The Mysterious Mr. Hitchcock (and it’s not Alfred)

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The world consists of two kinds of people: The kind who have never heard of Robyn Hitchcock, and the kind who, when confronted with that same name, light up and exclaim something to the effect that they’ve heard of him, they like him, they like his songs, his shirts, his shows, his offbeat, comical comments and bizarre advice to his audience. Like yin and yang – darkness and light – one cannot exist without the other. Right, if everyone in the world was in that second group, what a boring world that would be. Though not as boring as if everyone was in the first group.  As you might surmise I fall into the second group and continue to be amazed at each song Mr. Hitchcock produces…or in my schizomusical sense of time, each song I hear for the first time as if it’s newly-produced. Wait, I guess that’s how a lot of people approach music – I mean how many of us are currently living in 1782 and looking forward to the next Mozart opera? Still reading this and trying to make heads, tails, or in-between of it? Then consider yourself a card-carrying member of that second group. Or soon-to-be. Because now you have heard of Robyn Hitchcock and there’s no getting around that, is there??

robyn1                         image courtesy http://www.exeterphoenix.org.uk

So anyway, Robyn Hitchcock. On November 19th I make my way down Varick Street (not up Sixth Avenue or Balloon Man woulda blown up in my face – what? – read on) to witness the first of two Hitchcock performances at City Winery…

…settling in just in time to see Mr. H materialize, bedecked in acoustic guitar and black-with-white-polka-dot shirt (his current trademark – he also appears to have blue and green versions), and pour forth an ‘unplugged’ (remember that term from 1990’s MTV) rendition of his ‘greatest hit’, “Balloon Man.” The track is from his 1988 album with backing band The Egyptians, Globe of Frogs, and contains lots of lyrical references to midtown Manhattan, including lines about walking up Sixth Avenue to 44th Street. Which, by strange coincidence, is where I worked at the time the song was born. It’s also about being spattered with tomatoes, hummus, and chickpeas. I don’t recall that happening to me too often as I arrived for work, although it probably could have if one of the nearby falafel trucks decided to explode.

Oh, the City Winery concert… The set continues with “Mexican God” from 1999’s Jewels for Sophia and a bunch from 2004’s Spooked (apropos since, like the CW show, that album is largely acoustic, recorded in Nashville with Gillian Welch and David Rawlings): “If You Know Time,” “Sometimes a Blonde,” “Television,” and “Creeped Out” all creep in there, between songs from his latest, The Man Upstairs, staples like “Queen Elvis” from Eye, and the whimsical “Uncorrected Personality Traits” from I Often Dream of Trains. The evening is also peppered with the surrealistic storyteller’s between-song tales and sips from a cozy-looking coffee cup.

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Presently Emma Swift emerges and joins Robyn to sing their new digital collaboration “Love Is a Drag” and a couple of others…Robyn dons “part of Bob Dylan’s wardrobe,” a harmonica holder…and finally a double-whammy encore from his 1986 record with The Egyptians, Element of Light: the gorgeous title track (actually titled “Airscape”) and the current-state-of-affairs-befitting finale, “The President.” As the lights go up, Mr. Hitchcock retreats backstage…then magically – how else – appears at the front of the venue to greet fans and sign copies of his latest releases.

And so, for those now curious to take in the marvelous music of Mr. Hitchcock, please check out his first solo album, Black Snake Dîamond Röle, the aforementioned Element of Light, 1991’s Perspex Island, 1996’s Moss Elixir and Robyn Hitchcock & The Egyptians: Greatest Hits, as well as the guy’s work with the Venus 3 (featuring Peter Buck of R.E.M.) and a classic from his first band The Soft Boys, 1980’s Underwater Moonlight. There’s also a nice playlist here and a 2014 interview here.

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See you at his next performance somewhere, preferably in this universe but then again…who can tell…

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Ready for a nice bedtime story?

