An Apology To Richard Hell

Posted in Music with tags , , , on February 18, 2018 by johnbuckley100

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(With additional apologies to Adrienne Grunwald for appropriation of her photo)

About a month ago, we wrote about the 40th anniversary release of Richard Hell & the Voidoids’ great Blank Generation. In an overly long appreciation, we took a swing at Hell’s 2009 Destiny Street Repaired, the altered re-release of his 1982 album Destiny Street.  We now regret what we wrote.

Destiny Street Repaired took the rhythm tracks of the original, scraped off Robert Quine’s lead guitar and Hell’s vocals, replacing them with Marc Ribot’s guitar playing and Hell’s re-recording of his vocals.  When it came out, we really didn’t like it because the original Destiny Street was one of our favorite recs of all time.  Besides, Bob Quine was on few enough records, and he’d died in 2004, and we found the whole concept off base.

But Hell was a mess when he recorded the original, it had stuck in his craw, and he wanted to go back and perfect it.  This is an artist who recorded Blank Generation twice, just to get on vinyl what he knew his band was capable of.  And Lord knows, I can understand the impulse to go back and correct something produced prior to achieving sobriety.

Objectively, the original is better, even though I can appreciate how much stronger Hell’s vocals are on much, or at least parts, of Repaired. But we took, and not for the first time, some real shots at Repaired, including in particular a sentence I’d like to be able to call back: “We understand why he’d want a mulligan on the output from his drug-addled days, but it is possible to be sobriety addled too, and some things are best left as they were.”

One should never make light of any fellow traveler in the difficult world of sobriety.  Shame on us.

When our piece came out last month, Hell nicely replied to the email we sent him with a link.  “You’re pretty hard on Destiny Street Repaired, but I know the record is hard to like, all things considered.  Still, I would bet that eventually you’ll at least feel you’re glad it exists.”

Since then, we’ve revisited Repaired, and Hell is right. We’re glad it exists.  And while we’ll always go first to the original, we have a much better appreciation of what he was trying to do when he went back into the studio — yes, without Bob Quine and original second guitarist Naux — to repair what he knew was broken.

 

One Year On: The Women’s March Returns to Washington

Posted in Uncategorized on January 20, 2018 by johnbuckley100

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All images Leica M10 with 35mm Summilux

It was 365 days ago that the horror of the Trump presidency was offset by the half million protestors who took to DC’s streets on a grey winter day when all seemed otherwise gloomy.  The wounds of the election had not yet healed, and we had no idea — honestly, no idea — just how awful Trump’s first year in office would be. The fact that so many women, and so many men, came out to protest him was a small, necessary tonic for our pain.

And then the demonstrations kept coming — the spontaneous demonstrations against the Muslim Ban, the planned marches we marked on our calendar and planned our weekends around, from the March for Science in April to the March for Puerto Rico in October.  There have been so many marches, in fact, that we created a gallery of images entitled “Washington Demonstrations In The Age of Trump.” Honestly, these demonstrations, these opportunities to express our profound disapproval of the dotard in the White House, were — aside from being able to canvas in Virginia, to cheer the night Alabama went blue — the only relief we have had, it seems, in this long year since the inauguration.  And happily, today in DC and around the country, crowds came out again to protest after a heinous week that was the capstone to a horrid year.

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Once again the crowds were joyous, despite it all.  And we were out there once again with our Leica M10 and 35mm Summilux.  Now, if you don’t care about Leicas, just scroll down to the pictures.  But this was also the one-year anniversary of our having a Leica M10, essentially the 4th generation of Leica’s digital rangefinder built on the frame of the Leica M, using the greatest collection of lenses in photography.  After one year using the M10 in these marches (we used our SL only once, during the March for Science, in a downpour), we can report that it is the best Leica M of all time, a workhorse, a reliable and intuitive camera.  Going out with it to capture the demonstrations against Trump has been one of the best things about a horrific year.  Enjoy the rest of these snaps from today.

