Saturday, April 26, 2008

Drive In Saturday, 4.26.2008

Bill Withers/"Use Me"

Gang of Four/"Armalite Rifle"

John Foxx/"Miles Away"

Discharge/"Does This System Work?"

X/"White Girl"

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Geeks or Freaks?

This "quiz" emerged from the genius of Paddy Johnson of Art Fag City. He "thought it might be interesting to run a survey asking readers to identify" participants in an art fair versus fan of the New York Comic Con. Can you distinguish art geeks from comics freaks?

Tuesday, April 22, 2008


When Memphis Tennessee's Jay Reatard punched a drunken fan in the face a couple nights ago in Canada and then canceled the show only three songs in my initial reaction was:

"What a fucking hypocrite"

Jay Reatard's complaints were that the show was overcapacity, there wasn't any security staff, the crowd was spilling beer on  his equipment, and kids kept climbing on stage, messing up his performance.

How un-punk.

In Punk's beginning this type of phenomena wasn't just tolerated but encouraged.  The ethos behind the movement dictated that the barrier between performer and audience be smashed, all the rules of conventional performance be broken, and that anarchy prevailed.

Yet Reatard's reaction is totally punk:  heartfelt, spontaneous, and without consideration for established social norms.

Obviously the didacticism of the punk/un-punk debate is philosophically bankrupt, just as any argument that swings between the yes/no poles of a term that is essentially nebulous.

What's interesting here is the Reatard's desire to perform uninterrupted by the social qualities attributed to his genre, his territoriality over his place on stage, and his rage at being silenced by some dumb, drunk Canadian stage diver.

The music being good and the documentation of this whole event (thanks to the fact that every kid in the Western hemisphere owns a digital camera/cell phone) is really going to get his punk rock career moving.

Friday, April 18, 2008


Here's some live footage of Neu!, making it happen. This is, I'm guessing, somewhat rare.

Neu! was very influential, as has been well documented. On their first two records you can hear much of what came later, in terms of underground music.

This footage, to me, is indicative of a sort of penultimate glam--fun, texturally interesting, uptempo, experimental and emotionally precise rock music.

Neu! also had the sense, at this juncture, of never not being current. Seeing them here, they might be representative on one of the more transparently compelling aspects of postmodern culture.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008


Harold Jaffe's novel "Jesus Coyote" re-appropriates the Manson Family myth as proscribed by the official culture, and brings us closer to a kind of truth via his narrative innovation, the docufiction. Ambitious in both narrative form and imaginative range, "Jesus Coyote" examines the characters and events surrounding the Manson Family (culminating in the Tate-LaBianca murders) from a variety of perspectives, including the victims (envisioned by Jaffe with great clarity and compassion), the women members of the Family, and finally Manson himself. Cagey, defiant and manipulative to the end, Manson has the last word in the mock interview that concludes this morally courageous, intellectually daring and unflinchingly honest look into this revealing and recent chapter of American cultural/criminal history.

The book can be purchased here:

The publishers info is here:

Friday, April 11, 2008


I bought a copy of Joy Division's Unknown Pleasures a few months ago to replace my lost LP (the UK first issue vinyl with textured jacket). Mine is the US release, but I assume it's a first issue because it reads "Factum 1" on the matrix, the matrix being the blank section of a vinyl record, between the record's grooves (the songs) and the label. At any rate, while I was squinting at the matrix of my new LP to determine its authenticity, I found a statement scrawled into the vinyl, in the matix: "I'm looking for a guide."

It's appropriate, given their oeuvre--Factory Records; Post-Punk; their bleak prospects culturally, politically, economically. How difficult it was to get anywhere, meaningfully.

Do we look to a guide; should we, given the status quo?

The impulse tells us something about ourselves, our condition.

Joy Division, performing the song "Transmission" from their LP Unknown Pleasures:

Altered States

I've recently succumbed to a vague impulse to see again, after a gap of 27 years, the film Altered States.

As a younger man, I found the film entertaining, if rather overblown and somewhat pretentious.

And I suppose all of that still applies. But this time around the film, I've realized, makes some fairly compelling claims on its viewers, and despite Ken Russell's (as ever) hoary, heavy-handed direction, Altered States feels in some ways credible, somehow authentic. I've read some of the old reviews of the film, and the fairly thorough Wiki entry, and was pleased to find that renegade scientist John C. Lilly approved of the film. In fact, Lilly alleges that screenplay writer Paddy Chayefsky may have seen the galleys for Lilly's book The Scientist, which describes very similar events surrounding Lilly's own isolation tank experiments. Lilly is, characteristically, high-minded about the whole affair.

