This one was a pleasure. Please read.
-D. M. Collins
This one was a pleasure. Please read.
-D. M. Collins
Valentine’s Day is coming up, and love is all around us. Some of my friends, including a couple former lovers, have even gotten engaged in the last few weeks. Though I’ve been living happily for a couple years now as some kind of quasi-poly-loner-bachelor type, this season always makes me question what it is I’m looking for when it comes to romance. And I think I can boil it all down to a punk song I first heard when I was about 14 years old.
Of the hundreds of thousands of songs that have influenced what I like about music, probably more than half are about dating and relationships, anything from “Feel Like Makin’ Love” to “Be My Wife.” Many of those use “love” as a mere canvas, a quick subject matter to scream about or lay dance beats over or solo across; others of them, more direct, have spoken to me about love and lust with crystal clear realism, like Aphrodite whispering into my ear while rubbing my buttocks with a Mosrite fuzz pedal.
But those songs are about being in a dating situation, or falling out of one; few songs have inspired what qualities I look for in people I want to date. Especially in my youth, when I was on a limited budget and you couldn’t hear whole discographies for nothin’ on the internet, this song by the Rezillos was the tune that made me realize, hey, this is what I want, and I should go out and look for it, much like “He’s a Rebel” or “You’re So Square (Baby I Don’t Care)” might have spoken to some buckeyed youth in the golden age of teen pop:
I guess you could say this one really molded me, mwah ha hah!
Though the Rezillos were only about 15% – 22% female at any given time, and she didn’t sing lead on this one, this song is perhaps the most joyously egalitarian, matter-of-fact-ly feminist, and casually somewhat-sex-positive song about male-on-female attraction I think I’ve ever known. It’s all about getting turned on because your girlfriend makes art! She actually creates something meaningful out of her life instead of, I dunno, hanging out on the arm of a male artist, playing the groupie role that many female music fans probably felt was their only entry to rock in the pre-punk era. Okay, I know, it’s still a silly song about romance and lusting after a girl, but c’mon, it’s awesome, and so refreshing after thousands and thousands of songs about women that could be any woman, as if love’s context didn’t matter. This was the first song I may have ever heard, outside of maybe “Lovely Rita, Meter Maid” that celebrated a woman for her occupation!
God, you just have to love punk rock, warts and all. Note that the male character in the song is neither jealous nor tries to boast about his own similar creative endeavors–he’s very content to praise his gal’s talents for their own sake. Compared to more serious punk bands of their time, the Rezillos were considered high camp. But the teenaged me detected no irony in how the narrator places his baby’s sculpting skills far above her “pouting lips” or “curvy hips.” He even brags to the world on how “she killa dilla,” goddam it! What does that even mean? He’s so egalitarian that by the end of the song, he can barely talk.
I discovered this tune on one of Rhino Records’ amazing, truly influential D.I.Y. compilations: The Modern World – UK Punk II. Before this series came out, even just hearing pre-hardcore punk that wasn’t the Clash, Ramones, or Sex Pistols was exceedingly difficult in a burg like Tulsa, Oklahoma; I’d read about these bands for years in books at the library without knowing what they sounded like, and this was my first time to hear them all in one place. I vividly recall finding this tape for sale, used, in a counter display case at Mohawk Music–this was probably in 1993, just when my late-onset puberty was in full swing. I got pretty much the whole series and played them all the time, mostly on a Fisher-Price tape recorder that I kept in my Ram Charger, since it didn’t have a tape deck. Every band, every song in this series was mind-blowing. Though X-Ray Spex might have inspired my own self-direction more, and the Adverts’ “One Chord Wonders” inspired how I wanted to play music, “Good Sculptures” taught me real qualities to look for in someone else when trying to complement my life.
And it’s informed who I have dated ever since; my life is far richer because of it. Thank you, Rezillos, and Rhino Records, for helping make me this way. That’s not bragging, nor am I even saying I have overall good mate choice: I’ve dated people, short and long term, who weren’t right for me, who were too innocent for me, or too clever, who left their clothes all over the living room, who took lots of my money, who tried to hurt themselves, who saw the mean and stupid parts of me and just thought they’d be mean and stupid back rather than tell me (or leave). I’ve dated people who stayed with me for far too long because they had no idea how to quietly back away from my own rudeness and immaturity. And this is true: I’ve been socked in the head by nearly every girl I’ve seriously dated.
