Paul McCartney – Interview (BBC-TV – 1968)

July 31, 2009 at 8:46 pm (Music, Paul McCartney, The Beatles)

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Steve Weitzman – “Zappa and the Captain Cook” (1975)

July 31, 2009 at 12:40 pm (Captain Beefheart, Frank Zappa, Reviews & Articles)

Taken from Rolling Stone, July 3, 1975 – this was the period where Zappa and Beefheart kissed and made up and went on tour together. You can still sense a bit of patronising and condescension though between the two, if you read between the lines…  

Captain Beefheart, rock’s sometime genius, had just finished a show with Frank Zappa, with whom he’s touring after the end of their longtime feud. Slumped backstage at the Capitol Theatre, he scratched his shaggy head and slowly related the latest bizarre turn in his odd life.

“I said some silly things,” Beefheart noted, “because I’m a spoiled brat and I don’t understand business to the degree that Frank does. I probably felt neglected. I’ll admit it… and I told him so. I said, ‘I’m sorry Frank and I don’t mean that for an excuse.’ We shook hands and that was that.”

Zappa and Beefheart’s relationship goes back 20 years, to when they attended junior high school together in Lancaster, California. “I was there when he picked up his first guitar,” Beefheart recalled. “It was a funny little brown thing with hardly any strings, but it sure sounded good to me.” The two tried unsuccessfully in 1964 to form a group called the Soots, and then went their separate ways – Zappa to form the Mothers, Beefheart to search for his Magic Band.

The problems began in 1969 when Beefheart did Trout Mask Replica for Zappa’s Straight Records. “I did Lick My Decals Off, Baby right after Trout Mask. The group wanted to be commercial and since they were so nice about doing those two I thought I owed them a moral obligation and I stayed. But I should have gotten rid of them then.”

Beefheart added that his last two albums, Unconditionally Guaranteed and Bluejeans and Moonbeants were “horrible and vulgar,” and that he’d “headed for the redwoods to paint and write” as soon as he’d fulfilled his obligation to Mercury.

But other stories have Beefheart accusing Zappa of poor production on Trout Mask and interfering with its creativity. In 1972, Beefheart told the New Musical Express: “Zappa is an oaf. All he wanted to do was make me into a horrible freak . . . Zappa made me look out of the question, and the kids out there on the streets started to take dope because they thought that was the only way they could possibly get into my music. It was disgusting and totally degrading that Zappa should do this to me.”

Evidently, Beefheart had second thoughts in the woods, and he called Zappa to praise Apostrophe and “just to say hello.”

“He apologised for all the garbagio and asked for a job,” Zappa said. “The Captain repented. He had been real confused.”

Beefheart auditioned just before Halloween, Zappa continued. “He flunked. See, he had a problem with rhythm, and we were very rhythm oriented. Things have to happen on the beat. I had him come up on the bandstand at our rehearsal hall and try to sing ‘Willie the Pimp’ and he couldn’t get through it. I figured if he couldn’t get through that, I didn’t stand much of a chance in teaching him the other stuff.”

Zappa and Beefheart tried again this spring. “Although he still has trouble remembering words and making things happen on the beat,” Zappa said, “he’s better. Just before the tour, I tried him again and he squeaked by.”

Beefheart’s major contribution to the present Zappa show involves growling the lead vocals on “Poofter’s Froth, Wyoming” (which Zappa wrote for him), “Orange Claw Hammer” (from Trout Mask) and “Willie the Pimp,” the show stopper. Remembering the lyrics had apparently been a problem for Beefheart – he keeps them written down on a stand located at his feet onstage. Zappa is interested in getting Beefheart “to relax to the point where he can improvise words. He can do really funny stuff when he’s sitting around in a room. But he hasn’t really gotten comfortable enough yet.”

At this point, Zappa plans to remix and reissue Trout Mask, which Beefheart still describes as “my favourite.” Beefheart said he’s “had an extreme amount of fun on this tour. They move awfully fast. I’ve never travelled this fast. With the Magic Band – turtles all the way down. “Frank is probably the most creative person on this planet. He writes things for instruments that haven’t even been invented.” Beefheart paused for a moment and then resumed. “He’s another Harry Partch,” he said, referring to the avant-garde composer, “only he hasn’t dried up yet. Get it?”

 

 

Steve Weitzman

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The Rolling Stones – “Hot Stuff” (Promo – 1976)

July 30, 2009 at 11:52 pm (Music, The Rolling Stones)

Promo clip from 1976 of The Stones lip syncing to their funk classic off the Black and Blue album…

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Neu! – “Neu! 2” (1973)

July 28, 2009 at 11:18 am (Krautrock, Music, Reviews & Articles)

An undated review of Neu!’s 2nd album from the PopMatters website (circa early 2000s), written by Nicholas Taylor. This was one strange but fascinating album…

 

Neu! 2 is one of those rare albums that challenges the very notion of music itself. It scrutinizes the concept of the album, the relationship between the artist and the listener, the producer and the consumer, as well as making the very notion of originality extremely dubious.

In Krautrock/art-rock circles, the story of Neu! 2 is pretty well known. Neu! was formed in 1973 in Düsseldorf, Germany. Multi-instrumentalists Michael Rother (bass, guitar, keyboards) and Klaus Dinger (guitar, drums, keyboards, vocals) left an early formation of what was to become the most famous Krautrock band, Kraftwerk, dissatisfied with the band’s movement toward an entirely electronic sound (for the best example, listen to their classic “Autobahn”). Rother and Dinger wanted to pursue a more minimalist guitar experiment. Hence, Neu! was born.

Neu! recorded their eponymous 1972 debut in four days, and despite the album’s simplicity in terms of both melodies and rhythms, it sold extremely well in West Germany. When they went into the studio in 1973 to record Neu! 2, however, Rother and Dinger ran out of money after recording only a few tracks. Ergo, the bizarreness of Neu! 2. Desperate to get a full-length LP into the stores, Neu! remixed the existing songs at different speeds, resulting, for example, with three versions of both “Super”: along with the normal speed version, we are treated to alternate versions of the same track, simply sped up to 78 rpms (“Super 78”) and slowed down to 16 rpms (“Super 16”). The effect is startling and unsettling-much like the films of Ed Wood, the famed ‘worst director of all time’, these cheap, hastily thrown together tracks leave you wondering if these guys are really serious.

