Photo by cheshirebat
Will Shatter and Bruce Lose of Flipper, 1981; photo by Vincent Anton.
Radio Programmer Tip #1:
(3 Tunes, 2 Segues, 1 Story)
by Joe Carducci
Negative Trend – “Black & Red”
Flipper – “I Saw You Shine”
Toiling Midgets – “Preludes”
Negative Trend was of the first generation of San Francisco punk bands. These bands were mostly inspired by the then final Stooges album, “Raw Power,” mainly because it was the best record you could buy for 50 cents in 1975, and was also the best musical style you could attempt to pull off, having just copped your first ten dollar guitar on that very 50 cent inspiration. The market for underground rock had shrunk overnight to the point that the Stooges’ label Elektra dropped them after “Fun House.” (Dropped after Fun House!!!) David Bowie’s management company moved them to England where soon enough MainMan had second thoughts. Eventually, Columbia released “Raw Power” in the U.S. and then quickly remaindered the album. These cut-out copies were snatched up and anyone looking for “Raw Power” after 1976 had to pay import prices. The market for underground sounds had in fact shrunk to the young musicians just beginning to form their own bands knowing nothing of any collapse except maybe radio’s, and certain that they and the noise they’d make would wake the dead.
These were not college boys. Unlike today, the mid-seventies music scene was one of drop-outs inhabiting city neighborhoods bereft of hope and pretension as the late hippie/radical scene either bottomed out in drug use or retired to college town arcadias. The drugs these players were taking they were taking without pretension. Mind expansion? Yeah right. Initial drug pretenses were folk scene clean and had been laid low by the motor-head impulses of Grand Funk youth. Revolution? Yeah right. The draft had ended, then the protests ended, then Nixon resigned, then Ford became president, then the hip young dry-look congressional class of ‘74 cut off aid to South Vietnam, then it fell, then a bloodbath in Vietnam, then Carter, then a bigger bloodbath in Cambodia, then a war between Vietnam and Cambodia, then a war between China and Vietnam, then the Mullahs took Iran, then the Soviets invaded Afghanistan. . .
No, this music generation’s excitement was about a lean mean music that looked to the Stooges, the Velvet Underground, and then suddenly the Ramones as models. They disparaged the just collapsed hippie pretense while making stylistic gestures in the directions of pre-hippie fifties/sixties rockabilly/garage approaches.
Negative Trend was formed out of the ashes of one ground zero nexus of early San Francisco punk, Grand Mal, which in 1977 birthed Trend plus the Offs. I never saw Negative Trend though I did know their first singer, Rozz, as he bounced between SF and Portland, where I was doing punk radio on KBOO and turning an import record store called Renaissance into what we thought of as the first modern independent record distributor, Systematic Record Distribution. Negative Trend released one four song seven inch which was quickly out of print with nary a copy leaving the west coast. They played the bay area, toured the Northwest once, went to LA to play and record with a new singer, Rik L. Rik (formerly vocalist for LA band, F-Word). He replaced Mikal Waters as singer. F-Word had been on the Posh-Boy label. Negative Trend recorded for Posh-Boy and then owner Robbie goes and has the Simpletones re-record the music and releases it under the Rik L. Rik name. They just didn’t know about that kind of shit in SF. Robbie must have thought this was pop music and was going to sell.
Flipper was formed by Trend’s rhythm section, Will Shatter and Steve DePace, plus guitarist Ted Falconi, formerly of a band called SST and Ricky Williams who had floated away from the Sleepers for a moment (Rozz filled in for him). While in Portland I met a kid from SF named Bruce Calderwood who showed up with his girlfriend, Diane, who was one of the early Portland punks and moved back and forth between the cities. Bruce put the locals on edge slightly as he was a big city punk and Portland was definitely a backwater. He talked about this band he had back in SF called Flipper. He lolled around Portland for a month or more so I didn’t figure the band was much of a full time career move for him. He had replaced Ricky who then floated back to the Sleepers.
