So then, Groundhog Day has been and gone, that plucky little creature having emerged from his Pennsylvanian hidey-hole to do his bit for another year.
There was an equally anticipated surfacing down in Southern Cali last Tuesday as well. Didn’t you know? Oh yes: down in La La Land, old ‘Pico and Sepulveda Phil’ ducked out of his rent controlled burrow long enough to spot his shadow (aided by the paparazzi flashbulbs and TMZ vidcam light rigs trained on him). Job done and scene made, Phil then retreated, paws thrown across his face to dissuade the assembled culture vultures. Thus making it official: six more weeks of televised award show season.
Speaking of which, I just as briefly ducked out of my own lair a few days previous, to have a bemused box goggle at the annual, sequin encrusted, slow-mo car crash that was this year’s Grammys. Believe you me, there’s nothing like the Grammys to reinforce one’s thorough alienation from the mainstream pop music industry.
Please understand: I wasn’t expecting a squad of video game warriors and courtesans working it Baz Luhrmann-style to ‘Garbage Man’ and ‘No Fun’, in honor of this year’s passing of Lux Interior and Ron Asheton. I’m not that naïve. (Hush up, you in the peanut gallery.)
Still…it pains me to waste such valuable column space expressing the repulsion I felt watching the admittedly not untalented Beyonce Knowles unveil her new alter ego Johanna Jingo, complete with desert-storm-trooper entourage. I wonder if Blackwater accorded her a celebrity discount?
Or the hilarious-if-it-wasn’t-so-pathetic sight of Jon Bon Jovi, working overtime to convince viewers that he possesses some sort of ‘rebel’ cred (who buys his records these days, anyway?).
We spare a thought instead, then, for the members of Green Day. All those years ago, when they working their butts off honing their Punk-Pop craft in places like Gilman Street in Berkeley, was it really Billie, Mike and Tre’s ultimate, driving ambition to be at the center of a musical theater piece that, from all accounts, is basically Rent with faintly better music? Somehow I think not.
All this show, all this spectacle, seemed to have and to serve no other purpose than insubstantial media hypnosis, just like all too many other distractions thrown up in today’s world (yes, even the medium by which I’m sending this). Concerted desensification, created to fill empty holes in the mind with ever emptier product. This is the opposite reason for the existence of the best art, certainly the best music.
Detroit’s famed high-energy rock mob the MC5 once described their songs as ‘resensifiers’. Exactly: what I want, what I expect out of the best music, is something more than the induction of a catatonic state. Far more desirable, instead, is a mindful, occasionally tuneful noise that’ll wake and shake me, get the imagination firing up, make me scheme, dance and dream, excite and incite.
So really, why bother with the lame, eternal yield of industry-grown Pop – spiced with the manageably eccentric – when there’s so many other sources of good music before me? Or should I say in this particular instance, behind me, as last year was a very good one for reissued or recently salvaged nuggets from the vaults o’ time. Old wine in new bottles, perhaps, but why deprive one’s self when the source grapes are this pleasing?
Case in pernt: 801 Live by Phil Manzanera and 801, recorded during the UK Punk ferment of ‘76. Along with a recent raft of live documents of the group heretofore unaired, it’s now available in CD stylee via Manzanera’s own Expression Records. When all fellow teenage guitar heads I knew were raving about the prowess of Hendrix, Nugent, Blackmore and then E. Van freakin’ Halen, I was a resolute booster of the likes of Bill Nelson of Be Bop Deluxe, but especially Manzanera. From the first moments of ‘Remake Remodel’ on the first Roxy Music lp, our Phil cast down synaptic firestorms of fretwork, delicate and demonic, sometimes all at once.
This side project – which also briefly included Brian Eno – articulated a fearsome but tightly constructed burst of fat-free, progressively minded rock noise. For some of us, this is what the likes of Miles Davis, Return To Forever, Mahavishnu etc. anticipated, while sweeping them away as utterly superfluous. It still connects, inflames and occasionally (as on ‘Rongwrong’ and ‘Diamond Head’) gently edges the willing listener into one’s personal dream soup.
If nothing else, the climactic medley of Manzanera/Eno jam ‘Miss Shapiro’ canoodling with a take on ‘You Really Got Me’ (never sounding before or since like lower chakra obsession), deserves even now to be in constant rotation for enlivening otherwise pasteurized FM flagships like KFOG.
And another: Before Obscurity: The Bushflow Tapes by Tin Huey (Smog Veil). While fellow 70’s Ohio folk Pere Ubu ably traversed their path of urban ‘avant-garage’ paranoia, and DEVO their equally singular robot emasculation vibe, Tin Huey were of a rather more playfully executed stripe. This Akron based mob had a keen understanding of wackiness as a value, passed down from Zappa, the Bonzos, Canterbury, Van Vliet etc. Post-teen Dadaists (are there any more suited at that age?) with humor, chops and imagination galore.
It’s an altogether zesty overview comprising many salvaged nuggets, from prodigious rough early live sketches to the full-strength prog-pop firm en route to a sadly brief major label stint with Warner Brothers at the turn of the 80’s. The latter includes first airing of tunes by their more commercially successful outgrowth The Waitresses, helmed by tail-end Huey Chris Butler.
Especially check out the meta-pop that Huey’s keyboard jockey Harvey Gold vocalizes, like the one about an armadillo. As well as the jazzy japery on display courtesy the ever astonishing woodwind wiz Ralph Carney, heard here in truly formidable fettle. A delightful addition to one’s ongoing secret pre-millennial culture history. And I didn’t mention (longtime Carney collaborator) Tom Waits once.
On a decidedly more modern tip: does anyone here remember the recent Grotto column where I mentioned Animal Collective? Well, I finally snagged a copy of their universally hosanna’ed latest disc, Merriweather Post Pavilion (a reference only Maryland sprouts like me and the band members no doubt get), and…hmmm.
The tracks – far too abstract to term ‘songs’ – are ostensibly anchored in these pristinely sung, richly melodic, sunshine saturated group harmonies (OK, let’s get it over with: Beach Boys – albeit in dear Brian’s most chemically tormented post-Smile reveries, perhaps), that coexist within these pool-pah meteor showers of disorienting synthetic interference. One particularly upbeat song even turns a classic Ramones lyrical hook on its bowl cut, chirping ‘I wanna walk around with you’!
In any case, with only a few airings, I don’t know if I wholeheartedly like it, but so far? Intriguing as all hell, and certainly more stimulating than what was on offer in the Grammy’s Cirque du Pink parade.