Present at the creation. Well, slightly after the creation, but still way early. Dig all the long hair, the band’s and the audience. Tommy’s is the hippiest. Johnny takes care of his. And everyone looks so nice. Rock’n’roll was still very nice in 1976. It had probably never been nicer. Nice people, nice music. I don’t think anyone had a clue about what was to erupt in a year. Punk rock—were we even calling it that yet?—was still a college kid thing. Not a drop out thing or a fuck up thing or a this close to being put away psycho thing. And it looks like somebody was recording the show on the state of the art portable recording machines (I’d say recorders instead of recording machines but recorders were still those inexpensive little woodwinds that hippies drove us up the wall with). The cassette he recorded would have sounded like he’d recorded inside a blender. Unlistenable. He probably still has it somewhere, Ramones scrawled across it in ball point pen, the venue and the date. Sometimes he finds it in a junk drawer and remembers.
An epileptic watching Laura
Watching Laura for the zillionth time and Waldo Lydecker just had his seizure. I hope, says a recovered Clifton Webb to a radiantly overbit Gene Tierney, you’ll forgive my wee touch of epilepsy, my dear. Clifton Webb could sure say a my dear. He drops to a near whisper. It’s an old family custom he apologizes, but not really. There’s a touch of a boast to it. I grin. It’s my favorite line. Well, second favorite. You can’t top his I shall never forget the weekend Laura died. An opener, no less. And there’s a naked skinny epileptic Waldo typing in the bathtub. An epileptic in a bathtub. If he’d had his seizure then there’d have been no movie.
Ronnie Hawkins, RIP. How he made it to 87 the Lord only knows. An genuwine Arkansas rockabilly cat who moved to Canada figuring rightly they were dying up there for the real stomping thing, his fiercely rockin’ 1963 take on the Bo Diddley classic Who Do You Love was one of the very last rockabilly hits. Listening now, though, you can hear how his raw Arkansas sound (played by his crack Canadian bands) was heading well into the tough bluesier rock’n’roll starting to bubble and boil in roadhouses and bars in the States and Britain in the sixties. That nasty guitar here I think was Roy Buchanan, who, like Robbie Robertson afterward, had a sound much shaped by hard years playing in Ronnie’s gritty fired up bands. This wasn’t art, this was rock’n’roll. Just play yer asses off and give the people a show.
Just to age myself even more, I got that Spirit box set which includes the first four albums plus another album and a soundtracks and singles, outtakes and whatever else they could squeeze on five discs. Hot damn this shit is good. Always loved these guys. Poor bastards were not big enough to be really popular but too big to be considered a cult band. Spirit were the band whose manager cancelled their Woodstock appearance so they could play a high school auditorium in nearby Binghamton. Well, they got paid for playing Binghamton, there was that. But imagine playing a set to a few hundred people when you were could have been playing for hundreds of thousands a helicopter flight away. It shall be.
Been a decade or so since I saw John Ford’s The Informer and though I remembered it was riveting and powerful, unrelentingly so, I’d forgotten what a kick to the solar plexus that ending is. Jesus. Audiences in 1935 must have sat in stunned silence afterward for several long seconds. Talkies were only a few years old and I doubt they’d ever experienced anything like that before. Nearly a century later it’s still so intense it’s uncomfortable to watch and as the credits roll you’re left staring at the screen for a few long seconds, not feeling good about yourself at all.
Wizard of Oz
Watching Wizard of Oz. This was a big national event when I was a kid, the one time all year you could see the Wizard of Oz and families would crowd around the TV to watch. CBS reaped incredibly high Neilsen ratings. It became one of my childhood memories. The Wizard of Oz was one of those rare things that stayed the same as we moved back and forth across the country, over and over. I’ve only seen it a couple times since then. The technicolor startles me everytime. When I watched it as a kid it was in black and white. We didn’t have a color set for years. My dad could keep any old TV running forever, so we had a black and white set long into the color era. Dorothy would open the door of the house and if she and Toto weren’t in Kansas anymore the hues gave no clue. My dad filled us in. The road was bright yellow he said. But I had no idea it was as bright as it looks now. Crazy yellow. Psychedelic yellow. And all those crazy midgets.
Shootout at the Fantasy Factory
Hearing this tune always reminds me of my pre-punk rock life. If you’re old enough you had a completely different existence before you first heard the Ramones or Sex Pistols. We liked lots of hippie music and had lots of hippie thoughts, though I can’t remember most of them. Anyway, I used to have this album. It was the Traffic album that had what, three songs? Maybe four or five, I can’t remember. Apparently all the touring and drugs was taking its toll on the songwriting. Sometimes I feel so uninspired, Stevie sang in his most mournful rock star voice, sometimes I feel like giving up. Subtle. And then there was Roll Right Stones, which I always assumed was another of those Winwood way cool English jazz hippieisms I never could figure out—the lyrics to Low Spark of High Heeled Boys on the previous record took me years of exegesis. Turns out the Roll Right Stones are actually a trio of megalithic monuments out in the English countryside dating back to the Neolithic. We didn’t have Wikipedia in the seventies, so I just figured it meant cool or groovy or keep on truckin or whatever. I wasn’t the brightest kid. Whatever the title means, Roll Right Stones does eventually cook, even wail a bit, but it felt like half a Dead show before you got there. The fucker takes up about half the record, not so much filling out side 1 as it did slowly ooze over it, filling in just enough grooves to please the record company. OK, maybe that was harsh. But it is a long stoned song. The title track was great, though, and kinda weird. It was the Traffic tune that people who loved Baby’s On Fire liked. You’d hear the tune a lot on FM for a while, though I haven’t heard it in years. Which is odd because I still listen to Traffic pretty regularly, and still love Steve Winwood’s voice, even if you can’t tell by the attitude above. I wrote most of this some time ago, I think during that nasty heat wave, hence the grumpiness. It happens.
