Burning Flags Press The website of Glen E. Friedman. Renowned for both his work with musicians like Fugazi, Minor Threat, Public Enemy, the Beastie Boys, Slayer (and many, many more) as well as his groundbreaking documentation of the burgeoning skateboard phenomenon in the late `70's, Glen has been privvy to (and has summarily captured on film) some of the coolest stuff ever. He's also an incredibly insightful and nice guy to boot.
SoHo Blues - Photography by Allan Tannenbaum Allan Tannenbaum is a local photographer who has been everywhere and shot everything, from members of Blondie hanging out at the Mudd Club through the collapsing towers of the World Trade Center on September 11th. You could spend hours on this site, and I have.
Robert Otter Photographs Amazing vintage photographs of New York City, specifically my own neighborhood, Greenwich Village.
oboylephoto Just some intensely cool photographs of abandoned places.
The Weblog of Spumco's John K. The weblog of cartoonist John Kricfalusi, crazed mind and frantic pencil behind the original "Ren & Stimpy," as well as "The Goddamn George Liquor Show." Surreal, unapologetic, uncompromising genius.
Since taking my mandatory exile from work, I've volunteered to take over the school shuffle (i.e. the Great East Village Trek), giving my wife a bit of a breather. Today was just such as day. After dropping Charlotte off, I took to the streets with my camera. Maybe I'm still living in the past, but I'm still struck by the differences in the neighborhood between its more notorious era (see here for a little glimpse of same) and today. Still, there's plenty of photogenically compelling stuff there, if you know where to look. It saddens me how dark Ludlow Street is now, its former sunlit expanse now blocked by those soulless condos.
A little while back, I posted a bit of my collection of ancient flyers from the mid 80's. I'd initially been inspired to post them after Tim B. over at Stupefaction had posted some of his. Well, he's done it again, and he has some really marvelous ones up there now. Check it out. It also looks like he has an original of possibly my favorite flyer of all time, documenting what was invariably a very spirited show at CBGB's featuring Agnostic Front and 7 Seconds. Though I was lucky enough to catch both bands during that era, I was not at the show in question. I did, however, find the below clip on YouTube of 7 Seconds in their youthful prime at CB's circa 1985. Not sure if it's from the same show advertised on the flyer, but it certainly might be. They're playing "Here's Your Warning," which was the first track off of 1984's The Crew, if memory serves. In any case, enjoy this vintage slice of hardcore. They don't make'em like this anymore.
My good friend Rob was in town yesterday to hand in the galleys of the book he's spent the past four years writing on Eugene O'Neill. After handing over the mammoth, two-volume tome to his publisher, Rob was quite understandably ready to celebrate. Being that yesterday was my first full day of active unemployment, I too was ready to put away a few beers. As such, Rob and I stepped out in the rainy East Village night to laugh, drink and re-visit a fleeting few of our old haunts.
After hitting a few likely watering holes, Rob and I found ourselves strolling south on 2nd Avenue. As we crossed East 5th Street, I stopped and pointed out the strip where Dead Boys drummer Johnny Blitz and Blondie roadie Michael Sticca got in a fabled altercation with a car-load of chain and baseball-bat-wielding Puerto Rican guys, resulting in the near fatal stabbing of Blitz. This all went down the late 70s, of course, when this area was significantly more rough and tumble than it is today (you can read a full account of this episode in Legs McNeil's book, "Please Kill Me: The Uncensored Oral History of Punk"). Even today, East 5th Street between 2nd and Third Avenues -- lined as it is with overhanging trees -- is a pretty dark and forbidding looking stretch of real estate. One half-expects the headless horseman to come galloping down it out of the dark. Being that we'd just spent about forty minutes discussing the Dead Boys -- a huge favorite band of Rob and I's -- with Richard, the bartender at the Black & White Bar on East 11th Street, it seemed entirely fitting that we should end up on this dark rainy plot. I turned around and was met with another grim sight; 84 Second Avenue, the East Village's own haunted house.
