Tag Archives: Scott Weber

Music Blog – American Punk, the early years

American Punk

Dead Kennedys MC5 The Stooges the ramones

 

 

 

 

 

 

Punk Rock was first big in England. The hard driving, simple chord driven music was born out of the economic malaise of the ‘70s and took root with disaffected young white kids. The idealism and the promises of the ‘60’s slowly devolved into drugs and hopeless government policies. They saw the music of their parents, or older siblings, as stodgy, pretentious and commercial (the music we today call classic rock). Punk Rock was a rebellion against the culture, and against the previous rebellion against the culture. As with many things it crossed the ocean and mutated a bit.

The American economic situation was similar to the English one, but a bit less severe. The cultural situation was arguably worse. We had the disappointment at the failed promises of the ‘60s, but we also had something worse – Disco. Anti-disco sentiment turned to hard Rock as it’s salvation (eventually giving us Hair Bands, which made Disco seem like it wasn’t so bad), but Punk was there the whole time fighting the good fight against everything. Early American Punk resembled English Punk in it’s anger and ferocity, but it was flavored with surf rock and garage band influences. It is one of the few American music movements that happened on both coasts and the heartlands at the same time.

MC5 – MC5 might be the ur-American Punk band, ignoring for a moment all the surf bands. They had their time in the tainted sun from their first album in 1969 up until their dissolution in 1972. They only put out three albums, but they were as influential to American Music as the Velvet Underground. They were from Detroit and played music that was closer to rhythmic industrial noise than it was to any of the sugary pop or trippy hippy music of the day. They influences a generation of angry kids with guitars, maybe none more important than their neighbors from Ann Arbor, The Stooges.

The Stooges – Compared to MC5, the Stooges were a raging success story. Compared to the rest of the music industry, they were just raging. They played hard, experimental music that was influenced by the hippies, but rejected their peace and love message in favor of an expression of primal emotion. They were one part Velvet Underground, one part garage rock, four parts unidentifiable hazardous materials, and three parts Iggy Pop. They developed a reputation for wild, chaotic live shows involving nudity, raw meat, and self inflicted wounds. It can come as no surprise that the band’s story is one of chaos and abuse, but they held it together long enough to product some influential if challenging music.

Iggy Pop – Iggy is American Punk’s wild uncle who came back from the war a little off kilter, then shows up every few years and takes Dad for a three day adventure not unlike a Hangover movie. Iggy played in bands in high school, then he saw the Door live. He probably saw a kindred spirit in Jim Morrison, but one that just was not brave enough on stage. Iggy took it on himself to redefine what a stage show was (see the previous entry – the Stooges). When the Stooges came to one of their ends, he hooked up with David Bowie and made his two move acclaimed albums, one of which spawned the evergreen fun song “Lust for Life”.  He has spent the years floating from one style to the next, producing little hits every few years all the while making people say “He’s still alive?”.

 

Television – Dirty, dingy crime laden New York. Yes, this is the environment that spawns new music. Television was built around Richard Hell and Tom Verlaine, who had been bandmates before. Their music was punk in attitude, but the playing owed as much to the folk scene as it did to any other type of music. They were one of the very early bands to play regular gigs at CBGBs, reportedly being the ones who built the first stage. They suffered from having to many cooks (writers) and eventually Richard Hell left to form the Heartbreakers, who later became Richard Hell & the Voidoids. Their first album, Marquee Moon,  sold moderately in the US, but cracked the top 30 in much of the rest of the world.

Richard Hell & the Voidoids –  There wasn’t enough room for Richard Hell in Television, and probably not enough room on any stage for him with any band. Richard Hell was as insightful as the Dead Kennedy’s but not nearly as militant. He was more aloof, in an east coast way. He wrote wry observational or humorous songs about growing up in America, about girls, or New York. Many in the music industry picked this band to be the break out band from CBGBs. They had some success, but were quickly overshadowed by the more polished sounds of Blondie and Talking Heads. The band made several forgettable albums after their first one, then drifted into irrelevance. Richard Hell wrote a couple of books, some poetry, then drifted away.

