COUCH TAG by Jesse Reklaw [Fantagraphics] Couch Tag is a new graphic memoir from the artist Jesse Reklaw, his first. While this may be Jesse’s debut in this format, this is hardly his first contribution to the world of comics. Jesse has been drawing and self-publishing comics for several decades. His strip, Slow Wave, in […]
Too Tough to Die
Not the greatest Ramones record ever ever, but really, have they ever made a bad one? With the Ramones you have to embrace their faults, idiosyncracies, and quirks and love them wart hogs and all. Considering the personalities and disorders at play in the band, any release seems like a miracle in hindsight. Plus, we got Tommy Ramone back in his spot at the controls, so there’s that. While most of the tunes on Too Tough to Die won’t have you jumping to your feet, shaking your fist in a beat-on-the-brat kinda way, it does have its moments. Like “Wart Hog,” for example—a Dee Dee punk rock gem with a very infectious chorus. This was Dee Dee’s answer to the hardcore of the day, but he just couldn’t help making it a catchy tune. “Endless Vacation” is another Dee Dee attempt to play hardcore which succeeds in the brainless and tunelessness a lot of hardcore aspired to in the mid 80s. In fact, Too Tough to Die is a mostly Dee Dee affair with the bass player contributing nine out of thirteen tracks. Non Dee Dee songs like “Chasing the Night,” and “Howling at the Moon (Sha-La-La)” are classic 60s ala Ramones pop songs. There are some throwaways sure, like “Planet Earth 1988” (still four years away at this point), and “Danger Zone,” a forgettable if not forgivable bland rock attempt. All in all, Too Tough to Die is a return to form and remains a solid brick in the house that the Ramones built.
Synchronicity would become The Police’s biggest selling album and their last. What do you expect? These guys were on a nonstop, whirlwind touring and recording schedule and the end was bound to come sooner or later. Allegedly, Copeland and Sting came to blows during the recording. Copeland obviously didn’t punch Sting hard enough because he was able to carry on and release such pretentiously-titled future albums like The Dream of the Blue Turtles becoming a world music and tantric dork.
The question is whether Synchronicity deserves a place on such a high pedestal. Maybe yes, but mainly for the cultural impact it had on us back then. I will say, I was down with the Synchro in 7th grade like I was down with Thriller and Business as Usual. I rolled with the trends back then. Listening to this record many decades later, however, and after becoming a fan of earlier Police records like the pretentiously-titled Outlandos d’Amour and Reggatta de Blanc, this record is certainly not as exciting as those first efforts. Sure, it delivered the hits in spades, but it’s a dark record and kind of a bummer to listen to and nobody wants to spend that much time in Sting’s head anyway. Not even Sting.
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“Do you like Phil Collins? I’ve been a big Genesis fan ever since the release of their 1980 album, Duke. Before that, I really didn’t understand any of their work. Too artsy, too intellectual. It was on Duke where, uh, Phil Collins’ presence became more apparent. I think Invisible Touch was the group’s undisputed masterpiece. It’s an epic meditation on intangibility. At the same time, it deepens and enriches the meaning of the preceding three albums. Christy, take off your robe.
Listen to the brilliant ensemble playing of Banks, Collins and Rutherford. You can practically hear every nuance of every instrument. Sabrina, remove your dress. In terms of lyrical craftsmanship, the sheer songwriting, this album hits a new peak of professionalism. Sabrina, why don’t you, uh, dance a little. Take the lyrics to “Land of Confusion”. In this song, Phil Collins addresses the problems of abusive political authority. “In Too Deep” is the most moving pop song of the 1980s, about monogamy and commitment. The song is extremely uplifting. Their lyrics are as positive and affirmative as, uh, anything I’ve heard in rock. Christy, get down on your knees so Sabrina can see your asshole. Phil Collins’ solo career seems to be more commercial and therefore more satisfying, in a narrower way. Especially songs like “In the Air Tonight” and, uh, “Against All Odds”. Sabrina, don’t just stare at it, eat it. But I also think Phil Collins works best within the confines of the group, than as a solo artist, and I stress the word artist. This is “Sussudio”, a great, great song, a personal favorite.”—Patrick Bateman, American Psycho
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Crimes of Passion
How come guitarists aren’t named Scott St. Cloud Sheets anymore? It’s a damn shame. Anyway, speaking of Scott St. Cloud Sheets, if you bought this Pat Benatar record in 1980, you got a pretty decent guitar rock record that bordered on pop but was quite a distance from any kinda synthy new wave shit. No, it’s not the Pretenders—it’s actually closer to Blondie (but not so cloyingly cute and clever as that band had become by the start of the 80s). And it had some hits too with “Hit Me with Your Best Shot” and “Treat Me Right”. The best track on the album though, is the Kate Bush-penned “Wuthering Heights”.
