BULL TONGUE "TOP TEN #4" by Byron Coley & Thurston Moore

TONGUE TOP TEN #4 – May 26, 2009

Hey little buddies. Been sick as rat turds for a while now, but the covers are peeling back and we are breathing again. Nice.

1. We have made no secret of the boundless enthusiasm with which we embrace Vermont’s Mr. Dredd Foole and all his works, so it should be no surprise to hear that sparks fucking burst when these two new slabs arrived at headquarters. Songs to Despond Ya (Apostasy) is a brilliant solo live LP, with Dredd on acoustic guitar and howler, which demonstrates the warmth of smoke and the magic of his sound. It seems bogus to repeat the mantra for the nth time, but Dredd really takes the impulse of Starsailor/Lorca/Blue Afternoon-era Tim Buckley and throws it into the stratosphere. As casual as it is amazing. And it is icing to report that there is finally graspable evidence of the Dredd & Ed experience, after a couple decades (almost) of scattered live tapes and buzzing memory bulbs. That Lonesome Road Between Heart & Soul (Bo’ Weavil) is a CD by Dredd Foole and Ed Yazijian, who may be known to a few folks for his work with Kustomized or his Gladtree solo LP, Six Ways to Avoid the Evil Eye. Anyway, Ed is a string maestro inside this conceptual bonding, doing violin, lap steel and other guitar stuff, while Dredd uncorks spirals of upful phlegm. It’s glorious buzzing, droneful music, and a great companion piece for the LP. Of course, it should have been an LP itself, but what the hex?

2. Recent trip to that poetry fest in Cleveland went okay. Thanks for asking. Saw a bunch of good stuff. Drove many miles. Got an excellent book. Actually, got a few good books, but we have favorites on our minds right now, and that is a camp into which we will always place the great Valerie Webber and the equally smokin’ Elaine Kahn (late of 50 Foot Women). The pair has collaborated on a solid new volume called Convinced by the End of It (Big Baby Books), split in twain, shared half by each. And it is a motherfucker of a read—one of the best things we’ve read in a long time. Their voices have been very different in the past, these two, but there are similarities here never noted before—a slowly twisting surrealism, combined with casually strident orgone boil. This is powerful, funny, mean and possessed of a magical quality we associate with the incredible early work of Erica “Rikki” Ducornet. This is writing in its highest form.

3. For whatever reason, new jazz/improv disks have not been finding us as regularly as they once did. Maybe we complained about the format too much, and since no one apart from SIWA, QBICO, Eremite and a coupla other places even understand that jazz should be available on LP, it’s usually no big deal. But recent car travel has made CDs a somewhat more useful format (at least in the short term), and we got these three new things from the Porter Records label (previously noted for reissuing a few key Philadelphia pieces), and figured they’d ride as well as anything. And they did. Opus de Life by Profound Sound Trio which documents a show from June ’08. Saxophonist for the date is Englishman Paul Dunmall, who doubles on bagpipes, and really blows like a maniac. Long mired in my brain as a second tier freebopper, Dunmall presents a much weirder surface here than expected, creating raw melodicism with an almost primitive grace. The rhythm section is Andrew Cyrille and Henry Grimes (Cecil Taylor’s legendary Blue Note-era backline). Cyrille sounds as good as always—alternately multi-dimensional and hammy—and Grimes puts in a very solid arco-heavy performance on bass and violin. Had not paid much attention to the rediscovered Grimes, but his work here is fine. Julu Twine by Alan Sondheim and Myk Freedman finds Sondheim’s various strings (he’s been playing, writing and creating in various fields since the early ’60s) paired with Freedman’s lap steel to lovely weird effect. Tones get bent so far they curl back on themselves, and eternity’s whistle is always just a psychedelic heartbeat away. Sondheim’s reactivated musical career has been very interesting to track, and this album’s a good one. Not jazz, but good. Even less jazzic is Folkanization by Francesco Giannico. This young Italian electro-acoustic composer in whose work we can hear tendrils of everything from Luigi Nono to Toru Takemitsu. Filled with odd details, the music is fascinating. Good for the car, anyway.

