Monday, April 27, 2009

Mick Jones' hair; The Monochrome Set; Music Television

The Secret Museum
Jim Webb & Michael Mooney

Mike -

Buried in a feature on Mott The Hoople in the latest Mojo, there’s an accompanying picture of Hoople fan Mick Jones at about 18 years old with his hair down to his arse. No one in the history of rock music has ever lost more hair between the ages of twenty and fifty-five than Jonesy. I think it says quite a lot about how bad he wanted to "make it" in a rock group that he would chop off his beloved Samsonesque locks in order to be accepted as a true punk rocker. Does the incriminating photo now and forever disqualify him from the Punk Rock Hall of Fame and labeled a poseur from this day forward? Or is he just Jonesy being Jonesy, and the tired old game of “I was a punk before you were a punk" means nothing, to be sadly buried alongside John Mellor.

About three weeks ago I was overcome with a sudden craving for The Monochrome Set and realized I currently had none. After re-procuring their first two LPs, I’ve come to the conclusion they are the second most underrated band (after Doll by Doll) circa late 70s/ early 80s UK. They are smart, popish, fun, unpredictable and top it all with tight, razor sharp guitar playing. They are everything Talking Heads wanted to be but couldn’t pull off. Dave Byrne took his exalted Heads down a predictable radio friendly dead-end that ultimately led to everyone in the group arguing over money and other "high-brow" interests. Meanwhile, The Monochrome Set kicked out some classic three minute tunes that never got the time of day from our side of the pond. It’s odd that Byrne became revered as one of the Kings of "Pop Art", while others far more worthy are long forgotten.
-Jim Webb


There are a number of great bands from the 70s/80s cusp worthy of another look, including the Monochrome Set’s Cherry Red label mates Five Or Six and The Nightingales (and, obviously, old-timer Kevin Coyne.) I’ll ready a full-blown appraisal of the Monochrome Set for the coming weeks. Meanwhile, newcomers are directed to Volume, Contrast, Brilliance, an excellent starting point.

Talking Heads: I found them enjoyable as a trio opening for the Ramones at Max’s in ’76, but, apart from the first album and the song about keeping the baby awake, they did nothing for me. I much prefer Tom Tom Club.

To Mick Jones’ credit, he had quite the Paul Stanley poodle-do going on by the time of Give ‘Em Enough Rope. But you’re right- Jonesy lost his pelt in a hurry. Maybe we didn’t notice because of all the stupid hats he wore during the B.A.D. years.
-Michael Mooney

I Don’t Want My MTV

Once upon a time music videos were on the cutting edge of new technology, and the Big Corporate Record Labels spent more money on a song’s video production costs than the actual recording studio budget. We all remember what the result of that new infatuation brought us: the vacuum of the 1980’s music scene. MTV wound up in bed with the big labels, and popular music became dominated by Duran Duran, Kajagoogoo, Culture Club, A Flock of Seagulls, Frankie Goes to Hollywood and numerous other haircut bands. These groups had absolutely nothing to say, though they all looked great on the tube, where their videos were played every hour in heavy rotation.

The only purpose of the major record label is to make money. The “biz” consistently attempts to either create new profitable fads, or jumps on existing trends (once they think they’ve got them figured out) in order to squeeze out maximum profits. In the late fifties/ early sixties we already saw the concept at work, when the likes of Fabian, Connie Francis, Pat Boone, Frankie, Annette, Bobby Vee and other bland, well-groomed boys and girls dominated the top 40 airwaves. The Beatles were to soon change all that, and their contrasting sound shows how truly terrible the pop music scene had become.

The British Invasion cleared the deck of all those “nice” pop stars and turned them into has-beens overnight. It took the Brits to remind us that Little Richard, Gene Vincent, and Chuck Berry were still the real deal, not Dick Clark’s Bandstand kiddie sound. The Monkees were another example of an executive boardroom creation, though the musicians involved should at least be credited for producing some pretty decent stuff for a change. Later in the 60s that same marketing strategy later turned into huge money by way of The Archies and various bubblegum fakeries. The seventies had its share of prefabricated nonsense, including David Cassidy and the Bay City Rollers. The only good thing to come out of such corporate manipulation is the inevitable backlash. From 1974 to 1976 great bands like The Ramones, Television, Sex Pistols, The Clash, Graham Parker, even early Springsteen, were the antidote to the tired sounding superstar groups and instant pop stars that had poisoned the living connection between musicians and supporters.