Systematic moved to Berkeley at the end of 1979 and I caught up with Bruce quickly as he worked at the folk label, Kicking Mule, just up the street. I saw Flipper gigs at Dew Drop Inn in Berkeley, and the Sound of Music in SF before they began to get onto bigger hall gigs. I bought a small Aiwa cassette recorder to tape their gigs because they were pretty abstract in those days and very flexible in their treatment of their tunes; it was tough to recall just what had been so great about them and they as yet had no records out. Subterranean Records and Target Video recorded Flipper and three other new SF bands live at Target in February 1980 and Subterranean put out an album which included three tunes by Flipper.
Systematic had a label but my partner was not easily interested in this or that band so I kicked a few hundred dollars to Steve Tupper and we called the first Flipper 45 a Subterranean-Thermidor co-release. At the recording session at Hyde Street in late October 1980 they did five tunes, “Ha Ha,” “Love Canal” (both released as the 45), plus “I Saw You Shine,” “No Tears Wasted,” and “Boom Boom.” It was great to see the live tunes finally go to tape. I’d only been in a recording studio once before in Portland (Neo-Boys), though I had recorded my brother’s band in early seventies at junior high dances on his four-track Dokorder if that counts. So I just watched and listened. I remember being sure that they would go back and clean up that hellacious amp-noise of Ted’s before the tracking began. Boy was I dumb.
The session was great and it was an honor to be there. “Boom Boom” was not then released (another version of it was recorded but unreleased by a post-Flipper band of Will’s called Any Three Initials). All five tunes were recorded one day, and mixed on another day. “Shine,” and “Tears” were later re-recorded for the first album, “Generic Flipper.” At the mix session I remember Bruce laughing with Will and Steve (the ex-Trends) as he told them of calling Craig Gray (ex-Grand Mal, Negative Trend guitarist, and just then turning the final Trend line-up into the Toiling Midgets with ex-members of the Sleepers) after Flipper had recorded to inform him that he had been ripped off. Bruce meant that “Shine” was “Black & Red” reworked, so to speak.
Flipper, live at Berkeley Square, joined by Ricky Williams; photo by Vincent Anton.
I first saw the Toiling Midgets on a Saturday when I walked up to Telegraph Avenue to check the record stores and do some writing at a coffee shop. I heard a band playing from the campus at the end of the street. It was a three-piece grinding out instrumentals in a mid-tempo Stooges style. They had set up on Sproul Plaza and though a lot of students were milling around the campus walkways and the Telegraph Avenue sidewalks were jammed, just about no-one was checking them out. (The late Tim Yohannon was there.) And the Midgets weren’t checking the kids out either. They played with heads down and Craig and bassist Jonathan Henrickson even turned in toward the drummer, Tim Mooney. They were playing outdoors on a sunny day in the middle of UC Berkeley for themselves, as if practicing. That’s as good a picture of the new rock underground’s relationship to youth culture as represented by college students at an elite and allegedly hip California University. It took me a few tunes to guess that they had to be the Toiling Midgets, a new band I had heard about. In essence they were the final line-up of Negative Trend after Will and Steve had left for Flipper and been replaced; then Rik had returned to LA and the band became the Toiling Midgets.
I talked to Craig a bit after they played, and saw them play elsewhere as they added members but I never got to work closely with them. However, Thermidor did release their second album, “Dead Beats,” though that was worked out more by Jon Boshard, an MFA from UCB who started Thermidor with me. The first Midgets album, “Sea of Unrest,” was to have been the first release by the US branch of Rough Trade, which had opened in Berkeley in 1980 in collaboration with Systematic. The London honchos vetoed it on the grounds that it was too damn good. It was then merely manufactured and distributed by RT under the label name, Instant. “Sea of Unrest” features Ricky Williams (Sleepers) on vocals, but by the second album they were essentially an instrumental band (Ricky sings only one new one and a cover of his own Sleepers tune “She’s Fun” on the “Dead Beats” album). Ricky was in the Sleepers, Flipper, and the Toiling Midgets and few today know his name. He died years ago from the toll taken by chemicals on top of his own faulty body chemistry. His death was noted in Rolling Stone; his life hadn’t been. The Midgets are still occasionally together and have recorded great stuff with Mark Eitzel (of American Music Club) on vocals for the Matador label, a Thermidor knockoff.