In summation, I hereby find Crimes of Passion, guilty of compelling guitar work and good—if not completely original songwriting. My life-long (up to this point) opinion of Pat Benatar as some sort of manufactured “tuff girl” lite rocker has been forever changed.
In the Heat of the Night (Chrysalis) 1979
Crimes of Passion (Chrysalis) 1980
Precious Time (Chrysalis) 1981
Get Nervous (Chrysalis) 1982
GUNS AND ROSES
In the late 80s and early 90s, Guns and Roses were the biggest band in the world. And they weren’t whinny little twits like Billy Corgan either. They were nasty, dirty, drunken, drugged out, impolite rock stars. They could also be clownish buffoons and in Axl’s case, a gigantic, megalomaniac a-hole. In 1988 however, they were still getting a pass.
When G ‘N’ R Lies came out in 1988, it sold 10 million copies. That’s pretty good for a bad record. Perhaps bad is a bit strong, but it certainly was no Appetite for Destruction. And it shouldn’t be treated as a legitimate full-length release either, seeing how it was a cobbled-together place holder to placate fans and make some dough while GNR toured the world placating fans and making dough.
The G Side (presumably the Guns side) of GNR Lies features the four tracks that comprised the 1986 EP, Live ?!*@ Like a Suicide. The sad truth about Live Like a Suicide (we’ll dispense with the ?!*@ from here on out because it’s silly and makes no sense) is that it was NOT recorded live like a suicide. It is in fact a studio recording with crowd noise dubbed in. This hardly mattered to fans in 1988 and is awesome now as a testament to how ridiculous GNR could be. “Reckless Life” and “Nice Boys” are similar hard-driving odes to the degenerate lifestyle espoused by these hard-edged glam rockers. “Move to the City” features a horn section and hits on a theme young Axl would return to countless times: a hick from the sticks moves to the big city a.k.a. The Jungle. “This is a song about your fucking mother” announces Axl at the start of the Steven Tyler penned tune, “Mama Kin”, which closes out Side G. The fictitious crowd especially enjoys this number. They must be Aerosmith fans—hell, for all we know this crowd noise was taken from an Aerosmith show! Wouldn’t that be ironical?
Then there’s the R side (for Roses). This shows that the band can lay it down acoustically (hard rockers with a tender side) as is evidenced on the drippy “Patience”— Axl at his cartoonish best. Things turn ugly (or hilarious depending on your perspective on murder) with “Used to Love Her”—not the first murder ballad ever written but certainly guaranteed to cause controversy. The second track is a pointless, acoustic version of “You’re Crazy” from the Appetite record and then the coup de grace: “One in a Million.” Axl lets his red neck shine brightly on a return to the hick-in-the-city theme. In this piece, Axl calls out “immigrants and faggots” for not making sense to him, what with the different languages and all. “It’s all Greek to me,” Axl observes with a bit of ironic wit not seen in a GNR song since “Turn around bitch I got a use for you” on “It’s So Easy” in ‘87. Axl also advises “police and niggers” to get away from him as he will not be needing any gold chains at this point in time. For complete lyrics to this tune, maybe you could ask John Rocker. I’m sure he has them burned into his frontal lobe if not tattooed on his ass.
