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.
Somewhere between the Mudd Club and Danceteria, there was Hurrah on the Upper West Side. I never went, of course, being too young and unaware of such things at the time. It shut its doors in 1981, when I was only 14 years old. It’s story, however, is now being told in a new book by a gentleman named Tim Lawrence called “Life and Death on the New York Dance Floor, 1980-1983” (read an excerpt here). I’m quite looking forward to checking the book out.
As discussed here, meanwhile, Hurrah played host to a dizzying array of crucial bands, from The Cure to Iggy Pop to the Feelies to the Specials to Mission of Burma to the Lounge Lizards to Gang of Four to Bauhaus to XTC to New Order to the Bush Tetras and hundreds more. If, like myself, you were too young to ever attend, here’s, evidently, what it was like entering the venue.
In any case, the only reason I’m bringing any of this up are the clips below, one of which my friend Cory unearthed and slapped on Facebook. While certainly not everyone’s cup of tea, all of this footage is pretty remarkable. Here’s the inimitable James Chance and the Blacks playing at Hurrah in 1980.
Before you ask, I have no idea who Chance’s co-vocalist in the first two videos (“Money to Burn” and “Melt Yourself Down”) is, but she tackles the impressive feat of almost upstaging the mighty James Chance. The last two clips feature Debbie Harry and Chris Stein of Blondie, helping Chance’s band cover “Good Times” by Chic and “I Feel Good” by James Brown. Debbie looks suitably luminescent.
Hard to believe this all went down on West 62nd Street.
As a frustrated, ersatz writer, I’m prone to laboriously spin a weepy yarn with some frequency about how I once came within shouting distance of a credible book deal. This was based on the tenuous-at-best idea of composing the authoritative story of Jonathan Richman and the Modern Lovers. You may remember an epic-length post about that endeavor from several years back. Long story short: It didn’t happen.
In a nutshell, it all fell apart as someone had capitalized on the very same idea a year before me (with frankly underwhelming results), but –- more crucially -- the notoriously private and arguably eccentric Richman is pointedly guarded about his privacy and not at all interested in re-hashing the past. He hadn’t cooperated with that previous book, and wasn’t likely to entertain the notion any further. Without his participation, it was a stillborn effort, and –- thus -– abandoned.
I remember having a deflating discussion about it with an agent over lunch at a pricey TriBeCa bistro, and he tried to turn things back around by suggesting that, instead, I write a book about Radiohead, a notion that prompted me to ask for the check and get the Hell out of there.
Over the years, I’ve had several well-intentioned and supportive friends tell me I should write a book, but I’ve always said that I haven’t been sure if I actually have a book in me, so to speak. I harbor zero interest in writing fiction, and continue to feel that I need to be resonantly struck by that one, solid idea in order to make a book even conceptually feasible. Beyond that Jonathan Richman one, until recently, I haven’t felt that inspiration.
More to the point, after writing this silly blog for over a decade, the impetus to get a book going became even less of a likelihood. I’d found both my outlet and -- when I managed to not alienate or bore them – my audience, however select.
Anyway, you might be wondering, at this point, why I’m bothering to draw out this self-indulgent preamble. Well, as it happens, I’ve been tapped to write a book, and it looks like it’s actually going to happen.
Spend a random week reading this blog and you’ll doubtlessly comes across at least one or two florid invocations of two specific bands. One of those bands, of course, is Killing Joke. The other is the now long-defunct ensemble I’ve penned myriad posts about, that being Cop Shoot Cop.
It’s sort of a complicated backstory, but the gents approached me, given our long-standing friendship, my ardent fandom and the numerous bits and pieces I’ve already written about them, and asked if I’d be game to supply the text to what can only be described as a “coffee table book” about the band.
Now, before you click your tongues and remark about how a coffee table book packs all the insouciant, underground rock fury of a fastidiously curated collection of decorative ceramics, it should be underscored that Cop Shoot Cop was a band with a finely honed visual aesthetic. Pairing the do-it-yourself approach of hardcore punk with the jarring graphic style of early Foetus, early Cop Shoot Cop flyers and gig posters (some of which pre-dated the actual existence of the band beyond a mere concept) could literally stop you dead in your tracks (pardon the unfortunate pun). I myself was entirely preoccupied with one of their early posters for a 1989 gig at CBGB (as discussed --- and partially revealed –- on this post). With that in mind, to do that aspect of the band’s legacy justice, a full-paged, garishly illustrated, large-sized format is required. After a a brief period of consideration, I took the bait. So clear off those coasters, ornamental tchotchke and distressed stacks of Garden & Gun Magazine, `cos goddamn COP SHOOT COP IS COMING TO YOUR MOTHERFUCKIN’ COFFEE TABLE, BITCHES!
To that end, being that I’ve been the surreptitious webmaster of the unofficial Cop Shoot Cop Facebook page (hey, I told you I was a hopeless fanboy), I composed the following call-out to similarly inclined acolytes of the band. Follow the directions to the pertinent link.
YOUR ATTENTION PLEASE, C$C NATION!
There’s something in the works over in the long-dormant cabins of Camp Cop $hoot Cop. I'm working — in conjunction with members of the band — on their official history. It’ll be a handsome tome rife with myriad images spanning Cop Shoot Cop’s oh-so-illustrious career. It’s still in its early stages, but we need your help!
If you’d be good enough to share your photographs, artwork, posters, flyers, anecdotes, tattoos, homemade t-shirts and any other related ephemera with us, you — *YES, YOU!* — might be duly immortalized for your efforts for the great cause in some indeterminate fashion in the conceivably not-too-distant future. We promise it’s something cool. Have we lied to you yet (as far as you know?) If you’re sending us images, please note that we are looking for an ideal scan resolution of no less than 300 dpi at 100%. As is often suggested, bigger is indeed better.
