“The internet generates a centrifugal force. It releases an archaic wave of highly fragmented circuits of communication that infrequently overlap. Of course, the spontaneous and egalitarian nature of unlimited communication can have subversive effects under authoritarian regimes. But the web itself does not produce any public spheres. Its structure is not suited to focusing the attention of a dispersed public of citizens who form opinions simultaneously on the same topics and contributions which have been scrutinised and filtered by experts.”
—Quoted in Stuart Jeffries, Grand Hotel Abyss. (Verso, 2016)
Sometimes one song is all it takes. If that one song is good enough, it becomes your sound. And if that sound is good enough, it becomes your career; maybe a lot of people’s careers. Look at Johnny Cash. Every song he recorded sounded like a Johnny Cash song, whether it was written by him or not. Or the Ramones. Every Ramones song sounded pretty much like every other Ramones song, but that was okay because it was such a good song. And then a lot of other people made Ramones songs too.
So too Chuck Berry who passed away yesterday aged 90. Listen to any Chuck Berry song, and it’s unquestionably a Chuck Berry song. I’m not a musician, just a music fan, but even someone has talentless as me can spot that certain something about his work. Something that makes it special, unique, timeless. Did Berry create rock ‘n’ roll? I suspect that debate will never be settled, but no one can deny that rock ‘n’ roll would never have been the way it was without him. His passing is the passing of a titan, but he left us with songs that will never be forgotten.
My kids are in high school, and in high school Marx and Communism come up in a particularly bastardized form. Occasionally, one of the kids will ask, “What’s communism?” and they recoil in horror as I try to give them the short answer (usually about seven hours worth of monologue…) Still, it’s hard to sum it up sometimes.
I used to be a Trotskyist. Now, while there are different versions, some of the main points remain: Trotsky good/Stalin bad, USSR as degenerated workers state, permanent revolution, “Crisis of leadership” blah, blah blah. Well, in the mid 1990s, I began to identify as a council communist. Essentially, this meant a greater emphasis on workers council and a critique of the Leninist vanguardists (yes, Leon you too). In 2005, I joined Internationalist Perspective. IP was a part of the International Communist Current until the mid-80s. Were they left communists? Internationalist communists? Pro-revolutionaries? Anti-state communists? Neo-councilists? Something else? Argh. Labels. Better to read our stuff for yourself than take someone else’s word for it.
Anyway, I’d like to also suggest people have a look at Everything Must Go a small collection of essays by Bruno Astarian and Gilles Dauve on the abolition of value. Dauve’s essay “The A to Z of Communisation” is quite useful. I don’t agree with everything there, but it’s a good account. Available from LBC Books
OK, OK, two things.
First, this review is a week late, and while I spent some time working on the title, it still feels awkward. It was a great show, and I really like the band, but in pretty much any context, and especially the North American one, two white guys from Kent calling themselves Slaves feels questionable.
I’ve been to the Garrison a couple of times, and it’s pretty much a big room behind the restaurant in front. A bit like the Rivoli with less ambiance. But…having said that, the sound is good, it’s easy to find a good spot to stand, and the bands they book are always top-notch. Yah, Garrison. I missed the opening band, arriving about twenty minutes before Slaves took the stage.
Slaves inhabit a punk-rock paradigm: Guitar and drums. that’s about as stripped down as it gets. True, on their excellent albums they employ other instruments and sidemen (Mike D of the Beastie Boys is on the new album, and it’s highly recommended), but live, it’s just Isaac and Laurie. Sixty minutes of raging punk rock interspersed with commentary that might have been missed. Who knows, too busy enjoying.
Good stuff lads.
And here’s the sound.
1 The Rolling Stones – Lonesome and Blue
Well, I never thought I’d be writing this – a new Rolling Stones record you should get. Not new material, but covers of old blues from a little off the track. Simply very good. But the surprising thing is the hear of this record is not Keef but Mick. Great singing and harp playing. Now, no one really wants a Stones album of new songs, and we’ve all got fairly complete collections of the hits, but this? Yes please.
