Friday, January 30, 2009

Riffzzz and Dunkzzz, Wk. 2

I'm a bit pressed for time this week, so I apologize that I'm not doing my standard 4 entries for each. But duty calls and that duty pays $13 an hour whereas this duty barely provides any validation whatsoever.

The Riffzzz

I will never understand the appeal of Aerosmith, including the Aerosmith that existed prior to 1985 when they still hated each other and were stoned most of the time. Their music is a big gaping yawp of mediocrity. Ted Nugent also occupied this well-populated no-man's land of 1970s AOR schlock but he at least had the decency to dress it up in some crazy proto-Straight Edge wild man act. So, I can only infer that weed was just far more plentiful and potent back then, because being high is the only way I can begin to speculate that enjoying Aerosmith is possible. Which might explain why half the cast of characters in "Dazed and Confused" had such a hard-on for them (take it to the 2-minute mark).

Nowadays, Aerosmith ride a wave of prestige simply because Rick Rubin and Run-DMC had the generosity to include them in what would have been a hit anyway. Even so, I suppose I should be grateful for one thing Aerosmith has done.

Black Flag is always a tricky scenario. "Damaged" and "My War" are all classic, as are their early singles "Nervous Breakdown" and "Jealous Again" and without their herculean touring efforts indie bands would still be relegated to big cities on the coast. But by 1984, lawsuits, shitty gigs with even shittier pay, and the sparks resulting from Henry Rollins and Greg Ginn's monumental egos all converged to turn Black Flag the band into Black Flag the pyschotrauma. The band had always been outsiders, but after kicking Chuck Dukowski out of the band (who, it turned out, happened to be the calm center holding it together), the sense of outsiderdom inflated into a parody of themselves. Self-debasing humor had always made Black Flag approachable but by 1985 Henry Rollins only seemed interested in how antagonistic he could be (very) and Greg Ginn was only interested in how slow they could play (again, very).

People used to make fun of me for liking Steely Dan, saying that the only people who liked Steely Dan are tweekers and dad's, but more and more I'm finding that the tide is turning in my favor. That whole crypto lyricism masquerading as genius? Steely Dan were there years before Stephen Malkmus even graduated from UVA. Jazz inflected to a fault, the Dan pretty much stopped touring in the late 1970s since no one could ever get their compositions just so in a live setting. This is from their earlier, more pop-rock phase, but nonetheless features some great guitar playing from session player extraordinaire Elliot Randall (though this version features Jeff "Skunk" Baxter and Denny Dias, who would stick with the Dan through the mid 1970s). Also a rare sighting of their long forgotten singer David Palmer, who Robert Christgau once famously declared "fit in like a cheerleader at a crap game". ALSO: dig on the Bill Cosby intro.

The Dunkzzz

Like Daryl Dawkins before him, Shaq is a big dude with a penchant for breaking shit. He's also, at this point, such a fixture of American pop culture that it's useless trying to talk smack about the guy. Yeah, he's not great from the field but he's working on it. Dude has got a rap career and a thirty foot bed, so step off.

Similar to Shaq, Barkley has become such a ubiquitous figure in sports thanks to his second wind as slow on the uptake commentator that I sometimes forget that ol' Chuck even played. Nothing special here just a two handed jam with some serious authority. I figured I owed him a break since we saw him get taken by Jordan last week.

I always thought Rodman was a punk, even if he had a crappy childhood.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Beyond Dischord: DIY Punk, Pop and Ska from DC - The Bowlcuts

Being from Washington, D.C., I often get asked by people what the scene is really like down there. Obviously, institutions like Dischord, Fugazi, Fort Reno and dc space draw huge interest and the assumption is that D.C. is literally teeming with angular punk bands who release a record or two and then break up.

The reality of this is far less glamorous. Though a few bands, such as Black Eyes and Q And Not U, put out quality records and played fairly often while I was in high school, it was nevertheless difficult to not think that Dischord's halcyon days had passed them by. Even so, a new generation of kid's were picking up guitars and forming bands, though for the most part no one in the older, more politically radical Dischord scene seemed to notice (though Hugh McElroy from Black Eyes was always a friendly face in the crowd.).

