Kurt Loder – “Captain Beefheart’s Ship Comes In” (1980)

July 1, 2009 at 4:03 am (Captain Beefheart, Kurt Loder, Reviews & Articles)

Kurt Loder piece from Rolling Stone, Nov. 27, 1980… 

After 16 years and a dozen albums, the world has finally caught up with Don van Vliet.

It’s a dogshit day on West Forty-second Street, the neon-choked main drag of Manhattan’s cheap-thrills district. As the daily midmorning traffic jam congeals into an unmoving mass, Don Van Vliet peers out a drizzle-streaked car window at the shuffling tribe of hookers, hustlers and head cases that clogs the sidewalks, then squints up at the lewd movie marquees looming above: SLAVES OF THE CANNIBAL GOD. SUGAR BRITCHES. THAT’S PORNO! Reeling out into the street, a sputtering madwoman, dizzed-out and in full rant, does battle with her demons, flinging curses at the soggy September sky Van Vliet perks up, chuckling in appreciation. “Tell you what, I like her style,” he says, flipping to a fresh page in the squiggle-filled sketch pad on his lap. “I don’t pay attention to peripheria. Only noises pull me in.”

Forty-eight hours ago, Van Vliet and his wife, Jan, were puttering about anonymously in their tiny trailer out in the sun-baked wastes of the High Mojave Desert. But now, in his capacity as Captain Beefheart – “The shingle that’s given me shingles,” he grumps – Don has ventured back down into the commercial lowlands to make yet another attempt at hustling art in the East Coast rock & roll casbah. Doc at the Radar Station, the eleventh Captain Beefheart album (twelfth, if you count Bongo Fury, his 1975 collaboration with erstwhile pal Frank Zappa; fourteenth, if you include two live bootlegs, Easy Teeth and What’s All This BoogaWooga Music?), had critics baying in adulation even before its official release. Not surprising: Beefheart has always been a critical icon and a commercial impossibility, one of the sadder facts of contemporary American music. But this time, after two years in eclipse, there’s a feeling of triumph in his return. Beefheart’s spiritual children – bands like Pere Ubu, XTC, Devo, the Contortions – have helped create a more amenable context for the master’s inimitable music. Now, his anarchic guitar wrangles, lurching rhythms, quirky animist poetry and seven-octave vocal swoops don’t seem nearly as weird as they once did. In fact, although Doc at the Radar Station must surely confirm Van Vliet’s position as a major American composer, it could also lay claim to being the ultimate dance album – depending, of course, on how many dances your body is capable of doing at one time. In 1980, Captain Beefheart and his Magic Band sound utterly contemporary, even though Van Vliet hasn’t altered his musical approach one iota in order to achieve that effect. “I’m not Chuck Berry or Pinky Lee or something,” he says. “I’m right now, man. If I wanna do something, I do it right. Look how long I’ve been at this, my tenacity. It’s horrible. It’s like golf – that bad. But it’s what I do.”


Van Vliet had his own slant on things right from the start. Born thirty-nine years’ ago in Glendale, California, he taught himself to read at the age of three. At four, he dropped out of kindergarten (“They were playing with these gigantic blocks, and I never liked squares that much”) and took up sculpture. At five, while visiting Griffith Park Zoo in Los Angeles, he met a noted Portuguese sculptor named Agostinho Rodriquez, and soon young Van Vliet was displaying his artistic talents on Rodriquez’ weekly television show.

When he was thirteen, Don was offered a major scholarship to study sculpture in Europe. His parents, Glen and Sue Van Vliet, fearing that their only child might fall in with an evil – or possibly effeminate – crowd, decided instead to move him out to the desert, to the nice, safe town of Lancaster. There, Don met Frank Zappa, who was not a wholesome influence. The two spent much of their time auditing obscure R&B records. Sometimes they would sneak into the bakery truck that Don’s father drove for a living and fill up on the fresh-baked goodies inside. (Although they were fast friends then, over the years Van Vliet has come to resent what he sees as Zappa’s wholesale appropriation of his musical vocabulary; “He got a lot of goodies offa me,” Don says glumly “He never quit.”)

The early Sixties found Zappa and Van Vliet in Cucamonga working on a concept for a band, the Soots, and a movie, Captain Beefheart Meets the Grunt People. Neither project panned out, and Zappa soon departed for L.A. to form the Mothers of Invention. Van Vliet returned to Lancaster with his new moniker (“I had a beef in my heart against the world”) and started gathering musicians. By 1964, he was gigging locally and before long, Captain Beefheart and the Magic Band were signed to A&M Records, which released a single – a version of Bo Diddley’s “Diddy Wah Diddy” – that became a local hit in 1966. A&M, of course, wanted to follow up with an album, thinking it had a hot white blues-rock group on its hands. This was the first in a series of executive misperceptions that have plagued Van Vliet throughout his career.

A&M found Van Vliet’s original material profoundly perplexing, and passed on putting out an LP. Buddah Records was willing to give Don a shot, though, and in 1967 released Safe as Milk, which contained such Beefheart classics as ‘Abba Zaba” and “Electricity” The next year’s Strictly Personal, however, was grotesquely distorted by phasing – an obnoxious studio effect of the period – which was grafted onto the album without Van Vliet’s approval. Fortunately, at that point, Frank Zappa reappeared and signed his old buddy to his new Straight label. Assured of complete artistic freedom, Van Vliet sat down at a piano and in eight and a half hours composed twenty-eight astounding songs, combining field hollers, fatback boogie and free-jazz blowing into a stupefying new sound that still seems exhilaratingly avant-garde thirteen years later. For those won over by Trout Mask Replica, run-of-the-mill rock & roll would never again seem quite sufficient.

Van Vliet’s genius continued to flower on Lick My Decals Off Baby (1970), The Spotlight Kid and Clear Spot (both 1972). Unfortunately, not many people bought those records. His career hit what is generally regarded as its nadir in 1974, when he signed with Mercury and released, in quick succession, Unconditionally Guaranteed and Bluejeans and Moonbeams, two unabashed bids for straight commercial success. (The former is an album of simple but engaging pleasures; the latter, a true turkey). After the holding action of Bongo Fury in 1975, Van Vliet found himself labelless. Zappa helped him organise the sessions for what was to have been his next album, Bat Chain Puller, and eventually, most of this material appeared on 1978’s Shiny Beast (Bat Chain Puller), which also introduced the nucleus of his current Magic Band. However, a legal dispute between Van Vliet’s American and European record companies prevented the album from being released abroad until late last year, effectively scuttling any major impact it might have had.


Given this chronicle of woe, it is remarkable that Doc at the Radar Station is one of the strongest and most uncompromising albums Van Vliet has ever made. “The people at Virgin Records told me that their favourite things were Lick My Decals Off Baby and Trout Mask,” he says. “They said that it wouldn’t bother them at all if I just went all out and did some things like that, and I said, ‘No problem.'”

The album’s twelve tracks were essentially cut live in the studio, with roaring performances by the Magic Band: Jeff Moris Tepper on guitars, Eric Drew Feldman on keyboards and bass, Robert Arthur Williams on drums, Bruce Lambourne Fowler on trombone and John “Drumbo” French – the original Magic Band drummer – on guitars, marimba, bass and drums. (Gary Lucas contributes French horn and fingerpicks a solo Stratocaster on the tricky neomadrigal, “Flavor Bud Living.”) Produced by Van Vliet (who plays soprano sax, bass clarinet, Chinese gongs and harmonica), the album is a dizzying blast of pure, unadulterated Beefheart, from such (relatively) straightforward stomp-alongs as “Hot Head” and “Run Paint Run Run” and the delicate, glimmering ‘A Carrot Is as Close as a Rabbit Gets to a Diamond” to the monumental flailings of “Sue Egypt” and especially “Sheriff of Hong Kong.” Listening to the latter track, it’s hard to comprehend how Van Vliet, an unschooled musician, is able to compose each instrument’s part – from crashing guitar chords to the tiniest sizzle of a cymbal – and then teach each musician how to play it. In effect, he’s responsible for every sound on the record, and he says it just comes to him naturally.

“‘Sheriff of Hong Kong’ was done on a grand piano,” Don explains. “I played that damn thing exactly the way it is. I think guitar on one hand, bass on the thumb and the other guitar on the other hand. Pianos are great to compose on, man.” He also wrote some songs on his latest acquisition, a Mellotron, the original, now-antiquated string synthesizer. “I heard them played so many horrible ways that I got interested in getting hold of one of them. The Mellotron’s the only thing that can get that Merthiolate colour, you know what I mean?’ Really abused throat”

Although Van Vliet is only marginally aware of the many admirers he has among New Wave musicians (“I’ve heard a few things they’ve done that kind of annoyed me”), some of his new songs suggest that he resents the way certain of his techniques – usually the jangly slide guitars and discombobulated rhythms – have been adapted for fun and profit by some young bands, while he remains generally unheralded and basically poverty-stricken. In “Sue Egypt,” he mentions “all those people that ride on my bones,” and in ‘Ashtray Heart” he sings:


You picked me out, brushed me off
Crushed me while I was burning out
Hid behind the curtain
Waited for me to go out
You used me like an ashtray heart


Don insists that ‘Ashtray Heart” is “purely just a poem,” which may well be. He couldn’t be blamed for holding at least a slight grudge, though.