The tracks originally recorded for Neu! 2, however, are wonderful. The meat of the album is the 11-minute driving instrumental, “Für Immer [Forever].” A straight, dry drumbeat consistently chugs along as two clean guitars intertwine with a lightly droning keyboard. As the track progresses, new keyboards glide gently in and out and minimalist lead guitars rise and fade. The effect is something like the Velvet Underground under a warm blanket of synthesizers. “Neuschnee” also stands out, opening with plucked strings ringing out starkly, giving way to another driving instrumental, driven less by thumping guitars than a sublimely beautiful lead guitar ran through so many processors and effects pedals as to sound like a distorted synthesizer.

“Super,” the album’s closer, is nothing short of a time warp: instead of it being 1973, you could swear it was 1977. “Super” is a driving proto-punk guitar swirl, showing us what the Sex Pistols and the Ramones would sound like at their most daring and weird moments. In Dinger’s warped and effected snarls and screams, you hear a prototype for the “Oy! Oy!” of the Ramones later in the decade. And while we’re in the time machine, Dinger’s wailing and desperate gasps and indecipherable yelps on “Lila Engel [Lilac Angel]” are pure Thom Yorke-lilting, delicate, and amazingly affecting.

For all of the sparse greatness of these tracks, however, the fact remains that Neu! 2 is a joke. Not only is the band’s name (which means “New” in German) laughable in it’s tongue-in-cheek over-enthusiasm (an exclamation point?!?), but the cover of Neu! 2 barely qualifies as a cover at all. Over a stark white background, the word “Neu!” is written diagonally in gray in front of a crudely spray-painted bright fluorescent pink ‘2’. Not only did they not have the money to put together enough songs for an album, it also seems they did not have enough money to even attempt making a presentable album cover. And while you can rationalize the “remixes” till you’re blue in the face, they are not “remixes” at all-they are jokes. To play a record at 78 rpms and call it a remix is to throw the whole idea of remixing out the window.

So why do we remember Neu! today? Why are they valorized by such diverse artists as David Bowie, Brian Eno, Sonic Youth, Pere Ubu, Stereolab, and Radiohead? Precisely because of their practical joking. To dismantle the structures of rock and start fresh, you need jokers like Neu! to create music so unabashedly ridiculous and bizarre as to make the notion of “serious” rock a joke. To get some place new, you have to make the values of the past seem ridiculous. Isn’t all really great rock, after all, just a joke? What about “Louie, Louie,” Captain Beefheart, Frank Zappa, the Beatles’ “You Know My Name (Look Up the Number),” or the Velvet Underground’s “Sister Ray?” As great as they are, all of these are jokes.

What all of these artists did in their levity and glee was to push the limits of what “serious” fans would consider art. When an album like Neu! 2 can be re-released by Astralwerks and be heralded as a trailblazing visionary work that never got its proper due, the responsibility lays not on Neu! but on us. They were just bored musicians in a studio making funny sounds – we actually consume those sounds. So when Neu! simply fills in an album with the most ridiculous Ed Wood tactics and get away with it, what does that say about music listeners? When does minimalism give way to pure laziness (or, in this case, poverty)? Are we so enlightened that we can find beauty and meaning in Neu!’s silliness? Or are we simply pretentious fops, heralding anything bizarre as genius, losing all critical insight and some degree of objective evaluation? Neu! 2 is not a great album, but it is amazingly provocative and challenging. It pushes rock to its breaking point.

Is this an album? Is this music? Is this art? I certainly don’t know. But then again, I don’t think Neu! knows either, which is what is so thrilling.

Nicholas Taylor

 

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Charles Bukowski – “Jaggernaut: Wild Horse on a Plastic Phallus” (1975)

July 28, 2009 at 8:38 am (Charles Bukowski, Music, Reviews & Articles, The Rolling Stones)

Charles Bukowski actually wrote this article on The Rolling Stones for Creem magazine in October 1975. It’s hard to think of Hank attending a Stones concert when he was a lifelong classical music connoisseur…  

 

They opened on the 9th at the Forum and I went to the track the same day. The track is right across from the Forum and I looked over as I drove in and thought, well, that’s where it’s going to be. Last time I had seen them was at the Santa Monica Civic. It was hot at the track and everybody was sweating and losing. I was hungover but got off well. A track is some place to go so you won’t stare at the walls and whack-off, or swallow ant poison. You walk around and bet and wait and look at the people and when you look at the people long enough you begin to realize that it’s bad because they are everywhere, but it’s bearable because you adjust somewhat, feeling more like another piece of meat in the tide than if you had stayed home and read Ezra, or Tom Wolfe or the financial section.

The tracks aren’t what they used to be: full of hollering drunks and cigar smokers, and girls sitting at the side Benches and showing leg all the way up to the panties. I think times are much harder than the government tells us. The government owes their balls to the banks and the banks have over-lent to businessmen who can’t pay it back because the people can’t buy what business sells because an egg costs a dollar and they’ve only got 50 cents. The whole thing can go overnight and you’ll find red flags in the smokestacks and Mao t-shirts walking through Disneyland, or maybe Christ will come back wheeling a golden bike, front wheel 12-to-one ratio to rear. Anyhow, the people are desperate at the track; it has become the job, the survival, the cross…instead of the lucky lark. And unless you know exactly what you’re doing at a racetrack, how to read and play a toteboard, re-evaluate the trackman’s morning line and eliminate the sucker money from the good money, you aren’t going to win, you aren’t going to win but one time in ten trips to the track. People on their last funds, on their last unemployment check, on borrowed money, stolen money, desperate stinking diminishing money are getting dismantled forever out there, whole lifetimes pissed away, but the, state gets an almost 7 percent tax cut on each dollar, so it’s legal. I am better than most out there because I have put more study into it. The racetrack to me is like the bullfights were to Hemingway – a place to study death and motion and your own character or lack of it. By the 9th race I was $50 ahead, put $40 to win on my horse and walked to the parking lot. Driving in I heard the result of the last race on the radio – my horse had come in 2nd.

I got on in, took a hot bath, had a joint, had 2 joints (bombers), drank some white wine, Blue Nun, had 7 or 8 bottles of Heineken and wondered about the best way to approach a subject that was holy to a lot of people, the still young people anyhow. I liked the rock beat; I still liked sex; I liked the raising high roll and roar and reach of rock, yet I got a lot more out of Bee, and Mahler and Ives. What rock lacked was the total layers of melody and chance that just didn’t have to chase itself after it began, like a dog trying to bite his ass off because he’d eaten hot peppers. Well, I’d try. I finished off the Blue Nun, dressed, had another joint and drove back on out. I was going to be late.

S.O. And the parking lot was full. I circled around and found the closest street to park in – at least a half mile away.

