music friday: bonnie and rosanne

Back in 1982, we saw Bonnie Raitt for the first time, with Rosanne Cash opening. Here are a few of my favorites of their songs. 

First, three from Bonnie Raitt. This is John Prine's "Angel from Montgomery", from 1976:

"I Can't Make You Love Me", from Luck of the Draw, the first album after Nick of Time and the one that was actually as good as people thought Nick of Time was:

And my all-time favorite Bonnie Raitt song, "Sweet and Shiny Eyes", from the underrated Home Plate:

And Rosanne Cash. First, probably my favorite of hers, "Seven Year Ache", from the album of the same name:

A song of her daddy's, "Tennessee Flat Top Box", from the album King's Record Shop:

And from The Wheel, her own "If There's a God on My Side":

Finally, just because, here is Tedeschi Trucks Band with a medley of "Angel from Montgomery" and "Sugaree":


sleater-kinney, the center won't hold

My review of the new Sleater-Kinney album, The Center Won't Hold, can be found on the Souciant website:

Call the Doctor

"I want to check in a few albums down the road when it will be clearer whether The Center Won’t Hold began a new, positive, direction for the band or marked a dead end. It’s an album where 'I’m not sure I wanna go on at all' co-exists with 'Tired of bein’ told that this should be the end'."

 


music friday: pour out a little liquor for tupac

(I wrote this in 1996 for the journal Bad Subjects. I am reprinting it here, slightly edited, because the Bad Subjects website has been down for what feels like years. This feels very 1996 to me.)

Pour Out a Little Liquor for Tupac

Four or five years ago, my daughter Sara went down to Berkeley Square with a friend to see Raw Fusion, one of the many spin-offs from Digital Underground. Sara was 13 or 14, and she was kinda sweet on DU's Money B, so when the group hit the stage, she went straight to the front. Late in the show, a couple of assholes started some shit, someone sprayed mace, and Sara and her friend snuck backstage to get away from the crap. She was totally enthralled, as well she should have been. Among the folks hanging out at that show was Tupac Shakur, who was another one of the Digital Undergrounders back in the day. Sara remembers him with a beer in each hand, very down-to-earth, just chillin'. Berkeley Square is very small, and it says something about the easy feeling of community that can emerge around local music acts that there was room in the tiny club for rapstars-to-be and young teenage fans. 

I've been thinking about a recent thread on the Bad Subjects mailing list about generational stereotypes. And I've been reading Todd Gitlin's book on culture wars. And there's been a long-lasting and very fruitful discussion going on at our house lately between me and Sara and her brother Neal, about an upcoming album track by Vallejo rapper B-Legit that features Daryl Hall from Hall and Oates. And all of these thoughts come together in my mind when I think about Tupac's stupid death (as if death was ever anything but stupid). 

Gitlin argues that the left has become fragmented partly because we have lost our ability to think in terms of commonalities. He attacks identity politics for many of the reasons Bad Subjects does, noting that while the left emphasizes difference, the right latches onto a fake-but-effective commonality, best represented by the image of President Ronald Reagan. Gitlin draws a line back through the 60s (as he always does) and beyond, to show why he thinks the left fell victim to this fragmentation, in effect celebrating the fragmentation under the multicultural umbrella. 

Some folks on the Bad List have noted that the 60s generation was different from the 70s, or the 80s, or the 90s, while others have said "hogwash." Meanwhile I am thinking about the notion of community, both narrowly defined as it can be when identity politics hold the upper hand (I am a Spaniard), and more broadly defined as it can be when commonalities hold us (I am one with all oppressed peoples). The Me Decade, Gen X, and other derogatory stereotypes are attached to various post-60s generations, but Gitlin seems to be saying that the memory of the 60s as a time of great community is false, that the roots of 90s fragmentation can be found in those 60s. 

And my kids are 18 and 21, and they have their own notions of community. They are not children of the 60s, for sure. Not even children of the 70s: when I used to go to Berkeley Square in the 70s, it was to see punk, not rap, but times change. 

And now B-Legit, one of the many hot Vallejo rappers currently making some great music, has gotten Daryl Hall to do a reworking of the old "Sara Smile" song. My kids and their friends are all totally excited about this. They don't much remember Hall and Oates, but they love that B-Legit has gotten Daryl Hall on his new album. I've talked to them about this a few times in the last couple of weeks. I don't understand why they'd want a hot, current artist to go back and drag up some leftover from another time. B-Legit should be making his own music, not dragging Daryl Hall into the mix. But Neal and Sara tell me that they'll be happy if even one Hall and Oates fan takes a listen to the new song and decides that B-Legit is good. I try to insist on a generation-gap reading of this stuff, but then my kids tell me "our music doesn't always have to be about rebellion, that's YOUR thing." It would have crushed me to think my parents liked my music, but my kids are happy if I like their tunes. They love B-Legit and the whole V-Town music scene, they want to share it with everyone, and if Daryl Hall can get more people to hear the V-Town sound, then, as Neal is always saying, "It's all good." 