Bolstered by the clamorous reception accorded Doc at the Radar Station, Van Vliet is now itching to get out on the road. “Our sets will probably be an hour and thirty minutes, I think. That’s too long, but after the Grateful Dead and Zappa, what can you do? I mean, if you don’t have it, man, you have to play longer. It makes me feel funny. It’s an insult to people to stay up there that long.”

Long sets also mean more lyrics to be recommitted to memory – not an appealing prospect with a repertoire as complex and lengthy as Van Vliet’s. “I have to learn all of that vomit, you know? It’s like reaching back in a toilet, bringing it back up. God, that stuff is so far back to me at this point I mean, Jesus Christ, I can’t even remember where my keys are in my pocket.”

Van Vliet and the Magic Band (with new guitarist Richard Snyder replacing the recently departed Drumbo) will kick off a major US tour on the East Coast in late November, then head west after a brief holiday break. First, though, the group will embark on a two-week tour of Europe. Don likes visiting Europe.

“My favourite wine I ever had was in Brussels,” he recalls, obviously relishing the memory “This stuff was old – seventeenth century There was a petrified spider in the cork. I thought it was about time we had some good wine, so I bought everybody in the band a bottle and charged it to the room. I did – charged it to Warner Bros. It was good. And it was snowing in Brussels, and the snowflakes were like white roses falling in slow motion. Ooh, it was wonderful – especially on that wine.”

His enthusiasm is understandable – such conviviality is hard to come by back in the High Mojave. “I split a bottle of wine in the desert with this black hobo,” Don says. “Very hip fellow. He’d hitchhiked down from Oakland. He didn’t take a train anymore. He said, ‘I don’t ride the rails because the young people, they kill tramps now, you know.’ I said, ‘That’s disgusting.’ He said, ‘It isn’t like it used to be, Don…'”


Breaking free from the Forty-second Street traffic impasse, we head north toward Central Park, where a photo session has been set up at the Children’s Zoo. The photographer has decided to shoot Van Vliet with some dwarf goats, which sounds like a good idea. “I used to drink a lot of goat’s milk when I was a child,” Don explains. “Now they say you can get TB from it, but that’s a bunch of hooey. Man already has TB, especially the government – Tired Butt.”

The goats are nowhere to be seen, having retired inside their wooden shelter at the first sight of humans bearing photographic equipment – an entirely reasonable reaction. As soon as Don swings one leg into their pen, however, they come trotting out. One of them nuzzles his knee. Another chews lightly on his trouser cuff. Not only that, but a pair of squirrels come scampering up the walk to observe the scene, and as Don chats away, a totally unexpected banty rooster steps out from behind a nearby bush. It’s really something to see: Doc and his radar.

Being around Don Van Vliet for any length of time, it’s hard to repress the feeling that he’s in direct contact with some benign but alien force. Or maybe he’s just open to it. In “Dirty Blue Gene,” a song on the new album, he mentions “‘The Shiny Beast of Thought / Standing there bubbling like an open cola in the sun.” Where does it all come from – the poems, the paintings, the strange and wonderful music?

“Probably from a tortured only child,” he says. “It just all comes right out of my… sometimes cesspool, sometimes not. It’s always there. I just hope it doesn’t stop. And I hope my water doesn’t stop – wow, can you imagine that? I’m more afraid the water’ll stop. God have mercy: all of a sudden you can’t go to the bathroom. After all these years – what, thirty-nine years of going to the toilet. Wow it certainly is comforting.

Kurt Loder

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Kurt Loder – “Marshall Crenshaw’s Modern Mastery” (1982)

December 27, 2008 at 9:17 am (Kurt Loder, Reviews & Articles)

From Rolling Stone, May 13, 1982, comes this article on MC…


Had Ozzie and Harriet been in the habit of having their groceries delivered, the kid who would have showed up at their back door with the bags might well have resembled Marshall Crenshaw. With his waxed-apple cheeks and wire-frame glasses, and shiny copper coins neatly positioned in his polished penny loafers, Crenshaw would have been perfect for the part. On the other hand, a delivery boy capable of outwriting, outsinging and outplaying little Ricky would have unbalanced the Nelsons’ show, so Crenshaw is probably better off in his own era – or is he?

Fronting a fine, no-frills trio, the twenty-eight-year-old Crenshaw has been whipping up word of mouth all over Manhattan for nearly two years now with his fresh-faced, attitude-free enthusiasm, incisive guitar work and non-stop hit parade of self-penned show stoppers. Four of his songs were covered by other singers before Crenshaw had finished recording his first album; and that debut LP, just released, is bristling with what sound like classic car cruising radio hits. But there’s no guarantee that commercial radio, even after reluctantly clutching the Go-Go’s to it’s corporate bosom, will make a place within its formula-ridden formats for Crenshaw’s more roots-concious rock & roll.

Crenshaw himself has no idea whether radio is ready for his album. “But they better do something, or everybody’s just gonna loose interest,” he says, nipping from a glass of milk in his tiny uptown apartment one warm April afternoon. “Everybody already is losing interest. The way I felt estranged from the rock music scene in 1969 or 1971, other people are starting to feel that way now.” But isn’t it possible that lots of people actually prefer the faceless spew of metal-pop that passes for rock radio these days? “Yeah,” Crenshaw allows, “but there are also kids out there who don’t. What about them, you know?”

Crenshaw used to be one of “them.” The eldest of four sons born to a Detroit city official and his wife, now a schoolteacher, Marshall grew up in the suburb of Berkley. He started getting heavily into radio around 1958 and became hooked on rock & roll – the real stuff. When he was six, he got a guitar – “a seventeen-dollar cheapo from Sears” – and by the time he was ten, he was “playing guitar around the house all the time, for anyone who came over, even for people who might not have wanted me to.” Marshall’s brother Robert, five years his junior, caught the bug as well and started banging along on whatever percussive devices were at hand around the household. It was the beginning , though none of them knew it then, of a band.

When Crenshaw began collecting rare records, it was the guitarists who really got to him: Les Paul, Bo Diddley, Duane Eddy, Motown’s Marv Tarplin. “I listened to the things that drove me wild, and the guys were only playing like two notes. It wasn’t what they played, but the way it came across – the presence of the guitar.” He played throughout high school and pursued this precarious vocation after graduating in 1971, disdaining college without a second thought.

One day, Crenshaw and his bandmates of the moment discovered an ad in a local paper offering a small recording studio for sale. Somehow they managed to put together a couple thousand dollars to buy it. The studio was a primitive four-track facility, but to Crenshaw it seemed like heaven.” I was in and out of that place day and night. I even went on Christmas Eve once. I was just obsessed. I decided I was going to put something down on tape, and whatever it took to get the sound to go onto the tape, I was going to figure it out. That was my approach. One of my biggest hits there was ‘Sittin’ in the Balcony,’ by Eddie Cochran. I made a copy that was right on the money.”

Around this time, Marsahall’s brother Robert landed a drumming gig with a Fifties cover band called Danny and the Robots, and Marshall soon joined him in the group. “By about 1974,” he explains, “all I really could listen to was old rock & roll, Phil Spector stuff and Buddy Holly.”

Crenshaw tired of the rock circuit, of playing bars where beer-logged bodies flew through the air faster than requests and, as he recalls with a wince,” the bouncers would grab guys by the face, you know?” And soon he’d lost what little love he’d ever had for the Detroit-area music scene. “People there think of the music business as some lofty, unattainable thing, which it isn’t. It’s just a business where everyday people have their job to do, and it happens to be music. That’s what I wanted: to have a job to do and have it be music.”

In pursuit of this goal, he moved to Los Angeles with $400 in his pocket, figuring, “I’d end up as Helen Reddy’s bass player or working in a record store.” Soon broke, he signed on with a country & western band for a six-month tour of the West. Passing through Colorado, he spotted an ad in Rolling Stone soliciting Beatle lookalikes for roles in the various Beatlemania companies then infesting the nation. On a whim, he submitted a tape: a note for note rendition of “I Should Have Known Better.” Then he promptly forgot about it.

