Sunday, May 31, 2009

Getting Pithy

The following column is reprinted from the June issue of Providence Monthly. (Including the stuff my youthful editors deem to leave out.)

Popcorn and Cheese
By Scott Duhamel

One of the easiest (and most) common parlor/barstool/internet games of the pop culture vulture is sussing out the soon-to-be released, whether it be musical, theatrical, literary or cinematic. Every other know-it-all, self-proclaimed maven, or spouter of all things coolio wants to be the one to foretell the next big thang, to be the human pop cult divining rod, to be the prognosticator with the mostest laying it on the hostess. The luckier ones, like yours truly (heh-heh), get to do it print. Let’s get pithy now..

The Hangover (6/5). Yet another dudes-in-diapers ha-ha fest? Possibly, but the trailers hint at something potentially hilarious, maybe even funny-not-dumb. Todd Phillips (Road Movie, Old School) lets both barrels go with Vegas as the background and a never-seen bachelor party as the launching pad, along with chickens, tigers, a baby, a holocaust ring(?), and Mike Tyson.

Away We Go (6/5). A comedy with a grafted on life message, as evidenced by the high brow pedigrees of its creators, filmmaker Sam Mendes (American Beauty, Revolutionary Road) and wunderkind author Dave Eggers (A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius). John Krasinski and Maya Rudolph are featured as a young couple about to have a baby off on a road trip of self-discovery.

Land of the Lost (6/5). Is this remake of Sid and Marty Kroft’s unintentionally surreal 60’s TV cheese fest the right place for funnyman Will Ferrell to score with his brand of doofus shenanigans? Let’s hope that the initial peekabos-which look like too much Ferrell and not enough dada—ain’t exactly right.

The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3 (6/12). The original 1974 movie was a gritty urban crime tale, short on frills and heavy on character, as evidenced by its blue collar cast—Robert Shaw, Hector Elizondo, Martin Balsam and Walter Mathhau at his put-upon hangdog best. Macho Brit Tony Scott (True Romance, Man on Fire) may notch himself down enough to deliver the goods, Sidney Lumet-style (although the original was not helmed by Lumet, but by the consistently middle-of-the-road Joseph Sargent), and new players Johnny Boy Travolta and Denzel Washington might be able to muster up the needed earthiness to get it done right.

Whatever Works (6/19). Irresistible, right? Angry New York neurotic Larry David stars in neurotic New York/philosopher Woody Allen’s 39th film, as a misanthrope who gets involved with Southern belle Evan Rachel Wood and her disapproving family. We gotta approve.

The Hurt Locker (6/26). Director Kathryn Bigelow comes armed with the proper smart/action cred (Near Dark, Point Break), a crackerjack film title, an a potentially intense focal point ( Iraq bomb disposal squad), and a sharp group of sturdy faces (Ralph Fiennes, Guy Pearce, Anthony Mackie, Brian Garaghty, and Jeremy Renner) to truly come up with some fare with some insight and bite.

Public Enemies (7/1).Michael Mann (Heat, Collateral) can paint one purty cinematic picture, especially when crime is the genre and tough guys are the focus—in this case depression era bank robber John Dillinger and his own dogged manhunter, G-man Melvin Purvis, respectably played by real purty (and gritty) boys Little Johnny Depp and Christian Bale.

Bruno (7/10). Sacha Baron Cohen’s back with another docu-comedy, as a gay Australian fashion reporter once again set loose on unsuspecting and forever uptight America.

(500) Days of Summer (7/17). A picture puzzle romantic comedy with much accompanying festival buzz, this puts quirky leads Zooey Deschanel and Joseph Gordon-Levitt in the midst of a stop-and-go time-jumping tale, replete with split screens, animation, and huge dollops of wistfulness.

In the Loop (7/24). All sorts of film nitcrits are enthusing about this left-field entry, a Strangelove-like farce with an international cast headed up by James Gandofini, Steve Coogan, peter capaldi and Mimi Kennedy.

Funny People (7/31). Comedy King Judd Apatow (The 40-Year-Old Virgin, Knocked Up) hooks back up with his old real life roomie Adam Sandler attempt to get all grown-up (uh-oh) with this thinly disguised of the latter’s actual true show biz trajectory, with not-so-secret weapon Seth Rogen co-starring.