I got out and began to walk. Manchester. The street was full of private residents behind iron bars with guards. And funeral homes. Others were walking in. But not too many. It was late. I walked along thinking, shit, it’s too far, I ought to turn back. But I kept walking. About halfway down Manchester (on the south side) I found a golf course that had a bar and I walked in. There were tables. And golfers, satisfied golfers drinking slowly. There was a daylight golf course but these kitties had been shooting for distance on the straight range under the electric lights. Through the glass back of the bar you could still see a few others out there Jerking off golfballs under the moon. I had a girl with me. She ordered a bloody mary and I ordered a screwdriver. When my belly’s going bad vodka soothes me and my belly’s always going bad. The waitress asked the girl for her I.D. She was 24 and it pleased her. The bartender had a cheating, chalky dumb face and poured 2 thin drinks. Still it was cool and gentle in there.

“Look,” I said, “why don’t we just stay in here and get drunk? Fuck the STONES. I mean, I can make up some kind of story: went to see the STONES, got drunk in a golfcourse bar, pewked, broke a table…knitted a palm tree towel, caught cancer. Whatcha think?”
“Sounds all right.”
When women agree with me I always do the other thing. I paid up and we left. It was still quite a walk. Then we were angling across the parking lot. Security cars drove up and down. Kids leaned against cars smoking joints and drinking cheap wine. Beer cans were about. Some whiskey bottles. The younger generation was no longer pro-dope and anti-alcohol – they had caught up with me: they used it all. When 27 nations would soon know how to use the hydrogen bomb it hardly made sense to preserve your health. The girl and I, our tickets were for seats that were separated. I got her pointed in the direction of her seat and then walked over to the bar. Prices were reasonable. I had two fast drinks, got my ticket stub out, put it in my hand and walked toward the noise. A large chap drunk on cheap wine ran toward me telling me that his wallet had been stolen. I lifted my elbow gently into his gut and he bent over and began to vomit.

I tried to find my section and my aisle. It was dark and light and blaring. The usher screamed something about where my seat was but I couldn’t hear and waved him off. I sat down on the steps and lit a cigarette. Mick was down there in some kind of pajamas with little strings tied around his ankles. Ron Wood was the rhythm guitarist replacing Mick Taylor; Billy Preston was really shooting-off at the keyboard; Keith Richards was on lead guitar and he and Ron were doing some sub-glancing lilting highs against each other’s edges but Keith held a firmer more natural ground, albeit an easy one which allowed Ron to come in and play back against shots and lobs at his will. Charlie Watts on tempo seemed to have joy but his center was off to the left and falling down. Bill Wyman on bass was the total professional holding it all together over the bloody Thames-Forum.

The piece ended and the usher told me that I was over on the other side, on the other side of row N. Another number began. I walked up and around. Every seat was taken. I sat down next to row N and watched the Mick work. I sensed a gentility and grace and desperateness in him, and still some of the power: I shall lead you children the shit out of here.

Then a female with big legs came down and brushed her hip against my head. An usher. Grotch, grotch, double luck. I showed her my stub. She moved out the kid on the end seat. I felt guilty and sat down on it. A huge balloon cock rose from the center of the stage, it must have been 70 feet high. The rock rocked, the cock rocked.

This generation loves cocks. The next generation we’re going to see huge pussies, guys jumping into them like swimming pools and coming out all red and blue and white and gold and gleaming about 6 miles north of Redondo Beach.

Anyhow, Mick grabbed this cock at the bottom (and the screams really upped) and then Mick began to bend that big cock toward the stage, and then he crawled along it (living that time) and he kept moving toward the head, and then he kept getting nearer and then he grabbed the head.

The response was symphonic and beyond.

The next bit began. The guy next to me started again. This guy rocked and bobbed and rocked and rolled and flickered and rotor-rooted and boggled no matter what was or wasn’t. He knew and loved his music. An insect of the inner-beat. Each hit with him was the big hit. Selectivity was Non-comp with him. I always drew one of these.

I went to the bar for another drink and after getting this kid out of my $12.50 seat again, there was Mick, he’d put his foot in a stirrup and now he was holding to a rope and he was way out and swinging back and forth over the heads of his audience, and he didn’t look too steady up there waving back and forth, I didn’t know what he was on, but for the sake of his bi-sexual ass and the heads he was going to fall upon I was glad when they reeled him back in.

Mick wore down after that, decided to change pajamas and sent out Billy Preston who tried to cheese and steal the game from the Jag and almost did, he was fresh and full of armpit and job and jog, he wanted to bury and replace the hero, he was nice, he did an Irish jig painted over in black, I even liked him, but you knew he didn’t have the final send-off, and you must have guessed that Mick knew it too as he buried wet ice under his armpits and ass and mind backstage. Mick came out and finished with Preston. They almost kissed, wiggling assholes. Somebody threw a brace of firecrackers into the crowd. They exploded just properly. One guy was blinded for life; one girl would have a cataract over the left eye forever; one guy would never hear out of one ear. 0.K., that’s circus, it’s cleaner than Vietnam.

Bouquets fly. One hits Mick in the face. Mick tries to stamp out a big ball balloon that lands on stage. He can’t push his foot through it. One saddens. Mick runs over, jumps up, kicks one of his fiddlers in the ass. The fiddler smokes a smile back, gently, full of knowledge: like, the pay is good.

The stage weighs 40 elephants and is shaped like a star. Mick gets out on the edge of the star; he gets each bit of audience alone, that section alone, and then he takes the mike away from his face and he forms his lips into the silent sound: FUCK YOU. They respond.

The edge of the star rises, Mick loses his balance, rolls down to stage center, losing his mike.

There’s more. I get the taste for the ending. Will it be “Sympathy for the Devil”? Will it be like at the Santa Monica Civic? Bodies pressing down the aisles and the young football players beating the shit out of the rock-tasters? To keep the sanctuary and the body and the soul of the Mick intact? I got trapped down there among ankles and cunt hairs and milk bodies and cotton-candy minds. I didn’t want more of that. I got out. I got out when all the lights went on and the holy scene was about to begin and we were to love each other and the music and the Jag and the rock and the knowledge.

I left early. Outside they seemed bored. There were any number of titless blonde young girls in t-shirts and jeans. Their men were nowhere. They sat upon the ends of bumpers, most of the bumpers attached to campers. The titless young blonde things in t-shirts and jeans. They were listless, stoned, unexcited but not vicious. Little tight-butted girls with pussies and loves and flows.

So I walked on down to the car. The girl was in the back seat asleep. I got in and drove off. She awakened. I was going to have to send her back to New York City. We weren’t making it. She sat up.

“I left early. That shit is finally deadening,” she said.
“Well, the tickets were free.”
“You going to write about it?”
“I don’t know. I can’t get any reaction, I can’t get any reaction at all.”
“Let’s get something to eat,” she said.
“Yeah, well, we can do that.”