To insure that you get the proper credit for your time and effort, please do include photo credit information, date and location that we properly acknowledge your contributions.
Anyway, so while it's still in its very early stages, the project is still very much underway. Part of the reason I'm posting about it here is not only to solicit more possible content for it, but also to cement the deal. It's put up or shut up. Now that I've invoked it, it has to happen, right?
I was recently rewarded with a new iMac at my office. Once installed, I wanted to get rid of that desktop display photo of El Capitain (or whatever majestic mountain it is) in favor of a selection of various NYC shots that speak to my sensibility. I tried a few different ones out, but finally settled on a Matt Weber photo (you may remember me mentioning his fabled street photos most recently on this post, also of the Bowery) of a shot of the Bowery at Bond Street circa 1985. I initially chose the shot because I miss the lot that used to abut the Amato Opera house (complete with that great mural). Here’s that photo now.
Upon assigning Matt’s photo as my desktop pic, however, it blew it up with new detail and I was able to notice a few more items, my favorite being a bit of graffiti on the street-light pole on the traffic island on the far right. Here’s a close-up.
“Loud Fast Rules” is both a single and album title (well, cassette title, technically) by proto-NYHC punk band, The Stimulators, who famously featured a disarmingly youthful Harley Flanagan (later of the Cro-Mags) behind the drum kit. Harley later looked more like this.
Here’s that single now, featuring then-still-little Harley on the sleeve.
Today, the lot next to the Amato Opera house is occupied by a genuinely ugly NYU dorm. The Amato Opera House is technically still standing, but I’m not sure it’s still in operation. The building between the Opera House and what had been CBGB has been remodeled. The Palace Hotel is now home to the Bowery Residents Committee. CBGB is now a pricey outlet for John Varvatos (who, you may remember, I took my most recent potshot at on this post). The lot at the far end of the street at 1st is now occupied by a condo with a Chase Bank on its ground floor.
Harley Flanagan, meanwhile, is alive and well and about to release his memoir…
Here, meanwhile, is another shot from that same era, taken by one Ferdinando Sciannaa, of the lot next to the Amato Opera House...
Last Sunday, September 11th, was the seven-year anniversary of the death of Jim Carroll. I’d like to have posted this entry then, but life gets in the way of these things sometimes.
In any event, while I’ve extolled the merits of Jim Carroll as musician, poet, author and luminary of cool several times here before, there’s actually a genuinely new development that warrants bringing it all back up beyond the anniversary of the great man’s passing.
The layperson might simply recognize Jim Carroll as the author of the seminal urban-teen memoir, “The Basketball Diaries,” which was later turned into a frankly abortive movie starring Leonardo DiCaprio. The less said about that the better. Passive music fans of a certain age might also know Carroll as the voice behind “People Who Died” by the Jim Carroll Band, an arguably tasteless slab of high-octane rock from the Punk era. I say “arguably tasteless” as, over the years, people have taken me to task for championing the song, asserting that it was unduly frivolous, morbid or exploitative when — in truth — none of those adjectives are even close to accurate. I wrote at some length about the song shortly after the man’s own death in 2009. Should you not feel like clicking, here’s what I had to say about it.
I remember first hearing “People Who Died” on some late night radio station when I was in 8th grade in 1980, but didn’t catch the name of the band responsible. The next day at school, I approached my classmate Zachary T. -- the grade’s resident coolster – and asked if he’d ever heard of the song. Without hesitation, Zach slipped into a back-arching a cappella rendition of “People Who Died,” before feverishly extolling the merits of the artists behind it, namely the Jim Carroll Band. Dutifully informed, I went out in search of the LP, entitled Catholic Boy, the very next day.
Sounding incongruously jubilant for what is essentially a lament, “People Who Died” rarely leaves its listener indifferent. Punctuated by Jim Carroll’s dizzyingly detailed lyrics and breathless, rapid-fire delivery, the song is a colorful laundry list of casualties who meet their respective ends in manners both tragic and absurd. Though popularly perceived as pitch black humor (sort of the punk rock equivalent to Edward Gorey’s “Gashlycrumb Tinies”), I’ve never doubted the sincerity of Carroll’s narrative, earnestly exhorting the passing of his fallen comrades as some sort of high-volume catharsis. Some of the characters cited in the song appear in Carroll’s more celebrated memoirs “The Basketball Diaries” (later made into a frankly forgettable film starring Leo DeCaprio and Marky Mark Wahlberg) and “Forced Entries.” Swapping the solemn cadence of a funeral dirge in favor of a hiccupy, adrenalized rhythm buffered by frantically strummed electric guitars, “People Who Died” may sound flippantly tasteless -– like much of the more sensationalized punk rock of its era -- but it also singularly captures Carroll’s mournful rage at the hopelessness and destruction that surrounds him. It may sound funny, but it remains an exorcism.
Not everybody hears it that way, of course. I vividly remember playing the track one night on my college radio station (WDUB 91.1 FM in Granville, Ohio) and a girl in my sociology/anthropology class found it so offensive that she actually stopped talking to me the very next day. Meanwhile, I think the biggest shame about “People Who Died”— as great a track as it is -- is that it’s leant Carroll a rather unfair one-hit-wonder status. Beyond that celebrated “novelty hit,” Catholic Boy is a classic album, rife with lesser-celebrated but equally visceral songs like “Three Sisters,” “It’s Too Late,” “Wicked Gravity” and the title track. Later Jim Carroll Band albums weren’t quite as punchy (although I liked their cover of the Velvet Underground’s “Sweet Jane” on 1983’s I Write Your Name), but my point is that there’s always been so much more to Jim Carroll than “People Who Died.” One would also do well to track down Carroll’s excellent spoken-word album from 1991, Praying Mantis.
Yeah, so anyway, glad we cleared that up.
