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Category Archives: Whisky Tango Foxtrot.
This is what I’ve always said about Lou Reed’s approach to rock and roll: for all of the avant-garde moments that challenge his critics and casual fans and what they could never wrap their head around is that, ultimately, he was the blue-collar rock star. Indeed, he was far more blue-collar than Springsteen and Mellancamp and the like. And this is not because he sang of making ends meet and unionizing problems. Instead, he sang exactly of the kind of environment that fit him best — the mixture that is New York, the high, and the impossibly low. And because he was the artist to do so, it’s what made him the middle class: All of his albums, from the Velvet Underground’s self-titled album to the very end, they have kind of work-man quality to them: he speaks of things no other artist is willing to discuss so frankly, but he does so in such a plain, honest, and frank voice.
But the secret of this is not in the studio albums. As a graduate of the Pickwick school of musical apery, he knew exactly where his bread was buttered. Instead, if you want ANY indication of the sort of artist Lou Reed was, you need to look to his live material. Every song, every version of “Viscous,” “Sweet Jane” and “Satellite of Love” is vaguely the same, but each time performed differently, even slightly. You can look to the simple artistry all you want in the one-chord brilliance of “Heroin,” but the beauty of Lou Reed’s music is that even he performed his songs differently, each and every fucking time. Compare the studio version, to the “Rock and Roll Animal” version, to the one he did with Metallica for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and every one of them is different because that’s the way it goes as he sings them. It is the work of a man whose interests are rock and roll in and of itself, and the avant-garde: Things can be familiar and foreign at the same time, and hell, they should be.
Lou Reed proved that rock can be primitive and artsy simultaneously. “Heroin” is a testament to that philosophy, just as much as anything from “White Light/White Heat,” or “Metal Machine Music.” Anyone looking for one or the other is looking like a fool: Lou Reed could do whatever he pleased, because he was held to no philosophy, no matter how much he studied, or how much he ignored.
Lou is rock’s everyman. Art, performance, and composition was the 9 to 5 for him. It’s the reason why New Yorkers resonated with him, just as much as it is the gritty depictions of street life, one of so many in the mid-century era of New York chock full of gritty in-your-face attitude artists. Even his most inaccessible work (Metal Machine Music) is based on the principle that it gives somebody “what they want” (you love guitar sounds? Here’s all the guitar sound you can handle). Lou Reed was simply too busy giving everybody what they wanted to bother with compromise, and that’s the lone reason why he is so loved, hated, revered, tolerated, and respected across the board — no matter who you are.
At the ripe old age of 26, I have come to terms with myself as being disconnected from my generation and what has become widely popular with the age groups that I have been lumped in with overtime for stupid and arbitrary reasons. In a society obsessed with crediting or blaming Baby Boomers for all the great things that happened in the 20th century, then quickly lambasted how shameless and listless their progeny, Gen-X, came to be, I enjoy a kind of bizarre ambiguity. In time, since 1999, I can recall reading articles that would define people in similar age brackets being part of “Generation Y.” Then “Generation, Why?” Then the “Nintendo Generation.” I’ve been lumped in with “iGeneration,” for a spell. And then there was that useless catch-all, “The Millenials,” which I do not consider myself a part of, as I can recall a time in my life when I did not have the Internet, or a cellular phone.
For the most part, I meet most of the recommendations I get from my peers regarding music with a skeptical ear. That useless bias for things widely considered classic by the critics and powers-that-be, as well as the “underground” and “secret successes” of bands long-gone get lumped similarly to me. I love anything that doesn’t have the power to disappoint me in the future, as I can only discover the the good things from a band long-gone, even if they were never that popular to begin with. Personally, this has drawn me primarily to the garage/punk bands of the 60’s and 70’s, and modern bands that take that sound directly. Even then, there are some bands recommended to me that I tend to avoid because I’ve developed an ear that can tell the difference between earnestness, trite and hollow tribute, and laziness.
My girlfriend is, admittedly, not somebody who takes music seriously — at least, not as much as I do. Regardless, she has become the default mixtape composer for our car trips together, and lately, she has knocked it out of the park. A lot of the tracks stem from our early days together as DJs at the world’s finest Internet-based college station, VIC of Ithaca College, but she still has the power to surprise. In particular, I cannot believe I missed Ezra Furman and the Harpoons during their college-rock hey-day as a group of absolute nerd-rockers who know the worth of keeping it simple, and isn’t afraid to be so.
In particular, she’s introduced me to “I Wanna Be Ignored,” a hyper-ironic pop-punk tune that combines the absolute best of two original CBGB’s bands — the Ramones and the Talking Heads — and sounds as modern as possible, while seemingly comfortable with the brainy-nervous qualities of New Jersey’s very own, the Feelies.
In a mere 3:37, this band (which has called both Massachusetts and Chicago, IL home) displays a strength for simple-as-all-get-out riffs, but mixed with the nervous, herky-jerk voice style of David Byrne in his prime. It creates a sound that is very much at home with the Feelies around their debut record, Crazy Rhythms, but has something that the Feelies would never dare display: Confidence. Ironic hesitation and shyness is one thing, but Ezra Furman and the Harpoons have a kind of bravery on display when frontman proudly proclaims, “I Wanna Be Ignored” — it’s not just a character to the song. It’s also the Ezra welcoming all to simply enjoy the music regardless of taste and personal background. And damned if it doesn’t work, even when, in the same song, manages to come off as too nerdy for its own good.