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The 40th Anniversary Release of Richard Hell & The Voidoids’ “Blank Generation” Brings Back The Greatest Punk Album That Wasn’t Really A “Punk” Album

Posted in Music with tags , , , , , , , , , on January 14, 2018 by johnbuckley100

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In the wonderful liner notes accompanying Blank Generation: 40th Anniversary Deluxe Edition, guitarist Ivan Julian remembers that the band was listening to James Brown’s album, coincidentally entitled Hell, as they went into the studio, two times as it turns out, to record their debut.   And reading that, it cracks the code on why this amazing record — every bit the equal to Television’s debut Marquis Moon, and one of just a handful of late ’70s records (Pink FlagHorses, The Clash, This Year’s Model, The Modern Dance, More Songs About Buildings and Food…) that have stood the test of time — sounds the way it does.  Because, children, Richard Hell & The Voidoids could swing, and it certainly wasn’t the rhythm section, with future Ramone Mark Bell on drums and Hell on bass, that did it.  You see, for an album heralded as a classic punk record from that first generation of CBGB bands, Blank Generation sure was funky, and Lord, was this band tight.

We remember the first time we heard it, in our campus housing at Hampshire College when future rock critter Byron Coley came back from The City with his latest batch o’ discoveries, must have been just after Thanksgiving of ’77, and the first thing that was clear was this band could play.  We’d never heard a guitarist like Bob Quine, except maybe for Jeff Beck.  But while we knew enough to recognize Hell as a progenitor of the New York punk scene — we’d spent the previous summer in the The City, we read the two papers we’d soon write for, the Voice and the Soho News — this didn’t sound like the Ramones, whom we’d seen at CBs, and it didn’t sound like Patti Smith or Television.  If punk rock was supposed to be primitive, these weren’t primitives — or at least Blank Generation wasn’t primitive — because on vinyl the Voidoids could turn on a dime, Quine and Julian’s rhythm and lead guitar playing was as tight as Keith and Mick Taylor, and the whole band was as propulsive as, well, James Brown’s J.B.s.  Even as Hell’s singing, and the affect was, well, okay, primitive, and even as they were categorized as punks, this was a band, and an album, that wasn’t an alternative anything — they were the real deal. And this was as exciting a record as that moment produced.

So here we are, 40 years later, and Richard’s a revered icon in the Village, known as much for his superb rock criticism and lovely 2013 memoir I Dreamed I Was A Very Clean Tramp as he is for having produced two of the best records from New York City’s great musical epoch between ’77 and ’83.  With this remastered version of the Voidoids’ debut, and the addition of a modest set of live tracks and alternative cuts, let us consider Blank Generation as music.  Which so rarely happens.  Hell is such an important cultural figure — and importantly, because he stopped playing music so long ago that he’s succeeded in having us think of him as a writer, not as a musician — people tend to gloss over Blank Generation, and what an incredible record it is. (And Hell himself thought so little of the classic Destiny Street that in 2010 he rerecorded it with a different band, which we thought, and said then, was a mistake.)

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Now this may be hard to follow, but try. We have long thought of Richard Hell as sort of the inverse of the Velvet Underground.  While we listen to, and revere, our Velvets records, while we are suckers for every box, all the live shit (including the material Bob Quine, who was then a Wash U law student, followed them around and recorded on a cassette deck), for us the Velvet Underground are kept alive by the bands who channel them, who imitate them, who cover their music.  A decade ago, we wrote about the Velvet Underground as much as a notion than as an actual band. When we listen to the Brian Jonestown Massacre or Spiritualized or Jesus and Mary Chain, we are in Velvets world.  In other words, the VU are something bigger than, you know, a band who put out records, great as they are.

But Richard Hell, who is such an outsized figure — co-founder of Television, member of The Heartbreakers and Dim Star, the guy whose torn pants beget “punk” as a British fashion craze — is less often considered for the two incredible records he released with the Voidoids, than in some other, broader context.  And yet, even as we read his fiction, and his really quite excellent music criticism, even as he has become, over time, something of a quite generous pen pal, we play his two Voidoids albums constantly. Forget the broader context, we revere Hell, first and foremost, because of his vinyl output with the Voidoids.

