Friday, July 30, 2010

Never Grow Old

Lately, I’ve been feeling the need for uber-hot summer days that force me to get out of my house and onto my bike for some epic-length bike rides. Riding up Telegraph with a pleasant breeze blowing through my hair, down the Ohlone Greenway and up the waterfront to Point Richmond and back. Unfortunately, there haven’t been very many of those days this summer. Then again, I live in the Bay Area, where it’s been said that the coldest winter spent is a summer here. With that in mind, I thought maybe I’d try to manifest the weather I want by posting some perfect summertime music. And really, who better of a choice to compel the forces of nature to raise the temperature than Toots & the Maytals?

And now I’m going to switch gears to another feeling that this record inspired…

Never Grow Old. Absolutely goddamn right, but let me clarify what I mean. Those of us who don’t have a cliché “hope I die before I get old” death wish will inevitably advance in age. As well, we will become older in a physical sense. The sooner we accept that, the better the process will be. However, that does not mean that we have to grow mentally older too. It is one thing to mature and progress. To encounter things that make us question our beliefs and solidify them, or change them to something more realistic. There’s nothing wrong with that. It’s another thing to completely shed the things that made you feel alive in your younger years to fit somebody else’s notion of what it means to be an “adult.” Fuck that shit. There’s nothing that “adults” have that I want. I figured that out a long time ago while living on the streets of Berkeley. I watched thousands of people scurry to and fro on the UC Berkeley campus, worrying entirely too much about things like “making the grade” and going “places” in life. Inevitably, many of those people are going to wake up one day and wonder what else they could have done with their time instead of living up to the expectations of others.

Never Grow Old. Life is for living and you’ve only got one chance at it, so enjoy it while it lasts. Do the things you love to do. The playthings of your youth do not have to be put aside in favor of giving in to the pressures of supposed adulthood. Never allow your enthusiasm to be destroyed by the jaded forces of self-defeat. Stay young at heart and avoid the mid-life crisis that will consume so many of your peers as they try to catch up on the years they missed. Never. Grow. Old.

I would also like to take the time to dedicate this post to my dear friend Sara, who will be celebrating her birthday this coming Monday. Happy early birthday, Miss Sara! I love you, my precious!

Tell me you love me

Friday, July 23, 2010

Blog for Light

Like the previous Bad Brains record posted here, this one needs no introduction. Rock for Light is often considered to be the Bad Brains’ finest moment, mostly because it was their last true hardcore record before splitting up and reuniting to delve deeper into reggae and exploring other forms of music to less than favorable results. Others love this album just because it’s so damn fast, breaking the hardcore speed barrier before bands like DRI and Lärm took it to the next level.

Therein lies the problem.

When I first heard Rock for Light as a teenager, it didn’t resonate with me the same way the ROIR cassette did. Dr. Know’s guitar sound lacked the heavy Black Sabbath quality that made the tape debut so amazing. The bottom end, another important factor, was virtually nonexistent. Most of all, many of the songs actually seemed to be too fast, sacrificing power and memorable songwriting in favor of speed for the sake of speed. Years later, I came to appreciate Rock for Light for what it was, although I still pull out the ROIR tape when I want to get my Bad Brains fix.

Recently I was reading a thread on the HRPS board (aka “the scenester board”) and discovered that there was a legitimate reason why I thought the songs on Rock for Light were played faster than they should have been. It turns out that producer Ric Ocasek and bassist Darryl Jenifer sped up the master while remixing the album in 1990. I was right this entire time, despite people telling me that I was crazy to criticize Rock for Light for being too fast. Apparently, this has been public knowledge for years, but I’m old-fashioned and don’t get all of my punk info from Wikipedia like you young whippersnappers do these days.

Chris Corry from Mind Eraser was cool enough to rip his original vinyl copy and post it on the board for the less fortunate. Sure enough, there’s a big difference between the original on PVC and the Caroline repress. Caroline rearranged the track order and added “Supertouch,” “I,” and the minute-long reggae jam at the end. There’s minor production details that don’t matter to most, but made a bit of a difference to me when comparing the two. Most of the songs are two to three seconds shorter. That doesn’t sound like much, but compare the two versions and you’ll see how drastic of a difference there really is. They even sped up “Rally Around Jah Throne” to where it was actually about forty seconds shorter than the original! I don’t get it. I guess you would have had to be in the studio with Ric and Darryl to understand why they even bothered.

Although it might disappoint some people to find that these songs aren’t as fast as you thought, rest assured that the original is a lot better. You can’t rid the lyrics of their religious convictions, nor do you get the Tony Iommi guitar sound. But the bottom end is back, baby! So is the power. H.R.’s vocals no longer sound like the product of huffing helium between takes. No Bad Brains record will ever top the ROIR cassette’s revolutionary fury, but Rock for Light is definitely a great album in its original form. Rediscovering this album was almost like taking a beautiful girl home for the night, only to discover that she’s even more so underneath all of those clothes.

