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Fantastic flashback: Travel back to the word of 70s rock with ‘Phonograph Record Magazine’

Slade on the cover of ‘Phonograph Record Magazine’ November 1972.
During its eight-year run Phonograph Record Magazine served up sweet pictorials and articles written by some of the best music journalists around during the 70s, such as John Mendelsohn who was already contributing to Rolling Stone and the Los Angeles Times while still in his teens; the hugely influential Jonh Ingham and Lester Bangs, and several other notable rock and roll word slingers.

Started by one of the true kings of the hustle, journalist and sometimes song writer Marty Cerf when he was only 21, Phonograph Record Magazine (or PRM) was known for digging deep with their articles on popular as well as unsung musical acts. One of Cerf’s editors was Ken Barnes—another prominent rock writer who credits Cerf for helping him get his start. Here’s more from Barnes on his old boss, who says one of his many jobs at PRM was general hanger-on:

Marty was around 5’ 10” in height, skinny, always bubbling over with more ideas than he could spit out (he tended to spit a bit when excited, which was most of the time). I’ve always been grateful to Marty, who was pretty much running the entire PRM show at that time, for getting me started.

In addition to the magazine’s artful covers, Cerf allowed his writing staff to really bring their voice and personality into their pieces. Though he wasn’t part of PRM‘s staff, a great example of this was an article written by Frank Zappa in PRM, “Hypothetical Interview With Frank Zappa by Frank Zappa As Told To Suzie Creamcheese & Rodney Bingenheimer.” The article itself is a fascinating and hysterically indulgent promotion for Zappa’s bizarro 1971 film, 200 Motels and letting Zappa run wild like this is as close to genius as it gets for a rock mag. I highly encourage you to read it (while you are high if at all possible) here in its entirety.

As someone who has always aspired to do what I’m currently doing for a living, I find the ethos embodied by PRM truly inspiring and worthy of reminiscing about. Not just because of the memories the photographs conjure up—but for the dedication by the young team of writers who cultivated their craft within its pages, and would go on to create the standard for music journalism that can’t be achieved without passion and genuine enthusiasm. Copies of PRM are rather rare but can be found from time to time on auction sites like eBay or on Etsy. Image of the covers and content from inside PRM follow.

October 1972.


David Bowie and guitarist Mark Ronson glamming it up on stage in a photo from the October 1972 issue of ‘Phonograph Record Magazine.’


A scan of the first page of an article written by Frank Zappa for PNR, “Hypothetical Interview With Frank Zappa by Frank Zappa As Told To Suzie Creamcheese & Rodney Bingenheimer.”
More after the jump…

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Lester Bangs (posthumously) sings for the Mekons
09:29 am


Lester Bangs
Hank Williams

One of my favorite records of the year is the Mekons’ Existentialism, a furious live album recorded around a single microphone one night in the summer of 2015. Though gorgeous, the elegiac sing-along you can hear on YouTube, “Fear & Beer (Hymn for Brexit),” doesn’t represent how wild and blue Existentialism is in toto, how deeply it gazes into the abyss of the present moment, how much it hurts.

The Mekons can do this because they are the last authentic punk band. In fact, on the most recent of several occasions when I’ve introduced myself to band member Jon Langford, he fixed me with a wide-eyed stare, raised two fingers, and loudly told me to fuck off. Still got it!

But don’t believe me. No less an authority than Lester Bangs, who would have turned 68 yesterday, proclaimed them the greatest band of all time. “The Mekons are the most revolutionary group in the history of rock ‘n’ roll,” Bangs wrote in his liner notes to the retrospective The Mekons Story 1977-1982. “THEY ARE BETTER THAN THE BEATLES.” History may be bloody murder, but in this instance, at least, its gory tide has borne out Lester’s claims. (Speaking of bloodshed, punk, and Leeds University, did Gang of Four ever play a Halloween show as “Fang of Gore”?)