Oh, Rebop Kwaku Baah. Almost as fun to write as it is to say. He cooks on the title cut. Rebop Kwaku Baah. That’s twice.
All the Young Dudes
This was the anthem of all us disaffected teens in the early 70s and we had no idea why, it just was, somehow. We hadn’t a clue what it was actually about, we just figured it was about all us shambling young and clueless dudes and dudettes, and it meant, well, who knows. Whatever. Metaphors were still a little beyond us (it’s one of the last linguistic concepts the brain gets a handle on, metaphors, until just before we reach adulthood and there they are, metaphors, and suddenly Bob Dylan makes sense.) No, we were still at that precious age where everything is literal and things are things and dudes were, well, dudes. Its lyrical structure is pretty complicated for an anthem—they’re usually simple, We Shall Overcome, like that—and it’s got a lot of cool rhymes, and that all night/suicide/twenty five/speed jive/stay alive/twenty five it opens with could’ve come right out of Cole Porter. Bowie had never done better word wise, and never did again, not that we could have known that then, we were 15 and didn’t know anything, though we didn’t know that either. All we really knew was that chorus with all the young dudes singing all the young dudes, and we’d join in, all the young dudes joining all the young dudes singing all the young dudes. It was probably the only feeling of being part of a youth movement that wasn’t some old hippie thing we had in the early 1970’s, though what sort of movement that was we hadn’t a clue. Just us dudes singing about us dudes. It was our anthem. And ya know, it still gets me when I hear it, every single time, and it probably always will. I’m a dude, yeah.
Finally found the S.H. Draumur double CD with all their vinyl on it. That Internet thing again. I had all their vinyl, sold it in one batch to a guy at a garage record sale, who was thrilled, and listened to the earlier version of this double CD I had just gotten, which I immediately lost. That was probably 25 years ago. Now, at last, all the way from Iceland and the last copy they had, I get this. The lovely InstaCart lady (very lovely, in fact) brought it with our Total Wine order, with the white wine for the wife and the apfel schnapps für mich. You got this thing here from Iceland, the InstaCart lady said, lashes aflutter. Hot damn, I said, Thanks. I’d been waiting a while. For some reason customs always gets involved, like it’s actually a little package of that hideous Icelandic dessicated shark. Then they sniff it, see it’s a CD, read the voluminous paperwork you have to add in Iceland to ship anything anywhere not part of the Greater Iceland Empire, which is all in Icelandic, which no one at the U.S. Customs office can read, I’m sure—I mean who can?—so they eventually give up and let it go. A week or so later it’s left on our steps for the lovely Instacart lady to find. There’s a reason for everything. Actually, this CD reissue was released a decade ago but only in Iceland and ever since we sold the rooftop condo in Reykjavik we don’t get over there much. But I got this new double CD now. I actually do. Nice packaging, too, extra live tracks, all the lyrics and a long historical essay, everything in Icelandic. As are the lyrics, every single word of them, right down to those to those groovy weird letters for the voiced and unvoiced TH. (English had those. Don’t ask.) I like to think it’s because Icelanders don’t particularly give two Paul Weller fucks about anyone outside Iceland. Which just makes this even cooler. Anyway, I don’t listen to much rock anymore, I notice, I’m way more into jazz and African and Latin and Brazilian and all kinds of wacky metrically skewed ethnic shit, these things happen, but S.H. Draumur was one of my favorite rock bands ever, and twenty five years later it still is, turns out, so I’m one pleased old punk rock motherfucker, he says, and plays it again.
Epilogue: You can try Bad Taste Ltd, out of Rekyavik, for all your Icelandic music needs, like this double CD, if they have any left). And you adventurous postpunk etc music nuts ought to have plenty of Icelandic musical needs, as it remains as musically creative a place as you’ll find on this crazy little sonic planet we’re on. Bad Taste are a couple great guys whose English is much better than mine with a helluva catalog and I highly recommend them. Google them, as I’m way too lazy to look up the link. Gunni Hjalmarsson—aka Dr, Gunni in a later life—who wrote, sang and bassified in SH Draumur (and in a follow up project Bless) is still around, too. Back in the innocent punk rock pen pal days of the analog 80s we swapped letters and music and to be honest, I got the much better in the swaps, and soon I knew more about Icelandic music than maybe anyone in LA. You’d be amazed at how far you can get as an Icelandic music expert in Los Angeles. This spacious office, the BMW, the secretary with the legs? That’s right, all due to those packages from Gunni. A zillion years later I still have a mess of that stuff too, and certainly all the cassettes. He’s a terrific writer too, and in English, which I hate, as I can’t read Icelandic at all (well, I can pronounce it, and you are all mispronouncing Björk) so of course Gunni translates his own stuff, not that I’m jealous or anything. (Monolingually jealous? Moi?) Maybe he translated the lengthy notes that are tucked into the CD booklet too. And now I can’t think of a clever close to this epilogue. Fuck.
OK, I lied about the rooftop condo in Reykjavik.
Buffy Saint-Marie again
Buffy Sainte-Marie off somewhere at the Bottom Line in 1974.
Though always my favorite of the singer songwriters, it’s funny to see what a challenge she proved to photographers who almost invariably failed to capture her intensity. It’s a shame, really, because in the days before video and online performances, photographs and vinyl were the only way most people ever got to experience a musician. Good photographs could make a legend, to this day we tend to recognize the artists who photographed well. Buffy Sainte-Marie was perhaps a bit beyond what photographers could see then, not that you could blame them, publicity and stereotypes were all about wind blown hippies or Joan Baez, and Buffy was neither. Still, photographer Waring Abbot caught a glimpse of something here on a spring night in New York City in 1974.