Saturday, May 28, 2016

Review: The Damned – Don’t You Wish That We Were Dead

Text © Robert Barry Francos / FFanzeen, 2016
Images from the Internet

The Damned: Don’t You Wish That We Were Dead
Directed by Wes Orshoski
Cleopatra / Three Count Films (TCF) / MVD Visual
110 minutes, 2015 / 2016

Even in their earliest days, the Damned were a damned fine live band. They played a few in CBGBs betwixt 1977 and 1979. Probably, I saw them half a dozen times, usually with the Dead Boys opening. They never failed to entertain, and if they could keep the audience interested after seeing Stiv, Cheetah and the boys, that alone is enough to show their draw.

Like the Dictators being signed before the Ramones here in the States, the Damned were the first acknowledged punk band to be on a major label before either the Clash or the Pistols. It’s hard to explain to most mainstreamers how important the band was to the U.K. scenes at the time. They weren’t political like most of the Brit bands in 1976, but were just fast and loud, with good hooks, quite adept playing, and a front man who easily stood out; two if you include the guitarist, and I certainly would.

As with the Who, each member of the first incarnation of the band actually brought something that made them special. Underrated guitarist and vocalist Captain Sensible, who would also have a solo career with great songs like “Wot” and a cover of the South Pacific nonsensical “Happy Talk” fueled the engine, stoked the rest of the band. He wore outrageous outfits of bright colors (including wild wigs), white sunglasses and a red beret (the latter two becoming his trademark). Rat Scabies was the ginger drummer who was a powerhouse; watching him play was exhausting (in a good way), as he put so much into each beat. Guitarist Brian James seemed the most nondescript, but he was the songwriting maven that gave them most of the material for their first records, such as “Neat Neat Neat” and “New Rose.” These songs still hold up today. Up front was Dave Vanian, who would single-handedly set the standard for the look of the coming Goth movement. Usually – especially early on – his black hair was slicked back, his face plastered white with dark circles around his eyes and dark lipstick, be it black or blazing red. He moved around the stage like an insane panther, and was not only interesting to watch, but had a decent voice as well, especially considering he never sang before joining the band. In time, he would have longer hair and a white streak that I’m sure was used by Johnny Depp in the Tim Burton mediocre film Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (2007).

But the Damned’s influence was not only for the Second Wave punk movement (i.e., British). As the band progressed and grew, its style changed and morphed into more…drama and emotion, being on the forefront of Emo and Goth. There is little doubt that they are to the Goth genre what the New York Dolls were to the New York (First Wave punk) underground sound that followed. And like the Dolls, their recognition factor did not go much above the fan base.

I believe part of the problem of the Damned was not necessarily their occasional infighting (e.g., Rat and the Captain), or even their revolving drummers and bassists – Lemmy did a stint early on, when the band temporarily changed their name to the Doomed – but rather their talent. The Damned would not be tied down to a single genre. Their catalog includes powerpop, disco (though they may call it something else, like Euro-pop), psychedelia and even some level of prog rock, as evidenced by the 17-minute “Curtain Call” from The Black Album (1980).

As documentaries go, this is a better than most (and also available in Blu-Ray). Yes, there is the mixture of old and new in both still images and performances, and interviews mixed in, but director Wes Orshoski takes a bit of a different approach. Among the talking heads, there is more of a philosophy of the band mixed in with the history, which almost comes secondary. I like this. The band doesn’t just become “I was the bassist from year X to year Y,” but rather shows the person behind the playing, what made the band a force, and also keeps them as individuals. Also, most members of the band through the years are interviewed, including Scabies and James, who jumped ship pretty early. While some of the personal bitterness comes to the surface through bits – and there is no shying away from the who and what and why – the humor is definitely there in a non-contiguous way, that shows even though they are not in the same band anymore, and possibly never will be, there is a bond that still hold them as being one of the Damned.

That being said, the documentary doesn’t limit itself to the Damned as a singular. They also follow a second group that is made up of the Damned’s other original members, called Scabies and James, who also play Damned, Damned, Damned while on tour in France, with another (American) punk cult singer fronting, Texas Terri. James takes over guitar rather than bass and shows himself to be quite spectacular in his own right.

This is also not a one-sided, “The Damned Rool” kind of approach used by too many, as we see the peccadillos, such as Rabies anger, the Captain’s insanity, James’s rambling and Vanian’s sometimes subtle power dynamics that led the band to break up its original form for good in 1991. This, of course, will only increase the myth them, but again, what I admire so much about this film is the humanizing of them. Not as punk gods, not as just in musician pantheon, not even villains, but makes them incredibly human, with frailties of pride, fear and uncertainty.

On a personal note, and I do mean this lighter than how I am going to say it, with a finger to the nose, there is a theme of “why didn’t they become as famous as the Pistols or the Clash?” I’m sure this is a question that has been following and plaguing them over the decades. I saw a hint of possibly just a part of why that may be: at one point, Vanian makes a comment about getting “a Jewish type of lawyer.” Now, this may sound like a yikes moment, but it brought back a very specific memory. In 1977, during a showcase at CBGBs, I was involved in an interview with Captain Sensible at one of the front tables between sets (HERE). After the show, we went backstage, to thank the good Captain, as we had kinda tricked him into it. I have a distinct memory of holding my thumb over the mouth of my beer bottle, knowing the Dead Boys’ reputation. As we were entering the dressing room, I did that side-to-side dance with Vanian as we tried to get by each other. He grumbled “Get outta my way,” to which I responded jokingly, being the obnoxious Brooklyn Boy I was, “It’s okay, I’m a Jew,” and rather than laughing or even smiling, Vanian smacked me in the back of the head with his palm, pretty hard. Yeah, even then I knew I deserved it, but perhaps it fed into something deeper with him? Considering the number of Jews that were deeply involved with running music business back then from the likes of record companies to promoters (e.g., Seymour Stein, David Geffen, Bill Graham), a reputation like that could have been career hindering.

There are lots of good interviews included, among many from musicians, most of them thankfully brief, from both sides of the Atlantic, including Lemmy (d. 2016, RIP) Chrissy Hyndes, two members of Blondie, fan Fred Armisen, Keith Morris, the omnipresent Ian MacKaye (of course; what no Henry Rollins or Dave Grohl?), Steve Diggle, Don Letts, Mick Jones of the Clash, and even Jesse Hughes, the idiot lead singer of Eagles of Death Metal (who actually makes at least one really good point that the band should get over their differences and get back together in their original form).

Five extras are included with this documentary, most of which could be considered deleted scenes. The first is the 5-minute “Captain Sensible and Fred Armisen: Nobody Busks in L.A.” This is a fun piece with Armisen meeting Sensible, and then both of them going out on the streets and them playing “Smash It Up” on acoustics with a small but enthusiastic crowd watching. Second is the 17-minute “Captain’s Tour of Croydon,” which is much more than it appears. It starts off as an extended scene from the opening of the film, with the Captain talking about his job cleaning toilets at a music hall, and this leads into showing where he saw bands, his first home as a child, where he and his first band, Johnny Moped, would hang out, and he brings us to the studio where the band recorded in some little dive/apartment. Here we get to meet Andy Gierus, one of the engineers who still works there. The whole thing is fun, thanks to the good Captain’s extroverted personality.