Lester Bangs and Jon Langford working on the liner notes to The Mekons Story (via Buried Treasure Records)
Bangs died in ‘82, but that didn’t stop him from singing on the Mekons’ F.U.N. ‘90 EP, which contained so much F.U.N. that it got the Mekons kicked off of A&M Records. It was worth losing a record deal over. Built like a Dagwood sandwich, the B-side of the EP encloses Tony Byker’s (of Gaye Bykers on Acid) reading of a passage from Walter Benjamin’s “Hashish in Marseilles” between the tracks “One Horse Town” and “One Horse Dub,” both of which incorporate audio of Lester Bangs singing Hank Williams’ “Ramblin’ Man.” 

Listen to Lester and the Mekons after the jump…

Posted by Oliver Hall | Leave a comment
‘Mark David Chapman is the ultimate Beatlemaniac’: Lester Bangs trashes Beatles nostalgia on TV
12:30 pm


Lester Bangs

Can you spot the back cover of Meet the Beatles in Lester’s so-called living room?
During the brief interval between the 1980 murder of John Lennon and his own death by accidental overdose in 1982, Lester Bangs told a TV crew what he thought about Beatles nostalgia: it sucked. His complaint refers to “Beatlemania,” by which I think he must have meant both the deathless cultural phenomenon and the eponymous movie that opened the year of this interview, based on the (s)hit Broadway musical:

The nostalgia for it and this obsessive living in the past and, y’know, Beatlemania in 1981 is sick. It’s basically that nothing is going on right now, and people are desperate, and there’s a giant nostalgia industry, as we all know. And as far as I’m concerned, Beatlemania is just like Happy Days—it’s a ripoff. And guess who pays? The consumer, and John Lennon.


Bangs with Paul and Linda, 1976
Luckily, unlike poor old Lester back there in benighted 1981, you and I live in the amazing future year 2016, where there’s never any shortage of new ideas keeping our culture fresh and vital. Pinch me!

Lester’s rant below is excerpted from a longer segment about the Beatles. The YouTube user who uploaded this video and who “hearts” the 80s (meaning, I’m sure, such totally 80s moments as the El Mozote massacre, Chernobyl, the Challenger crash and the Loma Prieta earthquake) says the footage comes from a long-lost series about music called FM-TV.

Posted by Oliver Hall | Leave a comment
The lost country-rock album of Lester Bangs
10:31 am


Lester Bangs

Anyone who’s written about music since the ‘70s (and not been a boring dipshit about it) owes a debt to the great rock critic and giant smartass Lester Bangs. He distinguished himself as a opinionated contrarian early in his career by dismissing Black Sabbath’s debut as “like Cream but worse,” and was fired from Rolling Stone in the early ‘70s for being insufficiently obsequious. The man’s outsized personality, maverick style and overdose death in 1982 combine to make his legend as a writer beyond huge.

So one could be forgiven for forgetting that he was a musician in his own right, too.

Dangerous Minds already shared Bangs’ 1976 duet with Pere Ubu’s Peter Laughner (another member of the died-too-young club), but when I found, on the wonderful Egg City Radio sharity page, a post about a full length album with the acutely Bangsian title Jook Savages on the Brazos, recorded by Bangs in 1981 with the Austin, TX band the Delinquents, I was a bit floored, as I had no idea it existed. I was aware of his LP with Birdland, a band he formed with Mickey Leigh (Joey Ramone’s brother), but the Delinquents record has eluded me, possibly since it has been bafflingly out of print for about ever. It was released in 1981 on a label called Live Wire, which was owned by Delinquents guitarist Brian Curley, who would later go on to further renown as a Roky Erickson sideman. It would be reissued on CD once, in Germany, in 1995. And that’s it. How is that possible?

Bangs himself offered a typically rambling account of working with the band in the essay “Notes on Austin,” reprinted in Main Lines, Blood Feasts, and Bad Taste:

