Spotify web link: Let the Beat Build #2: January 2013
1. “Bed for the Scraping” - Fugazi. KW: “I don’t wanna be defeated, I don’t wanna be defeated, I don’t wanna be defeated, I don’t wanna be defeated!” As I was thinking about which song should kick it off for this mix, I was playing a few different songs and as soon as I started listening to this I knew it was the one. Fugazi has a bunch of anthems about and against apathy. I think I like them all. Anyway, it’s a new year, it’s time to get off our asses. Musically, this may be the best example of the Fugazi two guitar badassery. There really aren’t many groups that are this fucking adventurous with guitar arrangements. But then again, not every group has Brendan Canty and Joe Lally holding it down. You could probably put Yoko Ono’s most uninspired yawling over those two and it would still make we want to get up and start a mosh pit, or very energetically clean my kitchen.
2. “Pay to Cum” - Bad Brains. JW: “I came to know with now dismay, that in this world we all must pay, pay to write, pay to play, pay to cum, pay to fight.” Speaking of cleaning the kitchen (and cleaning “house” spiritually) there was a time when I put this song on every mix I made for use with amping up. This usually meant driving or cleaning. Occasionally exercising. Infrequently exorcising. Tanya said we should make a DC mix. I think I pretty much tap out after these two. KW: Aside: Check out the mix I made in 2011 of all the proto-Fugazi bands, the Fugazi Primer (context: http://www.karlward.com/blog/2011/10/fugazi-primer/).
3. “Pills” - The New York Dolls. KW: This is what playing in a rock band was supposed to be. This is what was on the recruitment poster. I was supposed to be fed pills in my hospital bed on the way to the show, attended by beautiful women (I think) I barely know. The recruitment literature never said anything about the way it really is (see “Rock music is mostly about moving big black boxes from one side of town to the other in the back of your car”). Anyway, just like Bad Brains was far, far out ahead of everyone else and was the trunk of the tree that sprouted branches called the Beastie Boys, Minor Threat, The Red Hot Chili Peppers, Black Flag, Minutemen... Yeah, the New York Dolls were that same thing. Without the Dolls it’s hard to imagine the Sex Pistols, the Ramones, Television, Richard Hell, the Heartbreakers. Then there’s obviously KISS, and a lot of less-talented glam bands. And what about the Rolling Stones? They had to be thinking of the Dolls (and their spawn) when they sought to reclaim their dirty throne from the punks with Some Girls. Aside: Some Girls is either my favorite or second favorite Stones album, before or after Exile, which is just nasty. Anyway, listen to the lead guitar in the right speaker starting at 2:02 into “Pills.” Take off the left earphone and just focus on that nasty shit on the right. That is some sloppy I don’t give a fuck styling, right up there with Colbert’s joke about jazz (“Shepard Smith is like the trumpet player who got bored and decided to play out of rhythm and accidentally invented jazz”). It’s such a sly perversion of what you expect the guitar to do, Johnny Thunders knows what Keith Richards would play but just doesn’t care to play it that way.
4. “It Ain’t Easy” - David Bowie. JW: Dammit dammit dammit. Maybe Spotify is the wrong place for this game. No Floyd. No ZTrip. No combination Pizza Hut and Taco Bell. The perfect answer to Pills for me was the ZTrip track that bleeds Pink Floyd’s Young Lust into Biggie’s Hypnotize. It said it all. Instead I’ll just turn to my glam/canon shoulder to cry on. The whole album The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars, one of the first/best concept albums, is loaded with surprises. Range, but still within a sensible curation. Am I promoting momentum on the rockstar portrait? Am I opening up a concept album can of worms? Is this the ballad for all the kvetchers out there? Only Karl’s demons could say.