Next is the important 12-minute “The Anarchy Tour.” I noticed in the film that there wasn’t much talked about how the Damned were kicked off the infamous McLaren-Bernie Rhodes designed tour with the Pistols, the Heartbreakers and the Clash, but as I said, history was secondary to philosophy and personality in the feature. This is an important deleted part explaining what happened from the inside. Scabies makes a good point that with the Pistols getting banned a lot, “the Pistols’ reputation was from not being seen, the Damned’s reputation was from being seen” (i.e., touring a lot). I also find it interesting that the band talks about how the Clash went with McLaren advice and refused to talk to the Damned (unlike the Pistols), and yet there he is being interviewed for the main film, and a snippet shown here. Hmmm.

Number five is the 8-minute “The Doomed / Henry Badowski.” The viewer is introduced to Henry, a bassist / keyboard player who had been in bands such as Chelsea and Wreckless Eric, as well as having a subdued solo career. For a brief time he joined the post-James Damned when they were the Doomed. We meet him, who discusses the period, and why he was only involved a short time. Last up is the complete 4-1/2-minute multi-camera professionally-filmed performance of the song “Smash It Up,” from the Captain’s 60 birthday show in 2014, intercut with performances around the world.

As of this writing, the band, still containing Vanian and Captain Sensible, tour occasionally yet, and have a big following, especially in Japan (no surprise there). Their sets contain songs from all the periods, from their earliest to their latest, sometimes to the chagrin of band members. For example, they went on tour to do their entire first LP, Damned, Damned, Damned, and Sensible fought hard to not do the one Scabies song, “Stab Your Back,” due to the violent nature of it (as much as not wanting to have to give Scabies his royalty, I’m guessing). They remain dynamic if not presently important. But historically, they are one of the many great underrated bands of their generation, and most people will never realize the extent of their influence.

Friday, May 20, 2016

DVD Review: Steve Hackett – The Man, the Music

Text © Robert Barry Francos / FFanzeen, 2016
Images from the Internet

Steve Hackett: The Man, the Music
Filmed, directed and edited by Matt Groom
Weinerworld Entertainment / MVD Visual
143 Minutes, 2015

This may open up the Dogs of War, but I find the progressive rock music genre (aka prog) kinda… well, I respect that the musicians can play reaaaaaally well, but when it’s all put together, I have to say it bores the crap out of me. That’s why I stopped playing the radio in the early ’70s other than oldies and the news, and from the first time I heard the Ramones, listened only to vinyl for a large number of years. Even today, it’s mostly talk radio for me (go John Montone and 1010WINS!).

So when I was given the opportunity to review a documentary about prog guitarist Steve Hackett, well, my enthusiasm was…mellow. Genesis, the band that he helped make famous, never played a song that stuck with me, and I could barely tell you one off the top of my head. Of course, the same is true with many other proggers, like ELP, Yes, (post-Syd Barrett) Pink Floyd, and so on. I lost patience with them very fast.

But an important thing about writing about music is not necessarily keeping an open mind about other genres, but being willing to step into another genre and experience it despite that, which is how we grow. I once told an 8-year-old who had very specific food she would eat (essentially, she would always order pizza or chicken fingers at restaurants) to always try things she didn’t like occasionally, because you never know when things can change. I live by that, in all aspects of my life. For example, growing up I was not much of a fan of soul, until the early ‘80s when I saw a VHS tape of Bill Withers doing a live version of “Ain’t No Sunshine,” and it blew me away. On the way to work this morning, I was listening to James Brown’s “Open Up the Door (I’ll Get It Myself).” In other words, I approached the DVD documentary about the guitarist cautiously, but as open as I could, honestly hoping for the best.

Amusingly, Hackett was only in Genesis from 1970 to 1975 (not counting numerous reunion shows), and was also in the brief GTR. He has had a long string of solo releases, blending classical, prog (i.e., pretentious classical) and other forms of world music. This later phase interested me more, honestly.

I’m glad this is more a history than just performance, because I was definitely interested in him in a zeitgeist way rather than just seeing him play for an extended period, i.e., I wanted to know about the “musician” more than the “music,” to start.

The documentary begins with the beginning (a very good place to start), namely his childhood (born in 1950), and even has an interview bit with his mum. His love of Mario Lanza being a pre-Elvis influence is listed on a few sites, so this was no surprise (and no clips of the amazing Lanza, which is neither extraordinary nor expected). Part of this early period is discussed with his third wife, writer Jo Lehmann (listed as Jo Hackett here), and his brother.

There is quite a bit of detail given. I am glad to get some background on the guy, and I’m certain that there are the fanatical guitar fans that will drink up every word, but I believe that the sheer level of detail is if not overwhelming than more than I want to know. For example, it’s nice to have some childhood background, but it’s not that important to warrant this amount of time. And I will illustrate with this anecdote of my own, if you’re willing:

I went with a group of media-focused academics to visit Marshall McLuhan’s childhood home. They were all ooh-ing and ahh-ing all over the place. I asked the women who now owns it what was still there when McLuhan was present. Apparently it was a hallway light and a fixture upstairs in the bathroom (if I remember correctly). Then I asked how old he was, and it was pre-5 years old. So what brilliant thoughts did McLuhan have at that age, in a space that doesn’t represent hardly anything at all when he was there? I was baffled by that.

It’s a rookie mistake, I believe, when a documentary, biography or autobiography delves too deeply into a subject’s childhood. Really, it reflects, but it doesn’t warrant a vast amount of detail. As it is, this film is well over two hours. The time saved here alone would have been valuable; hell, they could have made the extreme close-up of any period an extra in the deleted scenes, and that would have been good. Of course, the beginning of his musicianship is spot on for being here, such as learning the harmonica and guitar (from his dad), including going from steel strings to nylon (a clip of him playing Spanish guitar) and back to electric steel.

For me, it starts to take off at around the 20-minute mark, when we see clips of the Steve Hackett Band on stage, and some interviews with band members; the start of his playing with Genesis begins at 40 minutes. Even at this point, it’s pretty obvious that the whole she-bang is a bit long-winded for the average viewer who is not either Genesis or Hackett superfans. This film could easily have an hour cut out of it as it rabbits on, way past the point of interest on my part. What he’s saying in each segment is interesting, but it just goes on too long.

There are snippets of music played throughout the film, including techniques he uses, most of which are Hackett playing directly for the camera, which is interesting. Also shown are some recent live clips of the Steve Hackett Band, but there isn’t much of the older material played other than short snips more for example in the background while talking by him and/or others, and nearly always the pieces he wrote rather than just played on (assuming for copyright purposes).

Yeah, the man can play, I have no doubt about that, and he gives examples of it as I said, but for me it’s more the context of what he is playing rather than method. For example, I believe Christina Aguilera and Mariah Carey have amazing voices, but I do not enjoy listening to their warbling style. When he’s playing classical or Spanish styles, cool; when he delves into the prog style, my mind kept checking out and I really wanted to fast forward a bit.

Even though Hackett is best known as a member of Genesis, especially in North America, as I said he was actually only in it a very short time in his decades-long career. Not surprisingly though, a large second act is dedicated to his experience. Still, there is a lot of touching down in different aspects of the career path, or set pieces on styles, historical moments, songwriting, and more, each part announced with chapter titles. His Andres Segovia (d. 1987) tribute moments especially are sweet.

