Music: I wish I was 10-15 years older

Was it the Butthole Surfers or the Rainbow Butt Monkeys who became Finger Eleven?

That’s a very sympathetic and clouded version of yesteryear and a very narrow and myopic vision of what’s out there today.

“Cowpunk”? I mean, if we want to use narrow, arbitrary genre-defining terms, the scene nowadays is gonna destroy the '80’s. What the fuck was “Cowpunk” anyway? Jason & The Scorchers? The Long Ryders? The Raunch Hands? If we’re being generous, maybe EIEIO and/or The Beat Farmers? Oooookay. See, by their last albums of the ‘80’s those bands had pretty much revealed that their “cowpunk” was one step removed from Mellencamp (the Long Ryders) or post-EXILE Stones (The Scorchers)…or that their understanding of the genre was limited to being a dirty joke (The Raunch Hands…although LEARN TO WHAP-A-DANG WITH THE RAUNCH HANDS is still a pretty genius slab o’ wax.)

Those are all great genres, but what we’ve learned in the intervening 20 years is that you can’t build a long and memorable music career in strict adherence to them. I mean, what the fuck new territory is the third album from a ska band mining, unless they’re incorporating other genres and moving beyond a music that essentially has one rhythmic structure to it?

As for the jump from the Beatles to the Sex Pistols, was it all that great in the final analysis? I mean, you give John and George a Marshall amp and mic Ringo’s drums, and stuff like “Dizzy Miss Lizzie” or “Money” sure sounds like punk. There was a band playing during the existence of the Beatles that were more of a quantum leap from what the Fab Four was doing than the Sex Pistols, and that was the Velvet Underground.

I know that maybe I’m overcompensating for my own fear of getting old, but when I hear something like Spoon’s GIMME FICTION or the new Gorillaz disc or Novillero or Richard Hawley’s COLE’S CORNER…well I feel like I’m hearing some folks unafraid to either do something different and new, or with something new and different to say but unafraid to borrow from antecedents and influences and make them their own.

80s U2 as well, I guess.

Well, you can argue whether the leap from The Beatles to The Sex Pistols was a good thing or not but it was a leap. When’s the last time you really sat up when a song was playing and thought, “What that fuck is that?!” because you’d never heard an instrument played that way, or with that kind of attitude, before and a split second later realized “I must have that song.” I come from an era where I’d be playing Gang of Four one day, Camper van Beethoven the next and the Violent Femmes or The Jam after that. I just don’t see that kind of original variation these days. Of course, maybe I just don’t know where to look.

I dunno, maybe it’s more than just the music. I can see your point. There’s very little that’s really all that original when you break it down into bits and pour over it analytically. It’s the attitude that comes with the music, maybe, some kind of movement or impulse that’s new and fresh. I don’t know if the problem is old folks, like me, who wax nostalgic about older forms of music and, unlike me, keep on buying new bands that remind them of older ones. Maybe the problem is that anything with a whiff of potential to develop into a new sound immediately gets subsidized by an industry eager to make a buck but in the process gets smelted back into what the suits think will sell based on what’s already sold.

How can you be a musical revolutionary when the revolution’s funded, fuelled even, by big business and big profit?

Or maybe there are musical revolutionaries out there who just aren’t getting enough exposure to filter back out to casual music fans that don’t keep up with every jittle and tot of variation that’s out there. Maybe the fracturing of audience prevents anything like a genuine grassroots musical sound or radical cross pollenation of different ideas, like in the 80s, from taking off. We’re all stuck in our own cubbies listening to what we think we like and have little access or interest in finding out about other styles?

I dunno. But I don’t think I really know enough to win an argument along these lines. Don’t mean I don’t got an opinion I’m not likely to shake. We’re crotchety, us old timers, because we was punk before you was punk or your daddy was punk.

Rainbow Butt Monkeys. Trust me, if you had ever heard “Rembrant Pussyhorse”, you’d never make that mistake.

As per triggercut’s analysis of new music, I agree wholeheartedly. There’s a ton of great music out there right now - TV On The Radio, the utterly amazing Arcade Fire, The Stars, and triggercut’s aforementioned Spoon to name but a few. Granted, being smack-dab in my mid-thirties means that I can automatically hear the influence of other bands in pretty much everything I listen to, whether it’s there or not - but, fuck, Pavement really did sound like The Fall, didn’t they?