2 The Jesus and Mary Chain – “Amputation”
The lead single from the lads’ first album in 18 years sounds…well…pretty good. Vintage stuff. Dreamy vocals and Velvets meet the Beach Boys drone. Not a retread, but close enough to the classic pattern.
3 The XX – I See You
Infectious dance pop. Quite a bit more accessible than their previous releases, but still seductive.
4 Hope Sandoval and the Warn Inventions – Until the Hunter
The problem with being in a defining band is that you will always be compared to that band. So, if Hope Sandoval’s work is compared to Mazzy Starr, it’s because we love you Hope. Another blissed-out dreamy record, that keeps you warm on winter nights.
5 David Bowie – Live Santa Monica ’72
There are those who argue this is Bowie’s greatest live album, and it’s hard to disagree. A great set packed with hits decently recorded. Apparently at one point, to own a bootleg of this was the test for being a true Bowie fan.
6 Courtney Barnett – The Double EP: A Sea of Split Peas
I really loved Barnett’s debut Sometimes I sit and Think and Sometimes I just Sit. This release precedes that album, and you can see the process developing. Not to say it’s bad, but it’s not quite there yet. Gems like “Avant Gardener” shine.
7 Son Volt – Notes of Blue
Jay Farrar’s first Son Volt record in four years continues the pattern he’s followed for the past three decades: Songs tinged with world-weary resignation, but containing a germ of resistance. This album adds a little more to the alt-country template with some welcome blues, and some rockers.
8 The Miamis – We Deliver
Billed as the lost band of the CBGB’s era. The sleeve notes contain glowing testimony from others, like Debbie Harry, who went on to bigger and better things. To be honest, you might see why this didn’t take off. The tunes are mid-70s pre-punk, but in the studio, it doesn’t seem to catch fire. Maybe we missed out by not being there. Interesting, but not essential.
9 Hinds – Leave me Alone
Charmingly amateurish Spanish garage rock. Nuff said?
10 The Clash – London Calling
Yeah, I know, old news. But when we saw the Present in New York, there were a couple of Clash songs used in the production. When I got home, I dug out the album to listen again. Stunningly good. If you haven’t listened for a while, do yourself a favour and put it on.
Go listen now.
When I was walking the dog yesterday morning, it was snowing. Not hard, but hard enough. It was hard to believe that a week earlier, I’d been strolling down 5th avenue in New York wearing sunglasses, and without a coat. What a difference a week makes. My wife and I went to New York for the Family Day weekend, and in honour of that holiday, we didn’t take the rest of the family with us. First vacation we’ve had without the kids since we were without kids.
Arrived at Newark Friday afternoon, and after what seemed like the slowest moving line for customs in history, (it wasn’t) we got through without incident (we weren’t asked a single question – are we that boring?). A quick bust ride into the city, a long walk down Broadway, and we got to our hotel in Soho. Usually when I stay in Manhattan, it’s in midtown, but this time we booked a place in Soho. The hotel featured a European style court-yard in the middle of the building. I know, if I wanted European features, I probably ought to go to Europe, but it was a calming oasis (I know, I know) against the assault of New York. (Great breakfast too)
We’d made dinner reservations at a restaurant at a restaurant on the lower east side called Dirt Candy for seven so we had a little time to unwind before heading out. Dirt Candy is a vegetarian restaurant (geddit?) run by Amanda Cohen. Not cheap, but the food was really excellent. My wife bought a tote bag.
Saturday morning. we walked over to the east side to see the Joe Strummer mural. nice enough, but it felt vaguely disappointing,. Smaller than I expected I guess. On the way, we passed a mural in tribute to the late MCA of the Beastie Boys. From there we walked down to the Bowery to see the New Museum a four-story art gallery nestled up against the Bowery Mission. We wanted to see the exhibition by Raymond Pettibon. Pettibon is the brother of Black Flag guitarist Greg Ginn, and used to make a lot of their gig fliers for them. The show was a shot through America’s underground, of the sixties through today; a dark side of America’s disturbing underbelly. I was filled with memories of early sonic Youth, American hardcore, and strangely enough Forced Exposure magazine. While the show was an incredible collection of material, it was overwhelming. Three floors of material, and given Pettibon often has text accompanying the picture, art fatigue sets in quickly. I wished we had two days to absorb it. Still, it’s well worth seeing. The show runs through April 9, 2017.
