Archive for August, 2008

The Doors

August 27, 2008

The combined elements of the Doors’ music has transcended time and place to become more than a relic of American psychedelic sound. A ceremonial tone in John Densmore’s tribal drumming — both earthy and jazzy — evoked the mysticism and carnal pleasure of Sunset Strip’s Sea Witch. This held the rhythm for Ray Manzarek’s jazz/R&B organ (shot direct from Mother Neptune’s Coffeehouse) and the Insomniac brew of Robby Krieger’s nimble flamenco guitar lines, mixed with crunchy garage-band chords. But it was the baritone tremolo and lusty howl of Jim Morrison’s vox that took the music of the Doors to a subconscious level. Long after the shimmering klieg lights of L.A.’s psychedelic era went out, the Doors’ music continued to influence sub-culture on record.

By 1977, New Jersey’s the Misfits debuted their own brand of keyboard-driven psychotronic punk at Greenwich Village’s CBGB’s club. The single “Cough/Cool” b/w “She” featured somber, poetic prancing akin to the Doors’ earliest hits, while infusing an experimental art-rock indicative of the times. The Misfits glamourized sex and violence, as their increasingly guitar-driven sound pointed to a bleak, dystopian world at the dawn of Ronald Reagan’s presidency. As their brooding style began influencing the oncoming swarm of ’80s goth-rock, Misfits singer Glenn Danzig moved away from the B-horror garaginess of their best material, instead preferring the nascent death metal sound popular by the mid-’80s.

Britain’s Ian Astbury and Billy Duffy launched their band, the Cult, in the early ’80s, offering up a new-wave/goth sound that was heavily influenced by Native American mysticism. The Cult’s 1984 singles “Spiritwalker” and “Go West (Crazy Spinning Circles)” hit big enough to launch a revived interest in the type of sex/death/rebirth gravity that had critics talking about the ’60s Doors sound again. Jerry Hopkins and Danny Sugerman’s book No One Get Out of Here Alive (1980) had already launched Morrison and the Doors into popularity with a whole new generation. The book would be adapted for the big screen in 1991 with Oliver Stone’s The Doors, and the Cult’s Ian Astbury would later front a ’90s Doors reunion, but neither were viewed as being inspired on the level of the book or earliest Cult records. The indie-spirit of neo-psychedelic, however, had more authentic offerings on the horizon.

In 1986, Seattle’s Screaming Trees unleashed the DIY garage-psych LP Clairvoyance — a foretelling of the ’90s grunge explosion, iconoclastic and haunting all at once. The Middle-Eastern flair of Gary Conner’s guitar on “Standing on the Edge” laid the perfect backdrop for singer Mark Lanegan’s baritone intensity. It wasn’t until Pearl Jam’s 1993 Vs. album that another Seattle act would equal the raw absorption of Calirvoyance. Eddie Vedder’s passion and self-conscious immediacy on Pearl Jam numbers like “Dissident” and “Indifference” harkened back to the crunch-chord spontaneity of the best of the Doors. That same year, Glenn Danzig’s eponymous band had a surprise MTV hit with a live version of “Mother” (originally on their 1988 debut LP), though at this point, his sound was so far gone into death metal that it would doubtless fail to connect with anyone searching for the everyman blues of the Doors sound. Worse yet was the baritone banality of mainstream alternative bands like Stone Temple Pilots, and later, Creed. But by this time, there was a feeling that the sexual, good-time exploration of the Doors’ initial influence had reached a corporate rock nadir. The Sunset Strip’s mid-’60s inspiration continues to this day, but its purity in music has gone underground, as with most of the best sounds in rock, post-alternative.

Brian Chidester

Beat Happening

August 24, 2008

Simply put, this band is just about the coolest band ever. No other way to describe them. They did whatever they wanted, however they wanted, and they did not care how many fans they had. They recorded their songs on Calvin’s crude recording devices. They used no multi-tracks (with the exception of 1992’s “Godsend” which featured guitar overdubs). They had no bass guitar. Their drummer had no musical experience prior to joining the band. Guitarist/Vocalist Heather Lewis once commented that you could tell the story of Beat Happening through the drum sets they borrowed. Even with all that going against them they still managed to make incredible music as well as influence the Seattle sound that briefly took over the world.

Calvin Johnson and Heather Lewis both went to Evergreen State College. They had both previously been in a band together, but that band faltered and they needed a drummer to make a trip to Japan. They called on their friend and classmate Bret Lunsford. He had no musical experience but that didn’t matter. Beat Happening was formed. They recorded an EP in Japan, and it got critical acclaim, so they made more albums.

Calvin started K Records to make his and hid friends’ music available to the world. He did not know the amount of influence his tiny little record company would end up having. The do it yourself style really appealed to bands that were starting to pop-up in Northern Washington who were tired of the over-dubbed, bland music that was being force fed to the population through endless rotation on radio stations and the emerging MTV. Beat Happening was the thing they were looking for. (That and Steve Albini’s band RAPEMAN). The minimalist approach was a direct contrast of everything that was popular in the mid-late 80s.

