During these difficult times, it’s always a pleasure to know that relief is right around the corner via a back porch dinner with those you love, namely, the “I promise to love you no matter how much of an asshole you are now or will become in the not so distant future” wife; my sister, whose saved my ass on countless occasions; and her husband, one of those Survivor types who can do and get through anything and still have a sense of humor. Last Saturday night’s dinner was especially noteworthy because Supertramp Syndrome was finally fine tuned. It all began when Supertramp’s “Logical Song” reared its ugly head in the middle of a fairly pleasant playlist that featured a lot of surprisingly good ’70s stuff. Tem seconds into the thing was all it took to bring on a plethora of horrible feelings: physical discomfort, embarrassment, shame, etc. Hence, Supertramp Syndrome.
One of my great joys in life is the poker game and all that it entails: spending time with wickedly funny friends, getting polluted, gorging myself with delicious unhealthy food (kielbasa sandwiches; stiff, salty potato chips), listening to choice music (London Calling, The Harder They Come, 12 x 5, etc.), and most importantly, if everything goes just right, experiencing the Blue Velvet-like thrill of having everyone’s money in my pocket at the end of the night.
It was one during one of these poker sessions that our severely stoned ring leader (who has chosen to remain nameless because he’s a wuss) brought this up after landing a Jack between a deuce and a King during a lengthy Acey Deucy round that netted him a pot of about 50 bucks: “You know what? I’d give all this away right now and everything in the bank if I could go back in time to see one of those early Ramones CBGBs shows, where they played with Television, Suicide, that early version of Blondie…Can you imagine seeing something like that? Jesus!”
The actual music that came out of the CBGBs scene was really not my cup of tea, but the stories surrounding it were a whole ‘nother matter. I too would have loved to have been there. Would it have been worth emptying my bank account? In that state of mind during the poker game? Maybe. Seeing the Preludin-fueled Beatles at the Star Club in Hamburg in 1962 with a recently added Ringo? Absolutely and positively. To be at the front of the stage, guzzling that elixir like German lager with Lady Gergely in tow, in our late teens (with a guarantee that we would somehow or another be able to return to the present in one piece), watching them tear through “I’m Gonna Sit Right Down and Cry,” “Red Sails in the Sunset,” “Too Much Monkey Business,” etc, marveling at Lennon’s ability to insult the Germans continually, not caring one whit about any kind of consequences, and just plain being in the thick of that “anything goes” magic environment of locals, sailors, exis, mobsters, prostitutes, transvestites, etc, would without a doubt be worth the trip to the bank. With all that in mind, I now ask you: If the opportunity presented itself, which big music event would be worth seeing at the expense of a secure job, marriage, retirement fund, you name it?
In second grade, I discovered 12 X 5 in the attic of a friend’s house during a not-so-interesting sleepover. While my buddy and his parents slept (they were heavy drinkers and always passed out early), I wandered around their museum-like house. Anyone’s good stuff was always in the basements and attics. Unfortunately, the basement was off limits because about a fourth of it was flooded, so I headed for the attic. It was teeming with hippie stuff that his older sisters left behind when they moved out: black-light posters, games like “Kerplunk” and “Shenanigans,” ripped up copies of Creem magazine, and best of all, LOTS of records, the highlight being one with a cover featuring the band members’ faces semi-buried in dark lighting. They looked like well-dressed thugs. Printed in the corner of the cover was the word “London.” Man, this was a real find. This thing came all the way from London! Somehow or another, I managed to get it out of the house and home to my white and orange General Electric record player. One spin, and that’s all it took. Each and every visit to the turntable delivered like a roller-coaster ride. From that day on, it was Rolling Stones 24/7, including dreams, night after night, in which I hung out with them, knowing they were probably up to a lot of stuff that was really, really bad, but disregarding all that because just being in their company was such a thrill. Simply put, they were sooooooo cool!
I haven’t been up here in ages, but recent developments force my reappearance. During the last week, I did nothing but scrape and paint the baseboards in my house. It was pleasing work because it was the first time I really listened to music for quite some time. For the most part, I listened to nothing but a tape I made in high school that paired Squeeze‘s East Side Story with Costello‘s Trust. Talk about a one-two punch! I forgot how great both of those slabs of wax were! I definitely see the two records as companion pieces. Costello’s production gives Squeeze more of an edge, and Squeeze’s influence, I’d like to believe, put a bit of a fire under Costello’s hiney. Both LPs are loaded with winners. On the Squeeze LP, I find no stinkers, and the Costello LP only has one: “Shot with His Own Gun”.