It’s difficult to judge whether it’s intentional or not, because most listeners will be quick to point out the originators of any particular influence, rather than the most obvious link (“Speedy Ortiz doesn’t sound like Pavement, because Pavement sounds like Sonic Youth and Television!” would be a recent example). But in my collection, I would hesitate to liken Ezra Furman to the Talking Heads and Modern Lovers, even if the influence IS obvious. In my mixtapes, Ezra Furman and the Harpoons have earned a spot closer to Camper Van Beethoven and the Feelies by virtue of simplicity — either because an acoustic guitar is all you got, or because it’s all you want to play with. But where a sense of humor is shared among all of the aforementioned bands, Ezra Furman demands your attention, ironically, and for all the right reasons: Music is meant to be loved in the moment.
David Bowie will never have a ‘last album.’ Sure, in terms of time and effort, there may be a few more left in his corporeal being, but he’s the kind of dude who’s entire body of even half-hearted demos can last the demanding public centuries of musical debate. And that’s the other thing: when you’ve had a career as storied, legendary, and ever-changing as his, how do you cap it all off? It’s an impossible task, and I certainly wouldn’t ask him to.
But what to make of this J.D. Salinger-esque reclusiveness in terms of creative output, besides his many film and television cameos and the occasional word with the press? To, suddenly, release an album out into the world with barely a month’s worth of advance notice, with two music videos to appear prior to the album’s full release, and with a cover virtually irreverent to the man’s own body of work? That cover should be the stuff of debates, given the music on the record and its own presentation of a sort of in-joke, as if the input after Heroes wasn’t worth remembering, and this is exactly what was supposed to follow.
The Next Day doesn’t quite follow that blueprint, though the cover certainly influences it. You can’t say this is the return of Ziggy, or the Thin White Duke, or any other variation of Bowie you can think of. In fact, it simply is The Next Day, but what that says — either as comment on the past or a continuation of Bowie’s impressive oveur — doesn’t matter as much as media types want to have you believe. Yet, I can’t help but feel like there was a twinge of frustration with this record, a need to just release something, just to move on past the speculation about what Mr. Bowie’s been doing all this time.
After the jump, David Bowie takes us to some very familiar territories via strange routes.
This is too cool — Major Scaled TV takes songs famously written in the minor key, and digitally alters them to be in the Major Key instead. And that’s everything — the vocals, the guitars, the keyboards. There’s only four songs posted thus far, but here’s one that should be of your interest.
“Riders on the Storm” sounds like a lovely jaunt through a light rain shower with some potentially unsavory characters.
Much like the efforts we take to write more, exercise more, drink less, spend less, work harder, take more time for ourselves and family, etc. etc., we also make resolutions at the beginning of a new year to change our cultural consumption habits as well. Maybe you’d like to visit more art museums, or read at least three historical non-fictions by the end of the year. Maybe you also want to start listening to an artist that you never really considered listening to before. Here at Electric Comic Book, we are dedicated to helping you get the most out of your musical experience, and so, we’d like to offer this short Rock Primer on how to appreciate a classic artist that can seem daunting to jump right into. Our first subject to this new feature is the notoriously intimidating Captain Beefheart.
Whether you’ve read past essays on this site on the life, times, and death of the good captain (aka Dan Van Vliet), Captain Beefheart still remains a mystifying and daunting figure for both the myths and legends behind his personal life, but also what’s actually on the records. While many of them are worthy of acclaim after years of gestating in the critical back shelf, it seems that since his death in 2010, interest in Captain Beefheart’s music has enjoyed a slight upswing as other critics (namely, Rolling Stone, who, I’ll admit, put together a good list of songs, but not albums) pointed to his ‘best stuff’ in their eulogies — many of which pointed to his masterpiece, 1969’s Trout Mask Replica. However, because it does remain a haunting, challenging listen — even now, and after I published last week I would sooner turn that album on at a party before White Light/White Heat — the focus of his ‘best’ is not the intention here. This primer will be a guide for those who still look upon the Captain’s work with trepidation, and need a guide on dipping your toes in first before diving in to the rest of the Beefheart legacy. And even though many of your favorite artists will be quick to cite him as an influence, and usually point to Trout Mask Replica as the starting point (indeed it was for me), there are some who are still unable to make the plunge. Mind you, among the artists who consider Beefheart an influence include (but are not limited to): Tom Waits, Jack White, Kurt Cobain, John Frusciante, Black Francis, John Cale, Little Feat, the Clash, Johnny Rotten, Beck, the Black Keys, Beck, and Matt Groening — who got the Magic Band to reunite for the year he curated All Tomorrow’s Parties. And if you like any of them, chances are you’ll find something to love about the shambling, intentionally mad, silly darkness and intentionally ‘wrong’ music of Captain Beefheart and His Magic Band. And for that, we don’t start with his most well-known work, but in a some safer territory.
After the Jump: Loving One of Rock’s Most Difficult Personas.
Every once in a while, I get on these kicks for the Talking Heads. I was never a huge fan growing up, and I still prefer the primitive-but-arty qualities of their CBGB brethren, Television. But, unfortunately, Television’s relative inaccessibility compared to Talking Heads’ innate funkiness leaves me wanting more bootlegs than I’m able to find. There’s some out there, but not as many as I would hope — nothing like The Blow-Up or Live at the Old Waldorf, but those are also official. Oh well.
Still, hearing a bootleg from that era of any of the CBGB bands is something special to behold, and this one thus far has been my favorite. Blog-friend Sarah sent it over to me this morning, and it has vastly improved my mood despite being sick.
At this show, the Talking Heads seem to be embracing a little more of the wilder aspects of ‘punk,’ sounding far more aggressive than usual, while David Byrne is deeper into his nervous stage persona. He growls through his teeth, shakes, and sweats throughout the show, while the rest of the band match his fervor with intense attack and release. There’s tension in this show, and gives me reason to enjoy Talking Heads a little bit more.
Check it out over at Aquarium Drunkard.