Lester Bangs on Chuck Berry

Here is the latest installment in the series of reviews by Lester Bangs that have remained unpublished since their original magazine appearance. This one is also from the August 9, 1969 issue of Rolling Stone. This time it’s a Chuck Berry review.

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Dale Earnhardt vs. Eazy-E

My response to Hunter S. Thompson’s column on Dale Earnhardt

Dale Earnhardt’s death has really bothered me a lot. It has affected me personally in a way that seems at first rather trite, but the more I think about it, the more I realize that it is totally apropos. The last time I recall feeling this shocked by someone dying, it was Eric Wright. Don’t laugh, but the similarities are there: I was a big fan of both of them and had expected to be enjoying their entertainment for a lot longer. Granted, probably no one else in the world would ever put Eazy E and Big E into the same hero-pool, but I’m an eclectic guy. And it hurts just the same to look at my autographed picture of Dale or hear Eazy bust one of his wack-ass rhymes. But with Earnhardt, it’s much worse. He died with honor, doing something heroic.

That said, what can we take from Earnhardt’s death? What can we learn? Well, most importantly, racing is fucking dangerous. But unlike a lot of dangerous things, it doesn’t become less dangerous the more you do it, but actually more dangerous. Novice racers aren’t allowed in the biggest, fastest cars. Novice racers just physically can’t get the car to perform at its most dangerous level, what is referred to as 10/10ths. But Dale Earnhardt wasn’t just a 10/10ths driver, he drove at a Spinal Tap 11. The guy was the hardest-charging, most talented and driven driver out there. He would do anything to win. That’s why he was my favorite. That’s why meeting him and having lunch with him in November was one of the coolest things I have done in my life. That’s why I am so upset about his death.

But I’m also upset because the guy was a classic horse’s ass who raced in the classic horse’s ass series. He wore an open-faced helmet. He refused to wear a HANS device (neck and head support). Yeah, they were restrictive. Yeah, they would change his field of vision. Yeah, they weren’t part of the “good old days.” But neither are the cars, the restrictor plates, the aero package, or the entire show. The sport has changed and some of this new stuff might have saved Earnhardt’s life, just as some of this new stuff is probably what contributed to killing him. We’ll never know if an unrestricted engine with full horsepower would have allowed him to get the traction or miss the bump and not crash. We’ll never know if his head injuries could have been prevented by the safety equipment he wasn’t wearing. It really doesn’t matter anyway; he’s still dead.

People die racing. They always have and they always will. But this time, it feels different because it is. To understand, you have to understand NASCAR in a way that the mainstream media will not report. NASCAR is a redneck organization. These guys are not terribly smart, they are not business people, they are not professionals, they are not even city people. The motherfuckers at FOX are. So are all the others that form the financial interests in this sport—they’re also cold-hearted business people and they’re also motherfuckers. The people that run NASCAR do it because they love racing—you would too if you had the chance to drive a car at over 150 mph. (It’s the most exciting thing in the world to race cars, even to watch them in person. Go to a race and see for yourself.) Thing is, racing cars isn’t cheap so you need money to pay for it. That’s where the motherfuckers come in and they’re slowly but surely ruining the sport—shifting the focus away from what made it great, the racing. They want more, always more—more greed, more control, more stupid fascination with numbers and quantitative bullshit at any cost, even the cost of sport, fun, and life. They’re doing the same thing to the NFL, the NBA, etc., but that’s another story entirely.

Sure, despite the redneck nature of NASCAR, there are a lot of smart people within it, mostly talent and genius on the race teams. The smart people, like Dale Earnhardt was, say things like “Restrictor plate racing ain’t racing” and speak out about the fact that 40+ races per year are too many. Smart people like Roush driver Jeff Burton push for mandatory use of the HANS device and the same high-tech seats that they use in open-wheel cars. But these guys are not the people who make and enforce the rules. These guys aren’t the ones that ink the deals with the motherfuckers. These guys aren’t the ones that see their job as protecting the financial interests so that there is a NASCAR. These guys are just the people who are dependent on NASCAR for everything in their lives. It’s like working for a boss that treats you bad, but there’s no other job in town. NASCAR drivers can’t just go somewhere else to race—there’s no other stock car series with any money to support a guy.

