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As I mentioned yesterday, here is the first in a series of otherwise unpublished reviews by Lester Bangs.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


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.


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…


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

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.


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.


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.

Put the Needle on the Record

What is it about other people’s record collections that cause one to be so covetous? I take a look at my homies’ vinyl and think, “Damn, Oak Ridge Boys. Cool.” Shit, I’ve got every single Bruce Springsteen album from the ’70s and almost all the Neil Young from the same period, not to mention about two hundred other great records and several hundred pieces of shit that I don’t even listen to, many that I have never listened to, so why should I be so bent when I see that a friend has two copies of The Village People-Live and Sleazy and he won’t give me one? (Better yet, why the fuck won’t he? But that’s not the point.)

Does my envy simmer because at some time in the future, when I’m sitting around my apartment drunk by myself I’ll want to listen to some track from his 10cc-Greatest Hits that I can’t even remember exists when I’m sober? Not likely, but that’s the way I usually think. In fact, that’s why I own a copy of that stupid album: Every time I decide to give it away or put it in the trash or smash it against the turntable stand, I give it one last listen. And fuck if there isn’t always that one song that makes me want to keep it.

Maybe this attitude is brought on by the fact that I want to burn a mix CD right now, but I don’t have a copy of an old Conway Twitty song that’s probably on three out of five K-Tel country collections, any of which could be purchased at your finer neighborhood Value Village. But see, that’s the problem, I didn’t buy that 50 cent record when I had the chance, someone else did (that bastard friend of mine), and now I can’t make the CD because the whole fucking thing revolves around that one lynchpin song. Yeah, I can ask him to borrow it, but that’s a whole other mess. What if he’s on vacation? Or what if he can’t find it? Or what if the damn record is stored in some parental basement somewhere, as fully 35% of all records must be?

Funny thing is that all the songs you keep—on the Toto albums, the Culture Club, the awful Queen records that hold about as much interest as a Freddy Mercury moustache ride—they never are the right ones. So you buy more and more records until you’ve got a whole collection of garbage that takes up as much space as all the rest of your personal belongings and weighs at least as much as your car.

Ever try helping one of your friends move? Notice the uneasiness everyone has about moving anything in the room that has his record collection in it? “No way, dude, I’m not going near the records.” I’d rather help move a sofa or a fucking refrigerator than help move goddamn records. It’s usually worth it to move yourself, just to get out of helping someone with a big record collection relocate.

On a related tangent, ever see the stupid behavior that results when a friend is moving and he gives away some of his record collection? Yeah, it’s always total crap. What, you think someone’s just going to unhand a nice mint copy of Like A Virgin? No way. He will, however, almost be willing to pay you to make off with his studio Peter Frampton albums and pretty much anything released on Arista in the 1980s. But you don’t need a bribe. No, you will be more than willing to slug one of your best friends in the nose as the two of you fight over a copy of a live Thin Lizzy album, making good entertainment for the friend who’s trying to relieve himself of his plastic burden. It’s a momentary distraction from the fact that no matter how asinine his friends will behave in dividing up his lousy records, there’s always two or three stinkers that they all already have. An extra, scratched and unplayable copy of Thriller, with devil horns gouged into the album sleeve above M.J.’s head or something similar, a Paula Abdul or Judas Priest that would play just fine if you could stomach more than 15 seconds of the music.

Ever come across the record in someone else’s give-aways that you yourself dumped years ago? And discover that it’s the same damn copy of It’s Hard that you used to own, because it’s got your initials marked in that special place where you mark all your albums? And further realize that you absolutely have to have it back because your life has not been complete since you gave up the ability to listen to “Athena”?

If you get it, if you’re into records, I think you can see where I’m going with all this by now. Records are great. They are one of my favorite things on earth. We all know that they are better than CDs for all the reasons that Neil used to howl about and a hundred more, not the least of which is the tactile sensation of handling one and the care that must go into owning one, but especially the beauty in the design of the album covers, done on a scale to which no crummy little jewel box will ever compare. And though CDs may have a small size and weight advantage, a durability advantage, a portability advantage over records, all these were the same advantages of cassettes, never enough to cause anyone to wax nostalgic over metal oxide. Part of the joy of records is certainly the insanity of being a record owner, all the strange behavior that we exhibit that we just don’t for any other form of recorded music. It’s a great feeling to be a record junkie, even if we freely buy CDs and tapes or even listen to mp3s.