Anyway, the new reason for bringing up “People Who Died” is my friend Jason Dennie. He's the gent on the left below.
Regular readers might recognize his name from this post, although he was also responsible for inspiring this post. A transplant from Seattle, Jason and I got to know each other during my relatively brief tenure working at MSN, where we bonded over our mutual love of needlessly stentorian rawk (although, to be fair, I believe Jason’s tastes span a greater breadth of musical styles than those of yours truly). To that same end, he’s also a tireless musician, routinely juggling new projects that find him kicking up a racket in any number of divey haunts around town. For a gent originally hailing from the Grunge capital of the Pacific Northwest, Jason’s managed to steep himself with efficiency into the New York City music scene. His most recent endeavor — an ensemble dubbed The Crier Brothers — recently harnessed the temerity to cover what some of us might considered the untouchably hallowed (as laboriously expressed in the paragraphs above) — “People Who Died” by the Jim Carroll Band. Were that not enough, Jason and his co-hort in Crying, James G. Barry (he's the gent on the right in the shot above), actually managed to convince surviving members of the Jim Carroll Band to even play on it. What balls, eh?
Once I re-affixed my eye-brows to my face, I decided to grab Jason and James by their respective lapels to ask them where the Hell they get off doing such a thing. Here’s what they had to say.
First up, tell me a little about the Crier Brothers? Who exactly are you guys, and what are you trying to do?
[James G. Barry] I met Jason at a beach house of a mutual friend. It was sort of a set-up meaning my friend though we gave off similar vibes. Anyway after a day of eating and drinking and listening to music we found an old guitar in a closet, tuned whatever strings were left on it. And the rest is history.
[Jason S. Dennie] As soon as I met Jim, I introduced him into a residency I had started in NY of like-minded musicians that would get together at Otto’s Shrunken Head the last Friday of each month. It kinda was a testing ground for me for folks that I could write and play music with. I had successfully done the same thing in Seattle, and sure enough, from day one, Jim and I were writing songs from the first time we jammed. The creation of Crier Brothers actually happened on stage in Philadelphia where we improved a set that was so locked in, we actually took a few of the songs, put a band together, and learned a few of our improv songs. The nail in the coffin was recording in Seattle with Jack Endino where we improved a few mores songs, learned them, and went on to recorded and self-release the EP, Original Music & Guide to Existence with a companion book, since linear notes don’t work so well with self-published CDs. Not sure if that explains exactly what we are, but I’ll tell you, that base is exactly what we are constantly trying to do, catch lightning in a bottle, multiple times, in multiple locations.
What made you decide to cover "People Who Died" (y'know, obviously beyond it being a seminal single)?
[JB] My dad grew up in Washington heights and played basketball all over Manhattan and the Bronx (his one claim to fame is that he actually played against Lewis Alcindor, ...later known as KareeM Abdul-Jabbar). His brother was the opposite and sort of hung out with bands and got really interested in punk. He told me about Jim Carroll when I was younger. I really can t remember when exactly. They always seemed to be sort of like the main character from "Basketball Diaries: split into two people. Fast forward yes we both just loved the song. I personally have dealt with a lot of deaths of close friends and Jay and I talked about doing the song and pulling on loss.
[JD] Jim was dealing with a lot of death around him and in turn, me. I have a weird rule that if we do a cover, it needs to be our own. And the best compliment of doing a cover is if someone knows its a cover but not sure who the song is by. I always like when people take something amazing and make it their own. ‘People who Died’ always seemed untouchable to me. I met Jim Carroll in the 90’s in Bellingham WA while he was on a book tour and he really made an influence on me. His ghost-like demeanor and sensitivity were striking. When Jim proposed we cover this song, I knew what it meant to him but I also didn’t want to touch it. We recorded the song in pieces and when it was being put together it really was distinct and sounded like Crier Brothers. It wasn’t until Brian Linsley and Terrell Winn came on board and played guitar solo’s that made it sound more like the original and my rule was throughout the window because it was ACTUALLY members of the Jim Carroll Band that was playing on the song! Be damned, my silly rules.
It's actually kind of a crazy audacious choice. I can't think of anyone covering it in the past. I know Pearl Jam tried "Catholic Boy." Was it tough to master?
[JB] We play it fast. Yes. Especially live. Our drummer will audibly groan if it comes after the single b-side "Sinuous Nature" (also fast)
[JD] It’s funny because when Jim proposed it and I was hesitant to cover it, I went searching to see if anyone had touched this song. The only cover I found was Patti Smith covering a live version on stage with her band. It was that moment that I knew it was going to come together perfectly. This was before Brian and Terrell were on board, but there was connection already to Crier Brothers. Pete Bischoff, our guitar player, has worked on Patti Smith albums and knows her band very well. It just seem to all fall into place from there on out.
How did you end up collaborating with those surviving members of the band? Were they cool with it?
[JB] We were struggling with getting a compulsory license for publishing and I noticed that ALL of the band members actually split the rights to the track. I contacted Brian Lindsey (guitarist) in a Hail-Mary kind of way and he immedietly got back to me and has been really amazing.
[JD] I pointed Jim in the right direction to get the publishing rights but he hit a brick wall. So what did he do? Reach out to the surviving members who after hearing our rough cut, wanted in on the release. Very cool.
What's the reaction been thus far?
[JB] People really like it. We have never (as a literal mantra of our improv group Empire Vista Social Club) recorded a cover. So this was ambitious, but it rocks.
[JD] It’s fitting right in with the faster numbers, like "Sinuous Nature" and "Wholehearted." Fans really seem to get on their feet for these in live shows. So far, everyone that heard the single is digging it.
Has there been any official reaction from the Carroll estate?
[JB] Brian has been working with the estate on trying to do some future projects relating to Jims other works. I don't think he has actually gotten this in front of them yet though. We are getting the 7" pressed now so we are hoping to circulate it that way.