But returning to the theme of this piece: the “Dead Beats” album closes with an instrumental called “Preludes.” It may be called “Preludes” because “Black & Red” was likely the first tune Craig Gray wrote back in his Grand Mal/Negative Trend days, and “Preludes” though at first quiet and sketchy builds into that same damn riff, here opened up to a simpler progression and more abstractly resounding crescendo. It is Craig returning the song to his own band from Flipper. It is unknown to me whether he called up Bruce to inform him the song had been repossessed.
Will died of an overdose and his death was noted in Rolling Stone; his life hadn’t been. Flipper did an album for Rick Rubin (who had been in a NYC Flipper tribute band, Hose, whose 45 was Def Jam’s first release). The “Generic” album got reissued with major label distribution through the deal; Steve Tupper considered he got hosed on the deal. More recently Flipper recorded a new album with Chris Novoselic of Nirvana on bass. Jack Endino produced and said he had a great time. The Negative Trend EP was reissued by Subterranean as a 12” EP. A great 1978 9-song demo with Rozz on vocals was released as Rozz & Negative Trend by the old White Noize label. Meanwhile, the Sleepers discography was compiled for CD by Tim/Kerr Records. Not much conceded by the marketplace for music of such quality, but then, foolish youngsters that they were, they began their rock and roll ventures from the very point at which the Stooges’ wheels fell off.
Oh yeah, and in ’97 Sony/Columbia’s Legacy CD re-issues of classics out of their vaults suddenly decided they were gonna re-mix “Raw Power” before putting it out. Iggy had declined to mess with it when Henry Rollins offered to set it up after his sound engineer found the album’s multi-track sub-master tapes in Europe. But faced with Sony’s decision he jumped into the project and it finally got the re-mix it deserved (Bass!), along with colorful but diplomatic Iggy liner notes on the convoluted story of the production of the record in 1972-3.
[Inset image: Capture from Negative Trend video "Black & Red"]
Thanks to photographer Vincent Anton for letting us use some very rare shots of Flipper. Check out more of his contemporary work. His biography, his prints, and his battered Leica M2 can be found here.
Harry Belafonte and Utopian Fantasies
by David Lightbourne
The unholy alliance between Broadway entertainment and Folk music dates to the 1930s. Sonny Terry, legendary blind Carolina harmonica player and shout-singer, made his New York debut in a theatrical production, a leftist depiction of the thirties South. Opera concert giant, Paul Robeson, a black political hero, readily found an audience alongside Pete Seeger at Hootenany-style concerts in the forties.
Both Harry Belafonte and Odetta emerged in the 1950s from stage backgrounds. His “Broadway” Calypso album sold millions in the Mitch Miller-era, when any trace of raw emotion got smothered in mass-culture sucrose, and Broadway musicals reigned as high-end Pop. Odetta’s interpretation of Sea Shanties definitely rocked, she had powerful pipes. And I can see the film: she’s the beloved cook on a whaler, and likes to join in with the concertinas on her big acoustic guitar. But neither Belafonte nor Odetta had any satisfactory understanding of style, relying instead on magnetic stage presence and personal charm. The same with the once ubiquitous Burl Ives, who can best be seen today in the early Audie Murphy western, Sierra (1950), where his character Lonesome is a balladeer-narrator.
Odetta’s recent death prompted obits calling her a civil-rights figure! You can probably hear her fifties releases on whatever Sirius-XM channel plays The Limelighters and The Kingston Trio. The obits offered no guidance as to her music itself. They couldn’t. Meanwhile, Harry Belafonte now expounds exclusively on public issues.
In the land of fifties Pop, Folk musics readily lent themselves to the Man’s game, going down the gullet smooth as syrup. Nobody asked if the melody had legs. New copyrights carpeted the studio floor like silver certificates. The originality, eccentricity, technical brilliance, idiosyncratic style and direct emotion of sources disappeared completely. Go figure. Who knew? It was the Eisenhower era.
