Author Archives: Michael H. Little

Graded on a Curve:
Green Day,
Dookie

Occasionally–and by that I mean maybe once or twice a year–I ask myself why I hate Green Day. They come up with nice melodies, I admire Billie Joe Armstrong’s public disdain for Donald Trump, and there are definitely worse bands I can spend my time despising. But despise them I do, and I’m not alone. I recently hosted a competition to see who could come up with the most entertaining reason for hating Green Day, and here are a few of the responses I received.

My friend Patrick stopped short of hate, but did say, “When I hear Green Day’s name my soul crumbles into a deflated heap on the floor and I stare pleadingly at the ceiling to not exist.” My friend Kathleen went on a rampage about how ”every single person who attended high school or college since 1997 has been subjected to “Good Riddance/Time of Your Life” and it’s a miracle we don’t all have PTSD” before adding, “Green Day and their shit-filled, faux-punk (ha!) songs need to get the hell off my lawn!”

But first place goes to my good pal Steve, who wrote, “They remind me of the snot-nosed Bratz that used to live on my street. One day I was changing the starter on my car. My feet were sticking out from under it and about five of them showed up. They started singing that Queen song “We Will Rock You” and before they got to the third “rock you” I felt a warm splashing on my legs. The snot-nosed kids were pissing on me. That’s what Green Day remind me of.”

But let’s get down to why I hate Green Day. In part it’s because they’re directly responsible for the likes of Blink 182, Sum 41, and No Doubt, which in and of itself means we’d all be better off had they never happened. More importantly, they were the sugar-coated spearhead of tweener rebellion, and as such responsible for spawning a a generation of kiddie punks playing dress up (“Look, I found dad’s purple Mohawk in the closet!”) in hopes of scaring both parents and teachers who’ve–ho hum–seen it all before. Their greatest fear isn’t punk–it’s that their kids will take to wearing pink Izod Lacoste polo shirts with baby blue sweaters tied around their shoulders. If you really want to scare the bejesus out of the ‘rents, kids, Izod is the way to go.

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Graded on a Curve:
U.S. Maple,
Long Hair in Three Stages

Defunct noise-rock outfit U.S. Maple’s career was one long acknowledgement of failure, futility, and self-hatred. The Chicago quartet went on record stating Rock was dead, but instead of taking the coward’s way out by abandoning their guitars for grad school (the last refuge of a scoundrel), they set out on the perverse course of deconstructing their songs, and putting them back together helter-skelter. The results were songs that were like Frankenstein’s monster, only with the legs sewed on where the arms should be and a head for a foot.

With each new release, U.S. Maple made rock music that celebrated the utter folly of making rock music, struggling to create something new under the “been there, done that” sun only to stop, shuddering in horror, upon realizing that all it was doing was dreaming up new ways to flog a dead genre. It is only in hindsight that one can see that while U.S. Maple may have failed, just as all true artists fail (“Only one thing matters,” said E.M. Cioran of artists and life in general, “learning to be the loser”), they did succeed in creating a body of music that is as initially difficult and out-of-kilter as it is ultimately perversely lovable and even funny.

The twisted and prickly structures of their screwball anti-songs have a way of sneaking up on you, of growing you a new set of ears as it were. At which point they still won’t sound right—U.S. Maple never sounds quite right—but they will sound as exciting and as innovative as rock (with its two million identical bands recycling the sounds of maybe 20 better bands) gets.

U.S. Maple—they were Al Johnson on vocals, Mark Shippy on “high” guitar, Todd Rittman on “low” guitar, and Pat Samson on drums—formed in 1995 and disbanded in 2007 after releasing five very outré LPs, including 1995 debut Long Hair in Three Stages. Johnson, the band’s secret weapon and my favorite singer, once said he “wanted to go the other way, to develop my inadequacies,” and he succeeded—or should I say failed?—admirably. When it comes to playing the creepy loser, Johnson is without parallel. He is less a singer than an accretion of alarming vocal nervous tics. He whispers, whimpers, warbles like an unhinged Maria Maldaur, croons, sighs, and does just about everything but actually sing. And it’s virtually impossible to make out a single word he says.

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Graded on a Curve:
The Byrds,
Sweetheart of the Rodeo

You’ve got to hand it to Gram Parsons; the boy had chutzpah. No sooner had the relatively unknown 21-year-old joined The Byrds in February 1968 in the wake of the departure of David “I Am the Walrus” Crosby and Michael Clarke, he managed to talk the band, including leader Roger McGuinn, into scuttling McGuinn’s plans for an ambitious double album of the history of American popular music in favor of an album of straight-up country music, or country-rock if you insist, or “Cosmic American Music” as Parsons poetically termed it.

It must have been an audacious piece of salesmanship, for no rock band—much less a pop supergroup with the psychedelic bona fides of The Byrds—had ever attempted anything so potentially suicidal from a commercial standpoint. From “Eight Miles High” to “The Christian Life”? Longhairs playing pure country honk? Why, the idea was unthinkable, risible even, although The Byrds themselves had dabbled in country before and Bob Dylan himself would make the transition soon enough.

To add authenticity, The Byrds (McGuinn on acoustic guitar, banjo, and vocals; Chris Hillman on bass, mandolin, acoustic guitar, and vocals; Parsons on acoustic guitar, piano and organ, and vocals; and Kevin Kelley on drums) wrangled up a crew of mostly Nashville ringers, including legendary electric guitarist Clarence White (who would die tragically in 1973, hit by a drunken driver); John “Tear Down the Grand Ole Opry” Hartford on banjo, fiddle, and acoustic guitar; Lloyd Green and JayDee Maness on pedal steel guitar; Roy Husky on double bass; and Earl Poole Ball and Barry “Electric Flag” Goldberg on piano.

Parsons’ tenure as a Byrd turned out to be short-lived—he soon went on to form The Flying Burrito Brothers with Chris Hillman—and the Sweetheart sessions ended in controversy and chaos, with McGuinn (the original Lou Reed!) erasing Parsons’ vocals on three songs during post-production and rerecording them himself, leaving Parsons as lead vocalist on just three cuts. The ostensible reason for this varies from unresolved contractual questions about Parsons to McGuinn’s refusal to be upstaged by the unknown rich boy in his spiffy psychedelic-drug-and-pill-themed Nudie suit (which, in the interests of historical authenticity, he probably didn’t purchase until later.)

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Graded on a Curve:
Rod Stewart,
Foot Loose & Fancy Free

I had the strangest dream the other night. I was cruising Broadway Avenue in Saskatoon (The Paris of the Prairie!) with a dead moose tied to the hood of my pickup truck. The dead moose was Rod Stewart. Pedestrians kept pointing and asking, “Is that dead moose Rod Stewart?”And I would answer, “Sure is. Went hooves up around the time he released Foot Loose & Fancy Free.

I know there’s a lot wrong with this scenario. For starters, Rod Stewart is not a moose. And he hails from England, not the wilds of Canada. Furthermore, he has a rooster comb haircut, while your average moose prefers antlers. And while moose are majestic creatures of good taste, most of them don’t listen to Rod Stewart. They would sooner graze and rut and clash antlers and do other fun moose stuff. And moose don’t go around asking other moose, “Do ya think I’m sexy?” Moose know they’re not sexy. Same deal with hot legs. The females of the moose species do not have hot legs. Nor do they wear jet black suspender belts.

But here’s the rub–something went terribly awry between 1971, when Stewart released the classic Every Picture Tells a Story, and 1977, when Foot Loose & Fancy Free hit the record shelves. What had become of the Rod Stewart who’d roamed the white birch forests of Saskatchewan Province, singing his mighty moose heart out? He’d become a hack. Sold his antlers for filthy lucre. It was a snorting shame.