Following his C&W trek, Crenshaw went back to Detroit, married his high-school girlfriend – and suddenly got word from Beatlemania’s producers that he was to be auditioned. He passed the test in New York and, following a stint as a “Beatle in training,” found himself impersonating John Lennon in various Beatlemania productions throughout the U.S.

“It had no effect on me musically at all,” Crenshaw says, “because I’d already absorbed the Beatles’ music before then, firsthand. Beatlemania was theater. It had very little relation to rock & roll. But the money was good, especially considering the amount of work you had to do, which was almost nothing.”

After two years, he’d had it. He quit the show during a four-week stay in Boston. “I said to myself, ‘Okay I gotta go and I gotta go now.’ So I sat in my hotel room and started writing songs.” It was his first serious stab at songwriting. A few of those tunes – “Someday, Someway,” “Not For Me,” “The Usual Thing” – would later turn up on his album.

Crenshaw returned to the apartment he and his wife, Ione, had maintained in Westchester, New York, and hooked up with his brother Robert, who had earlier decamped for Manhattan to attend electronics school. Together, they began cutting the songs Marshall had written on the road. “I had a Teac four-track tape deck, a dbx compressor and two thirty-dollar mikes. No mixer, no equalizer. We did the drums in a rehearsal studio then I’d bring the tapes home and work on them.” It may sound tacky by today’s inflated studio standards, but Crenshaw was undaunted.

“That’s how you make rock & roll records,” he insists. “There has to be the element of chance and a lot of risk involved. That’s how the very best ones were made. I’m talking about stuff like Motown and Sun and Chess. They were all made under circumstances where, in order to get what you wanted from the equipment, you had to use your guts and imagination more than anything else. People say, ‘The Sgt. Pepper album – wow, it was only recorded on a four track.’ But take a look at Spike Jones, who made his records on lacquers, with no dubbing at all. How did he do that?”

Crenshaw took to this orgy of overdubbing quite happily. “I was always a big fan of Les Paul, who overdubbed everything on his records himself. To me, when you do that, there’s kind of an intimacy to it. I like that atmosphere on a record.”

Marshall and Robert put together about thirty songs they considered to be good, recruited bassist Chris Donato and began gigging around Manhattan in August 1980. Eventually, Crenshaw submitted a homemade demo tape to Alan Betrock of Shake Records, a local independent label, and last year, Shake released a twelve-inch single featuring “Something’s Gonna Happen” backed with “She Can’t Dance.”

Marshall‘s irresistible hooks and harmonies, coupled with an increasingly sharp stage act, drew lots of attention. Producer Richard Gottehrer, noted for his early work with the Go-Go’s, heard a demo and tipped off singer Robert Gordon, whom he was then managing; Gordon recorded three Crenshaw tunes on his fifth album, Are You Gonna Be The One. SInger Lou Ann Barton was also alerted and included Marshall’s “Brand New Lover” on her recently released debut LP.

Marshall Crenshaw was suddenly perceived as a hot item, and the record companies came calling. When he finally signed with Warner Bros., he says, “It was just great. As soon as the pen hit the paper, I just felt like a tremendous burden was lifted off me.”

Crenshaw originally wanted to produce his own album, but found himself a bit at sea in the twenty-four track environs of the Record Plant. When Richard Gottehrer joined in as coproducer, the two of them wrapped up the LP in five weeks.

On the exhilarating evidence of his first album, Marshall Crenshaw gives every promise of being a rock & roll song master on the level of such illustrious forerunners as Goffin and King, Mann and Weil, and Barry and Greenwich. If he’s consistent, that is. But he’s not worried about the crucial second album yet. “Our next record can be The Best of Marshall Crenshaw – the same songs in a different sequence. And after that,” he says, “we’ll put out our live album.”

Kurt Loder

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Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five – “The Message” (1982)

December 2, 2008 at 12:09 pm (Kurt Loder, Reviews & Articles)

Kurt Loder’s review of this now-classic rap single, from Rolling Stone, Sept. 16, 1982. This was widely considered the first serious, “political” rap song, and influenced a generation…


This seven-minute single, the apotheosis of black rap music, is the most detailed and devastating report from underclass America since Bob Dylan decried the lonesome death of Hattie Carroll – or, perhaps more to the point, since Marvin Gaye took a long look around and wondered what was going on. With “The Message,” rap heroes Grand Master Flash and the Furious Five pick up the smoldering funk banner fumbled some years back by Sly Stone and wave it anew. Like all great artists, Flash and company disdain mundane political pieties–they issue no call to sack the cities, nor do they suggest hope in rallying ’round some glib politician. Devoid of partisan overtones, their straight-faced rundown of the current cultural environment must be immediately convincing to any urbanite–of any color–caught up in it: “It’s like a jungle sometimes/It makes me wonder/How I keep from goin’ under.”

This seductively syncopated plaint weaves in and out of a series of freshly startling images of life in the universal ghetto: crazy old women eating out of garbage cans; young girls, newly arrived in town, drifting toward pimps; families stunned nightly by TV soaps – a problem for the man of the house only in that he “can’t even see the game, or the Sugar Ray fight.” Everywhere there are “people pissin’ on the stairs/You know, they just don’t care.” And the future looks equally hopeless: young children, crippled by an inept educational system, and bored in schools where “all the kids smoke reefer,” look up to the street dudes “drivin’ big cars, spendin’ twenties and tens.” Thus begins a brutal road that leads ultimately to prison, and death at an early age.

Overwhelmed by all of this, one singer says, “Don’t push me, ’cause I’m close to the edge/I’m tryin’ not to lose my head.” Who cannot identify with that? Who, aside from the cozily ensconced political leaders who have maneuvered us all into this mess, could fail to get the message?  


Kurt Loder

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Robert Plant – “Pictures at Eleven” (1982)

November 9, 2008 at 9:15 am (Kurt Loder, Reviews & Articles)

Kurt Loder’s review of the debut solo album by Robert Plant, from Rolling Stone, Aug. 16, 1982…


If Robert Plant were young and hungry instead of nearly thirty-four and famous, this album might have been a real barn-burner. As it is, even though there’s nothing new going on in these grooves, the sheer formal thrill of hearing someone who knows exactly what he’s doing makes Pictures at Eleven something of an event almost in spite of its modest ambitions. Plant’s freak-of-nature voice – the definitive heavy-metal shriek – has seldom been more sympathetically showcased, even with Led Zeppelin. You still can’t make out a lot of what he’s saying, but his vocals are distinguished by a fullness and fluidity that’s richly satisfying. The production, by Plant, is artfully simple, and the band he’s put together to back him – Robbie Blunt, the fine guitarist from the Steve Gibbons Band; bassist Paul Martinez; Jezz Woodroffe on keyboards; and Phil Collins and Cozy Powell, who share drum duties–sounds like it could kill onstage.

Blunt, in particular, deserves a steady star gig. Not only is he an ace instrumentalist in the metal tradition (check out the schizo guitar lashings on the raving “Mystery Title”), but he also cowrote, mostly with Plant, the album’s eight tracks, and so presumably was responsible for such outré touches as the dense, ensemble lines toward the end of “Worse than Detroit.” One hopes that the Plant-Blunt collaboration will bear further fruit, because it’s a winner. “Burning down One Side,” the leadoff track, is a dead-on-target hit–a neck-wringing riff spiced with effortlessly atmospheric guitar leads–while the charming “Fat Lip,” a bluesy riff located at the other end of the emotional spectrum, could almost give laid-back a good name again.

Elsewhere, Plant trots out his trademark bellow for “Slow Dancer” and the aforementioned “Mystery Title,” and enlists the high, reedy tones of saxophonist Raphael Ravenscroft (noted for his work on the Gerry Rafferty hit, “Baker Street”) for the slightly unfocused “Pledge Pin.” There are longueurs: “Moonlight in Samosa,” for instance, is sort of like “Stairway to Heaven” without the sonic liftoff, and “Like I’ve Never Been Gone” (“I see the sunlight in your eyeeeeeeeeee …”) is just sort of stupid. But when the good stuff on an album cuts all the other cock-rock competition in sight, only a curmudgeon would complain. (RS 376)

Kurt Loder

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R. Stevie Moore – “Delicate Tension” (1978)

November 1, 2008 at 3:11 pm (Kurt Loder, Reviews & Articles)

Kurt Loder’s August 1979 Trouser Press review of this album by the extremely prolific, unfairly-obscure cult artist R. Stevie Moore…  


