In 1943, Groucho Marx wrote a letter to U.S. troops stationed in Suriname in 1943 in a gesture of solidarity. It’s quite funny and the mention of marijuana in 1943 proves Groucho was a head of his time.
August 18, 1943.
Dear Corporal Darrow,
You asked me if I have a message for the soldiers in the jungle. I could probably send one but it would be collect and would only run into money. I imagine it’s difficult enough to stay awake on those lonely islands without having to read messages from me.
I don’t want you to worry much about the 4-Fs back home—true, we have been deprived of a few things but nothing of any importance. We don’t get much meat any more—the butcher shops have nothing in them but customers. Fortunately, I don’t rely on the stores for my vegetables. Last spring I was smart enough to plant a Victory garden. So far, I have raised a family of moles, enough snails to keep a pre-French restaurant running for a century and a curious looking plant that I have been eating all summer under the impression that it was a vegetable. However, for the past few weeks, I’ve had difficulty in remaining awake and this morning I discovered that I had been munching on marijuana the whole month of July.
Anyhow, we miss all you boys (I have a son in the Coast Guard) and we wish you were all back again raising hell and children. We are doing what little we can to further the war effort—we buy bonds, play service camps and short-wave broadcasts to our soldiers on the foreign fronts. We drive carefully, we take no vacations and, in general, do what we can. God knows it’s little enough. We all know that you boys are doing the real job.
In closing, all I can say is good luck, God bless you all and hurry home—remember, America is pretty empty without you kids.
‘Essentially mixes of music we dig - some of which we are very obviously damaged by, some less obviously so.
‘But I think one is influenced by all music one likes - whether or not that music is not perceived as “cool”. For instance, both Jonny and I spend a lot of time listening to vocalists from the 1950’s - Nat King Cole, Eartha Kitt, Blossom Dearie, Francis Faye, Timi Yuro, Julie London, etc. I think a lot of “hip” people never give that sort music a chance - and they are only doing themselves a disservice by being so unimaginative. Besides - the connections between say, Judy Garland and Bowie or Broadcast or The Moon Wiring Club seems pretty obvious to me.’
01. “Lonely House” - Lotte Lenya
02. “As I Lie In Your Arms” - Little Annie (A.K.A Annie Anxiety Bandez)
03. “Walking In The Rain” - Grace Jones
04. “Skin” - Leslie Winer
05. “Outta Space” - King Midas Sound
06. “Slipping Away (Tick Tock Mix By Chamber) - The Creatures
07. “Sultanesque” - Roxy Music
08. “Tender Talons” - Ladytron
09. “The End” (“Assault On Precinct 13”) Part 1: Disco Version - John Carpenter
10. “Human” (Massey’S Cromagnon Mix) - Goldfrapp
11.“Message Oblique Speech” - The Associates
12. “The Killer” - Pumajaw (A.K.A. Lumen)
13. “Brother And Sister” - Lubos Fisher
14. “The Be Colony”/“Dashing Home”/“What On Earth Took You?” - Broadcast And The Focus Group
15. “World’s End” - Mimi Goese & Ben Neil
Surely you’ll know by now that we’re big fans of SSION at Dangerous Minds. The album Bent (which was originally released as a limited edition free download last year) was one of my favorites of 2011. It’s the kind of artful, emotional, electronic dance music that I always wished the Scissor Sisters sounded like, or that Madonna would make instead of chasing Lady Gaga’s crown.
Well, Bent has now been given the full, physical release treatment by Dovecote Records, and SSION are out on tour to promote it this autumn. That means they will soon be coming to a town near YOU and, godammit, I wish I lived in the States so I could catch one of these shows!
As someone whose music I greatly respect and admire, for the third Notes From The Niallist column I caught up with Cody Critcheloe (who, for all intents and purposes, is SSION), to ask him what he has in store for this tour, and how the album promotion is going:
The Niallist: You’ve stated that you plan on producing a video for each track on your album Bent - how is that going? Is there a narrative thread between these videos? I have noticed some slight stylistic similarities.