Austin, laid-back and somewhat indulgent as it is, might be a terrible place for a New Yorker or anyone who wants to move and shake culture or corporations but it’s an undeniably great place to start a band, as I recently learned. No paranoia, no career hang-ups. no star trips (well, not usually), no heroin, no your drummer informing you at Thursday’s rehearsal that he’s just gotta play with this “Smoke on the Water” copy band Friday night instead of with you at CBGB’s because he says he desperately needs the money even though he lives with his parents in Westchester. None of that kind of stuff. I met this band called the Delinquents, we said, “Okay, let’s do it,” I took my lyrics and guitar down there and we wrote three songs the first rehearsal and a record FIVE the second. Took me months to get a decent set of songs written with the last buncha assholes I worked with in New York, and longer to actually make it onto the stage with out oh-so-elaborate “show” all worked out. Six weeks here, from first rehearsal to Duke’s opening where we wowed ‘em unto St. Vitus in the aisles. It’s almost too easy to make music in this town. The Delinquents have their own thing as well as working with me (in fact they sound completely different in the two context), and their thing is surf punks. Dick Dale and “Telstar” and alien beach parties and rantin’ ‘n’ ravin’ about whoever double-crossed you this time while the guitars flare free. Of course they’re great (I think), why else would I work with them? No, they suck. They act real mad when they sing sometimes, which is cute. Do I sound supercilious? Well I don’t mean to. It’s just that this I feel is the essence of punk. When all is said and done.

I’m going to have to ask some of my friends who currently live and make music in Austin about that ‘graf…

A quick listen reveals a really appealing, laid-back lo-fi album with a legit flair for country-rock—quite surprising, given that during his Creem years Bangs became known as an early champion of the music that would soon come to be understood as proto-punk. Check out “Life is not Worth Living (But Suicide is a Waste of Time)”:

More Lester Bangs after the jump…

Posted by Ron Kretsch | Leave a comment
Lester Bangs’ posthumous ballot in the 1982 Village Voice music critics’ poll
10:23 am


Lester Bangs

Lester Bangs died in April 1982, about eight months too early to participate in that year’s Pazz & Jop critics’ poll. He’d turned in a blank ballot the year before, expressing his disgust with the rock product of 1981 and the boredom that crept in when he tried to write about the new music of the day: “I simply cannot pretend to find anything compelling in the choice between pap and mud,” Bangs complained.

Despite the barriers of death and indifference, Bangs still got a year-end ballot published in the February 22, 1983 issue of the Village Voice. Some of you will conclude that one or more of Bangs’ pals came up with this imaginary top ten in tribute to their late buddy, but I prefer to believe that he voted from beyond the grave.

1. Robert Quine: I Heard Her Call My Name Symphony (Columbia)
2. DNA Live at Madison Square Garden (Prestige)
3. Richard Hell Sings the R. Dean Taylor Songbook (Tamla)
4. Emerson, Lake & Palmer: Heard Ya Missed Us, Well We’re Back (Factory)
5. The Clash: Rappin’ with Bert ‘n’ Big Bird (Guest Artist: Oscar the Grouch) (Sesame)
6. Ramones: 14,000,000 Records (Epic)
7. Sue Saad and the Next with Robert Fripp: Jiggle Themes from Prime Time (Verve)
8. Lichtensteiner Polka Band: Hamtramck Oi Gassers (WEA)
9. Brian Eno: 24 New Songs with Brides & Everything (Egregious 2-album set)
10. Miles Davis: Rated X (Alternate Take) (Columbia)

A Box of Rocks is a student film exploring the formative years of Lester Bangs. Bangs grew up in El Cajon, CA, a Southern California suburb just east of San Diego.  Many of Bangs’ childhood and high school friends are interviewed.

Posted by Oliver Hall | Leave a comment
Lester Bangs predicts the future of rock n’ roll in 1980
09:21 am

Pop Culture

Lester Bangs

Lester Bangs in Apartment
Fans of Lester Bangs should take a listen to this really in-depth, ultra cynical interview that he did with Australian radio friend Sue Matthews in May of 1980. In it, Bangs rants and cogently rambles his way through a series of open-ended questions that give him the room to tell you how he really feels about the future of the music industry and its relation to American consumerism. It’s a bit of a bummer that the audio cuts out from 3:59 to 8:34, but there’s plenty to glean from the rest of the interview. 

Here are some of the highlights:

On new music:

[T]here’s a huge nostalgia culture that has been built up because, very little that anyone is coming up with is generally new. And I’m sorry I just really have to question a lot of these New Wave people that say what they’re doing is so radically new and so different. Cause I really don’t see it. Something like a lot of these synthesizer groups the whole Gary ‘Numanoid’ sort of movement, like Kraftwerk did it a lot better half a decade ago.

