The Stash Dauber and I Team Up to Evaluate the Threat in Jim Jarmusch’s Stooges Documentary GIMME DANGER

I have been quiet of late: teaching, reading, and worrying about, then recovering from, the election have kept me plenty occupied. However, a recent visit with my fond friend and fellow music obsessive Ken Shimamoto (aka “The Stash Dauber” on Blogspot) resulted in an idea we had fun with a long while back when the Velvet Underground’s Quine box came out: reviewing something together. That something was Jim Jarmusch’s Gimme Danger, a documentary about the legendary Michigan band The Stooges. We both had high hopes (both of us have played–in Ken’s case, still plays–in bands that have covered Stoogesongs, and both of us worship the band’s best work), we both lamped it Saturday night, and we met on the Innertubes yesterday morning, afternoon, and evening to evaluate it. Below, I reproduce his transcript of our conversation, as well as cut in (in segments) the intro I gave for the film at Ragtag Cinema in Columbia, Missouri; it is no piece of scholarship–as always, with me in these matters, it is an explosion of enthusiasm–but perhaps worth entertainment and minor enlightenment to you. Thanks to the Ol’ Dauber for keeping us both focused on the light yesterday!

At the end of a week that knocked lots of folks for a loop, my buddy and Missouri teachaholic Phil Overeem and I both had the chance to view Jim Jarmusch’s new Stooges documentary Gimme Danger and put our heads together via intarweb chat to share impressions. Here’s the resultant chinwag.

Ken: I thought Jarmusch did a good job, appropriate to the material. The MC5’s story was a big story with heavy socio-political significance. The Stooges’ was a little story about young guys growing up together through music. Iggy performed the same role in this as Wayne Kramer did in MC5: A True Testimonial, which is appropriate, because Ig’s a good storyteller. I like that Jarmusch stuck to “family,” with no Dave Grohl/Slash commentaries. James Williamson and Kathy Asheton added interesting sidelights. Steve Mackay and Scott Asheton both looked ravaged and didn’t have as much to say (although I found Scott on Dave Alexander particularly poignant), but they belonged in this. I would have liked to have seen more Danny Fields, but he has his own doco now, I guess.

The big question in my mind going into this was what would Jarmusch do visually, given the paucity of footage (James Williamson told me, “Film stock was expensive and not worth wasting on us”). The synced footage from Cincinnati and Goose Lake that everyone has seen on Youtube was used well. There was some better quality vid of a performance from the Ron era without sound, and some B&W footage without sound from the ’73 Academy of Music show in NYC that I didn’t know existed. Jarmusch used a lot of photo montage, and employed animation to illustrate some stories in the same way the Beware of Mr. Baker filmmaker did. I thought the visuals supported the story well.

Phil: I can’t disagree with any of that. Jarmusch had some serious technical limitations as do so many directors trying to do similar things, and I was hoping he’d be a little more imaginative in overcoming them, but the movie seemed to swing metronomically between talking Ig and content, talking Ig and content, talking Ig and content. Plus clip-recycling and animation (which I admit I found amusing), which are like check-boxes. Also, a little light on L.A. And stretching a short story into a novel, so to speak. I enjoyed it, but it dragged a bit. I love your point about the band as family. That was a major strength of the film.

Ken: By L.A., I presume you mean the “death march” time after Raw Power. Some folks, I reckon, are disappointed there’s not more about the drugs and debauchery. I figure they can read Please Kill Me. The story I was interested in was how these absolutely typical American kids went about becoming a band, and what happened after. I liked that Jarmusch started at the end — kind of like Sunset Boulevard with Bill Holden “narrating” the story facedown in the swimming pool.

Phil: Well, I certainly wasn’t craving drugs and debauchery (I know it well), but for a general audience it’s certainly part of the story, right?

Ken: I don’t think they glossed over it. There weren’t a lot of stories, but it was acknowledged in the context of the band’s deterioration.

Phil: It seemed pretty minimal compared to the reality, to me. But not a huge deal-breaker, true. Also, how did you feel about Ig’s discussion of Bowie’s role? That combined with the stock footage of the plane taking off to Europe made an interesting statement.

Ken: I think it was fairly accurate. At that point, Bowie was as manipulated by De Fries as anybody. But he definitely gained cachet from the help he rendered to Lou and Iggy. I think Ig showed nice humility — and perhaps, self-awareness — in allowing them to skip his entahr solo career until the reformation.

Phil: I thought about that. Jarmusch was wise to just jump that (for the most part–there are a few vid clips from that time) for scope’s sake. We are agreeing for the most part on the content; I think my disappointments were technical and structural, though I too like the way he chose to open. I have been struggling with the question, “Well, how would he have done it differently?”