That is to say, my kids are part of a community based in part on their love of particular styles of music, but that isn't enough. They want the whole world to be a part of that community. In their way, they are rejecting the notion that we must be fragmented in the 1990s, and are instead grasping for a larger community where "It's all good." 

As soon as the news of Tupac's death hit the wires, the two main "urban contemporary" radio stations in the area started into Tupac mode, playing his music, playing interviews with him, playing Boyz II Men's "It's So Hard To Say Goodbye To Yesterday," which may be the standard song for such situations now. The DJs stepped out of their usual act to talk about what had happened, even making tiny and perhaps soon to be forgotten steps towards connecting the music they play on their stations, the music that Tupac made, with what happened to Tupac when the gunmen opened fire. And they took calls from the folks in the community. Community, there's that word again. 

Of course, Tupac, through his music, through his art, through his public persona, is not blameless in the events that led to his death. And gangsta rap culture is not blameless in the events that magnify the fragmentation of our culture. Too much of gangsta rap culture is based on the narrow version of community, not a reaching out for recognition of the common ground of all oppressed people as much as an exaggeration of the Us versus Them mentality that too often drives identity politics. East Coast vs. West Coast, revolting sexism and homophobia, sometimes so awful you understand people throwing up their hands in disgust and joining in with the Tipper Gores and Delores Tuckers. But as I type this I'm listening to the radio and they're talking about Tupac, and I'm thinking about my kids, who are not happy right now, and I'm thinking about Sara going to see Money B back in the day, and I'm thinking about how my own kids understand the importance of Daryl Hall in 1996 better than I do, and I think there is still a chance that community can recover its broader definitions, can defeat the self-marginalized, I-got-mine-I-hope-you-got-yours "community" that can't see beyond its own self-interest. But it's still hard. When I was growing up, I didn't have any rituals surrounding death. No one ever died, it sometimes seemed. But my kids, they're fucking 21 and 18 years old, and they have death rituals, people dying ain't an abstraction to them. They're out somewhere right now, pouring some beer on the ground for their dead homies. And on the radio, Tupac is singing: 

How many brothas fell victim to tha streets

 Rest in peace, young nigga, there's a heaven for a G

 Be a lie if I told ya that I never thought of death

 My niggas, we tha last ones left

 But life goes on

 

I wrote the above words a few weeks ago, the night Tupac died. I've had a chance to think about those words, revise them a bit, and I've also had a chance to read the tens of thousands of words others have written about Tupac and his death. I'm not sure how many people realize what an impact Tupac has had and is having, not only on hip-hop culture but among all the regular folks who might not have explicitly identified themselves with that culture but who loved his art nonetheless. Comparisons to Kurt Cobain are appropriate, including a note of the different ways members of various subcultures respond. My guess is that at least some readers of Bad Subjects were deeply affected by Kurt's death, and that most readers would understand that Kurt Cobain was "important." I also guess that Tupac Shakur would not seem as "important" to many Bad Readers, and that fewer of them are deeply affected by his death, although I could be wrong. In both cases, we have a recognition that the fragmentation of daily life during the reign of Taste Cultures makes different people important to different peoples, that Kurt Cobain is important to particular subcultures but that nothing universal is to be learned from him. There is another recognition, that there is a hierarchy among subcultures, that while Kurt Cobain can not speak to anything universal, what he does speak to is more "important" than what Tupac Shakur spoke to. There is an easier recognition of Kurt Cobain as Artist than there is for 2Pac. 

Most commentary on Tupac in the aftermath of his death continues the simplistic "analysis" of his art that existed prior to his shooting. People latch onto what is easy, no matter from what perspective you approach the situation. Tupac is good or he is bad, he is a saint or he is evil. Everyone has evidence to support their opinion, and everyone who takes this simplistic, easy approach is required to ignore all contradictory evidence. So Tupac's fans cite his touching, realistic ode to his "Dear Mama" while his detractors point to his jail term for sexual assault, and no one bothers to investigate the possibility that Tupac Shakur, like all human beings, was a complex individual who lived among other complex individuals in complex times. If we can reduce Tupac to a single element, if we can turn him into a symbol, our own lives are easier. Tupac will not force us to re-evaluate our own lives. We will file him under whatever narrow label matches our preconceptions, and we will forget about his life and his art. 

