Saturday, February 16, 2002
Cool, Cool Tunes
Speaking of radio that doesn’t suck with chapped lips, listen to Cool Tunes on WAPS via your computer tonight from 10pm to Midnight (Eastern). We will bid fond farewell to Waylon Jennings, check out new rock from Chris Isaak, Phantom Planet, Andrew WK; punk from Bad Religion, Bracket, Rancid; electronica from Kalahari Surfers (from South Africa), Dusted, Rialto, and Louise Goffin(!!); in addition to great reissues by the Ramones, Uncle Tupelo, Psy Furs, Bill Evans, Hank Crawford and Jimmy McGriff; and much, much more!
All of this touching family crap reminds me of something. Over the years I have been very up and down regarding Garrison Keillor. I have seen him variously as overrated writer, hopeless singer, smug dilettante, a formula-squeezer, patronizing interloper, and a man who looks like a very large frog.
But I have also seen him as profound, empathetic, and moving oral humorist on par with Mark Twain and Will Rogers; an insightful man of letters; a generous Master of Ceremonies; and one of the finest overall radio talents of the last thirty years. His current version of A Prairie Home Companion may be the best ever. Keillor is at his mesmerizing, shamanistic best as his weekly report from Lake Wobegon whittles ever finer variations on the same story. Keillor can relax to a near-Zen state for his monlogue because the rest of the show is so good: the writing is sharp and timely, the cast is well-oiled and talented, the musical guests are now the best of any number of Americana-affiliated genres. And he keeps the audience fresh by taking the show on the road frequently away from its St.
Paul, Minnesota home. Tonight he is in New Orleans, oo la la. He also seems to have achieved detente with his fellow Minnesotans, who saw him as too big for his britches for a time.
I think of all this because Keillor once uttered these words in a monologue and they struck me with the force of TRUTH: “Nothing you do for a child is ever wasted or forgotten.”
Pee Pee In the Potty
The passages of late adolescence are profound, but no more so than those between infancy and childhood. Relinquishing the comforts and certainties of the baby life has to be the most difficult change between birth and death. The age of two isn’t just terrible from the parent’s perspective. There are reasons for the tantrums, the wild mood swings, the indecision, the random acts of violence and
destruction, the industrial sabotage.
The two year old is told: “You are not a baby anymore.” “Use the potty, aren’t you tired of diapers?” “You need to learn to stay in your own bed all night.” “What did you say? I can’t understand
you.” Though often still called “the baby,” she is no longer a baby, she is a little girl. She is self-aware. She has grasped many more concepts than she can yet express. She is frustrated that she can’t express her more complicated thoughts, or even, sometimes, just her wants and needs. She is dextrous and agile, yet there remain many basic things she just doesn’t know how to do. She is aware of a greater world beyond her immediate ken, but incapable of functioning in it on her own. She also remembers when life was less complicated, when Mommy and Daddy took care of everything and expected very little in return. It’s a tough time.
There are a number of things a parent can help with: regular reading, and speaking clearly and directly in real language (as opposed to baby talk, or repeating mispronounced words because it is “cute”) to a child can make a difference in language acquisition and facility. Explaining operations and policies clearly, patiently and firmly can reduce tantrums and speed understanding. But some things can only come at the child’s speed, and efforts to accelerate that speed can only lead to frustration.
Like potty training. Now on my third, I firmly believe that it has to be the child’s idea and has to be internally motivated. A child must learn to associate that funny feeling inside with the product of that feeling, and decide that it would be a cool thing to have control over those functions and to be able to bag the diaper, which at some point becomes an item of vague embarrassment. My first
daughter was ready right as she turned two: a very prim and self-possessed little thing, motivated by “pretty panties.” My son was almost three, he just didn’t want to be bothered with that nonsense - a diaper was a perfectly sensible and private place to eliminate waste. But when he decided the time had come, that was it. It wasn’t a process, it was an executive decision yielding definitive action. He’s still like that.
Now the second daughter. She is my wife’s first child, which makes a difference, and my wife has been fretting somewhat and applying mild pressure, subtle and otherwise, since our daughter turned two last October. None of the “Just tell Mommy or Daddy when you have to go,” or “Aren’t you tired of having that icky stuff touching you?” or “I am really tired of changing diapers, aren’t you tired of wearing them?” or “Big girls use the potty,” or other such entreaties seemed to make much difference until today. Today, she suddenly crawled out of the tub, sat on her potty with a far-off Mona Lisa smile, stood up, said “I went pee pee,” got back in the tub and resumed pouring “tea” for various rubber sea creatures. The time had come.
My 17 year old daughter got the triple whammy this week: three impacted wisdom teeth yanked viciously from their little homes - bone, blood and mucous spraying across the killing floor. This has become a ritual of a late-adolescence. I
had all four purged when I was 18 - every one horizontally impacted and completely surrounded by bone - leaving craters oozing blood and despair, a livid and swollen visage, and the residual flavor of gauze and anaesthetic.
Why this plague? Evolution has cast wisdom teeth in the role of pariahs, vestiges of our former selves, but unlike like the tail bone and the little muscles to wiggle our ears, wisdom teeth cause real pain and suffering. Thousands of years ago humans had bigger jaws with plenty of room for wisdom teeth (or “third molars”) because their rough diets - wild meat off the bone, random vegetation,
no processed foods, no banana smoothies - required a lot more chewing than does our mushy fare. They were gnawing, masticating fools and had big, heavy, muscular Roger Ramjet jaws to prove it. Our jaws have shrunk but the wisdom teeth remain, their removal a modern rite of passage (they become much harder to remove past early adulthood) as grim as any in adolescence. I hope you feel better, sweetie.
Friday, February 15, 2002
Marty and the Dolls Pt 3
They recorded their first album in two weeks for $17,000 with Todd Rundgren producing. Although the production was adequate, his personal treatment of the band caused resentment and friction in the studio and most of the Dolls thought he hadn’t captured the true raw power of their sound. Nonetheless, the record is considered a rock classic. The debut album was released in July 1973. The “transvestite” photo of the Dolls on the album’s front cover scared the hell out of people and seemed to confirm rumors they were gay. In reality, they were taking shots at the glitter scene and its one-dimensional fashion agenda. Their “camp” humor missed the mark but for those who understood, it was a typically on-target Dolls statement. The Dolls saw themselves as musicians, not just the latest trend, and while they were poking fun at glitter, the rest of the country saw them as queers and drug addicts, which, in the end, turned out to be partly true.
We booked a national tour. The night before it was to begin in Los Angeles, I received a call: Arthur’s girlfriend had tried to cut off his thumb with a kitchen knife. Connie later dated Dee Dee Ramone, and stabbed him too. Dolls roadie, Peter Jordan, filled in while Arthur healed. They were booked into L.A.’s Whiskey-A-Go-Go club for four nights, two shows a night, and sold it out in two hours. The word was out … the Dolls were coming to LA for the first time and it was a big event. They appeared on the nationally televised Midnight Hour TV show, giving America a first glimpse at what they’d been reading about for months.