Black Flag – Possibly America’s first hard-core Punk bank. They created the script that so many other bands would follow, knowingly or unknowingly, in the punk world. They had an anti-authority anti-consumerism, anti-conformity message that played very well to the warm malaise of suburban California life. They built their reputation as much on biting lyrics and hammering beats as on notoriety. They left a legacy of energetic performances, violent crowds, and stunning concert posters/t-shirts. Their influence is felt equally in Punk music as well as in Hair/Speed Metal.

X – X was formed in the growing years of American Punk. While they looked like a punk band with their dyed hair and multiple piercings, they played with a bit of a twang. Somewhere along the line, some rockabilly DNA mixed into the Punk soup and a new strain was the result. The band went through many record labels, with their sound always evolving. Even so, you can always count on them to play it fast, loud, and with a bit of country.

Dead Kennedys – Only America’s musical crucible, California, could have produced the Dead Kennedys. As political as the hippies, as satirical as Frank Zappa, and about four-fifths as energetic as Dick Dale, they were for many, the prototype for an American Punk band. Their history is marked by biting every hand that ever fed them, and by biting each other. They serve as an object lesson in how bands with a strong political message are not above all the things that typically befall bands – drugs, creative squabbles, money bickering. They did produce one of the finest satirical songs ever, California Uber Alles. Given today’s political climate, this cynical biting indictment of conformity might actually be considered naïve.

The Ramones – They sound like a poorly tuned, poorly recorded garage band playing surf rock, must be another California band, right? Nope. The Ramones were as New York as a slice of flat greasy pizza, as a cabbie flipping off a tourist, and as a five pound rat. They had matching black shag haircuts, matching dirty jeans, and matching black leather jackets. They played hard, happy surf riffs while they sang about mental illness, drugs, and girls. The band had modest success, but built a fanatical following by touring constantly and always giving the fans a good show. They lasted long enough to be seen as elder statesmen, a tag that would probably make them puke. They are probably the most widely known of any American Punk band.

Monday –MC5 “Kick out the Jams”, The Stooges “Search and Destroy”, Iggy Popp “Lust for Life”
Tuesday – Television “See No Evil”, Richard Hell & the Voidoids “Blank Generation”
Wednesday -Black Flag “Rise Above”, X “Johnny Hit and Run Pauline”
Thursday – Dead Kennedys “California Uber Alles” & “Holiday in Cambodia”
Friday -The Ramones “I Wanna Be Sedated”, “Sheena is a Punk Rocker”, “Blitzkrieg Pop”

60’s Pop Music – Lost in the Shuffle

Hermans Hermits The Turtles Happy Together

In the wake of the Fab 4’s explosion onto the music scene, many, many bands with shaggy hair, strong harmonies, and sweet love songs got signed to record labels. A few of them were really good bands who happened to have the misfortune of living in The Beatles considerable shadow.

The bands and songs on this list are some of my favorites from the era. History has not been kind to most of these bands. When you think of ‘60’s music, the socially conscious, protest, and hippie stuff springs to mind first. While in retrospect, that music probably had the strongest impact on society and music, it was not necessarily the most popular music at the time. Take the top songs of 1965:

Billboard Top 10 songs of 1965
01.Wooly Bully » Sam The Sham & The Pharaohs
02. I Can’t Help Myself (Sugar Pie Honey Bunch) » Four Tops
03. (I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction » Rolling Stones
04. You Were On My Mind » We Five
05. You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’ » Righteous Brothers
06. Downtown » Petula Clark
07. Help! » Beatles
08. Can’t You Hear My Heartbeat » Herman’s Hermits
09. Crying In The Chapel » Elvis Presley
10. My Girl » Temptations

One Rolling Stones song, and one Beatles song. Petula Clark, the Four Tops, and Elvis were still very popular. This reinforces the point that while the boomer generation may want to remember the ’60’s as a time of social consciousness and musical exploration, simple pop music ruled the roost.

The following list highlights some of my favorite music from the era that history has chosen to overlook. So, hop over Youtube, Pandora or Spotify and listen to some of these bands/songs that represent the best of ’60s pop music.

