A GUEST POSTING FROM ECHORICH &
JONNY THE FRIENDLY LAWYER
A few weeks back JC ran a post about Television‘s wonderful Marquee Moon, which I described in the comments as a great source of pride to all New Yorkers. JC responded with a challenge: “an ICA that is so NYC rather than coming from any one band or singer….”
Of course that’s a challenge that any native would jump at and, in short order, Echorich chimed in that he was more than prepared to throw down. ER and I began selecting songs and it soon became clear that we were looking at lists of themes, rather than tunes. In other words, multiple NY-related ICA’s. We let JC know that the project was beginning to mushroom into perhaps more than he bargained for. To our delight, our host was more than happy to accommodate. So, we are pleased to present the first installment of an occasional series, EVERYONE’S YOUR FRIEND IN NEW YORK CITY.
Echorich put together “Coming of Age in New York City” as a provisional ICA before he and I pitched the series idea to JC. Subtitled ‘Foundations and Formations’, it’s a perfect introduction to how people of our generation connected music and NYC. I didn’t change a word — just added my own thoughts to ER’s memorable memories.
Step in and stand clear of the closing doors!
1. Velvet Underground – Venus In Furs
ER : The Velvets were known to me at as early an age as 10. Thanks to an older cousin who was quite an important influence on what I listened two in those summers between Elementary School terms, I learned about The Velvets, Bowie, The Stooges – even King Crimson. This song always seemed spooky, dangerous and sexual to my young, innocent ears…little did I know how right I was once I was old enough to really understand the song. I’m sure this is the first song I ever listened to in the dark.
JTFL: I was old enough when I bought the first LP to understand the sexual references of ‘Venus’ but what freaked me out was a song dedicated to smack. Lots of innuendo and camp metaphors in rock music about hard drugs. Not the Velvets: ‘Heroin’ is an overt tribute. The couplet ‘When I’m rushing on my run/And I feel just like Jesus’ son’ is what spooked me.
2. Tuff Darts – All For The Love Of Rock + Roll
ER : Although I never got to see them with Robert Gordon, Tuff Darts were a legendary band in the Downtown Rock Scene having been one of the first bands to gain a following at CBGB’s. Proto-Punk, Punk, New Wave, all those labels fit Tuff Darts and their brand of Garage/Glam Pop. Every time I hear this song I can’t help being transported back to the bowels of CBGB’s and the dark corners of Max’s Kansas City. Glory days…
JTFL: ‘Bowels’ of CBGB’s says it perfectly. CB’s, for all its fame, infamy and significance, was absolutely disgusting.
3. Suicide -Rocket USA
ER : Suicide – another band that remained more Downtown Living Legend for years before I could actually own any of their music. The angry minimal sound and howling vocals made me edgy and anxious as a kid…they still do and I love it. In the late 80s I would have the privilege of meeting and befriending Alan Vega and he was gracious enough to let me get the fawning, fanboy in me out and quickly became one of the most interesting people I have ever had the pleasure to know and share a drink with. Nights hanging out in the lounge at the Gramercy Park Hotel, where he lived, until 7am talking about everything and nothing were just magic.
JTFL: Suicide were more of an academic idea than a band for me. That is, they’re more interesting to talk about (and, apparently, to) than to listen to. Still, if only for the sake of the antagonism between the band and the crowd, Suicide are as important as any of the downtown bands that influenced the following generations.
4. New York Dolls – Jet Boy
ER : More of NYC’s post Velvets legend. The Dolls twisted Glam Rock and The Rolling Stones into what I’ve always thought was the first true Alternative Rock music. They found a way of mixing in Blues/R+B/Glam into something new and raw. Is it any wonder that McLaren would look to The Dolls as the future – even if he was their death. Where most would namecheck Personality Crisis, or Looking For A Kiss or Trash, it was always the speedy, Jet Boy that played over and over in my youthful ears.
JTFL: Guilty; would’ve name-checked Personality Crisis. Saw Johansen and Sylvain join Thunders and Nolan on stage at Irving Plaza and they just KILLED on this song.
5. Television – Foxhole
ER : The impetus for this ICA comes from a challenge that JC put to Jonny TFL after a comment on Television’s Marquee Moon. As I mentioned in my comment on that post, as huge a fan of Television as I am, it’s their follow album and particularly Foxhole which always stirred excitement in me. To this day I have never met anyone who feels the way I do about Television’s sophomore album Adventure, but after Marquee Moon, it was obvious that the band wanted to make a record that was more reflective of how they sounded live and also streamlined their sound. Foxhole is the just the right amount of Rock Song, chaos, tension and energy.
JTFL: Yeah, still guilty as I prefer the earlier album. Although Advernture’s lead track ‘Glory’ might be their best song under 10 minutes.
