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Review: Young Marble Giants’ Colossal Youth by Michael Blair and Joe Bucciero June 3, 2017

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Cover of Colossal YouthAn overdue Netgalley review for a long overdue book.

I first read about Young Marble Giants back around 1980. I think Lou Stathis reviewed it and made it sound pretty good. But it was 1980. I never saw a copy of Colossal Youth anywhere, so it pretty much faded out of my mind. Then, in the mid-1990s, I found a copy of Salad Days, a demo collection, in a record store, and bought it. It was pretty good, and by then it was a lot easier to order albums, so I got Colossal Youth on CD, and it was one of those albums that just fits in perfectly with everything else I listen to.

But enough about me. Colossal Youth is one of those postpunk albums that could be called antipunk, given its quiet songs, coolly amateurish and deadpan female vocals, primitive drum machine, etc, but it probably would never have existed without punk, and Hole’s cover of their song “Credit in the Straight World” shows that it isn’t really that hard to bring some YMG into noisier territory.

Everyone from Kurt Cobain to the xx, it seems, has spoken of the influence Colossal Youth had on them; you can hear it in a lot of places, odd though it must have sounded in 1979. This book sets the album and band in context as a trio from Cardiff, removed in many ways from punk, but arguably even further removed from whatever the mainstream was there at the time. It’s not one of those 33 1/3 books that talk much about the studio experience or the gear or any of the technical side of making the album, because all they had was a homemade drum machine, a ring modulator, a bass guitar, an organ, and an electric guitar — and with only three band members, few if any songs used all of those instruments, and the album only took a week or so to record.

Instead, the book talks about the music, about the contrast between the emotional lyrics written by a male band member and the unemotional way they were sung by the female band member; about being from Cardiff instead of London; about the feminism and politics that observers picked up on even when they weren’t intentional. There’s a bit about what the band members did before and after, which is especially helpful for a band with only one proper album in their discography.

The book’s a bit academic at times. You’ll see references to Susan Sontag, Julia Kristeva, Dick Hebdige, and others. But it’s still always readable and accessible.

Overall, a much-needed tribute to an album you should know.

Review: Angelo Badalamenti’s Soundtrack from Twin Peaks by Clare Nina Norelli February 9, 2017

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cover103893-mediumYes, it’s another Netgalley review, written from a free advance e-copy.

A necessary addition to the growing Twin Peaks bookshelf, this short but informative book does a lot in its limited space.

It’s not just a look at the soundtrack album. Like many 33 1/3 books, this one puts the album in context, in this case as part of Angelo Badalamenti’s work, as part of David Lynch’s world, as part of a cult television series, and as music. Moving beyond the soundtrack, she writes about how the show used different versions of recurring themes and motifs linked with moods and characters. She includes the music from Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me, and the many pieces of music made available in recent years through the Twin Peaks Archive soundtrack project, which released a couple of hundred tracks that did not appear on the commercially released soundtrack albums.

More than the coming revival of the TV series, it’s the release of so much music from the original series that makes this such a timely book. Not that you have to be a fan of the TV series to love this music; as Norelli comments, the Twin Peaks soundtrack stands on its own. It’s not a grubby cash-in, nor is it a collection of music that doesn’t stand up to listening without the visuals. Overall, a good addition to both the 33 1/3 line and the small body of books about Twin Peaks.

(And, speaking of the Twin Peaks Archive, I don’t know how long this deal will be available or how much economic sense it makes, but you can get a lot of this music dirt cheap, legally, and legitimately. If you’ve read this far and don’t have this already, what are you waiting for?)

More Bowie books January 2, 2017

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Thanks to Netgalley, I read a couple of books about David Bowie as free advance e-reading copies in exchange for reviews. I think both were reprints with a bit of new material added. Some comments:

Spider from Mars: My Life with Bowie by Woody Woodmansey. This one’s due out right about now. As the title suggests, it’s a memoir by one of the Spiders From Mars.

There have been many books written about David Bowie, and this is one of them. It’s an inside story of the band who played with Bowie from The Man Who Sold The World through Aladdin Sane. Woody Woodmansey begins with his days as a youth discovering the joys of rock and roll, playing in small local bands and gradually moving up, playing with Mick Ronson and then being called to work with Ronson and Bowie.

It’s a time of many changes, in society and music, and Woodmansey presents it from the perspective of a northern small town lad who manages to stay away from most of the craziness. Either he kept an unmentioned diary or he has a phenomenal memory — there are details about clothes and instruments and things that I’d never remember, but I never lived through that kind of experience.

So you get a lot of the day to day life of being a rising rock drummer, playing in a popular band, being dropped just as things get huge, and keeping a life going as a professional musician, with occasional encounters with interesting people along the way. What you don’t get is much insight into David Bowie. Why did things change between Bowie and the Spiders? Must have been the drugs. There’s not much insight into anything, really; it’s not a deep book, or a gem of well-crafted prose, it’s a conversation with a geezer telling you stories of what happened. Enjoyable enough but unless you’re a Bowie obsessive who reads every book about him (not me — I don’t think I’ve read more than seven or eight) or someone really interested in the glam period of Bowie’s career, you may not need this. Though I suppose it could serve as a counterpoint of sorts to the recent Simon Reynolds book on glam, showing how all that looked to those who lived it.

And then there’s Bowie Album By Album by rock critic Paolo Hewitt, out for a couple of months now. Also what it says on the tin.

This is an excellent choice for the casual fan who wants something that puts Bowie’s albums into context, that has some good discography and chronology info, and that has a lot of photos, making it something you can browse or read through. Hewitt goes through Bowie’s life album by album, providing some context on the making and reception of each one, along with the occasional critique.

Bowie fans who already have several books in their collections may not learn a lot that’s new here, but even so it’s worth browsing for the photos.

Not much to add, really… highly recommended for anyone who wants a solid introduction to David Bowie’s career, from the early albums through Blackstar.

Review: Shock and Awe by Simon Reynolds October 2, 2016

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cover98087-mediumThis is the quick Netgalley take. It’ll be expanded before too long, but, essentially, you need to buy this.

From David Bowie to Lady Gaga, from the Rocky Horror Picture Show to Janelle Monae, there’s a hell of a lot covered here. Glam or glitter rock wasn’t just a short-lived style of rock and roll. As Simon Reynolds demonstrates in Shock and Awe, glam changed how a lot of people think about popular music, and its influence never disappeared from music.

Makeup and over the top costumes. Music that borrows from the 1950s and other eras. Genderbeding. Performance over worthiness and authenticity. As Reynolds points out, with its artificiality and its habit of absorbing disparate elements to make something new, glam was music as postmodernism before people actually started talking about postmodernism. It was also entertaining.

