Friday, September 14, 2007
Let Me Stand Next to Your Fire
Los Angeles punks The Lamps in the burned out rubble of the south end, Memphis, TN - 2005
I am reminded of this Jimi Hendrix song title because on this date, September 14 in 1814, Francis Scott Key wrote "The Star-Spangled Banner" after witnessing the British bombardment of Fort McHenry in Maryland during the War of 1812. Because its the National Anthem of the USA, I think people mistakenly believe that its a Revolutionary War song. But it isn't. It is the song Hendrix played at Woodstock that put another notch in his gimmick belt (after the flaming guitar at Monterey Pop Festival, 1967), and that became the ironic yet defining symbol of protest against the war...making youth culture seem unpatriotic, or at best, irreverent (well, we were and still are).
Like most wars, the War of 1812 was complicated and although the US was the nation that declared the war (on Great Britain), I have to say, there were some British acts that I'd have to side with...specifically British military support for Native Americans defending their tribal lands. And let's see, the United States also tried (unsuccessfully) to invade Canada...dumb moves. But hey... I just live here because I was born here!
In some strange and QUITE roundabout way, the national anthem, the misplaced understanding of its origin and stupid wars started by first world superpowers begs the question - at least to me - What's the best city in the world to live in if you're a rock n roll animal of the punk rock variety? Is it in the USA?
The USA has indeed done some dumb things but it IS the birthplace of rock n roll - right in the heart of our own magical fertile Delta - along the banks of the Mississippi River (the other magic and fertile delta is over in the Mideast - the land that all religions like to claim as their own homeland where, let's see... the US is in some other dumb war all the time...not just now.) That "Studio" pictured above is Sun Studio of Sam Phillips, Cowboy Jack Clement, Jerry Lee Lewis and Elvis Presley fame. Memphis, Tennessee, along the banks of the muddy Mississippi, next door to Mississippi itself - both places are the homeland of Elvis. Memphis, the city where Martin Luther King, Jr. was killed, the city where Elvis died, and Jeff Buckley too. It is rich in culture, history and music.
New York, the City that never sleeps, was my home for nearly 20 years (all during the post punk era). NYC was the hot spot in the early days of American punk rock.
NYC spawned the New York Dolls, Patti Smith, Television, Richard Hell, the Ramones and Blondie, the place where punk rock music called home - CBGB... but if that isn't enough, it also was the place where the Velvet Underground, some punk rock progenitors, to be sure, were born amidst the Warhol Factory days.
Sunny California is my birthplace, and my base of operations nowadays. Often overlooked during punk rock's first 25 or so years, Los Angeles gave punk rock so many of its seminal and lasting voices - X, The Germs, Weirdos, Bags, Minutemen and hardcore in general.
I think the palm trees really do us a great disservice when it comes to punk rock credibility... what's great for the movies is not so credible in punk rock.
But like NYC, LA stays up all night too... and Canter's, the Fairfax Avenue restaurant is also a center of operations for all who "hang out" after hours and make a scene. In this city that gave birth to the noir genre, the underlying darkness in this sunshine is precisely the inherent juxtaposition of feelings and values that gave birth to the venting of frustration that is the core of so much punk rock.
I have never been able to make up my mind between Los Angeles, New York, Chicago, London, Paris, Memphis and Nashville. So I just keep traveling between them.
There are some fantastic cities perfect for extended sojourns - Detroit and Cleveland, two great, world class music cities that are cursed with extreme weather.
Cleveland has the great distinction of being the first stop by the Dead Boys on their way to NYC and CBGB infamy and notoriety. Youngstown is the industrial pit stop that gave the world Stiv Bators.
And since we are on the topic of FIRE... those wild and crazy days in London when Stiv and I were roommates with a post-Hanoi Rocks Michael Monroe... I can't tell you how many landlord complaints arose from their love of burning candles to the point of being known as pyromaniacs...
And since we're on the topic of Stiv... there was a man who could turn any town into a rock n roll city. He could sniff out any scene, and before long, would have the locals wrapped around his little finger. Of course, he would soon do something to make him have to move... but its all part of the itinerant gene pool that's in every rock n roll animal.
I guess there is no one city that's a better home for rock n roll than another. Because like life, a town is what you make it. And that's the heart and soul of the DIY thing. Don't like the scene? Make your own. That fire you want to stand next to is your own!