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4. Much recent fume time has been spent amidst the pages of Steven Brower’s Satchmo (Harry N. Abrams), a book largely dedicated to the visual art of the last century’s premier pothead—Mr. Louis Armstrong. Brower was also responsible for that cool book of Woody Guthrie’s visuals a few years back, but this one is even bonnier on the peeps. Armstrong was an insanely gifted collage artist, who created hundreds of self-referential pieces to adorn reel-to-reel tape boxes, scrapbooks and even—until his wife pulled it down anyway—one of the walls of his house in Queens. The text Brower conjures is cool, but it’s really just a context generator for the wild wild art that crawls all over the pages of this book. Been showing this to everyone who falls by and they’re all blown away. You be, too.

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5. If you held a gun to our heads and yelled, “Quick! Think of a great whiskey!” We’d have no problem rolling out a list that would make you weak in the knees. If, however, instead of whiskey, you asked for a list of great Colorado punk bands, the list would peter out in an embarrassingly short time, even if we stuttered a lot. Consequently, it’s no lie to say we were shocked (SHOCKED!) by the amazing contents of Rocky Mountain Low (Hyperpycnal)>. This 2 LP set is an insanely great insider’s view of the Colorado underground scene of the late ’70s. We’d never even heard rumors about half the bands here, but Joseph Pope (of Angst “fame”) was an active participant, and along with Dalton Rasmussen, he pulled together a great set of unreleased nuggets from demos, rehearsal tapes & whatnot. Like lotsa scenes in their early days, the sounds here are heterogenous—’60s style pop, hard garage, weird experimentalism and Brit-damaged lunge are all part of the mix, just as they were in the day. The book/zine included is a great blend of history, attitude, crappy-looking fliers and the best picture of Jello Biafra you will ever see in this lifetime (or any other) (although this one is good, too). Every town deserves this kind of deep investigation. Superb shit.

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6. One of us (not telling who) recently made the trek down to New Orleans for the Ponderosa Stomp, which is an annual event tracking the trajectory of oddball roots dudes of all stripes. Two stages, ten hours a night at the House of Blues added up to 30-40 hours of solid listening insanity, but the absolute highpoint was the…well, not reunion of the Flamin’ Groovies (pic’d above), exactly, but it was the first time that founding members Cyril Jordan and Roy Loney had been together onstage since ’71, when Loney split in the wake of the Teenage Head LP. They were backed by the A-Bones, with Ira Kaplan on organ and former Groovies fanclub head Miriam Linna, banging the beat, and man, it was insane. Jordan and Loney both have a crazy sorta look going (check the youtube vids), but the sound was so right on you could just cry. They played almost all stuff from the first three LPs, but at show’s end they tackled “Shake Some Action” (from the long-post-Loney days), “Teenage Head” and “Slow Death” (which was recorded after Roy had left). It was unbelievably great. People were screaming like babies and Miriam was singing along with everything and just looking like the cat who ate the canary. There are going to be a couple of reprise shows coming up this summer, and you would be well advised to be there.

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7. Many peeps out there may know something or another about the legendary NWW list. This was a printed insert of recommended obscurities Steven Stapleton included in copies of the first couple of Nurse With Wound albums. The list has been a touchstone for a lot of people over the years, and various attempts to reissue bits and pieces from it have been made. Right now there are actually a goodly number of them available in one digital format or another, but shamefully few have been blessed by vinyl reissue, which remains the king of all known formats. Thankfully, De Stijl has taken the time to do a lovely, lovely LP reissue of the sole album by the Finnish experimental band, Sperm. Entitled Shh!, the album features one side of kosmiche-tinged free-rock with many electronic asides. The flip replaces the kraut proclivities with some free-jazz reed-gush, and it all sounds utterly jake. The original had a silk-screened sleeve, but this one looks dandy and sounds better than any original we’ve ever laid ears on. Gut stuf!