Don’t know about you, but I’d take Trust over Imperial Bedroom any day of the week. How about you? And pushing that further, which record, in your estimation, is better, Trust or East Side Story?(Maybe you were lucky enough to catch Costello and Squeeze on their double-header tour when both were promoting the above records. If so, I envy you. I had to settle for a Squeeze performance at Gettysburg College. Costello couldn’t make the show. Flock of Seagulls took his place. Whatever. I was in high school, it was my first concert, and the whole thing was entertaining as hell. Squeeze was dynamite. They played nearly every song from East Side Story, and all of it sounded exactly like the record! I prefer that take over doing a “Jazz Odyssey” workout on well-known numbers. Those who appreciated what Costello did to his gems during his “Goodbye Cruel World” tour definitely have more adventurous appetities than myself.)
After I finished the baseboards, I scrambled over to my brother-in-law’s house to borrow some more Squeeze LPs: Argybargy and Sweets from a Stranger. Both had a gem or two, but for the most part, they were pretty bad. Too much nonsense about tea, biscuits, and the bath swaddled in rhythms and melodies that went nowhere. What happened? No Costello! No wonderboy who also produced the first Specials LP. No whizz kid who had that “everything I touch turns to gold Beatles Magic” that lasted until he started working on Imperial Bedroom.
Having a producer who’s brave enough to kick ass when egos get out of control is vitally important. There’s an endless list of artists who began to suck immediately when their egos decided their producer wasn’t necessary anymore. Why Squeeze ditched Costello and Costello ditched Nick Lowe will continue to be two of the greatest mysteries of life.
Anyway, get back to me ASAP with your thoughts on all this nonsense. And by the way, thanks for that Three O’Clock download.
E. Pluribus Gergeley
PS. If you have MP3s of “Real World” by the Buzzcocks and “Tell Me When My Light Turns Green” by Dexy’s send ’em my way. I’m dying to hear those tracks again!
Circa 1991, writing under an assumed name for the long out-of-print photocopied, folded, and stapled publication HEADline, Townsman E. Pluribus Gergely wrote the following piece on Eric Clapton. We’ve uncovered a rare copy of said publication and transcribed this piece to accompany this week’s discussion. Enjoy.Must I wake up everyday with a splitting headache? The gods believe I should, or they would have done something about it long ago. I envy their sense of humor. To play with my existence as if it were nothing but a mere tinker toy obviously provides them with much delight. They will live eternally, knowing they have plenty of time to continually create things of value. I have not been allotted this time. The possiblilty that I will create anything even remotely beneficial to humanity is most probably improbable. Much precious time is indeed wasted on the so called practicalities of life, negatives in my book. If only I could learn the trick of creating something, anything, from the purely negative. The Judeo-Christian God supposedly created man from mere dirt (yeah, dirt, earth is way too kind). Celine, doctor and author of one my all-time favorite tomes, Death on the Installment Plan, earned a whole lot of extra money by showing the public what real filth is all about. Come to think about it, maybe there’s an angle to all this after all. Continue to follow me through this insufferable rambling, dear reader, and you’ll soon see what I’m getting at.
When I awoke yesterday, around 3:00 in the afternoon, my world appeared to be out of focus. Some commonplace images around the perimenter of my bed – a half-eaten bag of pork rinds and a well-thumbed copy of a late ’70s wrestling magazine, to name two – appeared to be blurry. The problem? No glasses! After placing my spectacles on the bridge of my nose the objects now had the illusion of being in focus. I use the word “illusion” because everything had the appearance of clarity, but old E. Pluribus knew better. He knew that a polished apple can be rotten to the core. He knew there was still something out of kilter, and the faint sound of a radio in the adjoining apartment provided the plausibilty for his inklings. Imagine the ensuing nausea that occurs when one is forced to start his day with a broadcast of “I Shot the Sheriff” by Mr. Eric Clapton, the so-called “bluesman”. Now there’s a word out of focus! Let me and my howitzer have have 5 minutes with Mr. Clapton, and he’ll find out what real shooting is all about!
Doris, my ball and chain, says that Eric Clapton has made a career out of singing through his beard. What she’s getting at is this: the beard is more or less a mask, or disguise of sorts, to cover up the fact that he is none of the things he thinks or says he is.
True story. I’m in 7th grade, and my English teacher, Mrs. Millichap, finds out I’m a huge Beatles fan. Not much detective work is necessary. I’ve got the classic band logo scribbled on all my paper bag book covers, I’m wearing the Lennon specs, and I’ve always got my nose buried in a Beatle book (the Hunter Davies bio, The Man Who Gave the Beatles Away, Growing Up with the Beatles, etc.) if I finish a class task early.