Ken: I’m glad it exists to bring all of that material together in a coherent way (because I hate watching shit on Youtube). And I still have my grainy Nth generation VHS of Cincinnati. I think it was important to do it while as many of the cats were still living as possible. Ron passed relatively early in the filming, but they did get some good material with him. It wouldn’t have been possible to make a great film like MC5: A True Testimonial or The Kids Are Alright because the Stooges just weren’t filmed that much. Prior to 2004 or so, no producer would have countenanced the making of a Stooges doco. Luckily, Ron told his stories lots of times to lots of folks, so his side of the story is well documented.

Phil: That, to me, was so fortunate: to get Ron’s and Scott’s takes. Also, I was very impressed with Williamson. To your last comment: yeah, that’s part of my struggle in trying to suggest a more imaginative approach–it’s just that I have put so many docs under my belt in recent years I found myself calling the next move. BUT the most important thing is to get it all in one place, coherently, with relative artistry. He did that.

Ken: I like that Ig and Scott gave props to Dave Alexander, and I found the bits on the making of the various recs to be useful.

Phil: I suppose he could have, ala Julien Temple, provided more musical context for what they were doing, instead of mostly the IMMEDIATE context of the MC5 and VU and free jazz. What about the crap that made The Stooges such a shock? I also agree pretty completely with you about keeping the commentary in the family, but it might have been nice to have a few more old dogs other than Danny to record what it sounded like fresh. Was expecting more story on the making of Funhouse, but maybe what was said was the main thing.

Ken: It’s a fan’s document, but still a more coherent narrative than The Kids Are Alright. Most of the people who will see this know the story, from Please Kill Me and From the Velvets to the Voidoids. Not to mention the Paul Trynka and Bob Matheu books. The crap — from Fabian to manufactured flower power — was addressed.

Phil: Yeah: a fan’s document. OK, maybe I disagree a little that the film is just FOR the fans. I mean Jarmusch has his own following that might conceivably not know much; there were several such in the audience. I asked for a show of hands. But Fabian was long past and flower power was waning anyway. Confessional singer-songwriters?

Ken: “Marrakesh Express.” I think you’re correct — they focused on main things. It was longer than I expected it to be. To make a movie of viewable length, excessive context is dispensible. They could have made a longer film crammed with more minutiae, but that wouldn’t have served the Stooges or the viewer any better.

Phil: I initially understood your phrase “fan’s document” as meaning “Jarmusch’s document” but you mean more than just that.

Ken: I mean a telling of the legend for people who already love the Stooges.

Phil: Yeah, I think that was what he was doing, but shouldn’t one reach a little further, at least? I am thinking now about what WAS in there that could have been cut…There will be, I am sure, the inevitable bonus material.

Ken: To your comment about going from Ig to visual, I think that’s why the animation was added — to break the monotony. The best use of stock footage I’ve ever seen was in the Howlin’ Wolf doco. But then again, in comparison, Wolf was filmed extensively. Mike Watt was his loquacious self, and reminded me of the Wylde Rattz thing that Ron talked about when I spoke to him in ’99. (BTW, I hated Velvet Goldmine.)

Phil: I couldn’t make it through VELVET GOLDMINE. Watt was a burst of energy into the proceedings, and THAT was a great example of the occasional details that even solid Stooges fans (like me) might not have known–the genesis of the reunion. That might have been widely circulated, but I missed it. Further example: the band’s decision to just stay in one place when they went on stage!!! Another highlight was Iggy serially dismissing claims that the Stooges were “rock,” punk,” etc–they just were. Surprise for me was SO much about the Five in there. I knew it would be there, but not so developed (“big brother – little brother”).

Ken: I’m not sure it’s possible to make a person under 40 understand what it was like before everything was available all the time. Or what the draft was like. It’s like, I’d dig to see a doco about Buddy Bolden that shows his importance, but such is not possible. But I think Jarmusch focused on the universality of their experience, rather than the uniqueness, for that reason. I know the MC5: ATT filmmakers struggled with narrowing the focus. It could have been a ten hour social history of ’60s America. But I think they made good decisions, as did Jarmusch.

Phil: You said, “I’m not sure it’s possible to make a person under 40 understand what it was like before everything was available all the time. Or what the draft was like.” I honestly would have liked to see a stab at at least the former, and how the latter affected their legend. Thanks for giving me more ammunition!

Ken: Part of the point is that while they were “real communists,” they weren’t involved in “causes” like the Five were. And that is addressed.

Phil: Funny Reagan Republic Ig talking about communism!

Ken: The difference between practical and ideological. “If you live in the same house, eat the same food, and share your money, you’re a communist.”

Phil: Hey, I know you hate this, but what grade would you give it? You’ve moved me up to a B+. BTW, I thought the text seemed either eye-rolling (bleeding? well, I get the connection, but we didn’t see much of that) or cheap.

Ken: I don’t have the objectivity to rate this. Although I’m not close friends with these people, this feels like a movie about people I know. My expectations of it were apparently different than yours. I’d be curious to hear what a young person who was aware of the Stooges (or one that wasn’t) thinks about it. I’m glad they included Harry Partch. I knew of his influence from Please Kill Me and Velvets to Voidoids, but still.

