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Down the Dusty Trail
Part I: Another paradise lost

Of course, the search for holy pop grail was as much about the process as it was about the gemlike discovery, as the latter was, in all actuality, few and far between, and limited to the financial means and the pedestrian boundaries of carless adolescence. Still the thrill of finding a Chocolate Watch Band record, or a limited release Brit invasion picture sleeve, or an obscure Eddie Cochran b-side couldn’t be matched, certifying one’s status (despite the limitations of age, resources, or connections), as a bona fide hipster, a purveyor of the underground, a special keeper of the rock and roll flame, a true-blue member of the secret society despite the daily indignity of being held in junior high school jail.

Equally evident is the sad, unfettered fact that the constant proliferation of the internet has purty much ended all that jive and most of that jazz. You want it -you can find it, without much effort and hardly any brain activity, as long as you wanna pay; yet another paradise lost, however minor, however small-scale, however seemingly mine.

Part II… Still in all, when you just gotta have it…this is what you gotta have!

In my ever-swirling mind’s eye I see a Dion ‘n’ Little Kings performance at the second version of the Met Café in downtown Providence sometime in the mid-90’s as one of my personal live music bellwethers.
Dion, accompanied by collaborator singer/guitarist Scott Kempner (Dictators/Del Lords), bassist Mike Mesaros (Smithereens), and drummer Frank Funaro (Del-Lords), simply laid down a pristine set of straightforward rock with nary a nod to oldiesville, straddling his guitar with all the aplomb of a cocksure teen and singing with unfettered old school finery.

Live in New York (Ace) captures the same band at the Mercury Lounge on April 26, 1996 tossing away one minor cool daddy nod to the farback 50’s (“Drip Drop”), but mostly gliding, hammering out a batch of DiMucci/Kempner compositions, absolutely breaking away with a neatly honed version of the Dictators’ “Stay With Me,” and just killing it with one of Dion’s final (and mostly overlooked) masterpieces, “King of the New York Streets.”

Did you ever about the three Hackney brothers, David on guitar, Bobby on bass, and Dennis on drums, coming up with a raw and uncalculated back alley version of punk, funk, and guitar rock somewhere in the midst of Michigan in the mid-70’s? No? Don’t worry; no one else did either, until a few months back, when demo tapes that they recorded in Detroit in 1975 (under the you-couldn’t-call-it moniker of Death) were unearthed and subsequently released on Drag City as For the Whole World to See. Songs like “Rock N Roll Victim,” “Where Do We Go from here???,” and “Politicians In My Eyes,” veer from predictable power trio rock into virtual punk anthems, speedy urban screeds befitting the turmoil of the times, emanating from the strangest of sources, true soul brothers delving into the sound and fury of the MC5. The 7-song collection isn’t great or revelatory, but it is undeniably passionate and legitimately off the beaten path.

I always go where life guide and messianic guru Nick Tosches tells me to go, so I’ve already explored the addled rockabilly shenanigans of Hasil Adkins: savant, chicken lover, and primitive master. His (heh-heh) softer side gets revealed on Moon over Madison (Norton) a collection of high and lonesome and fervently etched home recordings made from 1956-63 in Madison, West Virginia and released in 1990. Adkins is the realest of deals, crickets in his gullet, moonshine in his eyes, a Flannery O’Connor character with a banged up guitar and his own churning, burning vision—“Lonely Wind/Help Me,” “Lonely Graveyard,” “A Fool In This Game,” “I’m Alone,” or “Lonely is My Name”—you get the picture. Springsteen himself would’ve had to jump ass first into a fetid swamp, eat a minced garden snake with rice and okra, and sniff Roy Orbison’s boots to get even a mile close to the all-out heart-beating profundity of “My Home Town.”

I’ve read about The Monks, and their 1966 cult classic Black Monk Time countless times and I’m glad to report that the newly released version, on Light In the Attic Records, replete with a live cut and a few single releases, actually lives up to the years of hype. Cardboard rhythms, kindergarten organ, mucho fuzzarama, an electrified banjo, frat rock vocals, caught in the netherworld between psychedelia and party rock, from five ex-GI’s transformed from the Torquays to the Monks while in Germany. They shaved tonsures on their heads and donned monk’s robes and purty much did exactly what Frank Zappa was doing , sans the parodistic intentions and inside hipster jokes. There might not be a better spoken intro in the whole history of rockarama than Gary Burger’s on “Black Monk Time,” and it’s easy to make the case that either “Love Can Tame the Wild,” or “Pretty Susanne” woulda sounded fairly indelible bouncing out of the thickly textured AM radio of the mid-60’s.

Whatever happened to humor and rock and roll? Why is it that so many New York bands, namely The New York Dolls, The Ramones, and, yup, The Dictators understood how to utilize that element of rock? The Dictators’ Every Day is Saturday (Norton), released in 2007, is an all out hilarious (and a bang-bang, clackety-clack, up-yers, rip-roarin’) collection of demos laid down mostly from 1973-78, with a few thrown in from 1996-02. I’m an unadorned worshipper. During a show a few years ago, I found myself slipping back to the unbridled languor of adolescence. Later, I laughed out loud while fist-thrusting in my car, wholly buried beneath  rocking waves of joviality and insolence as I sped through my own burg singing along to “Weekend,” “Baby Let’s Twist,” or “What’s Up With That?” Maniboa/Shernoff/Kempner and Ross the Boss remain all-time heroes of mine, the true sons of Creem Magazine and Richard Meltzer, funny manchildren and master race rockers, and when I say my prayers at night I ask the Great Whosit to just let them make another record, only this one even faster and even louder.

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2 Responses to the culture vulture listens in

  1. Robor says:

    Hi there,
    Thanks for article. Everytime like to read you.

  2. DION was my first Rock&Roll hero, and still has that incredible voice. First time I ever got high was in a car listening to Dion sing “Ruby Baby” (which cuts the Drifters original) Heard him not long ago on radio (NPR “Fresh Air” ) and he surprised me by citing Hank Williams as one of his early inspirations (he sang a bit of Hank …as great as you’d imagine… followed by a great “Walkin’ Blues” as I remember) He really can sing anything. Very cool guy. Looks great … seems really happy.

    As for THE MONKS, I just saw “MONKS: THE TRANSATLANTIC FEEDBACK” on the Sundance Channel. Good documentary… some great old footage from German TV (though nothing I hadn’t already seen on the web) and interesting interviews and commentary, particularly from lead singer Gary Burger. They reunite for a gig and Burger sounded pretty damn good…I wish the doc included a few more songs from that show. Still, its very worth checking out, Culture Vulture!

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