Wednesday, March 18, 2009

NEWS FLASH! For those who might be paying attention, my reading previously announced for Friday, March 27, has been postponed a week to Friday, April 3. Location remains Dynamite Records, 33 Main St., Northampton. Start time: meet and greet begins at 6:30, reading starts at 7 pm. I'll be reading a few choice excerpts from the book and also probably playing some musical selections.

Meanwhile, here's my favorite music quote that I've run across of late, from the January issue of The Wire. Briefly praising the most recent album by Athens, GA heavy rockers Harvey Milk (which I just bought today, haven't yet listened to), the writer Joseph Stannard calls the record "a persuasive restatement of the idea that, while the riff belongs to everyone, it's perhaps safest in the hands of disheveled, hirsute males in plaid shirts."

I suddenly feel so validated.

Monday, March 16, 2009

This past Saturday I gave the keynote talk at a graduate student music conference at McGill University in Montreal. I was speaking on material from This Ain't the Summer of Love, and even though my talk wasn't until the afternoon, I dutifully showed up at the conference at 9:30 am to catch the first session of the day.

When I arrived, one of the conference organizers told me that she wasn't sure if I knew, but that Sandy Pearlman was a visiting professor at McGill, and he was really looking forward to my talk.

Holy crap!

For those who don't know, Sandy Pearlman is one of the great, largely unsung figures in 1970s rock. He was mainly a behind-the-scenes guy, but as behind-the-scenes guys go he was in the middle of some pretty great stuff. A full list of his credits would go way beyond the scope of this modest little blog, but some highlights should put things in perspective:

Pearlman was one of the first generation of bona fide rock critics, a regular contributor to Crawdaddy, and friend/partner in crime with the more celebrated Richard Meltzer.

Along with Murray Krugman, Pearlman managed and produced pretty much everything released by Blue Öyster Cult until 1978's Some Enchanted Evening and continued to work with the band in later years. He also co-wrote a number of their best songs, including such awesome tracks as "The Red and the Black" and "Dominance and Submission."

Still partnering with Krugman, Pearlman also produced all three studio albums that the Dictators made in their 1970s prime.

In 1978 Pearlman produced the second Clash album, Give 'Em Enough Rope, which is usually not considered at the top of Clash albums but was nonetheless pretty great.

In 1980, Pearlman produced a great lost classic by the weirdo French hard rock band Shakin' Street, for which he recruited Dictators guitarist Ross the Boss.

Add it up. My book is titled after a Blue Öyster Cult song, and it devotes the better part of a long chapter to the Dictators. Needless to say, I was psyched that Pearlman was going to be at my talk, and a little intimidated.

I should add as a side note, that I've never made a habit of getting to know the people that I write about. I don't do oral history or ethnography, so I don't have much cause to do interviews, and quite frankly, I've always been kinda shy about meeting people whose work I admire (this mainly applies to musicians; I have no trouble meeting academic folks whose work I admire). So the rare occasions when I happen to meet or otherwise talk with someone whose work I've pored over are fairly few and far between.

That said, I wasn't going to let the opportunity slip by. I didn't have a great idea of what Pearlman looked like, but I spotted him as soon as he came into the room where I was speaking, and I didn't hesitate to go over and introduce myself. He was very cool, gracious even, when I briefly told him about my book and how much I admired his work with the Dictators. "Second best album I ever worked on," he said of the awesome first Dics' album, Go Girl Crazy! Later he said the best was BOC's Tyranny and Mutation. I'd have to agree on both counts.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

I have a book reading coming up on March 27, at Dynamite Records here in Northampton. It's the first one I've done in a long time, and may be the only one I'll be doing for the new book - it's not like university presses have lots of money to throw around for publicity, after all. Anyone reading this who's in or near the Northampton area, please come down.

Last week I went to a very cool book event at the APE gallery in downtown Northampton. It was supposed to be Thurston Moore and Byron Coley talking about their recent book on the New York No Wave scene of the late 1970s-early 1980s. I have the book, haven't yet had time to really sit down with it, so I thought it would be cool to hear the authors give their version of how it came about.

(A sidenote: yes, Thurston Moore is a local resident, as any good indie rock acolyte should know. I've not had the chance to strike up a real connection with him but chances to see him around the area are not rare.)

Unfortunately, Thurston was apparently laid up with the early stages of the flu, and so the evening was left to Byron alone to hold the floor. Of course, Byron had to joke that Thurston was feigning illness to save face because he'd just played a pretty mediocre show at the Bookmill, a used bookstore in nearby Montague that hosts the occasional adventurous music show. Jokes aside, though, Byron alone was enough to hold the attention of anyone with an interest in that musical moment in time.

What followed was a brief reading from the introduction to the book, and then Byron offering his own first person narrative of what it was like to be in NYC in the late 70s and early 80s. As he said at one point (and I paraphrase): "If there's anything worth being nostalgic for, it's how cheap the rents were in New York at that time." And cheap rents in damaged but stimulating neighborhoods, of course, are a godsend to the creation of interesting art.

What I most enjoyed hearing Byron talk about was the incredible amount of cross-pollination that existed in the New York art and music world of that time. Visual artists were also musicians, filmmakers were also musicians or were having their films screened between sets at some of the main music venues. Of course this could give rise to a certain overbearing pretentiousness, or a sense of carefully guarded exclusivity, and from Byron's account it did, fed in part by some of the fucked up but powerful egos that inhabited the scene of the time. But it also was the mark of a scene in which experimentation was taken for granted, where musical genres were things to be deconstructed and reassembled at will, where audiences were to be provoked and prodded, not just pleased. I've always found the recorded output of no wave bands like DNA and the Contortions to be more interesting in theory than as things to listen to (although I think Teenage Jesus and the Jerks are pretty great on record). But I'm sure I would have loved seeing these bands play live, soaking up the scuzzy atmosphere and not knowing quite what to expect.

For the curious: