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Clarification

In the post immediately preceding this one, please understand the term “greatest rock song” means exactly what it says. Not greatest rock n’ roll song, not greatest heavy metal song…greatest rock song.

Pure hard-nosed rock. The stuff that simmers and lightly bruises, the stuff that sounds how a denim jacket feels. In case there was any confusion.

Your Gall Is Never Ending

Some days it feels like this is the greatest rock song ever committed to tape. Empowering, anthemic, unapologetic, and a guitar solo I think even Einstein himself would call “fuckin’ groovy.” Side note: Dee Snider doesn’t get enough credit vocally. When he wants to he can give Halford a run for his money.

Yeah, I said it. Meet me in the goddamn parking lot if you’ve got a problem. The parking lot by the hospital, so I can make it over there with less hassle after you mercilessly thrash me.

Good Ol’ Satchmo

Re-watched the Ken Burns doc on jazz last week. Interesting detail I had forgotten: for all his success and influence Louis Armstrong did not own a home or have a really fruitful romance until he was forty. That makes me feel better about being a single thirty-something with no property in his name. If Satchmo could wait then so can I. Good ol’ Satchmo. Truly the man.

Happy Birthday, Deborah Harry

One of our most vibrant and fearless musicians, an absolute living legend. “X Offender” has always been my favorite Blondie song but the margin is slim, and nearly everything else she’s sang comes in second.

Have your cake and eat it too, Deb. You deserve it.

Got No Time For Front Porchin’

Previously I speculated that Henry Rollins did not view the Mother Superior years of Rollins Band to be canonical because he did not discuss them during the Rollins Band episode of his podcast, “Henry & Heidi.” Boy, was I wrong: in April Henry and his bubbly co-host recorded a follow-up specifically to talk about the Mother Superior stretch of RB and how that time span was actually his favorite writing and performing experience (ever).

I listened to this ep last night and of course it spurred me to revisit Get Some Go Again, the 2000 debut from Rollins and Mother Superior (released under the Rollins Band moniker at the behest of Dreamworks executives, according to Hank). They sure sound like they’re having a blast. Still too derivative and underwhelming for me to put it in regular rotation, but it has its moments. The title track, specifically, and the bit in “Hotter & Hotter” where Hank says he “got no time for front porchin'” (my new catchphrase).

Further down the rabbit hole: the video for “Love’s So Heavy.” Is this Rollins being tongue in cheek or is he living out his David Lee Roth fantasies? Or both? Either way, have mercy, Rollins. Have mercy!

Rip Them Down, Hold Him Up

I’ve been listening to the Germs nonstop for the past couple of days. Here’s a piece I wrote for Crawdaddy! about their singer’s legacy, published around the thirtieth anniversary of his death.

A lot of pop culture historians like to point out the fact Germs frontman Darby Crash’s dramatic suicide in December of 1980 was rendered almost inconsequential when the most popular member of the Beatles was shot less than 24 hours later, but the truth of the matter is Crash’s death would have been overshadowed even if John Lennon proved entirely bulletproof. After all, December 7th is the anniversary of the Pearl Harbor attack. Bring 12/7 up in front of any American and across the board the response will be more or less uniform: “Day that will live in infamy, 1941, FDR, World War II, shitty Ben Affleck movie.”

Never have I heard anyone say, “December 7th? Say, isn’t that the day Darby Crash and Casey Cola shot each other up with fatal doses of heroin in somebody’s pool house?” I don’t even say that, and I adore the Germs as much as clumsy puppies, double rainbows, and fresh morning dew. If Sid Vicious couldn’t permanently dethrone the groundhog after February 2, 1979, Darby Crash had no hope a year later against the most important piece of Pacific Theater in our nation’s history. Fact: Jimmy Carter did not declare war on opiates because they killed the guy who sang “Sex Boy.”

It’s no accident that I bring up Sid Vicious; many people over the years have written Darby Crash off as a hand-me-down version of that doomed Sex Pistol, just another barely educated weirdo in a dog collar on too much dope. The inherent difference between these two boy-men, though, is that Sid Vicious (at least towards the end of his life) didn’t seem to give a flying fuck about anything, whereas Darby Crash seemed to really care about something. What, exactly, is open to interpretation, but it cannot be overstated that the unapologetic slur of drunken pain and disgust Darby employed in most Germs songs wasn’t the sound of half-assery. That was the sound of a human being desperately trying to convey his message against a typhoon of inner demons.