Julia & Julia (8/7). Smart gal Nora Ephron (Sleepless in Seattle, You’ve Got Mail) adapts the book by Julie Powell (Amy Adams), the regular gal the decided to cook all 524 recipes in bon appetit gal Julia Childs cookbook. La Meryl (Streep) is on hand for the flashbacks to the pre-famous Child’s French-based gastronomic awakenings.

Taking Woodstock (8/14). Ang Lee goes back to his The Ice Storm roots after his last effort, the Chinese spy thriller Lust, Caution, with a cheerful take of Elliot Tiber’s age-of-innocence memoir. Tiber (Demetri Martin) was the host of the iconic fest, and he happened to be a gay man smack dab in the summer of love. With Kelli Garner, Paul Dano, Emile Hirsch, Live Schreiber, and old reliable Eugene Levy as Max Yasgur.

Inglourious Basterds (8/21). High expectations for the only and only QT, aka Quentin Tarantino, who very purposefully turns his lens backward for this WW II squad-on-the-loose genre film, with Brad Pitt as as a hard core redneck leader of an all-Jewish soldier boy pack. The QT fanboys have been waiting for some time for this long-in-gestation exercise, and it promises to be loud, splashy and in-yer-face, just hopefully not as irritating as the misspelled title.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Memorial Day Screening-Fullertime

Somehow felt that it was appropriate to watch a war movie of some sort on Memorial day, being a basic chicken-shit, never wear a uniform, maybe-go-to-Canada, kinda guy, with mucho respect for those who have indeed served in the military, and a special predilection for the war film genre. Settled on a particularly distinct one, Samuel Fuller’s 1951 Fixed Bayonets, a Korean War pic centering on an infantry platoon serving as an isolated rear unit for a larger battalion attempting to retreat in secrecy.

The erstwhile David Thompson has this to say of Fuller’s work (Pickup on South Street, Merril's Marauders, Shock Corridor, Underworld, USA, The Big Red One): “His films are like scenarios made from communities of rats, the camera itself a rat king.” In typical Fuller style (he both directed and adapted the screenplay from a war novel), the film’s opening sets up both mood and his own brand of cinematic exposition—after a typical one frame explanatory paragraph a long shot focuses on a lone jeep winding down a snowy road which is followed by a side angle medium shot of the jeep and its inhabitants, than--bam, it’s blown up less than thirty seconds in; Fullertime, wartime, crude, simple, violent, final.

The movie, which just about transports you to some Saturday matinee seat in a sticky theatre in your mind’s eye, is set in an obvious studio construct of snow, rocks, and mountains, with the typically ethnically and socially divergent platoon members, headed up by the burr-headed and lead-voiced Gene Evans as the veteran Sergeant, and Richard Basehart as a Corporal with psychological issues. (James Dean makes a brief appearance as one of the regular G.I.’s.) Despite the thorough lack of big budget special effects, the movie's preponderance of B-actors, and it’s wonderfully typical purple, pulpy dialogue, Fuller’s dynamic use of contained space, his evocative moving camera, and his ability to jog the narrative with purely physical moments, make Fixed Bayonets one highly effecting war film.

As always, Fuller's archetypal landscape-- individuals thrown together in a very particular microcosm under bleak conditions—allows the director to focus his lens on what is the heart of most of his films: the inherent contradictions of individualism, particularly what he sees as inherently American individualism. For Fuller, a true cinematic poet of violence, paranoia, and anti-heroism, that means, the constant pursuit of liberty under the pervasive shadow of death. The understated refrain of Fixed Bayonets keeps coming out of the mouth of a yet another weary, unshaven protagonist as soon as next temporarily individualized dogface meets death (and, as is his wont, Fuller doesn't hardly ever pull the trigger on any of his characters until after he's--however briefly--sketched 'em in), “Strip him of everything we can use, roll him in a blanket, bury him …mark him.” In Sam Fuller's world death doesn’t become you, but that don’t stop it from easing on down the road.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