The film is obviously shot on HD video, and looks like it, which will probably really help with the Blu-Ray, if that is (or becomes) available. Most people shoot on digital and then doctor it look like film, but it’s nice that Groom goes with the reality look rather than with artistic effect (I ask with a bemused sarcasm, arguably the opposite of prog?).

There are lots of interviews, as well as the multitude of Hackett talking (which makes up the majority of the time), including his bandmates, Porcupine Tree’s Steven Wilson, his long-time producer Roger King, and Chris Squire (d. 2015), the bassist of the prognoxious Yes (with whom Hackett played on Squire’s solo releases). The extra is a 10:48 extended conversation with Hackett and Squire.

Again, if you’re interested in Hackett, who seems like a genuinely nice guy, this will definitely satiate your curiosity.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Welcome to THE NEIGHBORHOODS [1986]

Text © Robert Barry Francos / FFanzeen, 1986
Introduction © Robert Barry Francos / FFanzeen, 2016
Images by Rocco Cippilone

This interview was originally published in FFanzeen, issue #14, dated 1986.

Dave Minehan is a powerhouse and a Boston legend. While the Neighborhoods unfortunately never broke through the barrier into the A-list, they still managed to make it into the Boston Music Awards Hall of Fame in 2005. Considering the sheer number of bands from that city, and the volume of sales that they all generate, this is pretty astounding. But also, it is rightfully so.

I had quite a nice conversation with Dave when I first met him at a Salem 66 gig in Boston (Cambridge, actually, if I remember correctly) in the -mid 1980s. Of course, we talked music in the form of bands we liked. One band we both obviously liked was Salem 66. Honestly, I had forgotten about this conversation (more about my age and distance in time than the content or Dave, himself) until I retyped this interview.

When I look back at the article now, I realize I spelled Dave’s last name wrong, and for that I am sorry. Putting the story in the ‘zine, though, was certainly the right thing to do. Nowadays, Dave is the “owner, producer, engineer, session musician, songwriter, arranger” (as it states on his LinkedIn page) of Woolly Mammoth Sound/Productions, in Arlington, MA. He is also the touring guitarist for the Replacements since 1993. Lee Harrington went on to be both a music producer and a powerhouse lawyer with the firm Nixon Peabody. Oh, and yes, Dave he and Lee still tour as the Neighborhoods, currently with Johnny “Rock” Lynch on drums.

Check out the documentary which discusses their career (among others), Boys From Nowhere: The Story of Boston’s Garage Punk Uprising (2016), reviewed by me HERE: – RBF, 2016
The Neighborhoods. A good rock’n’roll trio from Boston. They have a bunch of records out on Ace of Hearts Records.

Springtime at the now-defunct Peppermint Lounge, I had a chance to talk to two of the three. Plain, simple, and to the point, like their hard-driving music. Check it out. Check them out. ‘Nuff said.

FFanzeen: The Neighborhoods usta play with Willie Alexander, didn’t they?
Dave Minehan (vox/guitar): Yeah.

FFanzeen: Was that when the Neighborhoods was formed?
Dave: Very shortly prior to. We pretty much jumped in after Willie’s band, probably after six months of playing.

FFanzeen: After the Boom Boom Band, right?
Dave: Yeah, after those guys just dissolved. They still had a lot of gigs to do, as far as I was led to believe, and that’s what first actually brought us down here to New York. And our long-time friendship with Jim Fouratt [who founded Danceteria – RBF, 2016] started then. It’s been going ever since. That’s why we’re here tonight, once again.

FFanzeen: When you played with Willie, it was at Hurrahs, right?
Dave: Uh-hunh. At Hurrahs, and that was about ’79, or something. Or ’78.

FFanzeen: It was when the [Willie Alexander and the Boom Boom Band] album came out in ’78.
Dave: The second one [Meanwhile…Back in the States – RBF, 1986]

FFanzeen: Do you ever still team with him?
Dave: Last time has been a while.
Lee Harrington (bass): My sister has a band, and every once in a while he’ll come down and sing with them. For a while I was playing bass.

FFanzeen: What band?
Lee: It’s called Barry Marshall and the Rockin’ Robins. It’s like a big soul review, kinda. But Willie just comes down and sings once in a while, so I’ve played with him a few times. He’s doin’ all right. He’s playin’ again. He’s writing a lot still, too. I saw his set the last time he was on stage. We were playing the night after he played.

FFanzeen: The type of music you play doesn’t seem to be played too much. It’s just sort of a straight ahead rock’n’roll.
Dave: Yeah. Well, at this point of the game, I don’t care or worry too much about anything because I finally see good rock’n’roll finally getting listened to, in terms of independent bands doing okay. So, as long as we keep behaving ourselves, keep writing, keep working hard, keep meeting people and doing all the things we’re supposed to do, our day should come. Hopefully. I mean, we’ve stuck it out this long, and we’ve been stuck it out during periods when the direction wasn’t as solid as it’s been in the last couple of years. So with all that working for us now, I hope it’s just a matter of time.

FFanzeen: How did Rick Harte of Ace of Hearts Records get in touch with you?
Dave: Rick was just starting and we did a single for him [“No Place Like Home” b/w “Prettiest Girl” – RBF, 1986]. It was his second single ever and it helped put us on the map, and it helped put Rick on the map, also. It was quite the New England hit. It probably carried us. [I show them my copy of the single – RBF, 1986]. And you know what’s great, now the place on the cover, Paragon Park, was just torn down this winter. So this is a really classic item. This was Revere Beach.

FFanzeen: When it came out, you were being, like, touted as the rock’n’roll band in Boston. There’s a lot of press that said that.
Dave: Oh, yeah, and there’s the Battle of the Bands that we won [1979 WBCN Rock’n’Roll Rumble – RBF, 2016], and that single did take off without too much hype behind it at all, in New England and the surrounding areas, as an AOR hit. So, a lot of people had a lot of reasons to be saying such things, but press can come and go. And it did.
Lee: Plus there was so much press at one point that I think people just got sick of hearing about it.
Dave: Yeah, and they were considered Neighborhoods fans.
Lee: The people were so quick to say the band was gonna break, that when it didn’t break immediately, people thought that the band must be washed up.

FFanzeen: Also, it was a long time between that record and when the next one came out.
Dave: That’s partly the band’s fault, partly managerial fault. ‘Cause everything was so animated at that point in time, and we had every kind of lip service available speaking at all sides. The band just really sat in things for a long time and let a lot of good things pass. We had a chance to do something else with Rick Harte, but we felt the execution of the songs at that point was not very developed, and not as rocking as we’d hoped, so we were reluctant to move on that, and time passed. And before you know it, two years-three-years-four years down the line, you’re kinda starting over.

FFanzeen: Do you see any major signings upcoming?
Dave and Lee: No.
Dave: We’re recording now on our own. We’re in the studio in the middle of doing something. We’ll shop around. We shopped the last record around and got some fairly positive response, but not positive enough to give us any money. So, we’ll do it again and see what happens.

FFanzeen: I’m must afraid that what’ll happen to you is what happened to the Stompers. They were a decent pop band, but then I heard their album and said, “I paid for this?!”[The Stompers’ “Coast to Coast” indie single is amazing; the LP version not so much – RBF, 2016]
Dave: That’s rough. I feel bad for those guys.