But it’s time to face the reality that records are no longer really sufficient for keeping the bulk of our music collections. Unfortunately, that in itself is probably one of the things that makes records so precious, their inherent stupidity and eternal obsolescence. And just because I’ve now gone digital and forego listening to my stereo for my computer (let’s hope that this computer thing turns out better for me than Trans for Neil), surely I’m not going to get rid of my records just yet. At least not until I’ve ripped them all into mp3s and probably not even after that. We still need records, just like we still need burgers, cigarettes, Bacardi, weed, and an occasional blow job. But humans need more than just vices, we need an occasional blast of rationality and good, clean living. Where music is concerned, we need Napster. Internet-based digital music is like health food—it makes it possible for us to live to be a hundred years old without giving up booze.

So when Napster finally joins Tupac in that great musical oblivion, I sure as hell hope that someone else picks up the slack. If we could depend on its existence, it could help us weed out the Tony Orlando and the Larry Gatlin and the half-dozen Sugar Hill label 12-inches that would only be cool if you decided to start your own retro-rap act. Sure, you’ll still have to keep that moldy old Beatles album that besides being worthless would certainly ruin your needle after only half of “Here Comes the Sun”, simply because you’ve got be able to show that you own an original Fab Four slab. And that’s the point: Digital music is made for the record owner, it gets us off the hook but it doesn’t keep us from continuing to engage in the less socially destructive behavior that we know and love.

Having access to stuff that we don’t really need on the Internet as a sort of musical security blanket will make it possible for us to all live better and have more space in our lives for things like significant others, pets, perhaps even children. And even if you’re not planning on becoming a family man, God knows I’m not, Napster can help continue to fill the space absented by that discarded Perry Como LP, hopefully replaced by something more Johnny Cash or even Orbison-esque. Something better. Something more useful and worth owning. Because Napster allows us to discover, develop a liking for, and even—get this you evil fucking corporate music industry retards—buy more music. Take one look at my music collection and you’ll see just what a sicko I am. I have no choice but to continue to acquire more, even if I have to pay for it, which I routinely do out of either convenience or stupidity (at this point in time, I’m not sure which).

Someday, when the broadband gets wide and wireless enough and the memory gets small and fast enough, our mp3 files will truly become as transparent as our records are opaque, and it will no longer be a pain in the ass to have a great and sufficiently broad collection of music. Until then, I’m still going to be caging my pals records with an eye out for the Twit.

Pedal Steel Transmission at Schubas

In 1996, I stood in the front row of Detroit’s St Andrews Hall and watched Polvo unleash hell. The North Carolina quartet was at the height of its considerable indie-rock power, and proved it with a blistering reset of Gary Numan’s “Cars.” It was the perfect cover song, mixing the black lipstick’d histrionics of Numan’s signature tune with Polvo’s gull wave bridge of Silvertone fury. “Cars” remained, but Ash Bowie and Co. had ripped out the circuit board and jury-rigged the mainframe, re-programming the original’s dirty vibe into a distorted lockgroove. It was a real Rock and Roll moment, and somewhere, AC/DC stood up and cheered.

Last Friday, it was time to root for the cool kids again, as The Pedal Steel Transmission took the stage at Schubas. Like the name suggests, the Chicago quartet is built around its pedal steel guitar. But this isn’t Gene Autrey, beans out of a can, or yodeling. It’s more like a pedal steel guitar with its collar up and a knife in its teeth. Warriors, come out and play…and they did. The Pedal Steel Transmission is cosmic American music, like Gram Parsons, The Band, Sixteen Horsepower, or Afghan Whigs (r.i.p.) before them. But this country music is made in The Big City. The high-lonesome, Neil Young soul is present and accounted for, but it’s ghost-riding on a dark back road called Rock and Roll. Churning, LOUD guitar clashes with the pedal steel, and both hit up the rhythm section for a fix of Polvo-esque groove. Cowboys in leather jackets? Maybe. But it’s more like rough riders listening to Fugazi and Stereolab around the fire. When The Pedal Steel Transmission really got on their horse about midway through the set Friday night, it was like Lou Reed in a cowboy hat, and somewhere Adam Duritz cried into his beer.

Rock and Roll ain’t noise pollution.


Rock and roll can change your life.