Well into the first month of a New Year, Your Reporter finds himself cold-sick and sniffling, having sacrificed yet another six dollar brolly to the rainswept side streets of Lower Pacific Heights; a being of relative penury and lack of luck.
On the occasional and welcome upbeat-minded day, feeling snazzy in a rainbow scarf presented at Yuletide by the object of my affection, I still draw Harry Potter heckles from downtown City dwellers. In response, I wish upon them unspeakable violations of their person with a Quiddich stick…as one does.
But what the hey: as Uncle Lou once remarked, you’re not interested in my problems and neither am I. For despite it all, I am still compelled to enlighten you dear readers — especially you with a few bucks left on Crimble gift cards and certificates — to the latest and coolest of culture beans for caffeinating listless imaginations. So then, like they did in the NYC buffet flats and rent parties of the Twenties and Thirties, we the cat shall endeavor to hep yez. (Pig feet and bottles of beer optional.)
Speaking of the Big Monkey: when it comes to NYC’s own premier music paparazzo, Bob Gruen, it might be best to inquire, rather than who he has winningly photographed over the last four (!) decades, who he hasn’t. The answer being: not a whole heckuva lot. Indeed, the great, near-great and about-to-be-great in the music world have all been captured by Gruen’s lens at one time or other since the turn of the Seventies.
At long last, Gruen has achieved Coffee Table status with his new career retrospective Rock Seen (published by Abrams). And rightfully so: whether in performance or offstage letting down hair and (sometimes) egos in the pages of CREEM, ROCK SCENE and many other mags, few photo-journos have caught the high exuberance and energy of Rock in the way Bob Gruen has, and continues to do.
And not just in stills either, as evidenced by a dynamic duo of DVD’s featuring the New York Dolls, All Dolled Up and the just-released Looking Fine on Television (both from MVD Video). Both were compiled from Gruen’s archive of Dolls live gigs and interviews that he (with then-wife Nadya Beck) documented, using the super-primitive B&W video technology available at the time.
All Dolled Up is a relatively straightforward doc., focusing on Johansen, Thunders and the gang’s performance debuts in L.A. and San Francisco in 1973; Looking Fine ingeniously edits together numerous career-spanning live clips, forming a collection of individual videos for Dolls classics like ‘Looking For A Kiss’ and ‘Personality Crisis’. There’s also some endearing and amusing interview segments, particularly those involving an L.A. pool-lounging Johansen being grilled by NYC rock gossip maven Lisa Robinson.
Both DVD’s are jaw-dropping, compulsively watchable time-capsules of a group with style, humor and an innate sense of what makes for a rocking good time in 3-minute installments. Thus, the legend grows, and endures: amazing, life-altering, mind-defining stuff (like all Rock should be, really).
More NYCentric print matter that matters, then: Will Hermes’ Love Goes To Buildings on Fire (published by Faber & Faber) is a splendidly successful attempt at tracking the diverse musical developments hatched among the Five Boroughs between 1972 and 1977.
Yes, of course NY’s Punk/Wave and Disco scenes have been parsed ad-inf., but Hermes manages to pull out a few new strands from that thread, in addition to the birth of Hip-Hop, manifest in the Bronx parties hosted and DJ’ed by Kool Herc and Afrika Bambaataa. Another subplot covered by Hermes is that of a young, moonlighting taxi hack and aspiring classical composer’s creation of what would be a game-changer of the form, namely Philip Glass and his marathon opera Einstein On The Beach.
Hermes also gives equal time to NY’s Latin and Jazz community’s presences being felt and heard; in the case of the latter, everywhere from downtown lofts — and the Free/Third Stream sounds birthed there — to uptown concert halls, via the briefly re-situated Newport Jazz Festival. From the opening tableau of (them again) The Dolls rocking the Mercer Arts Center on New Year’s ‘72/’73, to an almost cinematically expansive account of the ‘77 blackout and its effects, Love Goes… is cultural history writ large, lively and anything but dry.
Going even further back is the new memoir of Sixties life and art by another NY resident, Ed Sanders’s Fug You (Da Capo). Writer, poet, DIY publisher, scholar and practically the godfather of Anti-Folk with his reprobate Lower East Side mob The Fugs (hence the title), Sanders has certainly earned the right to be considered a counter-cultural elder. And, like elders do, this book gives Sanders the occasion to pass on his experience, wisdom and, most importantly, cultural artifacts.
In the latter case, these take the form of a fascinating array of photographs, pages from Sanders’s infamous mimeozine F*** You: A Magazine Of The Arts, posters and flyers of lit. readings and Fugs appearances alike; no surprise that they shared bills with Allen Ginsberg, but who knew they also once opened for Little Anthony and the Imperials?! Even more cheering is Sanders’ cloudless and spirited recall of events, giving the lie to that played-out saw about those who lived it not remembering the Sixties.
What about silver or vinyl platters, you ask? Slap these on for starters: Van Dyke Parks’ Arrangements Volume 1 — a playful, wistful and gorgeous anthol of work by one of the great unrecognized genii of musical Americana. And not only did Brian Wilson fortuitously notice, but on the evidence of this CD, so did everyone from Little Feat, Ry Cooder and Bonnie Raitt, to pre-Hashbury San Francisco musical lights like Sal (Beau Brummels) Valentino and The Mojo Men. (On Parks’ own Bananastan label, one should also look into his recent series of ltd.-ed. 45’s, with covers illustrated by the none-too-shabby likes of Art Spiegelman, Ed Ruscha and Klaus Voorman.)
Speaking of San Fran tuneful treats, a thoroughly ace salvage job (courtesy Australia’s Grown Up Wrong! label) has been done on the music of mid-Seventies locals the Hot Knives. With only two independent 45’s pressed in their lifetime, Hot Knives’ stock in trade was your classic male/femme-duetting (in this case, brother and sis) folk-rock, given a invigorating kick by none other than two original members of the fabulous Flamin’ Groovies. Altogether very much of their time, but fun all the same, mixing in their own capably swank originals with animated takes on Moby Grape’s ‘Hey Grandma’ and the Knickerbockers’ classic Fabs-readymade ‘Lies’ .
Yet another welcome batch of uncovered gems can be found on Free Again by the late, great Alex Chilton (on Omnivore Records). A culling of demos LX did in Memphis during 1969, trying out his creative wings once extricating himself from the unsatisfying role of fronting the Box Tops, this is a near-perfect snapshot of Chilton’s transition between that band’s Top 40 prefab pop and the melodic, sanguine, stunning output of Big Star. It rocks (‘Come On Honey’), it dreams (‘The EMI Song’), it pays dutiful if jokey tribute to Elvis. Plus, after hearing Chilton’s high-larious deconstruct included herein, you’ll never think of ‘Sugar Sugar’ the same way again.
Much more on the way, natch. In the meanwhile, stay hep, watch your step and don’t take any wooden Mayan calendars.