FFanzeen: And DMZ. Sire really screwed them over with their album.
Dave: Yeah, but both those bands you’re talking about didn’t really have any real idea of what they wanted to do, or at least one strong enough to grasp the situation and take control. They both just let someone tell them what to do and they made bad records.
Lee: And also, still, it was the first wax from both bands, and DMZ didn’t know what the –
Dave: Yeah, that’s definitely part of it, too.
Lee: We had our sniff of that stuff. We’ve dealt with major companies in the past, in the time period we were just talking about, that were paying for studio time and these were all fairly major labels and stuff. We’ve seen the inner workings of that whole scene. We’re very comfortable working on the independent level right now. Hopefully this next album will do something to get us released to another step up there, touring more. The record we released a year ago is now allowing us across the country. So hopefully this next one will be on an even broader scale.
Dave: Plus we’re never gonna make a record we don’t want to make, anymore. There’s no way it’ll happen.

FFanzeen: What record did you make that you didn’t want to make.
Dave: We haven’t yet. That’s what I’m saying. We’re not gonna put ourselves in that position where we make somebody else’s record.
Lee: The Ace of Hearts thing was our fault; that we just didn’t know what we wanted.
Dave: The second one.
Lee: Right. We just didn’t want it out, really.

FFanzeen: What’s the name of that one, ‘cause I don’t have it.
Lee: No one has that.
Dave: It’s never been released.

FFanzeen: Well, what would it have been the name of it?
Dave: It’s just The Neighborhoods. It’s a four-song EP on Ace of Hearts. It didn’t even get to the drawing board in terms of names. It was just, like, no one was groovin’ to it.

FFanzeen: Your taste in music is a little different at times from the music you play; it’s a lot heavier. You play very straight rock’n’roll, and I know for a fact that you, Dave, like early Slade, Sweet [we had discussed this mutual affliction when we met at a Salem 66 gig at a club in Boston – RBF, 1986].
Dave: We all have our heavy metal backgrounds.
Lee: We all grew up in the same time frame and we all listened to the same radio. It’s suburban America.

FFanzeen: It surprises me, happily, that you didn’t turn out to be just another bar band.
Dave: Well, punk and New Wave, once we were all exposed to it, showed us that whole other angle thing, and I think somewhere in the middle we found a fine medium.

FFanzeen: The scene in Boston is, like, a couple of years ago in ’82-’83, [in New York] you heard most of the bands in Boston and they were real popular, but in the last couple of years or so you don’t really hear about Boston bands too much.
Dave: Couple of years?
Lee: See, I think it’s, like, the other way around. It had slowed down and now it’s kinda like – I don’t know, I have a different perception. Maybe we’re just seeing bands that haven’t broken nationally yet.
Dave: I see a lot of records coming out of town right now.

FFanzeen: I’m talking press-wise. I remember when your first single came out –
Dave: That’s true.

FFanzeen: – There was this influx of Boston bands everywhere.
Dave: Well, now there’s the Lyres, Del Fuegos, Salem 66, Lifeboat, Dumptruck. I mean, they’re all bands from Boston who, like, tour to some degree and, like, I see a lot of press and stuff.
Lee: I guess there’s not a collective scene so much anymore.
Dave: Maybe people just realize that they have to go out to do it. There’s a lot of guitar bands to be had in Boston, and a lot of the press has paid attention to guitar bands from Boston, it seems. I know there’s a very different scene in Boston that hasn’t really let itself be known, but I know it exists ‘cause I see it here and there, and it’s, like, the Cure type of scene where there are lots of synthesizers and dirgey-type music. And these people are very, very sincere about their music, and very serious about it. But because a lot of the press doesn’t pay attention to that sort of music they’re not really collective about it in any kind of scene. Maybe we’ll see some of that in the future, I don’t know. I’d like to see a little of both… Maybe we’re just inbetween scenes again.

FFanzeen: Like the [mid-]’70s.
Dave: It seems like we’re not in Boston so much anymore. We’re on the road a lot more, like down South and stuff, and hopefully on the West Coast before too long. So maybe we’re not playing our part so much over there. Maybe we don’t quite know either, ‘cause we are busy. I go out enough – we all go out enough – we all have our favorite bands we go see and stuff, but to truly be a part of a scene takes a lot of effort. You gotta be out a lot, and because you’re working in a nightclub a lot, the last thing you wanna do is go out to a nightclub.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Documentary Review: Boys from Nowhere: The Story of Boston’s Garage Punk Uprising

Text and photos © Robert Barry Francos / FFanzeen, 2016
Video from the Internet

Boys from Nowhere: The Story of Boston’s Garage Punk Uprising
Directed by Chris Parcellin
BFN Films
77 minutes, 2016

Photos can be enlarged by clicking on them.

When it comes to sports, something which I don’t really follow, the New York-Boston rivalry is legendary. But when it comes to the sounds coming out of the clubs in the 1970s and ‘80s, well, yeah, there was a bit of a competition there as well, but both scenes – be it CBGBs or the Rathskellar (aka the Rat, whose denizens I’m sure hated it being called “Boston’s CBGBs,” and rightfully so) had more concurrent and complimentary bands helping charge each other rather than tearing down. While I had my feet firmly planted in NYC, from the late ‘70s to the mid ‘80s I had the opportunity to go to Boston twice a year on Memorial Day and Labor Day weekends, and immerse myself in that wonderful area. This gave me the opportunity to experience many of the musicians mentioned in this documentary.

After a brief opening with a brief historical video of ex-WBCN radio DJ Oedipus (he is also interviewed in the heart of the film), who was both loved and hated by those on the scene for various reasons, the documentary jumps ahead full volume. It’s a notch that this is more about the bands than anything else, so chronology of whom or what came first isn’t as important. For example, if it were presented that way, the Modern Lovers and Willie “Loco” Alexander would have been right off Yaz’s bat (why do I even know about Carl Yastrzemski? Osmosis, I guess. But I digress…), since there were at the forefront as the period unfolded. However, the Real Kids start off the focus.

I first learned about the Real Kids via their abbreviated masterpiece single “All Kindsa Girls” / “Common at Noon” (the full version would be released after), and then by their album on Red Star Records, promoted in NYC strongly by then-Red Star employee and huge Real Kids fan, Miriam Linna (not shown here). The album is phenomenal, even though I like the single version of the two songs more, but that may be because I heard it first, who knows. Using recent and archival footage, all the members of the band are heard from, including lead singer John Felice (who I saw at the Rat in his post-RK group, the Primevals), Alan “Alpo” Paulino (d. 2006), and Billy Borgioli (d. 2015; I had the opportunity to hang out with him a couple of times, thanks to my friendship with his long-time girlfriend Nancy Neon, also not interviewed probably due to time constraints).

John Felice and the Primevals
The Real Kids were quite spectacular, with high energy performances both live and on disk, and top notch songwriting, both of which are discussed here, by the likes of Jonathan Richman. This is key, considering Felice was in the Modern Lovers as a scene newbie. I’m happy to say that the film does not shy away from some of the negatives in the band, such as Felice’s contention about the album (apparently he’s the only one from anyone with whom I’ve discussed it), their more-than-recreational use of substances, and the firing of Borgioli, whose guitar was the backbone of the album. In my opinion, they never really recovered from that loss, though an obviously modified version of the band still plays today.