Their first album was self titled and came out in 1985. This caught the attention of a band from Ellensburg, Washington (where the cows live) known as the Screaming Trees. In a 1986 interview, Van Conner (or Gary Lee Conner) mentioned to the interviewer that Beat Happening was making some great music in Olympia. Their second album, “Jamboree” (produced by Screaming Trees members Mark Lanegan and Van Conner) really got the attention of the rest of the Seattle sound. This is the time when Kurt Cobain got into them, right when Nirvana was starting out. After that, they decided to make a split EP with the Screaming Trees. It has not title beyond “Beat Happening/Screaming Trees Split EP” “Black Candy” came out in 1989 and I consider that one to be the best. Also, in 1988, they began a relationship with Sub Pop records. They still released records through K, but they had a cut on the legendary “Sub Pop 200” album and 1991’s “The Grunge Years” compilation. “Black Candy”, “Jamboree”, and 1991s “Dreamy” were all re-released through Sub Pop.

1992 was a change for Beat Happening. “You Turn Me On” was released by K and Sub Pop at the same time and they also featured multi-track recording in their songs. Something they had never done before. I wasn’t around Washington, or their core fan base at the time, so I can’t say what the reaction was, but it was modest enough for me to not let it be a deal breaker for their sound. The lead single “Pine Box Rock” still was the same formula they had been using and it was a great song. After “You Turn Me On” there was a hiatus for Beat Happening. Calvin claimed that they were still practicing everyday, but nothing ever came out. There was nothing until 2002 with the “Crashing Through” Box Set. In 2003, they released “Music to Climb the Apple Tree By” which featured songs they had previously recorded including the entire EP they recorded with the Screaming Trees.

Hard to tell if there will be another band like Beat Happening. I hope there is not. A band like them deserves their own place in history without watered down imitations. Their minimalist approach influenced some of the most popular bands of all time. To overlook them would not only be a disservice to music, but a disservice to yourself.

Todd

A New Face

August 21, 2008

Greetings fans of all things grunge. I am here to report that all you people that are tired of my writing can finally rejoice. I have recruited a new author for this blog, and he will share in the writing duties with me. He brings a wealth of experience with him and will add tons of experience and an overwhelming knowledge of music. I consider it a privilege that he is helping me out to make this thing a success.

His name is Brian and here are a few of the credentials that he is bringing with him.

His is the Editor-in-Chief of Dumb Angel Magazine, author of the book Pop Surf Culture: Music, Design, Film, and Fashion from the Bohemian Surf Boom from Santa Monica Press. It is due out in Los Angeles and New York on September 1st and available online on September 15th.

He was also the main researcher for the “Smile” Tour program in 2004.

He also hosted an internet radio show called Beatnick Beach on luxuriamusic.com

I look forward to working with him.

Todd

Review: MOJO Magazine: Aug. 2008

August 16, 2008
August 08

MOJO Magazine August 2008

The current issue of MOJO Magazine is devoted to the 20th anniversary of Sub Pop records. It does not just mention the anniversary, it tells the story of the history of the label and its influence on music. Of course, it is impossible to talk about Sub Pop without talking about Nirvana, so the magazine also dedicates the cover and a feature story about Sub Pop’s most famous band.

For the Sup Pop interview, they got together “grunge royalty” if ever there was such a thing. They brought in former Nirvana drummer Chad Channing, Mudhoney and Green River frontman Mark Arm, and TAD frontman Tad Doyle. They also brought together the founders of Sub Pop Records Jonathan Poneman and Bruce Pavitt. The article talks about the very humble beginnings where they would ship orders from the Musak Corporation where Pavitt worked part time until 1988. It is a true DIY label and pretty soon the Major labels could not avoid it.

The article really starts with the culmination of Sub Pop’s efforts: Lamefest in 1989. The Lamefest show sold out the iconic Moore Theater in Seattle headlined by all local bands, a feat that was thought to be out of the question. This showed Pavitt and Poneman that they were on to something. Bands like Green River, TAD, Mudhoney, Nirvana, and Mother Love Bone really helped define the Seattle Sound as well as Sub Pop itself.

Sub Pop has had its ups and downs over the last 20 years, but with bands like Iron and Wine, Flight of the Conchords, Mudhoney, and The Gutter Twins they are as strong as ever. The magazine also comes with a free CD titled “The Sub Pop 300.” It has some of the same tracks as the Sub Pop issue “The Grunge Years” but there are some great tracks including: “Change Has Come” by the Screaming Trees, “Shove” by L7, and “Retarded” by the Afghan Whigs. There are also tracks by other Sub Pop artists like Pissed Jeans, Red Red Meat, and Flight of the Conchords.

Todd


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