In Memphis - in the heart of the Bible belt - the local papers ran articles warning mothers and fathers not to let their children attend the upcoming Dolls concert. These articles portrayed the band as obscene perverts and New York degenerates. Almost three thousand fans turned out to see the Dolls but the show was halted after a few songs and David was arrested for obscenity after an excited fan broke through the police lines in front of the stage and kissed him on the cheek. Three months later they were voted “Best New Group of the Year” and “Worst New Group of the Year” in the 1973 Creem year-end reader’s poll. “Hmm, promising,” I thought, and took out full page ads in Billboard which said, “The Dolls … the band they love to hate.”
The most memorable Dolls show took place at NYC’s Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in October 1973. The hotel believed it was booking a debutante ball, but when 6,000 crazed and costumed fans showed up for a Dolls Halloween bash, there was hell to pay. One-half of the crowd had to be turned away for lack of space in the main ballroom, and the hotel lobby was left in shambles. This amused downtown rockers, but seemed to confirm that the Dolls and their crowd spelled trouble.
Similar incidents plagued their second tour of Europe. A major riot occurred at the Bataclan Ballroom outside of Paris when 4,500 enthusiastic fans were turned away for lack of space and were dispersed by police with clubs. During the show, Johnny Thunders smashed his guitar over the head of a fan who kept grabbing his leg. This, of course, overshadowed the police brutality in the media reports of the event.
The controversy seemed endless. For all their success with interviews (David could control interviews and deflect the most pointed questions with hip humor and finesse), incidents continued to hurt their reputation. There was the time 300 journalists from all over Europe assembled in the lobby of the Ambassador Hotel in Paris for a 12 Noon press conference, but the Dolls were not to be found. I opened the bar and ran up an $8,000 bar tab until the Dolls finally appeared around 4 PM. Mercury/Europe went berserk. (Actually I thought it was an excellent public relations investment and that the best press conferences are fueled by drink. The resultant rave publicity couldn’t have been purchased for 10 times the amount spent on booze). “This happened to Elvis and the Stones,” I reassured Leber, who by now was convinced I was an absolute lunatic. These events signaled the beginning of my differences with him.
We were in the second year in the life of the band and Mercury wanted a second album. George “Shadow” Morton was chosen to produce. The critics jumped all over it with a vengeance and pronounced it “too commercial.” It was obvious to me that we’d have to suffer through a “critic’s backlash.” They build you up and then rip you down. By the summer of ’74 the band still wasn’t turning a profit. We weren’t losing money and each Doll was receiving a $200 weekly paycheck, but we were barely staying afloat. What pained us most was that we were still unable to get across what was so real about the Dolls – they were simply a great rock ‘n’ roll band. The invisible walls were taking their toll.
First Johnny, then Jerry started shooting heroin; I noticed changes in their appearance and behavior. Arthur’s alcohol intake escalated and he had to be constantly watched. David and Syl were aware of what was going on and became increasingly displeased. Mercury told me the second album’s sales should have been better. I asked them how many new groups on your roster have sold as well and received as much press all over the world? I never did get an answer. By this time I was fighting with my partner, my record company, and my marriage was falling apart.
Once again we hit the road. A tour featuring the Dolls, Aerosmith, and Kiss - with the Dolls headlining - played the Midwest to crowds of 5,000 one night, 200 the next. It was totally unpredictable. Leber blamed me for Johnny and Jerry’s substance abuse, as if I could control it. Dolls sycophants were whispering “get new managers, go to another label.” I decided that in order to keep the ship afloat I’d take a back seat and watch Leber steer the helm. But I knew it was too late.
The Dolls were forced back to the club circuit: a step down and a tough pill to swallow. The press backlash, personal excesses, management differences, coupled with two years in the “eye of the rock hurricane” had taken its toll. Contrary to popular belief Mercury wanted another album, but only if the Dolls would clean up, write new material and understand this was not just a rock ‘n’ roll party. It was business.
Enter Malcolm McLaren. He convinced what was left of the Dolls that he could resurrect them … and almost did. The new Dolls were unveiled to rave reviews and looked again like they might happen as so many of us had believed they would. I was rooting for them as a believer, and because they were still under contract to me.
Then came the Florida incident (Johnny and Jerry couldn’t score drugs in Florida and returned to NYC). Malcolm was forced to conclude, as I had before him, that the Dolls were unmanageable. The Dolls didn’t survive but Malcom did, returning to London loaded with valuable information and insights to create the Sex Pistols: Dolls attitude, Ramones riff, Richard Hell’s look. As it turned out, the world wasn’t ready for the Sex Pistols either.
I broke up with my wife. David did a few solo albums, created alter ego Buster Poindexter, had a big hit with “Hot, Hot, Hot,” married noted photographer Kate Simon, and acted in some major movies. These days, from what I hear, he spends much of his time painting in watercolor. He recently released a new solo album that has been well received. Sylvain lives with his teenage son live in Atlanta, where he produces new artists and records with his band. Arthur inherited family money, moved to California and no longer drinks. Johnny and Jerry formed the Heartbreakers and toured the world … but continued drugging until it killed both of them within months of each other. Leber made millions with Aerosmith. I started Red Star Records and produced Suicide, the Fleshtones, Real Kids, and worked with Blondie and the Ramones. I’m still here.
I remember meeting Johnny in London years after the Dolls broke up. We talked into the wee hours of the morning about our unique adventure. He was a tremendously likable person, which comes as a surprise to people who couldn’t see past his outrageous exterior. He was a real musician at heart in the end. Everyone blamed everyone else for the Dolls’ demise. The New York Times wrote a touching obituary. Leber and I attacked each other for years and finally buried the hatchet. The general consensus was they were ahead of their time: too much, too soon.
I see it like this: the Dolls reflected their generation’s frustrations and were a source of information and inspiration for many kids who were marginalized by society and felt locked out. Despite scornful criticism the Dolls still managed to laugh at themselves. In their wake came the Ramones, Blondie, Sex Pistols, the Clash, Motley Crue, Guns ‘n’ Roses and scores of others who were amused, informed and inspired by the Lipstick Killers, despite or because of their human frailties.
Marty and the Dolls Pt 2
I signed on as the Dolls’ manager in June ’72 and brought in two former William Morris booking agents, Steve Leber and David Krebs, to co-manage the band. They would handle touring and I’d interpret the Dolls for fans and the record business. The team was set. We were ready to shape history and shake the rafters, too. Moms and Dads would hate this band. I loved it.
Meanwhile, the Dolls were selling out the Mercer Arts Center every Tuesday night and had moved to a larger theater within the Mercer complex. New York’s intelligentsia crowd heard this downtown buzz, too. Rock stars, writers, artists all showed up – Elton John, David Bowie, Andy Warhol, Peter Max, Fran Lebowitz – along with the seventies hard-core kids the Dolls spoke to and for. The Dolls, in the meantime, were moving further towards confronting the issues of the day – violence, abuse of women, the war, sexuality in all forms, answers and solutions for unconscious teens. Information and entertainment was what it was all about … and the bottom line was there were no limits to the Dolls intentions to disrupt the establishment.
Behind the scenes, Leber and I were discovering the price they were paying for it. The record business perceived the Dolls as too dangerous, too radical, too difficult to market, too frightening to even be in the same room with – too hard to sell. Every time Leber and I talked to record people we came across an invisible wall … “could they play as well as the Allman Brothers” … what is this gender bending thing” … “are they gay?” The homophobic record honchos didn’t understand and, as a result, superficially evaluated the Dolls. “Steer clear,” they whispered.