6. The Heartbreakers – Born To Lose
ER : You might say Ramones were the first NYC Punk band – and many would likely agree, but it was Johnny Thunders’ Heartbreakers that are that band for me. If they were meant to be the first Downtown NYC Supergroup, they failed miserably – as anyone looking to attain that status really should. Richard Hell was way too much of an imposing factor and Johnny, Jerry and Lure got away from Hell as quickly as they could. L.A.M.F. is a classic of the times and was of course a miserable disaster with critics and sales. I remember my Dad asking me what the hell I was listening to in my bedroom and he picked up the album cover and just laughed knowing exactly what L.A.M.F. meant having grown up on the streets of NYC himself. If it wasn’t a moment of musical bonding, it was on a Dad/Son level. Thanks Johnny…
JTFL: Ha! This NYC ICA project has been hilarious as it turns out Echorich and I overlapped in the city, had mutual friends and numerous other coincidences (he booked the Limelight; my band played there, etc.). This story is another example: I was walking down LaGuardia place in Soho with MY dad when a very strung out Johnny Thunders shuffled by wearing nothing but a pair of jeans and one of those shiny foil blankets you cover shock victims with at accident sites. When I told my dad that he was one of my guitar heroes, he sniffed and said in his Brooklyn accent, “your hero looks like shit.”
7. Patti Smith Group – Because The Night
ER : Patti Smith was kind of hard for me to approach as a teenager. She seemed like a literature student slumming as a Punk Rock Poet to me at first. I grew slowly to understand and appreciate the immensity of her gifts as an artist. My favorite Patti Smith Group album is Wave, hands down. But it was Because The Night from Easter that will always be THE song I go to when I need a Patti Smith fix. It speaks to the rebellious teen that still lives somewhere deep inside me… Yeah, Yeah, Springsteen gets credit for writing it, but it’s Patti’s song and she let him know that from the off.
JTFL: For me it’s Patti’s song ‘Piss Factory’, first heard on a punk compilation when I was in high school in the suburbs. NYC is magic and my only ambition as a kid was to live in Manhattan. The lyric: ‘I’m gonna get our of here/I’m gonna get on that train/I’m gonna go on that train and go to New York City’ said it all: for Patti Smith, for me, and for everyone dreaming of escaping to where the action is.
[Shout out to my daughter and all her friends at 318 E. 15 St. who just moved to the city to start college!]
8. Ramones – Sheena Is A Punk Rocker
ER : Don’t really have to say too much about Ramones that we all don’t already know. On those first 5 studio albums there isn’t a duff track among the lot. I could include one of a dozen songs that followed me for years growing up. But Sheena Is A Punk Rocker really fits the bill here. Short, sharp and in at under 3 minutes. I always felt some pride that Ramones hailed from Queens, where I grew up. Punk may have played in the Bowery, but it was formed in a garage in Queens.
JTFL: Agree 100%. One of the best things about the Ramones were that they were always those same Queens kids. Whenever you saw them in town (which was all the time since Johnny lived on the next block from me and we all used to drink at Paul’s Lounge on 4th Avenue) they were in their regulation ripped jeans, sneakers and motorcycle jackets. The living blueprint for punk rock!
9. Blondie – X Offender
ER : Another hard one to choose. Blondie remains one of my favorite groups of all time. Sure they have a flawed catalogue of releases – espcially after Eat To The Beat, but I don’t think any of my true favorite bands have a perfect track record of releases for my ears. I could have easily have picked Picture This, Sunday Girl, One Way Or Another, Atomic, Dreaming…but X Offender is an example of what really set Blondie apart at the beginning of their career. That mining of 60’s Girl Group sound was so very important to their early releases, but Blondie refreshed that sound and empowered it. Debbie Harry, to this day is the only female Rock + Roll crush I have had… a flawed Rock Goddess.
JTFL: Flawed? Debbie Harry has no flaws and I’ll love her til the day I die. Although I would have picked ‘Rip Her to Shreds’…
10. Talking Heads – The Book I Read
ER : Here I had to fight with myself a bit to choose THE Talking Heads song that fit best into this ICA. While Psycho Killer is among my all time favorites – #9 on my 50 At 50 playlist – The Book I Read was the song I would play over and over from their debut ’77. It has all you would want from a Talking Heads song – a bit of menace, vocals on the edge, a sweet melody yearning to come out and a rhythm section you could bounce tennis balls off of. I once had the opportunity to speak with David Byrne for a few minutes at a party and while I kept my fanboy gushing in check, I did mention that I had a denim jacket painted with the fuscia/red Talking Heads 77 album cover on the back….He commented that that must have gone down well with all the kids in Zeppelin and Queen jackets when I was in High School. I replied – it had the desired effect – people kept a wide berth. This made David Byrne laugh…score.
JTFL: I would have chosen ‘Found a Job’, a song from 1978 about a couple who is dissatisfied with crap tv so they write and produce a successful show of their own, enlisting friends and family in the process. It’s a quintessential Talking Heads concept that also typifies what’s so great about New York: You don’t like something, so you come up with something better and then make it happen. The city isn’t a place where life slides by you — you’re always in the mix and you have to participate to make it there. First wave punk, especially the English variety, is often seen as nihilistic and negative. Not so for the NYC acts. Talking Heads were positive, productive, inclusive and uplifting with their variety of interesting ideas about ordinary things. Byrne is another one of my heroes for this reason. Of course, Echorich gets to hang out with the guy!
When I threw down this challenge, it was in the hope that one or other of Echorich or Jonny would pick up the gauntlet. I was delighted not only that they both want to get involved but are doing so in collaboration….despite the fact they only know each other through this blog and have never met!
There’s no question that Part 1 is a fabulous introduction, reminding us of some of the sensational new music which emerged back in the late 60s and early-mid 70s. The links to the songs are above each of ER’s an JTFL’s paragraphs.
There’s a few more posts in the pipeline in what I think will be an entralling, informative and hugely enjoyable occasional series.