Nick Cave: Let There Be Light

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Once a holy terror trespassing on hallowed ground, Nick Cave has given over to tender mercies and spiritual hymns. He’s still got the devil inside him, only these days he’s feeling closer to God. By Jonathan Valania

He was born like this, he had no choice. Nick Cave was born with the gift of a golden voice. He asked Leonard Cohen, “How lonely does it get?” Leonard Cohen hasn’t answered yet. But Nick Cave hears him coughing all night long, a couple floors above him in the Tower Of Song.

In the beginning, there was the Birthday Party. And it was good. Rock ‘n’ roll as sonic aneurysm: screeching, cataclysmic and cruel. The Birthday Party was scary. Not in the silly Count Chocula way of the misguided goths who would follow in its steps, but, like, Exorcist scary. Danger was the Birthday Party’s business, and in the early ‘80s, business was good. Nick Cave was the human cannonball at the microphone, and the band would light the fuse and run for cover. When the audience demanded blood, Cave could open up and bleed with the best of them. When he got bored with that, he would jump into the crowd for a good punch-up or maybe just drop-kick the head of any audience member who dared to stand in the front row. There was much weeping and gnashing of teeth. The Birthday Party nicknamed one tour the “Oops, I’ve Got Blood On The Tip Of My Boot” tour.

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One Nation Underground: The Story Of The Paisley Underground

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It was 20 years ago today that the four of them began to play. The Dream Syndicate, Bangles (pictured), Rain Parade and Three O’Clock formed a neo-psychedelic Los Angeles scene in the ‘80s. MAGNET examines a pair of audio artifacts that tell the story of the Paisley Underground. By Corey duBrowa

Los Angeles, circa 1984. The world watches while the Summer Olympics take flight; Reagan and his conservative cronies are re-elected in a landslide; the economy continues its inexorable trudge into darkness; and the sound emanating from local clubs is the roaring buzzsaw of punk bands such as Black Flag, X, Minutemen and Agent Orange. MTV is in its infancy—all sweetness and light, with a bit of mascara applied—but the pervasive vibe is one of anger, fear and faint hopes for better days somewhere in the smoggy wastelands of Southern California.

It’s within this forbidding landscape that the Paisley Underground saw its heyday, proffering a West Coast version of the CBGB template from which other regional scenes (Boston, Seattle and Chapel Hill among them) would borrow heavily. As with most “next big things” that have come and gone, the facts now are sketchy and the agreements few. What was the Paisley Underground? Who were the players, the contenders, the hangers-on? Those who were there hardly see eye-to-eye about what occurred, but all seem to recognize that something special once existed, never mind the details.

During its moment in the pop-culture sun, the Paisley Underground created the foundation upon which the houses of dream-pop and alt-country would later be built. While rich with music and memories, two particular records have emerged as talismans for the era: Rainy Day, a covers collection featuring songs written by ‘60s acts ranging from the Velvet Underground to Neil Young, and The Lost Weekend, a hazy alt-country hoedown recorded by Danny & Dusty (Dan Stuart, Steve Wynn and assorted friends) before any such handle existed. Peering backward through the kaleidoscope reveals glimpses of a scene marked by then-unfashionable influences and the secret society that held them close.

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Incense And Documents: The Definitive Albums Of The Paisley Underground

dreamsyndicateDREAM SYNDICATE The Days Of Wine And Roses (Ruby/Slash, 1982)
The dream that grunge was made of. Steve Wynn made like a lucid version of Lou Reed, Karl Precoda squeezed jagged sparks from his barely tuned axe and Dennis Duck and Kendra Smith kept the beat. “Tell Me When It’s Over” might be the best song ever penned by a Paisley group, single-handedly resurrecting the ghost of the Velvets and making guitars cool all over again. Later name-dropped by Kurt Cobain as a formative influence, The Days Of Wine And Roses is scheduled for reissue this summer by the Rhino label.

RAIN PARADE Emergency Third Rail Power Trip (Enigma, 1983)
David Roback’s first Paisley endeavor was heavily indebted to the folk/rock bands that made up the first wave of L.A. psychedelia: Byrds, Buffalo Springfield and Love. Sprinkling in a pinch of Television’s two-guitar pixie-dust, Power Trip scores with the beautiful calling-card “What’s She Done To Your Mind,” setting the stage for Roback’s eternal search for the slow-motion chord in Opal and Mazzy Star.

BANGLES All Over The Place (Columbia, 1984)
Before the money (and Prince) rolled in with “Manic Monday” and “Walk Like An Egyptian,” there was this LP, one of the finest girl-group/garage-band albums ever recorded. Equal parts Troggs, Rubber Soul and Mamas And The Papas, All Over established Susanna Hoffs as the most recognizable voice of the Paisley Underground, whether belting out “Hero Takes A Fall” (written for Wynn) and “James” or adding a floating layer of harmony to their classic rendition of Kimberley Rew’s “Going Down To Liverpool.”

