Thursday, October 30, 2014

Rock On, Pt 1

Been reading Mainlines, Blood Feasts, and Bad Taste, an anthology by the late rock critic Lester Bangs (edited by John Morthland). A previous anthology edited by Greil Marcus exists, but I haven’t read that. The book brings two things to me: that Bangs is an electric writer, and that I would like to write about the rock music that surrounded me thru the years. The Pt 1, above, suggests that I may make a series of this. I mean, like, I might maybe take Led Zeppelin for a subject for discourse, e’en tho they weren’t top tier in my interests. Of course, they were Led Zep: Ride the pony!

So anyway.

I guess Rolling Stone invented rock criticism. Previously, we let Alan Freed and Dick Clark make the decisions. I remember the early issues, when Rolling Stone was a mere scrappy rag. Tiny pieces by Richard Brautigan used to be used as column filler and there was a serious Whoa! dynamic as to reacting to the let’s call it new scene of what’s happening. Era usually means error, since nothing’s so cut-and-dried, but those hippie dippie sixties had a lot of foment. Of course the Rolling Stone Corporation (Corpulation) quickly turned to soso, and crunchy little mags like Creem soon had to take up a sense of revolutionary gauntlet. Bangs wrote much for Creem. Yours truly sent something to Creem (in all innocence) and Bangs himself as editor wrote back encouragingly with his no. He suggested that I study the spew, as he called it, of Richard Meltzer, who I think I already knew. Bangs himself was a spewist, too. I’ve already called him an electric writer.

So, the thing is, who needs a rock critic? I read this stuff partly to hear about new stuff. I had to trust the writer so this actually ends up a secondary concern. There was also reassurance if a critic liked what I liked. Perhaps my favourite album as a teenager was Happy Trails by Quicksilver Messenger Service. It featured a sped up version of Bo Diddley’s “Who Do You Love” with these most darting, silvery guitar sounds. The song releases into a long solo by the other guitarist (Gary Duncan), then chunky bass solo, and some yelling and chant before a slicing return to John Cippolina’s high-treble guitar, end side one. Side two goes slow “Mona” (Bo Diddley) with Cippolina making wah wah/tremolo murk go virtuous. The rest is two long instrumentals, the second being a druggy evocation of what’s his name on Calvary, then the closing song to the Roy Roger’s Show: “Happy trails to you till we meet again.” Greil Marcus agreed that this all was awesome, to my relief. It still works for me.

So okay he was right then but otherwise, I didn’t really get convinced by, say, critics impelling the depth of Paul Simon’s lyrics. I mean to the degree that I would want exegesis, or dedicate a thesis to “Bridge Over Troubled Water”, or whatever was current at that grand age. The criticism was all a hum unless someone like Bangs let loose with a language of interest. If you haven’t heard the music, the performer, what are the words going to do? Bangs wrote of groups I never heard or heard of—as I entered my 20s I listened more to British folk music—yet his passion and concern produces energy. Still.

That shift to folk music had a touch at least to do with how following groups was muchly a lost cause. The Beatles wore out to the point that their break up was old news when it finally happened. And then Wings and whatever football Lennon couldn’t quite handle. Quicksilver for some reason took on Dino Valente—he wrote the 60s anthem “Get Together” (I believe he sold his rights for bail money). Valente added negative nothing to the group and I gave up on them. Groups changed personnel, David Crosby might show up, drugs burned. Not all the long strange trips were interesting.

You find your own way to what you like. Luckily I never bought Bruce Springsteen, which would mean a lot of buying. The Rolling Stones were always a three good songs per recording, then let the rhythm section carry Mick. I mean, you can wait for something to turn up, each new event, or just not worry it. Yes, I missed some stuff and whatever. It’s not that serious a thing. It’s just striking how these important whatevers float back into view. Bangs smacks Lennon, Dylan, Reed for their various fades. Seems shocking somehow, but it’s all right now. They were all something, and not something. Not to overplay but Bangs writing in the middle of something that looks like everything and nothing survives better than the patents pending of the superstars. And he died young. I hope none of this sounds nostalgic, nor potential parts 2-987, either. It’s all part of an inescapable something that you have too,

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