The Blank Generation-Providence Version

How many once-upon-a-time-scenesters have promised themselves that they were going to finally sit down and get it right—and do up an insider’s chronicle of the once hallowed but long dead, crusty, adrenalin-filled, dream-breaking, deliciously sick, perpetually twisted, hilariously stupid, anecdote-stacked, paradise lost burgeoning years of punk rock in whatever burg they were ensconced during that time period? Everybuddy, right? Certainly every fired drummer, retired bass player, collegiate dj, record store clerk, badboy boyfriend, put upon girlfriend, wanna-be manager, inveterate groupie, rock scene drug dealer, local yokel rock scribe, clubtime photographer, rabid dog fanchild, special-friend-of-the-band, every-night-clubster, bankrolled-the-single buddy, punk fashionista, punk graphic artist, punk idealist, and punk philosopher who managed to retain most of their brain cells and can hold a pen by the right end or two-finger tap out a keyboard.

Well, the first official memorist of the Providence punk cosmos is 
Diane Beauvais Dyal, with her self-published Punk Rock Chick in Providence. Her all-too-brief tome, while slightly amateurish, is heartfelt and sincere, and a seemingly honest and slightly raw backwards glance at a truly fertile period for local rock in Providence and Rhode Island. It’s highly personalized of course, and Dyal makes the mistake of spending a bit too much time delving into her attempts at a career in graphic design, ultimately causing the book to be more of a personal memoir than a truly penetrating look at the fascinatingly lost world.
Dyal ‘s focus is mainly on the legendary DC Tenz (called the 747z) and the not forgotten Rash of Stabbings (Rash of Murders), and their two respective leaders Tommy (Timmy) and Carlotta (Carmella). Sucked into the scene by the charismatic Tommy Tenz, she paints a portrait of him as an archetypal rock and roller that is viciously amusing—he spends most of a large settlement on drugs, continually pawns and buys back his instruments, attempts to shoot up Southern Comfort, leaves her off the guest list, kicks her out of the band van, manipulates her into paying the rent, pisses in the trash barrel, never gives her an iota of credit for her promotional abilities or design work, never holds a job, and is downright awful at sex. All so true, all so comically absurd, all so common to anyone who’s been there in Anytown, USA.

As forthright as Dyal’s retelling is, one only wishes that she went beyond guilelessness and set her authorial sights on a more expanded landscape. The book never tries for a minute to explain the thrill, the pull, the magic of any of the music, and it never delves into any of the too-many-to count peripheral ( but highly memorable) characters of that particular rock mini-universe, nor does it depict the various bands ongoing fissions of rivalry, friendship, style or substance. Still, it’s her version, and she is dancing with herself, and maybe I’m just grumbling because I, a fellow scenester, didn’t make the cut even though my own hazy-dazy yet still intact memory links myself and the author together for at least one memorable close encounter of the third kind. But that's another story...

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Time Out

If you are over 25 years old, you’ve have to have met a Roger Clemens type. That’s a person with one exceptional ability or talent who allows that talent to consume them, becoming their all. They become psychopaths, inveterate liars that believe their own self-serving patter, look down at all the mere mortals surrounding them, mostly talk and think in totally self-related terms even while they brag about their unrestrained empathy for their close ones, and both exist and grow stronger by continually swallowing whole their overtly indulgent self-story, which is of course the overriding narrative to a life existed. Clemens was always unarguably a great pitcher and a flaming asshole with or without the fix-it drugs, and as of now there seems to be no restrictions on high he might climb in baseball’s Hall of Shame.

I almost forgot how swift and precise and acutely involving an NHL game can be, until I sat down and watched these last few weeks of Bruins’ playoff games. The last second seventh game overtime loss to Carolina was gut-wrenching but I think it pulled me back to becoming a full time fan again, the first time since the legendary Big Bad Bruins days of my childhood.

Burt Young would have been the perfect guy to play Yogi Berra in a biopic once upon a time, if not it’s gotta be James Gandofini.

Ray Allen is so goddamned cool, posses the absolute sweetest of shots and an exquisitely what- me-worry demeanor, but why is it that some nights he just disappears, a seeming non-presence in a situation that demands he establish one?

Until Billy Boy Belichick’s long gone, I’m not going to waste any pensive breaths over the Patriots off-season and/or draft moves, Scott Pioli nor not Scott Pioli.

