Sex Grits Rock & Roll 003
ex Grits Rock & Roll: a bi-weekly column about twang, funky butt, and the pursuit of succulent fatback. Animated by coeval guitar army and hominy fetishes, these fan's notes hail from a Dixie boogie wonderland whose anthems are "Water No Get Enemy" and "In Memory Of Elizabeth Reed."
WOODY GUTHRIE - This Machine Kills Fascists DVD (Snapper Music)
Appropriately devoid of too many bells and whistles, this film skews more towards recounting the arc of the life of late folksinger/activist/socialist/merchant marine/novelist etc. Woodrow Wilson “Woody” Guthrie (1912 - 1967), rather than serving as an in depth critique of his music—despite daughter Nora’s digression on the composition and reception of the seminal “This Land Is Your Land.” To be sure Pete Seeger, folk movement mack daddy, appears to lend authority, distinguishing himself amongst assorted scholars and talking heads. However, it is narrator/fan/follower Billy Bragg who best sums up the cult and impact of Guthrie, calling the singer in turn: “more than a dustbowl poet,” “the last of the great Elizabethan balladeers,” “the original singer-songwriter,” and “the first alternative artist.”
If that doesn’t reek of fanboy hyperbole to you and you can handle that A) that stalwart figure marching across America “was not a saint,” and B) delightful 60s folk-rock vet/son Arlo Guthrie appears little, then get this DVD for completion and education’s sake. Woody Guthrie was, after all the father of the tradition Ramblin’ Jack Elliott, Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, the Clash, Bono, and others have adhered to. To his credit, Bragg, who memorably released two Guthrie collections—Mermaid Avenue & Mermaid Avenue, Vol. II—with Wilco in the late 1990s, acknowledges that all these would-be populist troubadours owe an immense debt to Guthrie and must beware of a tendency to deify him. Me, I’m okay with a man who, despite his flaws and transgressions, unwittingly reversed the blithe racism and ignorance of his namesake (President (Thomas) Woodrow Wilson (elected 1912), a native of my maternal hometown Staunton, VA, who infamously declared "It is like writing history with lightning, and my only regret is that it is all so terribly true," after a White House screening of D. W. Griffith’s The Birth Of A Nation) by playing well with folk-blues icons Sonny Terry, Brownie McGhee, and Leadbelly on the personal tip, and, on the macro level, inspiring several generations to question their government and stand up against The Man when America is showing its ugliest face.
SON VOLT / Okemah and the Melody of Riot (Transmit Sound/Legacy)
As postscript, it must be said that Ben Ratliff’s recent NYT review of Son Volt’s first album in seven years (with a reconstituted lineup), Okemah and the Melody of Riot—its title obviously referring to Guthrie’s hometown of Okemah, Oklahoma—damned the disc while simultaneously giving Son Volt leader Jay Farrar big ups for his painstaking manifestation of roots authenticity. Whatever the work’s demerits, Farrar, as one half of the fabled central partnership in Alt-Country watershed band Uncle Tupelo, has earned his bona fides in the roots arena. On the other hand, as a fan/critic a bit weary of the Y’Allternative gang’s affluent white youth obsessing over fiddles, string ties, and just-so approximations of the “Migrant Mother’s” ravaged mien in their quest to reject the strictures of upper class American life, relating to Ratliff’s ambivalence about the genre’s ongoing mission is not hard.
The best perception of this release is not to mentally align it with either the Olympian exaltation of Mt. Cameroun (called Théon Okema, or the Chariot of the Gods, in ancient times) nor the apocryphal Kickapoo brave the Oklahoma hamlet is named for but the hope that Jay Farrar, singer of the lines “Been doing a lot of thinking / Thinking about hell / Words of Woody Guthrie ringing in my head” on “Bandages & Scars,” is not miring his creative self in American Romantic solipsism but helping re-forge a path for conscious artists to produce work of societal significance again instead. In this instance, if invocation of the deified “dustbowl poet” that was Guthrie can jolt more citizens out of their wartime apathy, then “plains-state Gil Scott-Heron” (good one!) Farrar’s rigor and fealty is a good thing.