On more sophisticated recording technology:

Horrible. I hate it. I think that the best records are made on garbage equipment and played on garbage equipment. The utter surreality of the recording studios of today can only be matched with the utter surreality of the equipment that people have to play their records on. A friend of mine who edits the records review section of Rolling Stone, went out and spent a thousand dollars on a new stereo system and he says like he got rooked, he got created and threw his money away. Cause he said Jackson Browne sounds fantastic on it and the Ramones just get lost, they don’t make record players to play Rock’n’Roll on it anymore. The Dolby’s, the studios and the whole surreality of the thing, it just takes all the mud and the guts out of it. I mean the music is supposed to be distorted in the first place, and the clearer you make it, the more you rob it.

On how his taste in music changed over the previous ten years:

Well, I think I can say that I’ve shifted to the extent of becoming a little more interested in reflective, and a little less interested in purely sensational. i.e.. that ten years ago all somebody had to do was get me all revved all it didn’t matter what was inside, what the lyrics were about or anything, as long as it was exciting. And now I like things that are exciting but back then I also liked things that were about something. Like I said a vision. But, I think I was much more willing then to settle for something that was just like. .  Well like Heavy Metal, a lot of those bands like Deep Purple I mean what the hell were they about? Nothing really, but they were fun. And now I’m much more looking for people that are really three dimensional like, like them or hate them that have something to say and hopefully an original way of saying it. Really committed to something that is actually larger then just becoming a rock’n’roll star and making a million dollars.

On what Bangs was listening to at the time:

Queen of Siam by Lydia Lunch, Monster Movie by Can, Veedon Fleece by Van Morison, some old Blind Lemon Jefferson albums on Folkways, The Great Rock’n’Roll Swindle by The Sex Pistols, Pangaia, a Japanese live album by Miles Davis, an old Crown album called Ike Turner Rocks the Blues, “Trying to Get to You” from the first Elvis album, Oar by Alexander Spence, “For Your Love” from the first Yardbirds album, Miles Davis, On The Corner, the 3rd Velvet Underground album, a classical piece called “The Winds Rise in the North” by Harley Gabour, Miles Davis’ Get Up with It, the Charles Manson album, Broken English by Marianne Faithful and Nonaah by Roscoe Mitchell.

You can find a full transcript of the interview, which includes the missing section of the YouTube clip here.

Previously on Dangerous Minds:
The last Lester Bangs interview
Lester Bangs and Gary Lucas on Captain Beefheart
Lester Bangs pontificates
Lester Bangs and Peter Laughner sing ‘G’Bye Lou’ from the Creem sessions

Posted by Jason Schafer | Leave a comment
Lester Bangs invocation of the Lizard King
04:19 am


Jim Morrison
Lester Bangs

Lester Bangs wrote this defense of Jim Morrison back in 1981 for Creem Magazine. He wrote it to remind people of the indelible mark Morrison had made on rock ‘n’ roll and the reach of his influence. Hard to believe it had to be stated, but glad that Lester made the case.

Fat lot Robert Christgau knows about rock and roll. The emperor’s jimmies got the final bronzetone about two years ago when, flesh no doubt nuzzling up the McGarrigles he wrote off The Doors in an “I Remember 1967” Consumer Guide Extra, “Not getting around it - Jim Morrison sounds like an asshole.”

One thing’s sure: Patti Smith wasn’t whispering dictation in Big Bob’s ear when that particular thunderbolt clattered down from on high. Whatever else you might say about her, Patti Smith’s always paid downright somber homage where due to all our sweet boppin’ daddies. Jimbo, Hendrix, Arthur Lee – wherever a stiff drops, there’s Pats hawking memento mori samplers. As well she should, because without Jim she might well have ended up spouting her rocksy poesy in quatrains redolent of Leonard Cohen burrowing his doddering peepnose ‘neath schoolgirls skirts. Which of course wouldn’t have birthed any kind of phoenix.

Think about it. Without Jim Morrison no Patti, but what’s more or less no Iggy perhaps no Bryan Ferry in his least petit-bonbonned moments. Without Iggy, of course, no punk rock renaissance at all, which means obviously that Jim was the real father of all that noise, because if you wanted to look at it as cynically as Ig deserves after The Idiot you could even say that all his whole career amounted to was one frenetic attempt to prove he was as mucho macho as the Lizard King. When, as we all know, Jim was such a complete Man he could even brag about his impotence!