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8. The story of Mad in its EC days is pretty well known. The early issues, edited by the insane Harvey Kurtzman have been reprinted in whole and also in various anthologies frequently during the past 50 years. Kurtzman’s next few projects have been less well documented. He left Mad to do a glossy humor mag called Trump for Hugh Hefner. Hefner killed the mag after two issues, but he allowed Kurtzman to use free office space. As a result, Kurtzman organized a bunch of other artists to pool their funds to create an autonomous humor monthly. It ran for 11 issues in 1957-58 and was called Humbug. We’ve seen occasional loose issues of the ‘zine, but Fantagraphics has compiled the full run in a new two-volume box set, and included lots of interviews, historical context, and info about Kurtzman’s next project, Help! (among many other things). The reproduction quality is great, and the contents—by Kurtzman, Will Elder, Arnold Roth, Al Jaffe and Jack Davis—are far more sophisto than Mad, and less pop-culture-oriented than Help! In a way, Humbug almost feels like a goof-humor version of The New Yorker or something. There’s a lot of fairly serious political/social commentary, cloaked in wry rainment. It’s a blend as interesting as any cocktail, and it’s goddamn great to have this stuff easily available. Hats away!

9. One of the less-known documentaries by D.A. Pennebaker is the hour-long Sweet Toronto, which was filmed at the Toronto Rock & Roll Revival festival in 1969. It has just been issued on DVD under the title John Lennon & the Plastic Ono Band Live in Toronto ’69 (Shout Factory) and is a rather good eye-felch. Pennebaker is a great framer of live concerts and this is no exception. It opens amidst a somewhat half-assed looking group of bikers who seem to be escorting the Plastic Ono Band to the outdoor concert, but soon settles down to matters at hand. There are segments with Bo Diddley, Jerry Lee Lewis and Little Richard to start things off (the full line-up was: Milkwood, Nucleus, Whiskey Howl, Cat Mother & the Allnight Newsboys, Chicago Transit Authority, Screaming Lord Sutch, Tony Joe White, Doug Kershaw, Alice Cooper, Junior Walker, Diddley, Gene Vincent, Lewis, Richard, Chuck Berry, Onos and the Doors. MC was Kim Fowley. Wonder where the other footage is?), the Plastic Ono Band hits stage with a boom. It’s crazy to see Yoko crawling around in a white bag while Lennon and Clapton howl through “Blue Suede Shoes”, and the vibe of the whole thing is gorgeously bizarre. By the end, when Yoko’s singing “John John,” Clapton has his guitar off and is kneeling, back to the audience, nudging feedback from his amp as though he was in the Skaters or something. Fuckin’ A!

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10. Just got a little package with three issues of Brian Walsby’s Manchild comics (Bifocal Media), the third and fourth issues of which come with CDs by the always exquisite Melvins. Walsby was extremely active in artifying the punk underground of the mid-‘80s onward, and his books are densely scripted and great reads. Some of the stories are about Brian’s early years, but most are detailed accounts of hardcore bands, what happened to them, interactions Brain had with them over the years, etc. Kinda inside baseball, but totally fantastic if yr into the noise at all. We don’t agree with all of Walsby’s assessments, but we defend to the death his right to say that the Descendents improved over time. Now that’s funny!

Alright, please be a good egg – if you want it licked, send two (2) (TWO) copies to:

BULL TONGUE
PO BOX 627
NORTHAMPTON MA 01061
USA

A MAN THAT MATTERED: Joe Strummer, remembered by Kristine McKenna (Arthur No. 3/March 2003)

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A MAN THAT MATTERED
Joe Strummer was a spectacular, inspirational human being

Text: Kristine McKenna
Photography: Ann Summa
Design: W.T. Nelson

Originally published in Arthur No. 3 (cover dated March 2003), shortly after Joe’s untimely death on December 22, 2002.

