PIL’s ‘Metal Box’ is at root an Old Testament document. Listen, just leave it to couple of Catholics and a Jew to get down to this kind of business. The energy radiating from ‘Metal Box’ is a white hot self loathing rooted in John Lydon’s in time realization that he is a fraud, more of a hypocrite and liar than any musician that has come before him on whom he has projected his own inadequacies – his self righteous tone alone, not rivalled even by Bob Marley, is that of an Old Testament prophet eaten up by God’s holy fire, consumed by his own righteous fury and fear. Wobble’s bass grounds Lydon’s rage long enough for Levene’s guitar and synth to manifest iridescent sparks that rotate and dazzle like Ezekiel’s wheel. Lydon’s voice howls in the pitch and frequency of Yaldabaoth, enchanted and infuriated by his own image, always through a glass darkly. What that which looms above?
Listening to the Kink’s ‘School Boys in Disgrace’. The funny thing about the Kinks concept albums of 1973-75 is that the story, although loosely connected by the character of Mr. Flash, is so besides the point and silly that I’ve never once heard anybody even bother to elucidate it. There’s some great songs on those albums, don’t get me wrong, the pub rockin’ camp of ‘The Hard Way’ and the late period Byrds gospel of ‘The last Assembly’ are unimpeachable in my house. It’s just that the framing device for these records is so theatrical and thin that it doesn’t even merit the discussion that Townshend’s extremely labored concept LP’s of the 70’s receive. I guess THAT discussion is to some point justified by just that, his labors on the story as much as the songs. I like the vague but intriguing sci-fi sketch of ‘Lifehouse’, but maybe Tommy deserved being stuck in a Ken Russell movie. There’s a great ‘Rutland Weekend’ sketch featuring Eric Idle and the great Neil Innes called ‘Pommy’ which deals with the nightmare proposition of finding yourself trapped in a Ken Russell film.
To be clear I own and like all these records to varying degrees. I’m just riffing as I listen, and sometimes you hurt the ones you love the most.
I guess I should be glad that the hole is tight on my copy of Marianne Faithfull’s ‘Come Stay With Me the UK 45’s 1964-1969’, but its a bit of an inconvenience, though that joke occurred to me as I pressed right down on that tight hole. I suppose I need a tussle or I’m just immature. Most probably both. My thoughts keep turning in on themselves. Wow, Marianne’s version of ‘Yesterday’ is awful. Actually it’s the arrangement that is awful, her vocal is fine, and as an aside I always thought Reed and Cale’s criticisms of the additional arrangements to Nico’s ‘Chelsea Girls’ a bit churlish, especially compared to something like this right here. Now ‘That’s Right Baby’ on the other hand is so right on a Graham Bond groovy spy soundtrack that she could have made a whole album in this mode with no complaint. Marianne is such an Elizabethan bird (send complaints to editor)(Ed: yeah, it would be good to know someone is reading) no more so than on Goffin & Mann’s ‘Something Better’ – you know it’s the late 60’s cause even the Old Brill Building writers are swinging with each others partner.
Earlier in my kitchen looking at a picture of Eddie Cochran on the cover of Dylan’s new book I was struck by what a genuinely good guy Eddie seemed to be, you can see it in his face and the stories I’ve heard match the profile. Dylan’s book is fun, no real philosophy, modern or otherwise but much song and craft. He has perfected a particular poignant admixture of insight sprinkled amongst piles of amusing bullshit that keeps you reading just in case this guy might be on to something. His two ‘Playboy’ interviews, one from 1966 and the other 1978 are fragrant and flagrant examples of this frankly heady brew and worth seeking out. Just ask Robert Frost, I mean Robert Forster.
Listening to The Them now, thinking of how Van Morrison’s singing really bugged my Mom. I think it was ‘Astral Weeks’ I was playing one time when she was over that she flipped out a bit over, actually seemed to take offence, personal like. Anyway I didn’t get it then, but sometimes now I do – Van’s at times mannered, often staccato barking is the antithesis of everything my Mom thought of as good singing, and sometimes I feel the same. Chet Baker did. But it’s also the voice that helped launch a thousand worthy American garage bands. It’s the Belfast punk in him showing the crooner the door. Van, thy name is contrariness. And my mom never heard the Them, or more to the point she never heard The Them covering John Lee Hooker’s ‘Don’t Look Back’, some very nice singing, that. And for the record there were plenty of Irish in the hills of Georgia.
Damn this Them record is great, the only thing that rivaled The Them at the time were the first two Pretty Things records and the first four American Rolling Stones records. The Animals and Yardbirds were often in there too. The Who and The Small Faces were later and were of a different though equally addictive strain. You know who wrote some great prose about those bands and their performances in the clubs of London? Jeremy Reed in his novel ‘Here Come The Nice’. The whole time travel aspect and the story set in the present doesn’t interest me as much but man when he gets you down in the Ham Yard describing those bands he really weaves a yarn that puts you in the best possible version of there.
I’ve noticed a critical move afoot to brush aside and tut tut the more thorny side of the Stones, including these early albums that really are, if anything, underrated except by obsessives and those that were there to absorb their primal impact. I remember when I was young (vaguely) and in graduate school (hardly at all) buying a copy of ‘The Rolling Stones Now!’ before class and showing up with it and this older woman in class who was a teenager when it was released gushing over the record and its impact on her as a teenager.
It’s important to understand that art and music, especially folk music and blues has always been used in part to express feelings that are anti-social or socially unacceptable. It’s art Dad and therapeutic art at that. And it’s so much more than white boys trying to play the blues, though it’s that too. The unfamiliar or skeptical are directed immediately to covers like ‘Mona’ ‘King Bee’ and ‘Walking The Dog’ and original songs like ‘Empty Heart’, ‘Play With Fire’ ‘Little by Little’ and ‘Congratulations’ for just how fine those early Stones LP’s are. I like the chopped and souped up American versions of those albums best, but then I would, wouldn’t I.
I’ll leave you with three words: cosey fanni tutti or maybe ‘art, sex, music’. Anyone notice that the title of Cosey’s memoir might be a piss take on Viv Albertine’s own book titled ‘clothes, music, boys’ -maybe something going back to the tension between some of the Slits and an on stage Throbbing Gristle in 1977 or 78? Or maybe I’m just trying to start something. I’m a king mixer! But for the record I’m on the Slits side. Though both bands have members whose names scan nicely. Cue M. Jackson’s ‘Wanna Be Starting Something’ (sounds best slowed down a bit) and I’m out the door and on the floor. Ari Up!
William Crain. 2023.