ENGLISH MUSICIANS AND THEIR PROBLEMSAround the early sixties the Brits began exporting their musical product back to the United States and everywhere else. Borrowing from the blues, they added feedback, distortion and a whole bunch of other stuff. A lot of it was great. A lot of it sounded like Herman's Hermits which wasn't so great. Then there was what ended up happening to all the people who were weak. You know: Death, pain, madness, dissolution, or just annoying ol' narcissism. Since the sixties the United States and Great Britain have conversed regularly with periodically fluctuating frequency on the subject of rock and roll. It's at a low ebb now but the history of England's popular rock is worth commenting on. --
Brian Jones was a beautiful bad boy who pissed off his respectable middle class dad by playing American jazz on the family piano. Booted out for his arrogant attitude as well as his taste in music, he learned to live cheap in his native Cheltenham while pursuing mastery of that oh-so-perfect sound coming from across the Atlantic. He also learned a few monkey tricks with the ladies, and became accomplished at the art of evading the responsibilities of providing for two pregnant girlfriends. Brian's choices and ability to follow through on them would enable him to make some important friends, but his lack of responsibility and childish temper would go on to make (hose-same friends enemies . Before the 1960's would end, taking with them the life of this gifted but volatile young Pisces, Jones would already be larger than life. He was a selfish, immature asshole but he had style, was an artist and, many would feel, personified the soul of the Rolling Stones. This soul, many still feel, the band lost when Jones was booted out of the group he helped to found.
Brian's taste in black American pop wasn't unique. Many young men in Great Britain were enthralled by r&b and Chicago blues during the Sixties. Jones however had a lawless, "authentically damned dimension" to use the words of one journalist, that made him a more gripping personality than Eric Clapton or Ray Davies say. He seemed to realize that he could get his way and go very far on pure charm and good looks. He wasn't completely wrong. Rock & roll became a natural playing Held for him. In many ways Brian was the archetype of the sixties era English rocker. People like Genesis P-Orridge have even argued that more than anyone else, Jones as an individual, symbolized the attitudes and dreams of the Sixties. This is perhaps because of his complete and unhesitant commitment to a forbidden music form and romantic hedonism. Brian, vain though he may have been, was no poser either. His appreciation of music was genuine, as was his genius. Years after his death lan Stewart, the Stones' on again-off again keyboard player, would recall that Brian had learned to play a dozen instruments and could learn to play various exotic tune makers merely by picking them up and fiddling with them a bit.
To understand more of the appeal of Jones persona something should be known about English musical attitudes during those times. Black American pop was more of an illicit thrill than sex in the priory. It was certainly as disapproved of. The younger generation didn't care. The new breed had been living in a country dedicated to gray austerity since Hitler had invaded Poland in 1939. Now they wanted to wear mini-skirts, go-go boots, tight pants, fuck in public and, most importantly, rock & roll. But first things first. Before the Swingin' Sixties got swingin' the Rolling Stones started to roll. Before the Stones started to roll Brian Jones saw American blues great Muddy Waters play with an electric guitar and felt something like Fate drop a cigarette ash on his shoulder. When Muddy himself came to a musical rent party at Brian's apartment in Cheltenham the young fop was ecstatic. Tellingly enough, the name Brian chose for the band which would make him rich and famous, and which maybe killed him, or at least set him up to be killed, was taken from the name of a Muddy Waters song.
Brian moved from Cheltenham to London to become a star. After a band change or two he hooked up with Keith Richards and Mike Jagger, adding Stewart, drummer Charlie Watts and bass player Bill Wyman to form a six piece and the "World's Greatest Rock & Roll Band" was on its way for better and worse.
Jones wanted to control the Stones, but lacked the discipline and work ethic of Jagger and Richards. The latter were also able to write songs as opposed to merely learn covers or write songs and be too afraid of what their own band mates might think to play them to anyone but themselves. While Jones had an organic understanding of rhythm, an understanding that led even those who hated him to respect his talents - "But man, when he wanted to play, Brian could play his ass off, that cat!" Keith Richards would comment - he would never write complete songs for the band. The Rolling Stones' publicist, Andrew Oldham, who also paid men to start riots at Stones shows and girls to scream, doing much to create the group's bad boy reputation, would lock Jagger and Richards in a room for twenty-four hours at a time until they produced bodies of original music. The same strategy would not work with Brian. He would record a tape of music in the evening and erase it in the morning.
In the beginning, before the hit singles stacked up and the band was well known in America, Jones was the band's leader, by virtue of his forceful personality, but his methods of running the band were shoddy at best. Napoleon called it divide and conquer. Intimidation only goes so far though. When Richards and Jagger still looked up to Jones he could manipulate them through light and shadows, with his aura of sexual experience and comfort in the spotlight, so alien to the experience of the rest of the band who were still some what naive in the early sixties. Familiarity sometimes does indeed breed contempt, and as Jones became more human to his band mates, so too did his power lessen. Nevertheless Jagger still viewed Jones as a kind of roll model. Indeed Marianne Faithful said to journalist A.E. Hotchner that she felt that Jagger assumed Jones' personality over time. It probably was easier morally than it sounds, with Jones going out of his way to be what Richards would call "a right cunt" time and again. When Jones started demanding an extra £5.00 per show for himself, his perfidious fellow Stones demonstrated that they suffered from the disease called intelligence and put their feet down upon learning of this "business arrangement". Eventually Jagger, Richards and Oldham conspired together to get their increasingly loose cannon chick magnet ousted from the band as Jones and Oldham had booted lan Stewart out for the crime of looking boring.