But hey, man, at least I got the art! I got inspiration, and I got to enjoy a birds-eye view of so many creative processes. I can think back with such joy, and completely undeserved pride, on the albums my lovers have recorded, or the books they wrote, stores they opened, photos they took, planet they saved, ribald performances they titillated with, audiences they made chuckle, essays they published, DJ nights they rocked, urban fruit trees they harvested, shows they organized, videos they edited, kink they celebrated, wigs they wore … even just karaoke songs they were bold enough to pull off! Even at my most miserable and least desirable in a dating capacity, I’ve kept my eyes focused on the creative ones. And it’s never let me down, at least not on the level of my… soul, for lack of a better word. And as for one night stands? Well, at least I think I’ve done pretty good about not fucking anyone who doesn’t have books.
So yes, yes, thank you Rezillos. And thank you, you talented ladies and gents from my past. Ayy-ai-addy, addy-oh! If you ever wondered what I ever saw in you, it’s all because you does good sculptures. Yeah.
Keep doing ‘em.
-D. M. Collins
P.S. You know who else seems to have been inspired by this song? Opus from Bloom County!
It was a busy month for me, not just with writing, but with a lot of life stuff. I’m just now getting around to posting about our most recent Rrose, which is sheer negligence on my part, because these were some of the best writers we’ve had yet.
It was particularly special to have David Markey, an acquaintance of mine I’ve known for a couple years and who’s made some of my favorite documentaries of all time, including The Reinactors from a few years back. Here he is, reading a chapter from his and Jordan Schwartz’s new book, We Got Power!, a collection of essays, photos, and xeroxed flyers from the days in the very early 80s when these two young kids were putting out the definitive punk fanzine that celebrated L.A.’s burgeoning hardcore scene and the golden greats of Quincy and Three’s Company with equal enthusiasm.
My favorite part here is when he just goes into a huge long list of all the bands that played at the time, name after name after name, making his memoir veer temporarily into a realm that, for me, evoked one of those “I’m just going to name a bunch of cool things I like, all in a row” braggadocios favored by MIKE the PoeT. That said, you can see in the clip how effective it was in getting the audience to perk up and listen. Mere lists, especially long ones, can sometimes have more overwhelming magic than thoughtfully arranged poetry. Perhaps that makes Dave a “lexicon devil?”
It’s going to be Ogden Nash’s birthday, and you know what that means: wacky witticisms will abound, like poached eggs nicely brown’d.
And this time, we have a headliner: Stephen Kalinich, who recorded a fantastic album of poetry in 1968 with Brian Wilson, and also contributed many wonderful songs to the Beach Boys. Most of them have an almost child-like innocence, or rather maybe a defiant, radical optimism and sense of hope. But this one, co-written with Dennis Wilson, is anything but innocent; do you know how hard it must be to make Mike Love sound sexy?
Anyway, come out August 19th to the Hedgehog and see all these amazing writers, poets, memoirists, etc… Martin Matamoros, Paloma Alexandra Parfrey, Earnest Pettie, Marianne Stewart, Gabriel Hart, Erin West, Susan Burke, Katie something-or-other, and myself.
Come on July 7 at 3 p.m. to the Hedgehog in Echo Park and see a full house of fierce literary talent! A Rrose Is a Rrose has everything, from poetry to confessional autobiography to music criticism to a marvelous idea for a new video game.
In the late early mid-90s, I, along with a girl name Charlie, my friend Claire, an artist named Mike, our young mascot, Nads, and a couple other ne’er-do-well rebellious young teens, put out an anonymous zine at Tulsa’s Booker T. Washington High School called “Butyraceous,” a funky-sounding name meaning “having the salubrious qualities of butter.” Witty, eh?
We filled our little rag with cartoons and insults making our teachers look like they were smoking crack or saying naughty sex stuff, and were on the cusp of suspension for about a year. But really, for me, it was less an excuse to be rebellious and more a chance to write about whatever I wanted and have a vehicle to get people reading it. There’s nothing quite like shock value, secrecy, and thumbing one’s nose at authority to get other teens interested in what you have to say.
And I said more than a few things in Butyraceous about Marta Estirado and the Lepers. Today would be Marta’s 35th birthday, and I really wish she’d have made it this far: she never got to see the movie she wrote be shown as a completed film, and I would have liked to have her visit me again in L.A.; the only show I think we got to see when she visited me the one time was a Misfits tribute band (albeit with Bobb Bruno in the band).
By the end of her life, she looked and acted a bit like a burnout, and it was sad: sad for her, but also sad to my many friends who seemed to have forgotten the gleam in her eye and the raw wit she brought to Tulsa’s newly thriving punk scene in the 90s. In the role of band leader “Dina Leprosy,” she played possibly the most artistic role in any punk band in Tulsa at the time, a role that no one has, to my knowledge, ever taken upon themselves to imitate.