The really big difference with modern music today, as opposed to my 80s salad days, is that the great music I listened to existed before the “alternative” marketing tools came into play. When I was in high school, it took a crazy amount of effort to hear something even as quaint-sounding-today as, say, The Feelies or the B-52’s first album. “Alternative” was anything that wasn’t being played on Top 40, as opposed to today when alternative means “kinda sounds like a suckier Pearl Jam”. (Personally, I blame “Nevermind”, but that’s a whole other post.)

That said, a band like the Arcade Fire is enough to give me hope. They released “Funeral”, their first LP, on a small Canadian independent label, which managed to scrape together enough money for a video that saw a couple of plays on MuchMusic. Through extensive touring and fantastic word-of-mouth (there’s a story that David Bowie bought a stack of the CDs and handed them out as Christmas presents), they’ve become Canada’s premier art-rock outfit, most recently scoring a gig at the Fashion Awards with ol’ Ziggy Stardust himself. All of this was on the strength of the music, which is beautiful and complex and wonderful, rather than on the strength of marketing.

I just anted up. I’m a little overdue for something new. Even my brother who runs his own small recording studio’s mainly been sending me cleaned up CD recordings of the weird old out-of-print progressive bands from the old days rather than anything new. Maybe I can surprise him with something for a change.

It’s just Bad Brains, and you are forgetting Quickness, which is their best album IMO, and I believe came out AFTER I Against I. They also have a live album, which is fantastic. The Youth are Getting Restless.

Other 80s greats:

Metallica (Ride the Lightning is fantastic)
Guns N Roses (Appetite for Destruction)
I actually like Duran Duran now…but I didn’t at the time.
The Cult
Red Hot Chili Peppers before they were ghey

Every glam metal band (thank you Metal Mania and VH1 classic…the only real music channel around right now)

I hate U2 with a fiery passion because they inhabit every goddamn genre and time period. You can’t avoid them. Classic rock? Check. 80s? Check. 90s? Check. Modern? Check. Alternative? Check. Pop? Check.

You can literally stumble across U2 songs on consecutive radio stations.


It’s just Bad Brains, and you are forgetting Quickness, which is their best album IMO, and I believe came out AFTER I Against I. They also have a live album, which is fantastic. The Youth are Getting Restless.[/quote]

You are correct on all counts, sir. Quickness did indeed come after I Against I, and it is also great. Damn, I totally forgot about that live record. One of the many bands I am irritated that I never got a chance to see live.

Oh, I don’t listen to much radio, but I can see what you mean. I don’t particularly like their 90s stuff, and the new disc is just awful if the single is anything to judge by.

This is a great thread for me because I recently lost my archive of tunes from my youth; in particular 80-94 or so. I ripped all my mix tapes to mp3, unfortunately to an unreliable hard disk.

Some of my favorites from that time:
'Til Tuesday - Voices Carry was the hit but the album was great
Adam and the Ants - Dirk Wears White Sox
Eurythmics - 1984 is a great sequeway to modern ambient, Brian Eno should have produced this
The Art of Noise - another innovative approach
The Rolling Stones - Tattoo You
The Cars - Shake it up
Danielle Dax

I could go on… I think every decade since the 50’s has had great original music (even today). You just don’t hear it on the radio because it’s new, different and risky.

Here’s my .02 on why I am In Love With These Times (to steal the name off a great Flying Nun 1988 compilation) as far as music goes.

Here’s how it went if you were a band in the pre-computer/internet days. You’d and your buddies would get together and put a group together. I hope you or one of your friends is vaguely photogenic, because it’ll damn near impossible to make it from the ground up if not. Then, I hope you have some cash to scrape together, since you’ll need to spend 500-2000 bucks just to record some songs and press them to vinyl as 7" singles (Oh sure, you could do a cassette and only be out the couple hundred for studio time…but it isn’t like every other band on the planet also does cassettes, and you’ll be one of a thousand out there).

Nowadays, with pro-tools and other digital recording software easily available, a band can record a ton of songs, get some webspace, and burn .mp3’s of their stuff a thousand times more easily and cheaply than in the past. Nowadays, as a music consumer, the sheer amount of music that has become readily available is staggering. Yes, there’s a ton of chaff out there for the amount of wheat…but the amount of good stuff that can be found with a minimum amount of digging is unprecedented.