"And I lay tracks for troubadours/ Who get killed before they reach Bombay"
After 1965 Jones never played guitar on a Rolling Stones record again (the extra guitar tracks were Keith's over dubs). A great deal of the Stones rehearsal and recording time Brian would end up passed out on the floor, that is when he bothered to show up and wasn't partying with John Lennon or Bob Dylan. Coming down off of a disastrous American tour in which Brian peppered his existence with speed and whisky, the troubled musician let more of his weak persona slip out from behind his cocksure exterior. It was at this point he met German model and Nazi fetishist Anita Pallenberg. Faithful described Pallenberg as a "dark person" while the words "ruthless" and "amoral" have been ascribed to her. Brian's affair with Anita began after a riotous Stones concert in Berlin in which the quintet had to flee from a violent teen age mob through Hitler's tunnels. He spent the entire night afterwards in Anita's arms crying and talking about how Mick and Keith hated him. Pallenberg seemed to infuse him with new strength and the two of them would be seen driving about London in a silver Rolls, with their hair tinted to matching colors. Because Brian was short they were about the same height and appeared to be brother and sister. Pallenberg stated in an interview that she preferred women to men until she met Jones, who she felt was an equal mixture of male and female energy. While on LSD they would play uninhibited sex games involving SS uniforms, cross dressing and role reversals. Jones became very dependent on her, so much so that if she left him for a few days he would become violently moody and when she returned from abroad, would occasionally beat. She got her revenge once by stabbing a wax figure of him with a needle causing him severe stomach pains. Film maker Kenneth Anger believed that Anita was a witch and it *o is interesting to note that the emergence of Satanic themes in the Stones' music dates from her presence in their sphere of influence.
When Jones behavior became too erratic and abusive Pallenberg simply left him for Keith. "You don't need this shit," Richards told Anita on a band vacation in North Africa with Brion Gyson. Jones had been berating her constantly and occasionally slapping her around, one time because she refused to participate in an orgy with some local whores. With their separation Jones' days in the Stones were numbered.
After 1968's successful Beggar's Banquet album the Rolling Stones had to deal with a staggering tax bill. A tour of the States was planned, one without Jones who was in paranoid exile at the country estate where A.A. Mime had written Winnie the Pooh, hung up on Anita and afraid of another drug bust He accepted the news of his dismissal stoically, crying after his former band mates left. In (he preceding months only Charlie Watts still seemed to care about him but Jones was too far gone even for kind-hearted Charlie. Nevertheless when he was found drowned in his swimming pool there was a genuine sense of loss among the others (Watts cried), and some surprise, for Jones seemed to be genuinely getting his act together in the final months. The cause of death was also strange for Jones was an excellent swimmer. Though there was some trace of amphetamine and alcohol in his system mentioned in the coroner's report, these were ruled out as cause of death. Statements from house guests who were staying with him are contradictory and more than a few suspicions of foul play were then current and have not been dispelled almost thirty years later. The construction workers who Jones employed seemed to not like this spoilt, foppish, hippy rock star and sponged off him as much as they could with fake bills and the like. One individual who was with Brian the night he died remembered a feeling of bad energy at the estate and how some of Brian's "guests" were picking on him. At one point he remembered some tough types holding him underwater in what seemed the spirit of play but a mean kind of play. The individual not wanting to get involved left the party. Days after Jones' death his house was stripped of all the expensive furniture and art that he had put there.
His epitaph read "Don't judge me too harshly."
John Simon Ritchie
Sid Vicious' knowledge of semantics probably never came close to the understanding of what the word "punk" really meant until his stay in New York's Ryker's Island Penitentiary , but by that time destiny had long since slammed the door behind him. Stabbing his girlfriend to death, without premeditation and not without regret, didn't end him up in the Big House very long. Smashing a bottle on Patti Smith's brother's face did, after Todd Smith cussed Sid out for hitting up on his girlfriend. Before this, when Sid sat in the Chelsea Hotel being interviewed by the NYPD, as to what happened with his dead Nancy, he could only mutely say "I'm a dirty dog, a dirty dog," only to add later "you can't arrest me. I'm a rock star."
It would be easy to dismiss Sidney as an asshole, idiot and loser, but that would be short changing the comprehension of an important element of the punk counter culture. Every generation produces millions of lost souls like Sid. Not all of them end up being icons.
Sid had two last names before he got his punk handle. That's because his junkie mom couldn't quite place exactly who his father was. Beverly or Ritchie? Unlike his smarter friend. Captain Beefheart fan John Lydon, whose working-class, Irish family actually gave their Johnny some love and support, Sid didn't have much of anything. In absence of anything traditional to become fanatical about Sid found a new religion, rock & roll provided a moral framework absent in his own life - a realm of possibility. Sid would slavishly worship the styles of Alice Cooper, Marc Bolan and David Bowie, aping their fashions. Instinctively he figured out that rock stardom was a way out of his life. It was.
In the mid-Seventies Syd and Lydon were squatting in the Hampstead Heath part of London while hanging out at Malcolm McLaren and Vivienne Westwood's Sex Shop in the Chelsea district during the day. London in the Seventies was a much bleaker place than in the bright and optimistic Sixties. There was less money floating around, IRA bombs had been racking the country for several years now, racial and class tensions were simmering and unemployment was very high. Lydon, Sid and Jah Wobble (the "three Johns"), who were kids from London's North and East Ends, were a tough breed. Tougher anyway than suburban fad followers like Adam Ant, who would also hang out at the shop. They seemed to personify the anger and bitterness of the generation that was coming of age in the wake of the Sixties. It was these qualities that made McLaren decide to cast Lydon as Johnny Rotten, the front man for the band he was thinking of starting to promote his obnoxious fashions.
