What Did You Do During the War?

September 26, 2005... I guess what I was tryna say in my last post was that, although "Fortunate Son" is about poor people being used as cannon fodder in wars that rich people start but rarely fight in--see George W. Bush and the Vietnam War, for example--the song could also serve as an anthem for the victims of Hurricane Katrina--people whose well-being was ignored in the design of New Orleans' transportation system. For the many, many people who could not afford to drive or fly out, there was no escape and no appropriate refuge.

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Does anything sound quite as sweet as a used LP or CD--particularly a used LP or CD you searched high and low for before finding?

I found a used copy of OutKast's Aquemini recently, after looking for it for about five years. Mind you, I haven't actually felt the urge to listen to it yet, like I probably would have if I'd shelled-out and bought it new five years ago… But it's the principle that's important: it doesn't matter if I ever listen to the goddamned thing; the point is that I never paid full price for it.

Sometimes, though, an LP or CD you desperately want--but never actually expected to see--turns up in a used bin. On those days, years spent sifting through tattered copies of the various different pressings of Split Enz' True Colours and owner-autographed copies of Men at Work's Business as Usual suddenly all seem worthwhile.

The day I found a copy of Shut Up, Little Man in the used new arrivals bin (!) at Penguin Music was sooo "one of those days" that I doubt it will ever be surpassed in my life.

I learned of Raymond and Peter, the stars of Shut Up, Little Man, from reading a catalogue put out by WFMU, an independent, freeform radio station in the New York City area. The catalogue, which is no longer published, was a compendium of the weirdest of the weird in music and other ephemera--all of which one used to be able to get through WFMU. Even in this rarified company, however, Raymond and Peter stood out…

Warning! Do not download and/or play the files below if you are easily offended. Heck, even if you are hard to offend, ask yourself just how badly you want to hear these mp3s before you download them. Seriously…

You can't say I didn't warn you…

Raymond and Peter - Ray's Soliloquy - I Am The Human Race

Raymond Huffman and Peter Haskett were roommates in a low-rent apartment building in San Francisco whose drunken fights and tirades were taped--first surreptitiously, then less-than-surreptitiously--by their next door neighbours. Clearly, Raymond, the "little man" of the CD's title, found homosexuality and homosexuals distasteful. Peter, on the other hand, did not share this opinion--quite possibly because he was "a queer cocksucker." Fortunately, the two shared a taste for alcohol, a taste that kept them together, and the lines of communication between them wide open, for years.

Raymond and Peter - What Did You Do During the War?

Note how Raymond implies that Peter may have dodged military service. This may be an indication that Peter was the son of a Senator, or at the very least, like George W. Bush, the son of a Congressman. Interesting…

Over the years, many musicians have drawn inspiration from Raymond and Peter. There is a track called "Raymond H." on the 1992 album Mother of All Saints by San Francisco proto-avant-folk group Thinking Fellers Union Local 282, for example. And Blonder Tongue Audio Baton, an album released by the Swirlies in 1993, features a snippet of Raymond during a moment of contemplation and reflection. "I'll kick the shit out of any--or kill," he says before being cut off by the Swirlies' woozy, lo-fi trip-pop.

For more about Raymond and Peter, including the opportunity to buy some groovy merchandise, check out the Shut Up, Little Man Official Web Page, which promises and delivers "nothing but profane language."

For more about Thinking Fellers Union Local 282 and the Swirlies, stay tuned.

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Classic (Punk) Rock

September 24, 2005... I have made my peace with classic rock. If you've been following this blog closely, you already know that. That's why I've posted tracks by such dinosaurs of the Paleolithic era as Cream, (The) Alice Cooper (Group) and Mott the Hoople. There is no irony involved in any of this. I honestly like the music, just like I honestly like the music put out by young-critic-approved bands like Les Savy Fav and the Shins. And it's not that I'm easy to please, just that I try hard to hear the beauty in whatever I'm listening to. For a guy who once cut new grooves into his big sister's Creedence Clearwater Revival records with shards of broken glass, that's a pretty big change.

Anyway, what brings this all to mind is Hurricane Katrina, and more specifically, the news coverage I heard about Hurricane Katrina recently with C.C.R.'s "Born on the Bayou," trembling away in the background.