Just ask Dotson Rader if you believe anything he says anymore, or better yet check out Jim’s new spoken poetry with Manzarek overdubs album, An American Prayer, the best recitative sluice of American literature on LP since Call Me Burroughs, and hell, even Burroughs never had the sheer nerve to lead with “All join now and lament the death of my cock.” In a way Jim was really the end of the Masculine Mystique as celebrated American culture up to and through rock ‘n’ roll, because unlike clowns like John Kay or indeed any of his progeny, he was a maters of the sly inflectional turn, so that his every utterance no matter how repetitious rolled out oozing irony and sanity.

Who further to say that he finally showed the fans his weenie in Florida he was not oh-so bemusedly letting them in on the cosmodemonic comedy the whole thing boiled down to, the understanding of which he’d been considerate enough to spare them up to then because he respected virgins as much as the next good Irish Catholic boy? Who’s to say the “bubble gum” / “parody” in the third and fourth Doors albums, so dismaying to early believers, was not entirely intentional, premeditated, one juncture in a vast strategy of liberation? A strategy scripted from day one to ultimately reveal that not only did machismo equal bozo in drag, but furthermore that all rock stars were nothing more than huge oafus cartoons ( more New Wave foreshadowing!), that in fact these games of both “Poet” and “Shaman” were just two more gushers of American snakeoil. He knew! And now, eons later, so do we.

This album proves what the emergence of Patti Smith had given us reason to hope: that beatnick poetry is not dead. Jim’s whiskey breathed wordslinging varooms on, not only in Patti Smith, but in Richard Hell and maybe even Bruce Springsteen if he’d ever get down with the greasemonkies he talks about. Fuck the James Taylors, not to mention the Warren Zevons, who may wave brave handguns but are pure pseudo Randy Newman mannerism. Jim’s violence is cool school: “Hey, listen, man I really got a problem. When I was out on the desert, ya know, I don’t know how to tell you, but, ah, I killed somebody. No…it’s no big deal, ya know. I don’t think anybody will find out about it, but, ah…Let your children play… this guy gave me a a ride, ah ah, If you give this man a ride…started giving me a lot of trouble, sweet family will die, and I just couldn’t take it, ya know? Killer on the road And I wasted him, Yeah.”

I’d like to see Charles Bukowski beat that – “A .45 To Pay The Rent,” indeed! Why even bother playing the fucking rent, when Jim understands the single kernel of no mind koan-truth that eluded both philosophers and poets (not to mention P. Smith) over the centuries: that death is about as serious as anything else we diddle our imaginations with. Or at least that our attempts to rationalize it are beautifully, lovingly funny. Anybody who thinks this stuff just dope-noggined gibberish oughta recheck Kerouac’s Mexico City Blues and “Old Angel Midnight” of the extra opiom-ated latter pages of Lautreamont’s Maidoror. Or Patti’s Babel, for that matter. All those benighted verbiage-vectors went on at ridiculous length about the tragic communication of sex and death: Jim was hip to the comedy implicit in romantic obsessor: “I pressed her thigh and death smiled. Death, old friend. Death and my cock are the word…Hey man, you want girls, pills, grass? C’mon…I show you a good time…”

Sociology? “He’s rich, got a big car.” God-stuff? “We could plan a murder or start a religion. Guru’s questions answered? “Will you die for me? Eat me.” Allen Ginsberg hasn’t written anything this good in 20 years almost. The Beats meant to bring poetry back to the street’s and the guttermind of the people at large, and they succeeded: they gave birth to Jim Morrison, a giant resplendent in the conviction that stardom my guarantee Chivas Regal till you drown, but to clown is divine and ultimately sexy.


Posted by Marc Campbell | Leave a comment
Lester Bangs and Peter Laughner sing ‘G’Bye Lou’ from the Creem sessions

Lester Bangs at Coney Island in the early 1970s. Photographed by Chris Stein.

Recorded in the mid-1970s in the offices of Creem Magazine, here’s Lester Bangs and Peter Laughner taking the piss out of Lou Reed in the Velvet Underground homage/parody “G’bye Lou.” 

