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Real combat rock: Red Rippers brought the Vietnam war home
02.14.2017
10:55 am
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The Vietnam era (roughly 1964 to 1975) is commonly considered the best years rock music ever had. It began with the Beatles and The Stones ended with Led Zep and well, The Stones, to say nothing of monsters like The Doors, Hendrix, Black Sabbath, Bowie, Pink Floyd, Fleetwood Mac, you get the picture. Before stumbling under the weight of feisty newcomers like punk and disco, “classic rock” ruled the airwaves, packed stadiums, fomented revolution in the streets and served as the soundtrack to a nearly endless jungle skirmish a world away that found teenage kids from middle America torching villages in Saigon and getting tortured and slaughtered by an enemy they did not understand in a fight they did not start. The country they came back to was undergoing its own war, one of class and race and sexual orientation, with assassination in place of napalm carpet bombs. It was barely recognizable by the time many of the soldiers finally made it home. And they were barely recognizable to their own families. If it wasn’t for the righteous jams, I don’t think anybody would’ve survived it.

But here’s the thing: while there was plenty of music made in ‘Nam era, how much of it was made by people who actually fought in the war? For whatever reason, Vietnam vets did not form a lot of bands when they came home. Jimi Hendrix and The Doors’ Ray Manzarek were both discharged before getting shipped off. Creedence main man John Fogerty was in the reserves. And that’s about it. Dudes with guitars were just not clamoring to sign up for the war in 1972 and when they came home, for the most part, they left the plucking and humming to the draft-dodgers.
 

Ed Bankston rocks the aircraft carrier.

But in 1983, a half-dozen years after the ill-fated “military exercise” had wheezed to a halt, a former Vietnam Vet decided it was high time somebody made a rock record about the horrors of jungle combat. Somebody who was there. And that’s just what Ed Bankston did. After serving in the war as a mechanic on an aircraft carrier, he returned home to Florida, picked up his guitar and started writing songs about his experiences, as well as the experiences of other vets he had met along the way, including the teenage marine that inspired “Firefight,” a vivid account of what it’s like to fight—and survive—in jungle warfare. Bankston found a band to back him up and started performing locally as The Red Rippers—an homage to a Naval squadron he had worked with.
 

Bankston writing Rippers jams, early 80s.

Eventually the band got around to recording their songs and Bankston self-released them on Over There…And Over Here. The album is affecting for many reasons, but one of the most notable is the tone of songs like “Body Bag,” “Who Remembers?” and “The Dark and Bloody Road.” There’s no macho, patriotic chest-thumping on this record, but there isn’t any bottled-up rage, either. It’s the melancoly sound of resignation, of sadness, the sound of a man who fought for his country and was thoroughly disappointed with the results. It’s brutally honest in a very low-key, disarming way. It’s raw and real and poetic, but it’s also kind of a breezy southern rock record, too. A real head-spinner.
 

The original Red Rippers ad as seen in Soldier of Fortune magazine

Bankston originally planned on using the album to shop around for a record deal, but in the meantime he sold them through ads in Soldier of Fortune magazine. Sadly, no money men were interested in the band’s fuzzy country-boogie and barroom rock n’ roll, and when no labels came knocking, Bankston gave up on rock and faded into the grind of the 9 to 5 world. And that was basically that. In 2013, the consistently compelling Paradise of Bachelors label discovered and re-released Over There…And Over Here, finally giving a now 60-something Bankston the kind of reach he’d always wanted. He didn’t get the band back together but seemed happy about it nonetheless.

Almost every song you’ve ever heard about Vietnam from Country Joe’s “I Feel I’m Fixin’ to Die Rag” to the Charlie Daniels Band’s ‘82 eye-roller “Still in Saigon” was created by dudes who never served in the war. If nothing else, Red Rippers deserves your attention for being the real thing.
 
Listen to Red Rippers after the jump…

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Posted by Ken McIntyre
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02.14.2017
10:55 am
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Discussion
Danny Partridge is the Devil: Welcome to the Partridge Family Temple
02.14.2017
01:37 am
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The 90s weren’t known for their frivolity. The whole idea was to be beyond fun. Fun was fucking square in the 90s, man. So naturally, when the Partridge Family Temple—a kooky hip-kid religion based on the irritating 70s sitcom—made their national TV debut on MTV’s The Jon Stewart Showin 1993 clad in impeccable Salvation Army chic and spouting frothy declarations about Shirley Partridge being the “Virgin Earth goddess mother from whose womb all Partridges came,” you instinctively knew something sinister was bubbling just below the glossy, fuzzy, c’mon-get-happy surface. And so it was.