1977’s Foot Loose (or should that be Hoof Loose?) and Fancy Free, a collection of insipid ballads and hand-me-down remakes with only two rock tracks to cut the treacle, squandered the good will of all but those moose who’d embraced punk, outraging their elders with their Mohawks, safety pins, and nasty habit of pissing anarchy symbols on every second tree in the boreal forest.

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Graded on a Curve:
Nico,
Chelsea Girl

Celebrating Nico on what would have been her 82 birthday.Ed.

Everybody, or so it seems, loves Teutonic chanteuse Nico’s absolutely enchanting 1967 debut solo album Chelsea Girl–except Nico. In 1981 she said, “I asked for simplicity, and they covered it in flutes! They added strings and–I didn’t like them, but I could live with them. But the flutes! The first time I heard the album, I cried and it was all because of the flute.”

“They” were Velvet Underground producer Tom Wilson and arranger Larry Fallon, and as should be obvious from the above quote they sugar-frosted Chelsea Girl without so much as asking for Nico’s by your live.

Nico may have been crestfallen about Chelsea Girl, but generations of listeners have been bewitched by her hauntingly droning approach to songs by the likes of the young Jackson Browne, Bob Dylan, Tim Hardin, and (of course) her former Velvet Underground bandmates Lou Reed, John Cale, and Sterling Morrison. These songs are as coldly tender as a Baltic Sea wind blowing through the pines of Spreewald Forest where Nico spent her childhood war years, watching the flickering lights of Allied bombers devastating Berlin on the horizon.

The veddy veddy German Nico (aka Christa Päffgen) is certainly one of the most distinctive vocalists you’ll ever run across; my East German ex-Frau lost her accent within a year or so of leaving the Deutschland, but the ex-model, Warhol actress, and member of his Exploding Plastic Inevitable’s accent remained every bit as thick as the walls of Hitler’s bunker, making her without a doubt the frostiest Ice Queen in the history of modern pop music.

But Nico’s frigid vocals are warmed up by this collection of winsome songs; with the exception of the eerily beautiful (and vaguely Middle Eastern sounding) “It Was a Pleasure Then” (on which Reed and Cale bring to bear the all of the dissonant powers they displayed on “European Son”) “Chelsea Girls,” and Hardin’s “Eulogy to Lenny Bruce” the tunes are fetching, and the Wilson-Fallon strings and flute overlay gives the LP an accessible, chamber pop sheen. Which, of course, Nico despised.

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Graded on a Curve:
The Great Kat,
Beethoven Shreds

Roll over Beethoven indeed. Chuck Berry may have declared poor Ludwig’s classical music passe, but he left it alone; The Great Kat, the speediest guitarist this side of Yngwie Malmsteen, puts it in a shredder. The guy should be grateful he’s deaf.

To Beethoven’s great relief, the title of the Great Kat’s 2011 compilation Beethoven Shreds is something of a misnomer. She also shreds the works of Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, Johann Sebastian Bach, and Niccolò Paganini. She benevolently gives the likes of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Johannes Brahms, and Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky a reprieve. Which isn’t to say they should heave a sigh of relief. She’s sure to get around to them later.

The Great Kat’s affinity for classical music comes naturally. She’s a classically trained violinist and graduate of the prestigious Juilliard School of Music, and has toured with orchestras. But at some point she asked herself she why she should go through life as just another anonymous face in an orchestra pit when she could reinvent herself as a thrash guitarist basking in the limelight of dubious fame. Call it a case of cat scratch fever.

The problem with the Great Kat’s unique approach to her art form is two-fold. For one, most human beings’ idea of entertainment doesn’t encompass listening to a speed metal guitarist savage the works of history’s greatest composers. Moreover, while many lovers of a good shred find her ability to play 1,000 notes per second jaw-dropping, they understand that speed is wasted in a vacuum.

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Graded on a Curve:
The Carpenters,
The Singles: 1969-1973

Celebrating Richard Carpenter’s 74th birthday.Ed.