Cody Critcheloe: That is true, we’ve completed 5 of the 10 videos so far. We’re still waiting to release a few while we are on tour. The wait is killing me! Yes, there is a narrative thread between all of the videos… I’m not sure if everyone will pick up on it and i don’t know if it’s really important that they do… We will see, I guess.
TN: You put out Bent as a limited edition free download last year, and now it is being re-released physically. How do you feel the free download worked in your favor? Or did it?
CC: Well a lot of people are familiar with the songs, they come to shows and sing a long, and that’s cool. I think it worked in my favor for sure. I mean, do people even buy records anymore? i do sometimes but not like i did when i was a kid… I feel like things are on the uprise though, but then again I don’t have anything to compare it to. This is just they way it turned out.
TN: You put a lot of effort into your stage shows - what can we expect from Ssion on this tour? Any secrets you might be willing to give away?
CC: I think a lot of people have seen photos from shows we did 5 or 6 years ago and assume that they are going to get that, or they see the “Clown” video and think that’s who i am and what we do. That’s not the case. iId need some insane funding and the audience to put on shows that big! When we get the opportunity to do a lavish pop show I go all out, but when you’re touring in a van and sometimes playing to 100 people in a basement or dive bar you can’t really do that! And i actually sort of like stripping it down, i like forcing people to have to deal with it on a strictly musical level… For this tour it’s me and a live band, some visual elements but nothing really over the top. It doesn’t seem to bother people who come to the shows either. It’s still good. I’m a good performer and the band is tight. Also, we have House of Ladosha supporting us on the tour, they are my favorite band in NYC. Check them out!
TN: Who are your primary influences as a live performer? And musically and more generally, in terms of art and style which you poses a lot of, who has influenced you to do what you do?
CC: Courtney Love, The Cramps, Prince, Little Richard, Iggy Pop, Madonna, Queen, Sonic Youth, Darby Crash, the B-52s, and a lot more.
TN: Thanks, Cody!
Here’s the latest SSION video, an interview about the upcoming Live & Wet tour:
And here, for your diary, is the full SSION tour date schedule:
“Angel Face” by Shock was a minor hit in the UK and on European dancefloors, but not in the US. Music fans here knew the song because it was included on a (well-known at the time) “loss leader” $1.99 “New Wave” “sampler” from RCA called Blitz that you can still easily find in the used record bins for around the same price. Aside from introducing adventuresome early 80s American listeners to Bow Wow Wow, the album also contained songs by great songs by Sparks and Polyrock, a minimalist synthpop band that Philip Glass sometimes played with and produced.
But for me, the best track on Blitz was “Angel Face” a cover of an old Glitter Band song. Shock were a dance troupe, incorporating mime artists (Tik & Tok from Return of the Jedi were members). I realize, of course, that this probably sounds fucking terrible already, but give it a chance. Were they musicians? No, but they did have “a look” that record companies, searching for the next big thing—the New Romantics and Boy George were just around the corner—could get behind.
Shock’s Barbie Wilde would later play the female Cenobyte in Hellraiser II. Other than that there’s not a whole lot more to the story, but amusingly, one of them, Carole Caplin, went on to become a “style coach” for Cherie Blair, wife of former UK Prime Minister Tony Blair. She became tabloid fodder for her connection to Australian con-man Peter Foster, who she introduced to Mrs. Blair, during a scandal dubbed “Cheriegate.”
The song’s propulsive beat comes from the use of a then-new (and prohibitively expensive) Roland MC-8 Microcomposer and in many ways provided the template for the New Romantic sound soon to be taken up by Duran Duran, Depeche Mode, Blancmange and others. The song was co-produced by Blitz club DJ Rusty Egan (later of the group Visage and London’s Camden Palace nightclub) and technological innovator Richard James Burgess of Landcape (who produced hit albums by Spandau Ballet and designed the first electronic drum).