As for the Art vs. Commerce thing with rock music, I think there’s no other aspect of rock and roll that is more misunderstood. Rock and Roll is all about commerce. Rock and roll is, at it’s heart, all about making money and getting laid. If some social commentary or political ideology emerges from that as a by-product, well, cool. But take a band like the Sex Pistols. They were started out simply to give Malcolm McLaren a band to advertise his “Sex” Boutique in London…and he got the idea from Paul Morrissey and Andy Warhol taking on the Velvet Underground for much the same purposes with Factory nearly a decade earlier. Read some interviews with Pete Townshend in his prime. Hearing the Pope of Rock and Punk wax philosophical on the subject is amazing.

Finally…rock is and always has been derivative. The Sex Pistols and The Clash? Great bands, but hard to imagine without the Stooges and MC5.

Having said that, I beseech anyone willing to take a leap o’ faith to check out Winnipeg’s Novillero. Building on a Who-like mod-soul foundation of memorable, gritty hooks, they sound like The New Pornographers channeling vintage Gang Of Four. Any band willing to write a line like “The Laissez-Faire system is not quite working out/The focus is too much on the gains and the losses/A thousand layoffs mean a bonus for the bosses” and make it catchy and danceable and kick ass at the same time is pretty brilliant. I would be horrifically remiss if my pimping of a cool unknown Canadian band didn’t include a full .mp3 of their current single, “the Hypothesist”.

As for the Art vs. Commerce thing with rock music, I think there’s no other aspect of rock and roll that is more misunderstood. Rock and Roll is all about commerce. Rock and roll is, at it’s heart, all about making money and getting laid. If some social commentary or political ideology emerges from that as a by-product, well, cool. But take a band like the Sex Pistols. They were started out simply to give Malcolm McLaren a band to advertise his “Sex” Boutique in London…and he got the idea from Paul Morrissey and Andy Warhol taking on the Velvet Underground for much the same purposes with Factory nearly a decade earlier. Read some interviews with Pete Townshend in his prime. Hearing the Pope of Rock and Punk wax philosophical on the subject is amazing.

An old friend, the guy who turned me on to Joy Division in high school, got in touch with me after many years and turned me on, once again, to something new. A film called 24 Hour Party People - essentially the story of Factory Records and the Manchester scene. A wild film and one I’d recommend to anybody.

Sure, making money and getting laid is a part of rock-n-roll. But I don’t think something with spirit’s that easy to define. Making money and getting laid’s also part of Wall Street and the porn industry. Rock-n-roll’s about freedom and rebellion. It’s innately an insurgent frame of mind. If you’re not an iconoclast, you’re not trying hard enough. It’s easy to point out that straight rock’s been a parody of itself since the 70s and the hair metal of the 80s didn’t do it any favors.

But back to the film. There are three bands that come up as crucial to the story. The first is the Sex Pistols because they inspired the kids of Manchester, with some help from our protagonist who heavily promoted punk, to get into something new. You can’t say the Sex Pistols weren’t political. And you can’t say they weren’t in it for sex, drugs and money either.

The next band was Joy Division. Now, I have to say looking at these guys, as they were presented in the film, that they were more interested in their own music and what it was about than anything else. Ian Curtis walks up to the main character, the owner of the local punk club at that point and seen already as a cheesy self-promoting suit, and calls him a cunt when they first meet. Curtis is married, has a kid and writes songs about incredible urban alienation and isolation. It’s not a party, it’s fucking trancendentally grim. Curtis isn’t a sex symbol - he’s a spazmodic freak but also morbidly charismatic. Yet the kids are dancing to it, not because our hero’s promoting these guys, but because they identify with it genuinely and he just comes along for the ride.

After Curtis commits suicide you’ve got New Order who, while less direct and morbid, also seem very serious about the music and oddly detached from the whole party scene.

If Joy Division, in some way, is a descendant of Sid Vicious’s anarchistic political pose the next band, Happy Mondays, are a bunch of twisted drugged out freaks who don’t seem to know or care much about anything other than partying. They’re from the Johnny Rotton side of the family tree. It’s still rock-n-roll but it’s detached from everything that seems to make a Joy Division so powerful and sincere. Eventually their wasteful spending, with some help from the protagonist himself, sinks Factory Records completely.