I'd never really thought too hard about this storefront before. It wasn't until my blogging comrade/fellow Butthole Surfers fan Jill over at Blah Blog Blah did a bit of amateur sleuthing this past February and discovered the slowly eroding building's strange back story. The footprint of the building played host to a 19th century boarding house made famous by an investigative reporter who feigned mental illness in order to be sent to an asylum she'd go onto write an expose about. That building was demolished, and the current one was built at some point in the early twentieth century. Around 1970, 84 Second Avenue became occupied by a Sopolsky family, who owned and operated a tuxedo rental shop on the second floor. In 1974, one of the Sopolsky daughters was raped and murdered on the top floor of the building (Jill found a police report detailing same). The crime went unsolved and the Sopolskys -- consumed with grief -- closed off their lost loved one's room forever. Supposedly, the family still owns the building, but patently refuses to rent, renovate or seemingly even maintain appearances.
I told Rob this story as we stared up at the cracking edifice. Oddly, I'd only been discussing the place that very afternoon with some parents in the playground (one mother suggested it was simply an urban legend), and there I was in-front of it. In running some errands today, I brought along my camera and snapped the below pics. I find standing in front of it even in the broad light of day somewhat unsettling. I find it hard to believe that people still reside inside it.
So, as you may have gleaned from the somewhat cryptic preceding post, I'm currently out of a job again. Breathe easy, well-wishers. I was not fired nor laid off nor "job eliminated." It's merely the system. Y'see, when I landed this gig last year, I signed onto a year-long contract. The agreement was that I work for a full year and was then obligated to take 100 days off from the organization (sadly free of pay and benefits). Under ideal circumstances, I'm invited back at the end of those 100 days and brought on for another tour-of-duty as a contract employee, or -- in the best of instances -- hired on as a full-time staff member. A lot of companies are utilizing this method.
The sticking point in this situation, however, is that because of the current apocalyptic economic climate, all bets are off. The company in question has no idea if it's going to be able to bring me back. I believe they would certainly like to re-instate me and were very happy with my work, but they just don't know if they'll have the resources to do that. As such, I'm currently sniffing around for other opportunities. I'd certainly love to return to that job in three months time, but I can't count on it. So, in the interim, I'm back on the street. Today is first day of exile. One down, ninety-nine to go.
Sure, it's stressful, but there are some silver linings. Today, I went with Peggy and the kids to their school, sat in with my little son Oliver's class and mucked in with the other parents. I accompanied Charlotte's class of 4 and 5 year olds to the nearby playground, helping watch over the little flock as they toddled frenetically down the avenue. It's lovely to have the extra time with Peggy and the kids. But I'd be fibbing if I said I wasn't concerned.
With all this in mind, you can probably count on a spike in activity here. We'll see.
My friend & former colleague, Benjamin, just recently filled out this questionnaire by the great Marcel Proust normally found on the back page of Vanity Fair, so I figured I'd give it a shot as well. I mean, here is as good a place as any, given that my chances of being profiled by Graydon Carter's fab-o`zine aren't especially promising, at least not in the short term. Not quite as banal as your workaday MySpace survey nor as eloquently oblique as James Lipton's strenuously pretentious ten questions by Bernard Pivot, Proust's questions are far-reaching, but get right to one's so-called home-truths. You try them too!
What is your idea of perfect happiness? The company of my gorgeous wife, my immediate family and my good friends, the sound of my children's laughter, my favorite music playing very loudly and a fridge full of Sapporo.
What is your greatest fear? Something happening to my family
What is the trait you most deplore in yourself? Lack of self-confidence
What is the trait you most deplore in others? Condescension
Which living person do you most admire? The urge to cite some ridiculous pop culture figure here like Iggy Pop or Jet Black of the Stranglers is almost overwhelming. There are scores of writers, artists and musicians who I profoundly admire and respect. In terms of people I actually know, I'd have to say that I find my father-in-law's propensity for kindness and generosity quite inspiring.
What is your greatest extravagance? Pricey import compact discs and expensive foreign beer.
What is your current state of mind? A heightened state of alert.
What do you consider the most overrated virtue? Chastity. "Moral wholesomeness" can warp the mind.
What do you most dislike about your appearance? The entirety of my head
What is the quality you most like in a man? Self-effacing humor
What is the quality you most like in a woman? An assertive wit.