I drove north on Crenshaw looking for a nice place where you could get a drink and where there wasn’t any music of any kind. It was 0.K. if the waitress was crazy as long as she didn’t whistle.

Charles Bukowski
 

Charles Bukowski, now in his fifties, may be one of the foremost American literary figures. Certainly he is one of the loosest, most instinctive old buzzards around. We like him, and you should too – try either of the best of his many books, Notes of a Dirty Old Man and Erections, Ejaculations, Exhibitions & General Tales of Ordinary Madness, both available from City Lights.

     – Creem Magazine, October 1975

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Milt Jackson – “People Make the World Go Around” (1972)

July 26, 2009 at 8:20 pm (Jazz)

This Milt Jackson piece comes from his 1972 Sunflower album and was used on the De La Soul track “Patti Dooke” from 1993.

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Colin Wilson – “The Mind Parasites” (1969)

July 26, 2009 at 9:03 am (Poetry & Literature, Reviews & Articles, The Beats, William S. Burroughs)

Beat author William S. Burroughs reviewed this book by Colin Wilson for the June 19, 1969 issue of New York underground magazine Rat. The copy editing was so sloppy they misspelled Burroughs’ name as “Borroughs.” 
I am not familiar with the Wilson book itself and know nothing about it, besides this review…

 

“The human race is being attacked by a sort of mind cancer. Something is sucking the human mind dry and has been sucking it for the past two hundred years.” That is the shattering discovery made by Professor Gilbert Austin. Who or what is responsible? Mind parasites, malignant beings who lurk in the deepest layers of the unconscious… (in precise physiological terms this would correspond to the back brain or hypothalamus) …sapping the very life force of mankind, cutting him off from his natural capacity for self renewal… It was all so unsettling that I broke the habit of a lifetime and drank a bottle of champagne at lunch time.

There is considerable inferential evidence to indicate the actual existence of such a parasitic instance as this book postulates. An Italian sociologist said if you want to get to the bottom of any situation that seems on the surface inexplicable ask yourself the simple question ‘who profits?’ Who would profit from blocking every basic discovery about the human mind? Techniques are now available to alter consciousness and effect the hypothalamus directly. In a recent Mayfair article I described the experiments of doctor Miller who has demonstrated that any mammal can learn to control such seemingly involuntary processes as brain waves, blood pressure, rate of heart beats, his whole state of mind and body. Doctor Miller had great difficulty in raising funds for his experiments. The importance of these experiments was completely missed by the press. The means are at hand to conquer inner space but they are not being used. Despite impressive technical advances the planet is still in the stone age psychologically. Who would profit from turning the clock all the way back to the stone age and keeping man out of space? A parasitic entity that lives in the human body and could not survive space. Only in the last two hundred years have technological advances made space exploration a possibility. By maintaining control of inner space the parasites can block any discovery or destroy anyone who suspects their existence. It is in fact unexplained suicides among scientists investigating inner space that leads to the discovery of the parasites by the narrator Professor Gilbert Austin. Once the presence of the parasites is inferred the means to combat them is obvious. They must be combated by the brain itself pushed up to and beyond its limits so that men can read each other’s thoughts, control their own thoughts and feelings. So they join battle with the parasites on equal terms. These are precisely the measures I have advocated in the Academy Series, measures that must be applied whether we believe in mind parasites or not if man is to expand his horizons and survive in the space age. There is no turning back to the false security of dogmatic creeds. To travel in space you must learn to leave the old verbal garbage behind: God talk, priest talk, mother talk, family talk, love talk, country talk, party talk. You must learn to exist with no religion, no country, no allies. You must learn to see what is in front of you with no preconceptions.

In Mr. Wilson’s narrative it is a space voyage that finally defeats the parasites. They cannot survive in space. As the space craft travels further and further from the earth the parasites, still lurking in the crew, are in a panic. “Now they felt their psychic links with the earth stretching and growing weaker and they were frightened. We now understood the nature of ’space fever’ that had so far frustrated all men’s efforts to penetrate further into space.” Known, watched, the parasites became desperate. They now reveal themselves as creatures of a low intelligence floundering about like a beached squid. “It happened on the fourteenth day… Something infinitely evil and slimy was pushing its way from inside me. I realized I had been wrong to think of the parasites as separate beings. They were one, they were IT, an immense jelly like octopus whose tentacles are separate from its body and can move about like individuals.” (And this being is none other than the ancient slug Abhoth the Dark also known as Abhoth the Unclean)… “Now this infinitely vile thing was coming out of its lair and I could feel its hatred of me, a hatred so powerful and maniacal that it almost needs a new word. Then the inexpressible relief of knowing that it was gone…”

What has made this planet such a soft touch for Abhoth?… The greatest human limitation is that we are all tied to the present by an arbitrary identity, personal and national. What is identity? The identity of a shark is its teeth, its size, its ability to eat and digest almost anything. An oyster’s identity is its protective shell. Identity then is the means by which an organism protects and maintains itself in a hostile environment and all environments that contain such identities are hostile. And what is the identity of Abhoth the Dark? Its ability to remain hidden and carry on a parasitic existence that is hostile to its host by parasitic necessity. So we are all playing Abhoth’s game. And by setting one identity against another Abhoth maintains himself indefinitely.

Isolation from such an environment is the first step in the unexplored territory of inner space… As man loses touch with his inner being he finds himself trapped in the world of consciousness that is to say the world of other people. “Man is a political animal” said Aristotle telling one of the greatest lies in human history. For every man has more in common with the hills and with the stars than with other men. Other men do not supply our values. Other men do not matter in the way we have believed. Man is not alone. You could be the last man in the universe and you would not be alone.

William S. Burroughs

 

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Scott Isler – “XTC: The Dukes of Swindon” (1989)

July 25, 2009 at 6:14 pm (Music, Reviews & Articles, XTC)

Taken from my personal collection comes this May 1989 article from Musician magazine (#127) on XTC circa Oranges and Lemons, written by Scott Isler…

 

XTC Does It Their Way, For Better or Worse 

First, fly to London. Then catch a train to Swindon, 70 miles west. Then a cab from the station to a house in the Old Town section. Go through the door, up a flight of stairs. (Ignore the dog and two small children; you’re not there yet.) On the landing, ascend a metal ladder through an opening to the attic. Stop. This is it: Andy Partridge’s demo haven.

Whaddayamean, “so what”? Out of this small but fairly clean room have come some of the world’s most cherished songs – “Love on a Farmboy’s Wages,” “Earn Enough for Us,” “The Mayor of Simpleton” and at least one of the most detested, “Dear God.” This is where Partridge, guitarist and main singer/songwriter of XTC, comes to escape his idyllic family life and plunge into the whirling ferment of his brain that feeds his band’s curious existence. If these walls could talk, how frightening that would be.