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Once upon a time, there was punk rock. The guitarist was fiddling with his guitar and amp, trying to get the right sound.
“You motherfuckers gotta go home or fuckin’ hang out or whatever, whatever you fuckin’ wanna do, I don’t give a shit,” said the bassist. “I don’t give a fuckin’ piss ball about nothin’,” he exclaimed.
As the guitarist continued to fiddle, the bassist, in his best drunken asshole voice, explained to the audience, “Ya’ll fuckin’ figure it out, we’re gonna play some rock ’n’ roll, whatever ya want, and that’s what we’re gonna do, and hopefully remember the fuckin’ tunes!”
The drummer pointed at his fellow band members and laughed.
The bassist railed at a particularly prominent person in the crowd, “Shut the fuck up! Are you fuckin’ kiddin me, motherfucker!”
“Alright, hello everybody, so good to see ya,” said the guitarist when he was finally satisfied with the tone of his guitar. He extended a hand to the bassist and introduced him. “This is Tommy.”
Tommy, in turn, pointed to the guitarist and yelled, “Walter Lure!”
The guitarist went on to introduce the rest of the band. “That’s Wayne,” he said, indicating the other guitarist in the semi-shadows on the side. “And we got Clem,” he continued, referring to the drummer. “And we got special guests coming up all night long,” he finished, with an unusually heavy, faux-British inflection on “long” – “loong.”
“Why the fuck we need special guests, I don’t give a fuck, doesn’t matter,” replied Tommy, growing more impatient and intoxicated with every word. “Let’s play a fuckin’ song, you guys ready?”
There was more fiddling on the part of guitarist Walter, when suddenly… screeching feedback!
Tommy was now ready to kill someone. “What the FUCK is happening?,” he slurred.
Clem, the drummer, looked around, laughed, and did some hyperactive, when-can-we-start-the-song, drum-roll stuff. Then, pointing a drumstick at Walter, he announced, “Here we go!”
At long last, the song “Born to Lose” was up and running.
And they all rocked happily ever after.

heartbreakers040113w                         The Heartbreakers (l-r: Johnny Thunders, Walter Lure, Jerry Nolan, Billy Rath)
(photo courtesy www.uncut.co.uk)

In case you haven’t figured it out, the guitarist in the story is Walter Lure, the sole surviving member of the Heartbreakers, a band formed in 1975 in NYC from the ashes of the New York Dolls (and not to be confused with Tom Petty’s band of the same name). The foul-mouthed bassist is Tommy Stinson, late of 1980s Minneapolis misfits the Replacements. Wayne, the other guitarist, is none other than Wayne Kramer, founding member of Detroit proto-punk pioneers the MC5. And Clem, the drummer…uh, ever heard of Blondie? Yep, Clem Burke. And the “special guests” include East Village underground mainstay Jesse Malin, ex-Dead Boys member Cheetah Chrome, and the one-and-only Handsome Dick Manitoba.

The occasion is a sold-out, two-night showcase of the Heartbreakers’ only album, L.A.M.F. Performed in its entirety, in order, plus a few bonus songs at the end, by the punk supergroup described above. First unleashed in 1977 and appearing in various forms since then, L.A.M.F. is a 12-song (14 on the CD) stomping, sewer-rat party mix of snarling punk, bad-boy rock ‘n’ roll, and early-sixties teen-pop.

November 15, 2016, the first of the four shows. Inside the tiny downstairs space at the Bowery Electric (a few doors up from where the iconic CBGB used to be), there’s barely room to move. Packed to capacity. Fire hazard. Tall, sweaty, dirty fans. Sticky spilled beer underfoot. Arriving just before showtime, there’s no way to even see the real band…so I’m relegated to watching them on a video monitor above the bar. But even so, it’s amazing to see these songs bashed out with the raw energy and abandon (fueled mainly by Stinson’s tirades) that spawned them in the first place. I’ve seen Walter Lure’s current incarnation of his post-Heartbreakers outfit the Waldos, and though they are loud, fast, and fun, this lineup is nothing but Punk! With a capital fuckin’ P!