So what do I think about Thompson’s column? Well, he’s right on. The WWF crap, the Street Fighter mentality, is certainly to blame, but as you can see from what I’ve written, it goes a lot deeper than that. There’s a lot of factors that make Dale Earnhardt’s death tragic. Whether the motherfuckers are directly to blame, no, I don’t think they are. But Earnhardt’s death is a symptom of a bad scene that’s brewing. Where safety, driver consideration, fan consideration, the honesty of the sport, and the rules are all being held up to the wrong God. It’s not NASCAR’s history or the feeling of riding the high bank at 180 mph that’s going into the decisions. It’s how many times can they say DuPont in an interview and how much it’s going to cost the network that’s driving things. It’s crap like Fox’s digital erasure of sponsorship on the cars in the broadcast of the Twin 125’s that’s giving everybody headaches, instead of suspension setups. It’s the inability of an organization of people just plain out of their league to deal with the bloodsuckers and vampires. Because this scum will pounce on anything good and new and honest and real and make it packaged for the masses, selling this now-unreal reality to people who don’t even know what real is because they’ve grown up with nothing but TV fakery all their lives. It’s sad too, because if anyone needs something to believe in, it’s NASCAR fans. And it’s being ripped away from them by the motherfuckers.

So what will/should happen now? I don’t know. But I really believe that people know—even the WWF fans know—that life is precious. That life and death aren’t something that you fuck with, that you sponsor, that you market, that you sell. NASCAR fans may be rather uneducated. NASCAR fans may be unpolished. But they aren’t sickos. They’re hurt and a lot of them are going to walk away. A lot of them are going to say that this has gone too far. A lot of them are going to want the motherfuckers to back the fuck off and let the sport be what it is, not continue to try and twist it into Survivor in Cars.

One of the biggest reasons why NASCAR is so popular is that it hadn’t become a made for TV crap-spectacle in the same fashion as other pro sports leagues. Not as bad anyway. It was still somewhat honest, in that the people who participated in it were real. The owners were real. The cars were real. It wasn’t the WWF, the XFL, the NBA, or something created to make people rich. It had pure motivations—a love of thrills, speed, danger. So when you hear people explain Dale’s death away with that famous phrase of his, “That’s just racin’,” ask yourself if that’s really true. Is NASCAR just racin’, or is it a bunch of motherfuckers lining their pockets with whatever they can get their hands on?

Lester Bangs’ Cat Mother

As I mentioned yesterday, here is the first in a series of otherwise unpublished reviews by Lester Bangs. This one is from the August 9, 1969 issue of Rolling Stone, the one with Brian Jones (who just died) on the cover. The band is Cat Mother and the All Night Newsboys (who?), and Bangs gives them a positive review.

My favorite part is this paragraph:

“Can You Dance To It?” affirms once again, atop a great chugging funk beat, the perennial Rock and Roll tradition: “If you feel alright/ You know you’re gonna dance, dance, dance all night!” Right! Some of those zombies seen slumping around at rock concerts trying to maintain their cynical, bored cool should be forced to listen to this song again and again until they get the message, the original and essential message of our music, which is: “Shake yo’ asses, people!”

It took me a while to scan this, fix the scanning mistakes, and minimally html-ify it, so while there are more to come, it might take some time. So enjoy!

Continue reading Lester Bangs’ Cat Mother

LET’S HEAR IT FOR THE HIGH-PITCHED

On Monday night in Chicago, Coldplay’s Chris Martin proved that you don’t have to sound like a bear to tear the roof off the sucker.