The Sex Pistols hated each other for the most part, only Jones and Cook, the group's musical backbone, really got along, playing instruments Jones had stolen from the homes of Rod Stewart and Keith Richards. Nevertheless they had fans. Sid, who would earn the surname "Vicious", tagged along with a group of Sex hanger-ons which included Siouxsie Sioux, Billy Idol and Shane McGowan. These fans did much to encourage the associations of violence that the media connected with punk rock but more through image than anything else. The punks weren't anymore violent than the Teddy Boys or skinheads in the beginning, but their attitudes and ideals struck a raw nerve. Old Guard journalists like Greil Marcus and Lester Bangs hated them at first; they were a threat. There was a new party going on and they weren't invited. The punks had something they weren't going to let the old farts take from them. An independent identity.
When rock critic Nick Kent showed up at a Sex Pistols show, Sid and Wobble cornered him, and while Wobble held a knife to Kent, Sid whipped him with a rusty bike chain, lacerating his face. The incident was masterminded by McLaren who knew Kent (Nick had jammed with Jones and Cook in the past). It was a stupid stunt but it kept the media at bay. Punks like Lydon, who actually would voice his distaste for physical violence in his ghost written autobiography, and prove a pussy in genuine physical confrontation, could see the irony of acting out, in exaggeration, the media's misconceptions about you. Sid couldn't. He became the media misconception. He would proudly wear his swastika T-shirt through the Jewish neighborhoods of Paris where some Holocaust survivors still lived. Hey! Symbols didn't fuckin' mean anything. Only attitude mattered.
When Glen Matlock was kicked out Sid was brought in on bass. To learn how to handle a four string he stayed up all night at his squat trying to play to a scratchy Stooges record on amphetamine. Because he never did figure much out Glen Matlock was retained to play on the LP. Nevertheless Sid became a star in direct proportion to the amount of hype the band received. With stardom came a colossal ego, heroin and Nancy Spungen.
The last two above mentioned items were brought over from New York by Johnny Thunders, Jerry Nolan and their band the Heartbreakers. In England heroin could be gotten from the government for by prescription but the punks didn't dig it, they were into speed. Thunders made smack cool. "Are you a man or a mouse?" Thunders asked Sid flashing a hypo vac in his face. Sid was a man of course. Nancy was a Heartbreakers groupie who got passed onto Lydon who didn't want her and so passed her on to Sid who he hoped would pass her onto someone else. When he didn't Johnny and McLaren realized they had a problem. Nancy kept Sidney well in tune to the world of smack. They both made efforts to get rid of her but it never worked. Sid was probably the only person, when it was all considered, who actually liked the girl who was more annoying and unpleasant in real life than actress Chloe Webb portrayed her as being in the Alex Cox film.
The rest is pretty much history. The Sex Pistols toured America's southern fried states (sharing a Marquee at a Holiday Inn in Texas with Merle Haggerd). Sid clubbed some cowboys with his bass. Johnny asked San Francisco if they felt like they had been cheated. More rock critics got punk wrong and then everybody forgot about the whole genre allowing oi and hardcore to develop in a ghetto. Sid scored heroin on Haight Street and overdosed. Johnny shut Sid out, lost the name Rotten, formed PIL with Wobble and put a record out on Virgin. Sid and Nancy moved to New York. Sid killed Nancy. Sid went to Ryker's. Sid tried to kill himself more than once. Sid finally OD'd successfully.
In a sad way Sid did all he could do. He no longer had options. He bought a bullshit myth that in order to be loved he had to project hate. In order to become Mick Jagger he had to kill Mick Jagger. Kill the king to become the king. But John Ritchie was no king. He had little talent and not enough intelligence. In the end it was only himself, and that was nothing.
Skrewdriver enjoys the distinction of being the only punk rock band, besides the Sex Pistols, that a left-leaning philosophy professor of mine at Fresno State had probably heard of. I guess it's safe to say that he wasn't a fan. He probably never even listened to any of their records and knew about them only through the context of their politics and as a section of an essay on right-wing extremists in England. That's because, as any one who doesn't live under an oil derrick knows, Skrewdriver were one of me most outspoken white supremacist, Nazi oi bands in the 1980's. They didn't start out that way.
Originally, going by Stewart Home's account in Cranked Up Really High, the lads who would make up Skrewdriver were "a bunch of punk rock hicks" from the provincial town of Blackpool, UK, who came to London to make it big. This was 1977 and punk rock bands were everywhere. Skrewdriver got signed to Chiswick Records, an indie record label of no blatant political leanings, who, to their later regret, provided the group with a name and put out their first two singles and LP "All Screwed Up" Their first vinyl offerings made no suggestion of the fascist political views that singer lan Stuart would later embrace. For the most part the lyrical terrain was along the lines of AC/DC. Angry young rebels against the world and out for a good time. Don't want to work a stuffy job and wear a suit and tie, just want to rock & roll. The record was punchy and not too bad but nothing exceptional. Neither were sales. After a few years of mediocre response Skrewdriver broke up. What fine irony it is, in respect to the later history of Stuart, that the back of the LP bears a quote from the song "Skinhead Moonstomp" (1969) composed by an all black, Jamaican rude boy ska band Simaryp about Doc Marten solidarity.
By 1979 Stuart had joined the British National Front, a militant right-wing and racist organization composed of various groups of right- wing Britons from extreme "bring back the empire" Tories to up front National Socialists, though he denied that he had any involvement in the movement in a letter to the New Musical Express published that same year. In me same letter he also dismissed any rumors- regarding his alleged desire to reanimate the then defunct Skrewdriver, he had other musical projects lined up, he wrote, and no longer corresponded with his former band mates. Lying on both counts Stuart did indeed resurrect his band, this time with an all new line-up of musicians who were like minded politically. According to Home, Stuart held off on coming out of me closet as a racist NF member because he thought it would interfere with the commercial success he was striving for. Stuart's favorite band, again with a certain level of unacknowledged irony involved, were the Rolling Stones. He did go on record as saying he would like to be on Top of the Pops, the British American Bandstand, but doubted that such a thing would ever happen.