And this would be an insult to Tupac's art, which asks that we do not take the simple and easy way out, which gets in our faces and demands that we actually think about the deep implications of his work. Too much of what has arisen in the past weeks insults Tupac by drowning in simplicity. He was not a saint, he is not the devil, he was not one single thing at all. 

Tupac sang, "Only God can judge me, nobody else, all you other muthafuckas get out of my business." We answer to no one but ourselves and "god"; I am not responsible for you, you are not responsible for me. It's a 90s rap replay of Fritz Perls in the 60s: 

 I do my thing, and you do your thing.

 I am not in this world to live up to your expectations

 And you are not in this world to live up to mine.

 You are you, and I am I,

 And if by chance we find each other, it's beautiful.

 If not, it can't be helped.

It's a celebration of fragmentation. 

But Tupac's art is not that simple. He may claim that only God can judge him, but he must have known the power of his own music to affect others. We who listened were being connected to him in a larger way than is possible when we owe nothing to no one. And because Tupac's art is not simple, we see this in his own songs, as when he describes being shot five times in an earlier shooting:

 How did it come to this?

 I wish they didn't miss

 Somebody help me

 Tell me where to go from here

 Cuz even thugs cry

 But do the Lord care?

Tupac is commonly vilified for his misogyny, for which there is indeed little if any excuse. Dave Marsh, in an intelligent and heartfelt defense of Tupac in Addicted To Noise, might note that "Tupac was sent to prison for a crime that white rock stars have committed, and continue to commit, with absolute impunity," but that doesn't justify Tupac, it only explains what happens to the Tupacs of the world in comparison to other more privileged artists. Nevertheless, as Marsh and other Tupac champions point out, Tupac's work could be far more respectful of women than his image would imply, most famously in "Keep Ya Head Up":

 And when he tells you

 You ain't nothin', don't believe him

 And if he can't learn to love you

 You should leave him ...

 I know you're fed up ladies,

 But keep your head up

Ultimately, the misogyny or lack of same in Tupac's work mainly serves those who would think simplistically, misogyny being so prevalent in gangsta rap that it becomes far too easy to merely add Tupac's name to the list of sexist rappers to be condemned. The bigger problem, I think, comes not from the attitudes of either "Keep Ya Head Up" or its opposite, but in the combination of machismo and individualism that informs "Only God Can Judge Me." It is, again, too easy to merely say that Tupac's art is "what killed him" (a notion expressed by fans and detractors alike, with one side sadly but with admiration crying "live by the sword die by the sword" while the other side screams the same, but without admiration, and at some level are glad that he "got what he deserved"). However, it is safe to say that whatever elements of Tupac's life and art that contributed to the situation which ended in his death, he was not killed because of his attitudes towards women. Valerie Solanas was not in the car with the shooters.

 Each and every black male's trapped

 And they wonder why we suicidal

 Runnin' around strapped

 Mr. Police

 Please try to see

 That there's a million muthafuckas stressin' just like me

Tupac, one of the "black males trapped," demands respect, in the absence of anything better to live for. "I'd rather die like a man than live like a coward." Because he insists on his existence as an isolated individual that only God can judge, because Tupac accepts on one level an ideology of the power of American individualism, he sees every attack on his life in personal terms. He wants other muthafuckas out of his business; if they interfere, it's personal, it needs to be addressed on a personal level. This seems true even though Tupac expresses great love for his homies (a love that gets artistic expression via the interaction of various friends on each other's albums). It appears that while one should always be there for your partners, ultimately, it comes down to "my" business. What begins as a cartoonish version of two tough guys blowing ass at each other on a playground escalates into something far more horrific, as if the very escalation itself is the meaning of life, as if the demand for respect overrides any other considerations. And, of course, the refusal and removal of respect for one's enemies becomes a way of getting respect for yourself, with this "playa hatin" then becoming an excuse for a hatin' response. 

And so Tupac put a song called "Hit `Em Up" on a release of a single from his latest album. Tupac had always blamed Biggie Smalls for being behind his earlier shooting, and in this song, Tupac offers his reply. As a song, it's terrific, led by the bass line to Dennis Edwards and Siedah Garrett's "Don't Look Any Further" that had already been effectively sampled by Eric B & Rakim in "Paid in Full", and propelled by a dynamic vocal performance from Tupac. In the right frame of mind, one might even laugh at some of the razzing Tupac sends Biggie's way. After announcing up front that "you claim to be a playa, but I fucked your wife," Tupac gives the mic to his friends, saying that Biggie and his crew are so far beneath Tupac's level that he doesn't even know why he bothers to appear on the song. He disses the shooters ("five shots couldn't drop me"), but gradually, the bile increases: "Fuck you and your muthafuckin' mama, we gonna kill all you muthafuckas." And then Tupac lays it down, sounding less and less like Joey Ramone singing about beating on the brat and more and more like Johnny Rotten scrabbling at the Berlin Wall. Tupac means it, maaan. He chants a mantra of hate at his enemies. "Fuck Mobb Deep! Fuck Biggie! Fuck Bad Boy!" ... the list goes on to include any who would side with the wrong ones: "Fuck You Too!" And finally: 

 All y'all muthafuckas

 FUCK YOU

 DIE SLOW MUTHAFUCKA

 My .44 make sure

 ALL your kids don't grow!

