unpublished issue of Bomp! (later salvaged for the magazine's anthology Saving The World One Record At A Time) captures where Shaw's head was at when he opted for complete secession from modern music.  Bomp! #22 features an interview with British surf /garage revivalists The Barracudas (whose anthem was "I Wish It Could Be 1965", and
 who nominatd The Flamin' Groovies as the ultimate band: "to be on the same planet is an honour". There were reviews of new-old groups like The Chesterfield Kings.  Shaw hailed chief Chesterfield Greg Prevost for his "one-man crusade to set music back 15 years". Later in the same issue Shaw defiantly confessed that he and Bomp! were "not interested in the general run of new music; only that which is unusually true to '60s roots"


Shaw's course was set for the remainder of his lifetime. He relaunched Bomp! as a label/distributor specializing in reissues but also releasing "new-old" music by Nineties psych/garage punk outfits like The Brian Jonestown Massacre and Black Lips

Downliners Sect and The Pretty Things

Hallmark of the true retro poseur: insisting that The Pretty Things were better than the Stones.

Los Angeles as retro rock city / LA, recycling

As well as the Voxx / neo-garage scene, the after-punk fall-out in L.A. in general took a decidedly retro slant, from cow-punk groups (Blood On the Saddle,  Tex and the Horseheads) and the new Americana (The Blasters, Long Ryders) to the Paisley Underground of neo-psychedelic outfits such as The Dream Syndicate  and The Rain Parade (whose big song was "This Can't Be Today").  

There was a lot of cross over with rock criticism and fandom: Jeffrey Pierce of Gun Club ran the Blondie fan club and he and Chris D in Divine Horsemen both wrote for Slash magazine. 

Gun Club were a great band, admittedly, and cowpunk wasn't a completely barren field, check this out for a real barnburner:

But look more closely at the Paisley Underground, and it's a bad case of epigonitis and anechronesis, as collector-geek and record-clerk syndrome:

Sid Griffin of Long Ryders was originally into power pop. Saw the Plimsouls 40 times and says the highlight of the era was when Flaming Groovies played with Plimsouls at the Arena club in Culver City. Then with Shelly Ganz, Griffin formed the Unclaimed , garage punkers who were compadres with the Last and The Droogs (who'd revived garage band sound as early as 1973!). Of Ganz, he said "time had stopped in 1966; he wouldn't even talk about Gram Parsons. 'shelly was so hardcore he wanted to talk about Vietnam and Lyndon Johnson in interviews."  His insistence on playing only Misunderstood and Chocolate Watch Band tunes proved too much for his bandmates, and they formed the Long Ryders. 

As Al Campbell of Allmusic notes, "Native Sons was the first full-length album by the Long Ryders and the one that established their eclectic mixture of Byrds/Clash/Flying Burrito Brothers' influences. The band wore those influences on their sleeve, literally, going so far as to recreate the cover of an unreleased Buffalo Springfield album, Stampede, for Native Sons and using the producer of the first two Flying Burrito Brothers albums, Henry Lewy." Ex-Byrd Gene Clark guested on "Ivory Tower".

Dream Syndicate took their name not from La Monte Young but from the Tony Conrad record Outside the Dream Syndicate, which is really upping the obscurantist ante. Dogged by Velvet Underground referencing in reviews, Wynn would eventually have to say in interviews, 'We're ripping off lots of bands, not just the Velvets. We steal from the fall, credence, black flag, the stooges -- big time'".   During these formative years of the band, Wynn worked at Rhino Records and deejayed.

Wynn was in an early edition of Long Ryders but left to focus on Dream Syndicate. Griffin recruited guitarist Stephen McCarthy who responded to the former's ad in LA Recycler (AND HOW FUCKIN' APT IS THAT!): "Singer/guitarist wanted for Sixties-influenced group... [who] want The Byrds, Standells and Seeds to ride again'.