Proceeds from Skrewdriver T-shirts and merchandise went directly to supporting racist organizations in Europe and North America. By the time they released "Voice of Britain" in 1987 on White Power Records, they were more or less beyond the pale for the Top of the Pops. With songs like "White Power", "Shove the Dove" and "Smash the IRA" there could be no doubt about how lan felt about multi-cultural Britain. The sentiments expressed in such songs aren't so much disturbing to me as the idea that for every loud mouth like Stuart there were probably countless of nice, quiet, middle class people then - and now - who felt sympathy for the sorts of urn ..."unenlightened" views that Skrewdriver was waving a banner for.
Eventually Stuart fell out with the NF on certain points of doctrine. Stuart liked cruise missiles while the Front disliked "American imperialism" and wanted Britain to have its own cruise missiles, not the Yanks'. Another close ally of Stuart's came out of the closet as a homosexual and denounced his own fascist beliefs before dying of AIDS. Stuart would write about such "false revolutionaries" with a burning sense of betrayal and announce that their music wasn't for "left-wing students, Jews or queers." In 1993, finally, Stuart was killed in a car wreck never achieving his dream of a completely white Britain and rock star hood.
In final evaluation I have to say his vocals weren't bad, the music was better oi than much of what other bands in the genre had to offer and they sometimes could really write inspired punk rock, especially since they borrowed liberally from American black music just as Stuart's heroes the Rolling Stones had.
Morrissey was a whiney slow boy from Manchester, England who didn't get into black turtle necks, Neitzche and Joy Division when everyone else did so he probably didn't get laid either and that resentment piled up inside of turn in a decaying color of green. He read BOOKS ON FEMINISM DAMMIT and the girls he liked still wouldn't get into him. He acted queer and the boys he liked wouldn't go for him either. So he wrote a bunch of mournful poetry that nobody else wanted to hear about, his peers were too into banal things like booze and chasing birds and beating up people at soccer games. He probably would have poisoned himself bad he not run into Johnny Man, whose rain like guitar riffs elevated Morrissey's melancholy to a level of transcendence it would never have otherwise achieved. Along came a band, and then a record contract and finally pressed vinyl. Suddenly all sorts of sexy, depressed, goth women realized just how gosh dinned sensitive Mr. Morrissey really was, believing perhaps, that someone really did know what they were feeling, all the way from the inside, where the heart is.
In a way Morrissey was the perfect pop star for the eighties and the Smiths were the perfect pop product. Outwardly bland, inwardly despairing. The plight of the sensitive artist in the age of AIDS, no- nonsense Conservative economic planning, Reagan, Thatcher, the oh-so-proud-of-itself Sixties generation selling out in mass while even the first wave of punks were doing the same. Life is but to die, but we might as well suffer on the way, it's more interesting that way. Hey they're going to drop the fucking bomb anyway right? (But nihilism is easy. Why else would so many people jump on its boat) Morrissey had something else. A bit of romance that everybody else bad unloaded at a garage sale some several years previous, a bit of compassion too maybe. He meant it man.
Hang the DJ.
AMERICAN MUSICIANS AND THEIR PROBLEMS
There is, I believe, a central character to rock and roll, a reality that isn't solely dependent on the egos of those who produce it. That's just my opinion anyway. In America reality is, more often than not, determined by money. People's convictions regarding Entertainment Products, such as popular music tends to have a religious quality. In lack of other meanings to life what's a poor boy to do... or girl or thing......but play or listen to rock and roll. Nevertheless this reverence can make the egos of some of those who produce rock and roll disproportionate to their actual accomplishments. For those that do accomplish though, the legend isn't just in the mind. Let's look at some of the brightest (and often most damaged) sons and daughters of American rock music and learn from their trials --
Rock and roll probably didn't begin with Chuck Berry but it might as well have. Berry was one of the first American electric guitar players to play both blues and country, a combination which would lead to breaking down certain racial barriers during the 1950's and early sixties. Traditional white audiences loved "Maybelline" (1955), the A side of Berry's first Chess single which was patterned after an old hillbilly song, while black audiences of the time preferred "Wee Wee Hours" the B side which was a blues number. This is what Berry himself noticed playing tours of southern states where ropes would separate white members of the audience from black members. After shows he noticed some fraternizing going on between the separated groups, much to the consternation of local law enforcement. While it is hard to say that rock had a pivotal role in the Civil Rights Movement, reading Berry's own biography, observing the effect that r&b had on young white kids of the time, and talking to people who were there in the day, I believe that rock music, at one point, seemed to be about building bridges rather than celebrating tribal anthems of ethnic balkanization. A friend who went to high school and college in Virginia during the early sixties told me - "it may have been 'race' music but all my buddies were dancing to it down in the basement, no matter how it pissed their folks off." I can't avoid thinking of this in economic terms. After the War there was a lot more money around for more people and such abundance made people more kindly disposed to one another, as well as more receptive to liberal attitudes. Infectious rhythms provided by people such as Herr Berry were only too inviting and one didn't have to worry about starving if they bought records and let their hair down. At least the kids weren't worrying. These days the Shit Lords have taken it all and they're not sharing. The people are uptight. They want to return to a mythic past that was supposed to be infinitely better than the sour "wear your condom" present and deal with a dark future. They vote for the reactionaries. But I digress.
Chuck Berry himself is an interesting character. A shrewd business man by instinct, capable, unpretentious performer and an icon who would prove worthy of that status, at least once in a while. Growing up in racially segregated St. Louis, MO. Berry had to be smarter than a system that would only allow a "nigger" to rise so high. Up until the sixties mixed race couples could be stopped by police, in this city, simply for being seen together. Berry's economic and social success, his ability to get close to white females (a definite no-no in St. Louie, especially when close sometimes meant in the most intimate sense) would prove an object of jealousy and make Berry a target.