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Now it’s true that people play Blank Generation and Destiny Street as much because they want to hear Bob Quine’s skronk as because they want to hear Hell, and while we get that — we’d rather listen to Quine and Ivan Julian together than Quine on a fucking Lloyd Cole album — let us give Richard the credit he’s due.  Blank Generation is, as this 40th Anniversary release shows, one of the rare albums from that era that, 40 years on, holds up. The world may worship Television’s Marquis Moon, and and we certainly gave Verlaine his due upon that record’s 35th anniversary release, we have always thought Hell deserved the same treatment, the same reverence. He’s not a guitar god or a lyrical mystic, his singing’s not Bono great, his bass playing perhaps tends more in the direction of Sid Vicious than Jaco Pastorius, but, you know, hell, if you’re into real rock’n’roll, as we called it at New York Rocker, he’s the real deal.  And he was the songwriter, band leader and visionary spawning two of our favorite records ever.

Along the way, Hell has a made some artistic mistakes, and they’re not always the ones he thinks.  He was correct — as is proved on the 2nd CD of this anniversary release, with its alternative versions of “Love Comes In Spurts” and “Blank Generation” — to have gone back in the studio in the summer of ’77 to completely re-record the album.  He was right to have had his compendium known as The Richard Hell Story remastered. But the less said about Destiny Street Revisited the better. (We understand why he’d want a mulligan on the output from his drug-addled days, but it is possible to be sobriety addled too, and some things are best left as they were.  Wire wonderfully recorded Change Becomes Us in 2013, comprised of songs botched in a 1981 live release. But that was cleaning up a sloppy live set of great songs; Destiny Street’s songs sound better on the 2005 remastering of The Richard Hell Story, but the original is a masterpiece, and not just because Quine is on it.)

Richard Hell’s efforts at polishing and remastering the past are worth it.  He’s an exceptionally intelligent artist who, all grown up and having survived himself, wants to be known by the way he hears his music, which is not exactly the way it ended up released.  But the way it ended up released is fucking awesome, even if remastering CDs can make something sound marginally better.

He should take comfort in having produced, in the original Destiny Street, a sophomore album better than his friend and rival Tom Verlaine’s 2nd Television album, Adventure.  And he should take new pleasure in the recognition that Blank Generation really can be understood not simply as a great punk album, but as one of the finest rock’n’roll records ever made.

Our Top 10 Photos Taken This Year At Demonstrations Against Trump

Posted in Leica M, Trump Protests with tags , , , , on December 16, 2017 by johnbuckley100

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All images taken with the Leica M10 and 35mm Summilux 

The only solace we have had in 2017 against the cruel and unusual punishment visited upon the land by the election of Donald Trump has been the ability to go to Washington demonstrations.  They came so quickly after the inauguration — the Women’s March, which was scheduled, the protests against the Muslim ban, which for successive weekends were spontaneous — that at a certain point we joked about being appreciative of Trump, as he had organized our weekend activities for us: take camera to demonstration, march, record it for posterity.  In fact, we we have a gallery filled with dozens of images entitled “Washington Demonstrations In The Age of Trump”.

The picture above was taken in September at the combined March for Black Woman and March for Social Justice.  It’s our favorite image of the year because, for once, the light was decent, but also because it reflects  what happened in this awful, yet miraculous year of resistance.  See, two competing events merged into one, because the cause was unifying.  The white woman is out of place, but so what — this is the way we’re going to get out of this mess, as Virginia and Alabama show: white women and black women turning out in record numbers to vote these creeps from office.  So call that image our designated #1 picture of this year of demonstrations.  And, ah, what the Hell, here are 14 more from a remarkable year of political activity across the four seasons:

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Angel Olsen Burns Her Fire At The 9:30 Club