The Turtles “Elenor”, “Happy Together”
The Zombies “She’s Not There”, “Tell Her No”
Herman’s Hermits “I’m into something good”, “There’s a kind of a hush”
Grass Roots “Midnight Confessions”
Tommy James & The Shondells “I Think We’re Alone Now”
The Monkees “Steppin’ Stone”, “Daydream Believer”, “You just may be the one”

Memoir – Sometimes, stuff just blows up

These are the collected memories of my spent and misspent youth. Names have been changed as some of the people involved now live respectable lives and I would hate to sully their reputations. At times I will take liberties as in who did what, or maybe combine a couple of stories together that really didn’t happen together. I am seeking to entertain, not write a documentary. Hope you enjoy

Memoir – Sometimes, stuff just blows up

Males need a place to feel comfortable. To be who they want to be. To express themselves like men should express themselves. To be alone. Particularly to be alone with other males. These spaces should be rustic. Full of wood and a little bit of dirt. Not filthy, but not really clean. No air fresheners or accent pillows. With tools of some type within arm’s reach. We had such a place when we were young. We had the firepits.

Cisco’s house had a small, very tidy backyard where his dad had a little garden and a small shed. Next to the shed was a small, but very wide tree. Underneath was all cleared of brush, dark and hidden. Behind the shed was a big pile of bricks. Cisco’s dad was a woodworker and he had a small shop in the back of his garage. He would make wooden toys to sell at craft fairs, or he would just putter out there, I’m not really sure. The point is that there was always a lot of scrap wood. Now, our stirring need for a male place combined with the resources at hand (a dark hidden place, bricks, and scrap wood) to create our proto-man-cave, i.e. the Fire Pits.

We took the space under the tree and cleared the ground of leaves, mulch and other burnables. Then we each staked out a spot and built a little brick enclosure, like a fire place but without a chimney or screen, or anything resembling common sense. Then we carefully piled the scrap wood where each of us could reach it. A couple of matches and newspaper later we each had a little fire.

Sitting in front of a fire is primal. It’s cathartic. It’s hypnotic. On cold fall days we would walk down to Buy Rite and get some pop and chips (side story, one of these trips resulted in us coming up with the game “take-a-big-mouthful-of-red-crème-soda-and-then-the-other-guys-try-to-make-you-laugh-so-it-comes-out-your-nose”. Red Crème soda in my nasal passages is probably the cause of my sinus issues today). We would trudge back to the house and start up the fires as darkness fell. We would drink pop and pass the chips back and forth, taking about school, girls, family, girls, adventures, girls and so forth.

Quiet times of reflection and conversation. Yeah, that type of thing is not meant to last long. It is a vacuum, a void, a hallow space that the teen boy’s mind seeks to fill with something. For us, that something usually involved explosions or vandalism or girls. This one involved explosions, but not on purpose. Honest. It really wasn’t on purpose this time.

We learned that the shop classes in school actually forged tools out of aluminum, melting the aluminum then pouring it into casts. The wheels started turning. We knew we couldn’t actually melt aluminum. We knew because we tried. The pop cans just sat there, not melting. Then we learned lead had a really low melting point. So, the theft of a couple of Cisco’s dad’s fishing sinkers and a few minutes of burning later, we knew we could melt lead. What to make a cast out of? Plaster. We got the basics of how to use it for making a cast of an animal track from an old Boy Scout manual I had ( it was from the ‘50s, and was amazingly useful. Tips on making shelters, different kinds of fires, first aid. So much better than the one I had from the ‘80s. All it told me about was how to handle a flag and how to display my non-existent merit badges.) We got the basics for plaster from the hardware store then set out to make some molds. We used an arrow head for one, a little army man for another. We quickly went through our lead supply. We needed more lead. This stymied us for a week or so. Then, as we were walking through the parking lot at the Buy Rite, Hymie stopped in his tracks and the ‘brainstorm’ smile crawled across his face. He pulled out his pocket knife (the pocketknife. We each had one, and kept it in our pockets all the time, even at school. Good thing we never used them to cause carve in desktops, or tree stumps at the Civic Center, or to rapidly deflate bike tires….) and knelt next to a car while telling us to “keep a Lookout”. A minute later he popped up holding the lead weight from the car wheel. “I know where to get lead!” We changed directions and headed to the Ford dealership on Rt. 25, just down the hill from the Buy Rite. They sold cars, but also did a decent business in work vehicles, the kind with bigger tires, bigger wheels and bigger lead weights. 15 minutes later we were each holding about a pound of lead in our pockets and trying to walk normally out of the parking lot.