5. “Jokerman” - Bob Dylan. KW: The directions that “It Ain’t Easy” opens up for me are more interesting than whatever I will inevitably pick. My first instinct is to go with Dylan’s “Jokerman,” which is like a mini-David Lynch movie--I’m not sure if the narrator is talking to himself or someone else. I’m not sure if the Jokerman is Dylan’s megalomaniacal side, or if it is the United States itself (I tend to despise fanciful critical speculation like this, but this song begs for it). I like to think it is a reflection on his own internal megalomaniac, and I like that in particular because the narrator is obviously allured by Jokerman--his appearance, his talents, his single-minded way of seeing the world and focusing only on the desirable--while at the same time recognizing the unjustifiable moral downsides. But then I thought maybe it would be better to talk about how it’s so hard to get to heaven when you’re going down. Again, Dylan, “Every Grain of Sand,” with its great couplet “I gaze into the doorway of temptation’s angry flame / And every time I pass that way I always hear my name.” But then I thought maybe it would be better to follow the thread of Bowie’s appropriation of someone else’s blues for his story, and I thought Rolling Stones doing Robert Johnson’s “Stop Breaking Down.” But then I thought what about the filth implied by Ziggy’s rise and fall? This points toward “Cocksucker Blues” by either the Stones or the Silver Jews, neither of which is widely available. Or maybe “Love Comes in Spurts” by Richard Hell and the Voidoids, which also qualifies as Underappreciated Rock Guitar Greatness because it is Robert Quine again. For that matter, the guitar on “Jokerman” is amazing, with both Mark Knopfler and Mick Taylor (ex-Stones). Do people generally realize how talented Mark Knopfler is? I do not claim to understand the mystery behind “Jokerman,” but I know it belongs in this spot.
6. "Nut Megalomaniac" - Fishbone. JW: So many paths to travel after Jokerman. Looked for good Knopfler but came up dry. Held on megalomania and was seeking a contemporary analog. But resources pointed me here. I prefer Warmth of Your Breath but I also like to paint within the lines occasionally. So take this literal match and see how we went from Fugazi to Bad Brains to Dylan and then back to Fishbone. I really can't think of a band that is similar and better than Fishbone. In fact I may go make a Fishbone playlist.
7. “I Felt Like a Gringo” - Minutemen. KW: Aw here he go again with that Minutemen bullsh. This is a song about how nobody on the beach in Mexico gives a damn about US politics. There is nothing wrong with this phenomenon. Before I picked this song, I almost went with “Kookies” by MF Doom, to change the subject from sex to food. But it didn’t flow from Fishbone the way this fucking scorcher from Minutemen does. Tequila. That is how you play the fucking guitar right there. And the bass. And the drums.
8. “Camel Walk” - Southern Culture on the Skids. JW: “White trash... don’t call me that.” The opposite of “white guilt” is hate. But the other opposite is trash. There’s nothing factual about that statement. If you contest it, you’re a bigot. One of my favorite things about this SCOTS album is the picture on the cover of the used condom in the truck tracks. The rest is that every song is essentially about sex, sticky, chicken fried, clothes-on sex. Sadly, not all the songs endure the test of time. This one is classic.
9. “Debra” - Beck. KW: Love and malls. Parking lots full of regular cars. Being hot for a girl and also her sister. Unable to remember either girl’s name, but still getting them both into the Hyundai. This is Beck at his weirdest hot best. I’m came from Russia right now for three favorite things:
1. Double bass
2. Axis: Bold as Love-style guitar runs
3. Soul/R&B falsetto
4. The Nineteen Seventies
5. Sex with your skateboard, at the mall, with your sister watching
10. “Business Time” - Flight of the Conchords. JW: That was a Carnac-style stream of consciousness that conjures up Point Break, Police Academy 4: Citizens on Patrol, and of course, Rad. But I wouldn’t do you like that, Zankou Chicken. No, it’s time for making love. Making love for two. Making love to two minutes... That’s why they’re called “business socks.” KW: There was a Police Academy 4? I saw it?
11. “The Swish” - The Hold Steady. KW: Oh yeah, that’s right, I saw all of those movies, multiple times. Police Academy I remember fondly. But the rest of the Eighties? “I survived the Eighties one time already, and I don’t recall it all that fondly.” Carnac? Yep. Got that. Also, I got Beverly Sills, Patty Smyth, Rick Danko, Robbie Robertson, Elisabeth Shue, Steve Perry, Neal Schon, Nina Simone, Andre Cymone.
