THE DRUGS DON’T WORK (Anymore…)

Recently on GloNo, the point was made that Steely Dan was arguably the best Drug Rock band of the 70s. While I won’t dispute the point, it raised another question in my mind: what happened to Drug Rock? What a long, strange trip it’s been…

Where are the blacklit rooms, adorned with florescent wall posters of Hendrix and Led Zeppelin? What happened to that guy who lived at the end of the block in his divorced parents’ vacant house – Doug, was it? – who always had the really good weed? The guy who drove the brown Nova with the bitchin’ Realistics in the back, and was always hanging around in the back of the school parking lot behind the tennis courts? Don’t tell me Doug didn’t pass the torch of knowledge to his younger brother, cousin, or nephew. Say it ain’t so! Don’t tell me that today’s American youth have no Wooderson-esque drug mentor, willing to provide his own ganja-laced Afterschool Special?

I DIDN’T learn it from you, alright?! I DIDN’T learn it from watching YOU!!

Yes, the days of the teardrop window’d conversion van are over. Whether your Drug Rock heroes are Steely Dan, Jimi, Led Zeppelin, or even Syd Barrett, the sad truth is that their legacies were beat up and left for dead by the excesses of the 1980s. She don’t lie, she don’t lie, she don’t lie: Cocaine. Studio 54 begat disco, which begat New Wave, which begat the sharp angles and jarring colors of 80s pop culture. There wasn’t any room in this world of pink satin and skinny ties for the medium cool of a good bong hit. Do you think Bud Fox would’ve still jumped Darryl Hannah’s bones if he’d lured her with kind bud? Hell no! Greed is good. But not when you’re out in the forest preserve, passing the dutchie from the left-hand side. 70s Drug Rock was about those sublime moments of introspection, when you can see the inside of your mouth while realizing exactly why that side of the moon was dark. But the extended musical freakouts of 70s AOR didn’t jibe with the angular, hyperactive pop of the ensuing decade, and by the late 1980s gatefold LPs, concept albums, and 21-minute drum solos were only a memory.

But inevitably, the Sheen wore off of the 80s. The stock market had crashed, Republicans weren’t running the show, and Aqua Net was out of style. Across America, distortion was ringing, heralding the return of the guitar. But Drug Rock wouldn’t be resurrected by feedback. No, the only one who could ever save the Drug Rock vibe was…Dusty Springfield.

In 1991, “Cypress Hill” dropped with the unforgettable pairing of Springfield’s “Son of a Preacher Man” and B-Real slurring “hits from the bong…”. Cypress Hill was all about the Mother Nature, and wanted everyone to know it. The album’s production was on par with 70s-style noodling, as well. Hazy beats combined with wacko sound effects and B-Real’s smirking, loopy delivery to create a new kind of Drug Rock that got all the kids hooked. The West Coast continued its dominance the following year with Dr Dre’s “The Chronic.” If “Cypress Hill” had brought back Drug Rock production, then the hilarious skits, thematic flow, and Parliament-style G-funk of “The Chronic” really got the 70s weed vibe back onto the high road. Listening to “Chronic” was like imagining Cheech & Chong fronting Parliament at a one-night only gig on the Mothership. Maybe now it was endo, but Snoop Doggy Dogg’s laid back drawl let everybody know it was the same vibe: a day not wasted is a wasted day. Tanqueray and chronic? Yeah, I’m fucked up now…

Unfortunately for weed (and music in general), the popular emergence of the G-Funk style did nothing to raise the bar of creativity. Legions of imitators followed Dre’s seminal work, and even Cypress Hill ran into trouble following up the grand tradition of its first release. Sure, everyone was smoking tons of weed, but the beats just weren’t that tight, and the music suffered.

Even more unfortunate is the state of Drug Rock today. A particularly disturbing side effect begotten in part by New Drug Rock pioneers such as Dre or Cypress Hill has been the formulation of the rap-rock movement, currently in vogue on Modern Rock stations and in undegraduate dorms throughout America. Groups like Limp Bizkit, Papa Roach, and Incubus seem more enamored of the 70s approach to formulaic guitar-based music than any vaunted Drug Rock history. In fact, their link to the demon weed is tenuous at best. Lots of lip service is paid to the drug, but the dynamics of, say, “Pretzel Logic” or “Aja” are a lot easier to zone out to than the he-said she-said bullshit of the Bizkit. The shit’s just too aggressive, man.