As Tupac sings in "Only God Can Judge Me," "They say it's the white man I should fear, but it's my own kind doin' all the killin' here." 

We're a long way from community, here, but as with all of Tupac's art, it isn't that simple. For he tells us, "Please try to see that there's a million muthafuckas stressin' just like me." What killed Tupac is the denial of those million muthafuckas in the face of rampant individualism, the insistence on the personal, the rejection of everything outside one's self. Tupac gets respect, he's thug `til he dies, but "now ya gone, and all I got left are stinkin' memories." If those million muthafuckas came together, what then? If we refused the simple answer, refused to accept as inevitable the ideology of the individual, overcame fragmentation and our own personal demons, and banded together as a community of muthafuckas, what then? Who would we fight? Who are the real enemies? 

"If love truly is going out of fashion forever, which I do not believe, then along with our nurtured indifference to each other will be an even more contemptuous indifference to each other's objects of reverence. I thought it was Iggy Stooge, you thought it was Joni Mitchell or whoever else seemed to speak to your own private, entirely circumscribed situation's many pains and few ecstasies. We will continue to fragment in this manner, because solipsism holds all the cards at present; it is a king whose domain engulfs even Elvis's. But I can guarantee you one thing: we will never again agree on anything as we agreed on Elvis. So I won't bother saying good-bye to his corpse. I will say good-bye to you." 

-- Lester Bangs, August 29, 1977 

 

Copyright © 1996, 2019 by Steven Rubio. All rights reserved. Permission to link to this site is granted.

 


america

When Elvis sings “American Trilogy” (a combination of “Dixie,” “The Battle Hymn of the Republic,” and “All My Trials,” a slave song), he signifies that his persona, and the culture he has made out of blues, Las Vegas, gospel music, Hollywood, schmaltz, Mississippi, and rock ’n’ roll, can contain any America you might want to conjure up. It is rather Lincolnesque; Elvis recognizes that the Civil War has never ended, and so he will perform the Union. Well, for a moment, staring at that man on the stage, you can almost believe it. For if Elvis were to bring it off—and it is easy to think that only he could—one would leave the hall with a new feeling for the country; whatever that feeling might be, one’s sense of place would be broadened, and enriched. But it is an illusion.

-- Greil Marcus, Mystery Train: Images of America in Rock 'n' Roll Music


oh bondage up yours!

(I wrote this in 1993 for the journal Bad Subjects. It was anthologized in a book in 1997. I am reprinting it here, because the Bad Subjects website has been down for what feels like years. I have added a video at the end.)

Oh Bondage Up Yours!: Thoughts on the Rhino Punk Anthology 

'Thus, as soon as the original innovations which signify 'subculture' are translated into commodities and made generally available, they become 'frozen.' Once removed from their private contexts by small entrepreneurs and big fashion interests who produce them on a mass scale, they become codified, made comprehensible, rendered at once public property and profitable merchandise.'
---Dick Hebdige, Subculture: The Meaning of Style

1977: While I'm browsing in Rather Ripped Records of Berkeley, the in-store stereo begins playing one of the most powerful pieces of rock and roll I have ever heard. I stand transfixed until the song is over; when it ends, I go up to the counter and ask the clerk, 'What WAS that?' He sneers at me with know-it-all superiority and says, 'The Sex Pistols.'