For these kids, some as young as 14, ska became a rallying point and DC Ska was its online base of operations (the DC Ska that exists now seems to be a reboot of the old one, and as such doesn't have the same content, which is a shame). A ton of bands, such as the Nothing Squad (who's break up was the stuff of many ridiculous message board flame wars), the Nackles, the Konami Code, thrillHOUSE, Plan Nine USA, Brent's Life Sucks, Ready Steady Go, the Gamma Rays, Die Cheerleader Die, the Alphabet Bombers, etc, etc. Later, most of these bands would go on to form the nucleus for a far too self-serious Screamo/Hardcore scene in DC, with bands like Rue the Day, the Bear and the Butterfly, Mass Movement of the Moth, and others rising from the ashes.

For the next few weeks, I'm going to be digging through my box of crudely made CD-R releases and posting some of the best examples of these bands for any one who wants it. If anyone from the bands I post has a problem with this, please let me know and I'll pull the mediafire links.

This episode - The Bowlcuts (and yes, I was at the advertised show)

The Bowlcuts were sort of an anomaly when compared to their contemporaries in other bands. Most kids either came from the MD suburbs and went to public school or were from DC and went to either Georgetown Day, Wilson, or Field. The Bowlcuts (with the exception of their original drummer, Tommy Long) went to the incredibly well-to-do (and super snooty) St. Albans School and Landon School for Boys. If you cut them, they would bleed blue. They were also not nearly as politically engaged as other bands were, instead sticking to what they knew best: being a teenager and being lovesick. With a minimum of cajoling, they'd even play your prom (God, why, why can I not find any photos of Visi Prom 2003?).

Though the Bowlcuts played pop-punk, it would be a disservice to say that they followed in the harsh-sugary path of So-Cal bands like Pennywise, NOFX, blink-182, and Bad Religion. Rather, the Bowlcuts sound was more informed by girl-groups, the Dictators, the Ramones, the Misfits, Screaching Weasel, and the Queers, as well as mid-70s UK pub rock. That a couple of 16 year-olds were able to distill these influences into their sound and not sound at all like 16 year-olds is still impressive several years after their dissolution.

I saw the Bowlcuts probably ten times, and they never failed to disappoint. They were known for their impossibly skinny jeans and their predilection for standing with their legs spread as far apart as humanly possible. Owen Baker, rather than sing in a nasal whine as so many do in this style, sang in a deep voice with shades of Weezer's River Cuomo and Glenn Danzig. Their first record, Step Out is pretty impressive for a a debut, and features a couple gems like the rollicking, sub-minute "Natalie R." (would love it if someone else posted some footage) to the pure pop of "Judy, Judy." Though there is still some apprehension throughout the record (Tommy Rossi's vocals are kind of all over the place), it's never the less a pretty strong debut.

The Bowlcuts - Step Out! (Self-Released, 2002)

Their second record, I Don't Wanna Talk About It takes the strengths of the their debut and runs with it. The guitar playing is much, much tighter this time around and the vocals from both Tommy and Owen are much more confident. Also, I'm not sure if he appears on the record but at this point they began to play with Nick Popovici (who also plays with The Max Levine Ensemble and apparently ska stalwarts the Pietasters) and is a much, much stronger hitter than Tommy Long. Songs like "Harlequin," "Tiger Lily," and "Walking After You" are all great, great pop songs with strong hooks, while "I Don't Wanna Go Home" and "I Don't Wanna Try" resurrect the bratty bop of the Ramones (that's Bepstein and Spoonboy of TMLE in the video. Can you tell how incestuous this whole scene was?).

The Bowlcuts - I Don't Wanna Talk About It (Self Released, 2002)

The Bowlcuts went on to release (I think) one more EP called "Welcome to Eadsville." It further polished their sound but I never liked it as much as the first two because Owen made the decision to start singing in a really uncomfortable sounding high voice. I think there's also a demo CD of later stuff they did with keyboards that my ex-girlfriend has. As far as I know (and what Facebook tells me), Owen is living in DC after having finished school in Boston, Tommy Rossi is also back in DC after some time in Boston, while their bass player Jonathan was, last I heard, at Columbia.