Oh Papi, Poor Papi, Momma’s Hung Your Swing in the Closet, and I’m Feelin’ So Sad. Hitless in seven at bats on a night the Sox stranded 17 batsmen, 12 stranded by Big Papi alone? I’m still advocating for the big guy in one of this years’ freshest barstool debates-Papa was a juicer suddenly gone dry—but I’m beginning to feel true pangs of doubt—was our man Papi a six-year-wonder, will he ever recover from last season’s injuries? Here’s hoping this Seattle sit-out gets the big guy back on track, and here’s hoping that Red Sox Nation and Terry Francona stick with Ortiz until he grinds his way out of this hellish slump.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

When Harry Met Travis

The following column is reprinted from the May issue of Providence Monthly

Eyes Wide Open
By Scott Duhamel

Sure, after the all-out box office whammo of Paul Blart: Mall Cop, the dedicated filmgoer can only assume that Observe and Report, yet another comedy about a pudgy schlep who works as a uniformed guardian of the today’s substitute for the village main street, is just another Hollywood attempt to cash in on the ha-ha funny scenario of a delusional working class schmo sentenced to the hollow purgatory of the standard showcase of American middle-class capitalism- The Mall. The blazing truth is that two movies couldn’t be more different, and that the latter may be as disturbingly fractious as the former was warm and fuzzy.
Like the title character of the Kevin James vehicle, Seth Rogen’s Ronnie Barnhardt is a simpleton and a fool, has some definite psychological issues, wants to be a grown up weapons-carrying real copper, and has an unrequited crush on a good looking mall clerk. A few minutes into Observe and Report and audiences are going to figure out that the knot developing in their stomach ain’t being caused by hardy-hars, that this new mall cop movie is an all-out comedy of discomfort, and an unrequited one at that. A flasher is loose, in all his glory, and as he flaps his way through the mall and the movie, he epitomizes the general sense of disoderedness that percolates its way through the scatological bits and indecorous comic style. James's pseudo cop is a loser who becomes a winner, a slapdash dreamer just about hugging the sympathy out of audiences, Rogen’s Ronnie is bipolar and off his meds, an unrepentant racist, all out crude and remarkably devoid of self-awareness, and the actor never even stretches a pinky finger into the audience arena of empathy.
Writer/director Jody Hill has carved out this terrain before, in the cult fave The Foot Fist Way and HBO’s extremely off center Eastbound and Down, both collaborations with writer/actor Danny McBride as a shamelessly off-putting central figure. Hill has dropped the names of two of the unlikeliest influences on Observe and Report, two highly disparate iconic 70’s releases, singling out both lone wolf Harry Callahan of Dirty Harry and the festering Travis Bickle of Taxi Driver. Huh? It’s there though, and it doesn’t take much of a stretch, between the legit guffaws and the ongoing teeth clenching, to see Rogen’s Ronnie as traumatized blending of the two, a bellicose and wholly indecorous American id stretching out the belly of his starched blues while constantly bemoaning the inevitable fate of his ever shrinking manhood.
Hill has surrounded Rogen with some fine and dandy playmates, particularly Anna Farris in a wonderfully bravura performance as the slatternly party gurl, and out-an-out obnoxious jumble of bimbo and bitch. Making almost equal good use of her screen time is Celia Weston as Ronnie’s pathetic drunk of a mother. Even Ray Liotta shows up, eyes burning with his usual psycho intensity as a hard ass police detective, registering alongside Michael Pena tarting it up as Ronnie’s mall-cop partner, and a neat cameo by the ever blustery Danny McBride as a crack dealer.
Boldly mixing absurd and weirdly sad at times, Observe and Report is not so much a jangling of genres but a subversively bleak and blatantly dark social comedy, with wee touches of whimsy and a heavy sprinkling of the just-plain-tawdry. It shifts from quick bursts of on-screen brutality to scatological quick hits to an all out mock fest of sexuality, ethnicity, and any sense of moral order. As the flasher flops his way through a chase through the mall and reminds you of the infamous nude wrestling-through-the-hotel scene Borat, the connection should go deeper-Hill has constructed a mainstream Hollywood offering in cheap comedic clothing that is as deeply critical of American ways and means as anything in that funky hipster/comedian/put-on artist’s own movie. It’s also a quietly nihilistic and patently vulgar psychosexual drama posing as a revenge of the lunkheads, and a hilariously nasty vision of America’s heartland sinking in the mire, and truly, one weird, head scratching movie experience. It may not be as easily a defined poke into the nether regions as say, David Lynch’s 1986 Blue Velvet , but it burrows far under the gleaming façade of Anymall, USA, and proves that it can be an absurdly frightening place to be.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Down the Dusty Trail, Part 3