Phil: Yeah, the Partch segment was a very pleasant surprise. OK, OK, I am coming around further. A few times I was made to rethink the Stooges music a bit.

Ken: What I loved about the Stooges was their ordinariness. The Who and the Five looked like golden gods. The Stooges looked like me and my bad acting buddies. I could imagine them sitting with us outside the deli, having spitting and farting contests and wondering why the really neat girls wouldn’t go out with us.

Phil: That last sentence connected with part of my intro, where I stole from what you told me about Iggy seeing the other three just being lowlifes and conceiving the Stooges from that. I don’t remember you using “spitting,” but I did…and polishing switchblades, which was a bit much. They looked like bad news.

Ken: The most revealing story is about the hood-type guys Ig was “friends” with coming over to the trailer and goofing on it and his family. An example of how the anger was fueled.

Phil: Also, “25 words or less.”

Ken: Key to the aesthetic. And Johnny Ramone hating the ’70 shows because they didn’t play songs he knew. They never dwelt in the past, even when they scarcely had any material.

Phil: Where do you think GIMME DANGER ranks against similar docs where the directors had similar disadvantages? You mentioned the Wolf doc and The MC5’s.

Ken: I can’t think of one where there was such a paucity of live footage. But again — as I said starting out, I think the scale and scope was right for the story. It was more like listening to a guy telling a story, with illustrations and digressions. Which is what you could do, given the available materials. I liked the voice recordings of the Asheton kids, which Kathy told me were discovered right before her int, but after Ron was gone.

To people of the Millennial generation and younger, the Stooges don’t sound unique because there are a million bands that sound “like that” now. I think the film recognizes that such was not always the case, but I don’t know how more examples or explanation would have made that point more strongly.

Phil: We are not so far apart. One point, though, that I made in my intro was that as easy as the early Stooges’ sound seemed to be to make, even THEY couldn’t replicate it when they reunited. I don’t really hear many bands sounding like them.  I hear bands trying on that attack but it just isn’t as primitive, as id-rock, as natural-sounding. Sidetrack: another of my favorite moments was Iggy’s analysis of how they came to be thought of as nihilistic (kind of related to the 25-words-or-less vow).

Ken: The reason for that is they learned how to play. Scott says the first time they played “Not Right” was the take. They became more skilled players, but they were more creative when they were reaching beyond their grasp.

Phil: Well, YEAH, they learned how to play, but few bands who don’t know how sound anything like they did when they didn’t!

Ken: By the ’70s with SRB, Scott had become more of a four-on-the-floor drummer. On Funhouse, he’s reaching for Clyde Stubblefield and Elvin Jones. Not making it, but doing something unique.

Phil: See, yeah, that’s it. And out of what did that spring?

Ken: I think Iggy might have been the “pusher.”

Phil: The jazz. The Partch. Yeah, the pusher!!!!

Ken: Free jazz was in the wind in Detroit/A2 because of the Five, Sinclair, and people like Charles Moore. As for Partch: Ig worked at Discount Records.

It was quite revealing that they couldn’t get a band take on the first album unless Ig was in the live room, dancing.

Phil: That’s really the secret. The movie tells it, w/o clubbing you over the head. A-….

Ken: They literally learned to play on the road in front of huge festival crowds. Before that, they were…an art project. The reason they sounded the way they did is because they weren’t copying a established sound, they were playing over their heads with a variety of bizarre influences that they couldn’t possibly have replicated. And then they got caught up in the momentum of volume, adrenaline, and endorphin. I like your “not clubbing you over the head” remark. Just tell the story, and if the viewer is engaged she’ll figure it out.

Phil: Nice. I’m a little overmatched here.

Ken: I’ve been obsessed with this music since 1970. But you and I are different kinds of fans/listeners. I’m a “just enough” guy. You’re a “more” guy. It’s not a criticism, just an observation.

Phil: No, I get that. I think it’s related to my tendency to listen as a gestaltist. I do not know where that came from.

Ken: I don’t think more data would have strengthened the case.You studied lit theory? I’m guessing. I listen more…intuitively. Like a monkey who finds a transistor radio. First it’s magic. Then I listen to it all the time. Then it breaks, and I find…something else. That’s an interesting observation, and I guess I do tend to hear parts before the whole, if they are audible.

Phil: Nope. Well, a little [literary theory]. I listen intuitively, too, on a song by song basis. Certainly I respond and write that way. But I don’t think it’s from that. I want the whole to be better. But see that’s why I don’t think we’re so far apart. I don’t necessarily want more data…maybe different…and different structure. But you’ve brought me over.

Ken: Maybe I went knowing the limitations that existed, and so didn’t expect or want anything more. I think it was done coherently and respectfully. I would see it again. I would recommend it to another fan, or a novice.

Phil: Gear-shift: what year was it when you first played a Stooges song live?

Ken: I didn’t play Stooges music until 2004. No one I knew back then dug ’em, although some of the older cats I knew saw them and the Five at Randall’s Island in ’70.