Once the initial excitement of a 24-hour music channel wore off, MTV offered very little of substance, apart from the odd weekend and/or late-night specialty program (120 Minutes, Yo! MTV Raps, and Headbanger’s Ball), plus a few clever art-inclined videos during the early nineties (coinciding with the rise and plummet of Nirvana.) Otherwise, it’s all reality programming, TRL, the occasional Hippity Hop vid , and the culmination of all that Corporate America has learned in creating profits from packaging: Spice Girls, ‘N Sync, Backstreet Boys, O-Town, Jonas Brothers and myriad disposable dolts (Disney’s Hannah Montana is just the latest music/TV fabrication to funnel the kids money into the Corporate bank account.)

In 2009, we are now close to the same kind of bottoming out that paved the way for The Beatles 45 years ago. MTV’s Top Twenty this week includes the same old rhyme patterns (that always sound to me like grade school kids jumping rope), with the usual dozen dancers in the background doing the same clichéd moves Michael Jackson used for Thriller. It’s frustrating to see a great idea- 24-hour music television- reduced to a promotional tool for such dull and predictable product. And whether or not it’s MTV’s or the Corporation’s fault, it seems that very few people these days are interested in learning to become a good musician or songwriter- they just want to be rich and famous. It’s too much of an effort to learn how to play an instrument. Practicing eight hours daily to perfect a skill seems ridiculous in an era when you can simply follow the Paris/ Lindsay example (just make sure you hire a great press agent.) Do I expect another earth-shattering miracle like 1964? No, but considering the hollow celebrity sweepstakes the masses have been fixated on recently, a year-zero musical upheaval is officially overdue.
-Jim Webb

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Forty years on from Woodstock: U2’s 2009 Summer of Greed

The Secret Museum

Jim Webb

"It's a tough life being a pop star. You know, at the end of the day when you've paid all the bills and put the kids through college and that, you know, there's only enough left for a small island off the South Pacific."-The drummer from U2

Rock concerts have evolved, from 1969’s epic gathering in upstate New York of like- minded souls with similar musical and lifestyle choices, to being nothing but a money producing ATM machine for the celebrities onstage. Former London School of Economics student Mick Jagger and his debauched cronies invented the rock concert as modern-day train robbery, but Bono’s U2 have perfected the “Art” of hauling cash out of your pocket and putting it into theirs.

Has anyone noticed that U2’s last half dozen CDs all sound the same? They’ve become just another band that have creatively run out of gas, but still charge premium prices at the pump (turnstiles.) Bono feels so guilty about becoming a mega million “brand” name, like Exxon or Budweiser, that he parades around the world in his private jet asking for debt forgiveness to the poor. I’m not against giving anybody an extra hand up, but it’s laughable that Bono doesn’t think we can see through his charade. His wish is to be credited as a contemporary Robin Hood- nice idea, except that he is the Rich, and became so by overcharging for tickets, t-shirts and recordings. I wish the American concert-going public would send him a message by picking one of his shows this summer to boycott. We shouldn’t put up with bands continuing to gouge us, particularly during these challenging economic times. They don’t care about you, and never did. It’s always been about building name recognition, then reaping the rewards.

U2 certainly aren’t the only ones over the last forty years who have jumped on the Rock and Roll gravy train and milked it for all it’s worth, though it is beyond absurd that they continually try and package themselves as different from the rest every time out, committed to the common man. I have more respect for Jagger, because he’s at least upfront about running a for-profit circus. Bono wants the same customers and their cash, while attempting to make it seem like he really cares about the elephants in the show. If there is nothing left culturally from the music scene in 1969, we can at least respect the memory of what could once be had. I know things will never go back to how they “used to be”; we’re all choking now on what happened once music got taken over by Big Business. In the late seventies, before they got plowed under as U2’S ‘biggest influence’, The Clash sang: “They think its funny, turning rebellion into money.” Joe Strummer was more prophetic than he could have imagined.

In 2009, it’s fitting to remember what was written about the original gathering of tribes forty years ago:

We are stardust, we are golden
We are caught in the devil’s bargain
And we got to get ourselves back to the garden

Instead of going to a U2 show this summer, call 1-800-FLOWERS and have a nice bouquet sent to the old Yasgur’s farm, c/o General Delivery, Bethel, New York.
-Jim Webb

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Roger Miller; Acid Mothers Temple

The Secret Museum

Michael Mooney & Jim Webb

"If I had my life to live over I wouldn’t have time."