So maybe Steely Dan did deserve that Grammy, if only to please an older, paunchier Doug, who shed a lonely tear into his TV dinner as he thought back to the days of hanging out in the back of the school parking lot, polishing his Nova and listening to “Barracuda” as he separated the seeds from the stems…

JTL

The importance of being earnest: Sanoponic

The importance of being earnest: Sanoponic at the Beat Kitchen 02/24/01

Why do we hate bands that take themselves too seriously? We appreciate real conviction and dedication to art, yet we are thoroughly irritated by pretense. Sanoponic is pretentious and it bugs the shit out of me.

I like a lot of what Sanoponic does. I am a fan of Radiohead and so is Sanoponic. So much so that their singer has adopted many of Thom Yorke’s mannerisms, not to mention his voice. But that’s not the problem. I like bands who steal from other bands—most notably Fortune & Maltese, the late 90s garage rock phenom who have stolen sounds, riffs, lyrics and hairstyles from everyone that made the hit parade in the years 1964-69. I don’t even believe in the possibility of complete originality, so that’s not my issue with Sanoponic.

It’s not that they have an attitude. First of all I love bands with “attitude.” The least interested they seem to be in me the better. But I also like nice people and nice bands who are genuinely appreciative when fans pay to see them perform. Sanoponic is a group of really nice guys, even COOL guys. I sat with them for a couple of hours after their show Saturday and we laughed our asses off. That’s what makes it hard for me to NOT like this band.

The lyrics are pretentious and the vocals are WAY too affected. I can’t get into the music because I am so irritated by this guy’s singing, which isn’t bad at all, but it’s like acting: you never know when a good actor is acting. This guy is always acting and I keep waiting for him to flub his lines.

Musically, Sanoponic does some really interesting stuff. The rhythm section is tight with creative drumming and melodic bass lines. Even the song structure is interesting, but I’ll be damned if I can tell you what any ONE of the songs was about. I couldn’t concentrate because I was so embarrassed for the singer. He’s a cross between Crispin Glover and Thom Yorke and brother, that is bad medicine.

I’ll go see Sanoponic again because I like the guys personally, but I’ll be sure to hit the $1.75 PBR several times before I belly up to the stage for more of Crispin Glover’s antics.

Lester Bangs on Zawinul

And here is one more review by Lester Bangs. This one is a double review of a couple jazz albums. It originally appeared in the August 5, 1971 issue of Rolling $tone, and hasn’t been published since…

Continue reading Lester Bangs on Zawinul

The GO on the Radio

It’s Friday, and I’m in love.

The tightness around my eyes reminds me of last night’s Bud, but with The GO on the radio? Hey man, it’s right on. Detroit rock and roll water babies, musical greenhorns, touring tenderfoots? Whatever. Turn that shit up.

The brains behind the operation is one Bobby Harlow. Many names he has been known by, but one thing’s for sure: this kid is skinny. Well, that’s true. But it’s all part of the look, man. He can rock with the best of them, especially when The GO lights it up on all cylinders. Watcha Doin’, a rambling, high-octane assemblage of nicotine-stained rock, is the best thing Sub Pop has released in years (well, don’t tell the Murder City Devils that…they might kill me). Harlow’s sexy howl matches the intensity of John Krautner’s ragged guitar lines, and when the backing vocals come in on the chorus of “You Can Get High,” you know you’re in for the long haul. Detroit rock and roll is nothing new. But don’t sit there and tell me you don’t like it.

The GO knows the history (Harlow does a great Iggy Pop impersonation); they’ve been around that block. But lets go around again, and this time roll the windows down. The GO is infectious, just like how you never change the dial when “Back In Black” comes on the radio. Handclaps, fuzzy, slutty guitar, and just the right amount of drums mix it up for 12 tracks of greasy rock music that wears its influences like a broken-in leather jacket. It smells like whiskey and cigarettes, and that’s empowering.

Rock and roll will give me what I need.