I suppose it’s not really kosher my reviewing Delicate Tension, seeing’s how my name appears on the album cover. But since Ira Robbins, J.D. Salinger, Don Knotts and Sonny’s Chevrolet are similarly disqualified, who’s left? Besides, I was an admirer of R. Stevie Moore’s fractured pop stylings way before he was aware of my existence, and am not likely to revise that estimation.
I can only urge some latently adventurous Major Label to bestow a few of those hot dogs in the satin baseball jackets up off their A&R asses and out to Verona, New Jersey, for a reminder of what actual talent sounds like. I mean, here’s R. Stevie, bereft of the requisite beans to book himself some stretch-out time in a legit studio, and Fleetwood Mac’s been dicking around with their “long awaited” next album for what, two, three years? Is there no fucking justice?
Until the Verona Visionary’s turned loose in a real studio, though, we can be truly satisfied with Delicate Tension, a broadly eclectic album unified by a seductive pop-rock logic, and distinguished by some of the most accurate and animated overdubbing you’re likely to hear coming from any quarter. Vocally, Moore–who played virtually all of the instruments here–most closely resembles Syd Barrett during his Madcap Laughs phase, especially on “Norway,” with its lilting acoustic guitar strums, Beatle-ish oohing and delicately catchy refrain, and the gloopy-voiced “I Go Into Your Mind,” which sounds like it was sung at the bottom of a vatful of jello. But the witty “Apropos Joe”–even though taken at a pace that might leave the Ramones winded–recalls the lead wheezler with the Residents, while “Oh Pat” is pure folk rock, complete with ringing guitars, Byrdsy bass and, for spice, a sourly whimsical lyric filtered through an Enoesque limey slur. On the other hand, “Cool Daddio”‘s thick mix and drolly detached vocal captures perfectly the spirit of early-’70s English art rock.
I could go on, particularly about the lyrics (“You like Debby Boone/He likes the Ramones/I don’t understand/Why you two have a phone”). But why sit still for any further babble when you can scamper out and score a copy of this thoroughly idiosyncratic disc for your very own? For what few slumming mainstreamers may be reading this, suffice it to say that Toto will never sound the same after a few rounds with the redoubtable R. Stevie.


Kurt Loder 

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Pink Floyd – “The Final Cut” (1983)

September 8, 2008 at 3:29 pm (Kurt Loder, Music, Pink Floyd, Reviews & Articles)

Written by Kurt Loder for issue #393 of Rolling Stone 


This may be art rock’s crowning masterpiece, but it is also something more. With The Final Cut, Pink Floyd caps its career in classic form, and leader Roger Waters–for whom the group has long since become little more than a pseudonym–finally steps out from behind the “Wall” where last we left him. The result is essentially a Roger Waters solo album, and it’s a superlative achievement on several levels. Not since Bob Dylan’s “Masters of War” twenty years ago has a popular artist unleashed upon the world political order a moral contempt so corrosively convincing, or a life-loving hatred so bracing and brilliantly sustained. Dismissed in the past as a mere misogynist, a ranting crank, Waters here finds his focus at last, and with it a new humanity. And with the departure of keyboardist Richard Wright and his synthesizers–and the advent of a new “holophonic” recording technique–the music has taken on deep, mahogany-hued tones, mainly provided by piano, harmonium and real strings. The effect of these internal shifts is all the more exhilarating for being totally unexpected. By comparison, in almost every way, The Wall was only a warm-up.

The Final Cut began as a modest expansion upon the soundtrack of the film version of The Wall, with a few new songs added and its release scheduled for the latter half of 1982. In the interim, however, the movie, a grotesquely misconceived collaboration between Waters and director Alan Parker, was released to a general thud of incomprehension. Around the same time, Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, irked by the unseemly antics of an Argentine despot, dispatched British troops halfway around the world to fight and die for the Falkland Islands.

That event, coming in the wake of his failed film statement, apparently stirred Waters to an artistic epiphany. Out of the jumbled obsessions of the original Wall album, he fastened on one primal and unifying obsession: the death of his father in the battle of Anzio in 1944. Thus, on The Final Cut, a child’s inability to accept the loss of the father he never knew has become the grown man’s refusal to accept the death politics that decimate each succeeding generation and threaten ever more clearly with each passing year to ultimately extinguish us all.

The album is dedicated to the memory of the long-lost Eric Fletcher Waters, and in one of its most memorable moments, his now-middle-aged son bitterly envisions a “Fletcher Memorial Home for incurable tyrants and kings,” one and all welcome, be they pompous butchers in comic-opera uniforms or smug statesmen in expensive suits. He presents a ghastly processional: “… please welcome Reagan and Haig/Mr. Begin and friend, Mrs. Thatcher and Paisley/Mr. Brezhnev and party…. And,” he coos, “now adding color, a group of anonymous Latin American meat packing glitterati.” With these “colonial wasters of life and limb” duly assembled, Waters inquires, with ominous delicacy: “Is everyone in?/Are you having a nice time?/Now the final solution can be applied.”

As fantasy, this has a certain primordial appeal. But Waters realizes that all the Neanderthals will never be blown away. What concerns him more is the inexplicable extent of fighting in the world when there seems so little left to defend. In “The Gunners Dream,” a dying airman hopes to the end that his death will be in the service of “the postwar dream,” for which the album stands as a requiem–the hope for a society that offers “a place to stay/enough to eat,” where “no one ever disappears … and maniacs don’t blow holes in bandsmen by remote control.” But Waters, looking around him more than thirty-five years after the war’s end, can only ask: “Is it for this that daddy died?”

In the past, Waters might have dismissed the gunner’s dream as an empty illusion from the outset. Instead, though, Waters insists on honoring his sacrifice: “We cannot just write off his final scene/Take heed of his dream/Take heed.” Without a commitment to some objective values, he seems to say, we sink into a brutalizing xenophobia – an “I’m all right, Jack” condition explored with considerable brilliance in the withering “Not Now John.” In that song, the deepest human truths are cast aside in a frenzy “to compete with the wily Japanese”: “There’s too many home fires burning/And not enough trees/So fuck all that/We’ve got to get on with these.”

With a Sixties-style soul-chick chorus bleating “Fuck all that!” in the background, and guitarist David Gilmour pile-driving power chords throughout, “Not Now John” qualifies as one of the most ferocious performances Pink Floyd has ever put on record. In the context of The Final Cut, it is something of an oddity; for while the music has an innate architectural power that pulls one ever deeper into the album’s conceptual design, the performances and production are generally distinguished by their restraint–even the fabled Floydian sound effects are reduced to the occasional ticking clock or whooshing bomber. Attention is mostly devoted to the music’s human textures: the gorgeous saxophone solos of Raphael Ravenscroft, Ray Cooper’s thundering percussion, shimmering string washes, the sometimes gospel-tinged piano of Michael Kamen (who coproduced the album with Waters and James Guthrie) and, on every track, the most passionate and detailed singing that Waters has ever done.

Whether this will be their last album as a group (the official word is no, but Wright is apparently gone for good, and even the faithful Nick Mason relinquishes his drum chair on one cut to session player Andy Newmark) is not as compelling a question as where Waters will go with what appears to be a new-found freedom. He plans to record a solo album for his next project, and one hopes that just the novelty of becoming a full-fledged human will be enough to keep him profitably occupied for many years to come. 


Kurt Loder

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Pink Floyd – “The Wall” (1979)

September 6, 2008 at 4:46 pm (Kurt Loder, Music, Pink Floyd, Reviews & Articles)

From issue #310 of Rolling Stone – written by Kurt Loder…


Though it in no way endangers the meisterwerk musical status of Dark Side of the Moon (still on the charts nearly seven years after its release), Pink Floyd’s twelfth album, The Wall, is the most startling rhetorical achievement in the group’s singular, thirteen-year career. Stretching his talents over four sides, Floyd bassist Roger Waters, who wrote all the words and a majority of the music here, projects a dark, multi-layered vision of post-World War II Western (and especially British) society so unremittingly dismal and acidulous that it makes contemporary gloom-mongers such as Randy Newman or, say, Nico seem like Peter Pan and Tinker Bell.

The Wall is a stunning synthesis of Waters’ by now familiar thematic obsessions: the brutal misanthropy of Pink Floyd’s last LP, Animals; Dark Side of the Moon‘s sour, middle-aged tristesse; the surprisingly shrewd perception that the music business is a microcosm of institutional oppression (Wish You Were Here); and the dread of impending psychoses that runs through all these records–plus a strongly felt antiwar animus that dates way back to 1968’s A Saucerful of Secrets. But where Animals, for instance, suffered from self-centered smugness, the even more abject The Wall leaps to life with a relentless lyrical rage that’s clearly genuine and, in its painstaking particularity, ultimately horrifying.

Fashioned as a kind of circular maze (the last words on side four begin a sentence completed by the first words on side one), The Wall offers no exit except madness from a world malevolently bent on crippling its citizens at every level of endeavor. The process–for those of Waters’ generation, at least – begins at birth with the smothering distortions of mother love. Then there are some vaguely remembered upheavals from the wartime Blitz:


Did you ever wonder

Why we had to run for shelter

When the promise of a brave new world

Unfurled beneath a clear blue sky?