Shock and awe is entertaining as a book, too. Reynolds is knowledgeable about music and culture, but his focus is the music and the musicians. Unlike other serious books on pop culture, this one is not overloaded with cultural theory. He’s not using glam to make points about something else, or to show his knowledge of cultural theorists, he’s writing about glam because he wants to write about glam. He quotes Baudelaire, not Baudrillard, because the former’s poetry of decadence is an obvious influence to discuss.

Reynolds brings in everyone you’d expect, Bowie, Bolan, Roxy Music, Gary Glitter, the Sweet, and expands his definition to bring in musicians I wouldn’t have expected to find in this book, but whose inclusion makes perfect sense in context — Kate Bush, for example. The bulk of the book covers the 1970s, but there’s a follow-up section — almost long enough to be its own book — racing through the decades since, covering glam eruptions in forms as diverse as LA hair metal and Lady Gaga.

Anyone who loves any of this music will learn from this book. In this Internet age where everyone has access to decades of music without all the cultural baggage that comes with it, younger music fans especially can learn a lot of context for so much of what’s happening in popular music.¬† Recommended without reservation.

Review: The Jesus and Mary Chain’s Psychocandy by Paula Mejia August 10, 2016

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Yes! Netgalley again! This is a review written in exchange for an advance electronic galley from the publisher via Netgalley.jamcp

So here’s a book from the 33 1/3 series, bringers of wonders and delights and occasional wtf moments, about an album I love.

Which is why I want to love this book: I love Psychocandy. I saw the Jesus and Mary Chain on TV in 1985. A month or two later, I bought the 7″ of “Never Understand” and a friend bought the 7″ of “Upside Down.” They were great, but then came Psychocandy and the sharp left turn of “Just Like Honey” and I was even more impressed. I bought all their albums, saw them on the Automatic tour, etc.

So I want to love this book because I love the album. But it feels like I’m the wrong audience for it. Instead of a deep dive into the album, it feels more like a book by and for people half my age discovering a classic album long after it was released. I assume that’s the reason for the Britney Spears stuff. Situating the JAMC’s catchy noise merits a discussion of pop, maybe even bubblegum pop (though the usual touchstones are the Beach Boys and girl groups for that side of their sound), but the pop discussion generally seems a bit historically off and very American. I’m not British but it’s always seemed to me that the UK and the US don’t necessarily mean quite the same thing when they use the word “pop.”

Mejia reads like she had fun writing the book, going off on digressions about candy, falling into hipster or rockcrit-speak occasionally (“punk-surged”?), and clearly expressing her own enthusiasm for what we agree is a great album. But while she did research and interviews, I don’t feel I encountered much that was new to me. There’s no rule that a book in the 33 1/3 series has to talk about recording studios, equipment, production techniques, unreleased tracks, or the like, but I could have used a bit more focus on the record.

Still, considering some of the albums the 33 1/3 people have chosen to cover in recent books, this is a positive sign and a readable, occasionally fun book. If it keeps people under 50 interested in the Jesus and Mary Chain, job well done.

Review: Blondie’s Parallel Lines by Kembrew McLeod April 22, 2016

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cover82319-mediumAnother Netgalley review!

There’s no shortage of books about the late 1970s New York scene, from Please Kill Me to loads of Ramones books to several others in the 33 1/3 series. McLeod covers some of the same territory in the early pages — the Velvet Underground, Max’s Kansas City, CBGB, the New York Dolls, Wayne County, Suicide, Television, Patti Smith, etc — but soon enough turns his attention to Debbie Harry and Chris Stein and the development of Blondie and its predecessor bands. The book offers a quick history of Blondie up to the breakup and mentions the reunion, but it largely focuses on the making of and reception to Parallel Lines.

Blondie was one of the few bands from the punk scene to break out into mass commercial success. They were never a noisy punk band, more on the performance art side, but they also loved classic girl group pop, and were willing to work with a big producer who could push them to the next level. And it all came together on this album.

McLeod differentiates his book from other NY scene books by looking at the punk and disco scenes, what it meant for Blondie to record a song like “Heart of Glass,” etc, and how Blondie navigated issues of gender and sexuality. He discusses camp and the way Debbie Harry, whose image was originally intended ironically, was turned into a conventional sex symbol as part of the move to the mainstream, not entirely the way Blondie intended, despite Harry’s openness and positivity about sex. He also occasionally points out how another New York bottle blonde would build on this in the 1980s.

There are a couple of moments where McLeod starts sounding like he’s writing a cultural studies paper, and others where he gets slangy and bloggy, but in general he maintains a straightforward and readable prose style. He also interviewed a lot of the key players, including most of Blondie.

All in all, not the flashiest entry in the 33 1/3 series, but a solid and thoughtful exploration of a great moment in pop, disco, and punk/new wave history.

Review: Hallo Spaceboy: The Rebirth of David Bowie January 30, 2016

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David Bowie's "A Reality Tour" - April 22, 2004

Photo by Lester Cohen/WireImage.com, according to the metadata that came with the cover image from the ECW website and got automatically dumped in here, so there you go.

ECW Press recently put this book on sale, so I picked it up because it looks at a relatively underchronicled era of David Bowie’s career, after 1980.

Dave Thompson is a very prolific writer. I read a lot of his stuff in Alternative Press, back when that was an alternative rock magazine instead of a mall punk/nu-metal magazine, and I’ve read one or two of his other 80 books. I don’t know how much original research he does; most of his books seem to rely on published sources, like other quickie music books, but he is very much a fan of a lot of the music he writes about, so that compensates a bit. I don’t think he’s a cynical opportunist churning out pages for money. Certainly not in this case, anyway; it’s very clear that he’s a big Bowie fan.

Hallo Spaceboy seems to exist to argue that there’s a lot of good Bowie music after Scary Monsters, something I’m reasonably inclined to agree with. He looks at the creation of each of the albums, including the Tin Machine period, and while he can be dismissive of some of the material, he argues strongly for a lot of the music.

I think his fanboyism gets the better of him at times. Talking about Bowie’s live albums, he casually dismisses 1978’s Stage as abysmal; while he likes some solo Morrissey, he writes off the Smiths as hopeless. He also, in my opinion, greatly overstates the importance of Tin Machine. I remember that at the time Bowie talked a good talk about being influenced by the likes of Sonic Youth, which seemed promising. But instead of working with anyone like that for Tin Machine, he got a couple of ’70s rockers and Reeves Gabrels, who seems to have come from more of a proggish background. The result was something that played it a lot safer than Bowie’s “Brancasonic” talk. Clean, disciplined hard rock, without the experimental strangeness I expected. To spin this as the obvious precursor of grunge, as Thompson does, is… well, fanboyish, to use that word again. Nirvana didn’t cover “You Belong in Rock’n’Roll,” they covered “The Man Who Sold the World.”