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After all tracks from the album proper, it was time for some extra added attractions. Malin, donning acoustic guitar, strummed and crooned the Thunders solo classic “You Can’t Put Your Arms Around a Memory,” followed by the peak of the evening, the MC5’s “Kick Out the Jams”* featuring the song’s co-composer himself on lead guitar and Handsome Dick on vocals (after a stunning outburst by Stinson involving a bottle of Maker’s Mark whisky). The festivities wrapped up with “Too Much Junkie Business”* (Walter: “The story of our band”), then it was off to Webster Hall for another performance!

Sheer youthful rock ‘n’ roll energy, from a group of 50- and 60-year-olds! I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – OLD GUYS ROCK!

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* Video courtesy Paul T / mostpeopleareblank.com

 

 

Once Again…Damned if ya do, Damned if ya don’t (and how bout a playlist from 40 years ago)

And this time not just to use a band name in a clever headline, but a headline with sudden meaning! Meaning whichever way you decided to go a few days ago – left, right, or neither – welcome now to Trumpworld. So to ease the pain why don’t we settle down – or get up and dance – and enjoy a bunch of 40-year-old songs.

map_1976_original                                (Map courtesy http://www.livingroomcandidate.org)

Election Day 1976! Jimmy Carter, Democratic peanut farmer from Plains, Georgia, is taking the whole eastern half of the country! Gerald Ford, Republican replacement for the impeached Richard Nixon, is fading fast! Now here’s one by the band Spirit, title cut from the Farther Along album…

FARTHER ALONG – Spirit (Farther Along)

CRAZY FEELING – Lou Reed (Coney Island Baby)

GEORGIA – Boz Scaggs (Silk Degrees)

LIVIN’ THING – Electric Light Orchestra (A New World Record)

LONG HARD RIDE – Marshall Tucker Band (Long Hard Ride)

IT’S OK – The Beach Boys (15 Big Ones)

SHAKE SOME ACTION – The Flamin’ Groovies (Shake Some Action)

MOZAMBIQUE – Bob Dylan (Desire)

NEW ROSE – The Damned (single)

CHERRY BOMB – The Runaways (The Runaways)

BLITZKRIEG BOP – The Ramones (Ramones)

DREAMBOAT ANNIE – Heart (Dreamboat Annie)

I WANT YOU – Marvin Gaye (I Want You)

JAILBREAK – Thin Lizzy (Jailbreak)

POOR POOR PITIFUL ME – Warren Zevon (Warren Zevon)

SERENADE – Steve Miller Band (Fly Like an Eagle)

MORE, MORE, MORE – Andrea True Connection (single)

I ONLY WANT TO BE WITH YOU – Bay City Rollers (Dedication)

ASK THE ANGELS – Patti Smith Group (Radio Ethiopia)

EVERYBODY’S STUPID – Sparks (Big Beat)

COYOTE – Joni Mitchell (Hejira)

LONG MAY YOU RUN – The Stills-Young Band (Long May You Run)

IN THE SUN – Blondie (Blondie)

I DON’T WANT TO GO HOME – Southside Johnny & The Asbury Jukes (I Don’t Want to Go Home)

YEAR OF THE CAT – Al Stewart (Year of the Cat)

I CAN’T WAIT TO GET OFF WORK – Tom Waits (Small Change)

Link to playlist:  https://embed.spotify.com/?uri=spotify%3Auser%3Amscholl345%3Aplaylist%3A2ppCeslFSWnD6WZL1Qc7PF

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Well, Damned if ya do, Damned if ya don’t…