THE DUKES OF HAZZARD – Music From The Motion Picture (Columbia/Sony Music Soundtrax)
At first glance, this soundtrack’s typical picks culled from classic and new skool southern rock suggest a filler package meant solely to showcase star Jessica Simpson (woefully miscast as “Daisy Duke”) and her tedious cover of Nancy Sinatra/Lee Hazlewood’s “These Boots Are Made For Walkin’.” If one can get over how far once-great, Prince fam producers Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis have fallen, you might recover to enjoy Willie Nelson’s (“Uncle Jesse”) reinterpretation of his late outlaw podnuh Waylon Jennings’ Dukes of Hazzard theme song, “Good Ol’ Boys.” Otherwise, recycling such tunes as Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Call Me The Breeze” cover and Ram Jam’s “Black Betty” for the umpteenth time is uninspired and disappointing, underscoring one of the key problems inherent in Hollywood’s recent rush to mine late 20th century pop culture which rarely transcends maladroit pastiche. Perhaps the blame can be laid at the feet of LA tastemaker/KCRW ”Morning Becomes Eclectic” host Nic Harcourt who acted as music supervisor (my skepticism about his southern rock street cred is nothing compared to Mickey Kaus’ recent Slate snark referring to Harcourt as New York Times Magazine poster boy)? Were Big Kenny, Isaac Hayes, Pharrell, or even southern gentleman-turned-Angeleno Van Dyke Parks too busy? Bo may’ve been "the first in America to play Norah Jones" but ‘e don’t know Dixie.
A southern rock score programmed on autopilot aside, the disc’s one breath of fresh air is “Burn It Off” by Blues Explosion. The potential failures of the soundtrack and film go hand in hand: the attempts to update the television show’s narrative look tentative and clumsy in the trailer. Ignore my complaints all you like but (wisecracking mechanic) Ben “Cooter” Jones has already deemed the film "a sleazy insult." As NASCAR has mostly left its ‘shine-runnin’ prehistory in the diesel dust, it would have been refreshing for the film’s music to reflect the ongoing rapid-fire changes in the New South and the prevalent fame of southern acts as diverse as OutKast and Widespread Panic. Don’t you think that if they were live in ’05 (instead of, erm, fictitious TV characters) Bo and Luke Duke would have the General Lee souped-up on gold rims, with Deliverance looping on the head-rest DVD, rollin’ down the highway hittin’ that indo’, and digging on the Drive-By Truckers, Luda, and “Save A Horse (Ride A Cowboy)” between stops at the Waffle House and run-ins with Boss Hogg’s minions? Get a monster truck at least?
For a more complete assembly of this rote track listing that can serve “car rock” purposes while cruising down 95 South towards my grandmother’s place in southwest Georgia, I’ll stick with the Goin’ South (Razor & Tie, 2000) comp my sister ordered as a birthday present off TV. Meanwhile, your ire should really be reserved for “embattled” Hollyweird, rife with greedy execs possessed of blinkered illusions that keep trying to pimp hack writers instead of paying visionary talent that might produce cinematic touchstones for the zeitgeist to rival those of yesteryear. Hollywood slump? They brought that shit on themselves, to quote Eddie Murphy. When it comes down to it, though, the Dukes Of Hazzard can't be any worse than the rumored upcoming Jeffersons project starring Martin Lawrence & Queen Latifah as “George ‘N Weezy” (will the ubiquitous Vince Vaughn reprise Paul Benedict’s role as doorman?). No, I'm not kidding; the bomb of Cedric The Entertainer’s “Honeymooners” was not enough punishment for those Tinseltown masochists who conceive of black audiences (particularly) as a monolithic, crass herd.
Of course, the real Dukes of Hazzard movie was released in 1975 as Moonrunners, a true-life account of Jerry Rushing’s misspent youth. And, since the ‘Nets are ablaze with tattle that Simpson and Johnny Knoxville’s on set romance will soon go public, their white trash fetishist remix of Dirty Mary Crazy Larry can’t be far behind.