The Partridge Family, lest we forget, was a relatively short-lived (1970-1974) TV series about the titular musical family, who toured around the country playing their gooey flared bell-bottom sunshine pop and getting into lightweight misadventures. The star of the show was real-life teen heartthrob David Cassidy who played Keith, the frontman for the family band. In the Temple, he’s the Satyr, the sex god, and his legendarily generous phallus is “the tree of knowledge and the tree of life combined.” They were wrangled by mom Shirley (Shirley Jones). A father was never even mentioned on the show, hence her placement in the cult as a sort of Virgin Shirley. Danny Partridge (perpetual walking disaster Danny Bonaduce) is the bass player/irritant, the perverse imp, the Partridge’s very own false prophet. Sister/keyboard player Laurie (Susan Dey) is…well, in the Temple she’s always involved in orgies, so maybe she’s the whore of Babylon? We don’t want to dig too deeply into this hole, really. I’m sure you get the drift.
 

The new messiahs?

So where are we, and how did we get here? In 1988, Shaun Fairlee AKA Shaun Partridge, the high priest of the Temple, was living in Denver. One weird weekend he met a rogue reverend, Adam Sleek, who tortured him with Partridge Family albums on crackly vinyl for many unsettling hours. At first, he hated them. That’s the sane reaction, incidentally. But eventually, he broke, allowing the insipid kiddie-pop of “I Think I Love You,” “I Woke Up in Love This Morning,” and “Come On Get Happy” to burrow deep into the soft meat of his brain. He saw it all, the whole virgin/whore dichotomy, his misfiring synapses creating a crazy-quilt origin story where All is Partridge and Partridge is All.. All that was left was to pick a few gold medallions and polyester shirts at the Goodwill and POOF! a new dumb religion was born.
 

He saw the light. Shaun Partridge gets happy

A vaguely sinister provocateur wrapped in a garish mid-70s clown costume, Fairlee began following (some might call it stalking) the various actors from the Partridge Family series. The Temple’s first major public disturbance was at a David Cassidy/Danny Bonaduce concert in 1991, where he was arrested for loudly preaching the gospel of the Temple to weirded-out nostalgia buffs. His stunt caught the attention of the media, and soon the Temple was making the rounds on shows like Stewart’s and on sensational tabloid programs like A Current Affair. Fairlee picked up a small contingent of co-conspirators along the way, most notably Giddle Partridge, a glamorous LA Satanist known mostly for Giddle and Boyd, her apocalyptic retro pop band with noise-rock anti-hero Boyd Rice.
 

Uneasy listening: Giddle and Boyd
 
In the mid-1990’s, they moved their act to freak-friendly Portland, where they were known mostly as creeps, fascists and women-beaters. Fairlee was in frequent barfights, and interviews would devolve quickly into the various atrocities his Temple may (or may not) have been a part of, from raw violence (sure), incest (Fairlee has threatened to marry his sister on occasion), devil worship (definitely; the Temple is rife with Satanists), and even urine-guzzling (Fairlee is very pro pee-play). They’re still around, but odds are they’ll be run out of town with pitchforks and torches any day now.
 

 
It’s hard to laugh off public beatings. I mean, people have seen it with their own eyes. But aside from the drunken rages, almost everything this group has ever done has been wrapped in so many layers of irony and sarcasm that it’s impossible to know exactly what any of this is about. I mean it’s not like they have an actual church to go to or any sacraments or even a sermon to listen to, although they do have a pretty dope house band. But it’s really just a bunch of quasi-evil 90s vintage hipsters fucking with you. Clearly, it’s satire, but what’s the joke? That religion and TV are the same thing? It’s a lot easier to just say that. You don’t need to invest 20 years into a fake cult for that. So maybe the truth has been right in front of us the whole time. Maybe, like Fairlee before us, we just haven’t watched the show enough or paid enough attention to the albums. Maybe illumination awaits, deep in the grooves of The Partridge Family’s Greatest Hits.
 

 
[Spoiler: It doesn’t.]
 