The first rock rag I ever came across was Fusion, held in high esteem by the hippest junior high school guy I knew, Chas Chesler, the first cat I ever met whose record collection went past the oh-so-familiar copies of Sweet Baby James, Woodstock, Tea for the Tillerman, and Sergeant Pepper, that every other contemporary seemed to have. Chas pointed out the review section and explained to me that it was there he discovered some of his most treasured LPs, and also learned how to take the occasional leap of purchasing faith, a faith he placed squarely on the scrawny back of some beatnik/hippie/college type scribbler. As always, I went right out and copied Chas, buying my own copies of Fusion, and eventually Rolling Stone and Crawdaddy, and I noticed that many of the writers appeared in all three publications, and simultaneously developed my first true case of non-baseball hero worship, falling head over heels for one R. Meltzer, a pugnacious, audacious, all-out white lightening force of a writer who made me laugh out loud even when I was shaking my sweaty forehead trying to discern half of his references points.
To this day, I’ll never forget spitting up a mouth full of coke upon reading Meltzer’s first line of a Johnny Matthias piece in Fusion, “Way back before James Taylor learned how to masturbate...”. Fuggetabbout it---I was off and running, already having formed some vague writerly aspirations---I couldn’t hit the curve ball, couldn’t sing or prance or find anything but a discordant note on any instrument I touched, and the only rhythm I could regularly beat out occurred during my constant bouts of self-abuse. Rock and roll writer, how absolutely cool was that? Thus I began submitting my teenage reviews, blatantly imitative of Meltzer, Nick Tosches, Lester Bangs (by now Creem had reared its protruding, wise-ass, ever tumescent head), and newcomers like Metal Mike Saunders and Robot A Hull. I sent off record reviews, all banged out with hell-bent adolescent fervor on my Smith-Corona, to Fusion, Creem, Zoo World, Rock, and the like, and managed to eventually receive some concise words of encouragement from Bangs himself, scrawled on the bottom of a typical rejection letter. I also discovered fanzines; cheap, mimeographed rags springing forth from all different pockets of the country, wanna-be mags that would actually publish my barely formed pearls of wisdom, actual hard copy artifacts that allowed my OWN BYLINE to appear right next to some of the rockwriting kingpins I was aspiring to be like.
The February 1973 issue of Creem featured a piece entitled "Americas Ten Worst Restaurants", co-authored by the aforementioned Robot A. Hull and Brian Cullman, a virtual Mad Magazine-styled bit of outright parody replete with a bit more earthy bite, with actual pics of the two writers seated for bad dining accompanying it, and it just knocked me out. What did it have to do with rock and rock? Nothing, literally, it was in-yer-face, vaguely infantile, and side-splittingly funny, and, to a seventeen-year-old aspiring writer, evoking exactly the spirit and tone of what I was so laboriously attempting to self-create. To top of, in one of the subsequent issues there was a letter from the infamous author/illustrator/pundit The Mad Peck (who would at one point soon would take over the editing of the record review section of Fusion and publish my first ever professional critique-a goddamned review of a Foghat record that I was never even paid for, a truly significant win/lose reflection), and the letter knowingly accused Messer’s Cullman and Hull of pulling their readers collective legs—it seems all the restaurants depicted were in Providence, RI and the surrounding areas. Boy Howdy, my neck of the woods, waitaminute, that meant those guys had to live close, maybe even reside nearby, hold on, maybe right up the street were two sharpies with the secret key to the rockwrite universe. I picked up the telephone book, found a Robert Hull with a Providence address and made the call, and before I could blink the guy (a real life rock and roll writerama, an out-an-out Creem headliner, a big deal real deal actual WRITER who called hisself Robot) graciously invited me over to his digs near the Ivy League school. I know, it was only rock and roll but he might like me, and he might gimme the clue to pry open the elusive door to my should-be, could-be, has-to-be adulthood pursuit: divining the raw and magical essence of pop culture and disseminating it to the worshipful masses, so, so, sweet and absolutely too cool to be true. If only I knew...