Forget Chug-A-Lug, bobbies on bicycles, and maple surple. Despite winning eleven Grammies during one two-year period (1964-66), plus a 1985 Tony Award for Best Musical (Big River), Roger Miller will be remembered, like Ray Stevens and Jerry Reed, as a quirky Pop-Country singer with a penchant for novelty songs. This description isn’t fair to Roger (or to Ray and Jerry, for that matter), because Roger Miller was a brilliant tunesmith and a master of the lyrical device, including literary consonance, blank verse, personification, simile, exposition, onomatopoeia, metaphor, alliteration, and irony. Also, he’s not funny; he just appears to be. For proof, perhaps we should have a look at that maple surple:

Well here I sit high, gettin' ideas
Ain't nothing but a fool would live like this
Out all night and runnin' wild
Woman sittin' home with a month old child

Just settin' around drinkin' with the rest of the guys
Six rounds we bought, and I bought five
Spent the groceries and half the rent
I lack fourteen dollars, havin' twenty seven cents

They say roses are red and violets are purple
Sugar's sweet and so's maple surple
And I'm the seventh out of seven sons
My pappy was a pistol 
I'm a son of a gun

Dang me, dang me
They oughta take a rope and hang me
High from the highest tree
Woman would you weep for me?

Not wildly hilarious, is it? And that’s what makes Roger Miller brilliant- appearances are always deceiving. Take this finely honed declaration of resentment:

I hear tell you’re doin’ well,
Good things have come to you.
I wish I had your happiness
And you had a do-wacka-do-wacka-do-wacka-do-wacka-do

They tell me you’re runnin’ free,
Your days are never blue.
I wish I had your good-luck charm
And you had a do-wacka-do-wacka-do-wacka-do-wacka-do.

Yeah, I see you’re goin’ down the street in your big Cadillac,
You got girls in the front, you got girls in the back,
Yeah, way in back, you got money in a sack,
Both hands on the wheel and your shoulders reared back

I hear tell you’re doin’ well,
Good things have come to you.
I wish I had your happiness
And you had a do-wacka-do-wacka-do-wacka-do-wacka-do.

Hardly a novelty song (who hasn’t felt that very same way at one time or another?), Do Wacka Do is as pure an expression of envy as anything by Rock misanthropes like Steely Dan, Micodisney, or Elvis Costello. Delivered as a casual, albeit gigantic, “fuck you”, it sounds, in true Punk Rock style, like it was recorded while he wrote it.

Much has been made of Roger’s predilection for (and colossal consumption of) amphetamines, and their influence on his lyrics. My Uncle Used To Love Me But She Died reached #58 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart in 1966:

Who’ll bid me quarter, thirty cents for a ring of keys
Three sixty-five for a dollar bill of groceries
I’ll have me a car of my own someday but ’til then I need a ride
My uncle used to love me but she died

Hamburger, cup of coffee, lettuce and tomato
Two times a dime to see a man kiss the alligator
One more time around free on the Ferris wheel ride
My uncle used to love me but she died

Apples are for eatin’ and snakes are for hissin’
I’ve heard about huggin’ and I’ve heard about kissin’
I read about it free in a fifty cent illustrated guide
My uncle used to love me but she died

Well, my uncle used to love but she died
A chicken ain’t chicken ’til he’s lickin’ good fried
Keep on the sunny side
My uncle used to live me but she died

Are these lines merely the confused musings of a Hollywood/ Nashville pill head, or instead a levelheaded meditation on attempting to remain positive in a world fixated on money, power and sex? Miller’s songs are meant to be heard, not read, but the devil’s in the details. “I read about it free in a fifty cent illustrated guide”- this isn’t your run of the mill disposable lyrical pap. Further examples are found in Roger’s best-known hit:

Trailers for sale or rent
Rooms to let, fifty cents.
No phone, no pool, no pets
I ain't got no cigarettes
Ah, but..two hours of pushin' broom
Buys an eight by twelve four-bit room
I'm a man of means by no means
King of the road.

Third boxcar, midnight train
Destination: Bangor, Maine.
Old worn out suits and shoes,
I don't pay no union dues,
I smoke old stogies I have found
Short, but not too big around

I'm a man of means by no means
King of the road.

I know every engineer on every train
All of their children, and all of their names
And every handout in every town
And every lock that ain't locked
When no one's around.