In government-run schools, children are methodically tormented and humiliated by teachers whose comeuppance occurs when they go home at night and “their fat and/Psychopathic wives would thrash them/Within inches of their lives.”

As Roger Waters sees it, even the most glittering success later in life–in his case, international rock stardom–is a mockery because of mortality. The halfhearted hope of interpersonal salvation that slightly brightened Animals is gone, too: women are viewed as inscrutable sexual punching bags, and men (their immediate oppressors in a grand scheme of oppression) are inevitably left alone to flail about in increasingly unbearable frustration. This wall of conditioning finally forms a prison. And its pitiful inmate, by now practically catatonic, submits to “The Trial”–a bizarre musical cataclysm out of Gilbert and Sullivan via Brecht and Weill – in which all of his past tormentors converge for the long-awaited kill.

This is very tough stuff, and hardly the hallmark of a hit album. Whether or not The Wall succeeds commercially will probably depend on its musical virtues, of which there are many. Longtime Pink Floyd fans will find the requisite number of bone-crushing riffs and Saturn-bound guitar screams (“In the Flesh”), along with one of the loveliest ballads the band has ever recorded (“Comfortably Numb –”). And the singing throughout is–at last–truly firstrate, clear, impassioned. Listen to the vocals in the frightening “One of My Turns,” in which the deranged rock-star narrator, his shattered synapses misfiring like wet firecrackers, screams at his groupie companion: “Would you like to learn to fly?/Would you like to see me try?”

Problems do arise, however. While The Wall‘s length is certainly justified by the breadth of its thematic concerns, the music is stretched a bit thin. Heavy-metal maestro Bob Ezrin, brought in to coproduce with Roger, Waters and guitarist David Gilmour, adds a certain hard-rock consciousness to a few cuts (especially the nearfunky “Young Lust”) but has generally been unable to match the high sonic gloss that engineer Alan Parsons contributed to Dark Side of the Moon. Even Floyd-starved devotees may not be sucked into The Wall‘s relatively flat aural ambiance on first hearing. But when they finally are–and then get a good look at that forbidding lyrical landscape – they may wonder which way is out real fast.  

Kurt Loder

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Kurt Loder – “The Pretenders’ Leather Love Songs” (1980)

September 6, 2008 at 3:44 pm (Kurt Loder, Reviews & Articles)

Great article written for the May 29, 1980 issue of Rolling Stone. The Pretenders had just burst upon the scene at this point… 


All-American Chrissie Hynde and Her Hot British Band Deliver


Chrissie Hynde, the Pretenders’ singer and songwriter, unzips her trademark black leather pants and pushes them unceremoniously down around her ankles. She is wearing what appear to be old-fashioned white cotton underpants. I try not to gawk. The silence here in the quilt-walled living compartment of the Pretenders’ comfortably appointed tour bus is broken only by the clatter of a relentless March rainstorm playing popcorn rhythms on the metal roof, and by occasional shouts and soggy laughter from a nearby group of about a hundred Pretenders fans lined up outside an already packed club called Detroit, in Port Chester, New York. Chrissie reaches into a capacious handbag, pulls out the elastic support band she has nearly forgotten, slips it over her foot and up her leg, and positions it around her right knee, which — she informs me — she recently strained.

“Ten minutes left,” says Dave Hill, the Pretenders’ manager, who is alertly perched on the edge of a chair near the bus door. “Ten minutes?” Chrissie responds. “That suits me. It’s just ten minutes less of me boozin’ before we go on.” She flashes Hill a reassuring grin as she hitches up her britches. “But I haven’t had a drink,” she quickly adds. Hill, shiny-cheeked and boyish at twenty-six, is businesslike in a low-key, British way, and he casts an appraising glance at his chief charge. The pale, mercurial Hynde, who’s twenty-eight, looks tired. Nine days into the Pretenders’ two-month maiden tour of North America — with the group’s self-titled debut album already bulleting toward to U.S. Top Twenty — the booze, the boredom, the incessant rain and general darkness of life on the road already are taking a toll on her.

“You’ve got those black lines under your eyes,” Hill says solicitously. Chrissie’s forehead — what can be seen of it through her long, raven bangs — crinkles in mock dismay. “It took my five minutes to put ’em there,” she protests with a wounded whine. “I don’t feel quite like a woman until I’ve got my eyes drawn on,” she tells me, turning to assess her reflection in a full-length mirror. “I’ve got a technique that doesn’t take any time, and you can do it when you’re drunk.”

Not quite happy with her somber ensemble of black leather and dark blue denim, she reaches over to the sofa for her favorite hat — a screaming pink, fake-fur coonskin cap, complete with a tawdry little tail. “Got it in London,” she says a bit defensively, positioning the hat on her head. “I don’t try to be tacky and out of fashion, but somehow I can never get it right. If I put on something pretty, it would be a joke, you know? I can’t help it.”

After a last, semisatisfied look in the mirror, Chrissie sweeps up her red leather motorcycle jacket (“It’s got my perfume in it”), and we both follow Hill out the door and into the teeming rain. It’s show time again.

There’s a pronounced buzz in the air about the Pretenders: this is only the group’s seventh American gig, and the saga of their whirlwind British success (three hit singles and a subtly startling debut LP that reached the top of the charts) has whetted Anglophile appetites here for months. The Pretenders arrived out of nowhere in January 1979 with a billowing, Nick Lowe-produced revamp of an obscure 1964 Kinks track called “Stop Your Sobbing.” It was a breath of classic pop freshness for a musical scene that had bogged down in postpunk predictability. But “Sobbing” gave no hint of the band’s range or originality, qualities confirmed by the self-penned follow-up singles: “Kid,” with its wistful melody and alluringly ambiguous lyrics, and “Brass in Pocket,” a near-Motown-ish declaration of female sexual assertiveness.

The clincher was the LP Pretenders, released last January, on which American expatriate Chrissie Hynde proved herself one of the most completely convincing female rock and rollers in recent memory. A stingingly effective rhythm guitarist whose voice combines the fluidity of jazz singing with the rawness of rock, Hynde wrote or co-wrote ten of the album’s twelve tracks, imbuing many of them with a psychosexual candor that goes beyond even the bounds recently set by Marianne Faithfull. Add to this a rhythm section that rock out ferociously in seven-four time, if necessary, and a lead guitarist whose combination of precision and flamboyance sometimes recalls the young Jeff Beck, and you’ve got an album that — as Pete Townshend recently described it on a British radio show — is “like a drug.”

But the question that hangs in the air here at Detroit is: can they deliver?

Backstage, mountains of empty equipment crates tower above scattered clumps of thick black cable and heavy-duty power plugs, and groups of old friends, new women and local notables wander the central corridor, swigging beers and swapping news. Mick Ronson, the ex-Bowie guitarist who now works with Ian Hunter, has driven up from New York, and so has Lenny Kaye, the rock writer and Patti Smith Group guitarist, who met Chrissie during one of her down-and-out phases in London not so long ago.

There’s a row of small, brightly lit rooms in the rear, each stocked with platters of fresh fruit and tubs of iced beer and Pepsi. Chrissie stops at the first door to trade a few warmup wisecracks with Pete Farndon, twenty-seven, the Pretenders’ bassist, and Martin Chambers, twenty-eight, their drummer. A gleaming, matched set of metal-faced Zemaitis guitars ($1300 a pop on custom order) stand ready in a corner; but lead guitarist James Honeyman-Scott — at twenty-three, the youngest and most fun-loving Pretender — is nowhere to be seen, having sequestered himself in one of the back rooms.

Chrissie listens attentively as Chambers, a heavy hitter, bemoans the condition of his drum kit, which was specially built to withstand his onslaughts. Last night he had to secure the snare drum with guitar strings, and tonight he’s reduced to trying bootlaces. Farndon, a tall, dark and classically handsome sort, grunts sympathetically. Chrissie drifts off to greet an old girlfriend, and he watches as her jiggling pink coon’s tail disappears into the crowd. “It’s not easy to be in her position,” he says, earnestly affectionate. “You know — locked up with four or five guys who are talkin’ about tits and ass all the time. On the road, you’ve got nothing that most women would want. Chris isn’t like most women.” He upends the bottle of Johnny Walker Red in his hand and takes a bracing gulp, grimacing as the liquor goes down.