It’s appropriate that Coldplay’s energy runs through the conduit of Chris Martin. His pale, frail appearance matches the fragility of his band’s lovely pop music. And it IS lovely: plenty of acoustic guitar, and prickly melodies that showcase Martin’s cracked-china falsetto. But the music (and the singer’s) balsa wood appearance belies a muscular center. Monday night, it was Will Champion’s drums that provided the muscle. While Guy Berryman (bass) and Jon Buckland (guitar) hung on in quiet desperation, Champion and Martin made it okay for fat Americans to like pretty music. Hearing a crowd of kids, yuppies, and glum Midwesterners sing along with the gospel-tinged set closer “Everything’s Not Lost” was a sublime victory for what The Chicago Tribune’s Greg Kot has called the “soft parade” of new British pop.

From the moment Coldplay took the stage, Martin made it clear that they were sick as dogs. His polite stage banter undercut by coughing and gulps from his water bottle, Martin did his best to hit the high notes that ring throughout Parachutes (EMI/Nettwerk America). And he largely did. Running between his acoustic guitar and keyboard like a skinny, British Buster Keaton, Martin was almost a one-man band. Luckily, Champion’s hard-hitting drums came through with the assist. And with the help of a spectacular light show, the band tore through “Don’t Panic” and “Shiver.” But they never substituted Arena Rock American Style for what they do best: simple, earnest songs that take their own sweet time getting to the rock. This is why it was so great to see The Riviera sold out, and so many people digging Coldplay’s polite brand of voodoo jive. If this show, as well as recent sold-out Midwest appearances by Travis, Richard Ashcroft, and Stereophonics are any indication, The Heartland just might be willing to trade in its aggro-rock and growling lead singers for a bunch of friendly fellows from the UK.

All that aside, the show was still sponsored by Chicago’s modern rock mouthpiece Q101. So a significant contingent – we’ll call them The “Yellow” Brigade – were making their presence felt, lurking in the back by the bar. Despite its popularity, “Yellow” is still a beautiful song, and when it arrived midway through the set, Martin tried his damnedest to pull it off. But his voice was failing, and he broke a string on the acoustic 20 seconds in. Jon Buckland’s utter lack of distortion couldn’t pick up the slack during the song’s quiet verses, so the song suffered. But again, Martin’s nervous energy took over. Discarding the wounded guitar and jumping onto his monitor, he clapped along with the audience as they sang “Yellow”‘s final verse. “Turn into something beautiful,” indeed. And the lighters, they were flicked on throughout.

After two deserved encores, Martin shuffled out onto the stage one last time. And after playing a brand new song, “never played before, anywhere, honest,” the lone blue spotlight followed him as he made one more guitar-to-keyboard transfer. Standing up, Martin slowly sang “what the world…needs now…is love…sweet love…” and with that homage to a like-minded crooner, he waved and was gone. American Badasses take note: wimp-rock’s here to stay, and the kids love it.

JTL

Coming soon: Lester Bangs

My man Jeff recently entrusted me with a stack of old Rolling Stone magazines from 1969 to 1977. Most of these contain otherwise unpublished reviews by the likes of Lester Bangs, Greil Marcus, Richard Meltzer, and Peter Guralnick. FYI, none of the stuff Lester Bangs wrote for Rolling Stone appears in his book of collected works, Psychotic Reactions & Carburetor Dung, or anywhere else for that matter. So I think I’m going to scan some of those reviews and put them up here somewhere on the site. I’ll be doing this without license or permission, so if you run into Jann Weiner, keep your mouth shut, ha ha. Coming soon…

Minipops

Jackson 5Hey guys, not to bring down the level of discourse on the site, but I’m here at Flash Forward 2001 San Francisco and there was a site that I figured I should forward on to you guys. Flip Flop Flyin’ has icon sets rendered in a pixel style that will be familiar to anyone who has ever played 80’s computer games, exept that they are your favorite stars from music and movies. The A-Team, David Bowie (both thin white duke and ziggy stardust), Leo Sayer (!), CSNY, Neil Young , and the Wu Tang are all represented.