Still, it’s good to have a book that tells the story of Never Let Me Down, the Glass Spider tour, and so on through the more critically acclaimed Outside, Heathen, and other late comebacks. The book also discusses a lot of soundtrack, movie, and collaborative work I hadn’t been aware of. There’s also a lengthy discography. That doesn’t make The Complete David Bowie or Bowie on Bowie any less necessary, but it complements them.

It’s unfortunate that Hallo Spaceboy ends before The Next Day, never mind Blackstar, but there’s probably another book in the last few years.

Catching up with John Foxx January 23, 2016

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When I started this blog to write about music, mainly for my own pleasure and to stave off the boredom of being between jobs, I posted several times about John Foxx for two reasons: first, I like his music, and second, he’s prolific. Looks like the most recent of his albums I posted about were the live album In the Glow and some reissues back in 2009. So what’s he done lately? I’ll skip reissues and compilations and remixes.

 

jf1D.N.A. (2010, one CD and companion DVD with videos). It’s a collection of tracks created for collaborators to make videos from. Many of the videos are good, but the CD doesn’t really flow as an album, mixing beat-oriented and ambient tracks.

 

jf2Interplay (2011). The first album by new project John Foxx and the Maths. More song-oriented than some of the preceding albums but built entirely with vintage analogue synthesizers. Retro synthpop, basically.

 

jf3Torn Sunset (2011). An ambient collaboration with Theo Travis, who’s also worked with Robert Fripp and various jazz and progressive rock musicians. I like Foxx’s work with Harold Budd, but Travis’s flute pushed the line between ambient and new age a bit too much.

 

jf4Nighthawks (2011). A new release packaged with a reissue of the Foxx/Budd Translucence/Drift Music albums, this teams Foxx and Budd with Ruben Garcia on more piano/electronics ambient music.

 

jf5The Shape of Things (2011 and 2012). The second release by John Foxx and the Maths came in two versions a few months apart. The first was a 14-track album with an 8-track bonus disc of remixes and collaborations, the second was a single disc with all of the album tracks plus one from the bonus disc and one new track. It basically continues the Maths’ melodic retro electronic song style, if slightly darker.

 

jf6Evidence (2012). John Foxx and the Maths continue to develop their style, but this album is a mix of new material, collaborations, and remixes rather than a single piece of work conceived as a new album.

 

jf7Analogue Circuit: Live At The Roundhouse (2012). This is a big package from a big concert, with John Foxx and the expanded version of the Maths and special guest, former Ultravox guitarist Robin Simon, playing songs from Ultravox’s 1978 album Systems of Romance, Foxx’s 1980 Metamatic era, and the recent Maths material on one DVD and two CDs.

 

jf8Rhapsody (2013). Currently the final recording by John Foxx and the Maths, this is a “live in the studio” album, presenting solo Foxx, Maths, and Ultravox songs as they might be played live but with the sound quality of a studio recording.

 

jf9Gazelle Twin/I Speak Machine: Exponentialism (2013). Not exactly a Foxx album, this is an EP featuring four Foxx/Ultravox songs as covered by two women who worked with Foxx in recent years on Maths projects, released by Foxx’s label.

 

jf10Empty Avenues (2013). Musicians from The Belbury Poly and The Advisory Circle, of the Ghost Box label, known for retro/hauntological electronic music, collaborate with Foxx under the name John Foxx and the Belbury Circle. It’s a beautifully melodic EP, the least synth-purist thing he’s done in years, with some of his best singing and songwriting in a long time.

 

jf11European Splendour (2013) Another EP, this time in collaboration with Jori Hulkkonen. More electronic than Empty Avenues but just as strong and melodic. These two EPs rank among his best recordings since the 1980s. Or ever, really.

 

jf12B-Movie (Ballardian Video Neuronica) (2014). Back to the conceptual, this instrumental electronic album sounds like outtakes from Metamatic and soundtracked a video inspired by the work of JG Ballard.

 

jf13Evidence Of Time Travel (2014). More conceptual instrumental electronica, this collaboration with Steve D’Agostino is the soundtrack for a multimedia work by the artist Karborn (apparently Foxx’s son). Somewhat more austere and abstract than B-Movie, but not overwhelmingly dissimilar.

 

jf14London Overgrown (2015). Inspired by the experience of moving to London in the 1970s as well as by Ballard’s disaster novels and surrealist art, Foxx has long incorporated references to visions of an abandoned, overgrown London in his music over the years. This is something of a summation of the concept, recycling a couple of tracks from other sources, including bits of Cathedral Oceans with the vocals removed. But it works well and nobody else makes ambient quite like this.

 

jf15Ghost Harmonic: Codex (2015). Another strong ambient album, this collaboration between Foxx, Benge (from the Maths), and violinist Diana Yukawa.

 

That’s a lot of music to absorb. The critics loved the Maths albums; I liked them quite a bit, but my favourites here would be the two EPs from 2013 and last year’s ambient albums.

David Bowie January 20, 2016

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bowielookI’ll try to keep this one fairly short. There’s been so much said already.

The first Bowie record I had was a 7″ 45 of “Space Oddity”/”The Man Who Sold the World.” I liked it well enough, back when I was listening to a lot of Queen and Electric Light Orchestra and Fleetwood Mac.

But in 1979, I was 16 and starting to listen more to new wave, punk, and electronic music, losing interest in top 40 MOR and light prog rock. So one night I was watching Don Kirshner’s Rock Concert, a late night show with concert footage and music videos from before MTV, and they played three new David Bowie videos: “D.J.,” “Look Back in Anger,” and “Boys Keep Swinging.” They were perfect. Songs by someone familiar from the kind of music I was moving out of — but as adventurous and unique as the stuff I was getting into. Within a year or two I had Stage, Lodger, Low, Heroes, Scary Monsters, ChangesOneBowie…

It’d be a lie to say I stayed with Bowie from then on out. Like a lot of people I tuned out circa Tonight and didn’t tune back in until Outside, aside from going to see him on the Glass Spider tour. It took me a while to catch up with some of the pre-Station to Station albums, but I made up for it, especially over the last couple of years. And while I like The Next Day, it was… well… kind of ordinary rock music, a lot of it, with a misfire or two. When the news broke about Blackstar, it sounded like it would be more what I wanted from Bowie, more of what I discovered in 1979, something unique. And it is. But just as he shows the world he can still surprise us and impress us, he’s gone.