My youth was haunted by the specter of the Carpenters. My younger sister suffered from a form of demonic possession that caused her to play the damnable duo around the clock, and not in the privacy of her room, but on the stereo in the living room, making their easy listening palaver impossible to avoid. I was inundated by the band that President Richard Milhous Nixon called “Young America at its best,” and there were times when I thought if I heard their version of “Please Mr. Postman” again I would go postal, for real.

How the decades change things. I now love the Carpenters, love their squeaky-clean image (which Richard hated), immaculate arrangements, and total lack of soul. Because if there was one thing they lacked, it was soul. The Carpenters made The Captain and Tennille look like Ike and Tina Turner. But who needs soul? Some of my favorite bands are seriously challenged in the soul department. Killdozer has no soul. Cows had no soul. Besides, while my sister was subsisting on an All-Carpenters diet I was doing the same with Elton John, and when it really comes down to it the only difference between the two is that the Carpenters would have never have laid a finger on “The Bitch Is Back.” Otherwise, both bands were MOR all the way.

I’m not sure what led to my religious conversion; was it their bleached version of Leon Russell’s “Superstar?” Or their anodyne take on “Rainy Days and Mondays?” It doesn’t matter. What matters is that at some point in time I had a moment of Satori; sure they were soulless, but so was Kraftwerk, and I’d sooner listen to the Carpenters’ than that gaggle of Krauts on synthesizers any day. Karen’s voice was angelic. Their melodies were magic. And despite their reputation as the easy listening band par excellence they were more hardcore than I ever gave them credit for, as is proved by the fact that Richard (who turned into a Quaalude junkie!) used to make his entrance on stage by motorcycle, while Karen pounded away at the drums. In a way, the Carpenters WERE America’s Kraftwerk; both bands were really machines that produced songs that were perfectly crafted—machine-tooled, as it were.

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Graded on a Curve: Nazareth,
Hair of the Dog

The Scottish clods o’ peat in this hard-working, hard-rocking man’s man band never won any originality awards, and weren’t exactly well-versed in the songwriting arts either, and given their high scunge factor, I doubt they’d even be allowed into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as paying customers, much less as inductees.

They’re not going to be inducted into baseball’s Hall of Fame anytime soon, either. Hell, they only hit two homers over the course of their long career, and their lifetime batting average is in the .233 range. Forget about Cooperstown; these guys would be lucky to earn a spot on the bench of the 1962 New York Mets.

But I’ll say this for ‘em–way back in 1975 every badass or wannabe badass in my home town was blaring Nazareth’s Hair of the Dog out of their car 8-track speakers, whether that car be a GTO or a rusted-out Ford Pinto. The title track–with its “Now you’re messin’ with a son of a bitch”–was a blast of pure unbridled belligerence and without a doubt the orneriest cut of the summer, hell the whole year probably. Alice Cooper may have put out “No More Mr. Nice Guy,” but that was play acting; Nazareth’s Dan McCafferty came on like the Real McCoy.

As for the album title, me and my buddies prided ourselves on knowing what it meant even though we’d never cracked a beer (much less suffered a hangover) in our lives–it made us feel adult, worldly even, just as that “Now you’re messin’ with a son of a bitch” made us feel tough, when in effect we were probably the wimpiest band of geeks to ever gingerly trod the halls of Littlestown High School, on the lookout for the real sons of bitches.

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Graded on a Curve:
Alice Cooper,
Killer

Ten bonus points and a dead baby if you can tell me which album John Lydon called his favorite of all time. All time! That means he likes it more than KC and the Sunshine Band’s The Sound of Sunshine or the Eagles’ Hotel California even! Unimaginable! Well, if the dead babies reference didn’t tip you off, which it certainly should have, the former Johnny Rotten’s favorite rock album in the whole wide world, including the Sammy Johns record with “Chevy Van” on it, is Alice Cooper’s Killer.