In today’s high-powered rock world, XTC stubbornly remains a cottage industry. And like most cottage industries that manage to survive (a dozen years, in this case), the band’s developed its own way of doing things. Their drummer left over six years ago and they never replaced him. That’s not as bad as it sounds, because XTC doesn’t play five. They stopped doing that seven years ago; Partridge realized he had a phobia about appearing onstage, and he’s refused to tour ever since. Still, XTC’s previous album, Skylarking, was its most successful yet, helped by a song that wasn’t on the record; it was a single B-side, and the band’s record company had to reissue the album to include the “hit.” Can’t these guys do anything, er, right?

Well, yes: the music. Partridge’s songs are dizzyingly intoxicating in their felicitous wordplay and sinuous, multiple-strain phrasing – although he can also deliver charmingly straightforward “pop” tunes. Bassist Colin Moulding, the band’s other songwriter, complements Partridge’s giddiness with more delicate melodies and more introspective lyrics about the human condition-though both writers are way beyond the superficial themes of more popular music.

Guitarist/keyboardist Dave Gregory, the most technically accomplished of the three, helps work up arrangements that at XTC’s baroque best reveal new touches with each listen.

The resulting rich concoction may well be too much for the masses who determine this country’s Top 10. But the band’s attracted a loyal cult that supports three XTC fanzines in as many countries (and two languages), and whose members aren’t afraid to invoke the Beatles in the same breath as Swindon’s finest. They may even have a point: Both groups push the pop song into the realm of art while keeping a sense of humor. Perhaps the only thing the Beatles had that XTC doesn’t was Beatlemania. It couldn’t hurt.

“As a school kid I was totally in awe of groups like the Small Faces and Pink Floyd,” Partridge remembers. “Singles like “See Emily Play,” “Arnold Layne,” “Itchycoo Park” – singles that had a high magic content: a three-minute thing of a very memorable tune but with a big dollop of magic injected, either some strange effect or totally nonsensical lyrics that painted great brain pictures. I did love psychedelic singles.

Oranges and Lemons, XTC’s ninth album of new material, is a brilliant collection of songs that pay homage to Partridge’s influences without slavish paisley revivalism. A nursery rhyme inspired the album title (which also unintentionally recalls Pink Floyd’s “Apples and Oranges”), and a sense of childlike wonder pervades the 15 songs – from the burbling glee of the opening “Garden of Earthly Delights” to the dreamy conclusion of “Chalkhills and Children.” Most amazingly of all, XTC recorded the album in Los Angeles – a mixture as friendly as spring water and strychnine.

“I never went out at all”, Partridge says of his five-month stay. “I’m really anti-sun. Los Angeles is not my idea of a dream place to live. Everything about it I find rather ‘waaaaah!’ – from the weather to the people. I don’t think I can honestly say I believed anything a Los Angeleno told me”.

He seems more in his element sitting in his attic studio on a gray Swindon day in January, comfortably attired in a flannel plaid shirt, blue jeans and moccasins worn through at the big toe. There’s nothing put-up about Andy Partridge; he’s almost aggressively friendly. He’s also the usual bunch of contradictions found in creative artists: a sharply clever individual who left school without papers or tests at age 15; a critic of warmongering political leaders who has shelves full of troops – battalions – whole regiments of toy soldiers; the composer of the sincere “Thanks for Christmas” and the militantly agnostic “Dear God.”

Two years ago “Dear God” gave XTC its biggest publicity boost in the U.S. when some adventurous radio stations (talk about contradictions) discovered the song on the flip of a British single from Skylarking. Partridge says he didn’t want “Dear God” on the album. He was dissatisfied with it because “it wasn’t spikey enough; I thought it’s got to stick in people’s throats. It failed in that respect”. (At least one Florida XTC fan, however, thought enough of “Dear God” to phone in a bomb threat to a local station spinning the song.)

XTC began its musical life in 1976 with much the same agenda. “We really wanted to annoy people, to get up their noses,” Partridge says of White Music, the debut album a year later. Partridge, Moulding and drummer Terry Chambers had been musically terrorizing Swindon under a variety of aliases since 1973. In 1977, with keyboard player Barry Andrews (since replaced by Gregory), they signed with Virgin Records, who probably thought they were getting a new-wave band. Despite a very occasional U.K. hit single over the years, they’ve had a rocky relationship with Virgin ever since.

The situation wasn’t much better in the U.S., where XTC bounced from label to label. The band signed to Geffen Records in late 1983. Three years later Geffen was “rather despondent at the lack of sales,” Partridge says, and tried to unload the band back to Virgin. The British company hadn’t started up its Virgin America division yet, so it “panicked and said, ‘No, keep them’. They didn’t want to farm us around to other labels with a past record of no sales. Skylarking came out and Geffen just patted it on the back and sent it off-put it in a bag and threw it in the river.”

Whether because of “Dear God” or in spite of it, Skylarking became XTC’s best-selling American album, a sleeper that sold almost a quarter-million copies. Its corporate faith in XTC restored, Geffen actually seems excited about Oranges and Lemons. Typically, XTC hasn’t made it easy, delivering an over-budget, hour-long album that needs a double-LP set to do it justice.

“I wanted to make a very simple, banal-sounding record,” Partridge says ingenuously, “and it got lost in translation a little and came out rather multi-layered – in fact, very dense. We just got swept along with the enthusiasm: For the first time since our very first few albums, we were making an album that people actually wanted to hear.”

Partridge wrote many of the songs just before the band went into the studio. Consequently, they tend to reflect his optimism over both his professional turn of luck and his burgeoning family: His daughter Holly is almost four, and a son, Harry, will be two this summer. On the other hand, he’s also capable of scathing topical commentary like “Here Comes President Kill Again,” “Scarecrow People” and “Across This Antheap.”

“There is a bit of split personality,” Partridge acknowledges. “On ‘Garden of Earthly Delights’, I’m trying to get a message over to my kids, although they’ll have to wait some years before they can appreciate it: Somebody’s being born and I’m saying welcome – like, ‘Welcome to the Holiday Inn!’ I’m in the foyer: ‘This is life. Come in and do what you want to, but don’t hurt anyone'”. (The song’s lyrics add, with Partridgian wit, “… Less of course they ask you”.) “I’m sure that’s what heaven is, really. Heaven is not hurting anyone.”

So Andy Partridge, nonbeliever, believes in heaven?

“Yes. Here, now. This is heaven and hell. It’s all metaphor stuff.” But don’t get him started on the subject of religion.