Review: Big Star: Nothing Can Hurt Me January 12, 2016

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51jz4wKcWJLIt’s entirely possible that you’ve only heard any of the music in this film without knowing this band existed. You’ve probably heard that classic 60s hit “The Letter” by the Box Tops without knowing what the guy who sang it did next. You may have heard the opening credits song from That 70s Show played by Cheap Trick without ever having heard the original. For that matter, you’re probably skeptical whenever rock critics or obsessive music fans tell you that this band you never heard was actually one of the best bands ever, never mind one of the best bands that never had a hit. Well, give this a shot anyway.

If you’re a fan, you’ve probably already got this.

This is a two-hour documentary about a band most people still haven’t heard of, decades after they came and went. But they’re a band with a big cult following that includes a lot of influential musicians and writers, so there’s been a couple of books already, too.

Having read those books, I thought there were a few things that could have been covered in the documentary that weren’t… but that’s a fairly minor quibble, which I’ll get back to in a minute.

Overall this is a really good documentary that should work both for committed fans and people just wondering what the fuss is about. There’s a surprising amount of 1970s video footage of the band members, along with more recent interviews with band members, family, record company people, and other musicians. You get the pre-band history — Alex Chilton having a big hit single as the singer of the Box Tops, Chris Bell starting a band with some friends — and what came after. Chris Bell trying to go solo, Big Star continuing without him and then Alex Chilton going solo and spending years trying to get away from anything to do with Big Star and its sound, the unexpected reunion, and a lot of deaths. It’s not the most cheerful movie, to put it mildly. But the snippets of music and the obvious love for the band from many of the people interviewed, as well as the way in which Big Star was eventually discovered by a larger audience, adds a lot of positivity.

The main thing I missed from the documentary was most of what got me interested in Big Star. In 1985 I bought It’ll End in Tears by This Mortal Coil, which has covers of the Big Star songs “Kangaroo” and “Holocaust.” Not long after that I picked up the Rainy Day album, with another version of “Holocaust.” In 1986 the best song on the second Bangles album, A Different Light, was their cover of “September Gurls.” In 1991, the third This Mortal Coil album had covers of two of Chris Bell’s songs. In 1993, His Name Is Alive covered “Blue Moon.” And somewhere in there the Replacements recorded their tribute song “Alex Chilton.” The Replacements tune is referenced in the movie, but that’s it.

A few other things, the aforementioned quibbles:

  • what I’ve read about the third album suggests that Chilton’s girlfriend Lesa Aldridge played a big role as muse and, apparently, as a singer, until Chilton wiped most of her vocals; she’s not interviewed and not mentioned much.
  • Though there’s a fair amount about the Big Star reunion shows, the new lineup’s live album and single studio album go unmentioned aside from an album cover popping up on screen for a second.
  • The film is open about Chris Bell’s drug and alcohol abuse but only dances around the issue of his sexuality; he may have been gay or bisexual.

Oh… What did they sound like? Well, they were influenced by the Beatles and in turn influenced an awful lot of North American and UK alternative/indie bands. R.E.M.’s Mike Mills is in this; so is Douglas Hart of the Jesus and Mary Chain. If you were ever a new wave/alternative/indie rock/power pop fan, Big Star is in the DNA of your music. If you were into art-damaged ethereal goth bands like This Mortal Coil, well, the third album adds some precursors of that music to the power pop/classic rock sound, and it works. But you should probably start with #1 Record/Radio City, usually available on a single CD, then go for Sister Lovers/Third and Chris Bell’s I Am the Cosmos. I bought them in the mid-1990s and was impressed, and as time goes by I listen to them more and more often. To quote the Replacements, “I never travel far without a little Big Star.”

Jr Gone Wild revisited: whys and wherefores November 11, 2015

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When I first listened to Less Art, More Pop, I remember being happy and relieved that friends of mine had an actual and for real LP and it was really good. Well, it wasn’t that much of a surprise; Joey Did and the Necrophiliacs/the Malibu Kens might not have had a lot of fans, but they had some pretty good songs on the tapes I used to get.

And then they started touring regularly, part of a great Canadian music scene (go read Have Not Been the Same — no, really, I insist, there’s a few good pages on Jr in there). I saw them do a lot of Ottawa gigs. They were always fun gatherings of old and new friends, great music, some pretty cool band t-shirts, and eventually that big Alberta flag behind them as they played that brought me back to my years out west. Helped get me out of the house. And I think it might have been Jr who told me to come and see Ottawa legend Lucky Ron at the Downstairs Club for the first time.

I didn’t make it to Edmonton for the first few reunion shows, but Anthony Fulmes, Sue Porter, and I made it to Toronto for a storming and utterly convincing showcase set at the Horseshoe Tavern. There was some nostalgia, sure, we all saw Jr plenty of times back in the day, but this was not some old guys coasting on memories, they kicked ass. Earlier this year I flew out to Edmonton to see the Dead Venues documentary and a full, longer Jr set, which showed the Toronto set was no fluke. I got to hang out with some familiar faces, too.

Anyway, the Dead Venues guys are working on a Jr documentary, as I mentioned before, you can help fund it, and I just want to see this happen, along with more new music, more shows, and maybe a new t-shirt. The old ones got kind of worn out. So maybe someone will stumble across this and follow some links and help make things come together. And that’s why I spent the evening reviving old memories and new.

Jr Gone Wild revisited: the expanded universe November 11, 2015

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I had a page on the website linking to concise entries on non-Jr recordings that featured members of Jr and the Mike McDonald Band. This probably wasn’t even a complete list in 1995. Too bad there was nothing like discogs (wow, does that need a lot of work) or wikipedia back then. Wasn’t easy to track some of these down, either — no mp3s or iTunes yet. Hell, some of these are actually cassettes or LPs. From before vinyl needed a comeback.