1971’s Killer followed hard on the heels of that same year’s breakthrough LP for the band, Love It to Death. Which I prefer to Killer, but who cares? I’m not John Lydon. Anyway, Killer cemented the band’s reputation for writing songs of macabre weirdness, which they milked for all they were worth with a live show that included decapitations, gallows, giant snakes, the execution of Sacco and Vanzetti, 7,000 showgirls wearing glitter-encrusted Nazi jackboots and porcupine-spike bras, a full-scale reenactment of the crash of the Hindenburg, and an elderly Dr. Josef Mengele playing cowbell. Okay, so I exaggerate. But the band’s gory and fantabulous live show delighted teens while deeply disturbing parents, who were convinced that Cooper’s magically morbid extravaganzas were going to instantaneously transform their kiddies into wild-eyed axe murderers. Which made the kids love it even more!

I’ve said before that the perfect LP would have combined the first three tracks of Love It to Death—in which guitarists Glen Buxton and Michael Bruce play like men possessed by the Devil—and the first two tracks and “Dead Babies” from Killer. But that’s not the way it went down, and I have to (resentfully) live with it. I suspect they had slave-like contractual obligations with their record label that obligated them to put out two albums in 1971, when they’d have been much better served by only releasing one. That was how things were often done back in the day, when record companies behaved much in the same way as antebellum southern plantation owners.

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Graded on a Curve:
Van Halen,
Women and Children First

What to say about the passing of Eddie Van Halen? Sad? Tragic? Heartbreaking? If the words are trite ones, it’s because death is the mother of a vast brood of cliches. What I’ll carry with me forever is his impish grin in the video for “Jump.” Can a smile sum up a man’s life? It’s the smile of a show-off making it look easy when you know damn well it isn’t, but there’s nothing smug about it. He’s simply bequeathing us a gift, the giving of which makes him happy. As for the fireworks he produced with his guitar, they speak for themselves.

I fell in love with Van Halen as a result of that video, which many–including my lovely other half–view as a sell-out. But the song’s sheer exuberance won me over, and led me to do something I would never have done otherwise–go back and listen to, and fall in love with, the band’s earlier albums.

One of said albums is 1980’s Women and Children First, which I put in third place in the Van Halen discography behind their self-titled 1978 debut and 1984’s 1984. On Women and Children First Pasadena’s greatest ever metal band pulverize the competition–Eddie shows off his hair-raising chops while David Lee Roth does his patented Borscht Belt shtick, and drummer Alex Van Halen and bass player Michael Anthony make like a steamroller with swing. In short, it’s business as usual.

The LP’s two opening tracks are its best. “And the Cradle Will Rock” is one of the heaviest songs in the Van Halen catalogue–less blitzkrieg than juggernaut, it boasts (as do the other songs) a guitar solo I’m sure has led many a lesser guitarist to take up the tuba, and a message (“Well, they say it’s kinda frightnin’/How this younger generation swings”) that’s resounded the whole way back to the origins of rock ’n’ roll and beyond.

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Graded on a Curve:
Eric Carmen,
Eric Carmen

Eric Carmen wanted a Number One hit record. Badly. He said as much in “Overnight Sensation (Hit Record)” from his band the Raspberries fourth and final LP, Starting Over. But “Overnight Sensation” didn’t come close to topping the pop charts, and following the Raspberries’ dissolution he considered his options. He could keep trying to woo music fans with power pop, or conquer the world with shlock. He went with the shlock.

The result was the strings-drenched “All by Myself” from his debut solo LP, 1975’s Eric Carmen. An exercise in mock-classical piano and maudlin self-pity, “All by Myself” marked a radical departure from the Raspberries’ oversized Beatles and Beach Boys-influenced sound. It become the official anthem for lonely teen bedroom weepers everywhere, and I’m ashamed to admit I was one of them.