Saturday night we went to see a contemporary adaptation of Chekhov’s play The Present. The play was one of Chekhov’s earliest, but wasn’t performed until after his death. The current production, which starred the simply amazing Cate Blanchet, moved the setting to Glasnost-era Russia, but otherwise seemed to be faithful to the original story. And to Chekhov’s alleged dictum: If you have a gun in the first act… At three hours, there were moments where the play dragged, and the second half was not as engaging as the first, but the performances, especially that of Blanchet, were amazing.
Sunday the weather was supposed to be optimum for walking, so we did. Through the village to west street, then up to the Whitney and the High Line. I’ve walked the High line before, but never the entire way. I was hoping to pick up a New York Times t-shirt at their building, since I’ve read from a very reputable source that the paper is failing (Sad!), so I thought I’d better get one now, but even though we found the building, there appeared to be nothing for sale (maybe another place). Another long walk down Broadway, and dinner at a little Mexican place.
Monday morning, and our flight was at 1:10. We’d already decided we’d try to get to the airport early and see if we could catch an earlier flight, but we ended up leaving even before. There’s nothing really to do on a travel day. As luck would have it we were booked onto a 10:00 flight meaning we would likely be home before our actually scheduled flight left. As it turned out, that was a bit of an understatement. A friend of a colleague of my wife’s was on that 1:10 flight. It was cancelled due to fog, and she didn’t leave until the next morning.
I’ve been to New York at least twenty times over the past three decades, and I still feel as if I’m only scratching the surface. To be continued. To be sure.
I pick up the paper, watch TV or check email or social media feeds, I’m reminded of Guy Debord’s word in Society of the Spectacle.
“In a world which really is topsy-turvy, the true is a moment of the false. ‘
“…technology has been marshalled, if anything, to figure out ways to make us all work more. Huge swathes of people, in Europe and North America in particular, spend their entire working lives performing tasks they believe to be unnecessary. The moral and spiritual damage that comes from this situation is profound. It is a scar across our collective soul. Yet virtually no one talks about it.”
Dave Graeber, On the Phenomenon of Bullshit Jobs
Boy it was cold Thursday night. It’s not the kind of night you want to be standing outside the venue just so you can get in first to secure a prime spot. Especially since the Great Hall guarantees good sight lines not matter where you stand.
We arrived at the show around 10:00 missing opening band Oh Pep! Once upon a time, when I went to shows, I would be among those first arrivals, catching every support band and sometimes being rewarded with bragging rights years later (my first date with my wife saw the Flaming Lips open for the Butthole Surfers). Times, change. I listened to a couple of their songs before the show, but decided that I would chance missing out. Time will tell.
According to all sources, the show was sold out, but it certainly felt roomier than many sold out shows I’ve attended. (I remember seeing Sonic Youth there and they oversold the show – that was capacity!) S’OK, more room to dance.
Valerie June came onstage about 10:15 in what can only be described as a space-age disco suit, all sparkles. And sparkle she did. June played a selection from her brilliant breakout album Pushin Against a Stone as well as songs from her about to be released The Order of Time. During the forty-five minute set, June switched instruments as she charmed the crowd with philosophy, jokes, a few somewhat rambling stories, and great, great music. If you’ve never seen or heard Valerie June, Pushin is the place to start. There’s a rawness, an honesty about that record that carries into the live show. Coupled with her distinctive voice (not to mention the Medusa like dreads) and it’s an unforgettable show.
She returned with her band to play a three-song encore. And off we went into the cold.
“It takes people for what they are: genuine children of today’s standardised mass culture who have been robbed to a great extent of their autonomy and spontaneity.”
And furthermore, the Fuhrer must be a “Great little man” who poses “as a composite of King Kong and the suburban barber”