Monday, May 21, 2012

"M¡PUNK": A Nostalgic Stumble Through the Music of 1979-1981

2 Sides To Your Mulleted Man

"Turn Me Loose” Loverboy
Label: Columbia. Single released: 1981. Songwriters: Paul Dean & Mike Reno. Producer: Bruce Fairbairn & Bob Rock. Highest Chart Position: #6. Album: Loverboy.

“Sweetheart” Franke and the Knockouts
Label: MCA/Millennium. Single released: 1981. Songwriters: Franke Previte & Billy Elworthy. Producer: Tony Camillo. Highest Chart Position: #1. Album: Franke and The Knockouts

Ladies of the Eighties, your hombre was a complex riddle. He had at least (if no more than) two sides to him: one the strutting selfish dickhead, the other an aw-shucks-girl romantic. He wore stone-washed jeans, leather vests with no shirt, embossed faux-snakeskin boots and those weird thin studded belts with the end tucked under and pointing downward like a withered dong-substitute. He feathered and treated and blow-dried his gossamer locks for about as long as you did. He fluffed and sunned his brushy 'stache until he looked like Joey Silvera. He kept an arsenal of Italian-style man panties that just broadcasted: Hey babe, I'm available. He loved parties with fondue, port-wine cheese and wall-to-wall shag. He kept an (unread) copy of Shogun on the coffee table. He had to do it his way -- or no way at all.

Summer 1981. The Beast and a friend with no driver's license were speeding through the Wisconsin cornfields on a muggy summer's night when Loverboy's "Turn Me Loose" came on the radio. We listened to the blaring cop-flick synth intro, the thumping bass line that kicks off a series of persistent demands: 'I was born to love, I was born to dream, the craziest boy you've ever seen...Makin' love to whoever I please, I gotta do it my way or no way at all...' We laughed at what a juiced-up asshole this guy sounded like.

Thing was: my friend was one of the biggest egomaniacs I have ever met in my life. He was the kind of guy who commandeered every stereo at every party he'd ever been to with a surly sense of entitlement; I actually watched him walk up to a host of a party he had no even been invited to and snapped, "Hey, whaddaya say we get those burgers on the grill now?" He was a disciple of Paul Mitchell hair care products and actually wore a pair of zippered parachute pants for a spell. He wore cowboy boots UNDER his tight jeans like Danny Bonaduce. He once wrapped a red bandanna around his neck before going out on a date and I had to intervene and tell him he looked like an idiot. He sort of reminded me of a cross between one of those cartoon roosters who wore tough-guy pompadours and Allen Covert's character Sammy in The Wedding Singer. He had a bit of the messiah in him, mixed in with an almost evangelical grandiosity that reminded me of the hair-metal ballads of the ‘80s. I could truly picture him shirtless in a flowing, windblown blonde mane and a leather vest, fist raised to the whipping fake rain, chained and painted women writhing at his feet: You can make it if you try!!!!! He wasn't so much addicted to sex as he was the sensation of the promise of sex – hence the constant mentions of the word oyster.

Suffice to say, he was aggressive and selfish in bed. He frequently hit on married women and then acted offended when their husbands protested. "Turn Me Loose" in many ways was his Neanderthal credo -- he should have had it printed on a plaque hanging in his mirrored-ceiling bedroom with the squishy, awkward waterbed and the lava lamp and the hanging terrarium.

But even the mulleted man of the Greed Decade had a trace of the incurable romantic nestled in his raven-black chest hairs. Aw shucks baby, I just, ya know, like, loved you an' thought you were a stone cold fox an' hot to trot an' you wouldn't wanna take a spin in my black Corvette with the gold eagle spreadin' its wings on the hood? I got some coke and some nitrous oxide... Enter Frank Stallone/Young Ron Jeremy doppelganger Franke Previte, who took a classic doo-wop piano riff (similar to Toto's "Hold the Line") and smeared it in Album-Oriented Rock Vaseline and got a #1 hit.

Previte actually had a decent voice -- shrill but soulful enough for Foreigner to ask him to replace their shrill lead singer Lou Gramm -- but he later cashed in his frontman chips, took an old Franke & the Knockouts demo called "Hungry Eyes," wrote a new song called "(I've Had) The Time of My Life" and made a Brinks' truck full of loot when both were included the gazillion selling Dirty Dancing soundtrack. It earned the former one-hit wonder an Oscar, a Golden Globe and a Grammy nomination. You can hear the influence of Franke P. and his Knockouts -- if it can be called such -- can be heard in the melanin-challenged R&B-lite of Maroon 5 and the gayest band of the '80s, Frankie Goes to Hollywood. Believe it or else, the Knockouts' original album is going for $75.20 on Amazon.