When the Clash first burst on the scene in 1977 I dismissed them for the same reason I’ve always hated U2. Their music struck me as humorless, self-important political blather that wasn’t remotely sexy or fun. Definitely not for me. Nonetheless, being a dedicated punk I had to check them out when they made their Los Angeles debut at the Santa Monica Civic on February 9th, 1979, and what I saw that night changed my mind—just a little, though. As expected, Mick Jones came off as a typical rock fop who clearly spent far too much time thinking about neckerchiefs and trousers. Joe Strummer, however, was something else. With the exception of Jerry Lee Lewis, I’d never seen anyone that furiously alive on stage. Legs pumping, racing back and forth across the stage, singing with a frantic desperation that was simultaneously fascinating and puzzling, he was an incredibly electric presence.

At the press conference following the show that night, L.A.’s ranking punk scribe, Claude Bessy, jumped up and snarled, “This isn’t a press conference—this is a depressing conference!” (Jeez, tempers always ran so high during that first incarnation of the punk scene—who knows why the hell our panties were in such a twist!) I remember that Strummer looked genuinely hurt by the comment. Mind you, he was a working class Brit so he wasn’t about to start sniffling in his sleeve, but he didn’t cop an attitude either. I was touched by how unguarded and open he was—and I was certainly impressed by the mans vigor. I wasn’t surprised when I subsequently learned that Strummer ran three marathons without having trained at all. His preparation? “Drink ten pints of beer the night before the race and don’t run a single step for at least four weeks before the race.”

That first show at the Santa Monica Civic didn’t transform me into a Clash fan, but Strummer interested me, so when the band showed up in 1981 in Manhattan, where I was living at the time, I decided to see what he was up to. The Clash had booked a nin- show engagement at Bond’s, an old department store on Times Square in Manhattan, and this turned out to be not a good idea. The place wasn’t designed to handle the crowds the band drew, and the engagement turned into a nine-day stand-off between the band and the fire marshals. I attended three nights in a row and can’t recall them ever actually making it to the stage and performing. But then, that was business as usual during the glory days of punk, when gigs were forever being shut down, aborted, abruptly canceled. This was political theater, not just music, and nobody embodied that idea more dramatically than the Clash.

Cut to June 14 of the following year and I finally saw the Clash succeed in a completing a full set at the Hollywood Palladium in Los Angeles. By then, I’d finally begun to appreciate the breadth and fearlessly experimental nature of the Clash’s music, and Strummer was at the peak of his powers as a showman at that point. The huge hall was packed, and it was as if Strummer was a maestro conducting this undulating mass of sweaty people, with the mysterious power to raise or lower the pitch at will. Boots, beer bottles and articles of clothing flew through the air, people leapt on stage, leapt back into the arms of their friends, Strummer stood at the microphone stoking the fire, and somehow managed to keep the proceedings just a hair’s breadth short of total chaos for two hours. It was a commanding display from a man who clearly knew his job and knew his audience.

Following the break-up of the Clash in 1985, Strummer charged head-on into a busy schedule of disparate projects. He acted in several independent films and composed six film soundtracks, including one—for Alex Cox’s lousy 1988 film, Walker—that was remarkably beautiful. I wrote an admiring review of the score for Musician Magazine, and a few months after it was published Strummer was passing through L.A. and he invited me to lunch in appreciation for the supportive words. We were to meet at a Thai restaurant on Sunset Boulevard, and though I was nervous on the way there, he put me at ease the minute we met. Strummer was such a genuine person that it was impossible to feel uncomfortable around him—I know it sounds corny, but he truly was a man of the people. He was funny and generous in his assessments of people, but he didn’t sugar coat things either–he had no trouble calling an asshole an asshole when it was called for. The thing that ultimately made Strummer such a spectacular human being, however, is so simple that it barely seems worth mentioning: he was interested in people. He wanted to hear your story and know what was going on in your neighborhood, he asked how you felt about things and was an empathetic listener—he paid attention! The other thing I immediately loved about him was that he was an enthusiast and a fan.