Now I know what The Damned are! The punk version of The Doors! Dave Vanian’s deep, dramatic baritone coupled with a heavy keyboard presence and good, tight guitarbassndrums. The band comes crashing into my cranium courtesy of a feature article in Creem magazine around 1979-80, coinciding with the release of their third album, Machine Gun Etiquette. I delight in reading about the antics of guitarist Captain Sensible…pretty soon “Wait for the Blackout,” on an IRS Records sampler, is the first Damned song I take notice of, with its schizomusical Britpunk-meets-Buffalo-Springfield sound. A few years later, it’s a one-two punch of a pal’s copy of Another Great Record from the Damned: The Best Of and the then-new Phantasmagoria album. And that’s about it until an MP3-era download of each of those, followed by a live show at Irving Plaza on Halloween night, 2014.

damned_pic1                              The Damned ca. 1976? (pic courtesy punkandoi.free.fr)

So now, Halloween night (well, Halloween eve), 2016, at the Gramercy Theatre on East 23rd St. “The Damned Performing a Unique 40th Anniversary Retrospective,” it’s billed. Working their way back in time, beginning with their most recent stuff including the political-climate-appropriate “Democracy?” and the spectacular “Thrill Kill” from 2001’s Grave Disorder, the current lineup (current since 2004) of Vanian, Sensible, zany bespectacled keyboardist Monty Oxymoron, bassist Stu West, and drummer Pinch whirl through their…damned beautiful rendition of Love’s “Alone Again Or” (featuring guest trumpeter Jason Crane of Rocket from the Crypt), four from Phantasmagoria (yes, the Halloweeny “Grimly Fiendish”), the single “Eloise,” and a bunch from an album that came out in late 1982 but I somehow missed – Strawberries. Now I know what three of the best damned Damned songs are: “Stranger on the Town,” “Generals,” and barn-burner sing-along “Ignite”!* And that’s only the first set. After a half-hour intermission and the Captain’s suggestion to “go have a cup of cocoa,” The Damned return…

…with a cheerful bit of pop from Strawberries called “Life Goes On,” sung by Sensible and sounding nothing like the gothic grandeur before or the frenetic punk to come. Next are rarely-noticed cuts from EPs and singles, including “Nasty,” which the band performed on the 1980s British sitcom The Young Ones (and which they introduce that way – yay Young Ones! – probably a post about that show coming soon), followed by “Wait for the Blackout” and others from the 1980 double-record The Black Album (and more Halloween just in case you forgot it’s October 30th – “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde”)…and finally those punk rock classics.

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Ushering in “the Machine Gun Etiquette era” are the crowd-pleasing album-opener “Love Song,” the krazy keyboards of “I Just Can’t Be Happy Today,” the ode to late-night sci-fi “Plan 9, Channel 7,” and possibly the greatest damned Damned track ever, “Smash It Up”** (both Parts 1 and 2 of course). Some back-and-forth Brit-style bickering between Captain and band, then those of us still standing (it’s getting on towards 11 at this point) are knocked silly by six songs from “the one that started it all” – 1977’s Damned Damned Damned. It’s rapid-fire-fun-fun-fun with “Fan Club,” “Neat Neat Neat,” “1 of the 2”…and finally…FINALLY…as Vanian plucks rose petals and flings them at Sensible, the corny, canned intro “Is she really going out with him?” and “New Rose” is off and running. Now I know what the first and best British punk song is. Well, I kind of already did but I have to keep the “Now I know” thing going.

After that the only way is out, out the door and away from the sweaty sea of punks, goths, hipsters, and Halloween costumes…so I don’t get to witness the encore, the whole-album-side “Curtain Call” from The Black Album, but hey, through the magic of the Internet (and blogs that are way more up-to-date than this one, oh well), now I know what I missed.

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The Damned t’day! (pic courtesy sxsw.com)

And The Damned just keep on going… Next May they’re slated to play it all again as part of their “40th Anniversary U.S. Tour 2017,” at Warsaw in Brooklyn. We don’t have The Doors around anymore, but we do have The Damned…and some of the most astounding damned music anywhere.

 

*“Ignite” video is from LA 10/27 show (I was not there).
**“Smash It Up” video is from NY 10/29 show (I was not there either).