On the Loverboy side of things, "Turn Me Loose" would have an equally unusual second act somewhere along the lines of "These Boots Are Made for Walkin'" and "Venus in Furs." From Songfacts:

The S&M/leather community has noted the sadomasochistic overtones of the lyrics, what with being tied down, being on your knees, and so on. And "flying" is scene slang for the high experienced while buzzing on endorphins (natural chemicals released in the brain as a response to painful or confining stimulus), so "I wanna fly" loosely qualifies. And finally, bondage fans also claim that the only time they feel "free" is when they're tied up - hence it's like being "turned loose." Make no mistake, Loverboy very clearly did not intend the song this way, but for reasons of alternative interpretations, this song is usually part of the music playlist in your typical "dungeon" - at least at the kind of Southern California "play party" where couples swish those tacky velvet floggers around with way more dignity attached to the affair than one might expect.

Uh-huh. So basically, Ladies of the Eighties, your man was, in the words of a great philosopher, "gayer than nine guys fucking ten guys."

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Two Sides of the Story

1466 E. 54th St. - 5.17.2012
[photo courtesy of jhvu]

This last Thursday, May 17, the Beast and a writer colleague Anthony Miller took a self-styled "tour" in a sort of ad hoc memoriam for the tragic shootout that occurred in Los Angeles 38 years before between the LAPD and members of the Symbionese Liberation Army. The actual address of the gunfight is one of the most infamous "unofficial" tourist sites in the city -- alongside the intersection of Florence and Normandie, the La Bianca house in Los Feliz and the spot in the West Adams district where The Black Dahlia's body was found. Like those locations, there is no plaque to commemorate the five people burned alive in the 5 1/2 hour gun battle that was broadcast live across the nation.

1466 E. 54th St. - 5.17.1974

What we found, however, amounted to an almost accidental memorial. The block the house is located in is on the western edge of the city of Vernon and on the northern side of Compton; surprisingly, the sleepy block was shaded by many overhanging trees and not exposed to the sun. The house, of course, no longer exists, but the top photo shows what stands there now: A verdant copse of tropical plants and trees hiding a stucco duplex that could have been on the Westside. The lot was conspicuously lusher than the rest of the block. As we stood across the street, there was a broken wooden chair and a scraped and abraded desk placed out on the curb amongst a scattering of rags and broken glass. Rap music pounded faintly from an open window somewhere. An ancient Hispanic woman tottered by carrying a sack of groceries. A parking enforcement officer stopped and asked us if we've moved our cars for street-cleaning.

At our feet in the dirt was a weathered and stained poster of Ernesto "Che" Guevara in a busted picture frame. We removed it to look at it closer and my friend mentioned that newspaper heiress Patty Hearst, whom the SLA had kidnapped and brainwashed nearly four months before the shootout, had adopted the revolutionary name "Tania" in honor of Guevara's martyred female comrade Tamara Bider.

"Remember when I told you not to think of everything in life as a metaphor?" I told my friend. "Well, forget what I said." We had to snap a pic of it:

After standing on the curb looking at the piece of real estate for what felt like an appropriately solemn amount of time, we made it north to the Garvanza area of Highland Park for the recently opened SLA exhibit at the Los Angeles Police Museum. It was quite impressive, using three rooms and a panorama of different You-Are-There visual aids (timeline, video, audio, 3-D displays); it sort of reminded us of the floating, living imagery of the Robert Evans documentary The Kid Stays in the Picture. There was a lot of incidental oddness to it all: between text describing the heroic actions of the SWAT teams who razed the house to the ground were large totems of the SLA's heyday, including a faux-scrawled SLA slogan 'Death to the Fascist Insect That Prays on the Life of the People' under the bright orange SLA banner. There was a wall text describing Patty Hearst's 56-day captivity in a closet. . .on an actual closet that one could open and peer into.

The strangest addition were the beaded, tie-dyed hippie curtains that separated the rooms -- like it was a meticulously reconstructed Sunset Strip head shop from Elvis Meets Nixon. It might have been a cop's nightmare over what doors would be if the hippie pinko freaks won. (Missing: a giant cartoon hippie named "Groovy Gravy" whom one could beat with a real cop baton.) Although we were much impressed by the detail and professionalism of the exhibit, we couldn't help but see these things as the spoils of war, the victors' display of the booty acquired from the vanquished. Any doubt about this was further stoked by the adjoining exhibit on the 1997 North Hollywood Bank of America Shootout, which displayed full-sized mannequins dressed with the exact clothing and body armor that were worn by the gunmen that day. The sponsor for the exhibit? Bank of America.