Again, not worrying about order, next up is the introduction of the Rat, the seminal locus of the scene at its start (the Channel and the Paradise, etc., would come later for promoting it), opening in 1973 (or ’74 as I’ve seen both listed, and closing 1997, where a luxury hotel replaced it), presenting the groups that would help change the world, is discussed through it’s originator, Jim Harold. He is an important hub to the Boston locus, and yet as I am not from the area, I know so little about him. I appreciate the info.

Monoman and the Lyres
This leads to DMZ, a band that would be led by Jeff “Monoman” Conolly, who I would later see numerous times in his next band, the more garage-based Lyres (the last time was 2007). I didn’t realize that he was the last to join the group, rather than it forming around him. DMZ was another band that signed to a major label (Sire, directly by the Danny Fields), yet never clicked with the larger audience. They were a band divided by egos; we even knew then that they would not last, but their LP is just so much fun, even though it honestly didn’t really represent the band as they were live. They rest this squarely on the shoulders of their producers, Mark Volman and Howard Kaylan (aka Flo and Eddie, aka the Turtles). Honestly, I never thought about how bad and misrepresenting the cover of their album was before, but they dissect it quite nicely here. It was their final hurrah. Oh, and as a point of interest, Monoman wrote the song whose title was used for this film.

Willie "Loco" Alexander
Next up is Willie Alexander, the godfather of the Boston underground. The section opens with the sludgy guitar of “Hit Her Wid Da Ax” (being “penis” rather than “hatchet” in this case), which was immediately identifiable. I may not agree with Willie’s politics, but as a musician, I’m a fan. With his Boom Boom Band, he actually does my favorite version of “You Lost That Lovin’ Feeling,” which he made his own. Saw him play twice in the ‘80s, including once at the Paradise, where I had the opportunity to hang out with him a short while before the show. Both performances were excellent, of course.

Jonathan Richman and Modern Lovers
Folded into this chapter is also Jonathan Richman, who would form the Modern Lovers. Most people today seem to know him as “the Troubadour” from the film There’s Something About Mary (1998), but his work has been consistently off-center, which makes him a perfect person to run concurrently with Willie in this piece. There are other similarities other than off-beat vocal styles. For one, both started solo and had a band join them after, but more importantly, both had a relationship with the Velvet Underground. For Richman, he was a mega-fan (as Morrissey was for the Dolls) and friend of the band, and Willie actually replaced Reed after Lou quit the group, to tour with the VU in Europe. Both are unique and yet led to the beginning of that period of Boston garage punk. I’ve seen Richman a few times, including with a version of the Modern Lovers in 1977 at My Father’s Place on Long Island; I’ve also videographed him being interviewed for cable access show Videowave backstage at Maxwell’s in Hoboken in 1996. It is rightly pointed out here that his version of “Roadrunner” exemplifies Boston, but I would add that it is just as much as Willie’s “At the Rat” is about the particular scene. However, to me, the best version of “Roadrunner” is from the Beserkley Spitballs compilation, rather than the eponymous Modern Lovers first album.

Next up is the Nervous Eaters, probably the band I know the least about on this documentary, even though I do have their album with the Elektra “chewed” cover. Again, a fun band with a non-representative release that did not help their career, even with one of the Paley Brothers, Jonathan, as a member (I used to go see the band Mong at CBGBs, with the other Paley bro, Andy). Their sound was more metalish than the other bands mentioned above, sort of like a dirty cross between the MC5, the joyful sloppiness and attitude of the New York Dolls, and that Willie A. way of going up and down the vocal scale on songs in a modified hiccupping way. But like so many of the bands before and after them, and even many on this documentary, they had one shot to record an album, and it never reached its potential either in sound or sales.

Then there is the amazing power trio, the Neighborhoods (reprint of a 1986 interview by me HERE), who I interviewed in the mid-1980s when they played in New York. The lead singer/guitarist, Dave Minehan, was a powerhouse onstage and off, and has become an important studio producer over the years. I first came familiar with them through their amazing singles on Ace of Hearts Records (whose founder, Rick Harte, was prominent in the scene, and also in this film, as is Minehan), such as “Prettiest Girl.” Though they sold over 10,000 records on a relatively small indie label, the Neighborhoods are probably the least known of all the bands here, which is criminal.

After a brief rundown of what some of the musicians are up to now (mostly recording with Rick Harte, it seems), there is a clip of Peter Wolf of the J. Geils Band sharing the stage with Willie Alexander and the Boom Boom Band singing Willie’s classic “Mass Ave” at Willie’s 70th birthday celebration in Somerville (of course). This makes sense since there is a phenomenal amount of music that runs throughout, including rare live clips and recordings.

There are lots of interviews with band members, but also of front-line scenesters, such as Lyn Cardinal (aka Ms. Lyn), the publisher of the most important local fanzine, The Boston Groupie News (met her once in passing), Paul Lovell (aka Blowfish; I also had the good fortune to meet), who put out some topically hysterically funny EPs in the day, scene regular and comedian Dennis Leary, and Johnny Angel of City Thrills (he also had a comic side gig doing wedding band versions of punk songs that I saw him do at the Rat; picture Sinatra doing “Anarchy in the UK,” for example).

By using black and white footage for present day interviews, the historical still pictures and live footage meld together well, making the whole zeitgeist a timeless document that works collectively, rather than putting them into segregated, isolating moments, even with individual chapters for each band. This concept doesn’t always work elsewhere, but Parcellin nails it from the first to last frame. Plus there are some beautifully shot photos that are presented throughout; I was looking to see if my pal, the Barb Kitson-obsessed Rocco Cippilone’s name was there in the credits, but unfortunately not, but that doesn’t take away from the period piece ones shown, many from Robert Post.

My biggest (and probably only) problem with this film is that I wanted it to include all the musicians and bands I liked from there, without losing any of the details that’s already included, which would have made this probably at least three times as long, which is of course totally unrealistic. Just off the top of my head and in no particular order there’s Kenne Highland, the Thrills (who would lengthen their name to City Thrills, whose later version I saw at CBGBs)/Blackjacks/Swinging Erudites, the Count (caught them a few times at the Rat and the Paradise), Salem 66 (saw them in Boston, New Jersey, and NYC), Boys Life (seen at CBGBs and the Rat), Mission of Burma (who blew away Gang of Four when Burma opened for them at Irving Plaza in November 1980, to the point where people started leaving en masse about halfway through the headliners because it was so anti-climactic), Unnatural Axe (also saw them at CBGBs) and Fox Pass, to name just a few. That’s not even bringing up some of the great bands past this period, like the Bristols, the Outlets and the Dogmatics. You can see some of my pix below.

For future documentaries? In alphabetical order...

Boys Life

The Bristols

The Count

The Dogmatics

Mission of Burma

Salem 66

Thursday, May 5, 2016

IGGY POP: No One’s Dog [1988]

Text by Mary Anne Cassata / FFanzeen, 1988
Introduction © Robert Barry Francos / FFanzeen, 2016
Images from the Internet, unless indicated
Additional comments [in brackets] by RBF, 2016

This article was originally published in FFanzeen, issue #15, dated 1988. It was written by author Mary Anne Cassata. Check out her bibliography of biographies on Amazon, or other sites.
I’ve seen Iggy play a few times now. The first was at the Palladium in October 1977, with the Ramones opening. Another time I saw him was in March 1983 at the Brooklyn Zoo, with Helen Wheels starting the show. One memory that stood out from the Zoo concert was when someone threw some ice at him, and he stopped the show. He pointed his finger and said, very seriously, “Don’t you fucking throw ice at me. This is not a request, this is a command!” He started the song over, and yes, no one threw any anything else at him.