[JD] Yeah, since it's a self-release, we don’t think it’s gotten the ears. We will be doing a radio push this fall so hopefully we will get some reactions.
As a hard-working, gigging rock band in the New York City of 2016, it's obviously a world of difference from gritty NYC of Carroll's era. Are you finding it a challenge to play live? Is there still a thirst for that which rocks?
[JB] Frankly, yes. Jay and I both work full time and end up financing things one way or another. People love to see live music but the city is bigger now. The scenes are spread out from Coney Island to Bushwick all the way to Inwood. People tend to stay local if they can. So we try to move around when we can.
[JD] I once heard, if you want to make it as a musician in New York, move here after you’re famous and I agree. You can walk into just about any club in New York on any given night and you have such amazing talent all around that are screaming into an abyss. But there’s nothing better than playing to a New York crowd that’s into what you’re doing.
For jack-offs like myself who are still preoccupied with the physical manifestation of music, where can we get our mitts on a copy of your cover of "People Who Died?
[JB] We released it digitally through CD baby out of Seattle. The 7" will be out by Halloween
[JD] Yep, it came out this summer in all the digital spots, Amazon, Spotify, YouTube, you name it. But this is the first time we are releasing a 7" and we are learning as we go. Our first turn around quote was 14 weeks, in which we thought we had in the bag for our June release. But turns out, it was pushed back and now looking like October for the physical copy. We have done something unique with this release. The 1st 50 copies will be an original artwork by Chris Georgalas, an amazing NY artist. After that, a printed copy in stores who accept DIY band’s vinyls and online on our website.
Any plans to play live with the Jim Carroll Band?
[JB] The Jim Carroll Band obviously has disbanded but we would love to play with Brian sometime. He is based in Utah now.
[JD] Yep, we are always working on opportunities to play on the west coast or east with Brian. The fact that he is doing a play based on Jim Carroll means we might be able to pull it off in NY. And the fact the Band formed in LA, we are brainstorming ideas out there.
What's next for the Crier Brothers?
[JB] We have another 7" that's being mixed right now. Cbs songs are also featured in a short film called "Home Slice" that is premiering at the Coney Island film festival this weekend.
[JD] This concept of 7 inches and artist contributing original artwork to them has got some legs. Chris Georgalas did the first one and with that, Art Chantry has contributed to the second single coming out. Art and I have know each other since the 90s and I’ve always wanted to work on something with him on a personal project. I pitched him the idea and he came up with an amazing design. We are going to silk screen only 50 copies and make them available on his site and on ours. I’m sure it will be a collectors item as his posters have been in the Smithsonian and many other museums around the world. That should be out by the end of the year. If both projects work, we will probably continue to release in that fashion. And as Jim said, our songs are featured in a short film being premiered at the Coney Island Film Festival this weekend, which ain’t bad either.
Prompted by my fondness for their lovingly compiled box sets (like the Ork Records collection and their archival White Zombie cache), I recently started following The Numero Group on Instagram. While they do indeed release an awful lot of music that I’m just not-at-all familiar with, I have tremendous respect for their attention to detail and shared affinity for the physical manifestations of music. I consider them kindred souls.
Anyway, earlier today they put up a post (see below) focussing on the mid-90’s indie band, Blonde Redhead. Those who’ve stuck with this blog for a while might remember a post I composed about a long-vanished live music venue in the Meat Packing District called The Cooler. I saw Blonde Redhead at the Cooler a couple of times. I’m not sure I’d be crass enough to call it a gimmick, but Blonde Redhead (named after a suitably skronky song by No Wave pioneers, DNA) did boast a distinguishing characteristic in that they featured a pair of identical twins in the band. While certainly not the first ensemble to boast this feature (hello, Gene Loves Jezebel, The Connesls, The Breeders), it did lend them a sort of rarified mystique. Here’s their post now…
A video posted by Numero Group (@thenumerogroup) on
I was struck by this post for a number of reasons. For a start, it’s a cool little slice of vintage Blonde Redhead. I don’t know if they’re still active today, but I have indeed spotted one or both of twins around town (although I’ve never accosted them). There were a compelling live band, to be sure
Secondly, I love this snippet — which dates back to 1995 — as it retains a whiff of the old Canal Street (which I spoke of quite recently here). While I tenuously asserted in that recent post that Canal hasn’t visually changed that much when compared to its neighboring SoHo and TriBeCa, this clip does feature the interior and exterior of the since-vanished Industrial Plastics, an old surplus fixture on that strip that is long gone. When I worked as a gopher for a graphic designer in the mid-to-late 80’s, I was regularly sent down to Industrial Plastics to procure any number of weird items for her. Here’s a nice shot of it (photo courtesy of this blog).
The third reason this post sunk its hooks into me is that it features the photography of a gent named Michael Ackerman, a name I’d not heard in ages.
Back in the early 90’s, both Michael and I contributed to a freebie weekly paper called New York Perspectives. I used to write for their music page, while Michael leant his burgeoning photography skills to their features and covers. Springing off my association with the New York Review of Records (which I spoke in greater detail of here), Perspectives was kind of a knock-off of New York Press, albeit slightly less snarky. Regardless, I was hugely happy to be a part of it, and met some great people through it, many of whom I’m still friends with today, although Perspectives stopped publishing at some point in the mid-90’s, I believe. Sadly, today there is precious little evidence out there that the paper ever existed, although I still have a yellowing pile of them in my front hall closet.
In any case, Michael and I got to know each other a little circa 1991-1993, usually fraternizing around the Perspectives office or at parties thrown by the managing editor, Jon, at his cavernous shared-apartment over on a then-troubled strip of East 14th Street (over what is today the Beauty Bar). But we worked together specifically on a cover story I did on Cop Shoot Cop (who, again, I’ve discussed innumerable times here, but most recently here). Michael shot some suitably stark, ominous black n’ white shots of the band for the cover and the inner spread that I was quite taken with.
