Friday, January 16, 2009

On The Road With The Ramones
Monte A Melnick and Frank Meyer

Originally released almost in conjunction with the End Of The Century documentary (featuring as it does many identical interview excerpts) back in 2003, this updated edition closes the chapter on The Ramones' long haul - from influential pacemakers toalso-rans to legendary elders -with the death of Johnny Ramone. As may be expected, and with true Ramones efficiency, this travelogue-cum-history traverses the rigmaroles of pretty much any band in any hemisphere - existing out on the edges, a few steps outta the trenches. Outlining the logistics as well as the lunacy, the striving and strife, practicalities and playfighting and the trouble and triumph behind the paper-thin veneer of their almost too-perfect image, tour manager Melnick pieces together the teeth-pulling terrors of keeping a band road-ready for two months never mind twenty-two years (with rare photos and tour momentos to go).
Set out thematically rather than chronologically, it does require a bit of page-flicking in consternation at its detours, which do, however, seem entirely suitable given the subject matter - and the character - of this psych-ward surfers and institution-trippers by any other name.
Despite the difficulty in gauging the sheer presence of the impossibly irrepressible and larger than life Dee Dee from the page alone (not for nothing does his replacement CJ put him in a league with Keith Richards as the only true rock'n'rollers), this is a rollicking tale of bittersweet reminiscence, succulent sour grapes and savage gracelessness.
Though that much-imitated cartoon image may have effectively cocooned them from more sympathetically tragic tales like the New York Dolls, as with the caricatures of Jagger's pragmatism to Richards' romantic itinerant troubadour, this generates as vast a gulf of respect for Johnny, no matter his egregious opinions and politics, as it does Joey's trod-upon tender heart and Dee Dee's gutter-level turmoil.
Encapsulating the gritty grandeur of rock's ruin-wracked roads, in the style of his charges' sub-two-minute staccato outburts, Melnick's illuminating oral history is a myth-melting handbrake-turn into the dark heart thatkeeps the beat rollin' on.
Stu Gibson
The Many Lives Of Tom Waits
Patrick Humphries
www.omnibuspress.com

A famously evasive, though highly entertaining, interviewee with sleeves full of deceptive deflections to ward off unwanted enquiries into his carefully cultivated private world, Waits is never going to be easily illuminated by any biographer, unless he should see fit. Basically a hastily patched together update of his earlier work Small Change Humphries falls further foul of many an unauthorised biographers’ pitfalls, ending up with a collage of quotes and extracts culled from elsewhere. It’s doubtful anyone could fail entirely when armed with copious samples from the cornucopia of the always delightful Waitsian wit and wonder and almost Billy Connolly-esque awe at trivia and minutiae, but ultimately that is all PH provides, besides performing irritating, perfunctory track by track dissections on each album. Though it’s attracted derision from hardcore acolytes (an occupational hazard, surely) in online diatribes devoted to various geographical and chronological errors, they are more irksome than criminal to the general reader.
Adopting a lyrical style striving to mirror his subject, sure to scrape the scalps of some readers, Humphries is best early on, depicting Tom out on a limb. From a solitary though supportive childhood and teenage wasteland where his jazz and bop-street heels clicked heroically out of synch with his beat-boom preoccupied peers to the tireless trails as a lonesome travelling troubadour onto the eighties reinvention as ringmaster of macabre, ending as a family man with a still insistently inquisitive mind that shows no signs of settling. Though the tale doesn’t, and can’t, reveal a complete picture of the man behind the brilliant disguises, enough slivers twinkle between the lines to sense the essential shyness belying a steely self-assuredness and strength of character that gave gravel in more than voice to go against the grain. Thankfully, Humphries doesn’t dive headlong down aimless avenues of idle conjecture and cod psychoanalysis and it does remain ultimately fitting that at the end of it all Waits remains an enigma awaiting his own literate, exhaustively researched biography in the manner of Michael Gray’s Blind Willie McTell tome Hand Me My Travelling Shoes or John Kruth’s Townes Van Zandt epic To Live’s To Fly.
Stu Gibson
The Sidewalk Regrets
The Sidewalk Regrets
www.brokenElectric.com

This elegiac in sound and spirit compilation of studio, live and home recordings released in commemoration of mainman Jamie Thompson, a casualty of god knows what at age twenty-two in 2000, from the astoundingly named Aussies forges a pathway between fellow continental drain-drinkers The Birthday Party, The Scientists and The Drones, mangling the formers jagged, boneshaker rhythms with the shimmering humanity of the scorched-heart rending rivers of the latter. If it’s a wake, it’s one in the traditional celebratory sense, the restless anguish and dysfunctional grace inherent in the above bands here alive and crying incandescently with intense grit, grandeur and swamp-drenched sorrows. Epic scalping guitars scrape and gyrate soundtracks ‘cross arid heartlands of ill-fortune and miserly gains in webs of selfs – loathing, lust, guilt and immolating - in a hazy petrol vitriol of scornful Morrissey / Cave crooning - scar-strangled splendour twisting into sardonic realms of disquiet, with an addictive, unrefined ardour belying no traces of the Manchester legends' archness – like velvet dragged over a barbed-wire corset. Yet their controlled stampedes are all the more exciting and explicit for what may lie beneath. Though there be telling influences of the post-punk early eighties they are given nary a scant disregard as they ignite a splendorous antidote to prevailing dregs of Joy Division yawning drizzly ditherings, with tender hints where the perceptive may open links to the likes of a Green On Red or a tuneful though no less dishevelled Nikki Sudden. It’s all a matter of taste and depth and this harrowing empowering case of what coulda beens sure digs deep in it’s glorious, gorgeous majestic dirges of soaring despair.
Stu Gibson
Arthur Louis
Black Cat
www.arthurlouis.co.uk

Apparently this long-standing blues train a-comin’ was given a guitar by Hendrix and features Clapton as sometime guest at rancho el arthurio. Well, if you wanna see how ol’ Jimi may have ended up given Clapton’s rapid descent into plastic prominence, followed lesserly by JJ Cale and Taj Mahal. Indeed Mr Louis it was who demonstrated to magpie Eric how to mix reggae blues and pop/rock and off he trotted to the land of the trite-handed man. With a pleasant, cask-aged rasp and laudable tendency to lay off the fret-flagellation, he showcases those reggae roots (being born in Jamaica) on Birthday and the title track, mellow electronic gurgles on One Day I’m Gonna Wake Up meld the candelit with the computer, and at it’s best on Fast Car and Born To Sing The Blues there’s tentative foot to the shag-carpeted floor metallic Texas blues and the haunting spectres of citified blues-past as perfected by BB King, even if it is a ghostly sheet pressed into safe straight edges. As sure-footed urbane, non-threatening or surface-dredging suave-sipping blues goes if you’re gonna do it, at least do it like this.
Stu Gibson
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