ROBERT PLANT & STRANGE SENSATION / MIGHTY REARRANGER (Sanctuary)
Whole lotta love for erstwhile Zeppelin front man Robert Plant’s finest solo album, Mighty Rearranger—that’s what this rock bitch has got. Released in May, the cock rock legend's first full solo album of original songs in a dozen years features support from the Strange Sensation (following up 2002's Dreamland). From Plant’s keynote speech at this year’s SXSW festival in March, I knew that the disc would be mature, assured, and refreshing in its spin on a 60s-bred artist’s late career choices. Plant’s easygoing clarity and humor about notorious aspects of his misspent priapic youth and celluloid Viking fantasies was also welcome. That spirit, as well as that of the haunting music of Tamazgha that inspires him, animates this project to great depths (here’s a plea that his next recorded/live outing be in the company of Tinariwen). The band shines also, Clive Deamer and Justin Adams’ playing of the African instruments bendir and tehardant compelling enough that the disc doesn’t reek of typical dinosaur rock world music dilettantism but they mesh organically with the sound. Songs like “The Enchanter,” standout "Shine It All Around," and “Somebody's Knocking” reveal Plant’s adventurous and passionate face, the aspect of the man and musician who never rests on his laurels (nor cynically cashes in with Zeppelin reunions), unafraid to venture into new sonic and personal territory…or still toss those golden locks and strut with vim and vigor.
This vitality elevates Plant above all his British Invasion contemporaries, who he smacks down on the cunningly titled “Tin Pan Valley”—even rival legendary front men Mick Jagger and Rod Stewart—all the young dudes turned Olympian gods fallen into shadow. Who else among his contemporaries has had the cojones to utter such lyrics: “My peers may flirt with cabaret, some fake the rebel yell / Me, I'm moving up to higher ground, I must escape their hell”? [I wouldn’t put it past Scott-Heron’s infinite razor wit but as a bruh bluesician he was never counted among those lads’ number]. Ambitious, spiritual, literate, sublime, and evocative of Zeppelin’s blues-rock tradition without being tethered to its pedestal, Mighty Rearranger gives no quarter either.
NIGHT TRAIN TO NASHVILLE: MUSIC CITY RHYTHM & BLUES 1945 – 1970, VOL. 2 (Lost Highway)
Opening in March 2004, the Country Music Hall of Fame & Museum in Nashvegas mounted “Night Train To Nashville” as special exhibit focused on the obscured history of black pre-war music and culture and its still evolving linkages to the country mainstream. The accompanying two-volume CD anthology features such artists as Isaac “Little Ike” Hamilton of “She Can Rock” fame, Jimmy Church, Sandra King, Gay Crosse’s band including John Coltrane, Esther Phillips, and Jimi Hendrix mentors The Imperials. In its time, although “Vol. 1” won a Grammy for best historical recording of ’04, the exhibit itself, closing this December, has caused a lot of controversy on site, drawing out a lot of prejudice and ignorance from the museum’s (presumably) majority white visitors. To wit: "What the hell was that? Ain't this the COUNTRY music hall of fame?" overheard by staffers as seniors tours exited. Beyond the “ole cranky contingent,” many among the paying public have felt that this exhibit spotlighting local black music traditions had no place in their hallowed hillbilly hall, consciously or not mirroring Music Row’s relentless recalcitrance in signing and marketing acts of African descent who are actually fluent in all of the country & western genre’s hallmarks.