And that’s a shame, because in a town full of hardcore and noise, plus some ill-fated ska sounds, the Lepers were on a whole ‘nuther level. They weren’t afraid to go there with costumes, makeup, melodies, and a kind of comedy that the Kids Who Never Learned to Color Inside the Lines just weren’t clever enough to imitate—sure, the Kids had funny lyrics, but the Lepers had oddball backwards-masked words, and a little self-referential love for National Enquirer headlines, and even a love for throwing strange Jell-o concoctions on their audiences. It was almost psychedelic, but darker and Gothier in a way that the actual Goths in town didn’t exactly recognize: here was Alien Sex Fiend and Siouxsie Sioux and Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark recycled into something that, to this day, over twice as old now as I was then, I still recognize as genius (and this link is to one of their least creative songs, sadly the only one on YouTube).
And fuck, I wish I had more than just old memories to enjoy from Marta’s grand life oeuvre. Here’s my contribution to her brief but potent scrapbook: a review of the Lepers’ show at Ikon on April 22, 1995, which I wrote for Butyraceous under an assumed name. If I have the dates right, I was 18, and a very immature 18 at that! Marta got a chance to read this, many years ago; if somehow I’m wrong on the whole atheism thing, and she’s floating around the cosmos or flitting about in the wiring of walls and short-circuits of cellphone batteries, I hope she takes the time to read this again, youthful grammar mistakes and all.
The Lepers’ Show: Big Pussy
I knew the April 22 Lepers show at Ikon was gonna be good right from the start, when singer and bassist Dina Leprosy confided to me “My drummer’s drunk as hell, my guitarist’s had a few beers, and I’m whacked out on Mini-Thins. We’re gonna suck!” After handing Dina some Welch’s Grape Jelly I’d managed to sneak in, I was practically licking my lips in anticipation of the upcoming show.
The Lepers came on stage looking like their music sounds: they wore bright make-up, carefully Vaselined hair, plastic trashbags, and facial scabs. They did their repertoire amidst the booing and jeering of the several, somewhat-trendy, young punksters in the pit, who seemed to be having a thoroughly good time. The Lepers, of course, responded between and in the middle of their songs, with several witty insults and comebacks (excluding the unwitty drummer Matt Taylor, who kept chanting “Big Pussy!” all night for no apparent reason).
My favorite part of the show was near the end, when I started getting really sick. Perhaps the grape jelly that Dina/Marta had thrown all over the floor, the punkers, and my face was making me nauseous. Anyway, I was being jostled around by all these mohawked young urchins, and I got the urge to vomit. I was going to try and suppress this urge, when I remembered these two Grateful Preps standing by the front of the stage. These guys had forced me out of my spot by the front and weren’t even watching the band, so I felt they deserved whatever they would get. I held my bile until I got near the closest Yagaboy and then heaved as hard as I could. I got his shirt and shoes, and the two preppies left the club. Success!
To wrap this review up, a Lepers show lives up to the hype of ’76 punk. Without sounding like the Sex Pistols or the Clash, the Lepers follow the original punk credo of experimentalism, originality, learning in public, and creative musical destruction. They probably don’t care as much about these things, however, as they do about expressing their emotions and generating manic fun. A Lepers show is both a musical and energetic event that just has to be experienced to be explained. So, to all those out there who like punk or profess to liking it, you want to check out the Lepers. For those of you who don’t like punk, go see a Lepers show, or shut the fuck up!
I should have done this as a full essay, but I’m still very proud to have singled this out for attention. It’s easy and convenient for reviewers to say inflammatory things like “This makes the Buzzcocks look un-needed and unnecessary” but I almost believe it after hearing the amazing CDs I was sent from Drag City! And by the way, they sent them to me on CD-R and packaged separately… it was kind of weird! Guys, please send me a full box set with liner notes as a thank-you? Please oh please oh please?!?
Out of the waving wheat that sure smells sweet comes Ignacious with another great review–this time his focus is on PiL and their opus Metal Box.
Public Image Limited Concept Albums:
(1 of 3) – “METAL BOX”
Metal Box’s overrunning importance today, when issues as to the health of Mother Nature and planet Earth are smothered by interested money about Healthcare and Retirement, urges us to return to simplicity, to be conscious of the garbage, but not to abandon hope outright.
This album is important now, and it will be in the future, after the adjustment of immortality.
ALBATROSS: A First Image
Albatross (the first symbol in which are contained all of the ensuing symbols) – The matter is set out for us of the reality of perdition, injurious to itself, the albatross, first symbol in the sequence, converging into the no-concept concept, and as I can show, the concept for this and the following 3 albums is effluent and rife. Doom is unfriendly to us – the constituents of form interpenetrate each other, and if you listen to any cunning recording, over and over again, such as Metal Box, the repetitious chords hammered out by Levine will offset the inflection, and often comedic cadence of Lydon/Rotten.