Griffin took the Long Ryders demos to ex-Byrd Chris Hillman. He told them "It's not there. Do a bunch of gigs'." He returned with a second bathc of demos 5 months later and Hillman patted him on the back with a "Much better". One year later he brought Hillman the first EP  10.5.60 and Hillman said 'You got it'. (JEEZ, HOW PATHETIC!)

After Native Son, came State of Our Union and the "Looking For Lewis and Clark" song,which references the first transcontinental expedition across America to the Pacific of 1804-06 . And fit the New-Old Frontier spirit of the Americana boom of the mid-Eighties (a desperately grim moment in music for those of the futurist persuasion, a personal low point for me being reached when, swayed by the print recommendations of heroes like Hoskyns, I forked over my hard-earned case -- okay my hard-signed supplementary benefit dole-idler cash -- for a copy of that Jason and the Scorchers album). 

New York's retrogarde

Flying the flag (Stars and Stripes, naturally) for America's new-old wave was the journalist James "Hound Dog" Marshall, who believed that New York's No Wave and mutant disco sounds were phoney fads beloved of "art fags" and Europhile trendies. The title of his East Village Eye column "The Real American Underground"dissed New York's arty postpunk sounds like No Wave and Mutant Disco. But its primary orientation was as a media bastion or beach head in an imminent war of independence against English New Wave, which tended to get sycophantic coverage from American magazines like Trouser Press and was also started to make its presence felt on MTV and the radio. In the column Marshall the Hound Dog proselytized for groups like The Lyres, the Zantees and Panther Burns who were steeped in garage, rockabilly, blues and other raw, rootsy sounds.  

Prime movers in the bi-coastal intifada against all things faux and foreign included the Los Angeles bands The Blasters (who put out the album American Music)  and The Gun Club, also from LA.  Profiled for East Village Eye, lead singer Jeffrey Lee Pierce railed against "synthesizer bands from England….   most English music of this period is some of the worst stuff I've ever heard…  it's like muzak…  a lot of 'em sound like Genesis… I'm really surprised all that mellotron shit came back."
Yet many of these born-again rock'n'roll patriots had backgrounds in the more experimental postpunk. Kristian Hoffman, for instance, had played with No Wave legend James Chance, only to veer off into what he called "sensational new research in a dead language" with his campy lounge band The Swinging Medallions.

 The Fleshtones

So immaculate was their imitation that The Fleshtones were asked by former Seeds frontman Sky Saxon to be his backing band.

the post-Pebbles garage punk compilation bonanza / my phase as garage fan

As well as all the American garage punk comps (you started to get specialisation, with increasingly regionally inflected comps, focused on Texas or
or Florida or the Pacific North West...) other countries started to get in on the action: like the Australian garage series Ugly Things and a swarm of comps dedicated to the British mid-Sixties bearing names like Rubble (ho ho) and Chocolate Soup for Diabetics.

Like teenage girls choosing among themselves which member of Duran Duran to be in love with, me and my friend Paul picked countries: he felt the pull of the U.K. freakbeat, I pursued my passion for U.S. garageland, trekking off to London at regular intervals to scoop up imports from specialist stores. Despite being on the dole I acquired in short order about a dozen compilations, roughly the same number of single artist anthologies and original albums (by outfits like The Chocolate Watchband, The Music Machine, Nazz, The Seeds, Thee Midnighters) and many more comps and LPs through tape-swaps with fellow obsessives.  Back then Paul and I were doing a bit of deejaying, mostly contemporary club music, but we did do a Sixties night at an Oxford college and in amongst obvious high-recognition tunes by the Kinks and Yardbirds I snuck in the odd ultra-obscure tune off my comps, like "You Can Make It"  by Richard and the Young Lions. It was a huge thrill to watch1983 youths frugging to a record that quite possibly hadn't rocked a dancefloor since the year it came out.
The Pebbles #8 syndrome

Still, I found after a while that every garage compilation series seemed to run out of good stuff eventually. I call that cut-off point the Pebbles #8 Moment, after the thin pickings off that instalment of the series.