Various artists: Edmonton Rocks Volume One
Various artists: It Came From Inner Space: The Edmonton Compilation
Various artists: Live From the Great Western Ballroom Volume One
Santa by Agent Bumbo
Strange Feelings by the Alien Rebels
Galvanism by Capt. Nemo
Hooked on Mnemonics by Capt. Nemo
Snapperhead by Dead Beat Back Bone
The Black Spot by D.O.A.
Demo Dog by Greyhound Tragedy
Demi Dog/Oh… Those Poor Dogs cassette by Greyhound Tragedy
Demi Dog CD by Greyhound Tragedy
As We Walk on Thin Ice by Jane Hawley
Letters to Myself by Jane Hawley
Spine by Veda Hille
Oh Hut… by Hookahman
Hookahman by Hookahman
Looking Back by Jerusalem Ridge
Road Gore: The Band That Drank Too Much by Jerry Jerry and the Sons of Rhythm Orchestra
Battle Hymn of the Apartment by Jerry Jerry and the Sons of Rhythm Orchestra
Be My Barbie by the Malibu Kens
Theresa’s World by the Modern Minds
Meconium by Ford Pier
Fully Loaded by Rustbucket
Let’s Have a Talk With the Dead by the Show Business Giants
Con Troupo Comedius by Three Dead Trolls in a Baggie
Wing Night by the Vinaigrettes
Gross Negligee by the Vinaigrettes
Redeemer by the Wheat Chiefs

Last updated February 5, 1998.

Jr Gone Wild revisited: the music November 11, 2015

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Here are the comments for the Jr releases from the website.

Less Art, More Pop is a classic mid-’80s album. Its guitars-and- harmonies approach clearly owes a great debt to such bands of the 1960s as the Byrds, but also reflects a lot of what was happening in the independent music scene of the time. REM and the Smiths had inspired innumerable jangly guitar bands, and other bands like the Dream Syndicate, Rainy Day, and the Long Ryders drew from the ’60s for inspiration.

This album fits well in that company, incorporating touches of folk, country, and punk into its pop aesthetic. There’s variety, but also the clear beginning of a unique sound and attitude. A few songs are lighthearted and goofy, like the fiddle-driven country stomp of Martha Quinn and the Carl Sagan- inspired pogopop of Cosmos. Others, like Fine Scotch, take a darker look at life, though not a hopeless one. Mike’s voice helps distinguish the band, whether he’s doing lead or backing vocals. The band starts to forge an identity that remains through the coming years of drastic lineup changes.

Folk You: The Guido Sessions is an assemblage of material from various sources, including demo tracks and live songs. The music ranges farther afield than before, due in part to the departure of Dave Lawson and the arrival of new guitarist Steve Loree. Although a number of songs from this album have since been rerecorded for later albums, this tape is well worth having and hearing, especially for songs like Steve Loree’s strong opener One Gun Town, the upbeat Dumb in the Summer, the old crowd pleaser What’s Going On, and Dove’s goofy contribution, Six Pack (no relation to the Black Flag song).

Too Dumb to Quit is the first really professional release from the band, produced by Bill Henderson of ’70s rock band Chilliwack and released by a label that also features albums by Ian Tyson and Steve Earle. Four of the songs from Folk You are reprised here, and though the sound quality is obviously superior to that of the cassette, there are similar forays into hard rock (the slow grind of The Bachelor Suite, tempered by steel guitar, and the urgent, propulsive sound of Akit’s Hill), lighthearted pop (The Clich√© Song), and slow, soft country folk (Poet’s Highway and Sleep With a Stranger). This is a damn good album by any standard.

(Pull the Goalie doesn’t seem to have a review. I don’t remember why, because it may be my most frequently played Jr album. There’s some of their countriest music here, and absolutely classic tunes like Just the Other Day. There are some different names in the songwriting mix this time, with Steve Loree and Ed Dobek, who each contributed songs to some previous albums, no longer in the band. But Dove contributes again and so does this album’s new guitarist Chris Smith.)

Live at the Hyperbole got a bit of background:

It’s August, 1995, and I’m in Edmonton for the first time in ten years. Anthony Fulmes (a.k.a. Guido, of Guido Sessions fame) is getting married to Tamara Sapach. But that’s still a few days away. Everybody’s gathering at the Rose Bowl, the pizza joint and lounge immortalized in various Jr. Gone Wild videos and publicity photos. The Bowl has a great CD jukebox. As you flip through it, you see CD covers; you can pick any song from any of dozens of CDs. Pretty good selection, too. Some familiar Jr. CD covers go by, along with other local faves like Jane Hawley. And then I see a Jr. CD I’ve never seen before, never even fucking heard of. Jr. and Three Dead Trolls. I knew I must own it, but there was no chance to go somewhere and buy it that night. Dove told me to relax, that the band had plenty of copies. So before I left Edmonton I bought a copy, at Sound Connection or maybe the West Edmonton Mall. It was a damn good investment.

There are probably a lot of Jr. Gone Wild fans, and Three Dead Trolls fans, who don’t know the CD exists. Well, now you do. You have no excuse. Tell your friends, tell your neighbors.

What is it, you ask?

This is a live recording of a musical comedy revue by the band Jr. Gone Wild and the comedy troupe Three Dead Trolls in a Baggie. There are humorous songs, sketches, a good live version of Just the Other Day, and the ultimate Irish drinking song, A Dublin Lullaby. And for all the bitter and broken-hearted, the song She Thinks You’re Ugly explains a lot. Umm… or so I’ve been told by bitter and broken-hearted people. As entertaining as the CD is, it’s clear that attending the live show, in person, would be even more enjoyable.

Simple Little Wish garnered considerable positive press, from the Edmonton Journal to the Globe and Mail, much of it dealing with the fact that Mike quit drinking prior to this album, the subject of the first song. The critics weren’t interested only in Mike’s private life, though; they praised the songwriting and the music.

As usual, there’s a lineup change, and this time there are appearances from some old familiar names, notably Ford Pier and Jane Hawley. There’s also a song by Steve Loree, although he doesn’t play on the album. This is also the first Jr. album to include a bonus track after a long period of silence (on the CD, at least).

Jr Gone Wild revisited continued November 11, 2015

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I knew Mike McDonald and Ed Dobek from a precursor of Jr Gone Wild when we were all in high school, so I was there for the very beginning of the whole thing. And then my family promptly got transferred a few thousand km across Canada. But a bunch of us stayed in touch by mail, and I got records and tapes in the mail occasionally, so I survived. (This is 1980 and shortly afterwards. Travel across the country is a big deal. Long distance phone calls are horribly expensive. Next to nobody has a computer or a way to communicate with other computers.)

Anyway, I wrote this in 1995:

The Jr. Gone Wild story is a long one, but with a few constants over the years. Mike McDonald, for instance. He’s the only original member of a band that has, according to rumor, at least thirty former members. His core influences have also been constant for the last fifteen years: Bob Dylan, Neil Young, punk rock, folk, and country music.

The Jr. Gone Wild story begins a few years before the band came into existence. It’s hard to pin down the real beginning, because there were several. Here’s one beginning moment that stands out.