To the Museum’s credit, although they were rumored to be spurred by the City’s mandate of PC inclusivity from the git-go and the exhibit’s tensions obviously echo Nashville’s ongoing identity crisis, they did work in tandem with a host of institutions and experts to produce a display that would shine a worthy spotlight on an era in Nashville music (the mid-20th century and on the dark side) that had not been canonized and only tangentially reported on (for instance, the 1960s all-black, Nashville-produced “Night Train” TV program, hosted by creator Noble Blackwell, was later reincarnated as Don Cornelius’ iconic, Chi-Town-based “Soul Train”). A great collection, reminding listeners young and old of a time when Middle Tennessee R&B; was touted on the map and considered rebel music unsuitable for the dominant culture’s homes, Night Train To Nashville Vol. 2 continues the process of reclamation of these artists and independent labels work, some heralded, others forgotten, the discs gathering the overflow from the galleries to extend illumination of the story. The plethora of instances of collaboration between R&B; and country artists herein affirm once again that the strident separation between the genres is mostly fed by the industry to audiences to shackle their minds. The musicians themselves, then as now (and, incidentally, I’m expecting great things from Marty Stuart’s new Superlatone label), rarely make such distinctions; they just want to jam and enjoy relations. How is it possible that a good number of R&B; songs became country hits (and, conversely, country songs charted often in the R&B; realm) when America staggered beneath the albatross of Jim Crow yet now, when we are “free,” the musical mandate is to, as Dexter Holland bellows, “keep ‘em separated”?
RAY DAVIS RIP
Sadly, veteran Parliament-Funkadelic singer Ray Davis (1940 - 2005) died of respiratory complications on 7 July in New Brunswick, NJ, at age 65. A native of Sumter, SC, Davis was a member of the original Parliaments, Funky Prez-O-Dent George Clinton’s Plainfield-based doo-wop vocal group in the 1950s—including Clarence “Fuzzy” Haskins and Grady Thomas —which evolved into a hit-making act with 1967’s "(I Wanna) Testify" and, with dropped final “s,” an expanded psych-rawkin’ outfit in the early 70s featuring the younger, tripped-out players of Funkadelic.
As the Aquarian Age faded into the “Me Decade,” the Parliafunkadelicment Thang webbed soul, rock, jazz, rockabilly, ethnic folk songs, gospel choruses, scatological humor, Black Power, Afro-futurist cosmic consciousness, glam sartorial splendor, and glittery stage displays into a high-tech minstrel show wherein Davis provided bass vocals for "One Nation Under a Groove" and "Flashlight" (which both reached No. 1 on the R&B; charts). After decades of sonic brilliance and personal turbulence, the funkateers-on-the-One were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1997.
Here’s hoping Brother Ray No. 2 easily caught the Mothership and beamed right up on high. In remembrance of him, never forget that “everybody’s got a little light under the sun, under the sun, under the sun…!”
VANS TRIPLE CROWN OF SURFING 04 DVD
Growing up in urban black America (at least before the present era), one hears and sees little to nothing of surfing. Surfing, a vague activity done in far off Hawaii might as well be as remote as man walking on the Moon. So I never developed a real appreciation of what is now a proper sport, highly lucrative and plugged into the Pacific Coast network of the X Games and the like. A foreign culture to me still but one made vital via Stacy Peralta’s great documentary Dogtown & Z-Boys (2001). His dramatic version of the same story of he and his peers’ youth on the seaboard failed this summer (it’s already at my local $2.50 cinema). Yet my kindled interest in the activity that produced the electric beauty of Dogtown’s skating style endures. In 2004, the “Vans Triple Crown of Surfing” was hailed as the internet's single most watched action sports event—star on pro surfing's longest running competition, held during six weeks of contests each winter with the world’s surf elite throwing down at Hawaii's Oahu North Shore. This DVD culls sixty riveting minutes of highlights from this three-part contest and pairs this footage with Epitaph label tracks by bands (Pennywise, Death By Stereo, Millencolin, Dropkick Murphys) pertinent to this cross-bred outlaw culture. Spotlighting 34 year-old Sunny Garcia's dramatically intense win at the coral reefs of Haleiwa, this package is a fine acquisition to stave off the dog days of summer.