My most bizarre Iggy moment though was one day when I was riding the B train [which is now called the D Train, but I digress…] into work from Bensonhurst, Brooklyn. There was a guy sitting diagonally across from me who just looked familiar, but I couldn’t place him. As he got off, I realized, “Hey, was that Iggy Pop? Nah, couldn’t be.” Then I learned that he lived in the neighborhood around that time, and yep, indeed, it was him. Now I wish I had realized it to say hello, at least. When I first told this story, Armand, the Montreal-based Teenage News fanzine publisher, gave me heck for not realizing who it was right off the bat (well, he teased me about it, anyway).

In March of 2016, Iggy finally has his first Billboard #1, as well as a new autobiography about the Stooges years, appropriately titled Open Up and Bleed. – RBF,
Iggy in Boston: Photo by Rocco Cippilone
What do you think when you hear the name Iggy Pop? Does it conjure up images of an original rock and roll institution? Or is it some sort of punk prototype? Or an articulate overaged juvenile delinquent? Diehard Iggophiles know this strangely smiling man was James Newell Osterberg. To some he is a hero. To the less informed, a villain.

But whatever one makes of him, Iggy Pop in performance is nothing less than a respected visionary. Andy Warhol [d. 1987] once stated that Pop was the best: “I don’t know why he never really made it big. He is so good.”

It’s not that Iggy never aimed for success, it just seemed to elude him. However, after more than two decades as an artist, it doesn’t seem to be a point of question anymore. His latest album, Blah Blah Blah [1986], ends a four-year hiatus from recording. It was the release of the first Stooges album [1969], though, which lent in developing this notoriously famous reckless image. Since that fateful time when the Stooges burst onto the national music scene, there was no doubt that James Osterberg has not only survived over the years, but in the process made Iggy Pop an unchallenged and intriguing personality.

Looking at him today, he certainly is a man changed for the better from his “monstrous” existence. No longer can he call himself “God’s garbage man.” Iggy concentrates now on a more substantial lifestyle. Keeping his music fluid and his personal life in some sort of fashionable order seems far more essential than living out recklessly dangerous rock fantasies.

Born in 1947, James Osterberg arrived in Ann Arbor, Michigan, to meet his future destiny. As the son of school teacher parents, he spent the first 18 years of his life in a mobile home camp. In his 1982 autobiography, I Need More, Iggy wrote about how vastly different James Osterberg was from the other little children he had grown up with: “I’d been a loner. When I entered the first grade I realized how incredibly much brighter I was than the other kids, and how I could pick up things faster than them.” The Osterberg’s moderate trailer home was structured in the middle of a large farm just outside of Ann Arbor. Apparently, his father preferred mobile living as opposed to a more conventional home for his family.

Being an only child was bad enough, but how does a little boy explain his living arrangements to his friends who might think it’s a bit strange? In his book, Jim remarked, “I wasn’t aware of houses until I was in the first grade.” It turned out to be quite a surprise when he learned that other kid lived in houses and not trailers. “They lived in suburban housing about a half mile down the road. I realized my way of life was considered – well, anyone with two eyes can see that a house is at least more secure.”

James Osterberg’s professional music career began when he formed his first band, the Iguanas (where his acquired name originates) in high school. He had always shown an ardent interest in music and hoped one day to be a professional musician. The novice band recorded two songs, “Mona” and “I Don’t Know Why” in 1965. Iggy was the drummer and didn’t sing lead yet. “I was the only one who was really into music in the band. The rest of the Iguanas weren’t so interested about it. There was a division in the band. They all liked Beatle songs and I liked the Stones, Kinks and Them.” From the Iguanas followed another short stint – The Prime Movers. But it wasn’t until his newest ensemble, The Stooges (Ron Ashton, guitar [d. 2009]; Dave Alexander, bass [d. 1975]; Scott Ashton, drums [d. 2014]), make their concert debut on Halloween 1967, in Ann Arbor.

The Stooges were beyond a doubt no ordinary trash rock and roll band just out there to make a buck. They played hard and angry, lashing out at teenage boredom, aiming straight to the heart of frustration. The memorable group pioneered the heavy metal sound which, by the early ‘70s, had dominated the music force. Originally known as The Psychedelic Stooges, they chose their name due to admiration for the famous comic trio of the Three Stooges. “What we loved was the one-for-all and the all-for-one of the Three Stooges and the violence of comedy.”

The group’s self-titled immortal Elektra debut album was recorded in New York at the famed Hit Factory studios. Produced by John Cale, the LP sold 35,000 copies on its first pressing which wasn’t considered bad for a new group. Such Igg-anthems as “I Wanna Be Your Dog” and “No Fun” were prime examples of unusual inner combustion. It was also during a televised concert in the Midwest that this undaunted rock hero stole the spotlight away from the likes of Grand Funk Railroad and Alice Cooper by throwing himself, willingly, into the live audience – among other energetic antics.

Recognized perhaps as one of the first performance artist, the legendary tales of Iggy smearing peanut butter on his chest, jamming pencil points into his flesh, rolling around on broken beer bottles, or pouring hot wax all over himself still come to mind today when his name is mentioned.

In 1970, Funhouse equalled the same rawness of the first album, and further proved that The Stooges were destined to be an influential band in making the classic LP. Iggy remembers most of the recording sessions as being “pretty wild” due to his experimental use of some controlled substances. “I was very stoned most of the time. We would go into the studio with an express purpose: we would do a song over and over again until we got what we wanted.”

Being adamant about overdubs, Iggy felt his voice was an instrument and a necessity in the band. During the sessions he even sang through a PA to get that acquired sound. Just when he was comfortable in thinking his self-proclaimed “Dark Ages” period seemed to be heading to a close, life suddenly had turned even bleaker.

One popular artist at the time who especially admired Iggy’s unconventional musical talent was David Bowie [d. 2016]. The rising British artist, at the time, was producing Lou Reed and Mott the Hoople. Iggy was one of Bowie’s three favorite American rock singers and he wanted to work with him in the studio. The two new friends spent extensive time in the studio perfecting Iggy’s musical sound. Further impressed by Pop’s performance and undisciplined personality, Bowie signed him to MainMan, his manager’s [Tony Defries – RBF] production company.

They then proceeded to put out The Stooges’ third album, Raw Power [1973], which became a critical hit. At its release, acclaimed rock journalist Lester Bangs [d. 1982] described the album as “a staggering dose of bone-scrapping rock from straight to the heart of adolescent darkness… Fascinating and authentic. The apotheosis of every parental nightmare.”

Immortal cuts like “Search and Destroy” and “Your Pretty Face is Going to Hell” were an impressive return to rock and roll’s most primal roots. Explains Iggy: “Unknown fact: I produced it myself. Most people think David Bowie did, but the credit says, ‘Produced by Iggy Pop’ – which is why it’s a great record.”