Rolling Stone gave GNR Lies four out of five stars in their 1989 review, citing the release as proof of GNR’s sustainability and calling ‘One In a Million’ a “beautiful ballad” with Axl’s homophobic and anti-immigrant spiel “tempered with something that sounds oddly like compassion.” Yes, Axl Rose may be a complete tool, but Rolling Stone built the tool box.
Appetite For Destruction (Geffen) 1987
G N R Lies (Geffen) 1988
Use Your Illusion 1 (Geffen) 1991
Use Your Illusion 2 (Geffen) 1991
The Spaghetti Incident? (Geffen) 1993
Chinese Democracy (Geffen) 2008
Charles Forsman [Fantagraphics]
Music is fixed in time like our memories. We all have those songs or records and bands that seem to belong—not to a certain time in history, but to a very specific time in our lives. These memories can be especially powerful when they represent a tumultuous or painful part of our lives. They have lasting power over us. They’re hardwired.
Charles Forsman’s graphic novel, Celebrated Summer, is one long memory triggered by music expressed in visual art. It represents an aching feeling of nostalgia for a part of life that sucked to live through the first time but somehow seems like a better place to visit than the present. The transition from adolescence to adulthood, where everything is up in the air, seems innocent in retrospect only because of the complete lack of understanding of what could happen next or even what’s possible. That’s where Celebrated Summer is set. The soundtrack would undoubtedly be Zen Arcade, New Day Rising or any Hüsker Dü or punk rock record of the mid 1980s. The book’s title comes from a song off New Day Rising; the cover features a colored pencil wash in homage to Zen Arcade, a record that many disaffected teens of the The Eighties latched onto for comfort or escape or both.
Not much happens over the course of sixty or so pages. The story opens in a bedroom somewhere in rural, or maybe suburban Pennsylvania, possibly New Jersey. It’s the summer between the end of high school and the beginning of whatever happens next. The room is littered with the detritus of a teenaged life dedicated to skate boards and punk rock (Hüsker Dü appears again scrawled on the wall above the bed). The two protagonists, Wolf and Mike examine a blotter of acid on the floor in front of them. “I think we should drop two each,” Mike decides, and so they do. Then there’s a ride to the beach with a stop to get gas and smokes. There’s some time spent people watching on the boardwalk and in a video arcade. Wolf tries to call his grandmother at one point but she doesn’t pick up the phone. He’s worried that she’ll worry, but he’s not worried enough try again. Wolf is overweight and self-conscious. He looks like a tripped-out Charlie Brown, full of the same anxieties and with nonexistent parents. Mike is more confident.
The imagery is important. Micro scenes of nature and the bits and blips of the video screens at the arcade get intense, drug-assisted focus. Buildings shimmer as Mike’s boxy VW Rabbit drives by them. There’s a reoccurring image of a circle, heavy with symbolism in any context, but also happens to be prominently featured on The Germ’s album What We Do Is Secret—an iconic image in punk rock that’s hard to miss. Forsman has a clean drawing style. He creates simple lines that don’t weigh down his panels. This works especially well in his panoramic views of both city and open country spaces. If music is the space between the notes, then Forsman’s art is the space between the lines.
On the journey home, Mike, still tripping, asks a cop for directions. Later Wolf is passively confronted by his grandmother for staying out too late. Later he goes with his grandmother to buy shoes at the mall and visits Mike who is taking a break from his job at the food court. At the end of this flashback down memory lane, in the present, Wolf admits to lying awake at night, “strangled by nostalgia”. He misses those days so “carelessly passed”. It’s kind of a bitter sweet bummer in the end, but it’s definitely worth the trip—Chris Auman
Buy Celebrated Summer:
Falco may be familiar to those of a certain age who remember being bombarded by “Rock Me Amadeus” circa 1986. As a result of that shelling, we can be forgiven for being a little shell-shocked by his somewhat ridiculous attempt at white boy rap. In the mid 80s, rap music was hardly the commercially or critically accepted force that it is today, and yet here was this Austrian dude with one name “rapping” about Mozart. Like Mozart, Falco was a little ahead of his time, as Rob Van Winkle wouldn’t corner the Anglo-Saxon rap game until four years later. (I put the Beastie Boys in a different category for what should be obvious reasons.)