Posted by Marc Campbell | Leave a comment
The last Lester Bangs interview
06:32 pm


Lester Bangs

Jim DeRogatis’ book, Let it Blurt: The Life and Times of Lester Bangs, America’s Greatest Rock Critic is a book that you either devour in one sitting or else you’d never pick it up in the first place. Me, I sucked it down like it was oxygen. Lester Bangs was one of my heros and I loved him to pieces. To read such a meticulously researched and well-written bio of the man was like a dream come true for me.

In the book, DeRogatis tells the tale of his own visit with Lester Bangs at his messy apartment on Sixth Ave and 14th St, in New York.  DeRogatis was still in high school at the time and was there interviewing the writer for a class assignment. Two weeks later, Bangs was dead from an accidental drug overdose. As a nice digital coda to Let It Blurt, DeRogatis gave the complete interview to the Perfect Sound Forever website. Here’s an excerpt:

Jim DeRogatis: That makes it easier. I’m kind of turning the tables on you now.

I’m not a hard interview.

How did you get your start writing about rock ‘n’ roll?

They used to have a little box, believe it or not, in the pages of Rolling Stone in like 1968 that said, “Do you write, draw, take pictures? Send us your stuff.” So I started sending them reviews. The first four reviews I sent, let’s see, I said that Anthem of the Sun by the Grateful Dead and Sailor by Steve Miller were pieces of shit and White Light/White Heat by the Velvet Underground and Nico’s The Marble Index were masterpieces, and White Light/White Heat was the best album of 1968. I couldn’t figure out why they weren’t printing any of these things. Then this MC5 album, Kick Out the Jams, came out, and they had this big article in there saying the MC5 were the greatest band in the world and all this, so I went out and bought it. Just like anybody, you buy something you don’t like and you feel like you bought a hype. And I wrote this really like, blaaah!, scathing sort of review. And I sent a letter with it and said, “Look, fuckheads, I’m as good as any writer you’ve got in there. You better print this or give me the reason why.” And they did, they printed it, and that was the beginning.

How long were you with Rolling Stone?

I was never on the staff at Rolling Stone. I freelanced for them from that point, which was like March of 1969, until about ‘73, I guess, when Jann Wenner threw me out for being, quote, “Disrespectful to musicians,” end quote. I wrote a review of Canned Heat, an album called New Age, that said, “Why do we love Canned Heat? Let us count the ways. We love them because they did the longest boogie ever put on record. We love them because…” I mean it was making fun of them. I guess you’re not supposed to do that. Well, obviously not in that magazine.

Did that change your opinion of Rolling Stone?

No. I knew it was a piece of shit. The reviews I did for them really stuck out like sore thumbs. And I never did get along with Jann, because he really likes the suck-up type of writing. He doesn’t like people that are stylists unless it’s somebody he wants to suck up to himself, like Norman Mailer or Truman Capote or someone like that. And Jon Landau, my editor there at the time, did not go to bat for me, which Paul Nelson did later. When Paul Nelson got the job of record review editor, he told Wenner, “There’s certain people I want to write for the magazine.” And he said, “Like who?” And Nelson said, “Well, like Lester Bangs.” And Wenner said, “No way.” Nelson said, “Well if you don’t take him, you can’t have me.” That’s what kind of a friend Nelson is. He has integrity, which Landau didn’t have. Landau was saying things at the time like every Glenn Campbell album, every Jerry Vale album, every Helen Reddy album, every Ann Murray album was a distinct piece of art which should not be looked at as a piece of product.

That’s definitely against your theory, right? Rock is not art.

Oh, I don’t know. I double back on myself so much. There’s the trash aesthetic and all that. The way I’ve written about the Velvet Underground and Van Morrison, of course it’s art.

Read more:
A Final Chat With Lester Bangs

Another Lester Bangs interview

Pills and thrills” Nick Kent on Lester Bangs (The Guardian)

Below: “Let It Blurt.”