In securing a new record deal, Iggy wore a topcoat and tails, crawled onto the president’s desk of a respected major label, and crooned, “The Shadow of Your Smile.” After joining MainMan, his career plans began to hit a decline. “In favor of a reforming The Stooges, I was shelved.” Pop recalled. “Guitarist James Williamson had joined the line-up just after we finished recording for Elektra. We all went to England and rehearsed and rehearsed.” Despite Bowe’s helping hand, fame still eluded the group, more so its charismatic lead singer. It wasn’t long before The Stooges had disintegrated. Their last performance took place where it had first begun – Michigan. The January 1974 concert at the Michigan Palace, in Detroit, was captured on film and documented in all its shuddering glory on the Metallic K.O. album, which included songs such as “Gimme Danger,” “Cock in My Pocket,” and “Louie Louie.”

Lester Bangs describes K.O. as “the only rock album I know where you can actually hear hurled beer bottles breaking against the strings.” Following The Stooges’ fond farewell, Iggy and James Williamson decided to brave the unknown and collaborated together on the Kill City album, recorded in 1975, which was released in 1978 on Bomp Records. However, without solid management and enough gigs to keep them visible, Iggy soon began experimenting with heroin. Before a deep addiction had set in, in 1974 he admitted himself to a Los Angeles psychiatric hospital, and rid himself of his dependency on not only heroin, but barbiturates and alcohol. A decade later he confided to a reporter, “It’s not so much an impossible thing to do. Not if you really want to, and you really know what you have to lose.”

Throughout his private ordeal, Bowie had visited him in the hospital and lent constant support and encouragement. Having resumed their friendship, which began years before when the two met at the club Max’s Kansas City, in New York, Bowie took his newly rehabilitated sidekick to Europe. After Bowie’s 1975 Station to Station Tour ended, they flew off to the Chateau d’Herouville recording studio in France to work on what would be Iggy’s first solo album, The Idiot. In 1984, Pop told Rolling Stone, “The basic idea was to work without anybody. Just the two of us – although we started bringing in a bass player here, a drummer there.” They resettled in Berlin, Germany, where the two eventually finished up the project and lived for the next three years.

Of the brilliant effort’s creative conception, Iggy had stated at the album’s American release, “The funny thing about it is I was out of Los Angeles for a long time before I recorded this, and I just didn’t hear anything. I hadn’t heard what latest super duet was hot in the States, or what was happening in England or anywhere. Suddenly, about two weeks before we were going into the studio, we didn’t have any finished tracks at all. We just strolled in with a lot of themes and feelings we liked. David would work on the music at one time, and I would drift in and out and listen to it. Then I would come in on my own and put on the vocals. Then he would hear what I had done, and of course that would change the nature of the music. So the tracks grew from that kind of back-and-forth.”

Perhaps what he possibly liked better about the album is that the words “Produced by David Bowie” weren’t written anywhere on the back cover, because instead Bowie preferred, “Recorded by…” The remarkable “China Girl” springs from that landmark album, which makes it one of the more powerful moments, as well as “Funtime” and “Dum Dum Boys.” The celebrated LP and its successor, Lust for Life, were hailed favorably [The song “Lust for Life” would be licensed for many advertisements over the follow years – RBF], as were the live shows. With Bowie sometimes positioned on keyboards, one of those memorable concerts took place at the New York Ritz. John Rockwell of The New York Times cited the show as “one of the finest rock concerts in memory… the kind of show that could teach some needed lessons in intensity, drama and range.”

Lust for Life was recorded only 13 days, but wasn’t nearly as successful as the previous The Idiot. Iggy felt that the LP didn’t gain proper exposure due to the radio airwaves. “The U.S. DJs don’t like rock’n’roll messing up the airwaves,” he commented. “They substitute their own Cheerios rock’n’roll or whatever that horrible music is they call rock’n’roll. But they liked the gloomly unpredictability of The Idiot, the midtones and deep voice of the singer. Lust for Life was just too noisy for them.” The always opinionated Pop. The effort outlined his songwriting strengths and slightly dark humor, and teamed with Bowie’s music, turned it into a rock and roll grandeur. Better yet, it started to bring him well deserved and much overdue money.

“The first personal thing I bought on my first big paycheck, not counting drugs, was in Berlin, 1977, after I finished The Idiot album, and I had gotten a rather large advance for the Lust for Life album. David and I had determined that we record the album very quickly. Because we had done it so quickly we had a lot of money left over from the advance, which we split.” Part of the money Iggy earned was spent on buying an apartment in Berlin, and perhaps learning to assume responsibility for the first time in his life. “I renovated my apartment in the same building where David had a fairly large and handsome place. My place rented for $80 a month. I loved the place, and with the rest of the money, I bought nice rugs, wallpaper and an oak table. I had this bare apartment, and I wrote Lust for Life there.”

Having toured extensively for those two albums, its results appeared on T.V. Eye, recorded in 1977 at various Midwest U.S. concert dates. The LP also had concluded his stay with RCA Records and, unfortunately, wasn’t met enthusiastically by music critics. Though Iggy was disappointed by unfavorable reviews, he didn’t seem to take the critics harsh sentiments too seriously. He stated his distain a few years ago by saying, “I don’t know why everyone hated the record so much. It’s a good document. I think at the time it came out people were looking for me to give them the feeling on a live album they got when they saw me live. But you can’t see somebody on a record.”

In 1979, “It was time for me to move on,” and he switched over to Arista Records. Living in Berlin at the time, Iggy hoped his next and first album for the label would be far more special than any of the previous releases. He prepared extensively, and even took some guitar lessons. When the pressure mounted at times, the serious music artist would go for long walks to think things out.

New Values, Pop’s ninth album, was recorded in Los Angeles since all the musicians were American. It made better sense to fly to the States then to have the session musicians and other people involved with the effort come to Berlin.

One top rock critic raved at the LP’s release: “My favorite record of the year.” The owner liked it even better. “I was very happy with the songs. I wrote all of them myself, lyrics and music. There was some disappointment. I was a little unhappy with the sound. It was far too clean, but it was pretty damn good.”

His next album, Soldier, was also quite impressive, even if the critics once again didn’t seem to think so. It’s an aggressive record with a lot of spirit. An unidentified source, however, revealed its recording sessions were short of “pure hell.” Some of the stronger cuts included “Loco Mosquito,” “I Need More,” and “Knocking ‘Em Down (In the City).” James Williamson exited and was replaced by Glen Matlock, former bassist of the Sex Pistols. In a 1983 Trouser Press interview, Iggy said collaboration with Matlock didn’t prove too amicable at first. “We fought like cats and dogs, but we respected each other. Glen goaded me a bit and I goaded him back when we did ‘I Need More’.”

Midway through the sessions, Ivan Kral, who found himself suddenly out of the Patti Smith Group due to her retirement, joined on as guitarist. Iggy viewed Soldier as another “damn good recording,” specifically the opening track on Side Two, “Dog Food.” The song was originally supposed to have been included on Fun House, but was later scrapped. With the Soldier cover, Iggy says, “What I Wanted to show was the point between exhaustion and rapture – How I had been shot of my own music.”

Further proving his credibility, Pop wrote his autobiography, I Need More, a revealing insight into his personal life.