But Pebbles actually ran to #28 in its original vinyl compilation series, with scores more volumes in Shaw's related series Highs in the Mid Sixties!

What makes collectors and fans keep pushing on deep into the  third division zone? Why do they gush about records that are plainly substandard? There's an in-built dynamic to the crazes for genres/eras like garage punk or Northern Soul that drives the subculture further along an exponential curve of obscurantism.  Collector-dealer-archivist-compiler types are all competing over the same finite terrain of the past. They need to keep "discovering" new "lost classics": the pressure is financial (it’s often their livelihood), psychological (personal pride, prestige within their peer group) and perhaps even existential (this music is their reason for existing, close to their religion ).

Back From the Grave, and the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion connection

I'd first come across Tim Warren's handiwork towards the end of my  garage craze when I picked up a compilation called Back From the Grave, a series that took no-fi obscurantism further than anybody.  
The contents were…  variable. For every thriller like The Outsiders's caveman stampede cover of  "Summertime Blues"--it sounds like a live recording of a shindig,  the shrieks and hollers of girls and fratboys piercing through the fuzztone tsunami--there were three offerings from outfits that should never have been let out of the garage.

 As the years went by, I forgot about the compilation until I saw Jukebox Explosion Rockin' Mid-90s Punkers, an anthology of tracks by Jon Spencer Blues Explosion. The artwork was a meticulous homage to Back From the Grave's cover image of zombie garage rockers wreaking revenge on all the crap of the Seventies and Eighties by shoveling their vinyl into the grave whence they'd just crawled. The  Blue Explosion cover mimics the original precisely (including the wreath on the gravestone that says "Good Riddance") except that Jon Spencer is the zombie leader. And instead of  the prog rock, disco, rap and Bowie in the Back To the Grave original, though, The Blues Explosion record shows zombie  Spencer burying discs by Pearl Jam,  Alice In Chains, Hole,  Oasis, and Sebadoh -- all fellow travelers with the Blues Explosion in the 90s alt-rock scene.


The cover struck me as a deliciously knowing gesture, suggesting an awareness on Jon Spencer's part that his band--once ultra-hip--had passed into an obscurity and irrelevance almost as murky as that which had claimed The Outsiders.  But it was also a claim to have been in touch with the primal savagery of  rock'n'roll, just like the bands on Back From the Grave and just unlike those alt-rock contemporaries (whom Spencer clearly saw as phonies and wimps).  

 Tim Warren told me this wasn't just a witty update but a pay-back gesture on Jon Spencer's part.  As an Ivy League undergraduate, Spencer had picked up the guitar after hearing Back From the Grave Part 1" . "He was like, 'If those kids could play, I can.'  He just loved the noise."
 Back To the Grave phase 1 and phase 2

The original series of Back to the Grave reached Volume 7 in 1988 and then-- strangely proving my theory about compilation series and the number 8 --stopped. "I said 'that's it, there's not that many killer songs left'". Warren switched his energy to working with modern garage bands like Sweden's The Wylde Mammoths, as well as groups like Jon Spencer Blues Explosion and New Bomb Turks, who were influenced by Sixties punk but added Eighties/Nineties skronk and grunge to the mix. He started touring the bands in Europe, finding France, Germany and Spain to be strongholds for  the 1965-forever-and-ever vibe.  Then after losing quite a bit of money pushing these contemporary bands, he switched back to the reissue market in the late Nineties. Back From the Grave was restarted and pushed far, far beyond the dreaded number 8.  Warren also launched an even more obscurantist garage series called Teenage Shutdown. 

 Crypt and Tim Warren's woes

Along with the problems afflicting record retail, Warren had to contend with bereavement (his beloved dog died after a long struggle with illness). Then there was the period when he was "90 percent deaf in my right ear and 70 percent in my left deaf" for two months owing to renovation work being done in the apartment upstairs. "The dust penetrated my ears"----the tools of his trade--and "fucked up my whole system… they had to drill a hole in my ear and use a vacuum to suck it out."

