My Noise: Novelist George Pelecanos Stands Up For The Replacements’ Falling Down

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Rewind 16 years. I’m nearing the end of my 20s, newly married to Emily Hawk, still passionate about music, movies and books. There are bills to pay and responsibilities to own up to. As this is the ‘80s, it doesn’t take a genius to move up the ladder. If you can fill up a suit, you can get promoted. That is, if you conform and buy into the whole mousse-and-Vuarnet trip. I like to work, but I can’t conform. So there I am, the general manager of a chain of major appliance stores, working 60-some hours a week. What I want, more than anything, is to be someone else. Remember the cover of Pleased To Meet Me, with the Rolex-and-diamond-horseshoe-ring hand shaking the hand with the frayed sleeve? Mine is the arm on the right and the left.

In that job, I have to be in my office by 7 a.m. I park my Ford pickup outside the building at 6:45, my Windsor knot strangling my throbbing neck, and turn up the v of my tape deck. “Bastards Of Young” comes forward at full volume, the bass vibrating the windows of the truck. That raging, volcanic music somehow gives me the courage to face another day. At work, “Unsatisfied” is constantly running through my head; Westerberg’s howl is my own. In the evenings, Emily and I talk, party and listen to music. Nights with Green On Red, the Dream Syndicate, X, Minor Threat and the Pogues, but always it comes back to the Mats. “Little Mascara” is Emily’s favorite song. I’m into “Left Of The Dial” and “Sixteen Blue.” There are tunes like “Favorite Thing,” “Hold My Life” and “Alex Chilton” for driving, “Here Comes A Regular” for drinking, “Kiss Me On The Bus” for love. The music of the Mats sounds like chaos, but to me it sounds like peace.

OK, here’s another middle-aged guy, getting stupid. Maybe. With rock ‘n’ roll you never know if it was really that transcendent or if it just seems that way in the golden glow of the rearview. Nostalgia clouds your judgment and often makes you unwilling to enjoy the new. “The Strokes are OK, but I’ve got the New York Dolls on Mercury vinyl, and anyway, when I want to hear the Ramones I put on Rocket To Russia.” Etc. But trust me, the Replacements really were that great.

Fast-forward 16 years. I’m in Paris, ending a two-month book tour. Friday night, my final commitment done, I return to my hotel room to relax. I open the balcony doors to get a view of the street, pour a double Four Roses neat, slip Westerberg’s Stereo into my Walkman, put my feet up on the coffee table and touch fire to a Marlboro Red. It’s the most memorable moment of my trip. Listening to “We May Be The Ones,” I’m moved like it’s 1986. And then, a few days later, I’m back in the States, hugging my daughter Rosa, rubbing her back, as “No Place For You” fills the room. Thinking that this music is just as powerful, and yeah, important, as it ever was.

—George Pelecanos

Wilco: Heroes And Villains

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In the eyes of the record label there was a failure; and in the eyes of Wilco there was an album growing heavy for the vintage. How Jeff Tweedy and Co. fought against the man and amongst themselves for the fruits of Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. By Jonathan Valania

so much depends
upon
a red wheel
barrow
glazed with rain
water
beside the white
chickens.

That was written by William Carlos Williams, an American poet. Best I can tell, he was talking about the significance of insignificance, that little things truly do mean a lot—like if you could surf the past in a time machine and you did something as small as, say, kicking a stone in the Stone Age, it could send a ripple through the entire fabric of history. Everything after could be slightly different. You might even erase yourself from existence.

I bring this up because this is a story about American poets, who will be referred to hereafter as the rock band Wilco. And this is a story filled with insignificance: business deals, personnel changes, communication breakdowns, creative dysfunction and small personal failures. Basically, a lot of red wheelbarrows in the rain that so much depends upon. Not the least of which is Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, which I’m pretty sure will be remembered one day as great American poetry in thought and word and sound and action. If 1999’s Summerteeth was Wilco’s Pet Sounds, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot is its Smile—American beauty edged in transcendental weirdness and giddy invention. YHF is the smoking gun in the case for Wilco being the new Great American Band—a torch-passing tradition that stretches from prime R.E.M. to the Band to Bob Dylan, who got it from Woody Guthrie, who picked it up from Carl Sandburg, who had it passed to him by Walt Whitman.

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Bob Mould: Fight/Club

bobmould204550After a mini-career writing pro-wrestling scripts, Bob Mould returns for the fight of his life—not with the pop/punk he pioneered in Hüsker Dü and sugar, but rather two electronic albums straight out of synth city. By Scott Wilson

Bob Mould likes Daft Punk, but is he one? It was crazy enough for the most tinnitus-inducing guitar player since Pete Townshend to publicly renounce amplified rock in 1998. Then, in an urban myth that turns out to be true, Mould spent a chunk of his self-imposed hiatus as a scriptwriter for professional wrestling. But it was only when word spread about the 41-year-old former Hüsker Dü/Sugar slash-and-burn pioneer’s come-to-Jesus with Pro Tools and the Bobtronica results that it seemed safe to say it: Bob Mould is fucking insane.

The rest of the evidence is equally compelling. Even without the Mouldonna vocodered verses and car-alarm samples that dot Modulate’s lead-off track, even without the follow-up tour that put a solo Mould in front of prerecorded electronic tracks and his filmed images projected on a 15-foot-tall screen—even without the Russian roulette of issuing three albums in 2002 on his own label with his own money—Mould is certifiable because he’s done all this when he knows you won’t like it. And all he has to say for himself is that “it takes three listens” to understand Modulate.

Actually, Mould has considerably more to say. About his music, pro wrestling, masculinity and risk. Because the least sane among us are the most magnetic, Mould makes his points and tells his stories with convincing ardor, gentle humor and self-effacing candor. Because most people, especially musicians, are even nuttier than Bob Mould, what he says makes a lot of sense. And he’s right: Modulate begins to sound downright sane the longer you listen to it.

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Mirah: Character Building

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Low rents and a throbbing independent music scene aren’t the only things that make Olympia, Wash., an easy place to fall into a comfortable rut. With all the hipster needs confined to a five-block downtown radius, it can be a haven for big fish who prefer a small pond. Of course, for singer/songwriter Mirah Yom Tov Zeitlyn, being a big, comfortable fish in Olympia was more than enough reason to head for the other side of the country.

“You know how matter never disappears from the universe, it just changes form and pops up somehow, somewhere else?” she says of her recent move to Philadelphia. “I wanted to reprove that to myself. I wanted to find myself equally everywhere.”

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Joe Strummer: New World Order

At the heart of the Clash’s local rebellion always lay a good amount of global thinking. A quarter-century on, Joe Strummer revels in his hard-won freedom to wander all over the map. By Fred Mills

It’s a breezy fall afternoon in New York City when Joe Strummer strides rather testily into Irving Plaza, a 1,000-seat venue located in Greenwich Village. He’s been stuck on a tour bus from Hartford, Conn., five hours longer than he’d anticipated. He still has a soundcheck with his band the Mescaleros to do. There’s also a photo shoot and magazine interview on the itinerary. Worse, he has the beginnings of what promises to turn into a nasty, throat-ravaging cold.

Yet these concerns aren’t what have Strummer visibly agitated. He’s fretting, instead, that schedule delays will mean tonight’s opening act, rock-steady ska-punkers the Slackers, will get the shaft, time-wise, on their soundcheck.

“Where’s Simon Foster?” he barks to no one in particular, prompting Strummer’s Hellcat Records rep Chris LaSalle to rustle up tour manager Foster. When the duo returns, Strummer is unequivocal: “What time are the doors?”

“At 8 p.m., Joe.”

“Hold ‘em until the Slackers are done.”

When I bring up the incident later, Strummer gets a thoughtful look on his face and observes, “See, when you’re being crudded upon by others, you say to yourself, ‘One day, when it’s my turn, the support band’s always gonna get a soundcheck.’ Because you learn what it’s like to be in that position: ‘Sorry man, you can’t get a check because Waffleface has got to mend his fuzzbox!’”

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Ryan Adams: Saving Private Ryan

ryan-adams350pxIs Ryan Adams one of the greatest singer/songwriters of his generation? Or will he emerge as another in a long line of pretenders to the Dylan throne? If only you could ask him, he’d surely set you straight. By Corey duBrowa

“Time let me play and be/Golden in the mercy of his means.”
—Dylan Thomas, “Fern Hill”

The Legend Of Ryan Adams has taken on the outsized dimensions of urban folklore. The myth has become so preposterous—we’re talking Bob Dylan-sized footprints here; the only thing missing is the invented motorcycle accident—that it’s remotely possible Adams himself is now embarrassed by some of the brushstrokes that have been applied to his impressionist portrait. Sorting out the truth from fiction takes a little doing.

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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