Posted in Music with tags , , , , on December 15, 2017 by johnbuckley100

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Angel Olsen’s voice is some kind of miracle, an 18-wheeler that, when conditions warrant, can park in the space reserved for a Mini.  She has a band that, on each of her two essential albums, can generate extreme heat at comparatively low volumes — think of the musicians on Joe Jackson’s Look Sharp, Scotty Moore backing Elvis I, the Attractions backing Elvis II — though in concert they bear more than a striking resemblance to Dylan’s combos on his 21st Century incarnations of The Never Ending Tour.  But the reason we would go out in the cold to see Angel Olsen play is the songs, those smoldering, sometimes accelerating explorations along the main trunk where folk, alt.rock, and alt.country get directed by the lineman across trestles and delicate bridges toward a destination this close to the left ventricle.

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If her song choices at last night’s gorgeous set at D.C.’s 9:30 Club seemed to segue effortlessly from one to the next, it may be because they were clustered in the order she’d already chosen on her best album, 2016’s My Woman, and that place where I first tuned in, 2014’s Burn Your Fire for No Witness. If “Give It Up,” “Not Going To Kill You,” and “Heart Shaped Face” are correctly sequenced on the album, why bother mixing them up on tour?  Last night she said the tour felt like it was about two-years long, and had added crows feet to her face.  But given that her sold-out Thursday set had forced an additional show tonight, long may this journey continue.

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Her band was astonishing, and it was a joy to hear them play outside the intimate confines of a studio.  Still, the reason Angel Olsen draws such an intense response is, of course, her voice.  When attempting to draw comparisons, the mind deviates from thinking about other women and instead finds Roy Orbison, Chris Isaak, voices that can jack into some mythic place where ’50s rockabilly and early rock’n’roll are setting a rural barn on fire.  It is true the voice isn’t for everyone — Mrs. Tulip Frenzy was not in last night’s crowd. But backed up as it was by a female singer with a correspondingly strong and subtle croon, when heard live, even at the end of a tour Angel Olsen’s voice was a reason to stand transfixed.

 

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This year Angel Olsen released Phases, a 12-song compilation of demos and b-sides, and even in the formal recognition that this wasn’t her best work, it was one of the year’s strongest records.  We look forward to her recording in 2018 a new set of songs, backed by her remarkable band, played at any volume she likes.  Any singer whose voice can align as hers does to the songs created just for it, who can produce two such great albums over just the final few years of her 20s, will be back to sell out other venues, bigger venues, as she burns her fire and is witnessed by millions.

EXCLUSIVE: The Tulip Frenzy Interview With 2017 Album Of The Year Winner (Tied): Wand

Posted in Music with tags , , , on December 2, 2017 by johnbuckley100

 

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In addition to Kelley Stoltz agreeing to answer some questions to accompany his write-up as winner of Tulip Frenzy’s 2017 Album Of The Year (Tied) honors, co-winners Wand agreed to answer some questions.  We are particularly grateful that Evan Burrows, who we have computer ranked as the World’s #1 Drummer, spoke for the band.

Congratulations on Plum being tied for Album of the Year on our annual Top 10 List.  We think Plum is Wand’s best album by far, and having seen the band in 2013, 2015, and this year at DC9, the new incarnation is a quantum leap forward. How do you think of Plum in terms of Wand’s progression?

Evan: Hey, thanks. I think we feel more or less that way too. Even since the first record, we’ve always talked about chasing a kind of feeling in the music that anything might be possible, that the next step could lead in any direction. We want the music to feel like it’s living and lived in, like it will respond to anything that touches it– flooded with new color and feeling, changing shape, shifting its posture and gait. I think Plum is the most sensitized and detailed music we’ve ever made, and I think it has thrown open more doors in our process than any record we’ve ever recorded. As we’ve started jamming for the next record, I feel like Plum is still whistling at us from last year’s autumn, reminding us to say ‘yes’ and to welcome new impulses when they enter the room.