Anyway, I can’t remember why or when I stopped contributing to Perspectives, but it was invariably due to getting another job somewhere or possibly the operation folding, but by the tail end of the 90’s, it was done and dusted. I stayed in touch with several of its folks (and have since re-kindled some friendships via Facebook), but fell out of touch with Michael Ackerman entirely.
In the ensuing years, however, Michael has become a photographer of some renown, revered for his genuinely haunting, black n’ white images. He even had a book of his work published not too long back.
With all this in mind, I decided to reach out to Michael and see if he might (a) even remember me and (b) maybe share those old Cop Shoot Cop photographs.
I realize that it’s only August 21, and that most people consider Labor Day weekend the official end of summer, but my week-long vacation comes to a jarring halt tomorrow morning, my kids finished up their day-camp on Saturday, and we all came back to NYC this afternoon. Sure, we have a couple of weekends left, but for all intents and purposes, Summer 2016 is a sweaty, humidity-labored breath away from being done and dusted.
This is actually pretty tough to answer. Last summer, I was a jobless bum, but this summer found me working through all of June, July and most of August (apart from my afore-cited week of vacation). The wife and I did have one fairly action-packed evening about three weekends ago wherein we attended a book reading by Jay “Bright Lights, Big City” McInneny, had drinks with the author afterwards and then attended a friend’s birthday party wherein even your humble narrator felt compelled to part from his studiously cultivated cool and assume the dance floor (when the deejay decided to spin “Flashlight” by Parliament). That was a fun night.
Best Purchase of Summer 2016:
I don’t recall buying a lot of significant items, but we did go pretty whole hogfish on the seafood this summer, the best being a roundly spectacular lobster roll at a Hampton Bays eatery called Hamlet that I strenuously enjoyed.
Best Book You Read of Summer 2016:
I am somewhat deeply ashamed to report this, but I didn’t finish one damn book this summer. Sure, I picked up John Doe’s oral history on the nascent days of the L.A. Punk scene, but it somehow failed to fully engage me. Speaking of oral histories, I also picked up the arguably needless 20th Anniversary Edition of Legs McNeil & Gillian McCain’s legitimately iconic “Please Kill Me,” but having already read the thing a couple of times, I didn’t feel the need to do so again.
Best Movie You Saw During Summer 2016:
Not once this summer did I — or any member of the family, to my knowledge -- enter a movie theatre. That said, I did catch some good, older stuff on Netflix, etc., notably “Charlie Wilson’s War” (way better than I’d have ever expected, despite Julia Roberts’ woeful miscasting) and “The Mayor of Sunset Strip” (surprisingly poignant documentary about fabled L.A. rock scenester/deejay, Rodney Bingenheimer).
Best Gift You Received of Summer 2016:
I had drinks some weeks back with my friend Jason, who bequeathed me with a fetching black baseball cap, emblazoned with the logo of his band, The Crier Brothers.
Biggest Loss of Summer 2016:
For music fans, the entirety of 2016 has already been indelibly marked as year rife with incalculable loss. In terms of the summer, the final day of operation of Other Music on 4th Street was something of a devastating blow. See also Rebel Rebel.
Song That Best Sums Up Summer 2016:
This is actually a toughie. The last genuinely new album I bought was The Glowing Man by SWANS. As much as I dig that album, I cannot say it came with any readily hummable “song of the summer.” It’s more an immersive, interior journey than a tuneful summer soundtrack. I did fortify the CD player in my mom’s shitty Ford Taurus with some re-issues of Metallica’s Ride the Lightning, a compilation of Rush hits dubbed Rush: Gold and a super-duper fuckoff deluxe edition of Rio by Duran Duran, but it’s not like there was a single song of any of those that defined my summer. Old standbys like “Southern Cross” by CSN, “New Life” by Depeche Mode and the entirety of the discography of Bahamanian Blind Blake were still kid-approved favorites in the Ford Taurus rotation. My daughter is now fully ensconced in fervent fandom for the soundtrack to “Hamilton,” and my son is largely mum on whatever favorite songs he may be harboring, so there was — alas — no single song that summed up our summer. That makes me kinda sad.
Happiest Memory of Summer 2016:
After what started off as a frankly grueling year for my little boy (for reasons I won’t go into), he was awarded by his summer camp a handsome silver cup emblazoned with the legend, “Best Sportsmanship” of the entirety of his junior class. Watching his little face light up with surprise and become speechless as he went up to collect his award truly made my heart soar to new heights.
Saddest Memory of Summer 2016:
He’s been gone for two years now, but not being able to see my dear step-father share the moment above made me sad, but I know he probably had a hand in it, some way.
Scariest Memory of Summer 2016:
Some dear friends of ours have a house in Greenport on the North Fork of Long Island, and they invited us up. The drive from Quogue to Greenport isn’t necessarily that difficult, but we managed to overshoot some crucial turnoffs. We finally got there, had a lovely afternoon with them, and ended up staying much longer than expected. The drive back to Quogue at around 10:00 pm — in the impenetrable blackness of night, down a succession of long, winding roads choked with oncoming traffic — felt like braving the fucking Death Star trench. We made it home alright, but I was white-knuckling it behind the wheel the entire time. Ugh.
You may have already seen this, if you’re patient and tolerant enough to follow me on Facebook, but for the sake of bringing things up to speed here, here’s an update since the last chapter.
Remember how I said I frequently have help when it comes to solving these things? Well, more than a few times, that help comes via the scrupulous eye for minute detail that is Bob Egan of Popspots (who I’ve mentioned here hundreds of times). After I posted the development the other day wherein Richard Moody disclosed the location of photographer Lynn Goldsmith’s former studio, Bob went to work in his inimitable fashion. Here’s what he had to say… and show….