WILLIE NELSON vs. WAL-MART
First they revoked the Red Headed Stranger’s allotted stretch of highway in Texas. Now Wal-Mart, chain superstore of ignominy due to its obliteration of small business, continues its crusade to censor pop music by refusing to sell Willie Nelson’s revived reggae project in its original format. If you want the discount price, you’ll get Countryman (Lost Highway) with an innocuous palm tree instead of the original cover art of green marijuana leaves over a red and yellow background resembling a large pack of rolling papers. Universal Music Group Nashville deferred to this but other groups have made concessions to be stocked by the ubiquitous retailer. And then again, even general purveyor of rock fluff Sheryl Crow had an album banned by Wal-Mart poobahs because it contained a song with lyrics about children killing each other with guns purchased under their roof.
Anyway, Nelson may not be as “well off” as his fellow country vet Charlie Daniels who just inked a deal to issue an album exclusively at the Cracker Barrel restaurant/retail chain, making Daniels to country cookin’ Cracker Barrel as Bob Dylan is to Starbucks, but his new album fittingly includes covers of Jimmy Cliff's "The Harder They Come" and "Sitting in Limbo." Let Willie’s interpretive voodoo surreptitiously work its magic on the retailer’s powers that be since they didn’t alter the content. Meanwhile, another album likely to never make Wal-Mart’s shelves: Hank Williams III’s new country album, Straight to Hell—recorded over two months on a Korg D1600 portable recording studio, a process rare on (if not utterly absent from) Music Row—drops September 13 on Curb.
DEATH ROCK: IN THE ARMS OF MORPHEUS
Citing the anguish and upset to her family and friends, British rocker and legendary Swingin’ 60s chick Marianne Faithfull is striking back at the New York Post’s notorious Page Six for the tab’s false reports of her having suffered a heart attack. Her current European tour reveals such accounts as unfounded; the persistent extraordinary power of her work shored up by this past winter’s release of Before The Poison (Anti), a sort of external autobiography featuring former lovers P. J. Harvey and Nick Cave, Brit popper Damon Albarn, and LA composer/Largo hierophant Jon Brion.
This item made me think less of Marianne Faithfull’s sound/vision high points since her groundbreaking 1979 return with Broken English—20th Century Blues, the underrated Vagabond Ways, roughly half of 2002’s forward-looking Kissin’ Time, and her star turn as “God” on the BBC comedy series Absolutely Fabulous—but of the near-universal rock law that death is the would-be culture hero’s best move. Some catty tongues might wag that Faithfull is already too old and infamous for death to become her and her stature as rock icon. Certainly Allman Brother guitar god Duane, T. Rex’ Marc Bolan, Nirvana’s Kurt Cobain, and, the Grand Daddy of posthumous superstardom, Jimi Hendrix, all prove out the adage. This notion of lucrative and obsessed-about death rock is what Spin senior writer Chuck Klosterman’s new memoir, Killing Yourself To Live (Scribner), centers upon. The rather recently minted New Yorker summons up his Western-bred driving skills (many long time Gothamites, myself included, never got lessons nor a license) and initiates a transcontinental travelogue, on assignment to visit the sites where several generations of rock stars took their last stand. Of course, before Klosterman (who openly worries his neuroses will stigmatize him as “the male Elizabeth Wurtzel”) has even reached West Warwick, Rhode Island, site of the devastating Great White club fire, his narrative digresses into long rambles through his back pages of thwarted amour and spiels on pop cultural dross. Acolytes of his burgeoning cult, appetites already whetted by Fargo Rock City and the breakout Sex Drugs And Cocoa Puffs (2002 and 2003, both by Simon & Schuster), will thrill to his quest’s advance along the land’s highways and by-ways once celebrated in twangy Woody Guthrie odes (per above). The film rights are already sold to New Line Cinema so it will be interesting to see how the filmmakers handle the writer’s patented form of postmodern gonzo and whether they successfully dramatize the book’s sustained interior monologue and brimful of pop detritus.