Out front, in Detroit’s main room, the last pummeling power chords of the Ramones’ “I Wanna Be Sedated” have receded into the house speakers. Suddenly, the air shivers with the bombastic strains of Wagner’s “Ride of the Valkyries,” which Dave Hill has nicked off the Apocalypse Now soundtrack for use as a fanfare. The Pretenders scurry onstage, the now-accounted-for Honeyman-Scott looking aroused and resplendent in a sparkling white Nudie-style cowboy jacket. Hynde, primed and nearly bouncing, jacks in her white Telecaster, and before the capacity crowd even has time to cheer, she’s shouted out the raggedy count for “The Wait.” For the next hour, the Pretenders’ music — much of it composed in treacherously eccentric meters — explodes off the stage. Chambers churns up a brutal Bo Diddley beat for the jaunty “Cuban Slide” (the B side of their latest British single, “Talk of the Town”), and then downshifts into a walloping primordial thud for “Stop Your Sobbing.” Farndon’s fat, fluid bass slides through the tricky rhythms like an oiled snake, coiling up in unexpected grace notes and quirky arpeggios, then slipping back into the dense sonic mix to await another opening. The radiant “Kid” stirs some of the crowd to sing along, and Chrissie’s full, uncaged alto soars.

After “Porcelain” — a raw, as-yet-unrecorded guitar wrangle — Chrissie, sweat-soaked and smiling, grabs a microphone and announces “Tattooed Love Boys,” her bike-club gang-bang epic. “This song is not about bikers,” she says. “It’s about girls who get beaten up by the same guy more than once.” The song erupts at a neck-cracking 7/4 pace, with Hynde slashing at her guitar and spitting out the cold, pitiless words like razor blades: “I shot my mouth off and you showed me what that hole is for!”

The set is capped with a stirring reprise of “Stop Your Sobbing.” When it’s done, the band, dazed and breathless, looks out over a sea of clenched fists, all punching upward like the pistons of some strange new engine. “Don’t think we’re used to this reception,” Chrissie yells, “’cause we’re not!”

Later, after an hour of backstage boozing and congratulatory blather, Honeyman-Scott announces that he’s being tucked in tonight by some local seductress, and departs in a Cadillac. Dave Hill and I clamber onboard the bus with the rest of the band for the long, rain-whipped ride back to their Manhattan hotel. As the mumbling rumble of the road sets in, Pete Farndon slips a homemade cassette into the tape system and turns the volume way up. A postpunk pounder, “Real Fun” by Ten Pole Tudor, leaps from overhead speakers like a raucous toad. The bus takes a curve and Farndon sways (is it the bus?) toward the table where Chambers and I are huddled. The bassist slides his half-full bottle of Johnny Walker onto the table, where we fumble it around for the next half hour.

Chrissie Hynde, beaming and lovely after the evening’s success — and jovially befuddled on the better part of a fifth of Montezuma tequila — holds aloft a small bouquet of roses from an unknown backstage admirer. “Someone must want to marry me,” she announces. “‘Cause any man who sends me roses is a man I might marry.” The bus rounds another bend and she tumbles onto the sofa, giggling and kicking her feet out in time to the slithery rhythms of Iggy Pop’s “New Values,” which is blasting out overhead. Hoisting the tequila up to squint level, she contemplates the few remaining slugs. “I’ve made quite an impression on this bottle,” she says with a burp.

Christine Ellen Hynde was born and raised in Akron, Ohio, where her father, Bud, works for the telephone company and her mother, Dee, is a part-time secretary. “I was Joe Normal,” Chrissie says, sitting in her motel room later. “But I was never too interested in high school. I mean, I never went to a dance, I never went out on a date, I never went steady. It became pretty awful for me. Except, of course, I could go see bands, and that was the kick. I used to go to Cleveland just to see any band. So I was in love a lot of the time, but mostly with guys in bands that I had never met. For me, knowing that Brian Jones was out there, and later that Iggy Pop was out there, made it kind of hard for me to get too interested in the guys that were around me. I had, uh, bigger things in mind.”

Chrissie’s brother, Terry, played the saxophone, and when Chrissie was sixteen, she took up the baritone ukulele. Too shy to get involved with any of the local all-male garage bands, she kept to herself and started writing songs. “I never had that kind of experience most guys in bands do,” she says. “I think that probably determined a lot of my style of playing. I still go by the dots on the guitar, you know? I have a very rudimentary knowledge of it.”

At about this time, Chrissie had her first peek behind the scenes of big-time rock and roll — an experience that still causes her to cackle with dismay. After a concert in Cleveland by the Jeff Beck Group, she and an older girlfriend were taken back to the band’s hotel and introduced to the bassist, Ron Wood, and the singer, Rod Stewart.

“We sat there all night — I was sixteen — and we smoked dope and got really out of our trees. At the end of the evening, the arrangement looked like my girlfriend would go with Rod Stewart and I would be left with Ron Wood. And . . . I’m not kidding, I’m not trying to put this on, but I seriously didn’t know what was goin’ on. I was a real virgin, man. I didn’t even know what it was. And I just looked, and I said, ‘I can’t stay here tonight! I’ve gotta take my driver’s training course in the morning! Let’s go!’ And I insisted on leaving, ’cause I wanted to get my driver’s license. It never occurred to me until years later what could have transpired that night, you know? Just think — Ronnie Wood would’ve been my first big one.”

After a one-gig alliance with a band called Sat. Sun. Mat. (which included Mark Mothersbaugh, later of Devo) and three listless years of art studies at Kent State University (where she got caught up in the 1970 National Guard riot), Hynde knew she needed a change. “I just wanted to get the hell out of Ohio,” she says. “I always knew that, since I was in junior high school and this train used to go by. I know it sounds romantic, but it made me cry when I saw it. I just knew that I had to be on that train someday.”

Working as a waitress, and at various other jobs, she put together a thousand dollars and, in early 1973, flew off to swinging London — a place she’d read all about in the British rock tabloid New Musical Express. With her art background, she landed a lowly position with an architectural firm. The job ended after eight months, but by then she’d met New Musical Express writer Nick Kent. Through his auspices she secured an assignment to review a new Neil Diamond album.

“I just took the piss out of it,” Chrissie says, lapsing into British slang. “I was very sarcastic. I said, ‘This song sounds like an ad for an American small car.’ I just completely demolished this guy, you know? I ended it up saying, ‘Hey, wait a minute, hand me those binoculars — I think I just saw Rod McKuen walking out of a bake shop.’ And that was it!”

To Hynde’s utter amazement — and despite the subsequent arrival in the NME‘s mailbox of outraged letters from “all four Neil Diamond fans in Britain” — her editor liked the review, and next assigned her to interview Brian Eno. They wound up discussing pornography, and Chrissie posed for an accompanying photo dressed in bondage gear, complete with high heels and black leather miniskirt. “It was the cover story,” she remembers. “Of course, we started getting’ letters sayin’ ‘Who is this woman, and why is she wearing that tacky miniskirt?’ So I would reply in the paper: ‘I still wear white cotton briefs, too’ and they’d print all this, you know? For some reason they went for it. And here I was, a zero hillbilly from Ohio.”

England was going through a musical lull at the time, though, and after a year Chrissie lost interest in her budding journalistic career. She worked for a few weeks in a strange little clothing store in the King’s Road run by Malcolm McLaren, the soon-to-be Svengali of punk. Then, after a disastrous period trying to start a rock band in France, she returned in 1975 to Cleveland.

“I had a terrible time,” she says. “I was hitchhiking around, and I’d forgotten how dangerous it was. I had a few bad experiences, but the way I look at it now is, for every sort of act of sodomy I was forced to perform, I’m getting’ paid ten thousand pounds now.” She laughs bitterly. “That’s how I try to look at it, anyway.”

After another abortive attempt to put a band together in France, Hynde returned to London in 1976. She sensed something new in the air, and she was right. It was punk. She tried to put a group together with a young guitarist named Mick Jones, “but it didn’t work. He was really young and fresh, and here I was, already spent. I didn’t have his sort of fresh innocence. I wasn’t like the young punk who had just gotten out of school.”

Next, she fell back in with Malcolm McLaren, who wanted her to play guitar in a band he was putting together to be called Masters of the Backside. They rehearsed a lot, but eventually Chrissie was dumped and the group evolved into the Damned, who became the first punk band to make a record. After being similarly ejected by another punk outfit, Chrissie started wondering if she’d ever make it. The low point came when Mick Jones and his new group, the Clash, invited her to join them on their riotous first tour of Britain.

“It was great,” she says, “but my heart was breaking. I wanted to be in a band so bad. And to go to all the gigs, to see it so close up, to be living in it and not to have a band was devastating to me. When I left, I said, ‘Thanks a lot for lettin’ me come along,’ and I went back and went weeping on the underground throughout London. All the people I knew in town, they were all in bands. And there I was, like the real loser, you know? Really the loser.”

But she didn’t give up, and eventually a demo tape she had made wound up in the hands of Dave Hill, a former promo man who was looking for talent for his new label, Real Records. He liked Chrissie’s material and was taken with her feisty determination. Hill stepped in to manage her career, which had yet to reach square one, and began by paying off the $140 back rent she owed on her rehearsal room in Covent Garden. He told her to take her time and get a band together.

