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Friday, July 21, 2006

Carrying the Torch

The Dead Boys, punk pioneers from Ohio who took NYC by storm and made it, and CBGB their own. They are in the pantheon of punk rock for me. Of the few times The Dead Boys reunited since their implosion, they have always reunited with the original membership. In 2004, The Dead Boys reunited, and instead of finding a guest vocalist to perform their set in Stiv's place, Jimmy Zero and Cheetah Chrome took over vocalist duties. Yes... people would have gladly stepped in to sing on Stiv's behalf, but apart from the normal occurence of a musical friend coming on to guest anyway, The Dead Boys are the The Dead Boys: Stiv, Jimmy, Cheetah, Blitz and Magnum. To me, that's what carrying the torch is all about. Carrying on.

I have mixed feelings about the Germs playing again. Mostly because Darby Crash was the focal point, the draw and the one whose lyrics seemed to galvanize the band's popularity. Without him, its just the Remaining Germs and an actor. Of course, their playing together again will work hand in hand to promote the movies currently being produced about them - two that I know of, and they are naturally name-checked in any documentary that includes Los Angeles punk rock. And that goes on to invoke that two dollar set of words: "the scourge of postmodernism."

I wouldn't exactly call the Germs playing together again carrying the torch as much as I would classify it a commodification passing as an homage with the participation of the honorees...could Jacques Derrida or Jean-Francois Lyotard have dreamed up such a thing!

Its difficult when you see your own life and times become cultural shorthand...but I guess that's postmodernism for you.

Those who built the phenomenon, the "brand," if you will, that is known as punk rock are still around and many are still viable contributors. I mean...the elders of this movement are only in their early 50's....

Like Sex Pistol Steve Jones, who spins records on Indie 103.1 in Los Angeles and always answers questions about what it was like being a Sex Pistol, but more than that... shares his tales with his listeners, and has some great punk rock guests on his show. Thank you Jonesy for keeping the vibe and spirit alive!

One of my greatest double-edged discontents is that punk rock is big business. On the one hand, it has afforded me a modicum of a living, for which I am grateful. I still find it odd that the period of my misspent youth is lionized in the annals of popular culture. Just like the dead and gone Darby Crash, my beliefs coincide with those of the Existentialists...that experience can only be personal (not general) and that meaning is created by the individual, reader or denominator, not an author or narrator. I guess that's why I've always liked "Rashomon" type narratives, oral histories and documentary films.

The trend toward aggregating bits and pieces into an understandable and somewhat condensed whole has grown in popularity over the past twenty years... the pop culture product equivalents being the boxed set of music (of either one artist, or a box of compilations)and the genre-defining documentaries (such as "The History of Rock n Roll" - so expansive that the market could support not one, but TWO series of the same! one by PBS [disclaimer: i worked on it] and one by the Time Warner concern). On a business level, such aggregation has lead to the rise of companies to produce these products and shape the landscape of popular culture, and by extension, the tastes of those who consume it.

Many of us remember the campy K-Tel Records commercials - they (as well as the Time-Life collections) were compilations of the hits of an era or epoch. Back in the 70s, a wonderful little record store in Westwood, just down the road from UCLA, where I attended college and grad school, was the go-to place on the west side for people like me who wanted obscure records or the very latest from UK punk rock bands, as well as our home-grown ones. That store was Rhino. The owners, Harold Bronson and Richard Foos were real characters and total music devotees. Gary Stewart, back then a store clerk, sold me all my punk records, but more importantly, recommended to me many records and bands that are still dear to me The Jam.

An aside --- Paul Weller remains one of my favorite artists today. He has grown as a songwriter and performer, and I don't care what anyone says about white guys doing R&B.

OK - back to Rhino. Their growth was an organic one and I feel that they alone lead the way for so many other companies like them to specialize in providing niche audiences with music they love. Sometime in the late 70s, Rhino started releasing records. I remember among their first releases was a single by Wild Man Fischer. I still don't know if it was an inside joke, but that single is one of my prized possessions as is "Its Gonna Be A Punk Rock Christmas" by Harold Bronson's ad hoc band The Ravers (and it now goes for quite a lot on eBay, or so I've heard). And in time, Rhino was putting together compilations - all a labor of love and licensing, but they were THE LABEL for lovingly re-issuing chestnuts in beautiful packages. It was the dawn of a new era. Now its kind of the norm, with just about every label digging deep into its archives to breathe new life into old materials.

In the 21st Century, however, Rhino was consumed by its distributor and its ownership and management have moved on. Warner, who bought Rhino is quite fortunate, I think, to have bought together with the company and its assets, assets that can't be quantified, such as the good will of its name and imprimatur, the hard work, and the reputation of its creators.

The same thing happened with Miramax, the indie film distribution company and producer. The Weinstein brothers took many risks and combined both high and low culture offerings and helped forge the rise of The Independent Film. Why wouldn't Disney want them? Of course, the lesson there is sometimes the renegade whose work you love to watch is not the renegade you want to work with.... ha! I think I'm one of those kinds of renegades, actually.

Now... for some au courant news of another band carrying on. I just read a story about the Yardbirds, one of my favorite groups of the 60s, and how they are still going at it - and with the blessing of Jimmy Page and Jeff Beck, the two Yardbirds guitarists who matter most to me. I don't know if the new material is going to be up to snuff... I'll have to wait like everyone else. What else are Jim McCarty and Chris Dreja going to do? They have always been Yardbirds. Carry on, gentlemen, carry on.

Finally....for you reissue fans out there, please check out these two labels/distributors. I can vouch for them. I personally know the guys (and gal) who run them and they're music lovers and quite possibly the last of the honest men. Get Hip, Sundazed.

happy weekend

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