“If I wanted to, if, I run away…..”
The fact that we all experience death while alive, but that only a tiny fraction are able to transcend it ad hoc by way of the satanic attunement, is quite plain to me as I listen to Albatross, the first track on metal box that we must have a basis, a starting point, call it the albatross twinkling in the eyes of Satan, of God and all his angels.
“You make me feel ashamed at acting attitudes” Obviously it is a reference to his mother’s death. Death is elusive until we stop looking for it, and if an artist or musician is lucky, he can position himself by returning to the origin of the theme, and create a sequence, a cipher signature; and this is the soul of memory caught in the twinkle of the eye.
“Slow Motion”, the first words of the sequence. Caught in the Grinding wheel, Satan is entrapped in his accoutrements. Paul the Apostle said, that “We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, – in the twinkling of an eye – when the last trump is played, —this sets the groundwork to dismantle the Metal Box for what it has been shown for.
Some get caught in the twinkle of the eye, and are lost forever like the Albatross, and that twinkling is an eternity. But to some, it is merely a particular instant, a nothing, not the end at all, but, as it is here, a beginning. (The burdensome, heavy breathing.) “I know you very well, you are unbearable. Whatever his religious views, Lydon typifies the albatross with it’s languid pioneering, asleep “on the crest of the wave, sowing the seeds of discontent”.
The three albums (Metal Box, Flowers, and Commercial Zone/This is what you want…) I believe, aside from being some of the most ingenious creations in music history, are made all the more conceptual and vivid through poetic cadence and use of natural imagery. Lydon perhaps was not a skilled singer, but his poetic genius made me a fan of the genre for life.
Now, I have only a smattering of knowledge when it comes to what shaped the ideal of the ancient Greek and Roman mind, but using what little I possess, I intend by way of this writ to show the rivers of Hades that thread the album with myth and legend that I attune from listening to the album Metal Box, by Public Image Limited.
I am using, for point of reference, the Metal Box track sequence, and not the one used in the Second Edition.
The Rest of the Story
Memories – The psychic recognition of death and immortality we come into possession of as we grow through adulthood into maturity – Here we see our utter dread of it all. The joy and newness of love is turned into the pointed finger of blasphemy.
And the Albatross is our satanic recognition of the damage we have done to our world and the potential for terminal upset by way of our own technology threatening the very life of the planet itself.
Swan Lake – Swan Lake is obviously about my old neighborhood, just south of Cherry Street, and not the famous Ballet. But the understanding is of the appearance of what the song suggests, being the death of John Lydon’s mother. Like the instance where the Emperor reminded Anakin Skywalker in “Revenge of the Sith”, of his mothers death at the hands of the sand people. No one should ever have to see their mother die in a satanic vision.
“The silence in your eyes, words cannot express”……. Again, the horror of our precognition of death during the waking moments, the firebrand that is satan (our hopeless feeling of helplessness about reconciling anything whatever), approaching closer and closer as time continues, and we come to the Final Things.
“Seen it in her eyes, silence was a way, flowers rotting dead.” Why, then, do the flowers rot? We will have to approach that in our essay about the Flowers of Romance, which is also quite conceptual as I will show in the next post.
Poptones – This song is about the cult behind gaining confidence in ourselves and our own ability to create through the satanic medium, which this album seethes with throughout.
“Hindsight does me no good, standing naked in the back of the woods” Obviously “He is naked and he is not ashamed”, a total reversal of the sin in the garden of eden. (Hindsight does me no good). The return to the garden approaches. Behind is the wake of everything since the fall 7200 years ago – ahead we have no expectations, only a dread and a horror for the sins of the past, and a trillion broken machines laying in heaps everywhere about.
(Fear Of Transition) – The four-song picture
And so socialist follows. No one knows more about it than I do, but the band gives this one a heck of a chalking up. “It’s wet, and I’m losing my body heat.” Nice depiction of scenery from time to time, to give us a good picture to resort our attention to from time to time as the conversation about death and immortality goes on. The war is going on somewhere, but not here. Here, all is serendipity and calm as we drive along to music about insanity.
And then, the mockery of the conformist! Yes, yes, the will of god at work! Death and Immortality considered, what is implied? Well, we must make that money, get hired and bought so we can be famous. Although the name of the band could have a whole essay written on it throughout the albums from the first issue, I will leave that album to rest, and just address starting with this album because it is conceptual. So, I believe, are all the rest of the albums with Levene. And the Concept, being Gloom, is delicately played with by that rascal Icarus we have in Lydon, from time to time. However, Lydon’s rhythm in this song is far from optimistic. (“Armored Machinery” sic.) – Look at what capitalism and socialism have done in wake of the war, and the splitting of the earth in two!