If you are like me and are only recently coming to this realization, you might appreciate that we at The Evil Eye have opted to upload both versions of Rock for Light here so you can sit down at the computer and make the comparison yourself. My guess is that you’ll just delete the Caroline version after downloading it, but it’s there if you’re feeling a bit obsessive-compulsive today.

Friday, July 16, 2010

The Legend of the U.S.S. Titanic

It might seem a bit strange for us to post a folk album here at The Evil Eye, but this one is a special case. Celebrate diversity, right? Most people who keep up with this blog probably couldn’t care less about folk music at all, so most of this album is dispensable. However, there is one song on Remember the Wind and the Rain that is well worth your time.

Years ago, my dad and I were working on a mix tape that has since been lost to the sands of time. “In-a-Gadda-Da-Vida” kicked off the b-side, complete with all of the pops and skips that you’d expect from a record that was more than twenty years old. Due to the song’s length, we weren’t sure of what else to put on the tape to fill the remaining space left on the tape. Most people probably would have redone the tape to have shorter songs take place first, before including the Iron Butterfly classic. But this is my dad we’re talking about here. Leave it to him to have a few tricks up his sleeve.

Asking me if I’d ever heard of a guy named Jaime Brockett (of course not), he broke out a tape and dubbed me a song called “Legend of the USS Titanic” that was just long enough to round out our latest mix tape endeavor. And what a song it was!

“Legend of the USS Titanic” is a talking folk song in the same vein as Arlo Guthrie’s “Alice’s Restaurant,” but a million times funnier. Boxer Jack Johnson is supposed to sail on Titanic to England for a lucrative fight, but his ticket is denied. This ship don’t haul no coal, you see. Johnson’s skin happens to be as black as said coal, so he doesn’t get to party with the Italian senators and wife-swapping Jews from Miami en route to his next knockout. Jack is understandably upset over this turn of events. However, karma is on his side due to the antics of the ship’s first mate.

This guy is a bit kooky for 1912. Before he was the first mate on Titanic, this unnamed fellow was working in a rope factory down in Mexico. When the factory catches fire one day, the guy discovers that there’s more than one purpose for the material used to make the rope. He makes off with some—nearly five hundred feet worth—and brings it to his next job. Can you see where this is going yet?

All is well aboard Titanic. The unsinkable ship is floating in and out between the icebergs. The rich Jews are partying and trading their wives, Cadillacs, and diamonds. The crew is hard at work. The first mate is having a smoke and checking out the icebergs. Meanwhile, the captain (presumably Captain Edward J. Smith) decides that he’s going to go outside to test the wind and happens upon the first mate in mid-puff. Not believing that it’s a mere cigarette, he takes a puff. Nothing happens, so he goes off and does all sorts of captain things. After his third trip around the wheelhouse, the first mate asks him if he’d like another drag off of this innocent lil’ cigarette he’s been smoking. But this time, he’s going to tell Captain Smith a little bit about how to smoke this properly.

The first mate informs Smith that he is supposed to hold the smoke in his tummy for as long as he can, and it’ll make him feel good inside. You might guess that the captain does exactly that, taking three big drags and commences holding it in. Smith then proceeds to take another stroll around the wheelhouse, lays down, gets back up, sends a radiogram, takes a shower, shaves, lays down, gets up again, turns on the television (what?), turns off the radio, plays cribbage, reads a Masked Marvel comic book, makes a cup of tea, makes a cup of coffee, sits down, eats a piece of pie, goes upstairs, plays another game of cribbage, reads another Masked Marvel comic, lays down, and has the TV, radio, egg beater, and the air conditioner all going on at once. Then Captain Smith walks back up on deck. It’s been fifty-two minutes and he’s STILL holding in all that smoke! Holy moly, this cat was BORN to get high. The first mate sees him all puff up like a balloon and tells him he’s gotta let out all that smoke. So he does…and passes out on the wheelhouse floor.

When Smith wakes up, he stands right up and grabs a hold of the wheel. Obviously high as a kite, he decides to steer the unsinkable Titanic right into an iceberg. Of course, the ship sinks to the bottom of the sea, taking with her all the Italian senators, the Jewish people, the first mates, the captain, the landlubbers, the Masked Marvel comics, and 497 and a half feet of rope. True story, folks.

Meanwhile, a dejected Jack Johnson is fishing off the pier and gets a little tug on his line. Pulling it up, he discovers some lining reading “USS Titanic” in gold letters, with a wet roach stuck to it. Happy as a clam, ol’ Jack starts dancing the Eagle Rock up and down the pier with the knowledge that proper justice had been served. That’s what they get for not letting him on board so he could sail to England to make money knocking fools out.