Despite his strict working class Baptist upbringing, Berry from the offset possessed an intellectual curiosity that stepped around religious dogma and a carnal curiosity which overcame the fear of whippings he received from his father and the fear of hellfire instilled in him by his church environment. Indeed, the memory of pain that Berry would recall from the leather razor strop that his father would apply fiercely to his backside, after being caught in a sexual situation with an older woman as a teen, argues against the effectiveness of corporal punishment and old time religion as being a fail safe method to get someone to do what you want them to. When it came to his interest in the opposite sex, Berry had a vice that would more than make-up for his aversion to alcohol, drugs and gambling.
In 1944, a series of chicken shit robberies that Berry and two high school hoodlum friends pulled off in Kansas City, led to their arrest and an equally chicken shit sentence: Ten years in reform school. For Berry it only ended up being three years but in that time he formed a choir with other inmates, painted several of the buildings at his own initiative, tried his hand at boxing only to regret it, and, according to Berry anyway, won the heart of the Assistant Superintendent's white wife who would bring him chocolates and gifts. At one point. Berry continued, dancing with her during a official function almost started a race riot with white inmates. This was the first of many such occurrences. As a lad Berry's dad warned him not to go near, or look at, white women. When he tried to get his dad to elaborate he was greeted with a euphemistic answer to both that question and the question as to why black women were referred to as "women" but white women were always called "ladies."
"When I asked him. Dad said there was no actual reason for the difference in statement, it was only the custom of habit acquired from frequent conversations held with so many white men."
One time during a carpentry job he accompanied his dad on to a suburban white home, a white woman answered the door wearing only panties and a bra (this was during the forties). Berry's dad was petrified and meek while Berry himself would observe, seeing a white woman almost completely nude for the first time in his life "The Lady's garments were so thin, I saw the outline of her body nearly as plain as if she were nude (a sight I still enjoy)."
After serving time in reform school and taking a woman in marriage, Chuck ended up spending a non- platonic evening with a white Canadian woman who lived in his building and who "didn't approve of American racial policies at all" while, Toddy, his wife, napped downstairs. The fling got the young couple (the Berrys, not the Canadian) thrown out of their building while Berry himself ended up getting picked up by a trio of cracker cops. At the station me cops took out a baseball bat and acted like they were going to make homeplate with Berry's skull in the roll of the ball. Feeling out the situation Berry figured he better play dumb and give the pigs their entertainment. "Did you fugg her," one hair lipped officer of justice asked. "Nah suh," was the reply with a shuffle. Afterwards Berry thought to himself how they could have killed him and invented any story they wanted to.
Wealth and fame didn't solve these problems. Berry was playing guitar with piano player Johnny Johnson at the Cosmo Club in East St. Louis where Berry's sense of stage moves and incorporation of Hank Williams riffs, along with the standard blues, was drawing larger mixed audiences. On vacation in Chicago his hero Muddy Waters told him to turn over one of his demos to Leonard Chess of Chess Records. The advice was followed and the "Maybelline" single which launched his career was the result.
Berry's business smarts and avoidance of the non-sexual vices of the music industry meant he was able to reinvest his earnings and manage his own career. Nevertheless as an African American in the pre- desegregation South East there were always doors that would not be open to him. In New Orleans he wanted to check out some of the strip bars but was politely refused entry. Undaunted he dressed up as a cowboy and would peer in through the open doors of the clubs with a pair of binoculars from across the street. Later he would write "Johnny B. Goode" with New Orleans in mind.
At a high point of his career a Mississippi fraternity invited him to play at a private dance, organized by members determined to show him that Ole' Miss was not the racist shithole the press made it out to be. The feeling was good and fine at the formal dance until a girl present grabbed Berry and kissed him on the lips for just a little bit longer than the performer should have allowed, muffling the strings of his guitar in me process. "She was too beautiful not to be some-rich-bodies daughter" Berry realized. The formally festive mood turned ugly as a fraternity member, accompanied by nine belligerent "brothers", accused Berry of wanting to date his sister. "Of course I don't want to date your sister," Berry insisted, but a large frat boy pulled out a switch blade and called Berry a yankee liar. Only intervention by the main organizer of the event managed to save Berry's ass, who pushed the besieged rocker through the mob and into a nearby aircraft hanger to hide until the police showed up. When the police did show up they took Berry into custody and fined him all the money they could find on his person for "disturbing the peace." They got $700.00 but not the $800.00 Berry had put in his back pocket.
Some may say that Berry's extra-marital behavior indicated that he hated women. I've never been able to stomach such "logic". He loved women. A little bit too much probably. This shows through in his genuine appreciative lyrics and in the high praise he has for women who have inspired him in his autobiography as well as the loyalty he engendered in Toddy (who put up with a heroic amount of .his bullshit) and Francine Gillium, his personal secretary, a blonde lady from .Pennsylvania, who set up his corporation and put up with the harassment she received from southerners who would talk shit to her for working for a black man. I'm actually glad Berry had/has this vice, this over abundant need for estrogen and getting views of naked women (which gets him in trouble to this very day) and which I can only completely sympathize with.* If he had no vices I could not talk about the problems of this American musician, and I wouldn't get to deal with' someone who has genuinely inspired me. Thank you Mr. Berry.
(*For the most part anyway, drilling holes in the Lady's Bathroom is a bit on the Rick James side. Let's keep it voluntary - mutual consent y'know).