Posted by Ken McIntyre
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02.14.2017
01:37 am
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Discussion
None more black: The grim American gothic horrors of ‘Wisconsin Death Trip’
02.13.2017
11:56 am
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Black River Falls’ Miss Congeniality circa 1890

Between the years 1890 and 1900, something terribly wrong happened to the good people of Black River Falls, Wisconsin. A tiny mining town populated mostly by Norwegian and German immigrants lured by the promise of cheap land, the once-bustling community fell into disrepair in the late 1880s when the inhospitable climate caused the mines to shut down, essentially dooming the town and everyone in it. While the town did ultimately survive, the ensuing decade was merciless to Black River Falls residents. A thick, impenetrable darkness descended on the town as the population withered, succumbing to poverty, disease, madness, murder, and worse.
 

 
In 1973, Michael Lesy told the terrible true tale of Black River Falls in Wisconsin Death Trip, a book that juxtaposed stark images shot by photographer Charles Van Schaick, who documented the town’s downward spiral in a series of jarring portraits, with matter-of-fact newspaper reports of all the murder, mayhem, devil-worship, suicide, hauntings and general bedlam that infected the town like a virus. If ever a place was cursed, it was Black River Falls, and Wisconsin Death Trip remains one of the bleakest, most devastating accounts of rural American life ever published. Seriously, this place was essentially Hell on Earth.
 

All this and diphtheria, too: a typically unsettling slice of life death in Black River Falls.
 
Witness, if you will, just a smattering of the horrors within:

A ten-year-old boy and his younger brother run away from home, find a remote farm several miles away and promptly blow the owner’s head off. They spend the rest of the summer frolicking at the ill-gotten farmhouse until the farmer’s brother comes for a visit. The boy is sentenced to life in jail.

A funeral director is suspected of botching a burial. The woman’s body is exhumed and the woman is found to have been buried alive, her fingers bitten half off in madness after discovering her horrific fate.

A sixty-year-old woman, afraid that the rash on her back would kill her, steps into her backyard, douses herself with gasoline and self-immolates.

A young mother takes her three children out for a day at the beach, and then drowns them, one by one, while the others watch. A fifteen-year-old Polish girl burns down her employer’s barn—and his house—because she wanted some “excitement.” 

A young German man, having only moved to Black River Falls a month prior, attempts suicide by train, lying down on the tracks and refusing to move. He is finally removed by four men. He later vanishes.

A teenage girl, jilted at the altar by her fiance, goes mad with grief, hanging herself in the local asylum. Meanwhile a young man, also recently jilted, shoots his ex-fiance and then himself. A recently divorced man shoots his ex-wife and her family dead in the crowded town square.

An outbreak of diphtheria kills off a score of local children. The school is closed and the houses of the afflicted burned to the ground. A formerly world famous opera singer moves to town and within a month is reduced to eating chicken feed to survive.

A farmer decapitates all of his chickens and burns down his farmhouse, convinced that the devil has taken over his farm. A drifter is taken in by a kindly family. He has dinner with them and as they sleep, he shoots them all and then himself.

And there’s more, so much more. Just endless misery death, murder, mutilation, arson, starvation, cruelty and unrelenting depression. And all in the space of just a few years.
 

 
In 1999, a highly unsettling documentary based on Lesy’s book was released. Also titled Wisconsin Death Trip, it showed the photographs, recounted the newspaper reports, and recreated many of the crimes in black and white, bringing Black River Falls’ grisly past to life. The film also juxtaposes the town’s lunatic ancestors with dead-eyed portraits of the then-current residents, less murderous but still as dazed and depressed as ever, staring blankly into the camera at nursing homes or bus stops, clearly waiting for the Lord or somebody merciful to end their dreary, pointless existences. I would not recommend consuming both the book and the documentary in one sitting unless you have a bucket of Prozac handy, but I will say this: You might think you’re pretty goth ‘n all with your serial killer books and your Bauhaus records, but you are definitely not Black River Falls goth. Those motherfuckers were the real deal.

Watch ‘Wisconsin Death Trip’ after the jump…

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Posted by Ken McIntyre
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02.13.2017
11:56 am
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Discussion
The Devil’s Jukebox: Why Big Stick is the greatest rock n’ roll band OF ALL TIME (if you ask me)
02.13.2017
10:31 am
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The more I think about it, the more I’ve come to realize that Big Stick might be the greatest rock n’ roll band OF ALL TIME. I mean, I can’t think of anybody better. Could the Beatles write a song as visionary as “Do Not Rape My Sister At the Municipal Pool” or as nuanced as “Girls on the Toilet”? Well, even if they could’ve they certainly fucking didn’t, I’ll tell you that much. Big Stick did.