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Down the Dusty Trail, Part 2

Recent electronic dustbin allocations, nimble fingers doing the walking and credit card doing the tawkin':

Sure memory ain’t nothing but a disconcerting shifting of sands, and drug intake and liquor swallowin’ (whether past or present) just abets the mess, but in my ever swirling mind’s eye I see a Dion ‘n’ Little Kings performance at the second version of the Met Café in Providence sometime in the mid-90’s as one of my personal live music bellwethers. Dion, accompanied by collaborator singer/guitarist Scott Kempner (Dictators/Del Lords), bassist Mike Mesaros (Smithereens), and drummer Frank Funaro (Del-Lords), simply laid down a pristine set of straightforward rock with not even a nod to oldieville, straddling his guitar with all the aplomb of a cocksure teen and singing with unfettered old school finery. Live in New York (Ace) captures the same band at the Mercury Lounge on April 26, 1996 tossing away one minor cool daddy nod to the farback 50’s (“Drip Drop”), but mostly gliding away, hammering out a batch of DiMucci/Kempner compositions and absolutely breaking away with a neatly honed version of the Dictators’ “Stay With Me”, and just killing it with one of Dion’s last period (and mostly overlooked) masterpieces “King of the New York Streets.”

Did you ever hear about the three Hackney brothers , David on guitar, Bobby on bass, and Dennis on drums, coming up with a raw and uncalculated back alley version of punk, funk, and guitar rock somewhere in the midst of Michigan in the mid-70’s? No? Don’t worry, no one else did either, until a few months back, when demo tapes that their band recorded in Detroit in 1975, a band with the you-couldn’t-call-it moniker of Death, where unearthed and subsequently released on Drag City as For the Whole World to See. Songs like “Rock N Roll Victim,” “Where Do We Go from here???,” and “Politicians In My Eyes,” veer from predictable power trio rock into virtual punk anthems, speedy urban screeds befitting the standard turmoil of the times, emanating from the strangest of sources, true soul brothers delving into the sound and fury of the MC5. The 7-song collection isn't great or revelatory, but it is undeniably passionate and legitimately off the beaten path.

I always go where life guide and messianic guru Nick Tosches tells me to go, so I’ve already explored the addled rockabilly shenanigans of Hasil Adkins, savant, chicken lover, and primitive master. His (heh-heh) softer side gets revealed on Moon Over Madison (Norton) a collection of high and lonesome and fervently fetched home recordings recorded from 1956-63 in Madison, West Virginia and released in 1990. Adkins is the realest of deals, crickets in his gullet, moonshine in his eyes, a Flannery O’Connor character with a banged up guitar and his own churning, burning vision—“Lonely Wind/Help Me,” “Lonely Graveyard,” “A Fool In This game,” “I’m Alone,” or “Lonely is My Name”—you oughta get the picture. Springsteen himself would have had to jump ass first into a fetid swamp, ate a minced garden snake with rice and okra, and sniffed Roy Orbison’s boots to even get a mile close to the all-out heart-beating profundity of “My Home Town.”

I’ve been reading about The Monks, and their 1966 cult classic Black Monk Time since I was an eager beaver watching Leave It To Beaver. The newly released version, on Light In the Attic Records, replete with a live cut and a few single releases actually lives up to the years of hype. Cardboard rhythms,kindergarten organ, mucho fuzzarama, an electrified banjo, frat rock vocals, caught in the netherworld between psychedelia and party rock, these five ex-GI’s transformed from the Torquays to the Monks while in Germany, shaving circles on their heads and donning monk’s robes and purty much doing exactly what Frank Zappa was doing , sans the parodistic intentions and inside hipster jokes. There might not be another better spoken intro in the history of rockarama than Gary Burger’s in “Black Monk Time,” and it’s easy to make the case that either “Love Can Tame the Wild,” or “Pretty Susanne” woulda sounded fairly indelible bouncing out of the thickly textured AM radio of its time period.