Eric Carmen is the vexingly uneven work of a man flailing around. Carmen expands his range of influences, mostly in the wrong direction. Why else cover the done to-death “On Broadway,” or take things one step further with the show tune in search of a show that is “Great Expectations”? Eric Carmen is the record of a disheartened artist; if the world’s greatest power pop anthem “Go All the Way” failed to put him on the cover of Rolling Stone, desperate measures were in order.

But Eric Carmen has is share of small pleasures, thanks to Carmen’s uncanny ability to shuffle through the used record bins in search of additions to his list of musical inspirations. Shameless apery, I suppose you could call it. But that’s half the fun–Carmen’s skill has always lay in mimicry and his specialty is the homage.

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Graded on a Curve:
Van Halen,
1984

Remembering Eddie Van Halen, from our archives.Ed.

A couple of years ago the apartment my ex-wife and I lived in suffered a mouse infestation. We tried regular traps and glue traps, but they seemed terribly cruel, so we finally bought some catch-and-release traps. We lived on the third floor, and I got tired of carrying the traps down to the alley to release them. So I thought, why not release them on the balcony, where they’d be free to scamper along the rooftops to safety? So I tried it, but instead of escaping via the rooftops my frightened test mouse shot out of his little prison like a furry little bullet, promptly sailed off the edge of our balcony, and fell screaming (I may have imagined the screaming) to the concrete parking space below.

I’m not sure why—or actually I am—why that mouse never fails to remind me of Van Halen’s great “Jump.” I might as well have been singing, “Jump! Go ahead and jump!” as he plummeted earthwards. But anyway, the point I want to make is not that mice should look before they leap, although they should, but that I love Van Halen’s “Jump”—loved it even during those years when virtually all I listened to were SST bands, and admitting to liking a Van Halen song (at least amongst my crowd) was not so far from confessing to like that Seals and Crofts song about the summer breeze blowing through the jasmine in your mind.

I should add that my love for “Jump” did not extend to Van Halen itself. I had in fact never so much as listened to a Van Halen LP in its entirety, much less owned one. Honestly? I thought they were a band of morons. They dressed like Jose Feliciano was their haberdasher, and it was my considered opinion that Eddie Van Halen was a shameless showboater with his tapping (a technique he didn’t invent); single pickup, single volume knob guitar; and volume swells, or “violining.”

Then there was the perpetually mugging David Lee Roth, whom I considered the world’s oldest class clown. (I’ve come to love him over the years for the same reason.) As for bassist Michael Anthony, well, bassist Michael Anthony was just short. Too short. Like midget short. Then there was the drummer, Eddie’s brother, whose name slips my mind (Alex? Alek like Lee Harvey Oswald’s USSR name?) but it hardly matters because who pays attention to the drummer except other drummers anyway?

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Graded on a Curve:
Van Halen,
Van Halen

Remembering Eddie Van Halen.Ed.

So I was listening to the masterful and spiritually uplifting guitar artistry of John McLaughlin and thought, “You know what? I’d rather listen to Van Halen.” That’s the kind of spiritually evolved being I am. There is the cosmos, with its songs of devotion and birds of fire, and then there is the shirtless David Lee Roth. The fact that I prefer the latter is proof that I exist upon a lower class astral plane, in a double-wide trailer whose front yard is littered with empty beer cans.

Let me say this just to start: When it comes to Van Halen, I’m a 1984 guy. Hardcore fans call 1984 a sell-out. I deny they sold out. I would argue they sold up. But the fact is I’ve already written about 1984, so I’m writing about Van Halen’s kick-ass 1978 self-titled debut. It’s not 1/10th as funny as 1984–the biggest laugh riot of a metal LP this side of Kix’s first–but it rocks much harder and is a lot meaner to boot. Van Halen was the opening salvo of a band that was clearly hungry and just as clearly had something to prove.

It’s evident in every note Eddie Van Halen plays; you can hear it in David Lee Roth’s straight-from-the-crotch vocal swagger. Not all of its songs are winners–I might even go far as to say its B side sags–but the winners win big. Why, “Ain’t Talkin’ ‘bout Love” is so wonderful The Minutemen saw fit to cover it on Double Nickels on the Dime. When you’re the kind of band punk rockers love to hate but punk rockers still love your songs, you must be doing something right.