January 14, 1978: I am at Winterland, the aging ex-home of ice shows, turned into a rock emporium by Bill Graham (and soon to be torn down forever, though the name lives on in the souvenir company that sells rock and roll tee-shirts). The Sex Pistols take the stage for what will turn out to be their last concert ever (so far), and the crowd begins the most awesome display of audience participation I have ever witnessed. The Pistols are used to playing clubs; Winterland holds 5,000. It is the biggest crowd in Sex Pistols history, and Johnny Rotten, at least, hates it. People begin throwing things at the band, not just the usual wadded-up paper cups, but money, toilet paper rolls and dead flowers. Rotten hangs on the mike stand, dodging the missiles, and though I am perhaps halfway back of the old auditorium, I can see the piercing intelligence of his demonic eyes as he badgers the audience and sings our favorites: 'Anarchy for the USA' indeed. He paces the stage, pocketing the most useful debris, asking 'Cameras? Anyone got any cameras?' (and sure enough, what looks like a camera flies through the air and lands at his feet). Greil Marcus described his own reactions to the show in Lipstick Traces

Walking the aisles of Winterland as the Sex Pistols played, I felt a confidence and a lust that were altogether new. Thirty-two years had not taught me what I learned that night: when you're pushed, push back; when a shove negates your existence, negate the shove. I felt distant from nothing, superior to nothing. I also felt a crazy malevolence, a wish to smash people to the ground, and my eyes went to the ground, where I saw small children (what sort of parents would bring little kids to a place like this, I wondered, thinking of my own at home), and thought of smashing them. 

My own reactions were odd variations of those Marcus was experiencing. Surrounded by the largest display of public nihilism I had ever participated in ('real' or 'fake' seemed unimportant at the time), my thoughts kept going back to MY children, not only my two-and-a-half year old son, but the daughter who it turned out was born the very next afternoon. Perhaps it was the thoughts of my daughter-to-be, but in the midst of all that spectacular malevolence, I was happy. To be a part of 5,000 people singing 'NO FUTURE!' in unison seemed somehow both the most negative and most positive statement possible. Camus once pointed out that to refuse suicide is to accept life; in refusing the future we had been offered, we were accepting something more unknown, more frightening, more wonderful.

Winter 1993: Amidst rumors of a Sex Pistols reunion tour, Rhino Records, anthologizer to the Boomer generation, releases a series of volumes called DiY ('Do it Yourself') that encapsulate the punk moment as it appeared on record. I snap up a few of the volumes right away, and find myself one night driving my now-teenaged son's car down the freeway, listening to Anarchy In the UK: UK Punk I. An old favorite comes on, 'Oh Bondage Up Yours!' by X-Ray Spex. This single, and their one great album, Germfree Adolescents, had been very hard to come by in America; I can remember listening to 'Oh Bondage' on the radio many times, but I never actually saw a copy of it, and I never even heard Germfree until a friend made me a copy of his import version. But now, here was that classic song, easy to find in the CD era of endless anthologizing, and I was happy.

Poly Styrene, the lead singer with braces, led off with her wonderful British accent, calmly speaking without accompaniment: 'Some people think little girls should be seen and not heard. But I think ...' and then she upped the stakes, screaming into the void, 'OH BONDAGE, UP YOURS! ONE! TWO! THREE! FOUR!' And the band kicked in, led by Lora Logic's amazing amateurish sax playing, and I drove down the road, bouncing like Wayne and Garth in Wayne's World, alone with my music and my memories, singing along as best I could: 'Nyah nyah nyah nyah chain me to the wall, I wanna be a slave nyah nyah, Oh Bondage! Up Yours! Oh Bondage! No More! Oh Bondage! Up Yours! Oh Bondage! No More!' At that moment, I loved Rhino Records.

 

It probably isn't a question of whether or not punk rock died that night in Winterland. The Sex Pistols died, maybe; but punk and Sex Pistols were never completely interchangeable terms. Much terrific punk rock music has been made in the fifteen years since the Sex Pistols broke up, not only by Pistols contemporaries like The Clash but by the many children of punk: Hüsker Dü and the Replacements in Minnesota, X in Los Angeles, the Seattle grunge bands of today. No, punk rock didn't necessarily die at Winterland, but what about rock and roll itself, the music which 'defined a generation'? Did the Sex Pistols really bring on the end of rock and roll, as Johnny Rotten, now using his 'real' name of John Lydon, claimed in the post-Pistols years?

Many of us who believed in the notion that rock and roll represented liberation welcomed punk with open arms in the late 70s. Our music had gotten too cautious, too worried about the bottom line; punk rock was for us a return to the rebellious roots of rock and roll, filtered through Iggy and the Dolls and stamped with intentional ugliness. Many of our contemporaries took one listen to the Sex Pistols, or the Ramones or Flipper or whichever band first interrupted their contemplations, and decided in a seeming instant that it was time to grow up. They changed the buttons on their car radio from 'underground' stations to oldies, classic rock, and Tom Petty; they might tolerate the so-called New Wave, but they weren't about to listen to a group called the Dead Kennedys. Those of us who embraced punk adopted the sneer of the Rather Ripped clerk: we had seen the future of rock and roll, and it was playing on college radio, not KFOG. In distancing ourselves from the oldies fans, we thought we were placing ourselves in the forefront of the elder statesperson wing of the New Rock and Roll. We perhaps never noticed that punk wasn't the beginning of a new era, but the end of an old one.