The Dolls, of course, did nothing to tone it down and believed if they were just themselves, eventually people would accept them. Leber and I knew it was going to be a drawn out uphill battle, and were forced to conclude that the U.S. record industry was too conservative and the band was too outrageous for kids outside of Manhattan. The rest of America would need to learn somehow that the Dolls were okay. We decided to take them to England, where it would be obvious the Dolls were the hottest unsigned band in the world. England’s sexually repressed society would freak out and love them. We flew to London in October 1972, but what should have been the beginning of the band’s success turned into a major tragedy.
They opened for Rod Stewart & the Faces at Wembley Auditorium in front of 13,000 people, never having played to more than 350 people anywhere. The reaction was mixed. One reviewer later wrote, “The future belongs to the New York Dolls. English glitter bands like Slade, the Sweet and T-Rex are soft by comparison.”
Kit Lambert and Chris Stamp, managers of the Who, were in the audience. In the Dolls they saw a reflection of the young Who and Stones, and wanted to sign them to the Who’s new Track label. Within 24 hours the offers came flying in from the other labels. Ahmet Ertegun, the president of Atlantic Records, sent a telegram from NY saying, “We’ll give you $50,000 to come with us.” Mick Jagger’s Rolling Stone Records wanted them too. There was no doubt about a deal anymore. It was just a matter of how much would be paid.
On the night I was hoping to make a deal and secure all of our futures, I received a phone call in my hotel room from Billy Murcia asking to borrow five pounds. He said he had been trying to call a friend, got a wrong number and ended up in a conversation with people he didn’t know, but who knew all about the Dolls. They invited him to a party and he needed a little extra money. I told him to take the limo we had parked downstairs and to send it back to pick me up for my meeting later that evening with Lambert and Stamp to discuss the Track offer. Leber and I were asking for a ridiculous amount of money – something like 350,000 pounds, which was unheard of at that time. In the middle of the meeting I received a frantic phone call. The conversation lasted 15 seconds, “Marty, come quickly. Billy Murcia is dead.”
Stunned, I left the meeting without explanation. Five minutes later my cab pulled up to the tenement building where Billy had gone to party. I identified myself and was led into a bedroom where Billy was propped up against the bed on the floor. Nobody knew what had happened, or so they claimed. I learned later from the autopsy report that Billy had mixed Mandrakes (the British equivalent of Quaaludes) with alcohol and collapsed. Someone placed him in an ice-cold bath and poured coffee down his throat and he choked on his own regurgitation. The other Dolls pulled up when I went downstairs. They were in shock and were crying. I identified Billy’s body for Scotland Yard and sent the Dolls back to NYC on the first plane out. I knew if I didn’t get them out of London immediately, it would hit the front pages of the trashy London tabloids. I wanted to spare the Murcia family and the Dolls any further anguish.
Oddly, Billy’s death caused greater interest in the band: it garnered them worldwide attention but also blew their big moment. Everything was put on hold. The record honchos weren’t about to invest in a band that might not even exist. About a month later the word came down from the band … “let’s find another drummer and do it for Billy.” Auditions were held and Jerry Nolan, an army brat and great musician, was chosen to be the fifth Doll.
On December 19, 1972, the Dolls played their first gig with Jerry at the Mercer Arts Center and were great. Four hundred and fifty people squeezed into Mercer’s largest theater to see if these were the same Dolls they had loved. The record honchos came, too, and still didn’t like what they witnessed but were now afraid to ignore the band. The Dolls were reborn. It was a triumphant return to New York City. By springtime of ’73, everything was back on track. Leber and I continued to fuel the fire and to make it virtually impossible to ignore the Dolls. We booked them uptown, downtown and out into the ‘burbs on a non-stop schedule. Friends advised “don’t overexpose them” but no matter how many shows they played the crowds kept getting bigger. The Dolls were now hotter than ever. Everyone wanted a piece of them, to be seen with them, to sleep with them, to get high with them. Finally, we got a break. Mercury Records, thanks to the efforts of A&R man Paul Nelson, signed them. We didn’t get our asking price of $250,000, which they truly deserved, but did receive a substantial advance and serious commitment from a major record company.
Now the difficult part: the record they would make would have to embrace the mainstream without blowing off their hardcore following.
(to be continued)
Thursday, February 14, 2002
Whither the Tribe?
Check out here to see what new GM Mark Shapiro, who looks something like a ferret, plans to do to my Indians besides trade Robbie Alomar; let Juan Gonzalez, Kenny Lofton, Marty Cordova and Dave Burba fly via free agency; and pretend the team is better. It would be better with Robbie, Juan, Marty, and Jason Giambi, but then someone might think they want to beat the Yankees.
Heartiest congratulations to my brother Arne Olsen, who got a huge-ass raise and promotion at good old TRW out in San Clemente. Way to hang, dude.
Speaking of Salt Lake City
Although I love the Olympics, I have only been able to watch the Games sporadically so far, what with the new book, running around with family and friends (good to see you Mark and Dale, hope the trip back to Cincy was uneventful), keeping up with the blog, etc. and the fact that the Games AREN’T AVAILABLE ON THE RADIO. This is yet another reason why RADIO generally SUCKS. In the Cleveland area, there are major national sporting events you can’t hear on the radio, including baseball, football and basketball playoffs, and the Olympics. This is a crime. What about when you’re working? driving? going to the bathroom? As far as I can tell, you can’t get live video coverage on your computer either, although you can get canned video of selected segments.
Anyway, caught Bode Miller Miller last night rocking through his third and final Men’s Alpine Skiing Combined run after falling in the downhill and slipping but making an astonishing recovery at 70 mph
in his first slalom run. He snagged the silver to win the first US men’s Alpine medal since 1994. Yeah! His nothing-to-lose, balls-rattling third run is what the Olympics are all about, achieving greatness at the very edge of disaster, an edge the favored
Korean Men’s Short Track Skating 5000-meter relay team failed to maintain. The thrill of victory (or at least second place) and the agony of defeat.
Speaking of Islamic terrorists and the Winter Olympics, a short look at Winter Olympic history reveals what a nightmare Salt Lake City would be for Osama bin Laden, despite Utah’s relaxed attitude toward polygamy. A survey of the all-time medal standings reveals that exactly two countries (Kazakhstan - 5, Uzbekistan - 1) with plurality Muslim populations have ever won medals. The
leaders are the blindingly white, northern “germs, guns, and steel” countries: Russia/Soviet Union (minus Kaz. and Uz.), Germany, Norway, US (team minority members have been mostly Asian-American), Austria, Finland, Sweden, Switzerland, Canada. A shivering, bearded, swarthy, 6’5” man in robes and a
turban might stand out amongst the Olympic throngs drinking, rocking, and cheering the winning infidels in Utah.
The Legend of the Lipstick Killers
by Marty Thau
I was a leading music industry promotion executive for Buddah Records in the late sixties and early seventies but then unexpectedly dropped out ... burnt out and sick of the hype. It took a new band I discovered at the Mercer Arts Center in NY's Greenwich Village to bring me back. I became their manager and made
rock ‘n' roll history. The band was called the New York Dolls. This is their story ...