It’s a sunny afternoon in the spring of 1980. A teacher and a dozen or so students walk a few blocks east of Archbishop O’Leary High School in north Edmonton, Alberta to the home of Ed Dobek, one of the students. On arriving, they head en masse for the basement, where four of the students gather around some musical instruments. The others sit on an old couch or lean against a foosball machine. The teacher, a “show me” expression on his face, stands and watches.

Ed Dobek sits behind his older brother’s drum kit. Dennis Lenarduzzi straps on a bass guitar, as Scott Juskiw readies his electric guitar. And Mike McDonald stands in front of the microphone.

The band, Joey Did and the Necrophiliacs, starts pounding out a primitive punk rock racket. Ed is, arguably, the only one who knows what he’s doing, but to the friends gathered there, it doesn’t matter. It’s close enough for rock and roll. The teacher can see enthusiasm in the band, and in their friends. He doesn’t quite get what’s going on, it’s obviously not his kind of music. But the small audience is clearly enjoying the racket, some nodding heads, some pogoing. So the teacher, Sam Posteraro, teacher liaison with the school’s Student Union, makes the announcement: Joey Did can do one of the lunchtime concerts during the school’s upcoming Rock Week.

There were other beginnings, too. The band was formed out of a group of students who were working on an underground magazine to be called the S.T. Their first sonic endeavor occurred weeks earlier, when someone brought a tape recorder to 266 1/2, their school storeroom hangout. 266 1/2 had an old piano, empty pop bottles, a typewriter, metal cupboard doors, and maybe a dozen teenagers inspired by the DIY message of punk rock and the Flying Lizards’ cacophonous version of the old song, “Money.” Everything was in place for a horrendous and joyful racket to be made, “songs” of banging, pounding, clinking, typing, bits of melody from the piano, and occasional screams of “The peasants are revolting!”

Another beginning: three or four S.T. students killing time in 266 1/2 making up fake band names, inspired by the likes of New York City’s Richard Hell and the Voidoids and the supposedly real Sid Snot and the Greenies. One suggestion: Joey Dead and the Necrophiliacs. Later, when the band formed, the name was changed, to make it a bit less of a joke.

And yet another beginning: Rock Week at O’Leary. Joey Did and the Necrophiliacs are on the stage of the O’Leary gym. A friend of the band stands before the mic and yells, “Ladies and gentlemen, Joey Did and the Necrophiliacs! 1, 2, 3, 4!” And the band kicks in. Maybe a hundred of the school’s 1800 students are there for the spectacle, but the number dwindles steadily through the lunch hour.

Over the course of the year, the band plays in public a few times, breaks up at least once (Mike briefly starts a new band called the Tory Dinks), reforms, and in December changes its name to the Malibu Kens. Late in 1981, they release a single, Be My Barbie, on an independent Edmonton label. There are two songs: “Crude City” and “Wednesday Morning…” Trivia: the band’s co-producer for the single is Kim Upright of local faves the Modern Minds; also in that band was Moe Berg, best known for his band The Pursuit of Happiness. There’s a poster/lyric sheet by Edmonton punk poster genius Kenny Chinn, soon to go on to greater notoriety with his hardcore band SNFU.

The months following the release of the single see a change in musical direction for the band. Improved musical skill and the influence of bands like the Beach Boys, the Beatles, and the Go-Gos, among others, result in a pop sound. After they’ve been doing that for some time, in 1982 the band records a limited edition cassette under their old name, a cleanly recorded and well-played selection of their old punk tunes and some odd musical departures.

By 1983 there had been frequent disagreements within the band, personality conflicts, occasional breakups, and at least one change of lineup, as Dennis Lenarduzzi left to start his own band. There were also money-making headlining gigs and occasional press coverage in the city’s major newspapers. A demo cassette recorded that year demonstrated the band’s musical growth, ranging from slow acoustic songs to fast rockers to forays into weird pop. There’s also a song that has an early folk/ country influence, Mike’s “High Plains Drifter.” But despite the progress, the end is near.

The Malibu Kens were one of the bands featured on an album called It Came From Inner Space: The Edmonton Compilation. There’s a booklet with the record with bios of the bands, and the Malibu Kens’ bio pretty well indicates that the band is history. The bio, written by guitarist and frequent songwriter Scott Juskiw, doesn’t mention Mike by name; he’s missing from the band photo. But Scott writes, “The Malibu Kens are 3 conniving money-grubbing tunesmiths and 1 grade A, card-carrying, government inspected hog.” The first page of the booklet, written by the album’s compiler, simply mentions in passing that “Mike Sinatra [McDonald] sings lead vocals on ‘Party’s Over’ and ‘421-1111’.”

The Malibu Kens were history. For Mike McDonald, it was time for a new beginning.

Jr Gone Wild revisited: first, an introduction November 11, 2015

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Their reunion’s been going for a year or two now, there’s new music, there’s a documentary in the works. This is all good news. Shame I got rid of my Well account because now you have to go to the Internet Archive to see my JGW website from 20 years ago. So, for the hell of it, I’m going to post one or two items from that old site. I don’t even remember writing this one, but apparently I did.

Jr. Gone Wild, 1983 – 1995

They’ve been called “the Sex Pistols meet Hank Williams.” Lead singer and songwriter Mike McDonald once joked that the band had progressed: they were now a cross between the Clash and George Jones. The opening minutes of the new album, Simple Little Wish, make that more obvious than ever: a sample of the marching sound from the Sex Pistols’ “Holiday in the Sun” fades into the definitely country-sounding “The Guy Who Came in From the Cold,” Mike’s song about the joy of not drinking, and the pleasure of knowing he’ll still be alive five years from now.

The band’s history begins in 1983. In 1993, the Edmonton Journal interviewed Mike on the eve of a tenth anniversary concert/party. Here’s a brief excerpt:

“My very first band practice with Jr. Gone Wild was on my 20th birthday – June 26, 1983,” McDonald said in an interview this week at his “office” at Rose Bowl Pizza on 117th St.”That’s how come I know I’ve been in the band for 10 years, because I’m going to be 30 next month.”

The band’s first incarnation included St. Albert musicians Graham Brown, Kim Upright and Mark Brostrom.

McDonald said he and Brown went into the group heavily under the influence of Neil Young and Crazy Horse, and The Byrds.

“But what happened was for the first year or so we ended up sounding like a drunk Buffalo Springfield.”

The American alternative music magazine Option named Jr. Gone Wild a promising new band eight years ago, and the promise has been fulfilled for several years. Nationally the band is not as high-profile as, for example, the Barenaked Ladies, but their albums, live shows, and tenacity have earned them a growing core audience.