JTL

Radiohead vs. Steely Dan

Why you gotta do the Dan like that, guys? Arguably the best drug rock band of the 70s (other than Camel, right Phil?), with a sound that is always amazingly contemporary, even now. As we all know, Mary Jane never goes out of style. Sure, they didn’t deserve a Grammy, but who gives a shit? Those prick fucks in Radiohead wouldn’t even exist if it weren’t for the Dan. Maybe, I think, you guys just haven’t smoked enough ganj when you’ve been in the presence of a really expensive, really good stereo system. What do you say we all go over to Tom’s dad’s place with a phat sack: An infallible recipe for changing your mind about Fagen and Becker.

Pussy Does Rule – Stroker Ace

Stroker Ace, opening for Ko and the Midnight Intruders

The Gold Dollar

Feb. 22, 2001

Is there anything better than going out to see a great garage band and getting all fucked up on a Thursday night? Well, yeah, there is: Doing it when a deadbeat friend owes you money and he’s picking up the bar tab. And here in Detroit, chances are, you’ve got at least one deadbeat friend. Mine decided that last night would be a good one to pay me back for some money stolen from my wallet last weekend.

And that’s how I met Stroker Ace. No, not Burt Reynolds and not Bill Neely and Bob Ottum, Stroker’s creators. Not even Curtis Turner, the real Stroker, as he’s been dead for years. I’m talking about Jackie O and Melody Licious (and their boy Dougie Tangent, but I’m not really interested in him because he’s a dude and I’m relatively straight where that’s concerned). This loud Detroit femme trio makes the kind of noise that, if it must be classified according to mainstream taste, goes into same riot grrrl bin as L7, Hole, and the Runaways. But who cares about that—this is the type of shit that, when sitting in a bar with a head full of beer, sounds like fucking Beethoven.

You want power chords, you got ’em. Licious blasts her Gibson SG through some distortion pedal that makes it sound as good as the best guitar rock guitar can. O, despite calling her bass-playing “Sid Vicious-inspired,” is far better than that. She’s no Mike Limbert, but hey, I already told you where I stand where dudes are concerned. Watching Jackie (I can call her that because I introduced myself to her after the show; she gave me a sticker) slouch her Fender Squire. . . Oh man! Let’s just say that between the several cans of Stroh’s and her “Pussy Rules” T-shirt (Which she just had to draw attention to, in the finest rock star fashion, by asking the crowd what they thought of it. I mean, what did she think we thought of it?!?! It was totally awesome; it turned me into a groupie the instant I saw it!), I was feeling all warm and fuzzy inside like some sick sort of puppy love. Except that this puppy is a rabid street mongrel. Funny how the canine metaphor also works for “doggy style.”

The point here is that chicks with guitars rule. Yeah I’m a sicko because I get turned on by every woman who’s ever picked up an axe. Yeah, go ahead and let the feminists bash me, but sometimes it’s nice to be exactly like the little 12-year-old girls who swoon over the Backstreet Boys. It feels good to embrace the kind of love/lust that you know is totally without merit, because dammit, we all want to bed a musician after we’ve seen him/her on stage. Didn’t you read/see High Fidelity?

Who knows whether I’ll dig Stroker Ace quite this much the next time I see them. This was certainly no one-night stand—I’ll be back to check them out again. Maybe the music will overwhelm the sex appeal next time, it certainly has the potential to do so. But I am realistic. I know that deep down in my heart, I don’t care one way or the other, because there will always be girls with guitars and me standing in the audience with a dreamy look in my eyes. These girls, however, seem special right now. It feels like more than just a good loud chick band. Could be just the immediacy of the crush, or it could be the start of something bigger. Do you ever really know? Is there such thing as everlasting true love at first sight?

I don’t know. I guess I’ll just have to wait and see how this one turns out. But I did e-mail O this morning…

You think I give a damn about a Grammy?

So it appears that I have missed the Grammys again. Not to get all Woody Allen or anything, but I’m going on a pretty long streak here. Like, I think the last time I tuned in, George Michael was getting something—and it wasn’t just a sloppy kiss backstage from the Pinball Wizard. No, I think it was one of those little Victrolas (talk about a perfect representation of the relevance of the awards) for his seminal work with Wham!, but then again, I might be wrong.

