It is July of 2013, but I wrote this in June of 2011. I am cleaning out the drafts folder on this blog, and so here we are. This post has been done that entire time, but I didn’t get around to finishing the soundtrack — I had been posting soundtracks with book reviews. But if I’m not going to get to it, I’m not going to get to it, so I might as well throw this out there.
title: Punk Rock: An Oral History
author: John Robb
other shit: 2006, Edbury Press. Ed. Oliver Craske. 539 pages plus an index and a handful of pictures.
rating: 3.5/5 safety pins
I get that the Clash is the only band that matters and all, but the thing is that I don’t care about pub rock. I like listening to pub rock, and I particularly enjoy it in pubs, but I just cannot give a shit about chapters in books that tell me which bands played in which pubs. This is important because before he was in the Clash, Joe Strummer was in a pub rock band called the 101ers, and a lot of the first-wave UK punks were hugely influenced by pub rock (Eddie and the Hot Rods come up a lot, for example). Therefore, when you read books about British punk, you end up reading about pub rock. Which is to say that this book, which aims to be an oral history of the UK punk scene and covers 1950-1984 with varying degrees of depth, started off really slow. The first three chapters were spent on pre-punk and protopunk and pub rock and glam, 1950-1975, and it took me a month to get through them. It took me two days to get through the rest.
The more oral histories of punk I read, the more impressed I am by Please Kill Me, the great book about the NYC scene. It gets progressively harder not to compare these other, later books to that one, which had a really cohesive narrative and really gives you a sense of the music and the people involved. By contrast, this book felt sort of scattered and splintered, jumping around from city to city and scene to scene. Yes, punk rock itself splintered, but while reading, I found it difficult to keep track of who was who and what the hell was going on, or even when anything happened. And with the exception of John Lydon (Johnny Rotten), who’s so distinctive and surly that two sentences out of his mouth give you a pretty good idea of where he’s coming from, I didn’t get much of a feel for the people and personalities who were around. The book felt light on the anecdotes and gossip and was almost entirely focused on the music. Nothing wrong with that, really — it’s a book about music! — but it’s odd to have read a 500-page book comprised of people talking and come away with no real sense of who those people are.
That aside, I mostly enjoyed the book. It did manage to convey how small the early scene was, how there were only ever 20 people around and one day four of them would have a band, and the next day, all four of them would be in bands with entirely different people until everyone found something that worked. It also did a good job of conveying how life-changing a force punk rock was in 1977 Britain. I found that really fascinating, because here, it was a lot more spread out and kind of slow-moving. Over there, though, there was this machine-gun attack of punk singles, and the Sex Pistols went on television and swore a lot, and it exploded all over the place. There was this media frenzy, and the labels were crawling all over the early bands hoping to sign them and make a quick buck. In the States, that didn’t really happen; punk didn’t go mainstream for reals like that until 1991, whereas in the UK it came aboveground overnight, caused some sort of mass social panic, and then went back underground. I still do not agree with anyone claiming that punk rock died in 1978, but at least I now have a better idea of where they’re coming from.
The book wound down and lost me again toward the end, when it started delving into the various factions like oi, ska, goth and post-punk. It all felt very perfunctory, maybe a page or two and a handful of quotes and then Lydon hating everything, and after something like 200 pages on 1977 alone, ten pages to cover 1980-1984 felt like a cop-out. I sort of wish the book had just stopped in 1978.
Still, the highest praise I can give a book about music is that it makes me want to listen to the music in question, and this has had me blasting 77 punk for a while now and loving every second of it. So much classic, classic stuff.
In 2013, when I am finally posting this, I see that I actually DID make the playlist. I got stuck on the commentary, because I can’t post anything by the Ruts without talking about my Rut-related Feelings. Maybe I’ll get over that and just put the damn thing up without comment. This will mark my growth as a person.
I recently said I’d post something about the Hip show, or maybe something about my adventures in Europe following around the Revival Tour, but instead I think we should talk about Bruce Springsteen.
Let’s say I have a sister, and I don’t know how old she is but I’m going to guess she’s 46. We’re not particularly close. We don’t email. We don’t exchange birthday cards. We might speak on the phone once every few years. If I find myself in the same state, I might see her at some family event.
This lack of closeness isn’t because we don’t like each other. It’s just the way my family is. If I need them, they’ll be there, and vice versa. That’s enough.