On the fatalistic “Here Comes President Kill Again,” “I’m just saying, ‘Go ahead, have your little bit of power and vote for who you want, but there’s no difference’.” Partridge says he “won’t” vote: “I can’t feel part of giving people that sort of power. There’s a certain sort of person that wants to be voted in; it’s almost like, if they’re a politician, that’s the very reason you shouldn’t vote for them.” This might strike some as an evasion of responsibility. Partridge feels, however, that “it’s not like mankind can’t find a better way. But I don’t think mankind is smart enough to control itself yet. I totally distrust mankind, to be truthful.”

The album’s most affecting song may be “Hold Me My Daddy,” a first-person plea for understanding between fathers and sons. “I found it difficult writing that,” Partridge says. “It’s a subject matter men aren’t supposed to think about, loving their fathers. I played it to my father; he insisted on hearing it. We got to that point on the album and I had to leave the room: ‘Hmm! Is that the baby crying? I’ll just go and have a look’. l came back, and I don’t know if he was embarrassed or whether he really didn’t hear the lyrics”. Partridge adopts a gruff lower register: “‘Couldn’t ‘ear a bloody word of that bloody row’. Maybe he did and he didn’t want to say. It’s sort of a primal oink, a sniffle.”

Partridge’s father was a musician himself, a drummer in jazz/dance bands. “I’m sure my parents still think I’m going to get a proper job one of these days. My father’s sort of interested but he thinks it’s too weird, too unusual – noisy pop music and loud guitars. My mother just likes it when people say to her, ‘Oh, I saw your son in such-and-such magazine.

He himself disclaims fame. “I like people to buy the records but I’d be quite happy if we were faceless musicians and it was just the name XTC they bought, like a steak sauce. I always felt uncomfortable with fame. Howard Hughes is my hero”. The self-described “Charles Laughton of the new wave – the last new wave” appreciates XTC’s hard-bitten fans, even if he can’t quite understand them. “It’s like an odd-shaped mirror: very flattering to look into, but very weird ’cause it’s so distorted and unreal”.

Okay, Andy, we understand. Now, how do you write stuff? “Tricky to say. Deadlines can help scare music out of you. I always get this feeling that I’m never going to write another song. I’ll sit up here staring at a blank page. Then some song will come out and it’s complete… rubbish! Then a few more rubbishy ones come out. And then, suddenly, whaa! Something good’ll come out. And whoa! Where’d this come from? It is like crapping; you have to get the blockage out of the way and then it all comes flowing out.

“Each time we finish an album I think that’s the last thing I’m ever going to write. Then somebody says, ‘Time for another record, isn’t it?’ The motors start clicking inside and I think, ‘Hmm, have I got any songs?’ And each time it’s usually better than the last time out. ‘Chalkhills and Children’ is as good as anything I’ve ever done. ‘Here Comes President Kill Again’ is a fine marriage, the way the lyrics fit the music”.

It’s now time to meet Colin Moulding, who’s been very patient. Moulding contributed three songs to Oranges and Lemons – thematic bummers, each and every one of them. (Though Geffen is considering the musically sprightly “King for a Day” as a single pick.) “It’s the winter of discontent”, he laughs. “If you’re in a writing spree for two or three months, usually you don’t feel up and down and up and down. I suppose it was more of a down period for me. I was just feeling really depressed. I think I’ve dragged meself out of it now. I tend to go through these, ‘Oh, what’s going to happen?'”

Moulding apparently labors longer over his songs than Partridge, which accounts for his smaller output. He had an unusually high percentage on Skylarking, a result of producer Todd Rundgren choosing the material. “I caught ‘im and Todd holding hands a few times”, Partridge says with malice towards none. “To be fair,” Moulding quickly interjects, “we sent tapes over for Skylarking – I hadn’t even met Todd – and the album running order was sealed.” “It was a very weird sensation,” Partridge adds, “to have somebody tell you what your album’s gonna be, the order it’s gonna be in, and how the songs will segue together.”

That was just the beginning of a clash of wills that marred Skylarking for Partridge. “The whole Todd experience was frustrating”, he says. “We were obliged to shut up and be produced, or else; ‘it’s your last chance’. That was very difficult to swallow, and it put me in a belligerent mood from day one.

For Oranges and Lemons, Virgin Records was pushing the band to stay with an American producer – for dubious commercial reasons, Partridge believes. They chose the relatively inexperienced Paul Fox on the strength of a complete overhaul he’d done of a Boy George single. “The stuff they heard that I had done,” Fox says, “was a little more mainstream than what they were used to doing.” But Fox, an XTC fan, “knew that they did not exactly have a great time making their last album”, and was determined to give them a better experience. He also had a valuable background in keyboards as a former session musician – and an even more valuable in at Los Angeles’ Summa Music Group Studios, available to XTC for one-sixth the rate of the English studio that was their first choice. Partridge professes satisfaction with the results and Fox’s respect. “It was nice to have somebody who listened to and tried our suggestions, even if they failed. It’s difficult to play tennis on your own. You have to have somebody to whack the ball back; that’s what keeps it going.”

The drummer this time around was Mr. Mister’s Pat Mastelotto, an old session-mate of Fox’s. “I had known he was a big XTC fan,” Fox says of the drummer, and he also thought Mastelotto’s “bandier” approach – that is, less like an L.A. session pro – would fit in well with the group. “I knew that he could already play like Terry Chambers,” Fox adds. Mr. Mister agreed to lend out Mastelotto, who had a blast requesting old XTC songs during the three weeks of rehearsals that preceded recording.

During those rehearsals Fox and the band arranged and restructured the demo recordings, which were in varying stages of completeness. Partridge admits his are pretty rough. “Sometimes you have a definite image of what you want. You hand the song over to other members of the band and say, ‘Do what you will; I’d like this kind of atmosphere’. Sometimes they get it totally wrong and it can be surprisingly rewarding. Sometimes they get it totally wrong and they’ll smother it.”

“The Mayor of Simpleton,” the initial single from Oranges and Lemons, started with lyrics Partridge wrote a few years ago. “It was a much more slow, mournful kind of song; early demos put it somewhere between UB40 and the Wailers, very reggaefied. It had a different tune, with much more of this miserable lope to it. I liked the lyrics, and I thought it needed vitality.” “Across This Antheap” also accelerated from a bluesy tempo to its current “Latin” feel, according to Partridge – “from Tony Joe White to War.” That’s a sampled Partridge shouting “hey!” throughout. “I said, ‘Look, can you make it sound like I’m shouting down a ventilator shaft?’ The engineer said, ‘Why don’t you go and shout down a ventilator shaft?’ The simplicity of ideas sometimes is astounding!” Partridge did, and that’s what you hear.