Phil: “I Wanna Be Your Dog” was a staple of my first band (’85) and “Funhouse” the climax point of my second one (’90). ‘Course, I didn’t play, I “sang”–but those were cathartic songs, especially the second. Lou [Reed] was a great model for me to be a non-singer because of his style but mostly for his verbal genius. Iggy was how to do it physically, release the id, plus…25-words-or-less made the song easy to remember.

Ken: The first Stooge song I played was “TV Eye,” sitting in with a band the night the Stooges played Coachella. Two years later, we started the Stoogeband. When we learned those songs, we started with the mistakes. I mentioned before Scott said the first time they played “Not Right” (not “Real Cool Time”) was in the studio. You can hear on the take, he plays through the break after the first verse. They left it in. We learned it. The beginnings of “Loose” and “1970” are chaos that coalesces.

Phil: Which I absolutely love.

Ken: Me too.

Phil: I guess the reason I went down this road was to try to think about how the movie worked for me just from the perspective of having been in a band of semi-reprobates who could not play (except for one guitar player). We weren’t together long enough to have learned much, but we had a reunion (minus one, with a different guitar player) that sounded like the reunited Stooges sounded compared to the original, now that I think about it. The other band: everyone could play (except me), and it was all covers, and I had anger to expel and often was altered. BTW, that reunion was just a few years ago, and the drummer and original guitarist could play very well, and the added guitarist had come out of SRV into garage punk.

Ken: I always say the MC5 worked harder, but the Stooges always won. Not then, but via historical validation. I think the simplicity of Stooge songs has given them more longevity than the Five’s with the exception of “KOTJ.”

Phil: But don’t you think that’s also due to Iggy’s visibility over the last forty years? And his being taken up as an icon? By the youth circa ’90s, I should say. I am thinking that the (for lack of a better term) grunge kids were the ones who first started to bring them up to me when I was teaching. I remember, too, a couple of videos and his Rock The Vote thing with Kate Moss.

Ken: By 2002, though, as he admitted, he was out of ideas and not selling records. The Stooges reunion was many things. One was a tonic to his career. Although I like that he gave the Ashetons a nice victory lap while they were still living.

Phil: Do not disagree. But he stayed in the public eye via the reunion and some movies and constant comparative references in the rock press, don’t you think? (Still trying to explain why the Stooges–though maybe I am just talking Iggy here–trump the Five for other reasons.)

Ken: The Five were better musos, saturated with Chuck Berry and Stones when they started. That made it harder for them to do something new. Their free jazz freakouts, all released in the ’90s, do not stand up to repeated listenings well. The Stooges were barely competent, and invented their music from the ground up as they went.

Phil: Oh, I agree. Especially about that last sentence. But I don’t think THAT’S the main reason the majority of us don’t think of them as much as we do the Stooges, though it ought to be, I think Iggy has in some ways cast shade over THE BAND–another reason for the documentary to exist.

Ken: The Five’s political aspect is harder for people to grasp.

Phil: Oh, I agree with that, too. Hell THEY had trouble grasping it, and sometimes rejected it.

Ken: Too complex. The Stooges were simple. “25 words or less.”

Phil: Hard to believe Iggy is the last man standing of the original group. BUT…BUT…do you think, say, had Iggy OD’d in ’73 we’d still be seeing the Stooges on a more important level? I don’t mean you and me, because we do, I mean rockdom.

Ken: Affirmative.

Phil: I have thoughts about whether the movie illustrates a band-forming process that is no longer common?

Ken: I don’t think that’s changed much in the fundamentals. What’s changed is what they aspire to. There are more roadmaps/templates/models. Musicianship is generally at a higher level.

Phil: Which, ironically, can be a barrier?

Ken: Yeah. If you have a certain level of chops, it’s easier to copy somebody else (cf. our earlier discussion of the Five). There are “Schools of Rock” now. A few years ago, the Stooge band drummer and I went to one to teach a bunch of 10-year-olds how to play “Search and Destroy.” It was innaresting.

Phil: And you can’t go backwards in time.

Ken: Nope.

Phil: The film really does nicely nail that.

Ken: But aesthetics haven’t changed much in the last 40 years. Even forms that were considered extreme now have conventions.

Phil: Indeed. But can you pretend to not be able to play and run smack into something fresh? Anymore?

Ken: “Pretend to not be able to play” is a concept beyond the scope of this inquiry, I think. You have the life experience that’s been dealt to you. You have all the knowledge you’ve acquired that affects your ability to express yourself through whatever medium you choose. You’re influenced by all of that whenever you try to create something.

Phil: Sorry about that! I was just thinking about the odds of really NOT being able to play and innovating. I mean, can’t musicians code switch just like folks do when they talk? Today, I mean.

Ken: A kid born in 1996 can’t pretend to be Ron Asheton in 1967. Nor would he want to be, I don’t think.

Phil: I would think “a kid” might!!!

Ken: It’s kind of like “Can blue men sing the whites?” You are the product of your time and place. You perform or express yourself in a way that mirrors that.

