Last night, Mr. Royale and I went to one of those ’80s dance nights. I’m proud to say that I danced my f’ing ass off and even Mr. Royale was seen hoofing it to several classic ’80s Post-Punk tracks. This wasn’t your typical synth-pop, hair metal evening: David J was the guest DJ. As you can imagine, he filled the evening with darker, interesting British music from the early-to-mid -80s, most of it great to dance to and all of it enjoyable to hear.
This morning, the ’80s love-fest continued. While I was scanning my FB feed, another blog that I follow posted some videos from the Hacienda/Factory Records site. While I’ve been resting my weary feet, I’ve been watching these live clips from The Hacienda, circa 1982. Most of them are pretty interesting, and I’m guessing a few will get you up on your feet. The band line up is so good: I would call it my Summer of Love.
I’ve always championed The Wolfgang Press. I’m not sure where your basic RTH-er is going to stand with this challenging lot. It has been said that “if you filled a room with Talking Heads fans, got them drunk and played a few Wolfgang Press discs, loudly, the congregation would go ape before they had time to rescue their cool.”
Weighty and primal, always changing, they were cast from PiL-type gloom backgrounds but there has always been something darkly humorous about this trio. Lead ranter Michael Allen was a brooding goofball who comes across like a dreadlocked Nick Cave. His spoken-howl lyrics and the band’s bottom-heavy, textured experiments moved from cacophony to minimal to soul-tinged to (admittedly not so successful) dance-floor funk.
TWP is not for the easily intimidated. Swaggering but self-doubting, full of fire and brimstone, choosing odd songs to cover, permeated by 4AD atmosphere, and always visceral, always confrontational…what say ye?
What are you listening to these days? While we may be inundated by suggestions for beach reading, grilling recipes, and refreshing beverages, I’d like to hear more about what you all are listening to during the heat wave, your holidays, your longer daylight hours. It’s the summer and for me it means more time to explore bands I’ve been meaning to catch up on or learn more about. So here are 2 that I’m totally addicted to these days:
1. The Men
Mr. Royale has been sneaking tracks from this Brooklyn 4-piece onto music mixes he’s been making for me, but it was this track that really turned things around and made me join the cult:
This is 8:06 of The Power and Glory of Rock! We start with some Neil Young “Southern Man”-style guitar, and move into a psychedelic guitar lead that winningly reminds me of one of my favorite covers, Camper Van Beethoven’s version of Pink Floyd’s “Interstellar Overdrive.” Two minutes in, the beat picks up but then is followed by a teasing lull. However, the volume kicks back up and at 5:18, The Men are in full swing and even add cowbell! I’m imagining the group of them head banging in tandem and this continues with some extra psychedelic guitar noodling thrown in for good measure. This music IS everything and the kitchen sink!
Whereas The Men are very overt with their influences, my other music addiction these days could be described as True Originals:
I fondly imagine that the homes of most Town Folk are filled with music for much of the time, and have been since childhood.
As I have mentioned previously, Mrs Happiness mistrusts as a matter of course any of the music I enjoy, having awoken once too often to the dulcet strains of Trout Mask Replica, Oar, a bootleg tape of Smile, or something by the Incredible String Band while dozing with our eldest still on board as I tested the theory that babies will respond positively once born to music they have heard in the womb.
Consequently, although music plays almost constantly in my head, almost all of my actual listening is through headphones, as is the (electric) piano practice of our first-born. I will occasionally pluck up the courage to strum an electric guitar unamplified as far away from where she sits reading as possible, but mostly we enjoy a house full of silence, punctuated only by the bickering of children and the happy screams of an over-stimulated 5 year old trying to use up the last of his energy before bedtime.
I am quite used to it, having grown up in an environment where music might as well not existed. Mrs H’s dislike of The Rock and All Of Its Doings is nothing compared to the pathological disdain exhibited by my Father towards any music other than the big bands of Glenn Miller or Joe Loss, whose records he still wouldn’t have in the house. It came as a real shock when I discovered a few years ago that he and my Mother met at a weekly dance: I had to go and listen to Trout Mask Replica, Oar, Smile, or something by the Incredible String Band to get over it.
When I was about 4 or 5, he brought home a Radiogram, comprising a high-end-of-the-market record player and a fantastic looking valve radio that lit up when it was switched on but which despite many Dad and Son hours trailing a long aerial made of pink plastic out of the back and through the house in a variety of directions we never actually succeeded in getting it to work. It was a great big piece of furniture as tall as me at the time and wide enough for myself and both of my younger sisters to lay behind end-to-end without any part of us sticking out, and speakers more than adequate to provide cover during games of hide and seek. I was not supposed to touch it, but eventually he gave up trying to stop me as I acquired records of my own and demonstrated vinyl-handling techniques to his satisfaction.