C.C.R. - Born on the Bayou

One of the things that stood in the way of my acceptance of C.C.R. over the years was the fact that the band's singer sang like he was born on the bayou, even though he was actually born in Northern California. I just could not accept the phoniness of it all, just as I could not accept the phoniness of the Tragically Hip--from Kingston, Ontario--trying to come across like a southern rock band, or Robert Pollard--of Dayton, Ohio's Guided by Voices--singing in an English accent.

Then one day, while listening to a countdown of the "top 500 rock'n'roll songs of all time" on the radio, I heard this song.

C.C.R. - Fortunate Son

Exactly what is not to like about "Fortunate Son?" It's two minutes long, has about three chords in it and nary a whiff of the excess and decadence that classic rock is often criticized for. Add to that the lyrics--and what great lyrics they are--and you've got a classic punk rock song. In fact, if you look beyond the fact that it's a song about war, "Fortunate Son" could be an anthem for all the people left behind in New Orleans as Hurricane Katrina approached; all those (mostly African American) people not fortunate enough to have a way to get out of the city before the hurricane covered it and them with twenty feet of water; all those people whose "leaders" said "I've got mine, Jack," as they fled the scene and "I don't care about yours."

*****

Don't get me wrong, there's only so much Creedence Clearwater Revival I can take before I find myself throwin' up around the bend, but the fuzz guitar at the 3:09 mark of "Born on the Bayou" is pretty righteous…

I'll close today with a song from a formerly-young-critic-approved band that would probably agree with me about C.C.R. "Sci-Flyer" is the leadoff track from Swervedriver's awesome 1991 long player, Raise. You remember Swervedriver, right? You know, the aggressive, melodic-yet-noisy rock group in whose footsteps 1,001 effete, melodic-yet-noisy shoe-gazer bands tip-toed? Yes, that's the one. Gee, I wonder where they got this riff from…

Swervedriver - Sci-Flyer

P.S. If you're looking for another rant about how Hurricane Katrina exposed the ugly truth about the place of the poor in our society, check out The Allderblob. Jake and I are saying the same thing, but his way of saying it will make you feel better.

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Potential and Disappointment

September 4, 2005... It has been one hell of a rough week. The situation at work has gotten dire; so dire, in fact, that I probably shouldn't write about it… While I can write more freely about the situation with my ex, unfortunately, the news isn't much better there--at least not for me.

I learned this week that my little Gumdrop has a new man in her life. He's a good guy and I am happy for her, but the news really underlines for me that it's over. The good times we had and the fun things we did--and there were plenty of them--well, they're not coming back. There will be no more happy dances. No more squishing. No more reading the interesting bits of the morning paper to each other.

And if the blame were to be split between us alone, I know I'd have to take more than 50% of it. But the blame is split between the hundreds and thousands of people who got us to where we are today, so the individual burden is slightly less crushing.

*****

During the earlier part of the week, this song by the Hold Steady buoyed my spirits with its bullish spirit.

The Hold Steady - The Swish

"Swish" is the first song I ever heard by the Hold Steady, a quintet from Brooklyn, New York. For me, it evoked the image of AC/DC playing a gig in a small, dimly-lit bar, with dark hardwood paneling and pool tables, where a drunken frat boy has knocked the walker out from under Brian Johnson, wrested control of the mic and launched into an extended free associative rant. All of this is a good thing.

"Your Little Hoodrat Friend," the second Hold Steady song I ever heard, evoked for me the image of the Weakerthans playing in a carpeted, semi-sterile banquet hall, with John K. Samson off in search of his lost book of poetry, and a drunken frat boy temporarily in control of the mic and deep into an extended free associative rant. But with a backing band as good as the Weakerthans, it hardly matters.

The Weakerthans - Plea from a Cat Named Virtue

"Knuckles," the third Hold Steady song I ever heard, reminded me of the first two, with the surprising addition of cheesy 1980s synthesizer. But the presence of the drunken frat boy, who was initially funny and charming, is starting to grate on my nerves. His limited vocal range has made all three tracks so far sound like they are expressing the same emotion. And he has used the same odd lyrical device in two of the three: i.e., the narrator (or a character the narrator is describing) claims, or tries to claim, the names of semi-famous people from the recent past. Reference is made to Rick Danko and Robbie Robertson of the Band; to Steven Perry and Neal Schon of Journey; to Ginger and Jack, presumably of Cream; to Nina Simone; to Freddie Mercury; to Right Said Fred; to Johnny Rotten.

Very strange. I wonder what it all means.

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