After trudging back, we set out to melt some lead. Let me just say that Hymie was really into this, he had 4 or 5 of the weights melted down in no time and was looking around for another can to melt in. He found a can, then went to dump the molten lead from the first can to the second can. I don’t pretend to understand the chemistry of what happened next. Cisco and I heard a pop and a poof, followed by several little thuds against the little metal shed, further followed by Hymie’s screams and truly first rate swearing (Hymie spent a lot of time at the family farm in his youth, doing work with his uncle and dad around the farm. He was a much better, more colorful and natural swearer than Cisco or I. He wasn’t a true artist at that point, but he was clearly a budding talent). We rushed over to survey the damage and to hide the evidence. Hymie’s was holding his forehead. The back of his hand had a big burn on it. There were little bits of lead sticking to the side of the metal shed. “I don’t know what happened!” he said “I just poured it out and it exploded! Something hit me in the head and it burns!” We got his hand away from his head and there was a chunk of lead stuck in his hair down by the scalp. And a nasty red burn. We cut the hair out (again, love those pocket knives). It had only missed his eyes by about 2 inches. Then we saw the can. It was still intact, but the lead had formed a thin, fragile bubble, much like a popover, at the top of the can. We poked it and it deflated. The can was empty except for a little bit of water at the bottom. Near as we could tell, the hot molten lead reacted/ rapidly cooled as it hit the water. Steam, lead, heat, and cool combined to cause the lead to expand out violently. Into Hymie’s face, hands, and back of the metal shed. Flying, hot lead and we didn’t even have a gun. This time.

Music Blog – New(ish) Music: Pandora Presents

New(ish) Music – Pandora Presents

This list is the first of what I will call my New(ish) music list.

I am a big Pandora fan – I actually pay for the service (And yes, I know all the cool kids are using Spotify). At first I just created a series of stations that reflected different music genres that I liked – Classic Rock, Blues, Metal, Industrial…. the interesting part was that Pandora was pretty good at either finding songs/artists I had forgotten about or actually finding music that I had never heard of. About this same time I realized that I was woefully out of touch with what had happened in music over the past 10 years or so (I blame having children, as I blame all of my age related issues on them). So, I found a new song that I liked and I plugged it into Pandora just to see what would come up next. The result was that I found several artists and loads of songs that I really liked.

Pandora introduced me to two bands that really have grown to like – Kings of Leon and Modest Mouse. I had heard some of their songs on the radio, but the “hits” really didn’t drawn me in. Pandora let me hear more of their works and made me into a fan. This week I will highlight these two bands.

Monday – Modest Mouse “Float On”, Kings of Leon “Use Somebody”
Tuesday – Modest Mouse “DashBoard”, Kings of Leon “Closer”
Wednesday – Modest Mouse “Missed the Boat”, Kings of Leon “Knocked Up”
Thursday – Modest Mouse “Dramamine”, Kings of Leon “Crawl”
Friday – Modest Mouse “Ocean Breaths Salty”, Kings of Leon “Sex On Fire”

Music Blog – Whiskey, Smoke and Late Nights: Morphine

I feel confident enough to share with you one of my favorite bands of all time. A band who’s sound harkened back to some place that never really existed, to a time that never really was, and was completely original. The thin sliver of reality where beat poetry and love songs, pain soaked blues and electric folk mix with the smoke squeezed out of warped paneling and warm whisky is where Morphine came from.

Morphine was a power trio, without any power. A drum, a sax, a homemade bass along with one lead singer. The Sax takes most of lead parts normally taken by a guitar, while the bass works as both an melody and rhythm instrument. Morphine had a brief time in the sun, but it wore a fedora, dark coat and sunglasses while it did. They broke up in 1999 after the bassist/lead singer (Mark Sandman) died of a heart attack.
Monday and Tuesday show some solid music from the band. Wednesday had the two songs that are as close to hits as Morphine ever got. Thursday will have one pick from Treat Her Right, the band Mark Sandman was in before Morphine and another from a solo Mark Sandman album. Friday are my two favorite Morphine songs. Please take the time to give them a listen.