The coming of the Radiogram heralded the arrival of a box-set, or at least a large number of albums encased in an Apple Green vinyl sleeve with gold lettering. Dad would wake up on a Sunday morning, make a cup of tea, repair to the front room and the house would be full of the sound of these records, played at quite startling volume.
I can’t remember exactly how many records there were in the set, although the number 12 seems to have stuck in my memory.
Side one began with a rush of steam, the closing of doors and a whistle, then a slow clanking growing faster, as the Flying Scotsman – brought into service on the 24th February 1923 – set off on its record-breaking journey from London to Edinburgh, a journey of eight hours on the fastest steam train of them all.
In this week’s edition of Saturday Night Shut-Inladymisskirroyale hosts the airing of a hand-selected post-punk mix offered to the Hall by noted rock historian and Friend of the Hall Simon Reynolds! This is some cool stuff that you may or may not be familiar with—and definitely something different than the Richard Baskin-oriented fare for which your regular host is known to spin.
If ladymisskirroyale, Simon Reynolds, and input by the legendary Mr. Royale are not enough to make you set aside some quality time with your computer, then you’ll want to tune in for your chance to win The Gift, perhaps the most treasured contest prize Rock Town Hall has known to date. Tune in and find out from ladymiss how you can win! (And if you missed the details, the goal is to identify the tracks played: artist and title. Post the playlist in the Comments section or email Mr. Moderator at mrmoderator (at) rocktownhall (dot) com.)
[audio:https://www.rocktownhall.com/blogs/wp-content/uploads/2011/11/RTH-Saturday-Night-Shut-In-53.mp3|titles=RTH Saturday Night Shut-In, episode 53]
[Note: The Rock Town Hall feed will enable you to easily download Saturday Night Shut-In episodes to your digital music player. In fact, you can even set your iTunes to search for an automatic download of each week’s podcast.]
A couple of weeks ago, Mr. Royale and I were able to see one of our favorite music critics, Simon Reynolds, discuss his most recent work, Retromania, and field general questions about music and his other books. The man is well versed in a wide range of musical topics, having written about the Post-Punk era, the “Blissed-Out” era of the late ’80s and early ’90s, rave culture, gender influences in rock, and hip-hop culture. Mr. Royale and I arrived a bit early at the bookstore for the reading and noticed him already there browsing the stacks in the music section. We approached him and started chatting, and he was kind enough to answer some of our nosey questions. For instance, his favorite music writers/books include Griel Marcus and Wompbopalubomp, by Nick Cohn. He got into the music writing business indirectly, first studying history at Oxford but continuing his interest and discourse about music, especially in relation to some of the 20th Century French philosophers. He also likes science fiction, and his wife, who is also a music critic, started out by publishing a Duran Duran fanzine.
A central thesis of Retromania is that there is no innovation in music now and that we are overly fixated in looking backwards and making ironic winks to previous time periods. There are technological advances, but they not used to further music, just make it sound like what has come before. He hates mixes/remixes/mash ups as he feels they don’t offer anything new. He despairs about reunion tours, rock museums, and retrosound. He gave an example that if a new writer wrote in the style of Faulker, walked around dressed like Faulkner, and quoted Faulkner all the time, we would laugh. But when musicians do it, it’s given a pass. However, he admits that he is ambivalent about his theory and wrote the book to engage others in discussion about his perceptions.
After the talk, he agreed to field additional questions from The Hall, including some sent in by my trusty colleagues. I submitted several via email and he promptly wrote back.
Rock Town Hall: I’ve read some interesting research that suggests that half of all humans tend to peak early in their creative/artistic growth, and half are of the “slow and steady wins the race” type. Examples of these two types might include, say, Prince on the one hand and Jackson Pollock on the other. One flamed out with astonishing brilliance fairly early in life, and the other didn’t paint anything of interest until he cracked his personal creative code in his 50s. I think one of the reasons the field of pop music lacks so much creativity is because the prevailing A&R system only recruits young talent—a strategy that virtually guarantees that most pop music artists will be relevant and interesting for only a brief time. I believe the pop music industry is ignoring all the “late creativebloomers”—50% of all potentially great music makers—and I think that most people who are only latently brilliant when young don’t think they’llever “make it” in pop music, so they stop trying. Of course, I understand issues related to sex appeal, spending habits, and so forth are at the root of the “recruit only when young” method, but… I’d be curious to get your thoughts on this.