For an era must have passed before it becomes grist for the nostalgia mill. And nostalgia is partly what I was experiencing as I sang along with Poly Styrene: 'This is what it used to be like' fueled my joy just as much as did Lora Logic's saxophone. The incongruities involved in listening to 'Oh Bondage' on my son's car stereo were unimportant as long as the song was playing. In 1977 'Oh Bondage! Up Yours!' was a call to end the bondage; in 1993, it was a call to remember a time when our bondage was different than it is now. The cultural force of 'Oh Bondage!' in 1977 was empowering; the stagnation of the mid-70s, economic, artistic, psychic and social, was confronted with a NO so emphatic it became an affirmation, an insistence that things did not have to remain as they were. But in 1993, 'Oh Bondage!' in part represents a trip back to the good old days. We love Rhino Records, because we get one last chance to stare down bondage, but as long as we are dealing with remembered bondage, we are powerless. Only by using Poly Styrene's cry as a weapon against our current, ongoing, bondage, can we be true to the spirit of 1977.

If we accept 'Oh Bondage Up Yours!' solely on the terms of the Rhino reissue, as a formerly-rare artifact now offered to CD owners who want to complete their collections, then we are acquiescing in the process described by Dick Hebdige at the top of this essay: subcultural innovation becomes 'codified, made comprehensible, rendered at once public property and profitable merchandise.' Hebdige is not the only cultural studies scholar who believes there is a potential for dissent within the complex processes in which commodities and consumers interact, but if such against-the-grain reading of texts is difficult even at the moment when sub-cultural innovation first presents itself, how much harder is it when it must be performed in an atmosphere of nostalgia, which is ultimately only memories served up to us by others for their own purposes? Rhino Records is not interested in reproducing the social and artistic milieu that spawns an X- Ray Spex; they are only interested in creating a nostalgia for that milieu, for the purpose of selling albums. 

Of course, record companies have always been interested in selling albums; this was no different in 1977. But the tensions of 1977, in the period between the initial sub-cultural innovation and its inevitable commodification, lay partly in the desire of the exploiters to encourage a continuation of the then-current social malaise (which would create more artifacts to be exploited) and partly in the desire of the innovators to resist exploitation. With the later onset of nostalgia, our memories are exploited, the innovators are long busy elsewhere, and the tensions have disappeared. Those who 'remember when' have their memories stripped of the tension that provided a foundation for thought and action; those who are hearing this music for the first time are hearing it stripped of the social context that was equally important in making this music 'matter.' In both cases it is possible to make X-Ray Spex matter once again, this essay itself being one attempt to get beyond cheap nostalgia. But the disappearance of the social context makes listening to X-Ray Spex in 1993 a personal, individual experience; contrast my singing alone in a car with the communal nihilism of the last Sex Pistols concert.

Once there was a punk moment, when 'We mean it, maaaaan!' was not ironic, when you could, for a second or a minute or a lifetime, throw off bondage. This moment was quickly codified; the pathetic Sid Vicious, not the more dangerous Johnny Rotten, became the primary icon of the early punks, and New Wave (hello, Talking Heads) was the recording industry's money-making response to Punk (goodbye, X-Ray Spex). It is possible, even likely, that those who once heard a great and awful roar in 1977 are willing to settle for a Rhino reissue in 1993. But such a nostalgic settlement does not connect us with our past, but instead denies it.

Copyright © 1993, 2019 by Steven Rubio . All rights reserved. Permission to link to this site is granted.


music friday: b.b. king, 1968

On June 6-8, 1968, The Mothers of Invention headlined shows at the Fillmore (first night) and Winterland (next two nights). The supporting acts were B.B. King and Booker T. and the M.G.'s. It's a good example of the kinds of diverse shows Bill Graham would put on in those days. The Mothers were experimental rock, King was blues, Booker and the M.G.'s were R&B. All are in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Jazz Casual was a TV show out of KQED in San Francisco that ran occasionally from 1960-1968, shown on NET (which later became PBS). The host was critic Ralph J. Gleason. A look at Gleason's guest list boggles the mind: Dizzy Gillespie, Dave Brubeck, Carmen McRae, Sonny Rollins, Louis Armstrong, John Coltrane, Mel Tormé, Count Basie, and many more. In May of 1968, the guest was B.B. King. It gives an example of what B.B.'s music was like at the time. The band is B.B. King (Guitar), Sonny Freeman (Drums), Jim Toney (Organ), Mose Thomas (Trumpet), and Lee Gatling (Saxophone).


music friday: mick jagger's birthday

Mick Jagger spent his 34th birthday with the Rolling Stones, playing a Day on the Green concert in Oakland. It was the final show on the Some Girls tour, and tickets were $12.50. For your money, you got not only the Stones, but Santana, Eddie Money, and Peter Tosh. A Rolling Stone article about the tour asked, "Has the band lost that touring magic?"