Whatever happened to humor and rock and roll? Why is it that so many New York bands, namely The New York Dolls, The Ramones, and, yup, The Dictators understood how to utilize that element of rock? The Dictators' Every Day is Saturday (Norton), released in 2007, is an all out hilarious (and a bang-bang, clackety-clack, up-yers, rip-roarin') collection of demos laid down mostly from 1973-78, with a few thrown in from 1996-02. I’m an unadorned worshipper, even stupidly proud to have been suckered punched (to my knees!) by an idiot fellow gigster during a show I excitedly took my then 14-year-old step son to a few years ago, and I found myself slipping back to the unbridled languor of adolescence, laughing out loud while fist-thrusting in my car, wholly buried beneath the rocking waves of joviality and insolence as I sped through my own burg singing along to “Weekend,” “Baby Lets Twist,” or “What’s Up With That.” Maniboa/Shernoff/Kempner and Ross the Boss remain all-time heroes of mine, the true sons of Creem Magazine and Richard Meltzer, funny manchildren and master race rockers, and when I say my prayers at night I ask the Great Whosit to just let them make another record, faster and louder.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Down the Dusty Trail, Part 1

I can’t give you the exact year or time period when I first got infected by the record collecting fever, but it was somewhere in the early seventies, when I was 14-15 years old. The proliferation of rock mags, whether they were high or low, mainstream (Creem, Fusion, Phonograph Record), fanzines (Teenage Wasteland Gazette, New Haven Rock Press, Bomp) where filled with subtle references, throw-away asides, short or lengthy examinations, gonzo, fevered and often hilarious ruminations about obscure labels, b-side nuggets, unheard masterpieces, underground classics. Walking around my hometown I made weekly pilgrimages to the big outlet stores and patiently flipped through the rows and rows of the cut-out bins, closely examined the dusty stand-up racks that stood forlornly aside the fading counter tops of the run-down drug stores and pharmacies, and felt my adrenaline soar when I’d spot a batch of records, seemingly ignored and nestling unperturbed in some out of the way spot in some unlikely Ma and Pa milk store.
What was I looking for? The mysterious beat, the hallucinatory guitar sound, the hypnotic refrain, the primitive stomp, the unknown tongue, that particular keystone record or song that bridged the gap from there- to-here, that I knew existed, in varying degrees of significance and coolness, as evidenced by the furious scribbling of this massive army of rock nitcrits and popcult pundits that were pounding out the endless reams of rock rag cat nip I couldn’t stop devouring. I had my finds, and also hadda a whole bunch of potential treasures, lps or 45’s credited to hepcat groups and never-seen labels that I was sure would amount to a truly special spin and listen session. I wrote to other collectors and rock fiends, guys (always guys) with weird names and sometimes P.O. Box numbers in strange cities in Michigan, Tennessee, or Iowa, an enticing Brotherhood of the Ephemera, a few of which I recognized as published crits, which meant to me that they were pop mavens of the highest order.
Of course, the search for holy pop grail was as much about the process as it was about the gemlike discovery, as the latter were, in all actuality, few and far between, and limited to the financial means and geographical boundaries of adolescence. Still the thrill of finding a Chocolate Watch Band record, or a limited release Brit invasion picture sleeve, or an obscure Eddie Cochran b-side couldn’t be matched, certifying one’s status (despite the limitations of age, resources, or connections), as a bonafide hipster, a purveyor of the underground, a special keeper of the rock and roll flame, a true-blue member of the secret society despite the daily indignity of being held in junior high school jail.
Equally evident is the sad, unfettered fact that the constant proliferation of the internet has purty much ended all that jive and most of that jazz. You want it -you can find it, without much effort and hardly any brain activity, as long as you wanna pay; yet another paradise lost, however minor, however small-scale, however seemingly unsubstantial.

(Next post, I’ll get around to my recent gets- can't call 'em finds no more-- rounded up from the seemingly never-ending supply of electronic dustbins.)