Of the 1981 Party album, which the performer laughingly called “one of my dogs,” critics were kind. Iggy, however, knew it really wasn’t up to par Pop standards. The theme, pure lighthearted fun, was a semi-complete departure from what fans had expected. Doing tasteful cover renditions of “Time Won’t Let Me” [original by The Outsiders in 1966 – RBF], “Sea of Love” [by Phil Phillips in 1959, though most would probably know it by The Honeydrippers in 1984 – RBF], and “Bang Bang” [Cher, 1966 – RBF] are interesting enough, but it still didn’t hold the attention of his distinct following. In England, some of the better reviews were received. “A fine rocky album from Mr. Pop, who consistently lives up to his reputation as one of the last truly crazed singers,” raved one popular music magazine. ”Iggy is driving himself harder than ever in search of thrills,” said the New Musical Express.

Joined again by Kral and co-produced by Tommy Boyce [d. 1994], a popular ‘60s songwriter, served up a true commercial pop-oriented sound. When asked why such an apparent style change, the ever-protective artist replied, “Party was supposed to be a commercial album. I did my best to give the record content. Ivan played the kind of music I’ve always loved. Call it middle-European… Every track is about somewhere in America. One is about a girl I met at the Mardi Gras. We had to go to the financial district to consummate our love. My definition of a rock’n’roll party is not all fun and games.”

Party, being his last effort on Arista, was followed by the next Igg-carnation, Zombie Bird House, on Animal Records (an independent label owned by Chris Stein, former co-founder / guitarist of Blondie). Chrysalis, the parent company, distributed the LP, which had exemplified a new musical direction. Stein acted as producer, and another ex-Blondie member, Clem Burke, contributed on the drums. Just as the music itself proved unusual for Iggy, his songwriting too became different from previous works. Reflecting on is first and only attempt on Stein’s now defunct company, Iggy offered, “The acquisition of a typewriter has made all the difference in my lyrics. When one types, something happens. You start believing what you’ve typed is of great importance. This was my first brush with a typewriter and I felt very cerebral.”

The songs were written purposefully short, and though following an extensive tour, reviews were not very favorable, and the same for the record sales. By 1982, Iggy discovered his popularity was rapidly diminishing, as well as the quality of his mere existence. His concerts, less appealing, were turning into major disappointments. He took a much needed hiatus from recording and touring for three years and moved with his then-girlfriend into Greenwich Village. Difficulty in creating songs had thrown him back a bit. For a year, the vulnerable artist had yet to pen another lyric. Looking for new alternatives to curb his self-destructive form of art, he found a serious companionship with a woman, who had helped matters tremendously.

In 1983, after finishing his autobiography, the singer felt he had reached a dead end in the music world. “I knew that book marked my end,” he recalled. “I couldn’t go on playing with idiots who played their hair dryers more than instruments. The audiences who were coming to my shows were only interested in the size of my dick… I knew something drastically had to change in my life.” David Bowie, at this point, was again the answer. The British rock star recorded his friend’s “China Girl,” which proceeded to zoom up the charts, saving Pop from heading into a life of obscurity, and even worse, poverty. While the proceeds to “China Girl” help pay his back taxes, the money left over allowed Iggy to reassess his place in the rock community.

With a reviewed vigor, Iggy flew off on a concert tour of Australia and Japan. It gets even better – always fascinated with Japanese women, he married Suchi [Asano, which lasted until 1999 – RBF] in New York. He met her in Japan. “There was something I liked in her eyes.”

Following a complete reorganization devoid of any drugs and alcohol, a new and healthy Iggy Pop emerged. He scouted out for a good doctor and business manager, paid his back taxes, and most importantly, learned how to live in a domestic environment. He says now, “I like to pull out the vacuum cleaner and vacuum the house. It was one of the first things Suchi and I bought together when we moved to New York. When I vacuum the house it makes me think and I feel great.” He also resumed contact with his son, Eric [Benson, born in 1970 – RBF], now 16, who lives in California with his father’s parents.

Since the release of his latest album, Blah Blah Blah, Iggy’s presently a more focused and responsible human being. The drugs and alcohol are securely buried in the past, as James Osterberg’s alter-ego proved it has more to offer than a blaring example of degeneracy. In fact, Pop candidly offers, “I always secretly believed my creative juices were reliant on artificial stimulants. I was scared to be completely straight, because I felt I’d dry up and have nothing to say.”

Blah Blah Blah, produced and co-written by David Bowie, had been described by one British record reviewer as “a virtual denial of that very spirit of warped possession… Blah Blah Blah is music to saunter through, evoking a region one can co-exist next to but rarely dwell within.” Pop’s successful album, his maiden effort for A&;M Records, also broke into national radio airplay. However, this doesn’t mean it’s proved stiff competition for Billy Idol, either. Perhaps having recently turned 40, Iggy doesn’t need to be that monstrous persona he was over a decade ago.

Much of the LP’s songs were written in the Caribbean and New York. Bowie collaborated on four cuts, including the title track. By May last year, the album was completed in one month at Mountain Studios in Lake Geneva, Switzerland, where Bowie now lives. Lyrics are essential to Iggy, and these days his writings prove to be on target as he has learned to come to terms with his own life. “I sincerely believe the lyrics on the album to be the best since my work on Raw Power. I worked very hard to make my point clear on each lyric. I’m interested in dealing with one-on-one with situations I was too frightened to deal with before.”

An interest in art also had peaked thanks to Bowie, who showed him how to paint his emotions. Enthralled, Iggy made several trips to the art store and stocked up on stretch canvas and acrylic paints. Some of his artistic endeavors are featured in the “Cry ForLove” video, which is also the LP’s first single. The purpose of expression, he explains, is “an exercise in visualization. David showed me how to stretch a canvas. I really enjoy painting. It’s fulfilling.” It seems that perhaps Iggy pop has truly found himself and doesn’t feel he’s heading towards the danger zone anymore.

A true originator, he is the necessary inspiration for thousands of lesser assumed young imitators who dare pounce the floor boards in the same riveting Pop manner. If a void should be filled in the role of the next “God’s garbage man,” then it better be someone who can intuitively expand on Pop’s insight, and not merely be a carbon copy. This is not to assume that the legendary rocker didn’t have his own musical influences from which to draw. “I borrowed from Jim Morrison. I’ve borrowed from James Bond,” he admits today. “So I’m in no position to cock-a-snoot at these acts for what they choose to use of mine.”

Along the way he contributed songs to the movies Desperately Seeking Susan [1985], The Hunger [1983], and Repo Man [1984]. He also expanded on some of his other hidden talents and spruced up his resume. Iggy took acting lessons and after attending more than 50 auditions landed small roles in The Color of Money [1986] and Sid and Nancy [1986]. His acting attempts have reflected in his music.

Iggy’s new goal: to reach those unbeknown to his work. Though music will always remain a top priority in his life, it doesn’t mean he’d rule out another chance at the big screen. No matter what Iggy hopes to execute in the future, you can be sure as always his prime motive will be to have fun. And maybe if new fans are so lucky, they’ll learn something valuable from this man who is often so underrated by the business.

Sums up Iggy Pop: “My work comes first, and it’s not what I can get out of it. I’m interested in using music to touch people in a variety of lifestyles. There’s a whole new world of communication possibilities out there.”