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.
It never made sense to me why Stooges drummer Scotty Asheton's nickname was "Rock Action." I mean, yeah, he rocked furiously (Iggy's been fond of saying he played the drums "with a boxer's authority"), but shouldn't his guitarist brother Ron Asheton have been "Rock Action"? Doesn't it phonetically make more sense that Ron Asheton would become Rock Action?
Regardless, the Stooges weren't about making sense. They were about rocking and action.
Rock Action left us today in 2014. To my mind, this was his finest hour...
Incidentally, if you're as besotted with the Stooges as any quasi-sentient being fuckin' SHOULD be, you need to check out their official (?) Instagram page: Stoogeland.
In a vain attempt to break up the poltical caterwaul that’s been raging on Facebook since Election night, I decided to diffuse the monotony by posting the following declaration:
Unpopular opinion I firmly espouse: "All Right Now" by Free is, was, and forever shall be a shit song.
It’s a statement I do indeed stand by. I could add that the thought to post same was inspired by the song’s placement in a car ad, but in 2017, for whatever reason, that’s no longer something to get upset about (although I still do). “All Right Now” inspiring the ire in me that it does has little to do with it currently being used to sell Hyundais (or whatever).
Somewhat predictably, my post was met with varying degrees of incredulous rage from different strata of the rock geek cognoscenti I am proud to call my friends. Some poo-poohed me for my heresy, extolling the merits of the song’s fat sound -– particularly the guitars –- over the universally acknowledged crap lyrics. Estimable former Psychedelic Furs guitarist Jon Ashton joined the discussion, citing Free as a vast influence on his decision to get into music.
Overall, my opinion remained unchanged. It’s not that I hate Free. Paul Rodgers is a remarkable vocalist, although pretty much everything Bad Company did was crap, and let’s not even discuss his stint with Queen. Free were inarguably a tremendous influence on a legion of bands –- AC/DC foremost among them. I’m not decrying any of that. I’m just asserting that “All Right Now” (note that it is indeed “All Right” and not “Alright,” let alone “A’ight”) is a laborious chore for the ear. Yes, I’m sure many a pair of bell-bottoms came untethered from their massive belt-buckles to the allegedly seductive strains of this classic rock warhorse, but that doesn’t make it right. And why is “All Right Now” categorically the ONLY song any radio station plays by Free? I mean, they were together for six years and recorded several albums. Why must it always be “All Right Now”?
As a half-hearted mea culpa, I threw my haters a bone by conceding that “Wishing Well” by Free -– from their 1973 album, Heartbreaker -- was a fine song. If I’m being honest, I only discovered that track by way of a hoary cover version by The Mission, a band I was nigh on besotted with through much of the late `80s, who gave the song a suitably melodramatic goth makeover.
Looking to fortify that statement with some visuals, however, I stumbled upon this clip of Free performing “Wishing Well” (complete with helpful lyrics in the lower-third), incongruously interspersed with footage of what looks like gritty, early `80’s Manhattan. Not sure what these urban scenes -– let alone footage of graffiti trains and breakdancing –- has to do with the original Free composition, but there you have it.
In any case, being that it’s sort of in keeping with this blog’s theme, here it is.
Remember “Alphaville”? No, I’m not talking about the cloying German band that blighted the world with “Forever Young” and “Big in Japan,” I mean the film they named themselves after, that being Jean-Luc Godard’s stylized sci-fi/noir, “Alphaville,” which concentrated on the doings of ridiculously named secret agent Lemmy Caution. I only saw it once, and while I appreciated its aesthetic (later also paid homage to by Amos Poe’s cinematic punk opus, “The Foreigner,” which I spoke about here and…..er…. the video for “Linger” by the Cranberries), I found it largely dull … not unlike large swathes of “The Foreigner,” for that matter, to say nothing of the Cranberries.
In any case, a couple of years ago, I befriended a photographer named Susan Fensten (I mentioned her here), who put up this curious film on her Facebook page earlier this week. Welcome to “Betaville.”
Shot around Lower Manhattan in 1986, “Betaville” is a loving send-up of “Alphavile,” obviously, concentrating on the exploits of a secret agent named Coman Gettme (groan). For a low-budget endeavor, it does a mighty fine job of capturing the “Alphaville” vibe (itself a low-budget endeavor), using then-available bits of similar architecture to simulate the brutalist cityscape of its inspiration.
