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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Interview TK: The Breeders Hang Up The Phone, Move On

Kim Deal wants to kick my ass. Which kinda sucks, because I love Kim Deal. I was one of those folks who always said the only thing wrong with the Pixies is Kim Deal doesn’t write and sing more of their songs. I loved the Breeders and was super-jazzed when Kim’s sister Kelley named Feel Nice, the debut album by the Psyclone Rangers (my band at the time), as one of her top 10 faves of 1993 in the pages of Rolling Stone. My fellow Rangers and I met up with Kelley backstage at Lollapalooza the following summer and a plan was soon hatched to have her sing on the follow-up album we were going to record that fall in Memphis. Unbeknownst to us, Kelley had developed a heroin habit in the interim. I remember long, drowsy phone calls with her from the control room of Ardent Studios, wherein she would say she still wants to come but she is feeling poorly. One day, we were sitting in the TV lounge when an MTV News Special Report announced that Kelley Deal had been arrested for accepting a FedEx package of heroin.

Fast forward four years or so, and I was in New York with the Flaming Lips. During a smoke break with drummer Steven Drozd, he casually mentioned that the last time he was in New York he was in bad, bad shape. With some gentle prodding, he mentioned that he was playing on a Breeders album (which ended up never seeing the light of day). It was around this time, as you may recall, that Kim Deal went off the rails, going through drummers faster than Spinal Tap and finally deciding to teach herself how to play so she could get the sound and the beat she was looking for. Drozd described the recording sessions as a druggy trainwreck and told me he packed up his kit in the middle of the night and left without saying goodbye. Some variation of this was included in MAGNET’s Flaming Lips story, and it eventually got back to Kim Deal.

Fast forward to now. The Breeders are back, everyone is clean and sober, and there’s a decent new album, Title TK. MAGNET arranged for me to do a phoner with the Deal sisters. It was pretty rough going at first; Kelley was friendly, Kim was surly and had been drinking. Kelley got angry with Kim for being rude. I decided to play the chaos card, and it went downhill fast:

—Jonathan Valania

I heard Steven Drozd played with you guys for a while.
Kim: [Annoyed] No, he didn’t play for us, dude. I know him, he’s a friend. He came up to New York because I asked him to work on some songs. He did so for about 10 days, and then he left. He never played for the band.

OK, I guess I heard wrong then.
Kim: Yeah, you did!
Kelley: God, Kim.
Kim: This is the dude that wrote that crap that Steven … Whatever, man. (Sonic Youth drummer) Steve Shelley was not in the band, either. I don’t know if you thought that—he was just a friend also.

I never thought they joined the band, that they just—
Kim: They didn’t join the band!

Can I ask a Pixies question?
Kelley: Jonathan, I’m gonna hang up.
Kim: No, I’ll shut up.
Kelley: I don’t want to talk about it … It was nice talking you, Jonathan. [Hangs up]
Kim: Kelley just got mad and hung up.

Is she mad at me or mad at you?
Kim: She’s mad at me. What’s the Pixies question?

If Charles Thompson called you and asked—
Kim: Shut up! Go away! Pass! What’s the next question?

Uh …
Kim: Dude, I’m out! Bye! [Hangs up]