We have all grown so much as musicians and people since the band started four years ago, and adding two more amazing musicians (nay humans) to the band this time around obviously transformed the organism. I think we’re finally making music that no one of us could account for in total, and the recordings are a lot more exciting as a result– the feels and spaces are deeper, more habitable, and they reveal more over time. We pay a lot more attention now to how we all play together, and what that does to a tune. These are still sculpted little pop songs, it’s still plain old rock music, but now it has five whole senses of invention animating it at once.

Even as we love both songs, it seems like it’s a far journey, musically and lyrically, to go from, say, “Reaper Invert” to “Charles De Gaulle.”  We’ve read that several of the songs were culled from sessions where the band jammed and explored territory together.  Did Cory come in with songs, or was it more of a group effort this time, working in a rehearsal space or studio?

Evan: Most of the song ideas on Plum were harvested from files and files of iPhone-recorded, unstructured jamming that we did at a clip in the late summer/autumn of 2016. We would listen back to those recordings and pick out promising ideas and return to them over and over in the practice space– stretching and prodding and expanding them, jamming short sections on loop, arranging and orchestrating things and arguing about structure and method and completely exhausting ourselves until it would suddenly feel good again. Then we’d know we had a song. We’d let this go on for like 6-10 hours a day including breaks for meals. There were so many minor versions. It got very obsessive.

The two songs on Plum that were exceptions to that process are “The Trap” (which we barely played until an hour or so before tracking it) and “Driving.” Cory brought those to the rest of the band as acoustic demos with rhythm guitar and vocals. Then we all contributed our own parts and worked on the arrangements together.

From the moment we heard “Blue Cloud,” we knew Plum would be a very different Wand album.  Tell us about the impact Marquis Moon and a two-guitar band like Television had on this album.

Evan: Well, we all love Marquee Moon and I think Television is a band that has been really inspiring and instructive for us in many ways. Cory and Lee and I were listening to that record a ton when we were working on 1,000 Days. That band is so good– the economy of what they do, their discipline, the insistence of their four individual musical personalities and the sense of intimacy and chemistry between them. The beginning of “Blue Cloud” is an obvious nod, as is the way we let that song expand from a pretty simple premise into something totally excessive that joyously wanders away just to arrive back at home.

You, (singer/guitarist) Cory, and (bass player) Lee have worked together for some years.  What impact did adding Sofia and Robert have on creating Plum?

Evan: Of course it had a profound impact, both on the music we make and on the living dynamic in the band. It’s hard to be precise about what that impact was because it has caused so much new movement. The music probably says it all– just give the record a couple more spins and focus on what each of them are up to the whole time. It blows my little mind.

Between 1000 Days and Plum, Cory produced a solo album and you both went out on the road as part of Ty Segall’s Muggers. Will you keep focused principally on Wand in 2018, or are there other projects in mind?

Evan: All three of us have been working on other projects or playing in other bands the whole time we’ve been playing together as Wand. Cory is always working on solo material, I write with another band called Behavior, Lee has a solo project called Oil Thief, Sofia is in another band called P22, Robbie just finished mixing a record he’s had in the can for a couple years… We all like to keep busy. I don’t think that will change in 2018, but we will also be writing, recording and touring together a lot next year. See you at the gig!

 

EXCLUSIVE: The Tulip Frenzy Interview With 2017 Album Of The Year Winner (Tied): Kelley Stoltz

Posted in Music with tags , , on December 2, 2017 by johnbuckley100

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Upon the juror’s alighting on his Que Aura as Tulip Frenzy’s 2017 Album Of The Year (Tied), negotiations ensued with Mr. Stoltz’s management over whether we could sit down with the maestro and ask a few questions.  After a face-to-face meeting in the Seychelles, all systems were go, and we were able to pose some questions and get some highly illuminating answers.

A quick piece of context for those not as familiar with Kelley as the editorial team at Tulip Frenzy is: Kelley records his records all by his lonesome, laying down every instrument and all harmonies. Que Aura was but one of three albums he released in 2017 — one record was released as a side of a Swiss label’s two-act record, and one was by a live “band” called Strat, which, as you’ll see, we completely misunderstood. Finally, for those not in the know, Kelley played as a sideman on the recent tour by his heroes, Echo and the Bunnymen.