It was the last concert the New York Dolls would ever play. Malcolm McLaren had put them in red patent leather outfits, hung a hammer and sickle flag behind them and sent them off to Florida for a 1975 "spring break" gig. It had been three
years since the band formed and things had since turned sour. Johnny Thunders and Jerry Nolan had become druggies and Arthur Kane's drinking was so bad he was often replaced on stage by Dolls roadie Peter Jordan. I had broken my ties
with them and Malcolm, who would later go on to create the Sex Pistols, swooped in to get them in shape and resurrect their careers. Often referred to as David Johansen's "haberdasher in London," Malcolm would soon realize that the Dolls had become unmanageable.
When Thunders and Nolan couldn't score dope in Florida and left for New York, it was the last straw and the end of the band. But what the Dolls ended that day was the beginning of everything that came after them in the music business. They were the first band to give a voice to the alienated kids of the seventies who were sick of listening to the "pap strains" of Loggins & Messina and Carly
Simon on the radio. The "no future" concept that spawned punk started with the Dolls. They paved the way and, in the process, made all the mistakes.
It goes something like this ... the late Neil Bogart and I lived in the Top Ten at Buddah and were fresh faces in the business, young New York City record hustlers who promoted their way onto the worldwide record charts with hits like "Green Tambourine," "Yummy, Yummy, Yummy," "Simon Says," "1-2-3 Redlight" and "The Worst That Could Happen." Those records sold millions but the record
industry hated them because they were teenybopper hits. We didn't care because those teenybopper hits gave us houses, cars, bank accounts, and careers.
But, with the emergence of the counter culture and the Woodstock Nation, the record biz changed. The Vietnam War, protest marches on Washington, the partisan politics of Richard Nixon, women's liberation, gay rights, racial strife and civil unrest were just some of the issues of the day. A cultural revolution was underway and rock ‘n' roll was challenging the very essence of America's beliefs and principles. Youth-in-dissent, to the lies and deceitful ways of government, was the prevailing mood. The birth of FM radio and anti-establishment "message music" was taking hold until Nixon diffused the revolution by threatening non-renewal of their licenses. The record industry capitulated and followed suit. By the early seventies all you heard were singer/songwriters and soft,
The night my wife Betty and I decided to celebrate my newfound freedom was the night I happened upon a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. It was a lovely spring evening in early '72 and Betty and I went down to the Village, had dinner and afterwards were walking around when we came across the Mercer Arts Center, a complex of Off-Off Broadway theaters. Mercer had 5 or 6 rooms of different sizes, floor to ceiling mirrors throughout and looked like the set of the movie Clockwork Orange. Business wasn't that good and the owner, an air conditioning mogul with a love of the arts, had been forced to open the complex to rock bands on off nights. The marquee outside read "New York Dolls $3 / 2 shows."
"Hmm," I thought, "great name," and remembered my friend Danny Goldberg had mentioned they were the best unsigned downtown band. We paid the six bucks, went in and sat by the stage in what was called the Oscar Wilde Room. Betty and I were ready for anything. The lights dimmed and the Dolls came out and tore into one of their anthems, "Personality Crisis." At first I couldn't get past the sight of them. They were visually remarkable. While everybody in America were wearing army coats and earth shoes, here were these guys decked out in leather and leopard skin with bouffant hairdo’s, black nail polish, lipstick, six-inch platform boots, chopped
jeans, feather boa's, armbands and pantyhose. It was a style beyond femininity and thrown together in such a way as to appear natural. Then I zeroed in on their music ... loud and hard ghetto music about girls, sex, drugs, loneliness, heartbreak and the rites of teenage romance. In other words ... real rock 'n' roll.
I had never seen or heard anything like it and instantly knew they made everyone else look tired, which at that time meant David Bowie, Lou Reed, Alice Cooper, Roxy Music. Betty and I looked at each other and smiled. One thought was spinning through my mind ... "what would the world think of the Dolls indeterminable gender bending ... is this too real?" I was gonna find out.
Two weeks later we met in the legendary back room of the Max's Kansas City club to discuss careers - theirs and mine. David Johansen, a witty and articulate 19 year old with no fear, emerged as their spokesman ... "we're gonna conquer the world and we're here for your sons and daughters." He resembled a young Mick Jagger, something many rock writers made an issue but that's where the comparison ended. The Dolls were on common ground with a developing new generation the kids of the seventies while the Stones were already in their thirties.
Johnny Genzale, a.k.a. Mr. Johnny Thunders, was an Italian street kid, a walking/talking rock encyclopedia who once tried out for the Philadelphia Phillies. Sylvain Sylvain had been born in Cairo and raised in NYC. He was very extroverted and looked like an impish Harpo Marx. Arthur Harold Kane, Jr., the bass player, had worked one legit job in his life for the telephone company but
was fired for ransacking pay phones on his repair route. The original Dolls' drummer was Billy Murcia. He was from Bogota, Columbia and would die a few months later in a drug related accident in London that shouldn't have happened. These were the raw Dolls hungry, inspired, loose and eager to turn it up beyond the red zone.
(to be continued)
My son Chris flies to meet his cousin Bethany today, and together they will wing to meet their grandfather at the Winter Games tomorrow. I admit to a certain bit of apprehension, more than I would have felt prior to September 11, and it refills
the enormous reservoir of hatred I feel toward the terrorists and their co-conspirators yet again. May they spend eternity in torment. It is unnerving enough to send a child off into the great unknown under any circumstances, but to have the specter of human-induced calamity poisoning the whole affair boils my blood. Of course we must live our lives, of course every day is a crapshoot anyway, of course an asteroid could take out your neighborhood at any moment, but we don’t need any EXTRA threats against EVERY CITIZEN OF THE FREE WORLD from murderous zealots who are simply pissed off that their lives suck.
Of course we must continue to proactively kick their asses around the globe. It is much harder to kill innocent men, women and children when you are running for your life, cowering in dark fear that you may be turned to wet dust by a
laser-guided missile in your fitful sleep, or hopping from cave to cave, nothing more than furtive vermin. The safety of my son and neice in the air is best afforded by continued war on their asses until every single threat is dead, locked
up, or re-educated with prejudice. As the stunningly forthright Victor Davis Hanson sees, only the physical act of war can root out the reality and the mentality that led to the perception of our vulnerability: a both real and perceived
vulnerability that brought down the Twin Towers. I pray that no incident will damage you or yours, mine or me.
The Best of V.D. to You and Yours!
The sweetest and healthiest of Valentines Days to all of you, but especially my lovely wife Dawn, my cherished daughters Kristen and Lily, my doting mother Barbara (hope you fell better, Mom) and mother-in-law Leslie, my loving sister Karen, and my spry and charming grandmother-in-law Winnie! I love you all.
I’m not a big celebrity-death weeper: Princess Margaret was a
wretched, hagged-out party girl who medicated herself to death on alcohol and nicotine. Who cares? I liked George Harrison but he smoked himself to death and was ill for some time - relatively low sympathy factor.
The last one I much cared about was Joey Ramone - a punk and a romantic, a heroic combination - and at 49, way too young. The last time I actually cried upon receiving the news of a celeb death was John Lennon. It was just too much: a shocking murder by a deranged fan, he had just returned successfully to the public eye, he had a young son, his overwhelming musical legacy, the real
end of the Beatles.