Barry Manilow is a tragic figure. Like Colin Wilson's prototype of the outsider Manilow sees things too deeply and too clearly. That is to say he knows that his music is cheesy, that the emotions are too loose and unintellectual, overly sentimental - that he's a hack. He realizes he can't write material like his heroes Bruce Springsteen and Billy Joel. "Those are the guys I look up to," he confided to one interviewer, "I could never write the sort of songs that they are capable of producing." Barry, exercising the candor that only the true of heart can, told of a traumatic incident that happened one time in the late seventies at one of New York's more trendy restaurants. Springsteen and Joel were seated together at a table, no doubt discussing Bob Dylan's progression from "Nashville Skyline" to "Street Legal" and comparing working- class notes, when Barry approached them to tell them how he felt concerning their music and the inspiration he derived from it. When the Boss and the Piano Man saw him coming down the way, they made a break for the border before a Rolling Stone photographer should show up and destroy a couple of careers. Manilow, with a great sense of humility, told the same interviewer that he was accepting of his heroes rejection, realizing that there was no reason why such Great Men should have the time of day for one such as himself. How many pop stars do you know have that much humility? Barry deserves something at least for such resignation and Buddah-like acceptance of his position in the mediacracy. Maybe Barry can be used to better the history-of rock and roll!
It's like this. Create a story that J.D. Salinger has come out of retirement to write a celluloid sequel to his classic The Catcher in the Rye. Make it known that either Wim Wenders or Jim Jarmusch will direct it. Then set about approaching Michael Stipe, Sting and Bono to play the role of an adult Holden Caulfield. Arrange for them to meet at some trendy dive on the Lower East Side. Unbeknownst to them, neither Salinger nor Wenders or Jarmusch will be there but both Barry Manilow and a photographer from Spin will be. Get witnesses. Get photos. Get it up on the World Wide Web and MTV. Nobody will ever take Bono or Sting or Stipe seriously again (there are some people that still do). Barry will have vastly improved the quality of rock and roll and once again a parable can be made that to each is given what they deserve. Welcome to the Hall of Fame Mr. Manilow, Saviors of Rock and Roll by Proxy Wing.
James Osterberg & The Stooges
Short men are just built to conquer, iggy Pop came of age in a trailer park outside of Ann Arbor, Michigan along US 23. Christ, as it is recorded, was born in a manger.It's not that Mr. Osterberg Sr. was uneducated or from "the wrong side of the tracks", as they used to say- he was, in his own way just as eccentric as his son would prove to be, he merely preferred trailers to houses and it was that simple. Just to be able to root up and go wherever you wanted to if the mood seized you, that's what it was all about. Osterberg Senior was a former professional athlete who was a first baseman and hitter for the minor leagues (almost making it into the Brooklyn Dodgers) until World War II came along and he became a combat soldier. Osterberg came back to the States and went to Medical School and almost became an osteopath but instead ended up becoming a Socialist minded junior high teacher who got black listed.
In the trailer park, the Osterberg's were the only literate family. Among his childhood heroes young James looked up to Mickey Mantle and his hillbilly neighbor David Bishop, an Elvis type "badassed, crew cutted & tough". Bishop could play Duane Eddy songs on his guitar. David's father who "was drunk from the day he was born .... but a manly man" once told young James ".....you're a coward with your body but a champion with your mind" which Jimmy took as meaning do his fighting with his mind, not physically, because he was smart but small.
Jimmy's parents made sure he was enrolled in the excellent Ann Arbor school system which is where all the affluent kids went, even if he lived in the trailer park his folks wanted the best for him. By the time high school rolled around the Man Who Would be Pop realized that what middle class Ann Arbor had to offer him was just not there at all. "I looked around me, and one thing I noticed.... about the parents of the kids I went to school with - some pretty successful people - was that their lives seemed fragmented. (The) men in their forties - had no white in their eyes and no room for their wives.....They weren't poetic these people; they weren't enchanted. They had no identity. They were out there in the world of property and power.....success makes you into a Charlie's Angel. It takes your smell away, I'm sorry but, ah, sterility, sterility, sterility bores me." He decided to gamble instead and dropped out of school to go to Chicago where acquaintance Sam Lay, drummer of the original line-up of the Paul Butterfield Blues Band lived. Young Osterberg had .19 cents in his pocket and Lay persuaded Bob Koester of the Delmark Record Store to let the lad sleep on his basement floor. The deal was made but what Iggy-to-Be hadn't counted on was that Koester would try to rape him every night. Koester knew the Blues though and taught Iggy-to-Be about more than just conversation fear. Watching unknown but brilliant black blues guitar players, down on Chi-towns West Side, whose music was "like honey off their fingers", also inspired him.
When Iggy was old enough to be drafted, and realizing he wanted nothing to do with Vietnam or the military anymore than the suburbs of Ann Arbor, he decided to pretend he was a queer (as opposed to equal opportunity pervert) when he went to the draft board. To do this he went to the induction center with no underwear, stepped out of line to beat off in the bathroom, in order to get a monstrous hard on while in line, and then started explaining to the army shrink that he was a gay man and being around other men in undress made him excited. The more into his role he got, he observed, the more disgusted the army psychiatrist got with him as a person. His method worked like a charm. Stooges drummer, Scot Asheton, got out of the service by painting a lightning bolt on his face, driving a jeep up the draft inductee center (instead of taking the inductee bus) while wearing leather biker clothes (this was in the mid-sixties) and carrying a beer in his hand as he went to enroll. In 1967 Iggy quit his drummer position in the garage band the Iguanas to form the Stooges with Ron and Scot Asheton, who lived in Ann Arbor with their widowed mother and with Dave Alexander, the bass player who would end up drinking himself to death in his twenties. The Ashetons were spoiled mommy's boys and Alexander was even worse. Nevertheless Iggy taught Scot to play drums and somehow the quartet were able to create noise of an astounding-^ energy in the Asheton family basement, which would usually last for ten minutes before everyone was exhausted. Somehow these misfits managed to get a recording contract with Elektra. Somehow they even managed to get John Cale from the Velvet Underground to produce their first album. It all might have had to do with the fact that they sort of looked like a grubby version of the Doors with Iggy as Morrison. When The Stooges came out in 1969, both rock fan and rock critic united in detesting the band. Nevertheless there was such an elemental and fierce simplicity to what they were doing that they had a few sneaky converts.