HI ALex, I was at the Strand so I looked thru Lynn Goldsmith's photo book "Rock and Roll Stories." In it there's a picture of Ian Hunter in front of the Cell 54 awning. She mentions it was right after a shoot so I figure it's on her studio block. Her studio according to Google was at 241 West 36th. Adds no clues except the light pole that's to the left in this picture of 223 West 36th which I am 95% sure if the Pretenders location. I can't add more than one photo on Facebook, so I will add them separately., following...
This is a picture of Ian Hunter from the session that also has him outside Cell 54 awning. I think in this he's across the street because the traffic goes the other way.
This shows #241 West 36th where Lynn Goldsmith's studio was, and to the right, #223 West 36th Street where I think the Pretenders were.
This is one of the only old fashioned brick buildings on the block. It's a three story building. Notice that it has the same stoops as in the Pretenders pic and also the same brickwork as to the right of the Pretenders pic. As I said I'm 95% Sure this is it, since some of the other people who wrote you thought it was along this block.. For the other 5% I'd have to look at 223 West 36th Street up in the 1980 reverse phone book, whichI I will next time I'm at the library, and see if there was a luncheonette there, maybe one with an owner whose last name begins with CELL..
There’s a particular passage in J.D. Salinger’s signature work, “The Catcher in the Rye,” that has always really spoken to me. After a litany of indignities, gaffes and humiliating tribulations, protagonist Holden Caulfield repairs to the sprawling, tranquil galleries of the American Museum of Natural History on the Upper West Side, finding solace in a particular diorama that depicts an Eskimo having just caught two fish out of a hole in the ice. While Holden’s life spirals around him in a strange, uncertain trajectory, he assigns these immediate surroundings a very personal significance.
The best thing, though, in that museum was that everything stayed right where it was. Nobody’d move. You could go there a hundred thousand times, and that Eskimo would still be just finished catching those two fish, the birds would still be on their way south, the deers would still be drinking out of that water hole … Nobody’d be different. The only thing that would be different would be you.
Obviously, Salinger’s richly nuanced text is open to myriad interpretations, but I’ve always read into this specific episode as a reflection of Holden’s inability to come to terms with the ramifications of his own developing adulthood and the accompanying life changes. The seeming permanence and comfortable familiarity of those elements of the museum represent the cherished-if-fleeting stability and equally vanishing innocence of his childhood. As such, he pines for them.
I relate to this on two levels. For a start, one might be able to draw a parallel between myself and Holden (a nervous proposition, given Holden Caulfield’s longstanding status as an inspiration to certain murderers and attempted murderers), given my continued pining for and lament over the loss of very specific elements of my native New York City that I may have naively expected to never go away. Yes, I may indeed genuinely miss specific aspects of some long-lost record store, but I also miss and lament what that record store might arguably represent to my mind -– i.e. my youth. It’s hardly a leap.
Psychobabble aside, however, I also respond to Holden’s observations about the Museum of Natural History on a purely surface level. Even decades before I was the sniveling midlife-crisis-sufferer I am today, I appreciated the apparently constant nature of the museum’s exhibits. Holden’s assertion that they never changed isn’t quite true, of course, but rather a rose-tinted projection. Most of the main, iconic pieces remain right where you left them, but there are subtle (and not so subtle) changes happening all the time there (like, say, the replacement of the Hayden Planetarium with the Rose Center for Earth & Space).
The weird thing about that, of course, is that I doubt the museum’s planners had those associations in mind when they installed the exhibits in question. For example, upon carefully erecting those towering fossil replications of dinosaurs with talons out and jaws agape, I doubt any of those curators suspected people would latch onto those terrifying beasties beyond their significance as artifacts of our planet’s complex history and grow emotionally attached to them.
To that end, when I bring my children there these days, I’m frequently heard to point things out like “when I was taken here at your age, that guy dressed up like a witch-doctor in the African peoples wing used to scare the Hell out of me.” Part of the experience has become less about the literal historical relevance of the artifacts on display, and more about their placement in the context of the museum. The witch-doctor guy may not scare me anymore, but I love that he’s still there.
So, once again, why am I talking about all this? Well, it’s another instance of spotting a picture on the Old New York Tumblr that really struck a note -– an image that speaks quite strikingly to the very essence of permanence and familiarity that both Holden and I find solace in.
Depending on how you enter the museum, a major focal point upon reaching its main floor has always been the Hall of African Mammals (or Akeley Hall of African Mammals, if I’m being precise, thus named after explorer Carl Akeley). If you’re not entirely familiar with the place, it’s basically that dark, cavernous room featuring a taxidermized herd of African elephants in the center, surrounded on two levels by lushly detailed dioramas. Right as you walk into that big chamber, the glassed-in display on your immediate left is one featuring what looks like a family of gorillas holding court in a deep, primeval forest. Here it is now…
It’s an image as immediately entwined with the museum as, say, the Temple of Dendur is with the Metropolitan Museum on the other side of Central Park. As a tiny child weaned on “King Kong” and “Planet of the Apes,” I remember being literally awestruck by the sight of that big, primate patriarch in the back, standing upright with hairy elbows akimbo. I suppose they were trying to imply that he was in the process of beating his chest, but he always looked to me like he was about to fling his arms out and break into song. That very same big fella was referenced on a postcard campaign around the same era, aping (sorry) Dino De Laurentiis’ 1976 take on “King Kong.”
Anyway, the point I’m trying to get at is that for as long as I’ve been going to that museum -– which is, essentially, more or less my entire life (I don’t remember how old I might have been when my mother first brought my sister and I there, but we were invariably pretty damn young)-- this diorama has been there. At this point, I should point out that I’m perilously close to the age of 49.