I am saddened and cautioned by the death of Waylon Jennings from the ravages of diabetes, still a brutal killer and debilitator. It wasted then killed my aunt by her early 20’s. My father developed the milder late-onset form around 60. He’s okay
as long as he stays on top of it. He’s at the Winter Olympics right now. (Hi Dad!)
Though I’m sure there is some irony in the disparity of my feelings toward the loss of the Princess vs. my feelings about Waylon, who went at about the same age and was no saint himself, at least Waylon contributed somethng valuable to
the world and channelled his self-destructive tendencies into art - the world was a better place for it. He also cheated death, something we can all derive satisfaction from, losing a coin flip that kept him off Buddy Holly's airplane that snowy night in February 1959. While the music may have died, Waylon didn’t,
and laughed at that dark figure in the corner of the mirror every day for another 43 years. The Princess just stewed in her own privileged juices over the same years, turning her self-destruction into nothing but a desiccated corpse.
We’ll do a tribute to Waylon on this Saturday’s Cool Tunes radio show. Check it out.
Pictures and Words
Tony Pierce has developed a brilliant form of web-based photo essay over the last several months, highlighted by the much-linked "Dear Kids In Afghanistan" from last October, which still draws a tear and a satisfied chuckle every time I see it. He is something special. Follow the development of his style from last spring through the crowning achievement of “Dear Kids” as he explained it to me below:
“That spring I took a little journey from Santa Monica to Hollywood and wrote about it in a style that got a lot of positive feedback.
Then I made a little story about the running of the Bulls.
Then I cooked via AOL IM with my friend.
Then I took at little road trip with my friend.
Then I found some rare pictures of my favorite writer, Charles Bukowski.
The Dear Kids in Afghanistan style really took shape because of the
well-received thing I did about teen webcam girls.
So on Sept. 11 I did "Dear Terrorists," which I really don’t like in
retrospect because it's just so angry and crazed.
The next day I documented what the cam girls and boys had on their web cams.
Not too long after that I gathered more international pictures.
Then I did something about Peace.
Then I did one more thing before the Kids of Afghanistan.”
Wednesday, February 13, 2002
While I am contemplating my own Top 50 Bands of All Time with which to skewer Spin's bizarre list, I came across this poll of music writers by Rock and Rap Confidential for the Best of 2002. I can never boil it down - my Best Of 2002 took 4 separate radio shows to complete and covered over 120 CD's.
Tuesday, February 12, 2002
More Answers to the Meaning of Life Project
a kiss, a hug, success, a joint, a great song, good food, a pear, a mango,
playing keyboards, making love, creating joy, waking up, a massage, a cuddle,
a good movie, freedom, health, cash, the Internet, a sampler, a synthesizer,
the drum, relaxing, the country, leaving the city, a good party, the truth,
hunter s. thompson, my cd collection, my wife, the beauty, sunset, sunrise,
beer, my parents, family, pets and on and on and on and..........
There is none.
Connecting with your true self and awaken to your essence of reality. Enjoying
everyday as if it's your last day on earth. Making sure you share yourself with
those you care about - is the meaning of life.
To me, the question of what is the meaning of life leads to all sorts of
philosophical and religious musings that lead to no demonstrable conclusions.
We know that life exists on earth and that the earth is a very small part of the
universe which, to paraphrase Churchill, to us remains a riddle wrapped in a
mystery inside an enigma. We can observe the universe and postulate laws by
which it appears to function but we cannot fathom its origin or the reason for its
existence. We are coming close to understanding the basic chemistry of life, but
our understanding is just a description of what that chemistry entails and not an
understanding of the origin and constitution of the materials that make life
possible. It is remarkable that the universe has given birth to intelligent life that
can seek to understand it, but I am afraid that the tree of knowledge ultimately is
forbidden to us, We can say with Rene Descartes, "I think, therefore I am" but
we must accept our existence as we find it and make the best of it. Therefore, I
prefer addressing the question of what we can do to put Meaning "in" Life. And I
think putting meaning in life hinges on the quality of our inter-personal
relationships - the love of parents for their children, the love of husband and wife,
the camaraderie of good friends at work or play, the appreciation that all of us
are made from the same clay. Those feelings lead men and women in efforts to
improve life. The terrorists subvert those feelings and their actions lead to
destruction of the quality of life for innocent victims. We know not whence we
came or where we go, but our actions while we are here can affect the meaning
of life as we experience it.
I was quite shocked by the response from your South African "friend" regarding America and it's war on terrorism. Certainly the US is not without it's faults or challenges, but to condemn a whole country and it's people based on what I found to be exaggerated, inflammatory and apparently untruthful statements presented as facts, is well, plain ignorant. I am not one to be a nationalist, but I must re-direct the pointed figure at our detracting South African neighbors. That
country is in the midst of a moral crisis of pandemic proportions which leads me to wonder: do those who protest too much have something more heinous to hide?
A few disturbing facts from CNN.com, that, in my opinion as a mother and a citizen of this world, are more fundamentally evil and unnerving than the ravages of a just war.
* About 21,000 cases of child rape were reported to police in South Africa last year.
* The attacks were fueled by a myth that sex with a virgin will protect a man against AIDS or even cure him of the incurable disease that afflicts one in nine of the population.
* One South African newspaper said the country was facing a state of emergency as a result of the assaults.
* Between 70,000 and 100,000 babies are born HIV-positive every year in South Africa, which has the highest number of HIV-AIDS victims in the world.
* Five million of South Africa's 45 million people, or one-in-nine, are estimated to be living with HIV.
* The country's high court in Pretoria ruled last week that HIV-pregnant women had a constitutional right to a drug found to reduce a newborn's risk of contracting the virus. But health minister Manto Tshabalala-Msimang said in a statement: "We have instructed our legal counsel to appeal the judgment to the Constitutional Court on this matter."
I hope you have not spent too much time pondering the "imperialistic" villains of the west, while simultaneously ignoring the fate of the most innocent of your own people. When these issues have been addressed, then I would like to have an open dialogue about some of the more factual arguments you laid out. Until then I will lay awake at night crying for the babies of South Africa and the mothers
who must witness their abuse, or hold them as they die of a wasting disease, that their own government didn't want to stop.
This was a response to the Meaning of Life Project from a friend in South Africa:
"the meaning of life
life = growth.
life = experience
life = the sum total of your free will creating actions, which create reactions,
which shape your reality and dictate what gets drawn into your life for you to
experience. taking responsibility for your actions AND their consequences =
a footnote from a 3rd world observer with regard to 911....some dry wood for the
fire, so to speak....
i certainly hope the american people are doing a lot of soul searching in
the aftermath of 911. for the first time, ordinary americans have been forced to
deal with the fact that their government's terrible actions abroad WILL impact on
i also sincerely hope the american people have noticed that their government
has conveniently used the attack as an excuse to pass a wide range of
draconian laws that make apartheid south africa look tame!!! even in robert
mugabe's zimbabwe - it is not legal to arrest and detain people indefinitely
on suspicions not disclosed, as is now american law..... hell, under your
new constitution, even writing this note puts me at risk of being labeled 'a
terrorist' and subject to instantly and without my knowledge having my bank
accounts frozen, my correspondences scanned, and even being assassinated -
all now part of the american constitution
i hope the american people know that at least 3 times the amount of innocent
people killed in the 911 attack have already been slaughtered in afghanistan
by their government in the name of 'smoking out terror'. that's not taliban - that's
just the innocent people killed by smart bombs as 'collateral damage'.