When 1970's Funhouse came out there were some more converts. Lester Bangs commenting on the NBC broadcast of a concert the Stooges played with Grand Funk Railroad, Alice Cooper and Traffic in Cincinnati, recognized that the Stooges may have been the only big American band at that time who had taken the noise torch from the Velvet Underground's first couple of albums. He also noticed that, unlike most of their contemporaries, they didn't play by the rules of the music industry, and indeed strived to keep things alive, not be boring stuffy art rock stars. They had the stage but they opened the door for anyone to take it away from them. Mostly no one dared. Iggy would make eye contact with random lone members of the audience, singling them out. He would sing "I'm hurt/and I don't care/I'm dirt/and I don't care." At this time also he would take a hit of acid about ten minutes before going on stage which is why the Stooges never did encores and their sets would only be forty minutes at which time the sensory maelstrom would become too much and Iggy would collapse under the weight of the universe. This was before Iggy discovered the calming effect of heroin.
Their tours would also be remarkable. They played with Ten Years After at a college club in Boston to students who "didn't listen to rock." The Paul Simon- like hippy audience was sitting cross legged on the floor, "assuming the 'college' position. During the set which included "Dog Food" and "No Fun" Iggy began cutting himself and flinging himself at the people on the floor. There was a hushed silence. Nobody said anything. Then twelve people clapped. At a show in New York in a club in which Iggy would accidentally destroy the water pipes on the ceiling Miles Davis showed up and stuck around. One time the Stooges played in Nashville with the Allman Brothers roadies' band opening up for them, The roadies were big mean rednecks-the StoogiSPflBdt guitar player James Williamson, who had bounced Ron down to bass responsibilities to cover the missing Alexander, was wearing a kind of Spiderman costume while, to these Sons of the Southern Backwoods , Iggy looked like an outright faggot. Before their set the Stooges locked themselves in their dressing room while the roadies would pound on the door saying "Come out you fine pussy, we want to fuck you!" It was like Deliverance. After they played the same pig killers apologized saying "We didn't know you could play tike that." The fact that these Michigan boys could play LOUD HARD FUCKING ROCK meant they weren't sissies. Iggy would comment that the Stooges sounded like badasses but they sure as shit weren't badasses in real life. Except for maybe James, but these Allman Brother's roadies were big.
At one point Elektra dropped them but they were discovered by David Bowie and his manager who would underwrite them. Bowie thought Iggy was an attractive young man and liked his credo of wanting to "destroy the sixties" which had gone on to long (dye your hair, wear too much makeup and white vinyl pants, fuck Birkenstocks.) With credit from Bowie and co., the band moved to LA where they would do too many drugs, hang out with Led Zeppelin and fuck underage girls (Iggy had learned some things from Nico "who taught me all about fine wines and eating pussy, stuff like that"). Then Scot Asheton merely went insane. He would never change his clothes and would wear his sweat towel on his head while going to fine dinners with beautiful women. Iggy and Williamson freaked out at such behavior, and took off for residence in London and it looked like that was it for the Stooges. Nevertheless the Asheton's would be solicited, reluctantly on behalf of Pop and Williamson to record Raw Power, the best rock album ever made until Bowie's re-editing (with the band's approval) screwed it up. It managed to be the best rock album every made anyway. While in London the reformed Stooges played only one show at which a very young John Lydon was in attendance learning about punk rock.
The "last Stooges album ever" was Metallic KO. It covered a show that ended up with Iggy getting put in the hospital in 1975. This was because Iggy, who was wearing tights and a pink tutu at the time, had gotten pounded in the face by a huge member of the Scorpions bike gang at a show the night before. The next day he went on the radio and challenged the whole gang to come to his next performance which they did. The recording is marked by the sounds of M-80's flying up on stage at the Michigan Palace in Detroit and Iggy dedicating "Rich Bitch" to "all the Hebrew women in the audience". Iggy wasn't always cool. He had been upset by the Jewish Defense League boycotting their shows because of the mint condition SS uniform Ron Asheton would sometimes wear. Nevertheless Pop was an equal- opportunity offender. Sure the bikers kicked his ass but Iggy always managed to see the good side of things "our lady fans in the front rows threw a lot of beautiful underwear, which I thought was sweet."
After the Stooges the Asheton brothers went home to live with their mom and pump gas. Iggy became a drugged out waste case in LA until Bowie again saved his ass. He put out a couple of memorable albums in 1977, the year punk exploded - Lust for Life and The Idiot, but the music was more like-what the post-punk of PIL and Joy Division would/sound like several years later than like the Damned or Ramones. Iggy was again ahead of his time. These were still seminal albums and two cuts are immortal - "The Passenger" and "Sister Midnight". After that the albums are a mixed bag but a few stand out. Instinct, with Steve Jones, from the mid- eighties is a tight, hard and underrated album.
"I want to be Your Dog," "Search and Destroy", "Your Pretty Face is Going to Hell", "Death Trip", "1969", "Penetration" and "Dirt" are songs to live by. . More than that they are songs that feel like life, more than anything I've ever heard. Fear, love, hate and, well, just pure shit lust, and not a single goddamned thing is forced. Now in the nineties, Iggy, the 48 year-old dad, performs live with more sincerity and energy than countless rip-off- Clash/Buzzcocks clones that MTV calls punk, his flabless leathery torso betraying a multitude of scars. Unlike the kneejerk nihilists who would imitate him by the thousands, Iggy burned the candle at both ends and came out the other side, with a certain degree of wisdom. In the nineties he would tell journalist Nick Kent:
"There's this whole glory trip in rock'n'roll....Yet in New York and in the Third World countries I sometimes visit I see real people living real lives involving real struggles and real hardship. Let's face it, the only reason rock'n'roll guys are viewed as heroes in the first place is that they usually come from a country that hasn't recently been defeated in any war, where the economy is bountiful.....this describes me as well...it's pretty ironic, really when you realize my dad was out there fighting a war at exactly the same age I was when I first started smoking pot....The other day I heard myself saying - actually it was more like boasting - to my wife, 'you know, honey, times were hard. I remember walking through the snow to start the Stooges.' I mean, big fucking deal y'know."