I definitely have some photos of the band kicking around, I'll work on scanning and uploading them so we can all have a good laugh.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Oh Shit, It's Riffzzz and Dunkzzz Wk. 1!

We get this rolling with a bang here on Oh Shit History's first week of the sickest riffzzz and the most devastating dunkzzz (yes, I do spell these words with three zzz's). Let's just jump right it. YES!


In terms of sheer brilliance and technical clout, Michael Jordan still goes unmatched in my opinion. I've been completely disinterested in watching full NBA games for almost five years now (with the exception of the Golden State Warriors 2007 playoff run) but there was a time when I would obsessively watch the Bulls simply to watch MJ do ridiculous things with a basketball. This is a man who can be forgiven for Space Jam and forgiven for what he did to the Wizards front office simply because of what he could do with a basket ball

This is one of his less remarkable dunks (trust me, he will be appearing here often), but it's still pretty sick. You can almost hear Barkley just go "Fuck it."

Spud Webb is 5'7". Manute Bol is 7'7". In this video, Spud Webb takes it to the hole over Manute Bol. Jesus Fucking Christ.

Remember in NBA Jam when you would get your power up all the way and then you'd go in for a dunk and the fucking backboard would come crashing down? Remember how cool that was? And remember how your friend told you that it could really happen and you were all like nah man, you're full of it. And then he made you watch Darryl Dawkins destroy not one, but two backboards? And all of a sudden it was as though you found out the sky was purple and chocolate tasted like poop.

1994 stands the year that I may have given up on the NBA, and if not the NBA, then at least the New York Knicks. It was a truly magical season, up until game seven of the NBA Finals. Most blame John Starks. I blame Pat Riley (seriously how do you NOT bench someone who is going 2 for 18???) Since then it's been a long, long slide into mediocrity and horrific management that seems to have somehow been excacerbated by Patrick Ewing's retirement. The Knicks have become shorthand for "expensive joke" in my mind, but hey, let's remember the good times.

What's that France? You like basketball too? Oh well, how nice. What's that? Frederic Weis is 7'2". Hmmm... Vince Carter does not seem to care. Nope, not one bit.


Before they snagged the coat tails of the nacsent pop metal explosion here in America and held on for dear life, Scorpions were actually a sort of pyschedilic rock collective, kind of how Lemmy from Motorhead did time in prog-rock would be's Hawkwind. In any case, we leave the noodling for aesthetes and focus our attention on their crowning achievement, the caveman simple "Rock You Like a Hurrican." The riff is great fuzzed out power chords, not exactly rocket science. Some resemblance to the building block riff from "Smoke On the Water". Scorpions in a lot of ways were what Quiet Riot could have been had Quiet Riot, you know, had some song writing chops (great covers versions though). A recent viewing of some VH1 horray for metal list indicates that they are still touring. Keep on rocking Klaus and Co.

It's played in the waiting room to hell.

No one did more to replace actual chops with technical wankery and faux classical playing then Eddie Van Halen, and "Eruption" is his temple to all things hammered-on. I can only speculate that the rest of the band allowed him ten minutes to jerk his whammy bar around so they could all indulge in hookers, blow, and non-brown M&Ms backstage. That scene in "Waynes World" where Wayne begins to play "Stairway to Heaven" only to be stopped mid-strum by his employee friend and shown the sign reading "NO STAIRWAY TO HEAVEN" got it only half right. It should have read "NO ERUPTION."

There's no arguing the fact that J. Mascis is an amazing guitarist. He's also an asshole. "Our Band Could Be Your Life" did more to advance the pyschodrama that was Dinosaur Jr then any one could have imagined, even leading to their completely unexpected reunion (seriously, unless Murph was really hurting for some cash. . .). Don't get me wrong, I like Dinosaur Jr but I'm not passionate about them. Part of that probably has to do with the fact that I didn't graduate from Amherst or UMASS in 1991, but it also has to do with the fact that I always found the whole Mascis' detachment masquerading as genius so fucking stupid. But the guy did (allegedly) throw it in Uma Thurman, and fellas, if this guy can get laid, then it goes without saying that hope spring eternal. So let's give credit where credit is due. Their cover of "Just Like Heaven" is pretty riffy, featuring all the usual Mascis tricks (new wave shimmer next to garbage truck distortion.) and Barlow hilariously shouting NO throughout the chorus.