Pete Farndon met Hynde in the spring of 1978, as she was making her umpteenth attempt to organize a group. Farndon had lately split from Sydney after a two-year stint with a popular Australian folk-rock band called the Bushwackers. Following an extended layover in Hong Kong — doing “drugs, mainly” and watching his teeth rot out — he returned to his mother’s home in Hereford, a drowsy municipality near the Welsh border, to await the arrival of a new set of choppers and, he hoped, some action. Through a drummer friend, he heard about an American singer, a girl, who had some good original tunes and was trying to build a group around them. Farndon, gigless and itchy, expressed interest, and a meeting was arranged at a bar in London’s Portobello Road. It was not a cordial encounter.

“I walked into the pub and there was this American with a big mouth across the other side of the bar,” he recalls. “She said hi, and turned around and ignored me for about an hour. I thought, ‘Am I gonna be in a band with this cunt?'”

As it turned out, he was. “As soon as we got down to her rehearsal room, which was the scummiest basement I’d ever been in in my life, the first thing we played was ‘Groove Me,’ by King Floyd. The second thing we played was this great country and western song of hers called ‘Tequila.’ I was lookin’ at this woman like . . . you know? Fuck, man, I’ll never forget it: we go in, we do a soul number, we do a country and western number, and then we did ‘The Phone Call,’ which is like the heaviest fuckin’ punk-rocker you could do in 5/4 time. Impressed? I was very impressed.”

Like Farndon, James Honeyman-Scott and Martin Chambers both hail from Hereford, home base of the once-mighty Mott the Hoople, and a place otherwise noted chiefly for its hobbitlike pastoral pleasures. “Dull,” as Jimmy puts it. “Totally uneventful.” Farndon had managed to escape, though, and Honeyman-Scott (who left school and home at fifteen) and Chambers (who’d been honing his chops with a fourteen-piece dance orchestra) finally scored their passage out with Cheeks, a band led by ex-Mott keyboardist Verden Allen. The group toured a lot but never recorded and after three years it folded. Jimmy went back on the road with a straight-ahead rock band modeled after Bad Company, and Martin scrounged for studio gigs around London. Neither of them was going anywhere particularly quickly.

By the summer of 1978, Honeyman-Scott was back in Hereford, working in a music shop and raising vegetables in his considerable spare time. When local legend Pete Farndon rang him up one day to ask if he’d like to join a group with this terrific American girl he’d been working with the past four months, Jimmy was mildly intrigued. “I thought ‘money first,'” he insists. “They had to pay me in money and drugs to come down and work with ’em.” Initially, he recalls, the band was “too bloody loud. But as soon as I cranked some powders up me nose I became interested, of course.”

With an Irishman named Jerry Mcleduff on drums, Honeyman-Scott, Farndon and Hynde did some quick rehearsing and then went to a small demo studio to cut a tape that included Hynde’s “Precious” and “The Wait,” plus their cover of “Stop Your Sobbing,” a Hynde favorite since 1964. Chrissie had been rattling around London for some time by then and knew everybody. She took the tape to her old drinking buddy, Nick Lowe. He thought that “Sobbing” was a potential hit and agreed to produce a single for them, with “The Wait” on the flip side. It took one day. The next day, the Pretenders traveled to Paris to play a six-night stand at a club called Gibus — their very first gigs.

Mcleduff had been about the fortieth drummer Hynde auditioned, and he was good. But he couldn’t quite put out the kind of visceral, Charlie Watts-style slam that Chrissie heard in her head. At the time, Martin Chambers was working as a driving instructor in London and “trying to sort out my life.” Since both Honetman-Scott and Farndon had been hanging out with him, they decided to bring him along one day to audition. The chemistry clicked immediately, and Chambers was in. The previously recorded “Stop Your Sobbing” was released in January 1979 and quickly climbed into the Top Thirty. The group played its first British gigs, and the press raved. By the time they’d played half a dozen shows, the London music papers were running front-page features on this hot new band with the tough Yank up front. For a brand-new group, the pressure was intense.

By spring, the Pretenders were ready to record again, but Lowe had lost interest. Chris Thomas, producer of the Sex Pistols and Roxy Music, agreed to give the project a week-long try. The week stretched out to six painstaking months. Last January the completed Pretenders album was released to choruses of acclaim, and the group’s been going full-tilt ever since.

The exhaustion is beginning to show. It’s the day after the show at Detroit, and everyone feels like dogshit as we set off from Manhattan for the next gig, a club called Emerald City in Cherry Hill, New Jersey. It’s at least a two-hour bus trip in the ongoing monsoon. Honeyman-Scott, back onboard again, tries to brighten things up with highlights of his carnal encounter of the previous evening. “I played ‘Let Him Run Wild’ seven times in a row last night,” he says, citing his all-time favorite Beach Boys track. “With the sea goin’ outside the window — oh! — and the Cad in the driveway!” He hugs himself with delight.

Ebullient as he seems, Honeyman-Scott has had his problems adapting to success. “I went through a bad patch,” he admits. “Well, a couple of ’em. I was addicted to speed for god knows how many years — had to have treatment to get off that crap. Now I’ve got cirrhosis — burned my liver out. I’m under doctor’s orders, and it’s on the way to being cured, but I’m still getting the old withdrawal attacks. I’ve gotta take it easy, stop spacin’ out.”

I suggest that cocaine is not exactly a balm for burned-out livers. “Yeah, I’ve been doin’ that again,” he says sheepishly. “I don’t know, maybe I expect too much of life,” he muses. “When you’re a kid and you see a group like the Beatles on TV, you say, ‘I wanna be that.’ But when you’re there, everything’s exactly the same, nothing changes. You think, ‘Ah, a Number One album,’ like the fucking skies are gonna open up or something — and nothing happens. When our album was Number One, I went right down into the depths.”

Chambers, sitting across the table, pulls aside a thick curtain and peers glumly out the window at the gusting rain. Hynde is curled quietly in a corner, her hair pulled up into a careless pineapple topknot. She is perusing a book on palmistry. The bus rolls noisily on.

After checking into a nearby hotel, Honeyman-Scott and I stroll through the gaudy innards of Emerald City — a club that seems to have sprung full-blown from a Ricky Ricardo wet dream. Six-foot-tall corn plants imitate palm trees back among the rear tables, and a big, samba-size dance floor stretches out toward the broad stage. The guitarist says he loves it, and wanders off to join the sound check, which is already in progress. Hynde has just arrived, and now that we’re both feeling a bit less bilious, I steer her off to a secluded lounge on the second floor. Chrissie turns her back to the looming picture windows and settles on a couch, pulling her coat — a chaotic assemblage of mismatched fake-fur pelts — tightly around her. The pink hat adds on an almost poignant touch.

“The only time it’s really hard,” she sighs, “is like one week before I get my period. And then it really is hard.” She nods at my tape recorder. “You should mention this, because this is reality, you know? This is life. Not just for women, but for men, because men have to deal with women, and they have to understand what a woman goes through. One night you can tease your woman, and you can make fun of her, and it’s fine. Another night, you can’t tease her, she can’t handle it. She’ll break down and cry, or throw something. You’re supposed to be very kind and gentle at that time.”

She pauses to light a Marlboro. “I have my mental breakdowns,” she says with a weary half-smile, “but I try to do it back in my hotel room.” She seems depressed. We agree to meet at the Holiday Inn after the sound check.


Mystery achievement
Where’s my sandy beach?
I had my dreams like everybody else
But they’re out of reach
I could ignore you
Your demands are unending
I got no tears on my ice cream,
But you know me
I love pretending


After seven years of banging her head against a wall of music industry indifference, Chrissie Hynde has finally found her sandy beach. She’s got a band, a good one, and they’re making it big on the strength of her songs — songs that are mainly about love (and sex) in all its variegated, sometimes violent forms, from the selfless kind (“Kid,” “Lovers of Today”) to playful randiness (“Precious,” “Brass in Pocket”), lust-driven punchouts (“Up the Neck”) and quasi-rape (“Tattooed Love Boys”). She doesn’t like to discuss the specific content of her lyrics (“Once a song’s recorded, I kind of lose ownership of it”), but her amatory experiences have had an obvious and profound influence on her songwriting.

“I think we were very misled in the pill generation,” she says. “The pill turned women into men. Men can afford to go around and fuck every night, but women can’t. Women have to go by their own cycle, you know? I’m very governed by my cycle. And I think that to take a pill, and to turn yourself into a robot, and fuck every night like a man, it’s . . . it’s what it does to your intuitive psyche. A woman’s gotta stay home some nights. If she doesn’t want to get pregnant, she doesn’t fuck, period. And if a guy that she loves want to fuck someone, he’s gonna have to go off and fuck someone else that night, and she’s gonna have to put up with it.”