There used to be a wonder in your eyes

There used to be a wonder in your eyes
You used to laugh a hundred times a night
So long since you really seemed alive
We miss you
We mean it
—”Harvesting”

The Sinatras have been legends of the Kalamazoo music scene for a dozen years or more. They are all grown ups now, and they don’t play out that much, so getting to see them live is a rare treat. It also tends to be a hit-or-miss affair, since they apparently don’t get together very often to rehearse between shows.

The previous time I saw them, which was about a year ago, was a real disappointment. The Atomic Numbers opened up for them and totally rocked out with their unlikely mix of the Stooges and Badfinger. The Sinatras were impressed and kept egging them on to do encores. By the time the Sinatras finally took the stage, they played like they didn’t really give a fuck. It was a bummer.

But a couple weeks ago I got a chance to see them again, and this time they didn’t let me down. Not at all. In fact, they blew me away harder than any band I’ve seen a hundred times should be able to do.

There was a moment during an instrumental freak out at the end of their cover of “She Said, She Said” when I felt like I was in the presence of God, the very definition of my concept of “glorious noise.” It amazes me that three guys can make this much sound.

A lot of it comes down to Scott Stevens’ drumming. Watching him play is as close as any of us will ever come to seeing Keith Moon in his hey day. They set a cinder block in front of the bass drum so he doesn’t beat himself off the stage. And even with the heavy chunk of cement, by the end of their set he had inched his kit forward about a foot.

Ron Casebeer and Karl Knack both write great songs, and they must have a couple hundred of them in their repetoire, so it’s crazy how bad we all want them to play “The Kids Are Alright.” There’s just something about watching them do this song that transcends the typical bar band covering a popular song — something magic about the sped up tempo or the slight vocal changes, I don’t know. You can’t put your finger on it, and I probably shouldn’t try.

For me, the Sinatras bring me back to time when I believed I was going to be something that I don’t really believe in anymore. I don’t even really know what it was that I thought I wanted to become, but something happens when I’m standing in that crowd with my eyes closed, nodding my head to the cymbals, and listening to that band. It mellows my mind to the point where I feel peaceful and excited and nostalgic and optimistic all at once. And how often does that happen these days?

They apparently have an album’s worth of material already recorded and almost ready to go. I’ve been hearing that for a few years now, and I’m not very confident that I’ll ever hold it in my hands, but I’m really hoping everybody will get their shit together and do what it takes to get this thing out soon. The handful of singles and compilation appearances and live bootlegs just aren’t cutting it for me anymore. I need more. Give it up.

NEVER SAY GOODBYE

New Jersey rockers/fossils Bon Jovi have announced plans for a summer tour in support of their newest album, Crush (Island). Don’t doubt it: their jaunt across America will be a success. After 35 weeks on the Billboard Hot 200, Crush is holding at 70, and its second single “Thank You for Loving Me” is storming the charts.

The question is, who let these guys back in?

Didn’t we bury them in the early 90s, after sagging album sales proved that “Bad Medicine” was not, in fact, what we needed? Did we not accept a newly shorn Jon Bon Jovi as an actor simply because it was a lesser evil than his band? Richie Sambora? Isn’t he dead? How have these lousy longhairs clawed their way back into the public consciousness? It’s like throwing a party, and noticing about halfway through the night that the guys you tried so hard to avoid inviting have come over anyway, and are standing by your keg drinking.

I laughed out loud when I first heard the band’s rockin’ lead-off single, the imaginatively titled “It’s My Life.” From Bon Jovi’s braying vocal to the muddled, Hysteria-esque production, it was the 80s, remixed. The obligatory synth-drum track in the background was an obvious (and cheap) attempt at updating a tired idea. In my head, the boys rocked along with a mullet-headed DJ, spinning the wheels of steel in Z.Cavariccis and a Hyper-Color t-shirt.

