The Johnnys, who bill themselves as the world's only all-girl, all-Johnny Cash band are getting talked about like crazy these days, with many high-profile gigs and events internationally, and high praise from Cash's daughter Cindy. They are playing at Bar Bodega in Wellington this weekend and it sounds like an absolutely fantastic way to (at least temporarily) replace the mid-winter blues with Folsom Prison ones.
While going through the plethora of interesting materials on the late musician Frank Zappa (1940-1993) online, I found this very interesting interview segment in which FZ spoke out on the problematics of so-called democracy in US government. Particularly prescient as a recent and widely circulated academic study has concluded that the US is an oligarchy now. Zappa's opinions on things artistic, cultural, and political were all over the map but he was a staunch advocate for free speech and of course against censorship. More FZ links to come soon!
It's that time of year again, and although weather has been shockingly horrible the past little while in Wellington today is a great excuse to go out and support your local indie record shops, and we've had some glimpses of blue sky even, however intermittently. Strolled down to the terrific Death Ray Records and bought a few CDs, as unfortunately (or maybe fortunately) I haven't yet succumbed to the serious effort of getting back to vinyl. But great deals across the store, and if in Wellington your other prospects would be Slow Boat Records and Rough Peel Music. And tonight lovely looking gigs especially at Mighty Mighty and The Laundry.
“If you play the albums chronologically they cover the growth of us as people from here to there, and in there is a tale for everybody in case they want to know what they can do to survive the scenes. If you line the songs up and play them, you should be able to relate and not feel alone - I think it’s important that people don’t feel alone.”
Lou Reed on the Velvet Underground
It keeps floating in and out of the interwebs but the 1998 documentary on Lou Reed entitled Rock and Roll Heart is well worth watching if you haven't (or have!) already. Informative, rich in archival footage, and comparatively concise given the breadth and general eclectic weirdness of old Lou's career. And late last year, in commemoration of Reed's death, the BBC screened a new documentary Lou Reed Remembered largely comprising a montage of clips featuring many of the musician's former collaborators, friends, and those he influenced, including: Paul Auster, Lenny Kaye, Moe Tucker, Boy George, Holly Woodlawn, Mick Rock, Bob Ezrin, and Thurston Moore.
The American singer-songwriter Angel Olsen's most recent CD Burn Your Fire For No Witness is in repeat mode on my desktop at the moment. Although the amount of pain, misery, woe and longing present (everything is tragic/it all just falls apart) in Olsen's sometimes ephemeral, sometimes rousing songs has been frequently commented upon, the sureness of her delivery is altogether affirming and joyful. Currently picking up loads of positive press from the likes of SPIN and the NYTimes, hope the hype doesn't submerge her evident talents. Here are two links to radio performances on KEXP Seattle (with full band) and NPR's Tiny Desk Concerts (solo).
Welcome to the Club: The Women of Rockabilly is an hour-long film directed by Beth Harrington (and narrated by Roseanne Cash) on four amazing singers: Janis Martin (billed as “The Female Elvis”), Wanda Jackson (dubbed “The Queen of Rockabilly”), Lorrie Collins (of “The Collins Kids”), and Brenda Lee (once “Little Miss Dynamite”).
Having been a longtime fan of Alex Chilton, I fell into a deep dark hole in between any official activities reading the exhaustively researched new LX bio A Man Called Destruction by Holly George- Warren. Chilton would be a rather daunting subject for any biographer due to his rambling, idiosyncratic career and sharp turns in musical orientation. Given all that, the author (who was well acquainted with Chilton for some years) offers a sometimes harrowing but detailed tribute to an artist who didn’t always know what was best for him, perhaps, but created a wealth of his own music (Big Star and various solo permutations) and produced heaps of other fine projects (The Cramps, Tav Falco’s Panther Burns, and many more). Chilton was a pop star of sorts crooning soul with an affective, mature voice as a teenager with the Box Tops (The Letter, Cry like a Baby) recorded three LPs with the innovative pop band Big Star, and then travelled a winding road of treacherous anti-fame and fortune, in that commercial potential mattered not at all to him in comparison to lively, spontaneous improvisational music that drew from eclectic sources: rock and roll, r and b, blues, country, folk, jazz, classical, noise. Chilton died suddenly of a heart attack in 2010 at the age of 59 in his adopted home of New Orleans, and this feels no less jarring as George-Warren’s account comes to a close. The book dishes out plenty of dissolute rock and roll gossipy anecdotes along the way but is delivered in a measured, readable prose that generally avoids hagiography and rounds out the too often flattened portrayals of this very complex character. I have my own biases, having seen Chilton perform, loving his records for decades, but also thinking a lot about the kind of rather perverse decisions he made in the name of “artistic independence.” But if you are at all interested in one of the most fascinating figures of rock and roll and alternative music, do check out this book, and if you don’t know his music some beautiful stuff (and totally wild shit) awaits you. (You can read an excerpt of the biography here.)
The addictively watchable BBC four documentary David Bowie and the Story of Ziggy Stardust (narrated by Jarvis Cocker) depicts the long road leading up to Bowie’s big breakthrough persona, by way of an almost startling range of eclectic influences: dance, mime, folk, music hall, Anthony Newley, mod, children’s music, theatre (both avant-garde and not-so), and of course, early rock and roll, fashion, androgyny, gay culture, Iggy Pop and the Velvet Underground. As “Spiders from Mars” drummer Mick “Woody” Woodmansy comments: “I think he was trying on what can I do and what do people want, going through the trial and error period, and there was a lot of error!”
The dB's, who began in NYC but all hail from my homestate of North Carolina, were a pretty amazing band in the 1980s, synthesizing a wealth of 60s pop influences (Kinks, Beach Boys, Big Star) into a tight, compact, and highly listenable sound. They never had great commercial success at the time, but have recently reformed just as a style such as theirs seems eminently historical and somewhat distant. That said, with the resurgence of LP buyers and rekindled interest in underappreciated "cult" bands of the past maybe there will be some new attention paid to their fastidious, catchy pop songs. For more dB's info, you can check out their website.