Saturday, April 23, 2005

Little bit of soul, little bit of pop


Plimsouls-beer, originally uploaded by Cool Auntie.

When Johnny Ramone passed away, I read in quite a few of his obits, a reference to an interview he gave about the origins and influences of the Ramones music as being not at all influenced by or reflective of Black music - not a trace of R&B. Just dorky white guys doing power chords. And I love the Ramones. I love their music. I think Tommy Ramone was a genius producer.

But, I do think they hearken back to the Phil Spector era a bit, and if you're gonna reference Phil Spector, you get Ronnie the combination. But I'm not here to pick a fight over the Ramones music and what informs it. (However, if you are scratching your head over the Phil Spector reference - he DID produce a Ramones album, and also - just listen to any number of early Ramones songs - "I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend" is just one example of Wall of Sound guitars. Pop melody...it's all there!)

What I've always been attracted to in music is the way a new band doing a new style or genre references its antecedents, its influences and its likes, regardless of if those elements are even germane to their genre.

Take The Plimsouls. Are they punk? Are they pop? They're just a rock n roll band that wails with the fervor of Little Richard, and they executed their vision with all the punk DIY attributes.

I remember when I submitted a bunch of live photos of the Plimsouls to my semi-regular Rock Scene column and told the editors and Lenny Kaye, "Doc Rock," that a good indicator of a band's possible trajectory lay in its choice of covers. I was astounded by the Plimsouls covering the 60s pop hit, "Time Won't Let Me" at a time when other up and coming bands were covering Stooges songs. I also liked Peter Case's real musician/troubadour background and his wide-ranging sensibilities that embraced a lot more than may others making music at the same time.

It all comes back to the fact that in addition to being an energized, often angry genre of music, punk itself was a zeitgeist - a cultural revolution that mostly involved a new way of doing music, of creating a bond among outsiders within this new paradigm that rejected the mainstream, corporate and overblown thing that rock n roll was becoming.

I'd pinpoint rock n roll's demise and the rise of punk attitude with Rod Stewart starting to date Britt Ekland, moving to Los Angeles and releasing "Atlantic Crossing." Stay with me (yes that is a pun!) for this... Rod Stewart was a tax exile from his homeland, England. He was in a couple of the most credible and cool bands of the British rock era - the Jeff Beck Group when it boasted Ron Wood on bass, Beck as the sole guitar player and Micky Waller on drums, doing blues covers and original songs in an updated way that still remains the sine qua non of British White Boy Blues. And then Stewart fronted the Faces who were a dirty garage version of the Stones, but also a real blueprint for future hipster bands like The Replacements and the Georgia Satellites. But I digress -- that record and Stewart's immigration to America as a tax exile represented to me that rock n roll was a business and no longer a close, personal friend and ally.

Punk changed that. And since Johnny Rotten name-checked Rod Stewart as one of the musicians guilty of making rock bloated and old, I feel quite supported in my assertion that Rod Stewart's "Atlantic Crossing" killed the original spirit of rock n roll. The Rolling Stones and Led Zeppelin were on that famous Johnny Rotten list - "No Zeppelin and no Stones in 77." Sorry Johnny..... no more Pistols in 78!

Anyway - the Plimsouls. They had the good musical sense not to reject the good music that preceded punk. They covered it and let their writing be informed by it, whether as a stepping stone or a reference point.

The Plimsouls were always one of my favorite live bands. This photo was taken in a supermarket in Culver City one day when we took a lot of photos. They were playing the Jefferson Bowl that evening and the day was spent making photos. A black & white version of this photo was stapled to every tree and telephone pole in LA advertising a Plimsouls gig. Its a pretty funny pic - but you should see the others from this session. The Plimsouls were the most fun to make photos with! They were just always themselves.

And I think that's the key to Peter Case's longevity as a true artist.

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