Browsing Tag


Arts and Entertainment, Brooklyn Bugle, Existential Stuff, Music, News

I Officially Give Up and do that whole Band/Letters in Your Name thing, creating an excuse to talk about Impaled Nazarene and Weinstein Dorm.

March 2, 2015

You have surely noticed that the Internet is absolutely lousy with these lists where someone assigns a band to each letter of their name. Perhaps you have even compiled one of these yourself.

For the most part, these lists are self-effacing yet bursting with arrogance, a way for our friends to remind us of all the cool bands they like, such as Wire and the Feelies and John Zorn (by the way, no one actually really likes John Zorn; it is, however, very possible to like him theoretically. In this sense, he is to music what Joyce’s Ulysses is to literature). These alphabetical musical biographies are not easy to compose, so they are all literally trembling with intent. In my opinion, this letter/band exercise is an ultra-indulgent waste of time; but then again, I am of the opinion that humans should spend a lot more time discussing the TV show I’m Dickens, He’s Fenster.

So, I’m going to join the fun!

John Astin and Marty Ingels of I'm Dickens He's Fenster.

John Astin and Marty Ingels of I’m Dickens He’s Fenster.

T is for The Kinks. Because when I was young, I studied the Kinks the way others studied the Beatles (as I detailed here). Sensitive, poetic, acutely observing, self-destructive, monstrously clumsy yet delicate, espousing doe-eyed love and dumb-angel lust,the Kinks epitomized the maddening hot-and-cold experience of being a touchy and skeptical teenager, and they did this better than any other band. The Kinks’ mixture of fey flippancy, monkish self-reflection, and garage-rock bumbling made the Beatles frippery and the Stones’ mannishness seem positively mainstream; they were exactly what a delicate, uncertain outsider like myself needed to guide him through the garden-maze of the horrors of high school. Thank you, Kinks.

I: Impaled Nazarene. Because the future belongs to death metal. Even if you hate the genre – shit, better if you hate it – the flag of the armies of the disenfranchised, the barely employed, the lovers of the loud, the haters of the ‘normal,’ all of these things we thought ‘punk rock’ stood for, is flown far, far better by death metal. It’s extreme shit, and death metal underlines the fact that all us fools who thought Television or the Dictators were extreme were just totally full of shit. And it’s ten times more popular than punk rock ever was. And even if much of it sounds like Rush played by bikers on speed, a lot of it is really, really fucking good.

M: The Move. Because they are one of the three most underrated bands of all time (the others being the Damned and the Small Faces, as explained here), and because they were virtually a precise cross between the Beatles and the Who, and at the same time they presaged Sabbath. That’s hot.

By the way, the theme song for I’m Dickens He’s Fenster was called “The I’m Dickens He’s Fenster March,” which may be one of the greatest song titles of all time. But anyway…

O is for Opeth. Because while you were busy trying to convince me that I should listen to Neutral Milk Hotel and insisting that the freaking world revolved around Wilco, a pile of bands who evaded the hipster radar were making strange, extreme, and thoughtful music of massively high quality. Usually, I consider Porcupine Tree the prime example of this – a band who consistently do what people think Radiohead do – but since there is no ‘P’ in my name, I’ll go for Opeth, who make shimmering, intense music laden with art and intention, starshine and aggression, and who sound like Pink Floyd if they morphed with Slayer.

T: Trouble. Because when metal really sucked, when it was a lot of hair bands mixing drums WAAAY too loud and re-cycling the most obvious aspects of Slade and Hanoi Rocks very, very badly (and WORST OF ALL creating the idea of the “Power Ballad,” which is to music what Dr. Mengele was to Twins), Trouble summoned the ghosts of Budgie, Blue Cheer, and Sabbath and released chunky, sinewy, slithering, riff-filled oily slabs of rock that anticipated the best aspects of stoner and doom metal while somehow making us realize that Black Flag’s overly-sincere attempts to ROCK were pale imitations of the real thing…the real thing being Trouble. Jesus Christ I just re-read that and realized that was ONE long sentence.