“…I ain’t got no cigarettes”, “I’m a man of means by no means”, “Third boxcar”, “...short but not too big around “, and “every lock that ain’t locked when no one’s around.” Show me another song that is loaded with such vivid narrative imagery. Okay, I’ll show you two:

Old friends, pitching pennies in the park
Playing croquet 'til it's dark, old friends
Old friends, swapping lies of lives and loves
Pitching popcorn to the doves, old friends

Old friends, looking up to watch a bird
Holding arms to climb a curb, old friends
Old friends, lord when all my work is done
Bless my life and grant me one old friend
At least one old friend


Two broken hearts
Lonely looking like houses where nobody lives
Two people each having so much pride inside
Neither side forgives

The angry words spoken in haste,
Such a waste of two lives,
It's my belief
Pride is the chief cause in the decline
In the number of husbands and wives

A woman and a man, a man and a woman;
Some can and some can't
And some can't.

Finally, Roger lists what you can and cannot do. Words of wisdom:

You can't roller skate in a buffalo herd
You can't take a shower in a parakeet cage
You can't go swimmin' in a baseball pool
You can't change film with a kid on your back
You can't drive around with a tiger in your car
You can't go fishin' in a watermelon patch

But you can be happy if you've a mind to
All you gotta do is put your mind to it
Knuckle down, buckle down
Do it.

-Michael Mooney

Acid Mothers Temple: 21st Century Schizoid Band

Mike –

Japan’s Acid Mothers Temple is touring the States this April/ May in support of three new releases. Having seen them play in 2004 at the Festival Musique Actuelle in Victoriaville, Quebec, I thought I would try and describe what is about to be unleashed on my fellow Americans.

The group is the brainchild of lead guitarist Kawabata Makoto and was formed in 1995/96 with the purpose of becoming a “soul collective” with the common goal of creating music without boundaries. Numerous releases have followed. Makoto claims that he has personally not created anything, referring to himself as a radio receiver for the cosmos. Japan in 1995 experienced the continued stagnation of their economy. The country reeled from the Aum Shinrikyo Toyko subway sarin gas attacks that killed thirteen people. Creating a mystical, communal, psychedelic rock band during that time was an act of faith by Makoto. The official name of the group at the time was the Acid Mothers Temple & the Melting Paraiso U.F.O. The band is unabashed lovers of Krautrock, Hard Rock, Prog Rock, and Space Rock. At any time one can detect these influences, as well as a little Frank Zappa and some Japanese musical (Minyo) and cultural (Godzilla) references for good measure. Their CD titles might do a better job of explaining what you are in store for::

Troubadours From Another Heavenly World (1997)
Pataphysical Freak Out (2000)
Electric Heavyland (2002)
Minstrel in the Galaxy (2004)
The Day Before the Sky Fell (2006)
The Soul of a Mountain Wolf (2007)

Another release, Starless and Bible Black Sabbath, has a gloriously heavy bass line that churns throughout the 39-minute opening track. They’ve also recorded a version of Terry Riley’s minimalist classic In C.

Personnel changes have been constant factor throughout Acid Mothers Temple’s history. Cotton Casino is credited on early releases as contributing beer, cigarettes and vocals; she has since departed for a solo career. As the band changed, so did its name. Acid Mother Gong was a brief incarnation with Daevid Allen, and they once toured as Acid Gurus Temple with Mani Neumeier of Krautrock legends Guru Guru. Other names have been used, the most recent line up operating as Acid Mothers Temple & the Cosmic Inferno.

At Victoriaville, mellow washes of ambient guitar prefaced furious squalls of pure molten riffage, morphing into an impenetrable heavy wall of sound. In 2009, concert goers may get a Hawkwind-at-the-Roundhouse-1970 style Space Rock extravaganza, but when the music begins to sound like you are descending a deep tunnel on the Express Train to Gehenna, that’s not one too many Michelobs; you’ve just been caught in Sorcerer Makoto’s web of sound.

If you decide you want to go all in and purchase the entire Acid Mothers Temple catalogue, there are around fifty CDs to acquire (that’s BEFORE you get to Makoto’s 25+ solo/side projects.). Granted, long guitar jam/trance freak-outs are not for everyone. But if you want to indulge in the occasional psychedelic Japanese sea chantey or recreate the psilocybin experience without the mushrooms, this is your band. You can see them rampaging around the U.S. in April and May, but if you go, take my advice and be prepared for anything. Kawabata & band can pull you out of your comfort zone within the first eight bars of music, and on a great night will escort you to the other side of the sky.
-Jim Webb
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