over the past 40 years, there has been no bigger sponsor of 'terrorism' than
the cia and usa government:
how did saddam get the anthrax? the cia gave it to him to fight the ayattolahs.
how did osama get the stinger missiles and military capabalility? the usa
government gave it ALL to him to fight the russians. a few examples, not to
mention all the coups and chaos caused in central america etc....
your press has an extremely short memory... on instruction from the government
of course. i sincerely hope the american people don't believe all the crap their tv
stations tell them......
as far as i can see, most of the third world has very little sympathy for america as
you soulsearch. it's the sad truth - i see people proudly wearing osama tshirts
every day - and that's just cape town!
the usa government and the big banks that own it (check your history - the
federal reserve is a PRIVATE bank!!!) continue to callously milk the 3rd world
through ill global trade laws.... half the population of the world is starving while
everyone in america has television - you're getting richer while the rest of the
world is getting poorer, and i fear osama and his crazy masses are only the
start..... it goes with the territory.
DON'T BELIEVE THE HYPE.
DON'T WATCH CNN.
THE AMERICAN GOVERNMENT ARE THE BIGGEST TERRORISTS IN THE
WAKE UP AMERICAN PEOPLE AND GET RID OF THE SCUM WHO
note: there are many sides to the story and i don't condone terrorism. i
lost connections in the wtc on 911. this is a personal opinion, and does not
necessarily reflect the views of our business or any of my partners."
This was my response to his response:
Yours is an understandable and very normal view, even a small percentage
(around 10) within America feel this way. There are specific elements of your
critique with which I can agree, such as America's need to place itself more firmly within
the body of nations, and to live up to its own ideals, but I have to disagree with
your framework and context. You must be willing to apply you credo of
skepticism to your sources as well.
For example, every tabulation that I view as credible places the civilian death toll
closer to 1000 - still 1000 people who I wish were alive and who are dead
through no fault of their own - but none of the over 3000 dead here bore any
responsibility for their deaths either. War is hell. War inflicts damage on
innocents. The US government has made a very diligent effort to minimize
civilian casualties, some say it has gone too far in this regard and bogged down
the process, but most are willing to have the process bogged a bit to spare
This war was necessary to eliminate the Taliban government who harbored al
Qaeda (the result has been a huge net benefit for Afghanistan: aid gettting
through to the starving; a new, relatively non-factional government based upon
principles of democracy; equal rights for women; the infrastructure will be rebuilt,
etc, etc) and to dispell the notion, fomenting throughout Islamdom, that
Islamofascism is an acceptable form of government, and that violence against
innocents is an acceptable way to achieve this unacceptable form of
America is clearly not the biggest sponsor of terrorism: your examples aren't
terrorism even if they are true: the CIA backed the effort to oust the Russians -
this was a legitimate war against imperialism; Saddam developed his own
anthrax, I am unqualified at this point to state whether the CIA had any role in
this. We have made mistakes as to which horse we have backed - America isn't
On other matters I will simply state my point of view, which is not, I believe,
uninformed or naive: Our press is the most free in the world and certainly takes
no instructions from the government (it is ironic that you mention CNN because
here CNN is widely viewed as left-leaning and certainly not in the government's
pocket. Fox News identifies pretty clearly with the Republicans). I have heard
every one of your arguments from press outlets right here in the US. The new
restrictions on our freedoms are minimal and basically apply to non-citizens. No
one can be detained indefinitely - including noncitizens - without being charged,
just for a longer period than before. Most of those still being held have been
charged with passport violations. All of these changes are temporary. No
populace on earth is more sensitive to its freedoms than the Americans - they
will not tolerate any unnecessary infringement.
No changes whatsoever have been made to the American Constitution. This
requires an elaborate Amendment process which has only been done 27 times in
our entire history: the 27th, involving Congressional pay raises, was ratified in
1992; the 26th, giving 18 year olds the right to vote, was ratified in 1971 (the
Constitution can only be amended in one of two ways - the second has never
been used. In the first method a bill must pass both halves of the legislature, by
two-thirds majority in each. Once the bill has passed both the Senate and House
of Representatives it must be approved by 3/4 of the states, either via legislature
or convention. Congress will normally put a time limit - typically seven years - for
the bill to be approved as an amendment. The second method involves a
Constitutional Convention to be called by two-thirds of the legislatures of the
States). You are misinformed in this
regard; also, your email puts you in no danger. You can say anything you want
short of implicating yourself or others in terrorist violence, or inciting others to
violence. You can criticize the US all you want; we can too - that's one of the
great things about America.
There is disparity in the world but the US is not the "cause" of it. The US
cheerfully helps any country that is willing to play by the rules of relatively free
enterprise, individual human rights, free exchange of ideas, and private property.
(We want reliable partners with which to trade, and free capitalist nations are the
most reliable.) These then eventually yield the prosperity of capitalism and
freedom of democracy. Some say democracy leads to economic development,
some say the other way around, but regardless, the idea is to end up with both.
Japan is the best example of this process over the last 50 years.
It is natural but pointless for the world to resent America. In the pursuit of
fairness should America lower itself to the level of the Third World, or should it
assist the Third World to adopt the ideals that have led to American power and
prosperity? I think the latter. The leader is always resented - this goes with the
I am not trying to argue with you or denigrate you in any way: just show you that
there are other points of view that are just as reasonable and serious as yours. I
believe when [a mutual friend] arrived here he shared many of your views; I'm
sure he still holds some, but I am also sure that others have been changed by
direct engagement with America and Americans.
Best Wishes, Eric Olsen
Ohio Is Suckered Again
So glad to see that Ohio is joining The Big Game, further jeopardizing the financial and moral health of the state with yet another shell game. I hate state-sponsored gambling, but gambling is the entertainment growth industry in this country. Before the late-1980s, legalized casinos existed in Nevada and Atlantic City. Now casinos are legal in 28 states. After a lengthy prohibition, lotteries returned to the US in 1964 - Ohio joined the stampede in 1973. Today, 37 states plus the District of Columbia run lotteries, and 48 states have some form of legalized gambling. You don’t even have to leave the comfort of your ergonomic computer chair to gamble: as of mid-1999, there were over 250 casino Internet sites, and 139 Internet sports books.
In 1998, Americans spent around 50 billion dollars on gambling, more than on recorded music, amusement parks, movie tickets, spectator sports and video games combined. Ohioans contributed 2.3 billion dollars to this total.
Are we a nation of suckers? Surely people have something better to do with their spare time: volunteer at a soup kitchen, give blood, run for office, lift weights, juggle, blow glass, raise chinchillas, even golf is a better use of time than gambling.
And as to alternative ways to spend your money: here’s an idea, buy things. It helps keep your friends, neighbors and countrymen gainfully employed, keeps your house from looking empty, and makes your job seem less a waste of time.
I fail to see how risking your hard-earned money on the outcome of a sporting event, the random machinations of a slot machine, or the numerical suicide of a lottery makes life more interesting. At least card playing involves skill – the odds can be changed in the player’s favor by his own intelligence, discipline and intuition. But the casinos don’t like it when you win: what other recreational activity can you be barred from for being too good?