Given my predilections, I was intrigued in that it captured many elements of the downtown NYC of 1986, notably the Water Street Digital Clock (which I spoke of back here), the suitably dystopian Con Ed plant at the eastern end of 14th Street and the futuristic light tunnel on John Street (which I spoke of here). You can catch a glimpse of my friend Susan at about 5:55, painting a canvas on a then-barren stretch of Avenue B. I also felt the club scene was vaguely reminiscent of the video for “Rapture” by Blondie.
In any case, it’s a curious artifact. See what you think!
I devoted no fewer than 15 posts to its demise (see them all here), and -– in a way -– it was the story that gave this blog a purpose, but I haven’t touched on the topic of the late, lamented Cedar Tavern that used to stand on University Place between 11th and 12th Streets since early in 2015. Considering that the establishment itself closed its doors in 2006, it’s somewhat remarkable I continued to have things to say about it.
Well, this week, I stumbled upon something about it worth nothing. But first, some background…
This week is SXSW, which -– for those of you not in the know -- is acronymized shorthand for South By Southwest (also frequently annoyingly truncated to simply “Southby”), ostensibly a multi-day music festival. It started off, 30 years ago, as simply an organic indie rock festival, playing to the endearing quirkiness of Austin, Texas, but has since grown –- much like, say, the Sundance Film Festival -– into a comparatively very corporate convention that also involves technology. It may have once been a more freewheeling affair, but, by all accounts, those days are largely over. I’d love to say I remember it when it was such, but even in all my travels to Texas over the past several years, I’ve never made it to Austin. I hear it’s cool, or at least was.
In any case, SXSW is sort of a big deal for the organization I work for, so in the past several weeks, I’ve been busy orchestrating various elements from here in New York. This all culminates this week. I don’t get to go, alas … or at least not this time. However sanitized and choreographed it may have become, it does sound like a fun few days.
Anyway, in searching for some information about one of the venues in town, I spotted a link with a provocative headline, that being “New Bar with Legendary Ties Opens in Inside Long-Awaited Austin.” Curiosity duly piqued, I clicked on over when what suddenly appears before me is the Cedar Tavern’s actual, lovingly crafted mahogany bar.
Jarringly re-positioned in an incongruously well-lit and brightly tiled environment, there was the very bar that my friends and -– crucially –- my wife and I spent countless hours propping up over the years. In fact, here’s a not-at-all flattering shot of me and my friend Dave from the Gin Goblins enjoying a couple of pints against it circa 2005.
Just like the Moondance Diner (re-positioned in Wyoming) and the giant lizard from the roof of the Lone Star Café (now also in Texas, as recently discussed), it seems many of the touchstones of my favorite incarnation of New York City have moved out to the wild, wild west.
In any case, I now have a new reason to want to go to Austin, Texas.
Here, once again, is a video of the Cedar Tavern's final night in business on University Place in 2006 because why not?
I first met Mark in about 1990. I was writing for The New York Review of Records (which I spoke at greater length about here), and he was working for a music PR start-up representing some very cool shit. Most of our correspondence happened over the phone, but we met in person, one afternoon, when he swung by the SoHo art gallery I was moonlighting at (suffice to say, writing for The New York Review of Records wasn’t exactly a lucrative endeavor). Mark walked in sporting a black leather jacket with the MC5 logo on the back. He’d also perfected a piercing stare which, when executed at timely points, could render all arguments contrary to his entirely moot. His passion for music was (and remains) already encyclopedic, but the effortless aura of authoritative cool he exuded was something few else could master, whether it was by design or not.
I first met Jem at the beginning of 2006. A rare fellow adult in a crowded room full of mouthy millennials, Jem was the copy chief at MTV News Online. Without ever lording it over any of his colleagues, Jem was the type of legit music expert that could dole out a pertinent factoid about some bit of arcane minutia without having to look anything up or even furrow his brow. He wouldn’t even have to be part of the actual conversation. He could just hear a snippet, solve whatever riddle and keep moving. On my first day, he heard me humming something as I was trying to get my desk in order, and accurately identified the tune in question (the guitar riff from “Cruiser’s Creek” by The Fall). He was — and remains — that guy, and I doubt I’d have survived my two years at MTV without him.
It’s not at all surprising, then, in the increasingly shrinking realm of NYC-based music journalism, that Mark and Jem would know each other. But imagine my surprise yesterday when I spotted this article in The Record, NPR’s music site wherein Jem profiles Mark over his exhaustively obsessive — and unsurprisingly thorough, authoritative, and lovingly curated — collection of the myriad editions of The Velvet Underground and Nico.