As Killing Yourself To Live wends its way from the local (Gotham’s fabled bohemian shrine, the Chelsea Hotel, where this critic almost moved in the early 90s and Sex Pistols bassist Sid Vicious infamously murdered his Philly-bred girlfriend Nancy Spungen) to the faraway (Kurt Cobain’s hometown of Aberdeen, WA), any average thinking about myriad rock stars’ hour of demise must race to the recurring theme of their embrace of Morpheus. Whatever their ultimate cause of death, Allman, Cobain, and Hendrix, like Faithfull, all suffered the needle and the damage done.
Stephen Davis, of Hammer Of The Gods fame, also adds to the shelf of rockist “Americabre” this season with yet another Jim Morrison biography: Jim Morrison: Life, Death, Legend (Gotham Books). Amusingly, the cover image of the late Mr. Mojo Risin’, all moody black & white and chiaroscuro, represents the cock rock godhead most akin to vintage photographs of white youths posed as historical gay icon Saint Sebastian by fey, “asexual,” late 19th century gentleman aesthete F. Holland Day (my hero!). The homoerotic gaze insinuates itself into the text, as Davis’ tome supposedly includes some provocative points—like asserting Jimbo’s bisexuality, intimating that the leonine 60s pinup was in fact the Lizard Queen—that other Morrisoniana lacks, especially the late Doors manager Danny Sugerman & Jerry Hopkins’ ode No One Here Gets Out Alive—coyly damned by Davis by stating that “Doors insiders” call it “Nothing Here But Packs of Lies.” Beneath the guise of elevating Morrison’s iconographic stature, Davis actually trucks in much rehashed innuendo, riding a lucrative fantasy trail towards feeding Doors cultists insatiable maws. Interestingly, Davis claims that latter-day Huysmans antihero/decadent aristo, the French Comte Jean de Breteuil, supplied both Morrison and his one time friend/lover/rock peer Janis Joplin’s fatal doses of heroin. If memory serves, Marianne Faithfull recounts being in Paris during the same period as Morrison and doing drugs with the same international jet set demimondaines. And so we come full circle.
Rock & Roll is dead but its diehard believers, on and offstage, high and low, shine on and on and on and on…
BATTLESTAR GALACTICA (airs Friday nights on the Sci-Fi channel)
Frankly, between work and eagerly anticipating the merciful midsummer return of the Sci-Fi channel’s breakout hit Battlestar Galactica (which returned this past Friday evening), I have been too busy to listen to much music of late. From the real live grown-ups/thespian titans Edward James Olmos and Mary McDonnell portraying “Commander Bill Adama” and “Madam President” respectively, to the extremely effective revision-with-care of the late 70s original, and dark, hokey-less tone, this show is a triumph. One virtually feels like one is watching a superior BBC drama programme instead of standard US television fare (and, by the way, why all the delay in bringing the Christopher Eccleston version of “Doctor Who” to the Lower 48?!). Battlestar Galactica Mk. 2 is what a reprise should look, sound, and feel like, achieving that elusive sense of lived-in realism applied to a world that, by its very nature, is fundamentally unreal. And the Emmy’s have recognized that fact.
Tricia Helfer’s blonde bombazon as cylon “Number Six” too closely repeats such stock baberella droids as “Star Trek: Voyager’s” Borg bitch 7 of 9 (Jeri Ryan, ex-wife of disgraced former Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate in Illinois) but it’s no biggie. And just how do machines conceive and incubate humanoid babies? Not sufficient beefs though to undermine a mostly stellar show and cast featuring hot Brit boyz James Callis (Dr. Gaius Baltar) and Jamie Bamber (Capt. Lee “Apollo” Adama) to drool over (at least when the not-so good Doc is in his more lucid moments). I’d let them lads turn me out as a space opera ‘ho anytime.
Sigh. There truly hasn’t been anything worth staying home Friday nights for since my much beloved, late, lamented Homicide went the way of the Dodo.
As my badass kozmic riotgurl Starbuck would say, “Good hunting!”
By: Kandia Crazy Horse
Published on: 2005-07-19