“I’m sorry sir, that’s your 5th strike in a row, you are no longer welcome to bowl here.”
“Mam, you seem to know how to set up a tent, you can’t camp in this park.”
Gambling in general is a sucker’s game, but the lottery - run by your government and mine - is the worst bet of all. Someone will win, but it almost certainly won’t be you. The odds are better of dying from flesh-eating bacteria than winning the Super Lotto. If you bought 100 tickets a week from age 18 to age 75, you would still have only a 1% chance of winning.
For virtually all of us, life itself is the only Super Lotto we’re going to win: you’ve beaten staggering odds simply coming into existence - you will not beat those kinds of odds again.
Besides giving the populace the unproductive message that the good life is more dependent upon luck than upon hard work and education, the lottery is also bad fiscal policy. It doesn’t generate new money for schools or anything else, it just rearranges the way government collects revenues in a dishonest and unfair manner.
It gets worse: not only does the government run the game, it also spent $21.3 million dollars last year  on omnipresent advertising to lure people into playing. While Ohio also receives revenue from alcohol and tobacco sales, I don’t foresee the state launching a pro-booze and butts campaign. Talk about regressive: the lottery is a tax on ignorance, and ignorant people have enough going against them already without being actively encouraged to gamble.
If you want to waste your time and money on gambling, that’s your business. I’m a libertarian at heart – I think drugs and prostitution should be legal, too. But my government should get out of the vice business, and failing the courage to do that, should have the decency to stop preying upon its weakest with snappy songs and lying visions of easy street.
Do I feel lucky today? No, I feel disgusted.
Martin Thau is a graduate of NYU in communication arts and has been an Associate Professor
in their music business program. After spending the latter half of the ‘60s as a top
promotions executive (Cameo-Parkway, Buddah), Thau forsook a cushy position with a
mainstream production company (Van Morrison, Barry Manilow, John Cale) to
manage the rebirth of rock ‘n’ roll in the form of the New York Dolls in the early
‘70s. Thau was integral to the development of New York’s underground rock demimonde
into a spawning ground of punk and new wave stars. He worked with the Ramones,
Blondie, and Richard Hell; and produced Suicide, the Real Kids, the Fleshtones, and
others for his own independent Red Star label. He was born and lives in NYC, and is a
proud father and grandfather.
Eric Olsen, a graduate of Wittenberg University in political science and
philosophy, has been writing professionally for over 20 years on a variety of
topics including music, popular culture, and society. He is principal
author and editor of the acclaimed and influential Networking In the Music Industry
(Rockpress, 1993), and The Encyclopedia of Record Producers (Billboard
Books, 1999). He produced and annotated the now coveted and collectable
Straight Outta Cleveland (Oglio, 1995) compilation CD, and is one-half of
the electronic duo Elliptical with Mike Crooker. Olsen is a television
(most recently host/writer of "The Beat" on the WJW Morning Show) and radio
performer (Cool Tunes on WAPS), writer, producer, and commentator (WKSU).
He was born in the Los Angeles area and now lives in Aurora, Ohio with his
wife and three children.
Andrew Sullivan's Sunday Times of London piece is interesting, not so much for what it says ("America is big, great and powerful, get used to it," the usual), but for what it reveals about Sullivan's bifurcated loyalties. When he writes for a British audience, he acknowledges American vulgarity, speaks from a Euro point of view - "That's the underlying reality, and we might as well acknowledge it." He does the reverse when writing for Americans (he's lived here over 20 years). He would appear to view his most important role as explaining one civili"Z"ation (Man, I hate it when the Brits spell everything with an "s" instead of the more zippy, zingy, contemporary "z," and put their freaking commas outside the quotation marks - makes me want to punch a prince or something) to the other, a kind of mid-Atlantic ombudsman, but I wonder where his deepest loyalties lie. Who would he root for in a Bush-Blair Celebrity Death Match? Hmmm...
Monday, February 11, 2002
11 Years Later
The creepy old Butthole Surfers are now one of my 14-year-old son's favorite bands. That, and the release of a surprisingly good new live Nine Inch Nails CD, reminded me of another chestnut from the vault, this one on hairy experiences at the first Lollapalooza way back in 1991. Ah, the musty air of nostalgia and vomit. I was, at the time, "The DJ."
"Head Like a Hole"
The first Lollapalooza tour in summer, 1991 verified the commercial strength of so-called "alternative" music. The DJ attended the show at Blossom Music Center, an outdoor venue between Cleveland and Akron.
The Lollapalooza juggernaut rolls over Blossom for its only Ohio show August 5. It is the DJ's birthday. He is still young enough to enjoy a birthday, but old enough to start calculating the percentage of his theoretical life span already squandered. Actuarial tables insist that he has more ahead of him than behind him, but he could get hit by a bus tomorrow. Life is a gamble and offers no guarantees other than BP gasoline will not clog your intake valve.
The DJ and his brother fly through Hudson, City of Lights, one light at a time and then make real time through the cool-guy backroads until they nearly rear end a station wagon of such width, breath, and stateliness of movement that aircraft could land upon it were it not for the moss and lichen resting comfortably on its top deck. They dislodge themselves from the dash and return to their seats. The brother's attempts at circumnavigation are repeatedly repelled by oncoming vehicles and sideward drift by the mothership.
The DJ and his brother scream into the side entrance of Blossom - the car isn't screaming, they are - at 2pm on the nose. The development of the phrase "on the nose" to denote "exactly" is curious. The sense receptors of the body are concentrated within the face, of which the nose is the most prominent and central feature: rather prominent on the DJ, really prominent upon his friend Bilbo, for whom the nose makes up a notable portion off his body weight. Unless a man is in a state of amorous agitation, when he walks into a wall his nose strikes first. He strikes the wall "on the nose." This is all just etymological speculation, however.
The line to enter the hallowed grounds snakes back youthfully to the bridge - the bridge that symbolically and literally links the mundane real world with the encompassing otherness of the Lollapalooza: a "Festival of Arts and Music,"
conceived, delivered and diapered by Perry Farrell, leader of Jane's Addiction and another fellow with a prominent proboscis. Is there a link?
The "art" that most of the people in line are preoccupied with was the art of smuggling as much contraband through the gates as possible. Contraband in this case includes bottles, cans, and fruit smelling of alcohol. Yuppies can wheel in portable bars past the smiling sentries for Cleveland Orchestra performances because yuppies rarely stage dive or slam dance in the pit. Those with the most freedom least know what to do with it. There are enough problems at a show like Lollapalooza without thousands of underage drunks whipping bottles at each other and at the performers.
The brothers casually slip into line next to a friend of the DJ's brother's, cutting off 80% of the wait time. As they pass through the portals of pleasure, they realize that a band is already playing. The DJ's brother wanders off with his friends to establish a grassy beachhead, upon which he can replenish himself against the sterility and elitism of their choice pavillion seats.