Phil: So you’re making me rethink the early portion of the film. Slowly pushing me to the “A” by demonstrating how MUCH Jarmusch DOES get in…

Ken: Again, I’d say that given the limitations (available resources, human attention), and the scale and scope of the story (small, human, not grand and epic), I’d say he did what needed to be done. There may be other movies about the Stooges, but this will be, um, hard to beat.

Phil: I think, having seen most of his films, I was looking for more of his stamp on it. But he ceded that to getting the story right.

Ken: Like J. Mascis ceding half of his set on the “Fog” tour to Watt (and later Ron) doing Stooge songs.

Phil: And just dealing with the band-doc conventions. Humility begets humility.

Ken: You can’t make it more than what it is.

Phil: And humility is a gateway to truth.

Ken: They were pariahs who were validated by history.

Phil: Well, yeah!

Ken: And historical validation wears the white Stetson.

Note: Please visit The Stash Dauber regularly for music reportage you will not get anywhere else.

My Favorite Rekkids of 2016, 75% of the Way Through Their (not really totally) Loathsome Year (BECAUSE of these rekkids, in part)

These are the recent records (most minted in this calendar year, some not quite) that I most whole-heartedly recommend to the musical adventurer. I’m starting to hate lists, but it’s a habit, and when one is dealing with annual ones, one must stay on top of them. If you peer back at my last list-post, you’ll probably see little change, so as a bonus, I am throwing in some additional offerings that I don’t quite so strongly recommend, but that may delight you and eventually grow on me. As for purchasing them, I assume you know how to use the Internet, but in a few case where the source (sometimes the artist himself) needs a boost, I may direct you. As much as it’s possible for me to deduce it, they are in order of, um, power.

  1. Beyoncé: Lemonade
  2. Saul Williams: Martyr Loser King
  3. Tyler Keith and The Apostles: Do It for Johnny
  4. The Paranoid Style: Rolling Disclosure
  5. Anderson Paak: Malibu
  6. J. D. Allen: Americana
  7. Anna Hogberg: Anna Hogberg Attack
  8. Meet Your Death: Meet Your Death
  9. Car Seat Headrest: Teens of Denial
  10. Blood Orange: Freetown Sound
  11. Rihanna: Anti
  12. Chance the Rapper: Coloring Book
  13. Elizabeth Cook: Exodus of Venus
  14. Joe McPhee and Paal Nilssen-Love: Candy
  15. Various Artists: Music of Morocco–Recorded by Paul Bowles, 1959
  16. Bombino: Azel
  17. Pylon: Live
  18. The Drive-By Truckers: American Band
  19. Nots: Cosmetic
  20. M. I. A: Aim
  21. Wussy: Forever Sounds
  22. Parquet Courts: Human Performance
  23. Thao & The Get Down Stay Down: A Man Alive
  24. Pedrito Martinez: Habana Dreams
  25. Jemeel Moondoc and Hilliard Greene: Cosmic Nickolodeon
  26. Various Artists: Desconstrucao–A Portrait of Sao Paulo’s Music Scene
  27. Kel Assouf: Tikonen
  28. Yoni & Geti: Testarossa
  29. Aesop Rock: The Impossible Kid
  30. Mexrissey: No Manchester

THE BEST OF THE REST

[If the record’s bolded, it almost made or was previously in the Top 25; if it’s preceded by an asterisk (*), it barely made this list.]

Aesop Rock and Homeboy Sandman: Lice 2 (EP)

Angry Angles

*Bajakian, Aram: Music Inspired by the Film The Color of Pomegranates

Beatles: Live at the Hollywood Bowl

Booker, James: Bayou Maharajah (DVD)

Bowie, David: Blackstar

*Bradley, Charles: Changes

*Braxton, Anthony: 3 Compositions [EEMHM] 2011

Cavanaugh: Time and Materials (EP)

Childbirth: Women’s Rights

Dalek: Asphalt for Eden

De La Soul: …and the anonymous nobody

DeJohnette, Jack: In Movement

Del McCoury Band: Del and Woody

Dylan, Bob: Fallen Angels

Fulks, Robbie: Upland Stories

*Garbage: Strange Little Birds

Konono N1 Meets Batida

Kool and Kass: Barter 7

Iyer, Vijay, and Wadada Leo Smith: A Cosmic Rhythm in Each Stroke

Lamar, Kendrick: Untitled Unmastered

Lewis, Linda Gail: Heartache Highway

Lynn, Loretta: Full Circle

*Natural Child: Okey-Dokey

Neville, Aaron: Apache

Open Mike Eagle: Hella Personal Film Festival

Perfecto: You Can’t Run from the Rhythm

*Professor Longhair: Live in Chicago

Pusha T: Darkness Before Dawn

Reed, Blind Alfred: Appalachian Visionary

Rollins, Sonny: Holding Down the Stage–Road Shows, Volume Four

Smith, Dr. Lonnie: Evolution

*Stetson, Colin: Sorrow–A Reimagining of Gorecki’s Third Symphony

Threadgill, Henry (conductor): Old Locks and Irregular Verbs

Toussaint, Allen: American Tunes

Various Artists: Soul Sok Sega–Sega Sounds from Mauritius

Veloso, Caetano, and Gilberto Gil: Dois Amigos, Um Seculo de Musica–Multishow Live