Former Wailer Peter Tosh released his third solo album in 1978, Bush Doctor. It was his second album on Rolling Stones Records, and featured Tosh and Jagger trading vocals on "(You Gotta Walk And) Don't Look Back".

Eddie Money was a local favorite working out of Berkeley who had released his first album in 1977. It was a big seller and contained two hits, "Two Tickets to Paradise" and this one:

Santana was a bigger local favorite who, of course, were known world-wide. In 1978, they released a cover of Buddy Holly's "Well All Right":

The Stones made the fans wait more than two hours before they hit the stage. This was the setlist:

Let It Rock
All Down the Line
Honky Tonk Women
Starfucker
When the Whip Comes Down
Beast of Burden
Lies
Miss You
Just My Imagination (Running Away With Me)
Shattered
Respectable
Far Away Eyes
Love in Vain
Tumbling Dice
Happy
Sweet Little Sixteen
Brown Sugar
Jumpin' Jack Flash
(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction

Some Girls was the Stones' last great album. A few years ago, they released a film of a 1978 concert in Texas. About that show, Chet Flippo, who penned the above-mentioned Rolling Stone article, wrote:

There have been bad shows on this tour, but Fort Worth was not one of them. It was the last small show of the tour, and the Stones gave it everything they had: these old pros, crippled by age and by dissipation, but still holding the flag high. Jagger’s defiance, missing in so many of the shows, returned for a while and Richards was — usually — leading the band. In “Beast of Burden” when Jagger pleaded, “Ain’t I tough enough?” it was a real question, not a rhetorical one. Thirty rows back, though, with everyone still standing, I was thinking: I’m thirty-four years old and I’ve seen rock & roll for seventeen years and I’d kinda like to sit down. Jagger is also thirty-four and he’s been doing rock & roll seventeen years and most of the time he acts like he’d like to sit down, too. Why does he keep this up? Just for these few moments of glory? I studied him through binoculars and his face showed no emotion whatsoever. During “Shattered,” he was mumbling the words, “I’ve been shattered” as he half-heartedly shook his cock. That’s been the extent of his 1978 theatrics: teasing the audience with whatever was in his pants and performing an intermittent striptease with his T-shirt. The audience reaction, even at this relatively supercharged show, was the same as at the other concerts I’d seen: at first buoyantly up and ready for the old Stones magic to wash over them. As that magic wanes, a certain listlessness sets in. At some of the outdoor shows, that listlessness turned to anger and stage-trashing.

“If the band’s slightly lacking in energy,” he mumbled after “Shattered,” “it’s because we spent all last night fuckin’. We do our best.” Well, I thought, I’m glad this is a good show because the bad ones these days are really painful. Jagger’s voice started cracking and Richards gave over his guitar solo in “Tumbling Dice” — usually a magical moment — to Ron Wood. A good show, very close to being a great one. If the Stones continue to work this hard, they can hold on to their championship title for a while yet.

Finally, for archival purposes, here is a poorly-recorded audio of the Oakland concert:


music friday: fillmore auditorium, july 19, 1967

On this date 52 years ago, Bill Graham presented one of those interesting mixes at the Fillmore that he was known for in those days. He was in the middle of what he called "The Fillmore Summer Series", which the previous month had included my first rock concert (Chuck Berry, Eric Burdon & the Animals, Steve Miller Blues Band). Wednesday, July 19, 1967 was the second night of a six-day stand featuring Sam & Dave and the James Cotton Blues Band.

Sam & Dave Poster

Bonnie MacLean did the poster. She and Graham had been married the month before.

Country Joe & the Fish were the opening act for the first three nights (The Loading Zone took over for the final three). Here they are a month earlier at the Monterey Pop Festival:

James Cotton played all six nights, and then stuck around for six more nights playing with The Yardbirds, Richie Havens, and The Doors. Here he is, live in 1967:

Sam & Dave in 1967:

Sam Moore in 2009:


music friday: listening

My nephew got me started on a long ramble when he asked me in an email, "How did your music listening habits change from your 20s to your 30s?" My reply:
 
My formative years ... well, I'm gonna say for many/most Americans, our formative years for popular music come in high school or a little before. I was in high school from 1967-1970. So, try as I might, part of me is stuck in that era, which is proven by Last.fm, which tracks my Spotify listening. I'll brag about listening to Billie Eilish like that means I'm old-but-hip, except when we run the numbers ... well, my top ten artists for June were Beatles, Bruce Springsteen, Bob Dylan, Sleater-Kinney, The Kinks, Tim Buckley, Rolling Stones, Bonnie Raitt, Bowie, and Fleetwood Mac (notably, that last act was almost all the Peter Green years).
 