Simon Reynolds: Hmmm, that is interesting. I don’t know if it connects to my preoccupations in Retromania, though, because a lot of older artists are still recording, either for major labels or in the musical indie leftfield, which is what most of my attention is on—and I don’t particularly hear great breakthroughs coming from the older set! But it’s true that record companies did use to invest in talent long-term more, they had the equivalent of “mid-list” artists as in the publishing world, an artist would be allowed to put out album after album after album. And they developed artists, like Kate Bush, who was very young when she started, was put on a wage, and put up in some kind of house or apartment with a piano for a year or two to develop her thing. EMI saw as a female Pink Floyd or something, a long-term major artist. This kind of development I’m sure still goes on but is more likely to be grooming and dance lessons, and all the other things required to be a transmedia-dominating pop star. And artists tend to get dropped really quickly if they don’t make, which must be crushing to many people who are talented and would bloom later.
RTH: I am having a hard time formulating this question, but if you look at the history or jazz or blues or other forms of music, don’t they all reach a point where they are pretty much “played out,” at least as phenomena with massive audiences, and become niche entertainments and recyclers of the past? What makes us think that rock music is immune to these cycles of growth, evolution, and diminution? I am not suggesting you are trying to make that case, by the way. But there are jazz bands that go around and play the music of various bygone eras, or in the general style(s) of past eras; there are jazz artists striving to create something new that is still part of the tradition, but for the very few people who are interested, etc. Will rock as we (vaguely defined, older people “raised on classic rock”) understand it not go the same route, if it hasn’t already?
SR: Yes, there is a case for the argument that musical genres, or major musical movements—jazz, rock, hip hop, electronic dance—have a kind of life-cycle. First phase is the emergent one, where often the music is considered juvenile or lowly in some way (jazz being connected with lowlife, brothel music). Then it breaks through to wider acceptance and becomes the dominant popular music of its age, influencing everything else that’s going on. Then you have the fragmentation phase, where it is looking for ways to develop and it is itself influenced or even looking for influences: one way is to combine with the more recent popular styles and dance rhythms (in jazz’s case that would the ’70s fusion era, when it combined with rock, funk, etc), another way is various paths of extremism or abstraction (free jazz, fire jazz, non-idiomatic improvisation, etc); there is also another kind of fusion, which is merging with musics from outside the American tradition (in jazz ECM did with various European flavours and world/exotic flavours, also people like Don Cherry did similar kinds of moves). Then the final phase of the music is a kind of classicism—in jazz terms that would be Wynton Marsalis and Lincoln Center and the critic Stanley Crouch, the idea of building on a very strong knowledge of and basis in the past, a return to fundamental principles (so in jazz, according to Marsalis and Crouch, that is “blues” and “swing”). Jazz players stop trying to look trendy (all those ’70s fusion snazzy threads!) and dress in suits and ties again. This kind of neo-classicism in jazz tends to blur into a heritage mindset, where it’s all about the classics, almost like the classical music world idea of repertory, whether it’s old performers wheeled out again onstage or it’s young, very respectful and reverential players playing the classic tunes. And indeed the argument is that jazz is America’s classical music. So there is an emphasis on preservation and history: books, documentaries, museum exhibitions. And even with composers and players making new music, the music teems with ghosts of its earlier glory days. Well you could see similar four-phase narrative unfolding within rock and even in hip hop and rave culture.
RTH: Is there an artist you most regret “not getting” at first who you would eventually dig years after you first had the chance?
Everyone has their decade and judging by recent RTH threads, the 1960s topped many people’s lists for the Best Era of Rock. And although I appreciate the music of the 1960s, a large part of my heart is saved for the ’80s. Much of this connection reflects my personal experiences growing up in the ’70s and ’80s, followed by the watershed experience of receiving my first copy of the Trouser Press Record Guide. But as I’ve become older, I continue to listen to and think about a lot of this music.
So I offer this bridge to our fellow Townspersons who may sneer and consider the 1980s an era of ridiculous fashion and over-the-top musical groups. But it didn’t necessarily start out that way. I paraphrase the mighty Simon Reynolds in his stellar history, Rip It Up and Start Again: Postpunk 1978–1984, that 1978–1982 rivaled the years 1963–1967 in the amount of amazing music, the spirit of adventure and idealism, and the way the music was connected to the social and political events of the era.
Ladies and Gentlemen, may I present the Post Punk Years: