Sunday, November 27, 2005

Your Pretty Face Is Going To Hell

"Here was a guy all deconstructed, torn down, looking like he'd just crawled out of a drain hole, looking like he was covered in slime, looking like he hadn't slept in years, looking like he hadn't washed in years, and looking like no one gave a fuck about him.

And looking like he didn't really give a fuck about you! He was this wonderful, bored, drained, scarred, dirty guy with a torn T-shirt."

-Malcolm McLaren on Richard Hell, from Please Kill Me: The Uncensored Oral History of Punk by Legs McNeil and Gillian McCain, Grove Press, 1996.

You've seen him as you've skimmed countless punk history books, the dark-eyed street kid skulking at the edge of the frame in the photos...spiky hair, gangly limbs, torn-up clothes and a gutterpoet's sneer, not knowing if he was packing a blade or a Rimbaud anthology in that leather jacket. The kid was none other than Richard Hell, "proto-punk legend" (he'd probably fucking hate the moniker, though), he of the Blank Generation and all that jazz. It's been speculated endlessly that the Sex Pistols owed a tremendous debt to the influence of Hell upon their visual and fashion aesthetic, and while that might be true, Hell's fierce, spiky intelligence and literary smarts have been just as enduring and inspirational.

With the release of Rhino's excellent new anthology, Spurts: The Richard Hell Story, comes what Hell himself refers to as "the ur Richard Hell album, the Platonic ideal, the only one, for whatever it's worth". Self-compiled from his two studio albums fronting the Voidoids, a few odds and ends, and a handful of tracks from Dim Stars, Hell's 1992 collaboration with Thurston Moore, Steve Shelly and Don Fleming, Spurts is an eclectic and sprawling collection and the most complete overview of his work yet.

Unfortunately, I'd never quite gotten the crash-course in Hell from any of my older punk teachers over the years, although now, I wish I would've. I knew "Blank Generation" and I knew who Hell was, but I hadn't really dug through his back catalogue too deeply. Of the material collected on Spurts, the most immediately surprising and attention-grabbing are the Dim Stars cuts, sounding both mumbly-sweet and darkly ominous, all at once.

Here, Hell sounds less like an acerbic punk in safety pins than a distant cousin to Lee Ranaldo or Calvin Johnson, his warm, scruffy growl coasting on top of the guitar fuzz bubbling under it. There's something immediately lovable (and pleasingly scuffed-up) about the Dim Stars tracks on display, and my favorite's probably "The Night is Comin' On", which does that sweet-sour, noisy thing just perfectly (scroll down for link). It jangles, it churns and - most importantly - it rocks. Enjoy it...

Dim Stars - "The Night is Comin' On"

(MP3, 192kpbs, 5.3MB)

That's it for now...stay gold and see y'all soon...

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Stay Hungry

Hey, punks. Welcome to the party.

Eat This Grenade! aims to feed your insatiable hunger for new noise. Week after week, ETG! will bring you only the finest in obscuro audio, forgotten favorites and hidden gems in a convienent, pocket-sized MP3 format. Updated regularly for your listening pleasure.

This being our first installment, here's a bit of background about my musical history, if you're into that kind of thing...

Growing up in Southern California in the late 70's and early 80's, I was less than an hour away from the epicenter of an exploding, vital music scene, but I was far too young at the time to have much of anything to do with it. Punk, New Wave and all the unexpected, fantastic mutant strains of guitar abuse that came with them were festering and growing in my own backyard, but I was too busy blowing up my Death Star Action Playset to realize it.

I'd bought the B-52's "Rock Lobster" 7" at Musicland when it came out, as I'd heard it on the radio and thought it was rockin', but I really didn't follow bands or read up on music or anything. Rock Music seemed like something you got into by secret invitation, you couldn't just stumble into it, everyone would know you were a poseur and you'd get caught trespassing. I found myself strangely drawn to the herky-jerky weirdness of stuff like Devo's "Whip It", or "Turning Japanese" by the Vapors (both big hits on local radio station KROQ), but it all seemed distant and off-limits, somehow.

I would beg my parents to make the drive up to Melrose Avenue, just so I could catch a glimpse of this forbidden world. There'd be clusters of surly punks on the sidewalks as we drove down the main drag, their giant liberty spikes crusted with Aqua Net and egg whites. I was both terrified and in awe of them. I would secretly wish they'd tell me what cool records to buy, but then again, I also thought there was a pretty strong chance they'd beat me up and light my parents on fire for kicks.

By the time I was 14, however, my cool older sister cornered me and told me that I was going to an actual, real, live rock concert with her and that was that. It was time, she'd decided. She presented me with a list of upcoming concerts and told me to pick one. I scanned down the list, and not knowing much about any of 'em, went with the only one I'd remembered hearing of before: Talking Heads. Of course, I didn't know it at the time, but this was one of those life-altering, monumental events that would, you know, shape my world and turn my brain inside-out for years to come. I'm still thanking her for taking me, even now, 22 years later.

Needless to say, the show completely blew me away. I think I spent most of the concert slack-jawed and mesmerized, committing every moment to memory. I didn't know any of the songs, but every single one of them downloaded right into my teenage cerebellum and stuck there. This was the Speaking in Tongues tour, and a couple of months before Jonathan Demme filmed the band at the Pantages Theatre for the Stop Making Sense concert movie, here were the Heads firing on all
cylinders: the giant ensemble band, the genius stage set-up, the Big Suit, all of it. The band had set out to push the parameters of what could be done with a rock concert, bringing elements of conceptual and performance art into their presentation, and it worked perfectly.

There I was, a 14 year-old Star Wars, Intellivision and horror movie ubergeek, easedropping on people in the merch line chatting about Television and the Ramones, making mental notes to find out what "CBGB" was, considering budgeting out my weekly Fangoria and Starlog allowance towards rock albums instead. Holy shit, what was this new world? I'd been bit and there was no turning back, not now. I hungered for vinyl.

I went out the next day and picked up both Speaking in Tongues and Talking Heads 77. The first Ramones album followed shortly thereafter, some Blondie, Television, Devo and so on. I started wearing tour shirts to school and band badges on my jackets. Numerous issues of Creem Magazine were purchased and ingested ravenously.

The endless dig through the record bins never really stops. There's always something new to discover. There's always something old that you haven't found yet. For every pop tune that changes your life, there's ten more out there, perhaps even better, just waiting for you. When people proclaim that "rock is dead", that "there's no good music anymore, nothing", it just breaks my fucking heart.

Keep listening. Stay hungry.

Today's selection, Eat This Grenade!'s inaugural offering, comes to us from Manchester's finest, The Fall. I first stumbled upon The Fall by way of The Smiths, probably around 1986 or so...they came with the John Peel Seal of Approval, and I knew that most likely meant this was some good shit. I found them instantly confusing, baffling and fascinating. This was dense, chewy, challenging stuff, but then again, it rocked, albeit in a lopsided, serrated way. The songs seemed to get even more cryptic and mysterious upon repeated listenings. Much like my initial exposure to Talking Heads, The Fall immediately grabbed me by the throat and demanded I love them intensely, deeply, forever. No problem.

This fine slab of vintage clank and clang, "Ludd Gang", is presented to you in a live recording, taken from the band's 2004 Cherry Red DVD, "Live at the Hacienda 1983-1985". (Link) As with many live recordings of The Fall, the audio quality isn't exactly top-notch, but the power is unmistakably there, as "Ludd Gang" grinds and bulldozes its way along mightily. The band (who in 1983, when this recording was made, were at one of their many peaks of the decade) beat the stuffing out of the groove here, hammering the song into the floor relentlessly, as lead vocalist Mark E. Smith snarls his way through the drone like a death ray of pure scorn...and it's catchy as hell, to boot.

The Fall - "Ludd Gang" (Live at the Hacienda, 1983) (left-click to play file; right-click to save )

The last 90 or so seconds will destroy you. You'll see.

Play loud and enjoy...there's plenty more to follow.

Note: MP3's will be kept active and downloadable for a minimum of one week each, due to storage and hosting constraints. If you see something you wanna check out, I'd advise you to do it and not wait, as the files aren't going to be around indefinately. I'm sure you understand completely. Thanks.