Finishing touches were applied to a diorama in the Akeley Hall of African Mammals at the American Museum of Natural History in New York. Named for Carl Akeley, the explorer who conceived and designed all the displays and died on Mount Mikeno in the Democratic Republic of Congo in 1926, the hall presents several animals that Mr. Akeley had killed himself, The New York Times reported on May 17, 1936. “He will probably be set down as one of the most famous lovers of all natural things,” Russell Owen wrote. Photo: The New York Times
Now, I don’t know why I should find this so shocking, but evidently that same, big, fuckoff gorilla has been standing there in that same spot, about to bust into song .. for literally 80 YEARS!
That just kinda blows my mind.
Addendum: Here's a shot of my little monkeys admiring the big fella back from 2012.
I actually don’t honestly remember how or when J. Yuenger and I officially became “internet friends,” but I believe it had something to do with our mutual appreciation of a richly curated Tumblr called This Isn’t Happiness(which -– to my mind -– represents the very best that particular social networking site has to offer). I believe it was from a strange overlap there that we started following each other’s blogs (his being the excellent image-driven J.Yuenger) and we were off and running.
If you’re not a rock geek, you may not instantly know his name, but unless you’re maybe my mom, you’ve probably heard his music. Put simply, J. Yuenger played guitar for the highest profile incarnation of White Zombie, a band I’ve spoken about here on several occasions (most recently here, in a post that inadvertently kicked off my feverish odyssey to pinpoint the location of that Lunachicks photo). If you were standing within proximity of a television tuned to MTV during the mid-to-late `90s, you doubtlessly saw his dreadlocked head banging in time with that band’s endearingly bottom-heavy sturm und drang on such inescapable hits as “Thunderkiss `65” and -- WAIT FOR IT -- “More Human Than Human.” In fact, fuck it – let’s go there now…
Incidentally, I don’t care how canonical or popular or populist or “so `90s” or not-indie-enough or however you might consider it, that’s still a goddamn excellent song. Feel free to disagree, but you’re just fuckin’ wrong. Also, how many rock songs with esoteric, titular allusions to “Blade Runner” can you actually name? For that alone it’s fucking great. Shut up. You’re wrong.
In any case, J. Yuenger is the other dude with dreadlocks in that clip (i.e. the one providing that vicious slide-guitar and slabs of molten power-chordage alongside the rumbling low end of bassist Sean Yseult). “More Human Than Human” was one of those songs that, like, say, “You Shook Me All Night Long” by AC/DC from a decade earlier, managed to escape the parameters of its genre’s demographic and infiltrate the listening habits of the layperson. As a result, it no longer belonged exclusively to the leather, flannel-&-wallet-chain set, but rather to the zeitgeist of its era. You could just as easily hear it being croaked drunkenly at a bachelorette karaoke party as blasting out of a passing, pointedly muffler-less Dodge Charger. White Zombie, as a result, were suddenly EVERYWHERE. They even played it on Letterman.
`Twas not to last, of course. The band split shortly after that, with lead singer Rob Cummings/Straker/Zombie pursuing a solo career with a increasingly profitable sideline in moviemaking. Yseult and Yuenger went off to other things as well.
But for those same laypeople who’d lazily lump White Zombie in with all things metal, the truth of the matter is a very different story, one that Yuenger has taken great pains to tell in the last couple of years via the brand, spankin’ new Numero Group box set, It Came from N.Y.C. Here, once again, is a taster…
It should be noted that the book that accompanies the music is a lovingly detailed account of the band’s unconventional trek to stardom, and an amazing document of a time and a place that is well worth investigating, even if you’re not a punk or a metal head or rock geek of one colorful description or another.
I reached out to J. to see if he'd subject himself to a Flaming Pablum interview. Gamely, he said yes...
FLAMING PABLUM: You just finished a mammoth project of putting together a richly cultivated box set that deeply delves into the surprising backstory of White Zombie, It Came from N.Y.C. How did that all come about? Was there an impulse to set the record straight on the band, to your mind?
J: Yeah, absolutely. Here’s what the history looks like to most people : band magically appears, song is constantly on radio and in every movie preview, band plays arenas, band vanishes. We are not usually included in the history of heavy metal, because we were not strictly a metal band. We aren’t part of grunge, or 90s alternative. We pre-dated nu-metal. Well, I guess we had a hand in creating nu-metal. Sorry about that.
We’ve always wanted to tell the White Zombie story, from the beginning to the end, but the real catalyst was probably the CD box set, Let Sleeping Corpses Lie, which came out in 2008. It’s a slapdash, shitty thing, devoid of text, neither Sean nor I were consulted about any part of it, and we were both deeply, deeply disappointed in it (it got worse when I was doing research for It Came From NYC and I found that some of the audio on the CD box was compromised).
The opportunity to make something richly visual was really exciting for us, as was being able to present the music in such a way that, if you travel down the timeline from Gods On Voodoo Moon to "Thunderkiss ’65," as different as those things are, the trip makes sense.
Was Rob Cummings/Straker/Zombie involved in the project in any capacity?
Only in that he was interviewed for the book.
If my math is right, you were the fourth (?) guitarist to infiltrate the ranks of the band. When you first joined, were you still playing alongside the noise-rock set like Rat at Rat R, Pussy Galore, Live Skull and Dig Dat Hole, or had the band headed towards a more definitively metal direction?
I was the fifth guitarist.
These were the people who were around, in the neighborhood, and once I was in the band I began meeting members of Pussy Galore, Cop Shoot Cop, Rat At Rat R, because Sean and Rob knew them. Now I was in the position of saying hello to members of Sonic Youth, at gigs or when I saw them in the subway, which was exciting. But WZ had been moving towards being a metal band for a while before I joined, and I don’t remember playing with any L.E.S. art-noise groups. (names are coming back to me now : Band Of Susans, Surgery, Reverb Motherfuckers, Honeymoon Killers.. etc.)