H is for Hey, I didn’t mean to disparage Wire, because they are one of the best bands ever. Like Werner Von Braun, most musicians aim for the stars, and imagine themselves purveyors of great, immortal art and perfection; like Werner Von Braun, most musicians just desire to make a big hit in London, where they will sadly be confused by the tipping protocol and pretend that Blur are a lot more important than they actually are (I am a little confused about that metaphor, too, probably because I am still busy thinking about I’m Dickens He’s Fenster). Between 1977 and 1979, Wire achieved what virtually no other band has ever accomplished: they attained perfection, releasing three consecutive flawless albums. Seriously, Layne, how many bands have released three straight albums that are literally immaculate in execution and conception, and which reveal a mixture of startling energy, challenging artistry, and remarkable melody? If 1977s Pink Flag is the most joyful, immediate, and shocking of this trio, perhaps the most rewarding is ‘78s Chairs Missing, which adds a profound intensity and intimacy to the punk vocabulary, and integrates almost pastoral melodies into the gentle tsunami of Wire’s art-punk, post-Eno sound. Yeah.

Y: Young Marble Giants. Along with Durutti Column, YMG invented the possibility of quiet punk, blowing a great wisp of gentle into the post-punk world without losing any of the power.

Now, I’m not going to bother doing the last name, I mean my last name, other than to note this: Many years ago, when I was a resident of the Weinstein Center for Student Living at NYU, I lived next door to a rather extreme and kind wit named Larry Kase. One day in the cafeteria, Larry politely inquired about a song I was playing over and over during the autumn of ‘79, and which he could hear through the wall; see, he was rather surprised that someone had recorded a number called “Here Comes Tim Sommer.” He was, of course, misinterpreting the Undertones song “Here Comes The Summer.” And if you listen to it through the wall, yes, indeed, it does sound like “Here Comes Tim Sommer.” So, the remaining letters in my name — S, O, M, M, E and R — is for “The Undertones.”

P.S. Paul Simon is a tool.

From the Web

Arts and Entertainment, Existential Stuff, Music, News, Opinion

Why Jam Bands Suck and Hawkwind Doesn’t

September 29, 2014

I was recently revising my Worst Bands of All Time list, and I asked myself, “Why are there no Jam Bands on this list? That seems very odd indeed, Tim, because Jam Bands are to music what Bret Easton Ellis is to Human Beings.” Part of the problem, of course, is that jam bands would clog up any “worst band” list almost immeasurably; but I decided to try to articulate why I have always considered Jam Bands exempt from the Worst Bands list:

Michael Rockefeller, who deserves better than to be casually referenced in a column on Jam Bands, though in this photo he does look like he might be on his way to a String Cheese Incident concert.

Like the cannibals who captured and consumed Michael Rockefeller in 1961, Jam Bands are generally an aberration that eat their own and don’t mess too much with outsiders. Yes, occasionally there’s a Michael Rockefeller-type incident, but these are rare enough that it’s generally (relatively) safe to pretend Jam Bands don’t exist, and just let them go about their own business.

However, the horrific atrocities of the last century have taught us to Never Forget, and we must, both as a culture and as individuals, never forget this: The world MUST know and MUST be reminded, in schools, in the household, and via the media, that NO ONE who owns a Mandolin should ever, under any circumstances, be permitted to listen to an Ornette Coleman Record while on drugs.

Impaled Nazarene, a Finnish Death Metal Band

It’s true, I just don’t get it, Jam Bands, that is, and by “don’t get it,” I mean I really really don’t get it. Occasionally, I will hear a Dead song and think “Huh…Phil Lesh has it going on,” but beyond that, the whole freaking genre is a black freaking hole to me. Maybe it’s a “lifestyle” thing, like the way most hardcore music was; I mean, you can throw a dart at a list of Finnish death metal bands and any name you hit will be more aesthetically pleasing than virtually any American hardcore band of the early/mid 1980s, but hardcore was a social thing, see? Oh okay SSD were pretty good and the Circle Jerks were great, and no, I am not counting the Bad Brains, because they were a musical life-force of astounding powers, a Nut-Cracking Shiva, so, they are their own freaking genre. And yes, Nut Cracking Shiva is a pretty goddamn hot band name.