Posted by Richard Metzger | Leave a comment
Lester Bangs and Gary Lucas on Captain Beefheart

Illustration by Ashley Holt

Two great pieces about the late Don Van Vliet AKA Captain Beefheart. First up the classic and epic Lester Bangs profile from the Village Voice circa 1980 (you might want to print this one out):

As reviews over the years have proved, it’s always difficult to write anything that really says something about Don Van Vliet.

Perhaps (though he may hate this comparison) this is because, like Brian Eno, he approaches music with the instincts of a painter, in Beefheart’s case those of a sculptor as well. (When I was trying to pin him down about something on his new album over the phone the other day, he said: “Have you seen Franz Kline lately? You should go over to the Guggenheim and see his Number Seven, they have it in such a good place. He’s probably closer to my music than any of the painters, because it’s just totally speed and emotion that comes out of what he does.”)

When he’s directing the musicians in his Magic Band he often draws the songs as diagrams and shapes. Before that he plays the compositions into a tape himself, “usually on a piano or a moog synthesizer. Then I can shape it to be exactly the way I want it, after I get it down there. It’s almost like sculpture; that’s actually what I’m doing, I think. ‘Cause I sure as hell can’t afford marble, as if there was any.”

Much of what results, by any “normal” laws of music, cannot be done. As for lyrics, again like Eno, he often works them up from a sort of childlike delight at the very nature of the sounds themselves, of certain words, so if, to pull an example out of the air; “anthrax,” or “love” for that matter appears in a line, it doesn’t necessarily mean what you’ll find in the dictionary if you look it up. Then again, it might.

Contrary to Rolling Stone, “Ashtray Heart” on the new album has nothing to do with Beefheart’s reaction to punk rockers beyond one repeated aside that might as well be a red herring. (“Lut’s open up another case of the punks” is the line reflecting his rather dim view of the New Wavers who are proud to admit to being influenced by him. “I don’t ever listen to ‘em, you see, which is not very nice of me but… then again, why should I look through my own vomit? I think they’re overlooking the fact - they’re putting it back into rock and roll: bomp, bomp, bomp, that’s what I was tryin’ to get away from, that mama heartbeat stuff. I guess they have to make a living, though.”)

And then there is the heartfelt appreciation of Beefheart that appeared in Sunday’s Wall Street Journal, from onetime Magic Band member, guitar genius Gary Lucas:

I never met anyone remotely like him in my 30 years in “this business of music.”  He made up his own rules, was sui generis and sounded like no one else.  Steeped in gutbucket blues and free jazz, Van Vliet operated on the highest of artistic and poetic levels that left most people bewildered and scratching their heads.  But if you were willing to put in the work to really LISTEN – his music was not a background experience – you would be rewarded with a searingly honest beauty and a breathtaking complexity that made most other efforts in the pop arena seem cheap and disposable.

Besides music, he transformed and made art of everything he touched including poetry and painting and sculpture.  I was honored to have worked with him for five years as both his guitarist and manager. A total rebel artist and contrarian, he had the guts to go on David Letterman and announce “I don’t want my MTV!” after they rejected our video for “Ice Cream for Crow” as being “too weird.”  He could be a terror and a tyrant to his musicians, but most of them were fiercely devoted to him and put up with his extreme mood swings for the privilege of being part of the experience of working with him. We all knew we were involved in a world historical project.

His music was notoriously and fiendishly difficult to play – and the first piece he gave me to record, a guitar solo piece entitled “Flavor Bud Living,” which is featured on the “Doc at the Radar Station” album, absolutely put me on the map musically, the reviewer for Esquire Magazine writing that I must have grown extra fingers to negotiate my way through the piece.  Even the great Lester Bangs who had famously good ears (and was an early critical Don Van Vliet partisan, praising Beefheart’s most advanced albums “Trout Mask Replica” and “Lick My Decals Off, Baby” in Rolling Stone) was fooled by my performance of “Flavor Bud”, which involved months of rehearsal and shooting pains in my arm from the physical exertion learning to master the piece correctly, inquiring “Which part are you playing there Gary, the top or the bottom?” when he first heard the playback of “Flavor Bud Living” at a listening party.  “Lester, that’s all me, performing live in real time” was my reply.  That was really maybe the highest compliment I have ever been paid re. my guitar playing.

Via Michael Simmons/Steve Silberman

Posted by Richard Metzger | Leave a comment