I used to go the Mudd Club in London, practically every Friday in 1983-84 and “Angel Face” was always played once a night without fail, which always made me very happy.
Below, Shock performing “Angel Face” live when they opened for Gary Numan at Wembley Arena in 1981:
Thee single best comment I’ve seen anywhere on the Internet, the one that totally sums up the horrifying experience of watching the Obama/Romney face-off. This in response to a great piece written by Esquire’s Charles P. Pierce titled “How to Recover from a First Presidential Debate.”
Barry Friedman, of Tulsa, Oklahoma writes:
Last night reminded me of the episode of THE HONEYMOONERS where Ralph goes on the “$99,000 ANSWER,” picks the popular music category, rents a piano, and has Norton play musical selections all week to prepare for the event. Thing is, Norton always “warms up” by playing the first few bars of SWANEE RIVER, a tune which annoys Ralph, even though he just knows the melody; so, the night of the show, first tune Ralph is given, of course, is “Swanee River,” which he can’t name; thus, he loses on the easiest, most obvious point. Last night, Romney played SWANEE RIVER over and over and, while we sat in our living rooms, screaming IT’S SWANEE RIVER, IT’S SWANEE FUCKING RIVER—or, more to the point, “47%... The Ryan budget which includes the $750-million… vouchers… women’s issues… ACA… you can’t balance the budget cutting ‘Sesame Street… 36 months of job growth… quote the RNC platform!”—Obama stood there like Ralph, dumbfounded, fully briefed, yet inexplicably, comically unprepared.
P.S. Did anyone else get the email from the Obama Campaign last night, the one that started “I hope I made you proud out there explaining the vision we share for this country”? Maybe next debate, they’ll wait until the debate is over before sending out self-congratulatory messages.
A few of you emailed me wondering why I didn’t weigh in with my 2 cents on the debate and it was simply because I was aghast at what I saw. And just so there is no confusion, I saw a bravura performance from a lying plutocrat shitbag who will do or say anything to win the election and a shockingly listless Barack Obama who could barely seem to rouse himself out of a Valium stupor long enough to babble for a moment or two.
Then I watched the media report on how Romney had won the debate—it looked that way to me—but never mentioning that he blatantly lied about everything. It was also covered so thoroughly on every nook and cranny of the Internet by folks who were apparently left less slack-jawed than I was, so I saw no point. To be honest, this election can’t be over fast enough to suit me. I’m bored by it and sick to death of writing about it. Enough already.
Still that didn’t keep me from being curious about what Jon Stewart would have to say…
I delight in unexpected foods. I like nice things, and I like mayonnaise. I like bahn mi and euro-style fries and even the classic turkey sandwich. But it does represent something very generic, doesn’t it? Mayonnaise, I mean. Or am I besmirching a noble condiment out of hand, motivated by my own prejudices?
Maybe it’s political. I could be put off by the standard mayonnaise archetype—a wholesome Hellmann’s jar gracing the tables of 1950s suburban middle-class households—an economic position to which my family never quite ascended. Could it be that I’ve conflated “wholesome” with empty bourgeois lives? I’m sure the price of the mayo in question is also a factor—4 oz for $7? Is this the sauce of the petty bourgeoisie? Or does the current state of all mayo, luxury or otherwise, just reflect our capitalist alienation?
Maybe my objection is feminist. There is the mythos of a condiment once fine, now ubiquitous to every insipid kitchen, making a mockery of traditionally feminine labor with its diminishing quality. What was once a delicate combination of oil and water, a volatile emulsion requiring expertise to produce, now only evokes the vulgar industrial tubs of my food service days. Mass produced mayo was meant to simplify, save time and enrich the lives of women, like the vacuum cleaner. But with the vacuum cleaner came the standard of wall-to-wall carpeting—slightly differentiated dull labor and a more stringent barometer of cleanliness. Have our innovations in modern domesticity only made domestic life that much more banal and disaffected, haunting us like some sort of technocratic Betty Friedan nightmare?
