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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.

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The Doomed Sex Geckos Make Me Celebrate Life and Here’s Why

September 4, 2014

For the rest of our lives, we will all remember where we were on September 2, 2014, when we heard that the Russian Sex Geckos had died in space. These randy reptiles, who sacrificed their lives to make the vast emptiness of the cosmos safe for Astral Coitus, will forever be in our hearts, alongside other non-human pioneers who climbed the ladder to heaven for the sake of ethereal exploration: Laika the Canine Cosmonaut, Bek and Lek the Lunar Orbiting Tortoises, and ill-fated Gordo the Squirrel Monkey, launched by our very own country into the skies in December, 1958, only to drown without mercy when the capsule parachute failed to open.

This is Gordo. He is about to die for science.

(Sans pitié, I tell you, sans pitié! Wishing only for a warm nut and a cool patch of Florida grass to scamper upon, poor Gordo was sacrificed to the cruel, cold waters of the Atlantic.)

The brevity of the brave lives of the Sex Geckos and all the other dogs, rodents, chimps, and turtles who died for science has made me consider what a luminous, brief, and rare gift life is. Inspired by the lives these skybound creatures led, scraping the heavens to gaze with hopeful and tiny animal eyes at the face of God, I have decided to honor their sacrifice and the brief moments of joy, heroism, and lizard horniness they must have felt before the Space Reaper collected his pennies. To honor the extraordinary gift of sentient birth, full of the dust of destitution and the silver of desire, the glitter of cities and the sun-rich, loamy earth of the country, the prize of solitude and the sweet grasp of company, here is my list of things I am thankful for:

Fribbles. During the unsightly, bullying, hirsute, bloated, screeching, neon decade of the 1970s, I lived in the weak-Tudor suburbs of Long Island, that land of car dealerships, mod synagogues, and over-designed duck ponds; I screamed majorly, minorly, and hourly for the scratch and sass of Manhattan, dreaming every day of escape from the eternal wet November of the well-meaning Freeway Land. In the midst of this doomscape of blousy hair and teenage Porsches, the succulent succor of the Fribble, that delectable Delorean of ice cream treats, was like Mothers’ milk to the teen soul abused by the encroachment of conformity and mediocrity. Likewise, I am thankful for…

The Kinks. Before Punk saved our souls and turned all us Sauls into Pauls spreading the gospel of Bowery and Kings Road to a world dulled by Kansas and ELP, us wet-lipped outsiders who wandered in the cruel American desert bowed low before the golden calf of The Kinks, those delicious, British, bashing, effeminate, tender, terrorizing masters of songs most subtle and riffs most outrageous. They had a legend full of gorgeous back-story and self-destructive misery, making music for every mood and a song for every season, and they provided an immediate way to identify allies before the armies of the outsiders all cut their hair. Oh my Kinks, you were my first love. I am thankful for…

The Mighty Boosh. A century and a quarter after Weber & Fields discovered it was wildly funny (and equally lucrative) to go on stage portraying two men abusing each other with props and wordplay, you would have thought that the whole concept of the two-man comedy team could not appear vital, fresh, and ferociously funny. But the Mighty Boosh took all the clichés, pumped them full of hipster air and sealed it with dada staples, and produced one of the five funniest TV shows of all time. Like The Honeymooners, Fawlty Towers, and (most of) Blackadder, you can watch the Mighty Boosh’s three series of television shows again and again and be awed, over and over, by the creativity, the stunning scripted and visual invention, the startling and unexpected wit, and the ability of two amazing actors – Julian Barratt and Noel Fielding – to make the most absurd characters and situations appear utterly real, compelling, and draw-dropping funny. I am thankful for…

Two devastatingly perfect pure pop songs that you may not be familiar with, but which you will listen to right now: “Strolling on Air” by Kimberly Rew and the Waves and “Monsters and Angels” by Voice of the Beehive. The most exceptional pop music is like mirror-filled sugar icicle castles with butterscotch-granite foundations: exotic and unachievable, firm and monumental, but reflecting some undeniable truth about ourselves.

There are some great achievements in the last forty years of post-Ramones power pop, but I honestly think nothing, not even the mod thrill-rides of the Barracudas, nor the balsa-light studious frippery of XTC or even the sibilant Mersey-heaven of the La’s, can compare to the these two songs. When asked to preserve the best pure pop of this generation, I hope these two songs go up in the Viking spaceship. I am thankful for…

The only known photograph of Buddy Bolden. He stands behind the guitarist, sneering forward at the Pop Century he is about to invent

Buddy Bolden, because what could be more beautiful than the fact that the man who is the lodestone for 20th Century music, and who is the blueprint for every tragic and self-destructive star of the American pop era, was never recorded and only photographed once? How exquisite, how truly and purely magical it is that the Pop Century begins with sparks exploding in the hands and mind of someone so mysterious that he might as well have never existed? I am thankful for…

The fact that as I write this Kate Bush has EIGHT albums in the UK top 40 album charts; only Elvis and the Beatles have had more albums in the British top 40. Even those who don’t love Bush’s almost hyper-real gifts and skills have to honor this: this almost unprecedented success proves that if you do something different from everyone else AND DO IT WITH ALL YOUR HEART AND ALL YOUR MUSCLE, the world will open it’s doors. I have always, always, always said that the surest path to success is to a) make a record that someone doesn’t already own and b) make a record that you can’t find in your record collection but really, really want to hear, and clearly, Kate Bush has done both these things, with brilliant execution and studious commitment, over and over again, and anyone and everyone who ever desires to create music can learn something – everything – from her.

This short list is only the beginning. It omits The Undertones, Benny Tudino’s Pizza, Bruno Ganz, Oskar Matzerath, Henry Pulling, Evelyn Waugh, Richard Farina, Huey Long, Thich Nhat Hanh, Jennifer, Emily, Bo, and Maddy Brout, Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche, the incredible Prettiots, the Aurora Borealis, and a billion other things. Life is full of small and large miracles and brilliant and staggering and gorgeous things to see and hear, from the mesmerizing tic-tic of a signal indicator on an automobile to the transcendentally evocative howl of train whistle in the distance, to the shadows of Caligari to the monumental dreamscapes of Brazil, to the golden bridges over the Danube in Budapest to the warm, old, unmoving stones of Avebury Henge.

And it took the death of a Sex Gecko to remind me what a miracle this strange incarnation is.

Oh, and Neu!

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