Monday – I’m Free Now, Candy
Tuesday – Eleven O’Clock, Wishing Well
Wednesday – “Cure for Pain”, “Early to Bed”
Thursday – Treat Her Right “I Think She Likes Me”, Mark Sandman “Mona”
Friday – Empty Box, Thursday

Torch Songs for the Modern Age – Music Blog

Welcome to my music blog. In these entries I will highlight a particular genre, time period, or artist and give you a week’s worth of listening as examples. You can go to Pandora, Spotify, or your favorite music site to listen to or download the music.

I wish I could say each list was the result of years of research, my own musical experience, and critical consensus of critics, but they aren’t. They are just things I find interesting. I listen to many types of music, but I tend to love to find overlooked bands/songs or bands that were big but that history has kind of forgotten.

There will be glaring omissions, egregious inclusions, and outright mistakes. If you agree or disagree, want to clue me into other possibilities, or explain some odd point of music history, please leave a comment.

Torch songs for the Modern Age

A torch song is traditionally sung by the jilted or spurned who still had strong feelings for the one that did them wrong. And, while there are songs sung by men that fit in this category, the torch singer is most often seen as female. She is sad, broken hearted, and she knows what her actions are not doing her any good, but she can’t help her feelings for a man who probably isn’t any good. She is never depicted as a good girl, but she isn’t a predator or gold digger either. She’s made some bad choices but holds out the hope that things can be better. At first. Then, when things don’t get better or the pattern of betrayal is repeated she can get angry, bitter, and dangerous.

In real life, these are all painful events to live through, but I completely love a song sung from this emotional territory. Yeah, I’m probably a glass half empty kind of guy. In fact, I’m probably a glass empty, the glass is a bit dusty, and why the hell did you put water in my whiskey glass kind of guy. As, such, I am a sucker for these kinds of tunes. This collection tries to represent the modern torch song, but those that keep the same kind of emotional resonance that the olds ones had.

Monday – Melody Gardot “Who Will Comfort Me”, “Your Heart is as Black as Night”
Tuesday – Duffy “ Steppin Stone”, “I’m Scared”
Wednesday – Lily Allen “Not Fair” Kate Nash “Foundations”
Thursday – Nora Jones “Waiting”, “Man of the Hour”
Friday – Neko Case “Hold On, Hold On”, “Running out of Fools”

Memoir – Butt-Prints, Banditry, and the Sling-Shot: Summers at the Pool

These are the collected memories of my spent and misspent youth. Names have been changed as some of the people involved now live respectable lives and I would hate to sully their reputations. At times I will take liberties as in who did what, or maybe combine a couple of stories together that really didn’t happen together. I am seeking to entertain, not write a documentary. Hope you enjoy.

Butt-Prints, Banditry, and the Sling-Shot: Summers at the Pool

The three of us, Me, Cisco, and Hymie (though in our early days we referred to ourselves as Eggbert, Elmo, and Floyd. No, I really cannot explain why) spent three glorious summers (’77,78, and ’79) at the public pool in Boulder Hill, The Civic Center. The Civic Center itself was a building with a few meeting rooms and a couple of larger rooms used for events. Attached to it was a rather large pool, with shower/changing/locker rooms and a concession stand. All this sat on 4 or 5 acres a wooded land adjacent to the train tracks, a gravel pit, and the rest of Boulder Hill. The pool itself had 4 different parts – a kiddie pool, the main pool that went from 2’6” to 5”, the lap pool (all 5”) and the deep end. Two diving boards, High and low (a one meter and a three meter I think, but I’m not sure). The adults, mainly moms with kids, spent their time on one side of the pool and the unsupervised kids spent their time on the other. The pool opened up around 1pm each day for public use, with swimming lessons, swim team, and adult use before that. We were there each day, when they opened and we left each day when they closed at 5. It was quite the life.