And so this sister, she was having a rough few months, the latest shitty stretch in a particularly shitty decade. I was in Michigan with my mother, drinking in some bar. I was there because her husband was in the hospital; it had been another long day in a long line of them, and every night we left the hospital and went somewhere and drank too much wine. This particular evening was my sister’s birthday, and when I looked at my phone, it was to see a concert announcement that Bruce Springsteen would be playing Wrigley Field. Without thinking about it, I texted my sister and said, “hey, want to come see Bruce Springsteen with me in Chicago? I’ll buy the concert tickets and you buy the plane tickets, and you can stay with me.” The response was instant: “ok.” And then three days later: “When is it?”
I’m thinking that a lot lately — i want to help you lift enormous things. It’s a lyric from “At Transformation,” off the Tragically Hip’s latest album. It gets stuck in my head a lot, but it’s not a thing I actually say very often, because it’s dangerous. People take me up on it, and then I’m proper fucked. People were taking me up on it when the Tragically Hip came to town a few weeks back, in fact.
gord downie, the tragically hip. the riviera theatre, chicago. 2012-11-03
Hey, friends. Been a while. I haven’t been totally remiss in my concert-going activities (just mostly remiss), but I have been 100 percent remiss in posting photos or talking about those shows. I followed The Revival Tour around for a while. [Photos here.] I went to see fIREHOSE and there are some photos but I haven’t done anything with them and am probably not going to because I have way too many Feelings about it. I even went to see the Beach Boys on their 50th anniversary tour, and made the discovery that Brian Wilson looks exactly like my Aunt Millie. There were a lot of excited white people in the Chicago Theatre that night, let me tell you.
This post is not any of those posts! This post is about Wintersleep, who I saw like a month ago. They’re a group of Canadian dudes I have trouble describing with a word other than “huge.” To stand there and listen to them live is to be filled up inside until you burst to pieces (well, that’s how it is if you’re me, anyway), and I never quite hang on to my shit through one of their sets, but in the end it never matters. In the end I sit alone on a curb, a total wreck, and smoke cigarettes until I have the wherewithal to get myself home.
wintersleep @ schubas, 2012-06-11
The draft of this post has been sitting around for a while, but the first version included photos and then a bunch of super emo song lyrics from their 2007 album, Welcome to the Night Sky. Not to put too fine a point on it, I happen to think that is one of the greatest albums ever, full of this burgeoning melancholy violence that hits me where I live.
i used to dream about saving the world / now i just dream about the holidays
i used to write so many songs for my girl / now all i think about is floating away
i think i need a vacation
So I can’t make that post.
On 24 March, I went to the Beat Kitchen to see the Menzingers, current Band Of My Soul. They put out this album, you see, On the Impossible Past, and it has been a very long time indeed since I loved a new album the way I love this one. It is their Epitaph debut, and those fucking punks quote Nabokov, against which I have approximately zero defenses, and then I had this conversation with a tattoo artist:
me: well, there are these lines of poetry in this book, where a bird slams into a window because it only sees the sky, and probably it dies. I think it’s about triumph.
artist: …maybe I’ll book you for TWO appointments.
me: yeah, that’s probably best.
So anyway, I went to the show. Openers were Captain We’re Sinking and The Sidekicks, both of whom I would go see again in a heartbeat; and Cheap Girls, whom I would not. I’ve tried with that band, I really have, because they are super nice guys and we have friends in common, but — I can’t. They drained the energy out of the room and I’m just not into it.
Then the Menzingers came on, and they opened with “Good Things” (which also opens the new record), and I let it have me.
There’s this [Tom Stoppard] quote: “we cross our bridges when we come to them and burn them behind us, with nothing to show for our progress except a memory of the smell of smoke and the presumption that once, our eyes watered.”
That’s how I feel about the best concerts. I have nothing to show for them. No photos, no words, just a visceral memory of the bodies around me, a ringing in my ears, a sore throat. Presumably, my eyes watered.
i did what i did to get away from this
cause everything that’s happened has left me a total wreck
and everything that i do now is meaningless
so i’m off to wander around the world for a little bit
Go see the Menzingers, you guys. Do it for me.