Tune in next week for more objective criticism of badass riffzzz and sickass dunkzzz

Wednesday, January 14, 2009


Wha'Happened indeed!

See this is always the way with blogs and myself. Start one up, lose interest. It's a vicious cycle, to be sure.

So, dear reader(s), where have I been for the past five months you ask? Well there was the move to Somerville, the market tanking, Obama,the job search, the lady's birthday, trivia, the market tanking some more, Sarah Palin, a few bikes, Obama, temping, leaving the messenger industry, some more job search, birthdays, karaoke nights, sleeping, eating, OBAMA, sickness, health, RockBand, real band practice, my birthday, dinner parties, and an assortment of other things that you won't find to interesting (mostly involving a busted washing machine and a disinterested landlord).

But I'm back (sort of). I promise I'm going to do a better job keeping up this blog.

One interesting thing that I've done recently is I've submmitted a proposal for 33 1/3. They do open calls every year and a half or so, where at least 50 to 100 people submit proposals for records that were either released either a) less than ten years ago (Animal Collective, the Hold Steady, Girl Talk, etc, etc), b) by the Talking Heads sometime between 1977 and 1983, or c) in such a small quantity that there is legitimate debate as to whether this artist really exsisted. Thrown in there are some actually deserving artists that deserve to be written about. Here's an excerpt from mine of The Nation of Ulysses' Plays Pretty for Baby:

What ultimately makes Plays Pretty for Baby an interesting and worthwhile record though is the profusion of ideas that run through it. It works on so many different levels that one can never grow tired of listening. On one level, the record is a tongue-in-cheek send-up of the early 1990s indie scene. The often hysterically funny youth revolt jive talk in both their lyrics and liner notes can be seen as a poke in the eye of hardcore and punk’s (especially the D.C. punk scene) often overly sanctimonious peachiness. On another level the record is a fiery protest record, with both barrels aimed at a politically bankrupt society. The song “The Kingdom of Heaven Must Be Taken By Storm” isn’t so much a metaphor for rebellion so much as a blue print. Yet on another level the record is a Situationist critique on political radicalism itself, turning their efforts at subversion into a cryptic spectacle of abandon. As their liner notes point out:

Political Objectives/Target Audiences: Wreck society through direct action by destroying its institutions and the men who serve it, and by relying on the people's forces to spread the doctrines of "P-Power" and "Ragnarok." To consolidate the New Nation, while never forgetting the need for constant purging, as the nation shall resemble a self-cleaning oven.

On the one hand, the band was dead serious. On the other they’re laughing all the way to their graves.

Additionally, The Nation of Ulysses articulated the idea of a rock band as something more than just a band while simultaneously lampooning the idea. The Clash presented their band as a romantic group of outsider ruffians and early Scritti Politti dabbled with the concept of band as collective, but the NoU took these ideas to their logical conclusion by declaring themselves a sovereign political entity and even going so far as to announce their succession from the United States of America. As Svenonius noted in an early interview, “The Nation of Ulysses is basically about a shout of secession. We don't want to be involved with the United States and the structure that exists. We've introduced a whole new form of currency that takes its form in garbage.” This sense of band as a nation, diametrically opposed to the United States, in many ways provided a tangible spiritual connection to the black culture they celebrated, from Parliament/Funkadelic to the Black Panthers as well as a tongue in cheek critique of rock bands as rebellious figures. What could be more rebellious (or more ridiculous) than a sovereign nation that supports Latin American guerrilla movements such as the Shining Path and declared American youth to be an oppressed class?

Do I think it has a chance in hell of making it? Maybe, I don't know. Two people in the comments section have noted that they'd buy it (Bill Fox notwithstanding), with another noting that there needs to be more punk rock repped. I'm debating making some sort of comment, but I think I'll withhold. I think it could sell alot of books, especially if marketed through Dischord, where there is a built in audience for stuff they've released over the years. In anycase, I think it would be an interesting and fun experience.

Oh and if you have any comments about my proposal, I'd love to hear them.

Other than that, I'm back to my day job: fearlessly dicking around on the internet and occasionally doing some research for a certain academic.