Released only seven months prior to my birth in 1967, I didn’t actually hear The Velvet Underground and Nico until my freshman year at Denison University in 1985, when a classmate and kindred soul, Jay, told me to stop worrying about bands like Alien Sex Fiend and start investing in the real shit.
I’ve expressed as much in several posts over the years, but I don’t think it’s really too much of a stretch to say “Downtown is Dead.” I mean, “Downtown” obviously means different things to different people, but in terms of Lower Manhattan -- I cannot speak for Brooklyn -- still being a thriving, roiling, lawless hotbed of art, music, nightlife, creativity and expression, I think you’d be pretty hard pressed to make a case for it remaining so in 2017.
What? Am I wrong?
That Downtown – the Downtown of the Punk rockers, Beat Poets, maverick street artists, free-loving bohemians, etc. – is gone. The coffee houses, galleries, bars, discos, clubs, live music venues and shops that defined that Downtown have been gradually picked off over the years. Sure, a few remain, but face it – its glory days are over.
Obviously, this is not to say that Downtown is no longer desirable. Talk to your nearest real estate agent about that. Sure, the streets still exhude a bit more character than is found north of, say, 30th Street and the architecture is more interesting – or at least on the buildings that haven’t yet been razed to accommodate all things new and shiny. But if you came Downtown to capture the same essence first felt by Richard Hell or Laurie Anderson or Jean-Michel Basquiat or Ann Magnuson or RuPaul or Lydia Lunch or __________ (insert your favorite here), you probably aren’t going to find it.
But, again, it’s all relative.
I spotted something on my way to work that got me thinking about all this stuff. Affixed to several mailboxes, lamp posts and other surfaces around the southern border of SoHo was the below sticker.
This caught my eye for a couple of reasons. For a start, more discerning music-heads might recognize the design as one appropriated from the old Beastie Boys logo circa `86/`87 (i.e. their “She’s On It”/License to Ill era). While it’s not a phase of their career the surviving members of the band necessarily look back fondly on, it remains an indelible part of their story.
Secondly, there’s the legend itself: “Downtown Lover.” Now, this could either mean one of two things, specifically a self-styled Casanova who happens to reside (or lurk) downtown, or simply someone who loves downtown.
While it’s probably the former (I did some light Googling, and didn’t come up with anything), it’s the latter that resonates with me. No, Downtown isn’t “Downtown” anymore … all the cool stuff has been replaced by pricey crap, boring chains, touristy shlock, giant glass shampoo-bottle condos, cloying NYU kids and roaming hordes of shrill brunchers, but I still prefer it to other parts of town … not least in that my little family has pushed our current apartment to its limits, and we are currently looking for new accommodations in neighborhoods I never would have considered viable contenders in the past. For all intents and purposes, we very well may end up back on my native Upper East Side … a stretch of the city I shook my fist at and waved goodbye to with two emphatic middle-fingers back in the mid-`90s.
Earlier this week, whern our apricot-tinted dictator read a bunch of lies and platitudes from a teleprompter and blithely exploited the widow of a Navy SEAL whose death he eschewed all responsibility for, it became abundantly clear that bullshit is king in 2017. Truth is all subjective. Wrong is right. Cats love dogs, etc.
But instead of discussing that -– or further developments like Attorney General Jeff Sessions needing to recuse himself after being caught for lying his mealy mouth off about being in contact with fucking Russian officials during the election season --- I’m going to discuss some comparatively super trivial shit. I can’t keep banging the political drum here. I don’t expect many come to this blog for that sorta stuff. Lord know there’s enough of it elsehwere. I can’t speak for yours, but my Facebook feed is like an angry roll of flaming toilet paper these days (not that I’m really helping, but still..).
Anyway, in terms of stupid shit that pisses me off of a pointedly NON-political nature, I keep seeing this irritating headline popping up on a regular basis, that being, 12 Albums Every Dude Should Own.
Now, I’m sure writer James Sheldon -– who penned this piece a little over a year ago for a man-centric pop culture outlet dubbed GOLIATH –- is a well-intentioned and savvy gent, but there’s something about the whole premise that sets my teeth on edge.
Listen, the bottom line is this: You can’t teach taste. You have to develop it on your own. It must be cultivated via your own experience. It’s an organic process.