I’ve told the story before in this space, about how I went to shows and then I stopped, and then I started again. Now I go to many shows. The band that sealed the deal on starting again is this Canadian “death country” group called Elliott Brood. I don’t know what makes them “death country.” I don’t know why I went to that show. But I know why I keep going to see them, and it’s because there’s something in that melancholy that makes me achingly happy.
elliott brood @ schubas tavern, 2012-02-24
youthful hearts / get stressed along the road / and buried under all they come to know
I don’t know when I started listening to the North Mississippi Allstars, but I know why (my friend C told me to), and so when one of the many (many, MANY) emails I get about shows in Chicago said they were playing, I bought a ticket. My father used to tell me “you can take the girl out of the south, but you can’t take the south out of the girl.” I thought he was full of shit, but listening to the North Mississippi Allstars makes me rethink that opinion, that dirty bluesy sex-drenched racket that somehow brings up those frayed lawn chairs on my grandma’s carport on a too-hot day, sweet tea sweating in my hand and an ill-advised boy sprawled on the burning concrete.
So off I went to the Old Town School of Folk Music, where, once again, I decided that place drives me totally crazy. It is such a lovely room, and the sound is so fantastic, but fuck me I cannot handle sitting through a show like this one. It was just two of them, the guitarist/vocalist and the drummer, though sometimes they were joined by a mandolin player whose name I didn’t catch (sorry, mandolin player, you were fantastic!), and their opener, Alvin Youngblood Hart. At one point, the drummer was drumming, playing guitar, and singing. Well. Sometimes he drummed with giant red plastic baseball bats.
It was SO GOOD, but listen — this is a band that has like 27 songs about shaking your ass. And you want me to stay seated? RAWR. RAWR. I need to only go to shows at the Old Town School when they are sitting-down shows. Great Lake Swimmers, they are a sitting-down band. Possibly a bring-a-pillow band. I would totally see them at the Old Town School. I am going to see the Cowboy Junkies there in April, and I expect I will probably be sobbing too hard to stand up, at which point a seat will be appreciated.
Anyway. I have no pictures (again: RAWR), but go watch this video of them doing ‘Shake’ and then commiserate with me about the cruelties of the fates who kept me from shaking what my mama gave me. Then go see this band.
According to the conductor Sir Thomas Beecham, “the function of music is to release us from the tyranny of conscious thought.” And I don’t know about you guys, but my conscious thoughts have been sort of over-the-top tyrannical lately. I spend a lot of time these days trying to get out of my own head, not only because sometimes my conscious thoughts are unpleasant, but also because my subconscious thoughts are way more interesting.
And so, in search of oblivion (or at least some respite), off I went to see Flogging Molly, where I assumed the crowd would be full of drunken Irish punks good-naturedly singing along to songs about booze, hard times, and getting fucked over by The Man. I am happy to report that in this, I was entirely correct. I didn’t quite manage to get out of my own head, though, partially because I forgot my phone at the house and was supposed to meet people at the show and I was really, really twitchy about being so disconnected. WHAT IF THE ZOMBIE APOCALYPSE IS HAPPENING WHILE WE’RE SHOUTING ABOUT DRUNKEN LULLABIES??? Lesson: Maybe I should leave the house without my phone more often.
the devil makes three @ the aragon ballroom, 2012-02-18
The last time I posted, it was to share my awesome rock & roll lifestyle report from 2011. I was like, 2012 is going to be even better for live music!
Then I moved.
I think maybe I mentioned my Secret Project. The time has come!
The 2011 Rock and Roll Lifestyle Report
by pam, aged mumbledy-something
I want to make a really long post explaining myself, but the explanation is that I like going to concerts and I like data collection and analysis and visualizations. There is this guy, Nick Felton, who puts out an annual report every year. It is this beautifully insane, beautifully rendered look at all the minutae of his life: how many dinners he had, where, with whom, what he ate and drank and how much it cost. On and on it goes. It’s amazing. For a few years now, I’ve been thinking I’d like to do something sort of similar, except you really have to work up to that kind of thing. It would be easy for me to get so consumed logging my activities that I didn’t actually do any activities.
At any rate, I figured that since I already keep track of the shows I go to, it would be pretty trivial to collect a bunch more data. I’m pretty pleased with the results, if I do say so myself.
check it out!
download the pdf.
It’s two pages. Mostly it was done using google spreadsheets / charts, Photoshop, and then InDesign. I also had some help from wordle. I think it is self-explanatory, but let me know if you have any questions. Or comments, for that matter — let’s make next year’s even crazier!