Doesn’t matter really. (Though I know someone out there’s going to be shaking their fist, railing about how the Wham! Rap never got the propers it deserved.) Sex-is-fun George could have even been a presenter that last time I watched, but I don’t care and you really shouldn’t either. What are the Grammys, other than a bad TV show and a useless collection of mediocre music? Why watch, when you could be listening to something good? Or doing the goddamn laundry.

But no, we live in a society where we have to give out “awards.” Where we are so damn worried that we won’t receive the “recognition” for our hard work that most of our “hard work” is directed at things like awards and tributes and garnering praise from others. Internal motivation? Screw it, why do anything just to do it, just because you can? There’s no point if there’s no payoff, right? It’s this attitude that’s a cancer on our society, and it’s this attitude that’s responsible for the never-ending parade of musical clowns that occupy the limelight of our public consciousness.

And I don’t care if the Monkees were a good band (they were), because they’re still guilty of putting the PR ahead of the music. Not everyone is that lucky. (N Synch comes to mind, but maybe I’m just in a pissy mood today.)

Remember Milli Vanilli? Those poor suckers lost their Grammy in a wretched attempt to pretend that there was some sort of integrity to the awards. But why? Take their Grammy away, but let the other similarly talentless who win keep theirs? All because these guys didn’t actually sing? Who cares! It’s not about the singing, it’s all about the award itself. Gettin’ it in the first place, that’s the objective. Playing the music is secondary, it’s just a consequence of the desire to get that little record player statue. These guys did it just the way our society says to do it—worry about the accolades, get them in place, then work on your game. And they were punished?

Rather than being the Grammys’ eternal patsies, they ought to recognize the Vanillis as the true patron saints of the Recording Academy. Hell, how about renaming the award after the late Rob Pilatus, getting rid of the little Victrola and replacing it with a nice two-turntables-and-a-microphone setup?

Girl, you know it’s true.

Come on, Steely Dan?

The following comments re: The Grammys are from ML (extracted from an email to Johnny):

I mean come on, Steely Dan? Are you kidding me? Just because people were overlooked when their music was contemporary (meaning in the category of unlistenable 70’s music) doesn’t mean we need to go giving them awards 25 years later. Oooh, they’re soooo visionary man. Shut up. If the Spin Doctors get back together in 20 years and release an album should we give them the award in 2021? Who wins next year, Bread?

Come on, these two trolls don’t serve any purpose today but to drive arguments in bars about what is good music. I would venture to say that there isn’t anyone who is really into music who doesn’t run hot or cold on these guys. Sure, we all know people who say, ‘yeah, I like that one song’, but you know they don’t know what they’re talking about.

If you really like music you either give them a Grammy or you wish they’d just go back to their hole, and take that awful vocal sound with them.

Bottom line being anybody who cares about music feels strongly about them, great. But aren’t the Grammy’s supposed to be about a little more than that. Isn’t popularity and impact supposed to weigh in there somewhere? I’m sure [someone somewhere will] crow on and on about how that record has changed her life, but do you really think anybody will ever say, “man – that Steely Dan album from 2000 – that was it man. I heard that and everything changed.” Bah!

AIN’T NOTHIN’ BUT A G THING, BABY

Tragically, the Grammy viewing audience found itself asking all night, “Where’s Soy Bomb?” The utter lack of anything more controversial than another plunging neckline made even host Jon Stewart’s bits about a gay Eminem seem watered-down. The cavernous Staples Center was nicely decorated in shades of purple. But so is a baby’s nursery. After all, it’s the Grammys. It’s like watching a Soviet awards show – always 25 years behind.

2001’s Grammy Awards made an attempt at diversity. Throwing bones to vocal jazz, classical piano, and the Native American community was weak, but at least it was more sincere than last year’s Carlos Santana blow job fest. Unfortunately, whatever momentum gained from these gestures got lost in the shuffle of a poorly produced show with plenty of weak live elements (memo to Jon Stewart: a sardonic smirk doesn’t count as a punchline).