In Edmonton the band seems to be popular enough: they played the national anthem at an Edmonton Eskimos football game. They’ve been mentioned in the Edmonton Journal dozens of times, often profiled in depth. When Simple Little Wish was released, the paper devoted most of the front page of the entertainment section to the band. And last May Jr. Gone Wild won an ARIA award (an Alberta music award) for “best rock/heavy metal artists on record.” (Apparently there’s no cowpunk award.)

And their fame is steadily increasing outside of Edmonton. Canada’s “national newspaper,” the Globe and Mail, has glowingly reviewed their last two albums. As if that’s not enough, reviewer Chris Dafoe criticized alternative rock gods Pavement by saying “Pavement’s perversity wears thin. In the words of Jr. Gone Wild, Less Art, More Pop please.” And the Globe‘s Arts Ink column reported a recent band mishap. As columnist James Adams says, “While walking to Toronto’s MuchMusic to promote the band’s fifth recording, Simple Little Wish, bassist Dove (a.k.a. Dave Baker) slipped on the ice in the Much parking lot and broke his left hand. As a result, Jr. Gone Wild has had to postpone its national tour and Mr. Dove is sporting a T-shirt that reads ‘I Got My Big Break at MuchMusic.'” (For the record… Dove’s last name is Brown, not Baker, and he says the t-shirt is apocryphal.


Jr. Gone Wild is very much Mike McDonald’s band. In fact, he’s the only original member still in the band. Bass player Dove joined before the first album. Guitarist Lance Loree and drummer Larry Shelast have been around for a few years. (Of course, by the time of the last Jr. tour, Lance was gone, and Anne Loree was in.)

A number of musicians must be getting used to being described as former members of Jr. Gone Wild, including Chris Smith, Lance Loree’s predecessor as guitarist, who has a new album out. Country singer/fiddler Jane Hawley, who toured with the band a few years ago, also finds the Jr. connection popping up when she gets some press coverage.

But it isn’t only former members of the band who have a burgeoning musical careers. Mike himself keeps busy in a variety of contexts. Just as he served his muses in different ways in the early ’80s by playing in a punk band and doing Neil Young songs as a busker, he continues to explore new modes of expression.

In February, the Edmonton Journal‘s David Howell reported on a band called Hookahman, a band that plays ‘”post-industrial folk- fusion acoustic-nebulous trouser rock.’ […] Hookahman’s lineup,” Howell continues, “includes Joe Bird and Wes Borg of the comedy troupe Three Dead Trolls In A Baggie plus Jr. Gone Wild members Larry Shelast and Mike McDonald. Other members are Page, Jason Kodie, Frank Bessai and Joel Finnestad. Rootsy songwriter/guitarist Bill Bourne is Hookahman’s musical guru and frequent sit-in guest.”

This band, which has released an album, doesn’t represent the only Jr. Gone Wild/Three Dead Trolls In A Baggie crossover. The band has done music for several shows by the comics, including one last Christmas called Messiah. The Journal headline read, “Un- immaculate Messiah radiates daffy good nature; Musical’s rock band at least as funny as comedy troupe.”

Mike also often does solo acoustic gigs, like the Saturday afternoons at the Black Dog pub. Not living in Edmonton, I don’t know whether he’s still playing there, but I’ve heard that it’s not too difficult to catch a Jr. show or a solo Mike show in Edmonton. (Well, a Jr. show would be pretty difficult to catch now.)

And of course there’s the Rose Bowl Pizza, a Mike hangout for a good fifteen years now, and the place where Mike anchors a Sunday night acoustic session, but the Bowl deserves its own page. It’s appeared in Jr. videos, and it was where Mike was interviewed five years or so ago by CBC Midday.

And now to close with some words from Mike. On Saturday, November 5, 1994, the Edmonton Journal asked a number of local luminaries the question, “What is the most important thing you’ve ever learned?” Answers came from Edmonton Oilers owner Peter Pocklington, Company’s Coming cookbook author Jean Pare, convicted murderer Colin Thatcher, millionnaire philanthropist Francis Winspear, University of Alberta Hospital director of dermatology Kowichi Jimbow, and Mike McDonald.

Mike’s response:

– “The most important thing that I learned is to analyse information that you receive, be it things you see or what people tell you… any input, before responding to it, just make sure you know what you’re talking about.”

“I learned this through many, many, many horribly embarrassing situations I would like to go back and fix.”

 

Review: Dead Kennedys’ Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables March 29, 2015

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Another Netgalley review in exchange for free read.

Though a lot of the books in the 33 1/3 series just tell the story of the album on the front cover, many don’t, instead presenting fact or fiction inspired in some way by the album. So I should point out that anyone looking for detailed information about this album — differences between the different versions, stories behind all the songs, recording info, etc — won’t find a lot of that here.

This book is more about San Francisco city politics in the late 1970s, the romanticization of punk as a revolutionary force, the genius of Jello Biafra and the band’s combining shock tactic lyrics with humour and actual political points.

It’s certainly educational in its San Francisco urban history (a lot of the stuff about the punk scene is familiar from other sources), but Foley’s partisan take on things sometimes leads him to overdo it. Even when I agree with him, which is often, it feels like he’s preaching to the converted rather than making a cogent argument.

This book won’t do much for readers interested in Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables as a musical recording. It’s more for those who want to believe in punk as a politically important and meaningful cultural moment. I’ve been one of those people, though I doubt I still have the paper I wrote on the subject at university. Ultimately, though, as much as I enjoy this album and as much as I still love a lot of old and new punk rock, it’s still an album never heard or heard of by the vast majority of people I know, then or now. It might be better to make a case for the political and cultural importance of the band and the album by looking at those who’ve been influenced or inspired by it. I also would have liked to learn more about the band members, and what happened to them since this album.

Not entirely my thing, but in 2015 it’s almost refreshing to see this kind of idealistic punk ranting. Makes for a bit of contrast with the cynical, sarcastic tone of the Dead Kennedys’ songs themselves.

Review: Devo’s Freedom of Choice March 28, 2015

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Review written in exchange for a Netgalley advance e-read.

I still remember the day in 1980 when I bought Devo’s Freedom of Choice album. They were one of my favourite bands at the time, and this was a definite breakthrough album for them. The success of “Whip It” took everyone, including Devo, by surprise. (For what it’s worth, my favourite songs on this album are the title track and two others, “Gates of Steel” and “Snowball.”)