One pronounced trait of Oranges and Lemons is the crisscrossing of vocal lines. “Countermelody madness!” Partridge exclaims. “It’s just a habit we’ve gotten into – the joy of several songs happening at once. It’s musical masturbation; I can’t leave the thing alone. We feel like we sort of own it. Not many people do that now – not since West Side Story or South Pacific“.

He notes that the three drummers on XTC’s four post-Chambers albums “all have different personalities. Prairie Prince [on Skylarking] had a tight, flicky kind of sound – a very controlled feel. Pat Mastelotto was not afraid to use a lot of electronic bits and pieces, and not afraid to play along with machines; in fact, he encouraged it, which we thought was quite revolutionary in a drummer, ’cause drummers mostly think of machines as putting them out of work. He’s very metronomic, and that underscored the precise feel to a lot of tracks on this album”.

Doesn’t Partridge ever long to have a permanent drummer?

“No, ’cause I wouldn’t know what to do with him – bring him around once a week for a cup of tea and, ‘See ya in seven months’ time when I’ve written some songs, then!’ We’re not like the Monkees; we don’t live in one big house”.

Still, he likes the interplay of a band situation. “I need Colin to upset me, to bring demos around and for me to go, ‘Shit, these are really good’. I need competition. If I was doing it all I’d get really lazy.” He describes Gregory’s role as “icing chef, decorating the cakes that we give him. He knows the chords I’m playing” – unlike Partridge sometimes.

With the album out, Partridge feels he’s due for another bout of arm-twisting from Geffen to get him to tour. “They try that regularly. Someone gets very chummy, a few drinks go down, I get a little bit merry – and then he starts on a touring thing.

“I don’t want to tour because I don’t see that as pleasurable, and I don’t see any reason at my age [35] to do anything or have anything inflicted on me that I don’t find pleasurable. I should be in complete control of my life at my age, and do what the bell I want to ’cause I’ve earned the right – well”, he reconsiders, “these various roads have led to the point in my head where I don’t feel indebted to anyone; I don’t have to follow any particular orders or instructions”. He’s speaking softly now. “If I don’t find playing live pleasurable, why be given money for something you don’t enjoy doing? You might as well go sweep out the sewers”.

Partridge doesn’t think XTC’s “living death” as a studio band bothers Moulding, another family man. Gregory says he’d like to do more, “but I’m just a lone voice. These two guys are writing the songs and keeping the band afloat – if indeed there is still a band.”

“He likes to play and crank it up,” Partridge says of Gregory, “so I think he’s a little frustrated. I’ve tried to urge him to go on the road with other people so he can get that evil spawn out of himself and come back and be with us.” He switches on a broad west-country twang: “‘You’re not having sex in this marriage so it’s all right to go to a prostitute if you want’.”

He’s suggested that Moulding and Gregory find another singer/guitarist for touring purposes: “I can stay at home and write songs and design stage shows for them. But I think that was a non-starter – we’d probably get all the Beach Boys shit flung at us. I’ve even considered getting a band together, calling them something like Farmboy’s Wages, and they’d go out, like Beatlemania. It probably wouldn’t be quite the same.”

“They’re really great live,” says Fox, who had the privilege of being the entire audience at XTC’s Oranges and Lemons rehearsals. He’d love to see a tour, though “I’m not going to hold my breath. They’re all such good musicians.” (Those with fading memories of exciting XTC shows will vouch for that.)

“I understand his – no, I don’t understand his reasons for not touring”, XTC manager Tarquin Gotch says of his recalcitrant charge. “I work on the assumption there will be no live touring, but secretly hope, in the back of my mind, some miracle might happen.” Until it does, Partridge is likely to remain in Swindon, for which he harbors no great love. “The place is a dump, no romance about it. London is a bigger dump. I’d like to move out to the edge of the countryside, away from people a bit more.”

It’s not so much that adoring locals follow Partridge wherever he goes. “No, they probably resent the fact that we actually did something.”

“Swindon’s quite an apathetic town,” Moulding concurs, “A lot of them think we split up, I think.”

Only Gregory speaks for the defense. “There are pockets of people who are proud of what we’ve done on behalf of the town, I suppose,” the soft-spoken guitarist says. “We put the town on the map.”

Now, if only the public would put XTC on the charts. “It’s sort of like a hobby, a paying hobby,” Partridge says of his shabbily genteel career. He sounds incredulous when he notes that both Virgin and Geffen “are very happy with the songs we’ve given them. It’s nice to have them positive for a change, rather than surly and saying, ‘Well, I don’t hold up much for the future if you don’t get the sales figures up’. But it’s funny: The more positive they get, the more unserious I get. They can sniff cash in it now, it’s losing its appeal to me. If that redresses itself properly, I’ll end up a house painter.”

Speaking of hobbies and house painting, no XTC article would be authoritative without mention of the band’s alter ego, the Dukes of Stratosphear. XTC almost was the Dukes of Stratosphear, but the shorter, snappier moniker won out the last time the group changed its name, in the mid-’70s. In 1979, Partridge asked Gregory – not yet in XTC, and an even bigger psychedelia nut than himself – “if he would be interested in making a psychedelic album under another name, like Electric Bone Temple.”

That project was shelved until 1985, when Partridge dusted off the “Dukes of Stratosphear” handle for a remarkably authentic-sounding EP of pseudo-psychedelic ptributes. Partridge was pshocked to discover that the tongue-in-cheek 25 O’Clock sold twice as well as the previous XTC album, The Big Express. Virgin insisted “the Dukes” record a follow-up. (Geffen hadn’t released the EP in the U.S.) “I’d told the Dukes joke and that was it,” Partridge says, “But lots of letters came in; ‘Can you ask the Dukes to do another album?’ I relented, and I felt like we were doing The Empire Strikes Back, or something ‘II’.” The full-length Dukes album, Psonic Psunspot, contains better songs than its predecessor, Partridge feels, but with less of a period ambience.

In between these efforts, XTC proper was starting to play for real what the Dukes of Stratosphear did as a studied goof. The ’60s aura of Oranges and Lemons makes it even harder to tell where one “group” stops and the other begins. Partridge hints darkly that he may have to “do in” the Dukes, perhaps “in a bizarre kitchen accident.” Are the Dukes of Stratosphear the real XTC? Since his school days, Partridge had “wanted to be in a group that made that kind of music. It looks like XTC has now turned into that kind of group. We’ll either get a damned good kicking because of that, or people will allow us to be what I always wanted to be. There was a split image and now they’ve merged.”