Congratulations on taking the top spot on the Top 10 List for 2017.  We think Que Aura ranks among your strongest work.  We’ve always been curious about your working method.  When you wrote the songs for Que Aura, were you conscious of them going into what you call a “proper album,” or is each song an individual organism that might find its place on an E.P. or a single or a half-album released in Switzerland?

I guess I kind of have an Isaac Asimov style of working – it’s a daily thing whether I want to or not.  It’s my job.  Instead of 9 to 5, its more noon to 8!  Thankfully, it still provides me joy and some financial compensation as well, to keep it going. Basically after a new album and a tour or work with the Bunnymen I go through a cycle of “Oh, I’ll never write anything good again,” but I keep at it – I really don’t know what else to do all day… and after a while some new good songs will appear and lead me in a direction – more synthesizer-oriented or folky or whatever, and that tends to give me a “sound path” to explore. After months of that I’ve got 15-20 songs and I just pick my favorites that seem to fit and make that the album.

You’ve been wonderfully, consistently productive as a proverbial one-man band.  I know you did the Strat album as a band project, but that was live.  Do you ever get tempted to bring your own band into the studio?  Or is doing things your own way, one careful track at a time, just the way you’d like to work?

Well to be honest Strat is just me! And it was done in my studio (as I say inside the cover), “recorded before a non-existent audience in an imaginary arena.” I had some fond memories of Kiss Alive and Cheap Trick at Budokan and thought it’d be funny to make a kind of over-the-top, live 70’s album where there are people screaming all through the show.  I found all those crowd sounds on free field recording sites online.  I’ve been very impatient in a way – I’d rather just do it myself and get on with it than wait for someone to turn up to the studio.  Also, I write AS I record so the ideas need to be fleshed out as they happen… I never had success penning lyrics or music over months and then recording it – it’s a snapshot of that day!  And I love playing drums, bass, piano and all that and I want to get better at those instruments – the only way to do that is to play.  A lot of the one-man band thing was born out of feeling scared to share my songs with anyone as well.


A song like “No Pepper For The Dustman” sounds like it was recorded right after you got off the Echo and the Bunnymen tour.  Was it hard after going out on the road with Mac (Ian McCulloch) and Will (Sergeant) not to have their sound infect yours?

Definitely.  They are my favorite band and got me writing songs and wanting to look cool!  I’m a hell of a sponge so I can make soundalikes pretty easy – and I’ve gotten better at being myself over the years. But Bunnymen music is in my teen DNA so it’s bound to appear.  Back in the 2000’s I embraced Beatle and Beach Boy sounds almost because it was more of a challenge to write that way for me than in a New Wave style, since that would’ve been to easy.

Your work with Strat, or in your persona as Willie Weird, seems to show a more extroverted side of you — any 2018 plans to get out on the road as Kelley Stoltz?

I hope so – it’s tough ’cause I lose money on tours… I’m still struggling to get 200 people in NYC or 100 in LA.  You can imagine what St. Louis on a Tuesday would look like for me.  At some point I decided I’d rather the money I made went to fund a good life in SF and the ability to write and record as my job everyday than blow a bunch on a three week tour.

Do you work (writing/recording) all the time, or do you say to yourself, I think I’ll record a new proper album in June?

As I said, it’s part of my daily life.  I get grumpy if I don’t have an album in the works or at least a song sitting on tape or computer that I’m excited to go listen to.

Speaking of a proper album, tell us what’s in store in 2018?  A January release date to kick off the year?

I recorded an album right after finishing up QUE AURA, it will be released by a Spanish label called Banana Louie in February or March to coincide with a European tour.  It’s called NATURAL CAUSES and is similar to QUE AURA if a little less fleshed out – maybe more of a first take affair… I didn’t stress out over the mixes or the singing or anything.  It was done quickly and I resisted any urge to add to it, so it has a nice airy, relaxed quality.

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