Back to the Grave and drawing a firm line at psychedelia's onset

Tim Warren: "String arrangements are not rock'n'roll.  I like certain really na├»ve psychedelic-tinged garage records, but when groups started to put on what we call 'mustache vocals'-- I just can't listen to them." 

Apart from the Nuggets-included "You're Gonna Miss Me", Warren can't even get with the Thirteenth Floor Elevators debut The Psychedelic Sounds Of…  it's the beginning of the end for him.

"Musically, I became fascist"

A dodgy undercurrent crept into the imagery of the Back From the Grave series. One cover has a a  mustacho-ed disco clone being roasted on a spit over a pyre of  LPs with titles like "Poser Nite Fever vol 3: Homo League, GAYBC" and "A Flock of Homos". But I like to think that this is discophobia and Anglosynthophobia too vehemently expressed than actual for-real bigotry.  (Warren seems a good natured soul, on the whole). 

Billy Childish, Chatham and the Medway scene

Childish comes from Chatham, a town in a borough of Kent called the Medway that is very similar to Liverpool and Hamburg: it's an area of dockyards and naval bases located where the River Medway joins the Thames Estuary. The blend of nautical seaside atmosphere and gritty industry resembles Dr Feelgood's home Canvey Island, which is on the opposite, Essex side of the Thames Estuary.

Billy Childish grows disillusioned with punk rock

The bit he liked in punk rock was the raw, basic rock'n'roll. The bit he didn't like, is the bit that came out of glam and glitter.  Glam was a highly produced form of guitar rock, with figures like Mike Leander (producer of Gary Glitter) and Chinn & Chapman (the team behind The Sweet) constructing records that exploded out of the radio.  And you could hear that in Never  Mind the Bollocks. 

Billy Childish and vintage valve recording

"The reason we came up with the way we record is that we'd go into recording studios around 1978-79 and be told damp all the equipment,  individually mike up the drum kit".  This was the standard studio procedure, as evolved from the late Sixties onwards: record all instrumental parts and vocals separately, as cleanly as possible, with no bleed-through of signal from other members of the band, then layer it all back together at the mixing desk,  resulting in an enhanced, boosted simulacrum of the band's performance.  But when Childish and crew listened to the results, they found it "totally controlled and with no energy. So we said to the studio people, 'we're right at the forefront of what music is--punk rock--but why does 'You Really Got Me' sound more exciting? And they said 'Oh, they had these mixing desks that used to make it sound better, and the group played live,  and they used less microphones… but you can't control it properly if you do that' .  So we then said, ' … it sounds better though, doesn't it?'. And subsequently we've been born out because after a while everybody realized they needed valve equipment to warm up their sterile recordings."

 Billy Childish and analogue fetishism

"Digital recording has robbed music of its soul, because it is a glassy, inhumane way of reproducing music.  And by nature humans are non-glassy and humane. If you record onto tape, an analogue format, the tape will compress the recording warmly. So what it's actually done is, it's changed the sound. Tape is a little bit like film, what it does is it enhances the mystery. It's highly sympathetic, whereas digital isn't. It doesn't mean that digital hasn't got an application. But it does mean its sole real use is the reproduction of something that's already been made that's already got soul in it."

The British garage revival scene of the Eighties / The Milkshakes

Sounds interviewer Ralph Traitor praised the Milkshakes's ""incredible shrinking guitar solos bent out of shape like vandalised car aerials" 

Billy Childish and Tracy Emin and the genesis of "Stuckism"

It was personal too because of his relationship with Emin, who once described Childish and her years of hanging out on the Medway scene as the biggest influence on what she did.  

[ the famous Emin tent listing all her lovers (note prominence of Billy Childish), subsequently destroyed in the great Saatchi Warehouse fire]

 "Tracey worked at my little imprint Hangman Books from 1983 to 1986 doing my poetry books,"  Childish recalls. "I started out in my late teens being very interested in Dadaism. The big argument with Tracy that featured in the poem came about because I thought all this new British art that she felt was great was just a very bad version of Dada. "


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