Chrissie leans back on her Holiday Inn bed and takes a sip from a large glass of whiskey, chasing it down with a slug of Budweiser. She says she sees nothing unusual about a girl (as she still refers to herself) leading a hard-edged rock and roll band. “You’ve always had women playing instruments in the modern world. There’s nothing butch about me. See, that’s the big myth, you know — the ‘loudmouthed American.’ I am the loudmouthed American — no one can be meaner, and no one can be more of a cunt than I am. But I don’t want to be. It’s a front, you know? I just do what I do to get what I have to get.”

Ironically, this single-minded pursuit has left her romantically unattached at the moment. “I don’t have any one boyfriend,” she says. “Boyfriends, yeah, but I can’t really have any distractions. I’ve got somethin’ to do now. It’s like all been laid out on a plate for me, and I’m gonna dedicate myself to doing the best I can. When the day comes that the band folds — because all bands fold eventually — then I can find . . . whatever is left to find.”

There’s a knock on the door. Dave Hill sticks his head in to tell Chrissie it’s time to get ready for the gig. She climbs off the bed to collect her efforts.

“Maybe I’ll find someone who will just stay home and rub my feet at night,” she says, walking toward the bathroom with hairbrush in hand. “That’s the kind of man I’m lookin’ for myself. But, uh, I’ll take what I can get.”

Kurt Loder

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Prince and the Revolution – “Purple Rain” (1984)

September 6, 2008 at 3:36 pm (Kurt Loder, Prince, Reviews & Articles)

Written by Kurt Loder for the double issue (#426/427) of Rolling Stone. This was right at the moment Prince became a superstar…  


The spirit of Jimi Hendrix must surely smile down on Prince Rogers Nelson. Like Hendrix, Prince seems to have tapped into some extraterrestrial musical dimension where black and white styles are merely different aspects of the same funky thing. Prince’s rock & roll is as authentic and compelling as his soul and his extremism is endearing in a era of play-it-safe record production and formulaic hit mongering. Purple Rain may not yield another smash like last year’s “Little Red Corvette,” but it’s so loaded with life and invention and pure rock & roll thunder that such commercial considerations become moot. When Prince sings “Baby I’m a Star,” it’s a simple statement of fact.

the Hendrix connection is made overt here with the screaming guitar coda that ends “Let’s Go Crazy,” with the manic burst that opens “When Doves Cry” and in the title song, a space ballad that recalls “Angel” with its soaring guitar leads and a very Hendrixian lyrical tinge (“It’s time we all reach out for something new – that means you, too”). There are also constant reminders of Sly Stone in the ferocious bass lines and the hot, dance-conscious mix. But like Jimi and Sly, Prince writes his own rules. Some of his effects are singularly striking – note that eerie, atonal synthesizer touches that creep in at the end of “The Beautiful Ones” and the otherworldly backward-vocal montage in the frankly salacious “Darling Nikki” – and his vocals continue to be among the most adventurous and accomplished on the current scene. Prince also does wonderful things with string-section sounds, and his band – if it’s not actually him playing all the parts – burns throughout.

Anyone partial to great creators should own this record. Like Jimi and Sly, Prince is an original; but apart from that, he’s like no one else. 


Kurt Loder

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Neil Young and Crazy Horse – “Ragged Glory” (1990)

August 24, 2008 at 7:09 pm (Kurt Loder, Reviews & Articles)

In one of Kurt Loder’s last album reviews for Rolling Stone (he was already working for MTV at this point) – an excellently written critique of Neil Young and Crazy Horse’s then-current album from Sept. 20, 1990. (I found one mistake in this review though – he states that this was Crazy Horse’s first album with Neil in a decade – that’s not true – they had just made the album Life together in 1987)…  

Neil Young’s Guitar Ecstasy


I guess Neil Young is the king of rock & roll. I don’t see anybody else on the scene standing anywhere near this tall nowadays.

The title of Young’s new record aptly encapsulates its charms. Nine of the ten tracks on Ragged Glory – an instant Neil classic – were recorded at his ranch in Northern California. I paid a brief journalistic visit to this place some years back, and it’s a huge sprawl of land. At the heart of it, Neil had erected a fully equipped, open-air stage upon which he and his band buddies would clamber of an evening and crank up their amps. In the middle of a spread the size of Connecticut – and they still got complaints from the neighbors.

This album sounds like it was recorded on that stage on a really good night.

It’s loose and wild, and God knows it’s loud, and it soars gloriously from one raving cut to the next. There are no acoustic ballads. Everything – even the ecological hymn that concludes the record – is intensely electric. Young launches into “Country Home,” the opening track, with his guitar jacked up to about thirty and leaves it nailed there for the next hour. He solos all over the place – great gouts of railing crunch and squall – and he solos at length: Two of the tracks on the album (two of the best, actually, “Love to Burn” and “Love and Only Love”) clock in at more than ten minutes each. (There are also a couple of minutes’ worth of long feedback and fade-outs.) And booting him along throughout, for the first time on record in more than a decade, is Crazy Horse (guitarist Frank Sampedro, bassist Billy Talbot and drummer Ralph Molina), maybe the last great garage band of our time and definitely Neil’s greatest group.

Ragged Glory is, in fact, a monument to the spirit of the garage – to the pursuit of passion over precision, to raw power and unvarnished soul. Neil and the boys even do a nuclear assault on an actual garage classic – the R&B chestnut “Farmer John,” rendered in the style of the Premiers’ 1964 surfer-stomp version. This is a frankly dopey song, and aware that its lumbering, bedrock-punk riff is the whole point, the band proceeds – with what might be called malicious glee – to pump it up into an awesome sonic juggernaut that’s relentless and mesmerizing.

Yes, kids, here’s a guy grizzled enough to be your own quaint, ex-hippie dad, and he and his equally antique pals are blasting out a tune called “Fuckin’ Up” that would singe the curls of any corporate-metal act currently on the charts. It really is inspiring. But Young is no arrested adolescent. The stature of his music has always derived from his ability to use the simple forms of his root influences – folk, rock, country and R&B – as a vehicle for his emotional candor. And on Ragged Glory, the emotions he probes are those of a man going on forty-five years old – a man for whom rock & roll still resonates as truly as it did in his youth, but a man with a lot of mileage on his meter as well and with memories of what now seem more shining times.

In the offhandedly exquisite “Mansion on the Hill” – a country lope buried under a truckload of overamped guitars – Young looks back on the halcyon days of the Sixties as a youthful paradise frozen in time (“Psychedelic music fills the air/ Peace and love live there still”). But he’s no sap. He knows those days are irretrievable, at least for his generation; that “possessions and concessions” change people over the years; and that – as he sings on the track that follows (a song with a melody and tone seemingly modeled in part on Bob Dylan’s “My Back Pages”) – “we never had to make those deals/In the days that used to be.”

Young also ponders his own latter-day political retrenchment and its appparently corrosive effect on old friendships: “Ideas that once seemed so right/Now have gotten hard to say/I wish that I could talk to you/And you could talk to me.”

And in the dark, guitar-charged “Love to Burn,” he presents a harrowing scene from a collapsing marriage: “Why’d you ruin my life?/Where you takin’ my kid?/And they hold each other, sayin’/How did it come to this?'”

The album is hardly despondent. There’s hope in the near-psychedelic “Love and Only Love” and the earthy “Over and Over” (“I love the way you open up when you let me in”) and a sense of simple contentment in the melodious “Country Home.” And the twang-fueled “White Line,” a ramblin’-man toss-off with echoes of Deja Vu-era Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, is a tribute to the eternal possibilities of a few trashy chords and a heart full of high spirits.

But Ragged Glory reaches its peak on the blistering and supremely rueful “Fuckin’ Up,” with its lacerating riff and squealing, bucketful-of-eels guitar leads and Neil – in his usual microtonally adventurous vocal style – wailing what must surely be a universal lament: “Why do I keep fuckin’ up?”

At the end of the album, Young turns to face the future with “Mother Earth (Natural Anthem),” a stark and gorgeous number recorded live at the Farm Aid IV benefit concert, in Indiana, earlier this year, with additional harmonies recorded by the band later at Young’s ranch. A straight folk-choral item in structure, this potentially dippy paean to the planet gathers grace from its stately melody and draws muscle from Young’s lone, howling guitar accompaniment – stating the theme in a Hendrix-like blare, then rumbling on below the verses to the gently cautionary conclusion: “Respect Mother Earth, and her healing ways/Or trade away our children’s days.” It’s an unexpected and stirring end to an exhilarating album of hard guitar rock. Ragged Glory is a great one, from one of the greats.

Kurt Loder

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