Which words or phrases do you most overuse? "Strenuously," "palpable," "stentorian wallop" and "fuck-a-duck"
What or who is the greatest love of your life? My incomparable wife Peggy, my children and KILLING JOKE.
When and where were you happiest? When I'm with Peggy
Which talent would you most like to have? It'd be amazing to be able to capably play a musical instrument.
If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be? Apart from an entirely different head, I'd love to disavow my nagging penchant for second-guessing and convincing myself that I'm not up to the task at hand. Oh, and I'd dearly love to never have to deal with allergies ever again.
What do you consider your greatest achievement? My marriage and my children.
Where would you most like to live? As much as I adore New York City, I'll have to leave at some point. I only hope that wherever we end up is a place where my children can run around and be happy in. And that there's free Wi-Fi.
What is your most treasured possession? I own lots of little ridiculous things like an autographed Ramones album and a original illustration by Danny Hellman of Iggy Pop & Cop Shoot Cop that mean way more to me than they probably should.
What is your favorite occupation? Writer
What is your most marked characteristic? I would hope it's my sense of humor, however macabre it may sometimes be. It's certainly not my good looks.
What do you most value in your friends? Loyalty, compassion, tolerance and a similarly inclined sense of humor.
Who are your favorite writers? Pete Hamill, Legs McNeil, Ray Bradbury, Mark Leyner, Nick Kent, Anthony Bourdain (don't laugh), David Sedaris, Sean Wilsey, J.D. Salinger, Michael Palin, Spalding Gray, Evelyn Waugh, Martin Amis
Who is your hero of fiction? "The Ghost Rider"
Who are your heroes in real life? Those who do what needs to be done without worrying about consequence, whining or making a big show of it.
What is it that you most dislike? The list is too long to cite here.
What is your greatest regret? Time wasted and opportunities squandered by a failure to act in an assertive manner.
How would you like to die? Ripped apart by famished Pterodactyls.
What is your motto? "I'd Agree With You, ... If You Were Right"
Here's a band I honestly have no business writing about. The nearest example I can draw to the Fall is, oddly enough, Frank Zappa. While this blasphemous comment will invariably prompt spit-takes from die-hard fans of each, let me try to explain.
According to a relatively recent issue of Brit music mag, Mojo, The Fall have released no fewer than 26 studio albums and upwards of 60 live albums and compilations. There is a veritable planet of music on offer by this tirelessly prolific band. Similarly, Frank Zappa -- prior to his death in 1993 -- released countless albums, to say nothing of the vast archive of live albums, bootlegs and other collections. In the case of each, you could devote every waking hour of your day to soaking in as much of their music and still not have gotten the whole picture. I own a grand total of two albums by Frank Zappa -- and cherish them both -- but couldn't possibly be more in the dark about the rest of the man's disarmingly vast cannon. Likewise, I own a tiny smattering of material by the Fall, and I completely dig it, but it's probably not especially indicative nor fully representative of the band's overall output. That said, apart from their respective penchants for the surreal, the similarities between the Fall and Zappa pretty much end right there.
My introduction to the Fall was an inauspicious one. Sometime in the mid-80's, I remember seeing a postcard with their picture on it on a rack of "Punk Postcards" at the Tower Records on W.66th street. A gormless gaggle of chinless, sweater-vest-wearers with greasy hair, they looked more like a chess club than a band of proper "punks" (my idea of Punk Rock at the time still narrowly adhering to the tonsorial ludicrousness and slack-jawed nihilism of bands like The Exploited and Fear). In the same manner I'd initially dismissed Mission of Burma, I decided that since they dressed like bank tellers, the Fall must be boring (without hearing so much as a note of their music), so never gave them another thought.