White Lung: Paradise

Wills, Bob, and The Texas Playboys: Let’s Play, Boys–Rediscovered Songs from Bob Wills’ Personal Transcriptions

*Young Philadelphians (with Marc Ribot): Live in Tokyo

*Young Thug: Jeffrey

Ze, Tom: Vira Lata na Via Lactea

Good to My Earhole, September 17-24: “Destroy to Rebuilt.”

Highlights of my last several weeks’ listening, rated on a 10-point scale based on how close each rekkid came to making me/whether or not it made me shout. Also, many thanks to the wily music critic Anthony Heilbut and the indefatigable gospel archivist Opal Nations (at the perfectly-named PEWBURNER! website) for educating me and providing me resources!

THE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO RICHARD PENNIMAN – 8.0 – You might not be aware, but Richard Penniman is better known as Little Richard, and this comp, extracted from scarce vinyl, documents the various years during which he turned himself over to the church. It’s a more consistent and interesting listen than you might fear: he’s always fun when he’s talking (you get some testimony), he invests full feeling into well-traveled vessels like “Old Ship of Zion,” he’s a damn good preacher (“Coming Home”), and there’s a mighty thin line between sec and nonsec on “He Got What He Wanted (But He Lost What He Had)” and “Certainly Lord.” Whoever finally takes on the cross-referencing nightmare necessary to produce the definitive Little Richard comp will need to raid this.

The Violinaires: THE VIOLINAIRES OF DETROIT (1953-1968) (8.3) and GROOVIN’ WITH JESUS (7.5) – I never thought I’d ever buy a record with a title such as the one affixed to the latter release by this underrated gospel quartet, but that was before I heard their great screamer Robert Blair, who’s a hair from on par with Wilson Pickett, who once sang with the group. The former record is exciting as a result, excepting its secular tracks, though the uncategorizable Bizarro-Coasters track “All is Well, All is Well” will definitely keep your attention. You can program around those. Groovin’ (from the late Sixties) will also require your programming attention unless you dig versions of “Put Your Hand in the Hand” and “Let the Sunshine In” that Blair seems to have sat out (at least they’re back to back!), but there the quartet is backed by some very tough and funky Motor City soul players that let the street into the church a few steps.

The Original Blind Boys of Mississippi (featuring Archie Brownlee): THE GREAT LOST BLIND BOYS ALBUM – 10 – It’s great principally due to Brownlee, who with Julius Cheeks of the Sensational Nightingales was the greatest wailer in ’50s quartet gospel, without whom aspects of JB’s and the Wicked Pickett’s vocal attack (and I do mean attack) would have been missing. It’s lost because the recordings were released on Vee-Jay, a huge label at the time that collapsed into a mess and the oft-stunning catalog of which must be tied up in court as I type. But be patient and some sucker’ll sell it used for $5. Featuring the classics “I’m a Soldier,” “I’m Willing to Run,” “Where There’s a Will, There’s A Way,” and “I Never Heard a Man.” Woahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh, indeed.

Nots: COSMETIC – 8.8 – After several perusals of Natalie Hoffman’s lyrics and album art, I can assure you she ain’t happy, she looks out of windows and into mirrors frequently and stands firmly unimpressed, and the nights are seldom what she is hoping for (I know Memphis–not to mention other cities–can be that way). So I gave up on those and just rocked along to her no-wave guitar (often in tandem, conversation, and competition with Alexandra Eastburn’s synth figures), got off on her magnificently snotty vocals, and let myself get carried along by their sonic rush. They’re not ones to tarry. Oh, and the drummer’s real good. Those two facts are related.

Marc Ribot: THE YOUNG PHILADELPHIANS–LIVE IN TOKYO – 7.0 – The idea’s cute, and the players couldn’t be better chosen to execute it: apply the method of Ornette’s harmolodics, which on several releases were indeed catchier than most would expect, to TSOP: the sound of Philadelphia (with some Dayton, Ohio, thrown in). But somehow it doesn’t catch quite catch fire–at times, and I never thought I’d say this about a Ribot project, it’s boring. The structures of the original songs, maybe, aren’t built to shoot the improvs into the stratosphere, and the three-piece string section doesn’t really add up to anything but a reminder of the ol’ glitter-ball. The “disco” material shows off Jamaaladeen Tacuma as the underrecorded wonder he is on bass, but Calvin Weston sounds bored and his drums are way back in the mix. The show, really, for many who’ve been thinking about buying this, is the prospect of Ribot and Mary Halvorson interacting on guitars, and that ends up being the musical equivalent of a buddy movie sans chemistry.