A bizarrely coifed Macy Gray beat out Madonna (nice accent!) in the best pop female vocal category for “I Try.” But hey, do we really need to hear the song again? I wonder if the blue hairs in NARAS thought they were watching another performance by Lauryn Hill. In the role of Britney on Wednesday night was Christina Aguilera, who could have hid behind her mic stand if she hadn’t been lip-syncing. Boring blonde braids flitting about, the JV-squad diva gave us a sneak peek of her Branson future by arriving in a flying Love Toilet and performing (in Spanish?) with an orchestra. Back up the RV, sister, it’s over. Another orchestra helped Faith Hill’s “Breath” sound like the AAA/Adult Contemporary tripe that it is. Looking like an all-growed-up Jessica Simpson, Hill’s 93Lite-FM performance didn’t exactly give some big ups to her Nashville peeps. Shocker: she later won for best country album (Emmylou Harris to waiter: “Get me a drink!”)

U2 performed “Beautiful Day” capably, helped along by a nice light show and Bono’s trademark histrionics. Picking up record of the year honors, The Edge – normally numb – unveiled his Appalachian comedian side. Sounding like an Irish Harry Callas, Edge gave the first documented shout-out to Jubilee 2000, 3-blade razors and frozen pizzas. No one questioned whether his black ‘3’ shirt was related to Dale Earnhardt. After some filler featuring more bad live cueing for Stewart and unlikely celebrity pairings, not to mention about the millionth Unnecessary Carson Daly Siting, Moby took the stage with Jill Scott and Blue Man Group. It’s just like the unassuming Moby to stand back, playing the bass while the Blue Men and Scott conducted an odd re-version of his “Natural Blues.” But those pesky Intel hucksters became annoying about midway through the song, and that was BEFORE they started firing confetti from their drum cannons. Too much percussion, not enough Moby.

While an artist being an afterthought in his own song would be re-visited later during Eminem’s “Stan,” the night’s best performance was its simplest. Sheryl Crow warmly strummed an acoustic guitar as she harmonized with best “new” artist Shelby Lynne. My pal Phil and I were waiting for the moment to be ruined by an orchestra or 18 backup singers. But for once, it didn’t happen. A lone electric guitar player joined with Crow’s acoustic towards the end of the number, giving it a nice Nashville-meets-Tom Waits feel. Some of Waits’ boozy energy was no doubt conveyed by two of the hardest (and hottest) partiers in the business in Lynne and Crow. Roll out the drink cart, boys – Shelby’s in town.

As the show was winding down, most of the fidgeting crowd seemed to be longing for something, anything to be excited about. Honestly, where’s ODB when you need him? After a self-serving speech by the smarmy president of NARAS, who no doubt cornered some unfortunate soul at the after-party and talked her ear off like your smelly Uncle Ned, Eminem took the stage for his fateful pairing with Elton John, King Of All Gays. Em’s rapping during “Stan” was fine; he showed off his unique flow while keeping it street enough for his homies back in Cell Block 6 (But what was with his right hand? It kept fluttering around like Gene Wilder’s shootin’ hand). As “Stan”‘s chorus arrived, John made his appearance, emerging from behind a set piece castoff from the last stage production of “Star Wars.” The song continued with terrible censoring, and ended without fanfare. The two men raised each other’s arms in triumph, looking like a homophobic Reagan greeting a gay Gorbachev at Camp David for a photo op. Meanwhile, somewhere in England, a forgotten Dido cried in her soup.

After such an anti-climactic event as the Elton/Eminem Peace Accords, the record of the year went not to Marshall Mathers, Beck, Radiohead, or even that over-produced fossil Paul Simon. Instead, the cutting-edge trend-setters over at NARAS went with NYC art-rockers Steely Dan, who evidently released an album in 2000. While cheers could be heard in coffee houses full of goatee’d grad students, no realistic music fan could really give a shit about Steely Dan’s triumphant return to our public consciousness. And yet, in a move similar to the Academy giving “Howard The Duck 2” the Best Picture nod, Donald Fagen, et al took home record of the year. I swear, even Steely Dan looked bewildered about their victory. Someone get Jethro Tull on the line, quick! But that’s what happens when an out-of-touch, thick-as-a-brick group of old voters is confronted with a potentially challenging decision. Whatever you think of Eminem, or even Radiohead and Beck, it’s obvious that these artists’ music was a just a LITTLE BIT more vital in 2000 than a bunch of aging math rockers from Greenwich Village.

See you next year. I’ll be over here in the bread line.

JTL

Rock and roll can change your life.