Or is it a cultural issue with these people? These… mayonnaise people. Have I assumed their pretension too harshly? Did I falsely detect a sense of irony so thick they don’t even know when they’re kidding anymore? Why do I assume they aren’t earnest in their love of mayonnaise? They look like nice people.
Why would I hate the mayonnaise artisans? I mean, hey, I’ve often waxed affectionate over the esoteric intellectual motivations of my dearest friends. My favorite people always have some sort of strange specialty; one friend with an encyclopedic knowledge of 1980s queercore punk rock, another a talented typesetter, passionate over fonts. How does artisanal mayo inspire such ire, while the relentless academic pursuit of a near-forgotten Marxist inspires such tenderness? Could I ever become endeared to these people, as I am endeared to my dearest of comrades? Could I really see them, as lovely to me as my own loved ones, who know every Richard Pryor routine by heart, or who would stirringly lecture you about art nouveau toilets?
No. I could not. Because it’s artisanal mayonnaise, and I have my limits.
“Blessed are they who strive in the way of peace, for they shall be called Children of the Father.”
― Norman “Saleem” Hylton (via Matthew 5:9)
This is a guest post by Washington D.C. music historian Logan K. Young
In June of 1981, Dischord Records released catalog number 003―the Minor Threat EP. Its eight songs, including track four’s “Straight Edge” clarion, lasted a total of eight minutes.
Talk about economy.
Some thirty years later, and for a lot of Washington, D.C. insiders even, that’s all the District hath wrote. It’s almost fitting: Nothing ever gets done on Capitol Hill; why would it be any different inside the Dischord House? You could make a case, I suppose, for the plethora of post-hardcore memes like The Dismemberment Plan that followed in Fugazi’s wake. But The D-Plan’s leader, the doe-eyed doyen Travis Morrison, works for HuffPo now. As for Ian MacKaye, he’s taken to playing silly love songs with his wife-cum-drummer, Amy.
Regardless, Washington harDCore always seemed a tad too emo for me.
What, then, to make of a group like Father’s Children? They weren’t go-go, and they sure as heckfire weren’t straight-edge punks.
No, they were something different entirely.
Re-listening now, it’s kind of eerie just how different they were. Of course, were it not for soul-saving historians like Kevin Coombe (a.k.a. DJ Nitekrawler), we might never have known. Moreover, if not for a highest-fidelity reissue from the archival saints at Chicago’s Numero Group, Father’s Children would be as altogether lost as John Boehner’s Congress.
1972 was an eternity ago, really, and plenty of great records have been buried by the legislation of time―especially in the District of Columbia, where ignorance has its own blissful lobby. If you know Father’s Children at all it’s probably for their compromises made elsewhere later in the decade. (Or, to borrow a term from the HxC kids, their ‘sell-out’ stuff.)
Here’s a quick refresher: After years of both member and manager turnover, the funky, Islam-ified ensemble finally signed to Mercury Records and manifested west for a gold grab with The Crusaders’ Wayne Henderson behind the console. These gilded sessions would end up bearing the s/t decalogue, Father’s Children. Watered-down by Tinsel Town, that album’s torpid single, “Hollywood Dreaming” b/w “Shine On,” ultimately failed to chart in July of ‘79.
Another reminder: Things only got worse. Mercury soon relinquished rights, forcing the roughshod soul-Futuros to slouch it on back to Norman Hylton’s People’s Center in rough-hewn Adams Morgan. Abandoned and old enough, Father’s Children eventually divorced.
It was time to take sides. Whereas disco got custody of the America’s capital, Dischord would soon overtake her capitol city.
It wasn’t always like that, though. The would-be Children were birthed as a doo-wop/skiffle outfit called The Dreams at Western High School (now Duke Ellington School of the Arts) in the late ‘60s. And everything was jive.