Inexplicably, “It’s My Life” was a hit.

Who was buying this? I asked around. No one I knew was happy to hear of Bon Jovi’s return. And yet, the re-emergence continued. Appearances on VH-1. Concert specials. All of this exposure was only serving to illustrate that the members of Bon Jovi who aren’t named Bon Jovi or Sambora would easily be confused with those employees of Aerosmith not named Tyler or Perry. The rub: aging white men in leather vests and bad weaves. Amazingly, Crush peaked at #9 on the Billboard charts.

Taken at face value, Slippery When Wet is a great album. You drum on your steering wheel when K-Billy FM plays “Livin’ On A Prayer” as part of its Big Hair Weekend. “Never Say Goodbye” brings you back to that night at the union hall, when there was no use talkin’ ’cause there was nothin’ to say. But check it: I’ve listened to Crush. It’s terrible. Danger Kitty performing “Love Rocket” at a bris is better than this shit. Every rock cliché, every sappy lyrical couplet (“It’s my life/it’s now or never/I ain’t gonna live forever”)—it’s all here.

If Bon Jovi needed a quick payday, why didn’t they just release a Christmastime greatest-hits box and get it over with? That would’ve been better than Crush, a collection of weak rockers and sleep-inducing ballads that somehow manages to sound amateurish and sad all at once. You know that feeling of pity you get watching some middle-aged fat guys rock out the songs of their youth at a summer street festival? It’s my sincere hope that it’s this notion of pity that accounts for Bon Jovi’s resurgence. You don’t really want to watch those fat guys, sweating as they roll though an out of key take on “Livin’ After Midnight.” But you order another beer, because like a car accident, there’s a perverse pleasure in watching the carnage unfold.

JTL

Napster R.I.P.

Napster is soon to be made irrelevant, forced to give up the things that made it great. Specifically, its price (free) and its user base (lots and lots). This makes me sad. Not for the usual reasons of being cheap and lazy. Although I do feel that the record companies owe me for my years of accumulating hundreds of CDs and hundreds, maybe thousands, of records. But because I probably will have a hard time finding the stuff I really used Napster for.

Scott Rosenberg, in Salon, makes an interesting point about the whole Napster fiasco that the major news outlets don’t seem to know about or care about:

Napster presently serves as an astonishingly rich swap meet for out-of-print music, live recordings and other obscurities that simply can’t be purchased. If the music industry succeeds in shutting down Napster, will it make any effort to provide alternative access to such material — for free or for payment? Or will it just continue, despite the advent of the Internet and digital copying, to act as if nothing has changed from the old disc-in-a-box distribution system, with its inherent limits on how much music could be kept “in print”?

This is the primary reason I use Napster — to download rare and out of print stuff such as Weezer b-sides and live Elliott Smith covers of Neil Young songs. The record companies are never going to give me that kind of service, especially not for free. So I’m going to have to seek out this stuff with tools such as audiogalaxy, gnutella, or any of the other file sharing services that are popping up all over the place.

I don’t have a problem using an ftp client, even on sites that enforce upload ratios, but I get angry at the fact that these others services aren’t simple enough to achieve the critical mass necessary for me to be able to find the obscure stuff I don’t already own on CD or vinyl. A lot of rock snobs are not as techie as I am, and my musical taste doesn’t follow the trends of most techies. For example, I’ve never given two shits for Portishead, Air, or any of the other crap that most computer geeks drool over.

Sure, it’s nice to be able to download popular songs I like but would be embarrassed to buy (see Britney Spears discussions). But the real reason Napster ruled was because it made it so I no longer had to spend twenty bucks on a rare single on ebay just for the otherwise unreleased b-side. Wilco’s split single with some other band on some little label contained demo recordings of “Someone Else’s Song” and the unreleased “Childlike and Evergreen.” I needed it. But now, you can find both of those tracks through Napster. Get them while you can.

Rock and roll can change your life.