From Minneapolis at the end of the 1950s, the political loyalties and utopian fantasies of Eastern Folk audiences looked almost grotesque. In the North Country, you could hear Southern radio at night from Nashville to Helena. And “avant-garde” enclaves of old-music players had begun heroic end-runs around the Pop-Folk and Political-Folk monoliths -- with some success. From Mike Seeger to Koerner, Ray and Glover, suburban America finally got to hear wonderful music that would never -- could not possibly ever -- hit the Great White Way.
After Dylan’s first studio gig, harp back-up for Harry B, he famously bitched about the ridiculous recording process, the endless re-takes, the utter dearth of spontaneity. His focus on theatrical art, thanks to Susie, would soon turn to Brecht.
David Lightbourne at the Beartree Tavern, Centennial, Wyoming, 2004; photo by Joe Carducci
Additional Lightbourne, from his Introduction to Wyoming Stories
Drawing by James Fotopoulos
From the desk of Joe Carducci:
This is the sentiment, but probably not the piece, that Britney Spears deserves. Pop critics would have to be conversant with engineers, writers, producers, and studios to even do as poor a job as they do with rock bands. Lightbourne considers any product of Disney's music school to be fully and utterly scrubbed, but I tell him that it's still possible for these L.A. technicians to come out of these miniature (no high-ceilinged live room) digital-era studios with a gem as often as Nashville's machinery does.
Oh ye of little faithlessness: Marx tossed from the Enlightenment!
Speaking of Marx, here's a timecapsule Minutemen interview conducted by David McDuff on January 3, 1985 in the basement of the 9:30 Club in Washington, D.C. It's nice to know they were forced to explain who I was in connection with various SST stunts. The Minutemen were the band most fun to work with at SST.
Mike Watt looks back
From the desk of Chris Collins:
Finland's Secret Hitler Tape [Attn. WWII Otaku]
Germany's intrusion onto the "dark unconquered steppe" of Russia in summer 1941 had its domestic critics. Joachim von Ribbentrop, the Third Reich's foreign minister, was visibly shaken upon hearing the invasion had begun. "Tell them in Moscow that I was against this attack," he said to a Soviet diplomat storming out of his office. (Stalingrad, Antony Beevor, Penguin) Another German official or officer recalled nearly falling down in the shower when he heard someone shouting the news. He knew it was madness.
The Führer, a year into the Russian war without victory in sight, was not blind to the peril. Thanks to the efforts of Finnish intelligence, we have the only known audio of Hitler recorded unawares, as he calmly and long-windedly details his army's woes in the East to his ostensible ally Mannerheim of Finland while on a flying visit to that country to celebrate the leader's birthday. The date was June 4, 1942.
We did not ourselves understand - just how strong this state [the USSR] was armed... [T]hey had the most immense armaments that, uh, people could imagine... We have destroyed - right now - more than 34,000 tanks... If one of my generals had stated that any nation had 35,000 tanks, I'd have said: "You, my good sir, you see everything twice, or ten times. You are crazy; you see ghosts." (Hitler)
The English transcription is here. Hitler frequently stressed to his generals the economic and political pressures he was under and in the recording speaks of his concerns about the vulnerable Ploesti oil fields of Romania, Germany's critical source of fuel. Romania bordered the Soviet Ukraine and Ploesti was at the war's start within range of Russian airfields in the Crimea.
Germany's Army Group Center had the previous winter been repulsed at the outskirts of Moscow. And the 6th Army, as part of Army Group South, was at that moment preparing to embark on Operation Blue, a drive along the River Don toward the Caucasus which would carry it to its doom on the banks of the Volga.
Here is further background on the occasion. (This link plus audio and transcript are from the website of British historian David Irving.)
German newsreel of the visit
[Inset photo: Hitler and Mannerheim, June 4, 1942]
The novelist creates... an imaginative structure that says to the reader: "This is what life is like. This need never have happened. It doesn't have to happen. ... This is how it could have happened. And the way in which it could have happened will tell us more about the relations between human beings and their lives than trying to find out what the facts are."
-The late Norman Mailer, interviewed by Charlie Rose on PBS, 2007.
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• The New Vulgate
• Joe Carducci, Chris Collins, James Fotopoulos, Mike Vann Gray, David Lightbourne
• Copyright retained by the writer, artist, or photographer