But, then, this piece doesn’t seem to even be about that. While, yes, Sheldon probably genuinely does harbor an affinity for these particular albums (however pedestrian some of them are), the overaching intention of the article is to provide a short-cut for “dudes” without the time or inclination to do the work themselves. It is pure affectation. In much the same way Urban Outfitter sells vinyl LP’s as do-it-yourself hipster accessories to be strewn just-so across one’s coffee table, this article is a shallow device to help “bros” create the façade of having a well-rounded, cannonical knowledge of popular music.
Sorry, but it doesn’t work that way.
I remember Rolling Stone magazine used to sell these dinky, compact-disc-sized paperback guides with a similar intent, ala “25 Crucial Rock Albums No Collection Should Be Without” (or something ridiculous to that same effect). The whole intention of these books seemed to be to coax commentary from impressionable shelf-perusers. “Ooh, Dan, you’ve got albums by The Flying Burrito Brothers, Brian Eno AND A Tribe Called Quest -– You’re so ECLECTIC!!!”
Obviously, the best music journalism is the kind that illuminates and informs. While the deliberately negative stuff can be fun to read – let alone much easier and tremendously more fun to write –- composing thoughtful, evocative prose that credibly evangelizes music in a manner that prompts genuine reader interest is no small feat. But in those rare instances, I dare suggest that it is solely about the listening experience, and not even remotely concerned about contriving some sort of instant semblance of esoteric taste.
Indeed, whet their musical appetites, but prompt them to seek out and discover for themselves. By all means, write about music. But do it because you’re legitimately moved to share the life-enriching pleasure of that music with the uninitiated, not to help lazy dudebros make the right impression with a “Get Hip Quick” scheme.
ADDENDUM: It occurred to me, shortly after posting this, that had GOLIATH simply titled the post "12 Albums Every Dude Should HEAR," I never would have thought twice about it.
At some point in the summer of 2005, I hastily changed the name of this stupid blog from the frankly ridiculous House of Vassifer (which, essentially, meant nothing) to the equally stupid Flaming Pablum. In the ensuing twelve years, I have been repeatedly posed the following query:
“Dude, fuck does that even mean?”
It’s a fair question. As I attempted to explain here, I just sorta came up with it as pretentious shorthand for needlessly provocative -- albeit poorly composed -- writing. The fact that the name seemed pompously verbose, knowingly contentious and self-deprecating all at the same time made me fleetingly chuckle. For better or worse, the name stuck, and this blog has been saddled with it ever since.
While not quite as consequential as, say, choosing a permanent tattoo or naming a child, the fact that I made the decision so blithely without a great deal of thought has continually caused me embarassment. When my wife or friends of mine infrequently cite my blog in conversations, I sheepishly downplay the whole thing. Having to explain its stupid name (despite the fact that said moniker appears nowhere in its URL … which is also kinda problematic) always makes me privately groan.
In any case, a friend of mine recently shot me a screengrab from Twitter (not a social platform I really spend any time on, although I do have an account). Evidently, the phrase “flaming pablum” was used in a tweet by an indidivual named J. Doyle in a context that has nothing to do with my silly blog.
Now, this could mean that I’ve effectively penetrated the zeitgeist and my blog’s title is now part of the common vernacular … or it’s simply a coincidence.
While it's true that the fabled giant-sized reptile that formerly held court on the roof of the Lone Star eventually ended up in Texas, for a little while, he was somewhat inexplicably re-located to a TriBeCa pier just off N.Moore Street (where the Yankee, a since-disused Block Island ferry, was docked). Here's photographic evidence of same, which I snapped at some point in 1997.
I was very sad to learn, this morning, about the impending fate of 140 West 24th Street.
You may remember a post from a little over year ago here about an obscure hardcore punk venue at that address called The Plugg Club, which had fleetingly played host to bands like the Misguided and, more prominently, Sonic Youth. Well, as explained in that post, the Plugg Club was basically just a synonym for The Red Door, the fabled original venue of rock visionary, Giorgio Gomelsky.
A tireless music fan, scene-maker, songwriter, producer and manager (he counted the Rolling Stones as early charges), filmmaker and all-around-hepcat, Giogrio Gomelsky — who passed away, last year — was famous for exuded an ageless appreciation for rock n’ roll in its many permutations, setting up the Red Door as a haven for the similarly inclined.
140 West 24th is being razed. The development company who owns the building and its neighboring structure say there are no current plans about what will come next, but one can help feeling that it’s inevitable that a gaudy condo will shortly sprout up in its place.