I'd extract two things from this. One, I was raised on guitar rock. It's not that weird that I would like Sleater-Kinney, where 2/3 of the band plays guitar. That also means I started disconnecting when synthesizers replaced guitars in pop bands ... outside of New Order, I wasn't a big fan, and that came around the time I turned 30. Two, not sure how it works here, but probably my #1 pop music influence in high school was the birth of "underground" FM radio. That's where most of my current nostalgia lies, and those top ten artists above were either played on those radio stations or were outgrowths of that.
 
Next, there was no way, at least to me, to predict hip-hop, which long ago replaced rock and roll as the primary pop music. I am appreciative of hip hop, and have my favorites, but really, it was mostly Beastie Boys who connected with me, because they were kinda like Led Zeppelin with rapping. I turned 30 in 1983. That was when Run-D.M.C and Public Enemy and such were beginning, so I caught the beginnings of that, but my favorite was still Bruce Springsteen. And while Prince covered all genres, and I saw him first in 1981, he had strong roots in guitar rock, so I wasn't really stretching out then, either. Beyond that, my favorites were bands like Hüsker Dü.
 
The only time I fell headlong into an emerging sound was punk. I first saw Patti Smith in 1976, Talking Heads and Sex Pistols in '78, Clash in '79. I could never call myself a punk rocker ... I had a job as a steelworker and was supporting a wife and two kids. But it's really the only time I felt strongly connected to a genre. When did this end? I don't know, I saw the fake-Clash in 1984, maybe that ends that period. And I was 31 in 1984.
 
So ... I don't think my musical tastes have changed nearly as much as I'd like to pretend. Noisy rock in the 60s, Bruce and then punk in the 70s, Prince and Hüsker Dü in the 80s, first three S-K shows in the 90s, Pink ... well, she's a little different, except when you see her in concert and get past the high-flying acrobatics, she and her band are very traditional guitar rock.
 
So to your actual question: Listening habits.
 
From my early youth until the Summer of Love in 1967 (when I turned 14), I listened to Top 40 Radio. Starting in the summer of 1967, I listened to FM radio, and I connected very much to a fantasy hippie world. The early-70s were more random, then Robin and I started going to concerts when we had a little extra money, so my 70s listening included lots of live music. Saw Bruce first in 1975, #1 life-changing artist for us. In the 1970s, the radio station that was once "Underground" was mainstream, but they still played what we now think of as Classic Rock, and I was still very attached to radio. Sometime in the 1980s, I found myself playing music I bought more than I listened to radio, although I had a few years in the mid-80s when I listened to college radio 24/7. And in 1983, I turned 30.
 
Nothing really changed in my listening habits from the mid-80s until 2002 or so. I was an early adopter of all-you-can-eat streaming services, so starting with Rhapsody and going into today's Spotify, my listening habits are fed by the idea that I can hear anything I want at any time in any place. Been doing that since I turned 50 or so. And while that gives me the chance to sample all kinds of music, see Last.fm above ... I listen to 60s music a lot. Well, 60s music and Billie Eilish (I remain a sucker for young girls/women with attitudes).
 
The real question is, how much of my changing listening habits came from getting older, and how much came because of emerging technology? Specifically, my listening is related to how radio came to me: Top 40, then FM Underground, then FM mainstream, then college radio, then a hiatus, then finally streaming. But WHAT I listen to, I assume, is tied to getting older. Maybe not so noticeably when I went from my 20s to my 30s (concerts I attended in 1982, when I was 29: Prince, Clarence Clemons, J Geils/U2, Clash/English Beat; in 1983, when I was 30: Prince, Marianne Faithfull), but by the time I was 40 ... well, I didn't go to as many concerts, for one thing. The only two artists I've obsessed about that started after I was 40 are Sleater-Kinney and Pink, and Pink isn't really an obsession.
 
So changes happen over the years, but they are gradual. And it is possible to stay current in your enjoyment of pop music, but most of my friends who are in their 50s and 60s, even the most music-obsessed ones, struggle to keep up. They want to hear the latest thing, but they'd rather listen to The Cure and Pavement. My glory years of music listening were the late-60s FM radio, and the mid/late-70s of fairly regular concert going. That is, Jefferson Airplane and The Clash have a special place in my heart.