Big Stick slithered up from the NYC art-rock underground in the mid-80s like brightly colored lizards, worlds apart both stylistically and sonically from the noise-damage darlings of the junkie punk scene they emerged from—Pussy Galore, Reverb Motherfuckers, White Zombie—or their high profile big mean daddies in Sonic Youth, the Swans, or Foetus. Sure, they were just as druggy, and probably even snottier than their deathtripping brethren, but they had style, and a sense of showmanship long abandoned by the then-reigning Feedback Mafia. Sorta like the more playful, less genocidal version of Jim Thirlwell and Lydia Lunch, John Gill and Yanna Trance were a live-work-fuck-kill together couple who brewed up their crazed sonic schemes in their very own secret headquarters, explaining little and revealing even less. They performed wearing elaborate masks, and all known press photos were similarly mysterious affairs, shrouding their true identities in a veil of feathers and wigs and antlers. It was crazy but sexy, and the secret-squirrel gag was the perfect compliment to their bizarre cut and paste electro-skronk.
 

 
The music that Big Stick played simply did not exist before they did, and whether directly or otherwise, their dizzying, junkdustrial, urban warfare psychedelia was the seminal first step in what became a whole host of so-hip-it-hurts rock sub-genres in the ensuing decades. Their abrasive pastiche of distorto-punk guitars, drawling slacker-rap, and cheapjack drum machine beats was pretty much the blueprint for the electroclash movement that made Satanic superstars out of Peaches and A.R.E. Weapons. The concept of a two-man (or woman) primitive blues-punk racket, pioneering when Big Stick did it, is now a guaranteed recipe for at least fifteen minutes of rock radio-baiting success. Disco punk was their thing too, way before Electric Six took a trip to the gay bar.  If being a dozen years ahead of your time was at all profitable, then Gill and Trance would be zillionaires by now. But it’s not, is it?

More after the jump…

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Posted by Ken McIntyre
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02.13.2017
10:31 am
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Discussion
The Nihilist Spasm Band invented noise rock in 1965
02.10.2017
09:07 am
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Back when most kids their age were in the throes of Beatlemania, an octet of Canadian art-nerds calling themselves The Nihilist Spasm Band rewired the whole notion of popular music for their own twisted ends and created one of the most alarming cacophonies imaginable, especially when you consider they formed in a musical landscape dominated by Elvis, the Beach Boys, and Herman’s Hermits.
 

 
There were a couple of unique elements at work with Nihilist Spasm. For one, all of their music was improvised. Aside from vocals, everything they recorded was a first (and last) take, and every live performance is spontaneous. No piece has ever been played twice, at least not in the same way. Secondly, they created their own instruments, or at least modified standard instruments until they were thoroughly unrecognizable. Perhaps their most infamous re-invention is the electric kazoo. Retrofitted with hearing-aid mics stuffed inside its tinny shell, the tuneless bleating of this unholy creation is one of the band’s greatest gifts to humanity.

Their first widely-released album, 1968’s No Record, is a wild, ear-searing wall of chaotic fuck-noise that seems impossible given its time frame (Harry Partch meets The Boredoms was a pretty original concept for the era, you must admit). Naturally, it became a murky underground cult favorite quietly influencing 80’s noiseniks like Sonic Youth, Einstürzende Neubauten, and KK Null. In fact, they were (and still are) huge in Japan. Well, relatively. They call them the “Rolling Stones of noise” there, at least. In 2000, there was even a documentary released about the band. I mean they’re still completely and hopelessly obscure, sure, but they had a few pops of fame here and there.
 

 
And here’s the really crazy thing: they’re still together. Fifty years on and the band still tours with an almost all-original line-up (two members of the founding group, Hugh McIntyre and Greg Curnoe, passed away in 2004 and 1992 respectively), and still play blindingly loud on crazy modified scream machines made to confuse and terrify in equal fistfuls. They’ve opened for Sonic Youth and jammed with REM and if the recent announcement of their upcoming Sonic Protest Tour is any indication, their reign of chaotic improvised terror isn’t over yet. Not bad for a group of 70-something Canadians who still haven’t learned how to tune a guitar in 50 years.

More after the jump…

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Posted by Ken McIntyre
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02.10.2017
09:07 am
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Discussion
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