Diamanda Galas is an American singer who has a problem. Somebody else's problem a few might say. That's okay. I think she's sincere. Her problem is a super plague which has completely rechanneled sexual mores into traditional patterns and prematurely taken the lives of practically a generation of artists. One such artist was Diamanda's brother Philip, a gay playwright.
To bring about a level of intensity to a sensually shell shocked twentieth century audience. Galas has striven to do with her voice what Hendrix did with his guitar. Whatever you want to call what she has done, it is not easy listening, rather It's sheer passion beyond consciousness, from dark places where the sun never shines. Wild Women with Steak Knives and the Litanies of Satan (adapted from Baudelaire's text) are two of the most chilling aural documents I have been exposed to. Diamanda produces sounds and tones, with her classically trained three and a half octave voice, that almost induce a physical revulsion upon reflection that they came from a human being. If you can deal the effect is uplifting and terrifying. The Diva stretches the bounds of natural law. One would think she had transcended them.
In a early nineties interview with Andrea Juno formerly of Re-Search, Galas cut the air with a dozen odd pages of "cut their fucking heads off attitude. Talking about her life on the streets as a junkie prostitute in Hunter's Point during the seventies, her formal music training and how she used to pray to the devil when "resting" in an insane asylum. She, in addition, elaborated on her recipe for harmony between the sexes (which would get featured in a pull-quote by Juno): "I think people should have an ideal." For equality she would talk to a woman, for a slave she would "fuck a man up the ass." She then went on to talk about how much she liked to do just that with dildos and other such equipment. All in all Juno and Galas cackle away in an infernal Thelma and Louise way while saying things about men that Larry Flynt of Hussler fame would probably eat his shit filled diapers before saying about women. (Diamanda would be an interesting date but I'd be sure to pack heat, even in bed, were I to be a 120 minutes of attempted sodom date. Nevertheless I found her confrontational up- frontness very humorous and refreshing. Better than doing Dutch with someone like Kathleen Hanna who would tell me IT'S NOT FUNNY.)
Seeing Galas perform old blues songs at the Palace of Fine Arts lit by extremely stark lighting which left her framed in black and indigo as she played a Grand Piano that was contact miked,, I was not disappointed, though I would rather have experienced the Plague Mass with the blood and microphones, or Steak Knives. As it was the Singer performance still was stunning and "I Put a Spell on You" which concluded with Ms. Galas speaking in tongues was one of the most eerie compositions I've ever had the fortune to hear live.
Still she can't shut up about AIDS prevention and the need for a cure. At an "Alternative" Music Convention she would ask an assembled throng of "Alternative" types why no one could get it up in a condom for "my fine ass." The point was, of course, to promote safe sex but the only volunteer was one of the guys from scummy New York hardcore outfit Murphy's Law I don't know if she took him up on it.
The Thirteenth Floor Elevators were the first full bore acid rock band by most people's estimation, as far as any hipster seems to be able to figure. Their first album was the first rock and roll record to put the word "psychedelic" on the cover and the lyrics that were written by Erickson and "jug player" Tommy Hall had numerous references to better living through chemistry. Hall, who was the band's guru, having turned them all onto Texas grown mescaline as well as LSD-25, was a U of T psychology major, self professed "Head" and the Ken Kesey/Tim Leary of West Texas. Hall took under his wing a bunch of rockin' greasers called the Spades who became the Elevators. Spades frontman Erickson had written a song called "Your Gonna Miss Me" which is your standard white punk "You're gonna get yours bitch" tune of the sort that garage bands had picked up from old blues geezers. "You're Gonna Miss Me" would become the Elevators only chart hit (reaching number 57) but was the least interesting of their songs. Under Hall's tutelage Erickson began producing lyrics with references to the music of the spheres" while the band would write instrumentals worthy of the early Jam in terms of punk drive and simplicity (most notably on the song "Roller Coaster"). Hall played a 1 1/2 gallon kerosene "jug" that he couldn't leave alone long enough (the bubdeboowuwu sound that can always be heard hovering in the air on those old Elevator albums). Hall also made sure that everyone in the band was eating acid everyday.
Roky was busted for possession of hashish in what looks to have been a set-up. Facing hard time, or the alternative of a stay in the mental hospital, Erickson chose the later where he got three years of shock treatment and Thorazine (to round out psychic development sculpted by Crystal Meth in San Francisco '66-'67). When he finally got out.... well let's just say Roky wasn't very coherent. It was the seventies anyway.
Amazingly enough Erickson was actually able to resume a musical career sort of, unlike Syd Barret over in England. In 1976 he recorded "Red Temple Prayer" or "Two Headed Dog." In the lyrics Roky talks about "Woridn' in the Kremlin with a two-headed dog", and "Children nailed to a cross/Pain does not look our hell/certainly is not a spell/sweet waste from well...Winds quiet in the night/her body blows just messiah". No I don't know what this means either, but it sounds cool. Tax the arrogance of the allegedly sane.
Roky enjoyed a cult appreciation in the seventies and eighties. His interviews almost always proved to be catatonic while his lyrics presented strange, but godlike admixtures of Christianity, Satanism and an appreciation for the EC horror comics of his youth mixed in with Creature Feature B Movies. The rest of-the Elevators retired from music in one way or another. If you play with fire you could get burned.