Careering – What this song implies about livelihood is immense. “Is this Living?”
Looking for work? (Geiger-counters click-clicking); The river is the Cocytus. “Both sides of the river there is bacteria.” So the insanity of immortality resurfaces- I see Lydon with his Meningitis stare, cold, bleak – suggestive of irreparable damage. “Trigger machinery” (The water supply)
“Is this living”? and so on, on the banks of the river………..
And No Birds Do Sing – a continuation of Lydon’s imagery of the post apocalyptic river. This is Cocytus, The river of wailing. In the myth, the river is hostile to all life, being one of the rivers of Hades. Apparently it is so polluted that there are no birds near, because they cannot fly over the river, it is radioactive / poisonous.
(I like the illusion of privacy!)
The picture is one of well ordered and mowed lawns, and pruned trees, a little suburb perhaps, but the title, “No Birds”! Indeed! No Birds because the water is contaminated and factories line it on both sides, well, maybe. Maybe in a different aeon.
Socialist – And so is Socialist next. No one knows more about selfish abuse of natural resources and the endangerment of the earth better than the Russians. All I can concede from the song, because it is an instrumental, is that it is a kind of taunting of the “enemy” by reminding him of his own mortality alongside the strangeness that he will be doomed forever to a world not unlike that described in “No Birds”.
The Suit – A grim depiction of thoughtless consumption. “It is your character, deep in your nature”. This is what prepares man for the suit, the next track. Does the suit bring out the natural capability of the wearer – the good and bad capacity of a man, who is forced into the suit as a condition of his employ once the job is secured, a compromise because of an appointment to the office – the loss of a certain amount of freedom in exchange for an illusory happiness that isn’t even pleasurable all the time?
All these visions of The quasi-future, the machines, the factories, yet, in this series of songs, No Birds, Socialist, The suit, and Bad Baby – there is also the wife taking the kids to school in the station wagon, and the local gossip; People living it up, without paying one flick of interest as to what’s going on, and what is (the quasi-future) about to happen.
Bad Baby – “Someone let the baby in the car part never any reason, don’t you listen, don’t interfere”.
This is sooth certainly – Abuse, again the theme – innocence and complacent neglect of humanity at atrocities – citizens bent on vain glamour and the pomp of fame, Lydon knew all too well. (Don’t interfere!) Never Never Never Never – Ignore it and it will go away-someone is calling, don’t you listen…..The Baby in the car part is our crumbling and dying earth.
Graveyard – This is an instrumental. We consider that the theme of the album is death and immortality- what better segue way than to flash the action of the scene to a cemetery. It has a definite quality of being upbeat and hopeful – being in a cemetery we are bound to think about the soon-approaching catastrophe we are all too well aware of but know not how to commune with it or integrate, instead being left to offer myths and legends – Where are the suburbanites now? Surely they are off constructing idols to assure themelves of some greater purpose to it all.
Chant/Radio 4. These two songs are placed together and there is no section. One fades into the other, as life is assimilated into the afterlife, and the satanic attunement is full of regret, and even a concept of a suididal tendancy coming from (All you ever get is all you steal) a disgust born out of the idiotic duality of (success/failure) well apt to the regeneration of the suit earlier, and the career search that is only fraught with fear and loathing – the dirty scum of urban London – The side of London that the tourists never see. Apparently Lydon wanted to see all this, a kind of Gautama Buddha experience (every librarian has his theory), and not the pleasant attractions of the city in sin and the trappings of personal aggrandizement.
So it flows then, into Radio 4, the last song on Metal Box and the last instrumental as well. The myth behind radio 4 is the eventual reconciliation of death – placid, serene, like the wash of the ocean and the receeding waters of the tsunami.
Now give it a listen, and imagine a quasi-satanic construct sometime in the future.
Piper and Sky, a couple of L.A. youngsters, have a cool band called Pearl Harbour that’s playing out a bunch!
And now I honestly can’t decide whether they are better, or whether I prefer Pearl Harbor and the Explosions. I think they should play on the same stage. That would be fucking radd.
I’ve never seen Pearl Harbour play, but they’d be hard pressed to dance more awesomely than Pearl Harbor in her prime. Actually, I did see Pearl Harbor about ten years ago, and she’d morphed into something oddly retro and not nearly as cool as in her power pop days. Still, she could dust off the leotards and do it again!