Anyway, right before Christmas vacation, Mrs. Millichap tells me to stay after school for a half an hour or so. She’s got two presents for me: Highway 61 Revisited and a book by Paul Gambaccini (I think that’s his name) called the 100 Greatest Rock Albums of All Time. “Something to keep you busy during your break.” A real sweetheart. People like Mrs. Millichap are like angels sent from heaven, especially when you’re living in a small town where the number one band for anyone between the ages of 10 and 30 is the Scorpions.
So I zip home, tear the shrink off the Dylan LP, flop it on the turntable, study the front and back cover, and check out the Gambacccini book. After the 10-day break, I return to school, and my scholastic career begins to go right down the crapper. All I can think about is getting my hands on some more Dylan LPs and as many of those LPs mentioned in the Gambaccini book.
One of the top 100 is a bootleg called In 1966, There Was… It’s a live Dylan acoustic/electric concert from Manchester Free Hall. A large chunk of the critics believe it to be the greatest live concert of all time. All I can think about is getting my grubby little hands on this thing to find out what all the fuss is about.
To make a long story short, my detective work leads me to a record store/bootleg press out of North Carolina called Pied Piper Records: “Hundreds of live recordings for sale on vinyl and tape” is how the company advertises itself in the back of Rolling Stone magazine, in its classified section. I send away for the Pied Piper catalog, and sure as I’m sittin’ here, the friggin’ record is listed for 10 dollars! It’s a whole lot of money, but it’s worth the extra yard work. I send off the loot and 4 weeks later (yeah, back then delivery was 4 to 6 weeks for some reason or another) it shows up. Never in the history of mankind has anyone ripped through cardboard and shrink wrap so quickly and haphazardly.
I flop side 1 down on the turntable. Acoustic mumbers from Bringing It All Back Home, Highway 61, and Blonde on Blonde. Just Bob and his guitar. Pure heaven. Up to this point, I’d never heard the man live.
Side 2. Electric band. Sloppy arrangements, sloppy playing, sloppy everything. The verdict? Terrible.
How’s it goin’, man? I apologize for not getting back to you about the whole “Good Day Sunshine” and “Got to Get You Back into My Life” thing, but I’ve been pretty busy lately: cleaning rust off beer cans, removing name stickers from record labels, experimenting with other foods for the brats to eat besides kielbasa and hot dogs…that kinda stuff. Anyway, no defense of those songs is necessary. If a listener can’t zero in on the magic of those numbers, something’s just not right. For some reason or another, reflecting on the majesty of those songs got me thinking about the whole New York Punk scene. And how much the actual music from the scene sucked. My exhaustive research shows that most of the scene’s music came from very pretentious brains with limited playing skills. And when those same pretentious brains gained chops, the music got even worse.
From what I can gather, the only good thing about the New York Punk Scene is that it influenced a whole slew of Brits who churned out loads of dynamite, well=balanced records. By well balanced, I mean well written, well performed, and well produced. A simple system of checks and balances miraculously kept even the most pretentious of songs on an even keel. Take the entire Gang of Four Entertainment lp, for example. God only knows what the lead singer is going on about (ranting in that manner is common when one has nothing worthwhile to say and is still expected to gain an audience’s attention). He is saved by the construction of the songs, the chops of the band, and the producer’s ability to make all the noise sound like a truck blasting its way through the listener’s speakers. I hear none of this in even the most acclaimed New York productions. There’s a thinness there that permeates nearly all of the recordings, save a few. No surprise there. What else should one expect from records which are, for the most part, written, performed, and produced by pinheads.
That said, I’m glad to say I am able to list 6 and a half winners from the New York Punk scene. There are always exceptions to the rule. The following titles still hold up after repeated listenings:
1) “The Tide Is High”
2) “Sunday Girl”
3) “Hanging on the Telephone”
5) “The Hardest Part”
6) “Heart of Glass”
Honorable Mention: “See No Evil” (regardless of the fact that it sounds like it was recorded with wooferless equipment courtesy of the Soundesign Corporation)
Speaking of well-balanced things, I think I’ve presented a more than fair argument for my dislike of anyone making a noise in or anywhere near CBGBs during the mid- to late-70s.
Maudlin, my only fear at this point is that I might lose your support. Maybe you can come up with 10 gems from the scene. I gave it my best shot, but I couldn’t do it. There just wasn’t anything from the scene even close to a track with the overall quality of “Good Day Sunshine” or “Got to Get You into My Life.” There wasn’t even anything on the level of a second-tier ’60s title like “Let’s Live for Today”. And for that matter, I couldn’t find a single title that gave even something like “Elusive Butterfly” a run for it’s money.
If you see it differently, more power to ya. If you’ve got the 10, give ’em to me.