Towel Bandits – There was a 15 minute break every hour where all of the kids had to get out of the pool and the adults could use the pool unfettered by the kids. While the pool sat empty, save one retiree or so, the kids would skitter over to the concession stand and get a drink, an icee, chips or some delicious Hostess treat. This always presented a problem for us. We could use a drink, but were chronically short of cash. One day, walking to the stand, one of use accidentally kicked a towel. Money, little coins, tinkled across the cement deck. We stopped in our tracks, and a little light bulb lit above each of our heads. Once the break was over and all the kids were back in the pool, we started our scheme. We would scope out the other swimmers as they sat on the side, noting which ones would roll something up in their towels. Once they left their towels to get back in the pool, one would walk over and accidently nudge the rolled up bundle with his foot. The second would scope it out and nudge it a bit more if it looked promising. The third would then swoop in and grab any coins, being careful never to take them all. In this way we managed to pay for a couple of snacks each week when our funds were running low.

Butt Prints – one of my most vivid memories from the pool era. On the adult side there were always a small tribe of toddlers and pre-schoolers running around, in and out of the kiddie pool. One day when we did a lap walking around the pool, I noticed on little kid get out of the water and rush over to his mom. He sat down on the cement, then picked up his butt and crab walked a step, then put his butt back down. He made a butt print trail back to the pool. At the pool he yelled for his mom to look at his art. When he did, he noticed that the first couple of prints were starting to dry up. He jumped back into the water, then rushed out to re-do his early prints. This process kept the kid busy for nearly 45 minutes. I’m sure there are some wise things to say about the nature or man’s works in the world, or on the temporal aspect of art, or maybe on the cognitive abilities of a child, but I’m don’t know what they are.

Lifeguards – lets put this all into context. When we were at the pool, we were 12-14 years old. The lifeguards were 16-20. Young, fit, and wearing very little (this was the height of the Speedo after all). We spend a lot of time swimming, diving, and playing around, but we spent easily as much time gawking. I vividly recall the one year when they issued the very thin, light red suits to the lifeguards. It probably seemed like a good idea to use the same suit as the swimming team, seeing as most of the lifeguards were on the team. The unintended effect was that the thinness of the suits and the color when wet combined to leave very little to the imagination. For the curious 14 yrs old boy I was, I want to thank the person who made that decision. As a side note, we didn’t gawk at the moms. When you’re 14, that’s just weird.
One of the cardinal rules at the pool was that you didn’t splash the lifeguards. They could not get wet, they were inviolate to the water (a little ironic actually, they were lifeguards after all). They sat on chairs perched high about the pool, or they patrolled around the edges watching for violations. On the diving boards, one of the challenges was to see if you could jump off of the high board and do some big splash maneuver (like a can opener, or a coffin. Not a cannonball, they never worked) can get the guard on the chair wet. If you did, you got to sit in a kind of time out under the chair for a while. Part punishment, part achievement. The difficulty was that we were all small, 80 to 120 lbs, lacking the sufficient mass to cause a lot of splash. If you leaned too far you ran the risk of a belly or back flop – lots of pain when done from a high dive.

The Sling-Shot – the lap pool was 5’ deep and the only part of the pool where you could dive in besides the deep end. This is where we hung out. We would stand on the side talking, or jump in to practice our splash moves; the aforementioned Can Opener, Coffin, Canonballs, and the Jacknives, Eagle and Flop. It was all very technical. We would also have contest to see how far we could jump or dive off of the side. It was during one of these contests that the Sling-Shot was invented. A guy who I will call Rich was with us that day. He was a year older, and a family friend of Hymies. We were all taking turns doing the jump. When it was Rich’s turn, he bent to make his launch. Hymie was standing next to him. When Rich bent, Hymie noticed that the top strap of his jock poked out of his suit. The little imp that lived in Hymie’s brain gave his conscience a kick, and Hymie reached out and grabbed the strap just as Rich jumped. I can still see the strap, stretching against the force of Rich’s jump. Getting longer and longer as Rich’s flight slowed. Then, just at Rich stopped in mid-air, and the strap reached it’s maximum tension, Hymie released it. Rich’s face was turned to us, expressing the confusion over his lack of movement and his distress at the firm grip on his netherbits, The strap snapped back with a loud slap, and Rich, very Wiley Coyote-like, dropped flat onto the water, like 100lbs of ground beef hitting a tile floor. Rich surfaced, a little blue in the face and red in the belly, swearing at Hymie. The Sling-Shot was never again performed in public.