[NOTE: For a riveting read on the whole SLA affair, my friend Anthony recommends tracking down a rare copy of The Voices of Guns by journalists Vin McLennan & Paul Avery. Mr. Miller would also like to point out that Robert Downey, Jr. played Paul Avery in the film Zodiac. Always a repository of good info!]

Monday, May 7, 2012

REST IN VERSE: Dorothea Grossman

In the old days,
I spread fires and floods and pestilence
on my toast.
Nowadays, I’m more selective,
I only read my horoscope
by the quiet glow of the marmalade.
Dorothea Grossman, "I Allow Myself"

(Mark Weber, Jazz For Mostly, 5/07/2012)

(Travis Nichols, Poetry Foundation, March 2010)

Grossman parked herself in her wheelchair up front to do her call-and-response thing: She would knock out a few lines of her poetry, and the musicians would reflect the blooming flowers, the fading helicopters, the Henny Youngman apotheoses, whatever. These made for some of the evening's best moments -- because the format provided an instant group focus; because if one minute didn't congeal, another inspiration was coming right up; because of the musicians' longtime love for Grossman, an ever-present avant attendee for decades; and because, as she noted, a lot of these people wouldn't know free improv from free lunch if not for her late husband, pianist Richard Grossman.
Greg Burk (3/07/2012)
[Read Mr. Burk's eulogy for Dottie here.]

The flinty lady with frequent collaborator
Michael-Pierre Vlatkovich

Salmon-colored stripes
crossing four shades of blue.
Anybody who tries to
write about this
is barking up the wrong tree.
"Sunset Attempt,"
Dottie Grossman's last sent poem
for musician Bonnie Barnett's birthday

Saturday, May 5, 2012

I Oughta Give You a Shot in the Head for Making Me Live in This Blogroll

(Shambhala Sun, 1/1995)

(Pitchfork Media, 5/04/12)

(The New York Times, 6/20/2004)

(Slate, 5/07/2012)

(, 5/03/2012)

(The New York Times, 5/03/2012)

(Consequence of Sound, 5/01/2012)

(The Quietus, 5/03/2012)

(Music and More, 5/05/2012)

(Los Angeles Times, 5/02/2012)

(The Rest Is Noise, 5/04/2012)

(Sound of the City, 5/04/2012)

(Buzzbands L.A., 5/04/2012)

(Chicago Reader, 5/05/2012)

(Stereogum, 5/05/2012)

(L.A. Record, 5/01/2012)

(AvantUrb, 2/13/2012)

(WFMU's Beware of the Blog, 5/04/2012)

(Chicago Tribune, 4/20/2012)

(NPR's A Blog Supreme, 5/03/2012)

(PopMatters, 4/30/2012)

(NewMusicBox, 5/01/2012)

(Burning Ambulance, 4/30/2012)

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Bloom (UPDATED**)

[Photo coutesy of Wil Cohen]

While The Beast is still catching our breath from the departure of alt-jazz promoter Rocco Somazzi to the Bay Area to oversee his new restaurant Duende, now we have to say goodbye all over again to his staggeringly talented betrothed/muse, pianist/sound sculptress Motoko Honda. Sigh.

{**UPDATE #1: Luckily, Motoko will still be playing shows in Los Angeles. ("Both Rocco and I will continue to involve with L.A. music scene," Motoko told the Beast. "I mean, how can we leave all the great musicians here ??") } Tomorrow night (Thursday, May 3) as a part of the L.A. Bloom Festival at the Aratani/Japan Theatre (244 S. San Pedro St., Little Tokyo 90012). Honda will be on the bill with the equally adventuresome laptop-folkie Mia Doi Todd, who will play the first set with percussionist Andres Renteria. (Mo goes on at 10pm if you are concened about traffic.) She will be premiering her newest....uhhh, jazz composition? multi-disciplinary exploration? holistic auditory wackiness?...called "Dreams of a Flower," part of Honda's massive Sound E/Scape Project. Following "a mysterious story" of a single flower (shades of another pianist's The Secret Life of Plants), the piece features an expansive world of acoustic sounds colored with electronics, visual projections featuring a Spectral GL (a visual instrument that employs an interactive software system to generate real-time 3D animation in response to live or recorded sound) invented by visual artist Jesse Gilbert and live dancing by Roxanne Steinberg.

Of particular interest to music alt-jazz fans is the stellar combo Motoko Honda has assembled for the evening: multi-percussionist Alex Cline,  trumpeter Daniel Rosenboom, violinist Jeff Gauthier and his wife cellist Maggie Parkins and electric bassist Steuart Liebig. Honda has collaborated with all of these players in the past, so the psychic connections should be flying fast and free. Don't miss it, ffolkes!

{**UPDATE #2: Go here to read a review of Thursday night's show. }