12. “X-Static” - Foo Fighters. JW: Pow pow power chords. I survived the Nineties one time already, and I have a deep, penetrating nostalgia for it. Do they call Robbie Robertson “Robo”? I just watched a documentary about Patty Schemel, the drummer from Hole. It reminded me that Dave Grohl was probably poking Kurt in the kidneys waiting to take the scepter. The drums sound the same. The guitar on this album seems like an overproduced version of Nevermind with market research. And yet, it is pretty good. Not Led Zeppelin 3 good, but like Lenny Kravitz prime good. Or Pearl Jam. In a way that no one could ever fill a void after the loss of Nirvana, this seemed to be a surprise everyone with how good it actually was.
13. “Romeo Had Juliette” - Lou Reed. KW: Here’s a song that came from the Eighties but sounds like it came from the Nineties. I have mostly avoided the Foo Fighters, but I read the lyrics to “X-Static” and it occurred to me that what he was going for (abstract lyrics where you’re supposed to fill in the blanks) was done kind of terribly. Maybe I’m being harsh. But Lou Reed, inconsistent as he is, is still a fucking master of abstract lyrics, the sometimes heir to Dylan’s “chain of flashing images” lyrical style from the last half of the Sixties. Also, Lou Reed may be the only person in music history who has never, ever committed the sin of overproduction. This song rocks something messy and fierce. I wonder how you say “It’s hard to give a shit these days” in Latin.
14. “Sultans of Swing” - Dire Straits. JW: Oh Lou Reed. If you remove the sleeveless t-shirt... no, if you leave it on, “Romeo Had Juliette” basically sounds like Southern Rock. No, Country. No Gregg Allman robo-tripping with Lester Bangs in the East Village. So Southern Rock it is. It swings. And it’s twang-y. But wait! Hold the phone. Mark Knopfler isn’t a redneck. Wait. He’s not even Amurican. Wait. Did we just circle back to Mark Knopfler? Why yes we did. So take that.
15. “You’re Gonna Miss Me” - The 13th Floor Elevators. KW: Four chord white boy blues. A guy blowing on a jug. Lots of screaming from an extremely perverse dimension that suffers from the uncanny valley like it’s its job. When I was a kid in a rock band in Houston, we would periodically take breaks where we listened to old rock records, frequently from the Elevators. They were this alternate version of Texas reality--I’m going to bring up David Lynch again--when you put the needle on the record you caught a glimpse of something truly strange that was once happening in the midst of deep Texas conformity. It was like swimming in calm water but then looking below the surface to find there’s a world of strange tropical fish just out of sight unless you look down. Also, I’m pretty sure this is what robo-tripping sounds like.
14. “Baby Please Don’t Go” - THEM. JW: White boy blues. That’s a nice story about your band. I picture you like David Gilmour trying to learn Bo Diddley. Or like that band in Welcome To The Dollhouse. Weiner Dog. David Lynch, David Lynch. I was THIS close to playing this. But bc the Elevators made me think of the Animals, I went and done found THEM. And anyway, Harry Dean Stanton listens to this song in Wild at Heart when he’s driving to find Lula and Sailor. BAM! And Barry Gifford who wrote Wild at Heart also co-wrote Lost Highway. So BAM! I’ve got more boomerangs than a mushroom belt.
15. “Gloria: In Excelsis Deo” - Patti Smith. KW: Patti Smith has never been my cup of tea. Every few years someone would tell me how great Horses is and I would listen to a track or two the next time I came across it, and it wouldn’t get me. Recently I picked up Horses again and this time I was pulled in, mostly by this song, which gets inside rock and roll (by way of Them’s “Gloria”) and proceeds to turn the whole thing inside out. Electric white girl blues. Take that, Mick Jagger. That little girl in a suit at the piano just rocked your cock off.