A few years later, my mother was dating this gent that we'll call Angus. I can't remember what Angus did for a living, but I gather he was reasonably well-off. In any event, he got wind of the fact that I was a big music freak, so took it upon himself to make me a mixtape. Loaded with 12" mixes of crap like Shalamar, DeBarge and Chaka Khan (and titled "It's Getting Hotter!", or something simmilarly ridiculous), I pretty much immediately dismissed it. He asked me how I enjoyed the tape a little while afterwards. I pompously replied that it really wasn't my kinda thing and that I was more a fan of music that kicked you in the teeth, grabbed you by the scalp and dragged you around the room - rudely assuming that he wouldn't know what I was talking about in the slightest. A couple of months later -- after he and Mom had already stopped seeing each other, I got a note from Angus, saying he was changing his entire music collection over to compact disc, and would I be so kind as to take his vinyl collection off his hands. "Oh great," I thought, "all the Sheila E. and Eveyln 'Champagne' King records I could ever want." I consented, of course, and walked over to the man's apartment on Fifth Avenue (adjacted to the Frick Museum, if I recall correctly). Waiting for me in the lobby were three large boxes stuffed with records.
Well, it seems I'd prematurely sold Angus down the river for being a latter-day disco dingbat. Inside these boxes was a veritable trove of amazing Punk, Post-Punk and New Wave records -- including ones by Siouxsie & the Banshees, Rip Rig + Panic, The Slits, New Order, The March Violets, Nash the Slash, Television, Sparks, Pauline Murray & the Invisible Girls, Creatures, The Au Pairs, Altered Images, The Individuals, Swans, The Teardrop Explodes and loads more. He even included an original copy of Metal Box by Public Image Ltd. (which I still cherish today). Thinking that he'd easily replace all of them on compact disc seemed a bit naïve (some of these records are still not available on the soon-to-be-obsolete-format), but that wasn't my problem. I'd undeservingly inherited a gold mine of new music.
Scattered among these albums were a couple of selections by The Fall, notably Perverted By Language and the single of "Cruiser's Creek." The album, honestly, did so little for me that I almost didn't even bother playing the single. But, wanting to give it a fair shake, I placed it on my turntable and dropped the needle. Following a brief, bullhorned exhortation from notoriously caustic lead singer Mark E. Smith, that barbed, angular riff kicked in and knocked me over.
Inspired by "Cruiser's Creek," I sought out other recordings by The Fall. They were kinda all over the place (and the band has had more members pass through its ranks than can be accurately quantified), though they've always been led by the endearingly cantankerous Smith. My favorite era of the band is probably their incarnation featuring the incongruously stylish Brix Smith -- Mark's wife at the time -- on guitar, adding a dash of punky glamor to the otherwise pointedly image-free band. But underneath their decidedly oblique lyrics, crudely abstract cover art and Mark's oft-incomprehensible singing style (punctuating consonants with needless "aaahhs" and the like), The Fall had a stubborn pop streak. Throughout their muddled cacophony, their music is rife with great riffs and irrepressible hooks. "Cruiser's Creek" is a fine example, but there are scores of others.
Though rightly revered back in England, The Fall have never been anything more than a critic's band on these shores. Their highest profile exposure here probably came via a fleeting sonic cameo in Jonathan Demme's "Silence of The Lambs," wherein Jamie "Buffalo Bill" Gumb plays "Hip Priest" -- a dreary, meandering dirge -- in the torture garden of his basement (perceived translation: only deranged serial killers enjoy this music). Intentional or not, it's hardly a ringing endorsement. Though their gruff, angular sound has been a seismic influence on some of my other favorite bands like The Wedding Present and Cop Shoot Cop (think of that bass sound), The Fall are rarely the first band to be cited in terms of their contributions to punk/post-punk, although Mark E. Smith's stridently belligerent persona makes Johnny Rotten seem like an accommodating sycophant. The Fall will never be fashionable, and that's probably quite by design.
I couldn't keep up with The Fall. The band proved to be tirelessly prolific. The last "new" album of theirs I picked up was Middle Class Revolt in 1994. They've gone on to release about three-hundred albums since then. I'm sure some of them are brilliant, but it's far too late for me to catch up. I'm happy with the clutch of singles, albums and compilations of theirs I do have. And my favorite track will always remain "Cruiser's Creek."
The thing about "Cruiser's Creek," though, is that I have absolutely no idea of what the song's about. Swinging maybe? The lyrics are fairly oblique, and the entirely bizarre video for it is even less illuminating (although the shots of Brix Smith riffing away while the boys shimmy and frug around her is pretty entertaining). In any case, I think it's brilliant. Crank it.