Well, almost. After a Volkswagen accident outside Petersburg, Virginia killed their gear but left every Dream alive, the boys fell prostrate before Allah and rechristened themselves accordingly: Ted “Skeet” Carpenter became “Hakim,” Billy Sumler choose “Qaddir,” Nick Smith became “Nizam,” Michael Rogers assumed “Malik,” Steve Woods went with “Wali,” and Zachary Long was called “Sadik.” Norman “Saleem” Hylton had convinced the boys that they weren’t meant to die on I-95 that night.
The Dreams now deferred to a celestial Father. But once again, all was seemingly jive. And on stage anyways, Father’s Children grew up quickly. The kids would play jook joints (Ed Murphy’s Supper Club, The Other Barn, Motherlode Wild Cherry) and ivory towers alike (Howard University, American University, University of the District of Columbia). Like any father figure should, Hylton taught the Children not to discriminate; a gig was a gig. Sooner than later, he promised, life on the Beltway would pay off at home.
Writing in the liners for this reissue, Numero’s Rob Sevier and Ken Shipley tell the truth thusly:
“In fall 1972, Saleem was introduced to local studio magnate Robert Hosea Williams, who owned and managed a small network of Beltway studios. Jules Damian at D.B. Sound Studios had recently brought Williams in as a partner to right the debt-heavy ship. He wouldn’t disappoint. Williams had built his rep behind the boards at Edgewood Studios on 1539 K Street and by freelancing at Track Studios in Silver Spring, Maryland. His engineering experience included work for Gil Scott-Heron, Hugh Masekela, the Soul Searches and Van McCoy, but he always managed to find time on his schedule for locals.”
For Father’s Children, their time was September ‘72, just a few weeks after this fateful meeting. Stationed at D.B. Sound, the seven-piece ensemble ran down a voodoo equal parts lament for D.C.’s earlier race riots and their newfangled, moon-unit take on Islam. Again, it’s near scary just how good they were.
But there was a problem.
As so often happens, the Children never got the master tapes because Fly Enterprises―the fly-by-night hucksters these callow kids from Meridian Park hired to replace Saleem Hylton―didn’t pay the time tab. (Were Hylton still at the helm, it’s hard to imagine such a scenario.) Regardless, those originals sat collecting dust on producer Robert H. Williams’ shelf until 2006, when Coombe griped them tight, and with Numero’s blessing proper, raised them from perdition.
Four more years still, their combined ransom has proved more than bountiful. Hence, we finally have thee definitive question come unto the Children―Who’s Gonna Save The World[?].
But in northwest D.C., especially in the early ‘70s, that question was hardly rhetorical. In fact, it was downright dangerous. As per Sly Stone’s There’s a Riot Goin’ On, the most convincing lines, the most insatiable rhythms here are the ones that play the most urgent. And as far as shared sentiments, anyways, this could easily be 2012.
Lead-off cut “Everybody’s Got a Problem,” written and wrought by Nizam Smith, looks not at Richard Nixon’s White House, but instead the silent majority Tricky Dick had resigned to either side of Pennsylvania Avenue: “Oh man, you talking about the Watergate, man? Man, I’m so broke, I can’t even pay attention.” Given a GOP CEO, it rarely pays to be poor.
“Dirt and Grime” is a skeletal study, almost menacing by comparison. In a strained but palpable tenor, Smith dutifully rebukes his own Adams Morgan. “My dirty, filthy habitat is where I got my habit at,” he admits. Apropos, Wali Woods’ high-pass guitar adds some extra-brittle filth atop. It’s a fragile, yet classic case of nature versus nurture. Smith’s ‘AdMo’ neighborhood, now, has surely been swagger-jacked, but on the right Saturday night, it might be alright for fighting. Still.