Van Halen was not universally beloved upon its release. The critics in particular were mean. Rolling Stone’s Charles M. Young opined, “In three years, Van Halen is going to be fat and self-indulgent and disgusting … follow[ing] Deep Purple and Led Zeppelin right into the toilet. In the meantime, they are likely to be a big deal.” Meanwhile, the Village Voice’s Robert Christgau, commenting about Van Halen’s status as a bar band, wrote, “The term becomes honorific when the music belongs in a bar. This music belongs on an aircraft carrier.” And you know what? He’s right. This music does belong on an aircraft carrier, provided everybody on said aircraft carrier is drunk, said aircraft carrier is driving erratically and well over the posted speed limit, and there’s a wet t-shirt contest being held on the flag bridge.

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Graded on a Curve: Richard Hell and
the Voidoids,
Blank Generation

Of New York punk’s first wave, only Richard Hell and the Voidoids truly embraced the nihilism that punk has come to represent in the popular imagination. The Ramones, great as they were, were one step away from being a joke band; Television was far too ascetic and monk-like; and the Talking Heads were too intellectually frigid. As for Patti Smith, she flirted with the idea of anarchy, but was far too positive a soul to be a nihilist. It’s not her fault; nihilists never hail from New Jersey.

I could go on but I won’t, because the only point I want to make is that Hell was the only musician at that time and place asking the only question the existentialists found pertinent, to wit, “Why should I bother living?” And his grappling with this question—along with the excellence of his band, which included the late, great guitarist Robert Quine—are what makes 1977’s Blank Generation such a seminal punk recording.

Hell, aka Richard Mayers, was born in Kentucky and took the scenic route to the Voidoids. Having moved to New York City, he commenced his rock career as a member of the Neon Boys, which became Television. Friction with Television’s Tom Verlaine led Hell to leave and co-found the Heartbreakers with Johnny Thunders, but Hell found it no easier to work with Thunders than he did with Verlaine, so he finally set about establishing a band in which he was boss. The Voidoids—they got their name from a novel Hell was writing—included Hell on vocals and bass, Quine and Ivan Julian on guitars, and Marc Bell on drums.

Hell—he took his name from A Season in Hell by that enfant terrible of French letters, Arthur Rimbaud, whose life and work made him a totem amongst the intellectual wing of the CBGB’s crowd—was a well-read poet who gravitated towards literature’s dark side, and found there—just as I did—plenty of reasons to give the gimlet eye to human existence.

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Graded on a Curve: Diamanda Galás,
Vena Cava

What to make of a woman who makes Yoko Ono sound like Janis Ian?

I’m referring, of course, to Diamanda Galás, who can certainly sing but on 1993’s Vena Cava prefers to shriek, screech, scream, keen, warble, jabber, ululate, moan, hiss, speak in tongues and sing “In Heaven There Is No Beer.” I suppose we’re meant to think she’s in the throes of demonic possession, and that “In Heaven There is No Beer” almost convinces me. Had she tossed in “How Many Bottles of Beer on the Wall,” I’d be a believer.

After consulting my Ouija board I think it safe to call Galás the most pretentious avant garde artist of our time, and kindly suggest that anyone who takes her cheesy Linda Blair act seriously invest in a new pentagram. If this is what Satan really sounds like, I suggest he rethink his approach. He certainly isn’t going to win any converts by annoying the fuck out of them.

I’m sure the songs on this concept album are meant to convey a message of deep artistic import, but I for one lack both the curiosity and aural fortitude to figure out what that message is, unless it be to turn it off and listen to something else. In 1993 the FBI used dying rabbit screams to drive David Koresh’s followers from the Branch Davidian compound. It didn’t work. Vena Cava would have worked. Say what you will about the album, it might have saved lives.

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