As usual when I am traveling overseas, I read a lot in Martinique. One of the books I read was Lester Bangs’ Psychotic Reactions and Carburetor Dung. Not sure how I had gotten to this point in life without reading this. Overall, I found it pretty entertaining, if more than a bit much. Bangs wrote too much like Hunter S. Thompson for my tastes, which of course represents the drug-addled lifestyle and belief that substances help build artistic consciousness that both represented. Maybe they do build artistic consciousness, but I don’t agree they help with writing, nor for that matter did, say, the booze of Ernest Hemingway or Christopher Hitchens make them better writers. It just made them more obnoxious and difficult people. Anyway, not to harp on that, but it did take some patience on my end to cut through all the unnecessary asides to get to the heart of what Bangs was about. Obviously, parts of this are great. His Lou Reed interviews are classic for a reason, he was great writing about Iggy Pop, his total dismissal of the Chicago live monstrosity is always worth reading, and his long-form Clash series really holds up well. Taken as a whole, he really did have too few musical touchstones, so every article refers back to VU, Iggy, Richard Hell toward the end Bangs’ of life, and just a few others, which can get a little trying over time. I appreciated his indifference toward David Bowie, who I have never really gotten (no, I couldn’t care less about what a musician represents in a fashion or style perspective). I wonder how much he would have hated the 80s had he lived that long. Christgau largely got through that decade by delving deep into African music, infuriating his readers who wanted to read about Duran Duran. Can’t imagine he would have had anything to positive to say about that decade. I could see him feeling rejuvenated with the rise of grunge for sure. Who knows after that.
The other thing reading this book reminded me of is how far removed most musicians are today from the legendary bad behavior of rock and rollers. From the mid-60s through the mid-90s, each generation of rock stars had its own bad behavior. But after the heroin-addled grunge era, serious systemic drug use, violence, and spoiled rock star behavior has kind of been replaced by a general good attitude and relatively clean living by musicians. Sure, there are exceptions, but that sort of behavior really isn’t valorized anymore like it used to be. Instead of punk shows consisting of spitting and moshing, the musicians and audience talk about how much they love each other. Certainly I prefer the latter. What what Bangs might have thought about the next generation of drugs, violence, suicide, and everything else that came with the mythology of rock and roll. One of the best essays in the collection is the one when he tells Richard Hell that if he kills himself, he’s going to dig up his body to kick his ass.
Speaking of people Bangs liked, I watched the Patti Smith: Dream of Life documentary from 2008 the other day. It is terrible. How do you make the most interesting woman in the world seem utterly boring? I get why you don’t want the standard biopic documentary. She’s an interesting artist and it makes sense to tell her story in an artistic way. But this completely fails to get at her essence, tell us even the most essential information–how the hell did a south Jersey girl end up being Patti Smith!? Yes, we get it that she was close to Mapplethorpe and that Burroughs and Corso were huge influences. Fine. But most of this is just following her around doing things or her speaking about this and that over random and uninteresting images. What a big disappointment.
I saw Cracker/Camper Van Beethoven the other night at The Middle East in Cambridge. I had never seen either before. It very much reinforced my long-standing feelings, with is that CVB was an awesome inventive ironic post-modernist band and Cracker is a significantly less interesting version of that. The CVB side of the show was awesome. First, I got to see “Take The Skinheads Bowling” played live, so that’s a life highlight. The instrumentals were great too. So much going on. And Cracker is just such a straight-ahead rock band. The highlight of the Cracker side was the Berkeley to Bakersfield material, which I think is a really strong album. Fun show, maybe not the greatest thing I’ve ever seen. I did pick up a CVB Our Beloved Revolutionary Sweetheart shirt, which I look forward to pulling out this summer. And, yes, if you were curious, 90% of the audience was white people between the ages of 45 and 55. Would be a little higher if the show was 2 weeks from now, as I turn 45 before the end of the month.
The great saxophonist Joseph Jarman has died. Pour one out for the entire Art Ensemble of Chicago, one of the greatest bands of any genre that has ever existed.
Album Reviews, still mostly from last year, which again makes my 12/31 best of list seem increasingly irrelevant:
Marissa Nadler, For My Crimes
I am very happy to have discovered this lovely album. Nadler sings as if she was coming at you from a deep dream, yet not flighty or drifty. It’s fundamentally a folk album with country influences but Nadler also has metal influences in the voice and those really shine through here. She’s been around a good while, but this is the first I’d heard of her. For My Crimes ended up on quite a few Best of 2018 lists and I can see why. These are arresting songs that force you into serious listening. The songs mostly revolve around the end of relationships, hardly unplowed ground, but well told here. But it’s really the voice and arrangements that drive this album. I’m sure I will get into the lyrics more with repeatedly listenings, but this is good enough even before that.
Anna Burch, Quit the Curse
This is completely fine indie rock with with completely fine indie rock guitar and with completely fine songs about completely fine indie rock subjects like getting high and making out with a guy but it doesn’t go anywhere and being unsure of yourself in relationships. In other words, I’ve heard this album like 10,000 times. It’s certainly by no means bad. Rather, it’s completely fine and not more than that.
Dirtmusic, Bu Bir Ruya
Now this is pretty interesting. Dirtmusic is a couple of guys interested in traditional music forms that evidently were playing some pretty normal blues until they started traveling the globe. They met the great Tamikrest at the legendary annual festival in Timbuktu and made a couple albums with them and other African musicians I haven’t heard those. But for this, they worked with the Turkish guitarist and songwriter Murat Ertel, known for his work in the psychedelic band Baba Zula. This works very, very well. This combines Turkish and western sounds with some interesting politicized music about borders and walls, things that we are being forced to think about around the world today. Check this out.
Whitney, Light Upon The Lake
When a band touts its influences and starts with Townes Van Zandt, you at least expect some good songwriting. But not so much here. This band’s 2016 debut basically churns up a bunch of influences and pours out a smoothie of boring 1970s California soft rock. The musicians are really quite good but the vocals are terrible, with an annoying falsetto that neither rings true nor is even particularly listenable.
Davey Dynamite, Holy Shit
Some solid punk from 2016. Lots of good songs about inequality, especially income inequality and the economic struggles of young people. At times the lyrics get pretty lazy though (he really likes to shout “holy shit!” a lot, which explains the album title, but still) and the vocals, while pretty good overall, move from a relatively melodic tone to outright screaming and back quite frequently. I realize that’s pretty normal in a pretty broad swath of the punk scene, but it’s also just not my favorite.
I don’t often listen to the big divas of the pop star world so I am less invested in this brand of music. Although Robyn has been big for awhile now, this is the first time I bothered to listen in. You know, it’s fine. It’s completely acceptable pop diva music. Is it more interesting than that? I don’t really see it. If I had a teenager and they put this on the car, I could live with it.
As always, this is an open thread for all things music and none things politics.