As far as we at The Evil Eye are concerned, there is no reason why you wouldn’t get a kick out of this song. That is, unless you’re a humorless racist asshole who thought Titanic was a good movie…in which case, you probably stopped reading this post a long time ago. Everyone else can get nearer your god to thee here.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Psycho Sonics

It’s been said by a whole bunch of American punk historians before and I’m just gonna go ahead and agree: the Sonics are the first REAL American punk band. And wouldn’t you know it, they also happened to be the first punk band I ever heard. Unfortunately, it wasn’t until after my father’s death a few years ago that I came to that realization.

My dad was always a huge music fan, especially music of the “moldy oldies” variety. With that in mind, my uncle Jimmy and I put our heads together to make a couple mix tapes of some of his favorite tunes for the funeral. One song, Jimmy said, that was of utmost importance to play was a 45 from the ‘60s called “Psycho.” Thanks to a local disc jockey named Mad Mike, this song was apparently a smash hit amongst Pittsburgh’s blue-eyed soul boys and other rebellious youth circa 1965. Since things like song titles and recording artists’ names weren’t usually considered pertinent info most of the time, I had no idea what song Jimmy was talking about. However, I knew I could count on him to track down the record at some point during the night.

I don’t recall exactly how long it took Jimmy to find it, but he did: “Psycho” b/w “The Witch” (I think, I’m too lazy to look) on the Etiquette label. The Sonics did this song? Well, I’ll be damned. Aside from what those old punk historian dudes wrote in zines, I only knew of the Sonics as the band that originally played “Strychnine,” which has been covered by a number of bands over the years. Then I put it on and instantly remembered that my dad used to play “Psycho” a lot when I was little. You know; I heard a lot of songs about some rather strange subjects for being a small child. I wasn’t allowed to watch R-rated movies, but I was allowed to hear songs about drinking, sex, and going crazy? You figure that one out.

It struck me as funny that “Psycho” certainly qualified as a perfect slice of American punk roots. For all I knew, my dad hated the fact that I was into punk. In his world, I looked like a scumbag who’d just been in a car wreck. He did dig Danzig’s Elvis turn on “American Nightmare.” The Bad Brains’ idea of playing both punk and reggae piqued his interest during a car trip from Madison to Pittsburgh. Aside from that, punk bands were unfit for human consumption, as far as he was concerned. Little did he know that he had an original punk record in his own collection, let alone it being one of his all-time favorite songs. Wish I could have told him that while he was still alive. Just to see the look on his face. My guess is that he would have simply said, “Get aht!” in disbelief.

Here are the Sonics is their first album. You better believe “Psycho” is on here, as well as other originals like “Boss Hoss,” “Strychnine” and one that I don’t actually care much for, “The Witch.” They cover “Dirty Robber” by the Wailers and give that song the guts that the original lacked. Actually, a large part of the album consists of cover songs, but that’s how garage bands did things back then. The recording levels are shoved all the way into the red, giving the sound a distorted quality that only makes these raunchy rockers better. For the ‘60s, this was hardcore brutality at its finest.

My dad would have turned sixty yesterday, so this post is for him. Happy birthday, Pop. I miss ya. Rest in peace here.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Oakland Cider Chaos

The Masked Men were literally born and raised in Oakland, but were not exactly a part of the so-called “Oakland crustcore” scene during the mid ‘90s. The East Bay was a MUCH more insular scene back then, and had no time for a band of teenagers playing noisy chaos punk a la early Chaos UK or Disorder. But I think if the Masked Men existed in the here and now, they would probably go over well. There have been quite a few local bands in recent years that they’d have things in common with, after all. It makes me chuckle thinking about this because bands like Gloom and CFDL played a similar style in Japan around the same time as the Masked Men did in the East Bay. People go ape for those “crasher crust” records now, and they may very well appreciate the Masked Men too.

This is their third recording, which is the best example of what I’m talking about. Done for the tidy sum of $35 on a night off at Gilman Street by ex-Blatz bassist Marshall Stax. Previous recordings didn’t sound quite this chaotic, and nobody was really sure how it came out this way. But that was often how recordings happened in those days. You didn’t really have the time or the money to work out the best recording possible. It was also harder to make connections with people who had studios and knew what they were doing. I know it’s gotten old saying it by now, but the punks really do have it a lot easier these days.

So keep all of that in mind as you crack open a bottle of Mirkwood Spider Cider and revel in would-be classic tunes like “The Legend of Carlo Rossi,” “Chaos,” “Vegan Chaos” (a future KBD classic if there ever was one), “More Cider,
“BART Cops Attacked by Plaid Punks,” and “I’m Gonna Fuck Up Your Car.” Some of these songs are things of genius, I tell ya. Not that it matters to 99.9% of anyone reading this, but I personally dubbed this particular tape for Max Ward back in 1997, in which I added a few samples and removed others for timing’s sake. Seven years later, I was able to recover it when Max dropped off a box of tapes at a Gilman show. Since my copy of the original demo was stolen a long time ago, I was overjoyed to have this tape back in my possession after all that time. Now you too can have it in yours here.