In Manhattan, we played with bands who were metal-ish, but with an art-school sensibility, like Raging Slab, Blitzspeer, Lunachicks, Prong — and we started opening for major-label groups. Danzig, Slayer. Then, all of a sudden, we were playing with Biohazard and Suicidal Tendencies out at L’amour in Brooklyn - which in hindsight seems insane. We didn’t get booed; we sold t-shirts. To Brooklyn skinheads.
What were your favorite venues to play?
CBGB. The place had a weird layout, acoustically, but by the time I got there (my first time was with my teen punk band in 1984, opening for Flipper, and the second time was in 1989 with WZ, a few weeks after I joined), they’d been putting on 5 bands a night, every night, for years and years, and the sound was absolutely dialed-in. Every band sounded good and loud in the house, and the fat monitor sound onstage made you feel like you were really playing well.
Anecdote. The very first time I walked into the club, there was a gang of fearsome-looking skinheads, smoking a joint and listening to a demo tape over the CBGB sound system. We had heard a lot about how violent NY skins were, how they were ruining The Scene for everyone, and we cowered in a corner, waiting to put our stuff on stage. The music sounded great to me, though; raging hardcore with a metal edge. I couldn’t help myself. I walked over to the smallest skinhead, a menacing-looking kid in a crombie, and asked him what we were hearing. The kid, who I would come to know years later as Harley Flanagan, broke character, looked delighted, and said, “The Cro-Mags!”
I gather the living conditions during your NYC tenure while in the band were pretty squalid. What are you own recollections of life on the Lower East Side during that era? Decades later, what do you think the biggest misconception is about the downtown NYC of that period?
Conditions were pretty squalid. Rob and Sean were living in an illegal basement plywood-walled apartment when I met them, and I was basically homeless for the first year I was in the band. The area was starting to gentrify, which meant that rents were high while the streets were still completely chaotic. Violence could erupt at any moment, and the cops couldn’t do anything about anything. There was a heroin supermarket at 2nd and A with a long line of people in front of it. This was after a lot of mental health facilities had been shut down, and there were crazy people everywhere, pissing on everything and screaming.
A lot of my L.E.S. misadventures happened while I was delivering pizzas there. The first time I got robbed was in an Avenue D project hallway, where I was pushed me to my knees and a knife was held against my throat. They got my tips, but not my bank, which I’d stuffed into my sock. The second time, somewhere across Houston, Ludlow Street maybe, there was a gun in my face. It was a revolver, and when you see one of those from the front, you can tell if it’s loaded or not. I looked at the bullets in the cylinder and gave up all my money.
As for misconceptions, I think when people picture New Yorkers, they think of, like, two fat Italian guys yelling at each other. Throughout my time in NY, people were usually surprisingly friendly. The city’s very different today, of course, but New Yorkers, to me, still have a kind of humanity that is sometimes lacking in people in other cities.
Name three things you miss from your time in New York.
Well, the main thing would be New York itself. I am peripatetic by nature; when I’m done with a place, I move on. That said, when Sean first had the idea of moving the band to L.A., I was very, very resistant. It later turned out that she was 100% right, but NYC is the only place I’ve ever lived where I thought I would stay forever. And, of course, the pre-Giuliani city I’m talking about is a place none of us can ever visit again.
I guess I miss the idea of NYC as the center of the universe. The city was a beacon even in my earliest awareness of the world. Sesame Street is clearly New York. I looked at the publishing info in comic books, Marvel and DC. New York is where comics come from. Later, when I had some records of my own, I looked at the back covers - New York is where music comes from. The first left-of-the-dial sounds I heard, Blondie, Ramones, The Cramps, New York. Movies, from "Shaft" to "The Warriors," "Basket Case" to "C.H.U.D.," New York. When I finally got there, there were coolest people, and the biggest freaks, and everyone was doing things. There were records and t-shirts and stuff you couldn’t find anywhere else. Yes, now that every store sells things that you can easily get online, I have to say that I miss the shopping.
I miss an afternoon with the windows open, sun streaming in, listening to your favorite NY music, choose your poison, Lou Reed, Monk, Tribe Called Quest. Knowing that the artists have most certainly walked down the street where you are, because you are where everything is happening. That’s a feeling I can’t really describe.
When the band went major, the band decamped to sunny California. Did you ever return to New York City after the band imploded? Have you been back since?
Sure, lots of times, though I’m there less so now that a lot of the music industry has moved itself to Nashville. The last time was for a wedding in Brooklyn, and I never even went into Manhattan. Everything is sodifferent now that visiting is kind of disturbing for me, and the people I know who still live there are forever talking about the latest tragic shuttering of a place we used to go.
What are you up to these days?
I worked a lot in 2015, on the WZ box set and on a bunch of other records for various labels, and then I moved to Spain at the end of the year. I’m taking some time off, but the turnaround time for vinyl is really long (and getting longer), so stuff has been coming out throughout 2016. Two of those records that I’m very proud of are the soundtracks/scores to "The Warriors" and "Taxi Driver," both of which I mastered for Waxwork Records.
Having cut your teeth in the hardcore age, do you think the looming new administration (be it Clinton or :::shudder::: Trump) might at least inspire a new age of suitably angry protest music?
I don’t think so. I don’t think the next battle-cry will be a song. This will probably sound very “kids these days..”, but young people just don’t place music at the center of everything the way people my age (there are a lot of different metrics, but I guess you could say I’m a senior member of Generation X) did, or, especially, how the Baby Boomers did. Music is more like a single arrow in the Millennial quiver, so to speak.
I hope I’m wrong, though. If Americans, who are supposed to be so angry about everything, finally do take to the streets, perhaps some of them will start singing.
I'd really like to thank J. for his time and enthusiasm. If you haven't already, you really need to check out It Came from N.Y.C.Find it here.