I can’t but feeling this story is a microcosm of how music’s evolved. When folks really felt and cared about what was going on around them and expressed it in music then we had some powerful and original stuff going on. Even political bands today, like Rage Against The Machine, are children compared to Gang of Four or Dead Kennedys both in lyrical content and musical composition. It’s like this is just a hobby and the politics are just a pose.

Record companies that rose up powered by punk or even the counter-culture rock of the 60’s fell back on marketing and playing it safe, consolidating commercial gains and trying to subvert the very subversion that rock music represents at its best.

And no, rock doesn’t have to be overtly political to be good it just has to be genuine and willing to try new things with genuine attitudes and desires fuelling it. Maybe that’s going on but I don’t feel it so much. Which is kind of ironic. The great music that came out in response to the politically psychotic 80s should pale compared to what folks should be feeling in response to the current climate…where is that stuff now? And don’t tell me Eminem because that’s beyond sad.

Yep! Hearing “Sometime to Return” in 1987 completely turned my head. Who’d have predicted they’d turn out as they did?

Hang Time is definitely great, but Clam Dip & Other Delights was really the mini-breakthrough, an EP that bridged their early punk stuff with their later more mellow stuff. (The first half of Made to Be Broken is pretty terrific, too.)

I was deaf for three days after one particularly memorable Soul Asylum show in 1990-ish or so. They were one of the best live bands of that period, occasionally sloppy but never falling apart like the Replacements used to regularly do. (Though I got lucky; every 'Mats show I ever attended kicked massive amounts of ass.)

For people really interested in the cool bands of the 80s, check out Michael Azzerad’s “Our Band Could Be Your Life,” which covers a lot of cool bands from 1981-1991.

“Our band could be your life”, of course, being one of the key lines from The Minutemen’s “History Lesson Part 2” song.

And Minutemen fanatics (and those who never witnessed them) should note that a new documentary about them, called “We Jam Econo” is coming to DVD very soon. One of the best live bands I’ve ever seen, and one of my very favorite bands, period.

(And agreed w/Steve on Soul Asylum–saw some insanely great shows early on. And I saw the 'Mats at both their best and worst. The worst being a show at the Palomino in L.A. where Bob Stinson was completely trashed and they couldn’t even get through…“Smoke on the Water.”)

I guess I’m done with my soapbox for now. Yeah, I only saw The Replacements once, at the Mosque in Richmond. A friend of mine ran into them before the show and they had him take them to the nearest bar as soon as they got off the bus. I was pretty wasted myself but everyone had a blast. My only clear memory was of an adlibbed rendition of “Lovelines” using a copy of the local citypaper they’d picked up. Oh, and Westerberg serenading a girl in the audience with “Achin’ to To Be” in a very, very, hammy way. I was surprised he didn’t fall into the orchestra pit more than once that night.

Brian, you’re making one point (“There were a lot of artists who really seemed to stand for something back then, but none who do now”) while defeating it in the next breath (“like Gang Of Four and The Dead Kennedys”). What’s not connecting is that when the Gang Of Four were making their brilliantly political music in 1979, people were more interested in Shaking Their Booties and/or extolling the virtues of a career In the Navy.

In other words, where I grew up in middle America in the late-seventies and early 1980’s, there was no chance whatsoever of ever hearing “I Found That Essence Rare” on the radio, TV or anything else. This was music that had to be sought out by its hungry audience that existed, but needed to be paired with the music it wanted.

Nowadays, you’ve got a fellow like Ted Leo who is at least as gifted musically as anyone in Gang Of Four (and ten times anything that ever stumbled through Jello Biafra’s self-promoting hypocritical transom), and a writer of such direct political songs that it puts most of the other folks plying his side of the street to shame. (Seeing Ted Leo & The Pharmacists live doing “Ballad Of The Sin Eater” is maybe the most amazingly powerful political thing I’ve ever seen. It’s a song he wrote about his first world tour, a year after 9/11. The chorus: “You didn’t think they would hate you now, didja? Oh but they hate you, they hate you 'cause you’re guilty now.”) Another cold fact: Ted Leo has sold more albums in this country than either Gang Of Four or The DK’s.

The music you seek is out there. Its waiting for you and your willingly open mind.

BTW, how freaking great is the line from “Never Really Been” by Soul Asylum on that MADE TO BE BROKEN album: “Where will you be/In 1993?”

Selling a gajillion albums on the basis of “Black Gold” and “Runaway Train”, I’d say.