DESCONTRUCÃO–A PORTRAIT OF THE SÃO PAULO MUSIC SCENE – 9.0 – From the liner notes, album art, and the compilation title, the featured artists’ mission seems to be “destroy to rebuilt” [sic].” Set up to be blown up are samba (of course, but they clearly LOVE it), jazz, rock, Afrobeat (!) and “most of all MPB” (that would be “musica popular brasileira). Sound familiar? It does to me–but it doesn’t sound quite like tropicalia. The energy’s not as zany, but it’s a good bit tougher, more serious in its mission, sounds to me. The vocalists can’t match the litheness and beauty of Veloso, Costa, Ben, and Gil (a tall order, that); on the other hand, the music compensates, if this makes sense, with a euphoniousness that often ranges further outside of Brazil than its famous predecessors’. Case in point: a few of their jazz ideas touch down in, oh, about ’65–not in bossa nova territory, but New Thing’s. A scene to watch. Now if I could just understand Portuguese I might know if they’ve got something to say about their government and economy.

Dead Moon: “Black September”/”Fire in the Western World– 10 – A perfect 45 from the lovable folks at Voodoo Doughnut that captures the garage-punk trio at their peak, at a ’93 Satyricon concert on their home turf. Neither cut’s on the recent Record Store Day release, either.

Good to My Earhole, September 2016: TYLER KEITH AND THE APOSTLES–DO IT FOR JOHNNY! If ya got any guts!

THE highlight–THE HIGHLIGHT–of my last week’s listening (and that’s including Rosetta Tharpe, The Kinks, and The Electric Eels), based on a 10-point scale coordinated with my inability to quit playing the record:

Tyler Keith and The Apostles: DO IT FOR JOHNNY – 9.5 – You know what I think about a lot? Rock and roll (it used to roll) sprang from the other side of the tracks, sounded really dangerous, and skipped a lot of school, so to speak. That’s why it has meant so much to me, from the age of 13 to now, people. These days, it’s predominantly ‘burby or downtowny, makes nice (boasting credentials from the James Taylor 2.0 I’m-Sensitive-So-Lay-Me School), and studies its vinyl collection until 2 a.m. Which is why my eyebrows touch my scalp when I hear about a new Tyler Keith release. A church-raised, working-class Mississippian, Keith forged his previous bands, the Neckbones and the Preachers Kids (their records well worth your quest), into units that had too much Watts-Richards rhythmic spring to be stuck in the garage, and too much post-punk disrespect and dissonance (epitomized by Tyler’s snotty but passionate Richard Hell-goes-to-Popeye’s vocals and always-unruly guitar) to ever break college-rock. Those categories are pulverized now; it’s all a crapshoot, a REAL crapshoot, which is why you should just trust me and check out this release. Do It for Johnny is keyed to the title song, the greatest anyone will ever write about The Outsiders (and it ain’t just fandom–you might have noticed some socs vs. greasers cultural ruckus lately, or maybe not, and Tyler’s consciously tapped in), and kicks off with the class-conscious “Criminal Gene”–what current young white band of note do you know would admit to, describe fighting against, and just fuck it and give in to, such a characteristic? Like Mick, only with less care and delicacy–that’s a compliment to Tyler–he has no fear of a tough ballad to change the pace (“Dangling on a Wire”). He impressively shows off his Spanish on the narco-rocker “Vaya Con Dios” (the idea of a God’s never far from this man’s mind). He exposes imagination for the terror it really is on a sneaky, wildly rocking green-eyed monster song. He essays a less romantic, poor man’s versions of Springsteen’s “Backstreets” (the deceptively titled “Bright Side of the Road”). And he and his crack, sleazily loose band go out on a crime-beat Leiber-Stoller tribute that supports the old adage, “Tell the truth, then run.” Final temptation on the sticker? It features those time-honored tensions of–really, again, battles between–sin and salvation, youthful adrenaline and mature sedation, and class and, um, no class. It’s fully loaded, the best rock AND ROLL record of the year, available right here:

Good to My Earhole, August 11 – September 6: Through Many Dangers, I Finally Posted Again

Highlights of last few weeks’ listening, rated on a 10-point scale calibrated to how close I was to falling out:

THOSE WERE DIFFERENT TIMES: CLEVELAND 1972-1976 – 8.8 – Cleveland: the secret capitol of punk rock. The Mirrors, Electric Eels (especially–trigger alert!), and Styrenes don’t go down as easily as, say, the Dolls, or EVEN Rocket from The Tombs/Pere Ubu. They care less for tunes than for abrasion and unmediated expression. But I wonder if it that wasn’t the point. And John Morton and Craig Bell still have tricks remaining up their sleeves, or sticking out of their back pockets, lit.

Marion Williams/THROUGH MANY DANGERS–CLASSIC PERFORMANCES 1965-1993 – 10 – As a member of the Clara Ward Singers, her pure power and emotional range pushed the gospel group format to new heights. Little Richard caught her “wooooooo” and put it to, shall we say, a less pure use. And she just got better, as this #AnthonyHeilbut-curated collection demonstrates. The final track, simply a moan, may put every gospel cut you’ve ever heard to shame.