At any rate, I do recommend seeing Altered States (the Mexican magic mushroom scenes alone are worth the price of a DVD rental), and anyone can read more about the film here.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Drive In Saturday, 4.5.2008

Pulp/"This is Hardcore"

The Fall/"Totally Wired"

Motorhead/"Iron Fist"

Mick Jagger and Ry Cooder/"Memo from Turner"

Dusty Springfield/"Son of a Preacher Man"

Plasmatics and Tom Snyder

The hardcore punk movement in the 80s reached one of its cultural high points when Wendy O. Williams and the Plasmatics were on TV. It was a grand scandal, and so popular they were back on TV for sweeps week. With her spreading shaving cream all over her chest, being angry and rebellious, with mohawks to rival the best in Trafalgar Square, with her blowing up a car on stage--TV couldn't resist and neither could I. From my post-adolescent-male-point-of-view it was a theatre of pain and suffering, with boobs! What's not to like? At least that's how it was back in the day. These days I appreciate the best of punk for its raw accomplishments in tweeking the hegemony from within its own capitalist system, infecting even as it's held to the margins of the radio dial and cultural landscape.

There's one aspect of punk (such as hardcore punk music like the Plasmatics, FEAR, Germs, Circle Jerks, Dead Kennedys) that is as alive for me now as it was when I was first discovering it in the late seventies and into the eighties, and that is the humor, the ironic deadpan hilarity of this work. In this clip we can hear the band opening with a count "One, Two, Fuck You." It's not the kind of humor you'll read in the New Yorker, but it's funny anyway. I like to think about how Kafka's K would react, sitting in the audience at a Plasmatics show, feigning disgust and disinterest but mesmerized by the sexualized rebellion against the system. Either he would forget himself and dance upon his chair, get some shaving cream on his hands, or he would cower in guilty shame for having liked it. Either way, he would not leave the theatre. He certainly would not be as comfortable as that badass Tom Snyder, who had lots of great punks on his show.

Friday, April 4, 2008

Radio On

Chris Petit's post-punk film Radio On uses its soundtrack to propel the narrative in ways that are evocative and memorable. For example, a long tracking shot at the film's beginning explores the nondescript, dimly lit apartment of protagonist Robert's brother, who has committed suicide in the bath. The camera finally comes to rest on a radio at the foot of the tub, on which David Bowie's "Heroes/Heldon" plays at high volume. Those familiar with "Heroes" will recognize the dialectic in operation here: the romantic, desperate bravado of the song's lyrics and delivery in relation to the context of the suicide itself.

Later, Bowie's tune "Always Crashing in the Same Car" (a tribute to J.G. Ballard's novel Crash) plays while Robert cruises past a seemingly endless array of identical high-rise condominiums. The song ends strategically as Robert leaves this ultramodern, over-lit realm (the same high-rises can be seen, incidentally, on the cover of The Jam's LP This is the Modern World) to descend into the grim depths of nighttime Bristol, the site of his brother's suicide.

Finally, towards the film's end, as Robert succumbs to his own disaffected despair he leaves his car in an abandoned quarry while Kraftwerk's static-laden Radioactivity blares on the car's tapedeck.

But still, the film ends on a high note as Robert catches a train, fleeing this overdetermined and alienating landscape. This is an idyllic, panoramic scene (shot from overhead) of the station bordered to one side by the sea and on the other by the English hills, and I always imagine it with Kraftwerk's "Airwaves" thrumming urgently and lyrically (surely their most plaintive melody) along in the background, the low key vocals intoning simply, again and again:
"When airwaves swing
Distant voices sing."


I've recently seen a film by director Bela Tarr--Damnation. While I appreciated the film's decadant cynicism, and its sense of defeated existentialism, the thing I found most remarkable was a camera technique Tarr uses in virtually every scene of the film. It seems that always, when two figures are framed in a dramatic scene, Tarr pulls the camera back to pan across their surroundings. This forces the viewer to always regard the characters and their dilemmas in a larger, social dimension. No act, it seems, can be seen outside of its historical context (for Tarr here it's Hungarian society collapsing under the weight of Soviet occupation) It's a simple yet elegant technique--one I'll take with me.

A good introduction to Tarr's major films can be found here.

Spreading Peace and Democracy through the World

This image is from a painting by San Diego artist Craig Marshall.