THREE O’CLOCK Sixteen Tambourines (Frontier, 1983)
At the intersection of the Monkees’ buoyant bubble-pop and the Hollies’ more sophisticated juxtaposition of harmony and melody came
Sixteen Tambourines, the Three O’Clock’s first album after an EP and a previous release as the Salvation Army. “Jetfighter” established Michael Quercio and Co. as the power-pop masters of their day, while their unusual use of the organ—when married to dance beats—would surface again in the sounds of Madchester bands like the Charlatans UK and Inspiral Carpets. Pure pop for now people.

GREEN ON RED Gas Food Lodging (Enigma, 1985)
These Arizona transplants were instrumental in forging the nascent sound of “desert rock,” taking Neil Young’s mid-‘70s work with Crazy Horse as a starting point and adding a honky-tonk swing. Frontman Dan Stuart was believed by most to be the guiding artistic light of the Paisley Underground, a poetic genius with an ear for phrasing and a way with a riff. Groups like the Meat Puppets, Giant Sand and Calexico claim kinship with the embryonic sound and vision found here.

LONG RYDERS Native Sons (Frontier, 1984)
Sid Griffin’s Long Ryders (“The perfectly right band at the perfectly wrong time,”according to U.K. critic Johnny Black) paved the road for the alt-country legions who followed in the ‘90s. Taking Gram Parsons’ “cosmic American music” and applying it to the ragged sensibilities of the punk movement then flourishing in L.A., Native Sons (the Ryders’ second album) pointed the way for fans such as Uncle Tupelo and Whiskeytown, who would later found the alt-country nation on the bedrock of musical strands heard on this album.

OTHER NEEDLES IN THE PAISLEY HAYSTACK
TRUE WEST Hollywood Holiday (New Rose, 1983): produced by Wynn
LEAVING TRAINS Well Down Blue Highway (Bemisbrain/Enigma, 1984): produced by Roback
NAKED PREY Under The Blue Marlin (Frontier, 1986): produced by the Dream Syndicate’s Paul B. Cutler
CHRIS CACAVAS AND JUNKYARD LOVE Chris Cacavas And JunkYard Love (Heyday, 1989): a “supergroup” consisting of members of Green On Red, Opal, Long Ryders, Dream Syndicate and Rain Parade

—Corey duBrowa

Frank Black: Odd Ball

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Former Pixie and long-standing master of the obtuse, Frank Black evinces a small change by taking rock ‘n’ roll head-on. By Matthew Fritch

In a very cold, dank basement lit by a bare lightbulb, I’m at long last face-to-face with Frank Black. Alias Black Francis. Alias Charles Thompson. Alias Chuck. Notorious agent of the underground, complicated code-talker and former leader of a well-known organization responsible for sinister innovations like the “Bone Machine” and the “Wave Of Mutilation.”

A rusted instrument lies on the small table that separates us. A silent man with close-cropped blonde hair sits behind me lighting a succession of cigarettes. This is good. I’m thinking Marathon Man, I’m thinking I have ways of making him talk, I’m thinking … that I’m interrogating Frank Black with the fumbling ineptitude of Colonel Klink.

MAGNET: Throughout your career, you’ve sung in Spanish, French, German. What is it about foreign languages or phra—
Black: “Psycho killer! Qu’est que c’est! Fa fa fa fa fa fa fa fa fa …
MAGNET: Sure, but—
Black: “Mi-chelle, ma belle, sont les mots qui vont tres bien ensemble …
MAGNET: Point taken. Maybe another way of asking the question is what you find compelling about non-literal lyrics.
Black: You ever listen to a Beatles record? Why don’t we do it in the road? No one will be watching us. Why don’t we do it in the road? Birthday. You say it’s your birthday. Birthday, birthday, birthday.

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Stephen Malkmus: Being Stephen Malkmus

“I’m not what you think I am,” declares Stephen Malkmus on his post-Pavement solo debut. No, he’s not really Yul Brynner or the King Of Siam. But it’s still a wonderful life. By Jonathan Valania

I’m driving Stephen Malkmus’ car. In America, that’s tantamount to possessing someone’s soul. But wait, it gets better: I’m listening to Slanted And Enchanted—make that Malkmus’ copy of Slanted And Enchanted—and it sounds great as I tool down the sun-kissed streets of Portland, Ore., with the windows down and the stereo up. There’s a parking ticket flapping beneath the windshield wiper—and it bores me. I look around at all the people, and I just don’t care. Not a care, really, in the world. I am, for a moment, Stephen Malkmus, fortunate son. Listen to me, I’m on the stereo.

Actually, I’m driving Malkmus’ girlfriend’s car. Which you would know is even better if you’ve ever seen his girlfriend. Her name is Heather Larimer, and she’s beautiful and bright and 28. She was a cheerleader and she has a master’s degree in creative writing—a major-league summer babe (AOL Keyword: Babia Majora). By the time you read this, you may have already seen her singing in Malkmus’ new band, the Jicks. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. Let’s back up.

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