This old LP, new to me, arrived in the mail courtesy of Chris Cutler, editor of Re Records Quarterly disc ‘n’ magazine journal of radical pop theory; I threw it on, and played nothing else for days. “Out of town!” cried a man in a lugubrious voice. “My work takes me out of town!” Why was he so upset? His moans made the song into a statement of pure pathos; a displacing effect, given that the label said this was “The Song of Investment Capital Overseas.’ It was capital itself that was singing: like the slaver in Randy Newman’s “Sail Away,” it was capital, not its victims (“I burn the houses down/… Lay out plantations/And bring prosperity/To the poorer nations”), who needed the listener’s compassion, deserved it, was getting it. The whole album moved on that level, its gnomic parables full of screams, the sound suggesting the Weimar proto-rock of Kurt Well and Hanna Eisler, or the doomy Futurism of Antonio Russolo. Eager to learn more, I opened the booklet of credits and lyrics, only to stop at the first line: ‘Play at 45 rpm.” Uh-oh.2. Pussy Galore, groovy hate fuck EP (Shove)
Enough of that confusing Old World art music; here’s some plain-speech New World raw meats—or, as one of the tunes has it, “Dead Meat.” Particularly appealing is “Cunt Tease,” and the way guitarist Julia Cafritz shouts “FUCK YOU!” every time vocalist Jon Spencer makes it to the title phrase.
3. Roy Orbison, “In Dreams,” as mimed by Dean Stockwell in Blue Velvet, directed by David Lynch (DEG)
Speaking of dead meat.
4. Joel Whitburn, Pop Memories, 1890-1954 (Record Research, Box 200, Menomonee Falls, Wisconsin 53051)
Chart chronicle of top pop records—except that in pre-Elvis eras, racial and cultural exclusion precluded any real surveys of extra-bourgeois American popular taste. Whitburn’s response is heroic: collating countless forgotten lists, he’s created his own charts in retrospect, and the results change history. By placing, say, the Orioles’ “It’s The Soon to Know” (an epochal “race music” hit that never made the official pop charts of its time) at #13 in late 1948, Whitburn rescues scores of performers from the ghettos to which phony charts once condemned them, allowing those artists to be seen in the context of mainstream popular culture for the first time. Expensive—$40, paperback; $50, hardcover—and essential.5. Beat Farmers, “Riverside,” from Van Go (Curb)
Just a slight, descending figure, played on two guitars, which says all there is to say about what can happen when the bars close.
6. James Brown and Steven Wells, Attack on Bzag/Molotov Comics (79 Victoria Road, Fallowfield, Manchester MI4 6BP, UK, $2.50 postpaid)
A fanzine that can’t decide if it likes the didacticism accessible through words better than the noise accessible through collage, though any reader/auditor is going to choose the noise.
7. Jacques Attali, Noise—The Political Economy of Music (Minnesota)
At once a clear history of all post-Roman motivated Western noise (“music”) and a delirious theoretical proof that, with a few breaks, such noise can transform, and thus save, the world. Originally published in French in 1977, Noise at once called for punk and proved its historical necessity; as with all good French critical theory, the clarity is inseparable from the delirium.
8. Steve Erickson, Rubicon Beach, a novel (Poseidon)
It seems to begin in the future, but I’m not sure it does. In this no-future, “music” is banned, but it comes out of the ground, collapses buildings, and turns a police state into a question mark: “In a town where music is a topographical map, the music of the earth is legal and the music of men is not,” says a cop. “I don’t make the fucking laws… Get rid of the radio, Cale.” In the best novel I’ve read this year, there are a lot of red herrings and shaggy dog stories; what it is Cale might be hearing on his illegal radio is the one missing answer a reader can’t imagine.”
9. Beach Boys, Be True to Your School (Capitol reissue, c. 1963)
Including the correct, 45 rpm, previously non-LP version of the title song; the perfectly generic “Surf Jam”; and the fabulously repressed (doo-wop, which was to say, in 1963, joked-up) “I’m Bugged at My 0l’ Man” (i.e., Murry Wilson, whom son Brian once served a plate of stool).10. Art Bears, The World As It Is Today (Re Records, UK, 1981)
45 rpm, the pathos of the slow speed becomes hysteria. Screams become screeches; Weill and Eisler remain; Russolo disappears. The singer turns out to be a woman, Dagmar Krause, far more powerful here than on her new Supply & Demand—Songs by Brecht/Weill & Eisler, possibly because the tunes by percussionist Chris Cutler and guitarist/synthesizerist Fred Frith, composers for the Art Bears, say more about the world as it is today. I still like the record better at 33.
Village Voice, October 1986