The DJ follows his journalistic impulses to the source of it all: the stage. It isn't until he actually penetrates the pavillion proper that he realizes what an unholy ruckus the Rollins Band is making. Henry Rollins, the South Bay Poet of Pain, whom the DJ had met ten years before when Rollins was a nobody just signed on to sing for Black Flag, is the first of the Lotza Palookas. And frankly, a palooka Rollins is: covered head to toe with tatoos and belching metallic tales of power run amock and self sufficiency. A worthy philosophy to be sure, but the old punk-Rollins is preferable to the new metal-Rollins. At least if you didn't like a Black Flag song, it was over in a minute of so. Now the songs are longer, the beat is more ponderous and the message is largely humorless.
Rollins is altogether too everything at 2:30 pm on a nice summer day. Hank and the band are barely audible on the grass as they pulverize the air into its component elements within the pavillion. The sound system is attempting to crank out enough sound to cover the entire lawn as well as within the pavillion proper - an impossible task that leaves the pavillion denizens dazed with auditory overload and the lawn loungers wondering who is playing. The lawn shouts "turn it up," the pavillion shouts "turn it down," the beer line shouts "tastes great," the restrooms add "less filling." There should be speakers on the lawn.
The DJ has an interview lined up with Rollins for after his performance through his record company, Imago. However, there is nary a pass, nor a message, nor acknowledgement of his existence with the backstage people. 0 for 1.
Next are the Butthole Surfers. The Surfers should never play in daylight: they can't show their gross videos, nor their light show, and lead singer Gibby Haynes' abundant embonpoint is all too clear.
The DJ stands by an acquaintance at the stage exit because the acquaintance is an acquaintance of the Surfers and wily to their woolly ways. However, instead of spewing forth aphoristic answers to his insightful inquiries, one of the Surfers spews forth something altogether more noxious and tangible. He just misses the DJ's shoes. 0 for 2.
Ice T raps, then rocks with his metal band Body Count. While his rapping rocks harder than his rocking, both seemed failrly pointless in this context. In fact, both the Ice T performance and that of Living Colour seem to be preemptive strikes against possible charges of racism rather than integral musical components of the show. Nine Inch Nails plays between Ice T and Living Colour and is clearly the highlight of the show. NIN fills in the "industrial " music slot in the show's cafeteria format.
"Industrial" music was some white musician's response to the angriest rap of Public Enemy, Ice T, and NWA in the mid-80s. Gangster rap vividly chronicles the individual horrors of the streets while industrial portrays the collective horrors made possible by technology and mass-movements. The cold center at the heart of most industrial is the desire to not only make music with machines, but to make music as by machines. Nine Inch Nails has transcended the industrial category and become something else entirely.
While the industrialists seek to escape their own organic natures through immersion in technology, Trent Reznor (singer, writer, multi-instrumentalist, producer of NIN) expresses his organic nature through technology. Reznor discussed this issue with the DJ in a spring, 1991 interview.
"I had tried to write songs on and off, but I never seemed to be able to get it together. It didn't feel right. I had kept a journal of my most private and personal feelings, and I had no intention of ever showing it to anyone else, let alone publishing it. In a sickening flash one night, I realized that I had to write songs from my journal. This scared the hell out of me, but I knew it was real, and that is what my songs were missing: emotional reality. I felt naked and embarrassed, but when I felt like giving in I thought about my favorite albums, and they were the ones that were the most emotionally revealing."
Art is turning personal feelings into something tangible through the use of technique. Everyone has the feelings, many have the technique, but few have the courage and the will to turn the feelings into public commodities and the technique to pull it off. After playing in several local bands through the mid-80s, including Exotic Birds, Reznor went solo, naming his solo project Nine Inch Nails.
"Head Like a Hole" was Reznor's first hit from NIN's first album, Pretty Hate Machine (1989). It is still his most memorable song. "Head" opens with a pumping, haunted house keyboard bass line vaguely reminiscent of Ministry's "Everyday (Is Like Halloween)". Reznor's vocals ease in, "God money I'll do anything for you." The voice seems to be struggling quietly for air. Menace is implied in the quiet as well as the funhouse bass line. The god Money is voracious, "God money don't want everything, he wants it all." Reznor's vocals build toward the chorus. As the chorus erupts, the vocals veer from breathless insinuation to full-blown distorted industrial terror: "Head like a hole, black as your soul, I'd rather die than give you control."
Reznor rails against the void that we seek to fill with materialism and sex. This emptiness, this sense that life is entropic is what the other industrialists (Front 242, Skinny Puppy, Frontline Assembly, etc.) feel as well, but these personal feelings are what the other's avoid. This is Reznor's own head that feels like a hole. This is not vague philosophizing; these are feelings wrenched from the soul. You can hear the flesh tear and dance to it as well.
Reznor is a charismatic performer and the band, especially guitarist Rich Patrick, rocks with real terror and authority. The crowd is energized to the point of panic and lemming lunges toward the stage forcing bodies to squeeze where bodies shouldn't, causing the already stressed security staff to transmogrify into Paranoids and Punishers.
Jane Scott, the Plain Dealer rock reporter and Godmother of rock and roll has the right idea: pin your ticket stub prominently upon your person, because every time you sneeze you are going to be asked for it anyway. In fact, the DJ is even asked for his ticket while in his seat: "Just checking, buddy. You giving me a hard time? You wanna get thrown out? Huh?" Power corrupts, etc.
After NIN's set, the DJ finally gets backstage to interview Living Colour after its set (yea! to Gary the Sony guy). The DJ is glad that Living Colour was included in the show after all; which proves that all politics is local and that a horse of a different color looks great after your ox has been gored a few times.
Living Colour ends the interview shutout for the DJ, then his batting average soars as he runs into Trent Reznor in the large communal backstage cafeteria. Therein also roams Ice T, Dave Navarro, the guitarist for Janes Addiction; various Surfers, and even Henry Rollins. He has penetrated the inner sanctum, an act that he has been biologically programmed to perform. Men spend their entire lives trying to penetrate impenetrable inner sanctums - it's in the jeans.
The absurd new "50 Greatest Bands of All Time" issue of Spin (which will be eviscerated here at a later time, complete list of bands here) at least got the approximate value of the Velvet Underground correct, placing them at #11. I wouldn't put them quite that high, and they were probably an even better influence than a band, but their greatness has risen to the top after 30 years of neglect. For more info check out my bio/essay from last year in Hear/Say.
Sunday, February 10, 2002
Reading Sontag Is Binding
What a fine example of constipated Euro-snottiness is this review of Susan
Sontag’s collection of essays Where the Stress Falls, by Terry Eagleton,
professor of cultural theory at England’s Manchester University. He blathers on
rather inoccuously about the book and Sontag’s role as an “intellectual” (which is
good) vs. an “academic” (bad). He even makes an interesting point about the
word “intellectual” designating a social role, like “bus driver,” rather than being a
testament to intellect. In other words, you can have stupid intellectuals, which he
feels Sontag is most definitely not: she being familiar with a universe of arcana
from 10th-century Japanese aesthetics to the history of grottos.
But what Eagleton likes best about Sontag is the fact that she is “a devout
Europhile...the kind of American who is...European in the way that only a
non-European can be. Her roots lie in central European Judaism, a tradition
which combines high culture with radical politics, civility with moral passion.”
Then he adds that she is “marooned in [the] United States...a country where
independence of thought is judged unpatriotic.” I think, perhaps, that Americans
object more to reflexive self-hatred and moral “passion” that seeks always to tip
the scale of moral judgment from a verticle to a horizontal position than to independence of thought
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