Just how big a fan he was became clear to me a few months later when he guest hosted a radio show I had at the time on KCRW. My show was at midnight on Saturday, and KCRW’s office is hard to find, so our plan was to meet behind the Foster’s Freeze at Pico and 14th at 11:00 P.M. He roared into the parking lot exactly on time in a car with four pals, and the lot of them tore into the record library at the station looking for the records on Strummer’s play list. His plan was play all the records that shaped his musical taste as a teenager in the order that he discovered them, and the show he put together was equal parts history lesson and autobiography. Included in the far-flung set were tracks by Sonny Boy Williamson, Lee Dorsey, Captain Beefheart, Bo Diddley, Hank Williams, and loads of fabulous, rare reggae and dub. His loving introduction to the Beach Boys’ “Do It Again” brought tears to my eyes. Several fans crashed the studio when they heard him on the air and realized he was in town, and he welcomed them all. It was a wonderful night. He had fun too, and as he thanked me and said goodnight, he kissed me on the cheek and I blushed.

Strummer spent the next ten years struggling to re-start his career post-Clash and stumbling repeatedly. “The only thing that got me through was sheer bloody-mindedness—I just won’t quit!,” he told me when I interviewed him in October of 2001. We were talking on the occasion of the release of his second album with his five man line-up, the Mescaleros, Global A Go-Go, which was rightfully hailed as the best work Strummer had done in years. He was happy with the record, and when I saw him perform at the Troubadour a few weeks after we spoke, he seemed happy in general.

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Above: Joe Strummer leads an impromptu dancing-on-the-tables moment at a restaurant in New York City, sometime in the late ’90s. (Photo courtesy Chris from Hellcat/Epitaph.)


“I’ve enjoyed my life because I’ve had to deal with all kinds of things, from failure to success to failure again,” Strummer told a journalist from Penthouse Magazine in 2000. “I don’t think there’s any point in being famous if you lose that thing of being a human being.”

That’s something that was never a danger for Strummer. During that last interview (printed below), I asked him what the great achievement of punk rock had been, and he replied, “it gave a lot of people something to do.” I loved the complete lack of self-importance in that answer, however, this isn’t to suggest that Strummer ever broke faith with punk. “Punk rock isn’t something you grow out of,” he told Penthouse. “Punk rock is like the Mafia, and once you’re made, you’re made. Punk rock is an attitude, and the essence of the attitude is ‘give us some truth.’

“And, whatever happens next is going to be bland unless you and I nause everything up,” he added. “This is our mission, to nause everything up! Get in there and nause it out, upset the apple cart, destroy the best laid plans—we have to do this! Back on the street, I say. Turn everything off in the pad and get back on the street. As long as people are still here, rock’n’roll can be great again.”

Thank you Joe for bringing us the good news.

* * * * *

The following conversation with Strummer took place in October 2001, on the eve of his final U.S. tour during the winter of 2001-2002.

Arthur: You say the great achievement of punk rock was that ‘it gave a lot of people something to do.’ What was its great failure?

Joe Strummer: That we didn’t mobilize our forces when we had them and focus our energies in a way that could’ve brought about concrete social change—trying to get a repressive law repealed, for instance. We’re stuck in a kind of horrible holding pattern now, and it seems to me that the only way to change it is if we get hipsters to stay in one place long enough to get elected. The problem is that no hipster wants to get elected.

Arthur: I saw the Clash several times during their U.S. tours of the late ‘70s and early ‘80s, and I remember the sense that something profoundly important was at stake at those shows, that they were about something much larger than pop trends. What was at stake?

Joe Strummer: In the rush of youth you assume too much—and so it should be—but we felt that the whole machine was teetering on the brink of collapse. Some amazing things went down in Britain during the ‘70s—the government decided they could disempower the unions by having a three day week, for instance. Can you imagine that? Monday morning you wake up, and suddenly there’s only a three day week, from Monday to Wednesday. There were garbage strikes, train strikes, power strikes, the lights were going out—everything seemed on the brink, and looking through youthful, excitable eyes it seemed the very future of England was at stake. Obviously, that’s very far from the feeling these days, when everything’s pretty much smugly buttoned down.

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