Meanwhile, “Linda”―the lone, legit love song of the lot―succeeds in spite of Robert Williams’ 101 Strings schmaltz. It’s actually a quite beautiful tune. Re-recorded as a later one-off for D.C. Valentine’s D.C. boutique Arrest, the original suburban reading sparkles still. After all, sometimes the new isn’t also the improved.
In retrospect, Father’s Children’s Islam never was as hard-lined as Elijah Muhammad’s Nation. Thus, their own eschatology was hardly dogma ‘n’ brimstone. Perhaps it’s because the Children were so young a band. Take side two’s opener “Kohoutec,” for instance. Kohoutek, the doomsday comet 150,000 years late even in late ‘72, had been anticipated in song by everyone from Sun Ra to Kraftwerk to Journey. Swaddled in warm, Red Line reverb here, the Children aren’t so much waiting idly for some cosmic Godot as they are bustin’ loose during His interregnum. But just like that, it’s glorious noise of wind, brass and percussion comes to a psychedelic halt; it seems their “Kohoutec” was our Hale-Bopp.
Undeterred, the shimmering harmonies of “In Shallah” follows. Arabic for “god willing,” it’s the weakest link only because it’s unfettered optimism sounds a bit like the airport Krishna’s proselytizings. That said, it’s not a bad-meaning-bad song.
Clocking in at just under eight minutes, “Father’s Children” is probably the best, most representative Father’s Children track recollected. Tempo-wise, it’s got to be their fastest as well. Kicking off with the Biblical boilerplate atop, it simultaneously anticipates and obliterates the coming go-go sound. Not bad, indeed. Here, the Children dial down the Arabic rhetoric and summon forth a pure groove clinic. Nearly every member of the flock gets a featured workout, with Wood’s deft wah-wah leading the charge of his brigade’s light. It’s a true joy, a genuine blessing to behold.
Were “Father’s Children” made available on wax in 1972, even as a single, methinks the entirety of hip-hop and rap would have sounded a lot different. Yes, the breaks simply are that infectious, the beats just too obvious not to sample. I’d wager it’s only a matter of time now before some enterprising crate-digger mashes the funk out of this one.
Come August of 1974, Nixon was gone, leaving his fellow Americans firmly on the losing side of the War on Poverty. Especially in the District, it was a struggle just to keep the lights on. A last-ditch salvo was launched locally to save Norman “Saleem” Hylton’s ecumenical Center at 17th Street and Kalorama, but alas, the citizens of Suffragette City would lose that, too. And Hylton was a Vietnam veteran!
To this day, in a city of some 700,000 people, not a single resident of Washington, D.C. has a Congressional vote that actually counts. Making matters worse, go-go got its first bona fide Billboard-er that year with Black Heat’s “No Time To Burn.” With head songwriter Nizam Smith having defected to Miami for a solo shot, wagons ho!, Father’s Children made that ill-advised, career-ending trek to the City of Angels.
The rest, well…you already know by now. There is a post-script, however.
As late as 2007, a reunited Father’s Children self-financed an album called Sky’s the Limit and distributed it via their own FC Music imprint. (In D.C., D.I.Y. neither starts, nor ends, with one Ian MacKaye.) But honestly, from what I’ve heard of Sky’s the Limit, like most musical reunions anyways, it’s only a cheap simulacrum―a gold-plated calf cast to former glories and youthful follies (i.e. this new D-Plan record).
Eternal thanks be to Numero Group, et al. for finally putting out the real thing. We can now call off the search.
Who’s Gonna Save The World is a national treasure, worthy every bit of Jeffersonian pomp and Honest Abe’s circumstance. For once in the life of our nation’s capital, here lies a legitimate bipartisan record. And in a town littered with monuments to men passed, the seven in Father’s Children remain but a few of the ones truly worth revisiting.
Blessed were they, each one, indeed. Let us all come unto the Children once more.
This is a guest post by Washington D.C. music historian Logan K. Young