The Greenhornes/SEWED SOLES – 8.8 – To my ear, they’re the Dwight Yoakam/Robert Cray/Tom Petty of the American garage. They have the form and the style mastered. They put feeling and care into their work. They are smart enough to work in changes of pace (here with an assist from Holly Golightly) among the many riffs. And while they seldom set off a fire ripping through the range, their commitment makes for tough, soulful listening. A great compilation that got lost in the shuffle during garage-punk-gunk’s cometic moment.

James Carter/CHASIN’ THE GYPSY – 10 – If you want to check out a relatively recent swinging jazz record that ain’t museum-musty-dusty, and if you want to witness maybe our most contemporary mainstream master at his apex, before he went on cruise control, go no further than this. It’s mostly Django Reinhardt tunes, with originals that tip their hats to his legacy, but rather than try to recapture that fleet guitarist’s breezy flourishes, chunk-a-chunks, and exciting shifts, Carter just sets off multi-reed fireworks–some of them M80s, others spinners, still others with colors and noises you’ve not heard and seen before. Come to think of it, flourishes abound–but they’re more like hurricanes. And while, according to a vaunted expert, all tribute albums suck, they don’t when there’s the right balance of love, deep knowledge, and irreverence. With cousin Regina Carter on furious violin and Jay “Astral Weeks/The Black Saint and The Sinner Lady” Berliner on guitar. Try to resist the zany, headlong, near-impossible momentum of the title cut, and try not to be seduced by exotic “Oriental Shuffle.” Double-effin’ dare ya.

Michael Kiwanuka/LOVE AND HATE – 8.3 – This young man projects a serious Marvin vibe.His pipes aren’t quite THERE, but he can project, he can write, the production is sensitive, moody, if a tad nostalgic, and it’s certainly of the moment, if you get my drift. I put it on for what I thought would just be background to grading, expecting it to merely whelm me–and he kept catching me up short with understated lines and choruses. I don’t want to get fooled like I feel did with Aloe Blacc, but this kid seems to be coming from a deeper place; I am not sure Blacc would risk something as direct as “Black Man in a White World.” What do you think?

Black Flag/WHO’S GOT THE 10 1/2? – 9.5 – The Who of the hardcore world (tough guy up front delivering sly-guy guitarist’s heartfelt, angry, antagonistic, ridiculous, audience-aware words) deliver their LIVE AT LEEDS. Funny how often when I NEED this band I turn to this. Great song selection, unchained six-string, maybe Henry’s last great sustained (recorded) moment on stage.

Apologies to White Lung, Dorothy Love Coates, Delaney & Bonnie, Ruth Davis, and White Lung–I ran out of time and energy. I hope to catch y’all on the rebound.

Good to My Earhole. August 10. Kama Sutra and Bondage. I give! My safe word: trumpets!

Jason-Derulo_Talk-Dirty_Cover

Highlight of my week’s listening–yep, that’s singular–ranked on a scale Thich Nhat Hanh’s teachings forced me to use:

Jason Derulo/TALK DIRTY – 9.5 – Okay. First, the sheer dam-bustin’ daily flood of music makes it impossible to hear everything right when it comes out, so get off my ass for just now bringing this up. Second, though I was apprised of the excellence of this should-be-illegal album long ago…well, look, I am a 54-year-old white dude, and it seems of shaky grace for me to be carrying around–or actively and avidly listening to–a record that has a cover like this one (I have a habit of picturing myself in the position of artists, and I collapse in laughter at the thought of me walking in ol’ Jace’s shoes there, or through the songs). Then I found out he’s involved in those…talent shows. HOWEVER–I decided to take the plunge for gits and shiggles. I have been feeling my age and mortality of late, and maybe I was questing after a jolt. Who knows? Too, I’ve always dug black music barely more than white (that distinction is slowly being erased, and bully for that), Al Green’s my man, so, as Sam Peckinpah wrote, “Let’s go–why not?”

I am helplessly in love with this record! Each of the first four songs are augmented with fabolous, tweak-ready, ALIEN noises: Balkan Beat Box-isms, what sounds like a toy flute, synthesized trumpets (?), corny oldsters Snoop and 2 Chainz, thonkin’ bass. Plus, besides singing ok, Mr. Derulo has a sense of humor–bondage and Kama Sutra? The lyrics are mostly dumb, but when I listen to it as pure music, under the guidance of Mr. John Cage, it’s irresistible. Maybe his Haitian heritage helps?

There’s a Black-Eyed Peas moment (still, though, pretty much an up, given our times), and some yawny semi-slow ones, but–returning to a nod above–no one who dug/digs classic era Al Green has a right to scorn this. Jason does NOT have those pipes, but the package is so physically stimulating you can’t afford to miss it. Like I wrote posting the title song to Facebook, “Uncle!” Let me up! I hate strip jointz, but long live bubble gum.