In every religion, symbolism carries sacred powers. Rock and Roll is no exception to this rule. Human nature is an exercise in duality and it don’t matter if it’s Jesus vs Satan or the Beatles vs the Stones. More often than not these labels are just human constructs, recreating biblical drama. I mean come on, John Lennon could be a real asshole, right? So you got the summer of love burning hot and then Charles Manson steps on the stage. He’s basically a hypnotic hack, who is crazy enough that he’s kept as a public pet for the amusement of more successful people… Dennis Wilson, I’m looking at your tombstone…
So this bigoted dude shows up straight outta prison promising a race war and recruits a bunch of suburban kitties to join his death valley survival squad based on a copy of the White Album. He orders a couple executions, gets apprehended and spends his life back in the only place he felt at home… jail. The 1970’s counterculture, punk, early industrial, etc picked up on him as a symbol for the end of the Age of Aquarius. Now the problem begins here. These individuals were not stupid. They understood irony and satire and the use of violent imagery as a means to provoke. If it weren’t for the white supremacist right wingers it’s not hard to imagine the swastika lasting as a symbol of punk’s bad taste for a few more years.
At this point on our journey, we enter the 1980’s and the dropping IQ of hardcore punk fans. Though there were plenty of terrific bands during this era, irony and satire were lost on many of the fans and these symbols were taken as virtues. Enter Charles Manson the persecuted folk hero who espouses environmentalism, living behind bars even though he committed no crime.
So why did anyone continue to give a shit about this guy? Personally, I was always attracted to his charisma as an aesthetic quality. It was more something to be studied than to look up to. It’s genuinely interesting but more than 10 minutes of research and you will realize he was an evil piece of shit. So why do people still look up this guy? He was an older white dude with no redeeming qualities that created a harem of young attractive women. That’s the fantasy most of his devotees wish they could live out. But it doesn’t really matter, in the end, the legend will live on. As part of the duality of the human soul, Charles Manson’s memory will continue as a tainted sacrament for the rock and rollers that never could grow up.
For much of his career, John Cale lived under the shadow of Lou Reed. This stems from the lack of lyrical contributions he made on the first two Velvet Underground records. The fact that the Velvets continued to put out two more records that challenged the musical status quo of the day undercuts his contributions to the band. In reality, Velvet Underground and Nico and White Light/White Heat were heavily indebted to hismusical abilities. That sense of amphetamine laced tension results entirely from Cale’s playing creating a porto-Pixies loud/soft dynamic.
This weekend John Cale reclaimed his status as a creative force within the Velvet Underground. Playing two shows at the Brooklyn Academy of Music as part of their Next Wave Festival, Cale forcibly demonstrated his gift as an arranger and bandleader. With support from the likes of Kurt Vile, The Animal Collective, MGMT and Sky Ferreira, John Cale reimagined the whole of VU and Nico and half of White Light/White Heat in the image of his own career.
Though I have a strong loyalty to Lou Reed’s work, he often made safer choices than John Cale when searching for collaborators. As outrageous as Lou Reed and Metallica were together, John Cale’s own partnerships were far stranger. In these sets, Cale brought forth not only his classical expertise but his interest in electronic music and the pure experimental psychosis redefining these songs in a new context. Sister Ray took on a deranged acid house tone, while a string section added to the avant-classical vibe of Venus in Furs.
The strength of the two shows at BAM results from a conscious decision by Cale to tap into an overlooked aspect of the Velvets. Often the result of the punk movement’s derision of the 1960’s they are usually remembered for their minimalist rock and gutter lyrics. In truth, they were one of the great psychedelic bands of their era and consciously wrote pop music that you could dance to. Seemingly dark as their content could be, their songs were celebrations of life even if it’s the parts we are not supposed to talk about. The final truth of these performances is the fact these songs are as relevant today as they were in 1967. You can dress them how you want but what matters are the lyrics and the melodies the rest is just how far you can take it.
Saul Adamczewski of the Fat White Family recently released two songs with his new band the Insecure Men.
Both songs Subaru Nights and Teenage Toy retain the core elements that made the Fat White Family successful, an understanding of rock classicism and a total irreverence that willfully blends genre over decades.
The result isn’t something that sounds futuristic but rather like contemporary music from another timeline. The Insecure Men have certain resemblances to the recent Fat White Family spinoff Moonlandingz but with a crucial difference.
Where Lias Saoudi personality lends the Fat White Family and Moonlandingz an extroverted quality, this first outing by the Insecure Men is music to listen to alone.
Though the Sam Cooke inspired HOO HAs of Subaru Nights were a pleasant surprise the song Teenage Toy with its Suicide synth sweeps and Psychic TV’s English melodic quirks stood out the most. It’s a classic pop song that reinvents cliches from the last 70 years of popular music.
The result is new, swept in the dense euphoria of its production.
In keeping with the Fat White Family and Moonlandingz, this new outing with the Insecure Men succeeds in being art without pretense.
It’s so un-rock and roll that it’s exactly what rock and roll needs.
In today’s era of rock conservatism, what’s more punk than a disco run on the bass line?
Seven years ago, I was standing outside the Bug Jar in Rochester dow on the avenue smoking. It was September.
Talking to to a man I know about music. He started kickin’ me some stories about when Johnny Thunders pulled into Rochester.
I fell in love with Johnny’s playing as a teen spinning Dolls records. His guitar playing emobidied every element of his seedy junked-out downtown demeanor. The way he slurred his solos and those giant fuck you chords crashing out the code.
So the story goes like this: Just before he went down to New Orleans where he ODed he stopped off in Rochester.
This tune “Critics Choice” he cut with one of our local greats the Chesterfield Kings backing him. The Kings had covered the New York Dolls’ classic take on the tune “Pills” on the album The Berlin Wall of Sound. Critics Choice got released looking like a weird Japanese import, supposedly to get around problems with his estate.
My friend said he saw Johnny knock off a drunken acoustic gig and score the methadone that mighta done him in before splitting the flower city.
This tune along with his other last demos like the song Disappointed In You are a few of the great what ifs in rock and roll.