Evie Nagy’s book on Freedom of Choice is a solid look back at the point where everything changed for Devo. As 33 1/3 books go, this is one of the more straightforward ones, built on research and interviews with a lot of the key players, looking at the album’s creation and its place in Devo’s career, It’s a good read, and Nagy gets Devo’s mix of nerdishness, humour, and serious political intent. Unlike a few books in this series that keep an extremely tight focus on the album at hand (or go spiraling off in unexpected directions), this one provides history on the band, leading up to and following on from Freedom of Choice.

1980 was a strange time. New wave had caught on enough, and Devo had trimmed out some of its experimentalism enough, that the band that was too weird for a lot of people a year before was suddenly just weird enough to be a cool, fun party music band, like the B-52s. But the Reagan era was about to start, and Devo struggled with being expected to produce another hit record while also wanting to wanting to push their messages to an audience that seemed to miss the point entirely.

Nagy does a solid job bringing together new quotes from Devo members, others involved with the album, other people from Devo’s circle over the years, and other musicians as well as bits from contemporary articles to tell a story that’s well worth reading for anyone interested alternative music or 1980s pop culture.

And now… a random diversion March 24, 2015

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A few online hangouts I’ve frequented over the years have a thread for people to post a series of random musical selections chosen by itunes or some other music player on shuffle. I’ve always loved Winamp but running it on Windows 8 has been less than optimal. So, with 8.1 and a bit of compatibility troubleshooting, I’m on my second version of winamp today. And I’m going to play the random music game because it’s fun and because there are almost 50,000 songs to choose from and it’s always interesting to see if any patterns or oddities arise.

  1. Creedence Clearwater Revival, “Long As I Can See The Light”
  2. Blue Daisy, “Rick Ross”
  3. Wire, “Re-Invent Your Second Wheel”
  4. Cocteau Twins, “Pepper-Tree”
  5. Nosaj Thing, “Fog (Jamie xx Remix)”
  6. Nile, “I Whisper in the Ear of the Dead”
  7. Ella Fitzgerald, “Blue Moon”
  8. The Trysting Tree, “Chapter 3: A Middle Class Tragedy”
  9. Mekons, “Country”
  10. Brian Eno, “Aragon”

Hmm… nothing too obscure there. Sometimes stuff comes up that I just don’t remember at all. More importantly, this version of Winamp didn’t crash.

Review: Bowie on Bowie January 27, 2015

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Another Netgalley free advance read in exchange for a review!

David Bowie has been known for reinventing himself for decades, through personas like Ziggy Stardust and the Thin White Duke, and through less personified changes in style and substance, from the experimental Berlin trilogy to the commercial pop of Let’s Dance. This selection of interviews spans much of Bowie’s career, with a variety of sources talking to Bowie about his latest album, his latest movie, or whatever else may be happening at the time. Each is a snapshot of Bowie at a point in time, and it isn’t always clear whether the interviewer is talking to the real David Bowie or the image du jour. Even as one interview leads to another and there is discussion of what Bowie said back then, some of the contributors remark (at the time, or as quoted in brief introductions to the reprinted interviews) they’re still not sure whether he’s being open and sincere, or telling them what he thinks they want to here, or performing in accordance with his current facade.

So it isn’t easy to know what you’re actually learning here. There are some things you can be reasonably be sure of: Bowie is intelligent, creative, eloquent, and thinks a lot; he puts on a lot of poses; he can be a bit of a flake; he reassesses his past and reassesses it again. And it seems that, at least sometimes, when he’s being a character instead of himself he may be fooling himself as much as anyone else.

I’ve read other books that focus on specific periods in Bowie’s career — sometimes intentionally, sometimes because whoever’s writing the book was there for only part of the story. This book, fortunately, covers quite a few years, and when there are gaps it’s because Bowie wasn’t doing any interviews. The selection of interviews is also varied, sometimes going back to certain writers and publications to allow some revisiting of past sessions, sometimes going to more obscure sources for different perspectives. Each interview has an introduction of a few paragraphs, providing some context for the time of the interview, pointing out key moments, or allowing the interviewer to add an updated comment of their own.

A serious Bowie fan or scholar will still need a good, well-researched biography to learn more about the real David Bowie, as well as a book or two on the music. But this should really be part of the collection.

Review: Marky Ramone’s Punk Rock Blitzkrieg December 14, 2014

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Another Netgalley review.

It’s not the first Ramones book, or the first Ramones band member memoir, but it’s the first one I’ve read. Some of the revelations make me want to read a few other books to see how those situations are presented there, but for now I’ll go with Marky’s version.

Marc Bell was not one of the original Ramones lineup, but he was on the scene, playing with Wayne County and Richard Hell and the Voidoids — and if that NYC punk cred isn’t enough, he’d already been in a hard rock band that released a couple of albums and did pretty well for a while. He was a Ramone for a long stretch and saw a lot.

Bell starts his story with his family and his childhood. To be honest, I found the early chapters a bit dull; they could be the recollections of any number of aging New Yorkers. But things pick up when he starts to get some success as a musician, and once the early punk scene starts, the book started getting a lot more fun. Well, that’s what I’m interested in, so it makes sense, but it also seems to spark a lot more interesting, amusing, and sometimes disturbing anecdotes from the author.

Marky was a Ramone for a few years (including the making of the Rock and Roll High School film, the Phil Spector-produced End of the Century album, and other key moments), then was booted for a few years, at which point he finally got sober and cleaned up his act. And then he was invited to rejoin the band, and was a member to the end.

The Ramones, as presented here, are two things — a great and massively influential band who never had the success they deserved (which is, of course, quite true) and a collection of deeply messed up individuals who had serious individual problems and, in some cases, serious problems with each other. Joey was badly affected by obsessive-compulsive disorder and a lack of basic hygiene; Johnny was a chickenhawk conservative who beat his girlfriend; Dee Dee would take any drug in sight and seriously lacked any kind of impulse control. Marky’s problem was his drinking. That, at least, is the picture presented by the book. It’s a bittersweet ending — too late in the game they start getting real success in parts of the world, not just the respect of musicians, critics, and fans. And then, over too few years, Joey, Johnny, and Dee Dee died. Marky tried to brighten the mood by pointing out the respect the band has now, and by mentioning the success of some of his post-Ramones endeavours — but the band members never properly reconciled. If they were all alive and healthy, there’s no reason to think a reunion could ever happen.

(I never got to see them live. I had a ticket to see them about 25 years or so ago and came down with the worst flu of my life.)

This is the second punk memoir I’ve read recently, after Viv Albertine’s, and while it may not be fair to make comparisons, I found Albertine’s book better written and more insightful. But Marky’s book is still a good read, once it gets into gear.