Where was I?

In reality, I think the primary reason I cannot even remotely stand Jam Bands is because, well, because they’re not Hawkwind. See, the world deserves amazing jam music, which is to say, music of spontaneity and power and barely controlled but totally controlled out-of-control-ness and music that sounds great on drugs and music that sounds like you’re on drugs even when you’re not and music that sounds like an endless highway curling under the aurora borealis and music that sounds like the universe waking up in the morning and getting out of bed and music that sounds like the universe tucking itself into bed at night; but somehow, Jam Band music in the U.S. only sounds like one fucking thing, like the brutal lubrication-less wanks of people who have picked up the worst parts of jazz and bluegrass and who really paid attention when they went to Berklee.

WHERE DID THIS IDEA ORIGINATE THAT ‘JAM BANDS’ ALL HAD TO MOVE THEIR FINGERS REALLY FAST?!? That’s not a worthwhile skill, that’s just proving you had no friends in high school.

Listen, Hawkwind is a fucking jam band. Perhaps the best. They start up their generator and get into gear and the thing lifts off with a little weight on it like a helicopter pulling out of the U.S embassy in Hanoi and then BOY it kicks in and revs up and sounds like a greasy truck full of cows on dope speeding down the Autobahn, and at some point it runs out of gas and goes for a little nap in the restroom at the planetarium. Listen to Hall of the Mountain Grill (1974) and Warrior on the Edge of Time (1975) and Space Ritual (1973) and Live At the BBC (1972) and hear what a real fucking Jam band sounds like. And Stereolab are a fucking jam band, listen to Peng! (1992) and Switched On (1993) and you’ll hear buzzing guitars doing wheelchair races with Stephen Hawking and synths whizzing and bubbling and barely keeping up and it’s a Radiophonic Workshop of extreme melody and Mesmer-rhythm fighting over who gets to go inside your brain and pump it with the most aural adderall and absinthe, now that’s a fucking jam band; or try listening to the first album by Ash Ra Tempel, (1971), now that is the fucking definition of a jam band, it starts in space and ends up in the mosh pit, imagine the Stooges if the Stooges had way way way way way way way way

way way way way way too much cough syrup and forgot to write any songs; and do you want to hear two perfect examples of what a jam band should REALLY be, both from bands you’ve actually heard of? Listen to “What Goes On” from 1969: The Velvet Underground Live, this is the sound of a band totally freaking losing themselves in the music; time stops, time goes eighty-eight hours in a minute, this is a band finding the perfect chords and hanging on to them through every single Bardo stage and living inside of those chords while lying on amphetamine-filled bean bags; and if you want something a bit more controlled but vaporizes the soul just as intensely, listen to “Carnage Visors” by the Cure, a 28-minute instrumental track released by the Cure in 1981 as a cassette-only bonus to their (phenomenal) Faith album; it winds through simple, endless, repetitive arpeggios, it sounds like a day-long Morphine dream that Dave Gilmour keeps on popping in and out of, it implies endlessness, an extraordinary quality for as song to project, it sounds like Robert Smith wrote a song while watching goldfish swim around in Goldschläger and it’s just perfect, and it’s exactly what a jam band should sound like.

And none of it sounds like a bunch of people practicing minor-chord mandolin runs while the rhythm section plays flyshit.

And there are a million more of ‘em out there right now, and Alex Maiolo probably knows the names of all of them, so get in touch with him for a list.

Oh…and as for that Worst Band list…we’ll save that for another time. Let’s just say that number one begins with an “O” and rhymes with “Ingo Boingo.”

From the Web