Maybe the moon is in the right house now for XTC. They’ve got a striking new album, a pushy new manager and even some record-company interest. Too bad Partridge – proud but not conceited – doesn’t share the enthusiasm.

“We’re just like dough,” insists Swindon’s swami of simile. “What can you say about dough? We are the record, and nothing else.”

That’s the way he likes it.

Scott Isler

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President Obama’s Weekly Address (July 25, 2009)

July 25, 2009 at 9:19 am (Life & Politics)

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Tom Sinclair – “Peeling in the Years” (1991)

July 22, 2009 at 12:37 am (Music, Reviews & Articles)

This article/review from Rolling Stone (issue #602 — April 18, 1991) by Tom Sinclair talks about the then-recent tidal wave of Peel Session comps that were being released in America, featuring groups like The Soft Machine, The Only Ones, Siouxsie and the Banshees, The Cure, Happy Mondays, The Smiths, Syd Barrett, etc.
Hundreds of groups recorded for John Peel’s much-loved and admired Radio 1 program in England for close to five decades.
Sadly, John passed away a few years back, but the sessions recorded for his show, as well as the show itself, will live on for decades to come. One of the greatest radio DJs, bar none. His taste in music was simply impeccable…  

 

“What the hell is a ‘Peel Session’?” That question is likely to be on the lips of record buyers with increasing frequency as they are confronted in the upcoming months with unfamiliar albums, all identified as The Peel Sessions, by dozens of widely varied artists. In a nutshell, this puzzling cornucopia of CDs and cassettes is the first installment of an ongoing series of BBC sessions recorded expressly for broadcast on English disc jockey John Peel’s Radio 1 show, now released in the U.S. for the first time. These recordings are a tradition in which hundreds of artists, both famous and obscure, have taken part for nearly a quarter century. From Syd Barrett and Tim Buckley in the Sixties to Happy Mondays and Prong today, banging out a session for Peel – at fifty-one, certainly the hippest DJ extant – remains an honor few musicians would dream of passing up.

If Peel is unfamiliar to most Yanks, it may well be because he has no stateside counterpart. For Peel, the time-warped “classic rock” playlist adhered to by so many American jocks is anathema. Despite the flecks of gray that now dot his hair and beard, Peel’s still listening for the next manic pop thrill, and he has big ears for music that challenges conventions and breaks barriers. In England, Peel enjoys a well-earned rep as both a taste maker and a patron saint of Searchers After the Lost Chord. If a record rings his chimes, he’ll play it.

Though many of the Peel sessions have been available as imports for several years, Dutch East India, which has licensed the recordings, has opened the floodgate in America and is releasing assorted sessions at a breakneck pace. Some releases, like those for the Cure and the Smiths, feature only one session (typically, about four songs), while others, like those for Siouxsie and the Banshees and the Only Ones, compile up to four different performances, sometimes recorded years apart, on one CD or cassette. The series is far from chronological; judging from the offerings to date (Soft Machine, the Damned, the Ruts, Happy Mondays and Napalm Death, to name a few), they might well have been selected grab-bag fashion. No matter. All are of archival value, certainly, but what’s most appealing about the best Peel Sessions is their resonance in light of the changing face of rock. 

Like the proverbial fine wine that improves with age, lots of the Peel recordings are more intoxicating and vital today than they may have been ten or twenty years ago. The Gang of Four, a group lots of folks believe betrayed its original potential, sounds terrific on its compilation of three dates from 1979 to 1981. On charged versions of “At Home He’s a Tourist” and “Return the Gift,” the band hammers home its stirring blend of pointedly political lyrics, clattering rhythms and slashing guitar with a down-and-dirty fervor that may well make this the definitive Gang of Four album. Likewise, outings by the Cure and the Smiths, recorded in 1978 and 1983, respectively, before either group had released a legitimate album, crackle with the unbridled enthusiasm of young punks determined to make their mark and flaunt their gifts.

The avant jazz-rock experiments of Soft Machine sound as resolutely freewheeling today as they did in 1969, creating sometimes soothing, often grating, always gripping soundscapes utilizing saxes and Mellotron. (And Softs singer Robert Wyatt’s decision to retool “Moon in June” into a treastise on the joys of recording the session was a stroke of inspired lunacy.) Another Old Waver, the ill-fated Syd Barrett, who recorded his session in 1970 following the release of his first solo album after splitting from Pink Floyd, which he helped found, sounds like he was feeling his oats (and certainly his acid) on five acoustically addled tracks, including “Gigolo Aunt” and the seldom heard “Two of a Kind.” Barrett’s Peel mini-album is among the most poignant of the batch, presaging as it does his subsequent slide into paranoia and isolation.

Perhaps most revelatory of all the Peel Sessions are those by the Only Ones, the Chameleons UK and the Ruts – three groups that fell through the cracks in America and achieved only marginally more notoriety in their native England. Chief among those beautiful losers are the Only Ones, whose guitarist, John Perry, reckons the group’s work for Peel was far better than any of its studio albums. Indeed, Perry’s dexterous, cutting solos serve as an odd counterpoint to singer-songwriter Peter Perrett’s world-weary rasping voice and songs about addiction and despondency. “The Big Sleep,” probably the Only Ones’ finest moment, is a potent evocation of the regenerative powers of romance that Perrett delivers in the voice of a man trying to rouse himself from a narcoleptic stupor. The unvarnished pain and bitterness in Perrett’s lyrics (“Taking drugs is one thing we’ve got in common,” from “Language Problem”) probably go a long way toward explaining the Only Ones’ lack of commercial success; with luck, these sixteen songs will renew interest in the band’s legacy.

Back in the Seventies, the Ruts seemed like just another Brit-punk brigade. Their bracing Peel session – particularly “Babylon’s Burning” and “Staring at the Rude Boys” – now sounds like the missing link between the strident anthems of the early Clash and the subsequent hardcore-thrash-speed-metal axis that blossomed in the Eighties. The Chameleons UK also came and went with little fanfare, releasing three albums of better-than-average XTC-like guitar pop before internal bickering and public disinterest KO’d the group. The rich roughness and fresh tunefulness of songs like “Don’t Fall” and “Second Skin” argue strongly that this band undeservedly got short shrift in the cosmic deal.

Certainly, only rock obsessives will want every one of the Peel Sessions, but with scheduled releases by Joy Division, the Undertones, the Birthday Party and scads of others coming up, just about everyone will find something to his or her taste. In these days when even rock critics are reviving the tired lie that rock is dead or dying, The Peel Sessions will sustain those starving for true cutting-edge music, while serving as unarguable reminders of how nourishing great rock & roll can be. Feed your head. 

Tom Sinclair

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