Crash probably didn’t realize it at the time, but that was a staggeringly awesome subversive move. Singing in such an obviously terrible way forced fans to decode his actual lyrics from the drugged-out death cat moaning. When they did, what a shock it was to be confronted with the unexpected poetry of Darby Crash’s astute, mature songwriting.

Darby’s lyrics weren’t the knee-jerk “fuck this, fuck that” reactions you find in so many other punk bands. There was more honesty, more naked doubt. Look at “No God,” where he says he’s “peered in every window where I saw a cross” and admits he’d “pray to anything” if only there were some tangible evidence beyond what’s been “handed down…by some thoughtful blur.” Similarly confused feelings are expressed in “Communist Eyes,” wherein Darby invites the listener to the Soviet way of life despite his own personal misgivings. “I open my books but the pages stare…it’s a double edge,” he repeats of the hammer and sickle.

On the other hand, there were times where it was crystal clear what Darby Crash wanted: a religion based around his own divine greatness. He apparently looked at Germs fans as his loving congregation, asking the faithful in “Lexicon Devil” to “gimme gimme your hands, gimme gimme your mind” while promising to “build you up and level your heads.” Crash gets more to the point in the creaky mess “Forming,” begging listeners to “rip them down, hold me up, tell them that I’m your gun…pull my trigger, I am bigger than…”

Bigger than what? Bigger than any of Darby’s disciples or critics expected, probably. The Germs never played outside of California, but their music and message still managed to creep its way around the country (and the world) for years after the fact, due in no small part to the chipped tooth enigma that was front and center leading the playful/pointed cacophony.

The most notable mainstream artist to ever claim influence by the Germs was of course Kurt Cobain; you can certainly hear the Darby-esque approach Cobain took trying to mask his words with inaudible mumbling and/or howling screams of pain in any given Nirvana song. Kurt’s fandom was certified in September of 1993 when he invited Germs guitarist Pat Smear to join his multi-platinum grunge band. Sadly, eight months later Cobain would take another cue from Darby Crash and shoot himself in his Seattle greenhouse, claiming in his suicide note that he’d rather burn out rather than fade away.

Darby Crash actually did both, burning out and almost instantly fading away thanks to impeccably bad timing. That was actually sort of a good thing—Sid Vicious was just popular enough when he died to become an immediate fashion accessory, popping up on t-shirts and purses and, Jesus, now I’m sure his scowling face can be purchased on an iPad cover. Even John Lennon, that paragon of peace and humanity and other non-monetary concepts struck down so quickly after Crash, has now stalked New York City billboards shilling for iTunes. Darby, on the converse, remains purely an artistic figure (at least in the sense we’ve never seen his image sewn onto a hoodie on sale at the Gap). He’s still trapped in the grooves of the records, waiting to convert, offend, or disgust anyone willing to listen.

Whatever you stood for, Darby—freedom of indecision, the power/cult of the self, getting drunk as an act of terrorism—it’s still (mostly) in effect. In the next life, though, you might wanna check the calendar before you draw the final curtain.

Unsolicited Aneurysming On Kurt Cobain: Montage Of Heck

– the first half of this doc (covering Cobain’s frenetic childhood and rise to pop culture ubiquity) is more engaging and interesting than the latter, though the back end helps humanize the Kurt who descended into tragedy (not to mention his widow Courtney Love, an immensely likable figure throughout Heck, even when discussing drug use during her pregnancy [and she was right, her kid turned out fine])

– the Scanner Darkly style animated segments, while very richly detailed and atmospheric, ultimately feel too clean (read: too Hollywood) for the rest of the film’s aesthetic (read: notebook scrawled punk rock anarchy)

– there are no revelations here concerning Kurt’s personality or approach to life; it all just reinforces how difficult the world can be for ultra altruistic and/or ultra idealistic figures, especially when they have major aspirations

– I’m enormously satisfied this prestige work includes that hilarious circa ’91 footage of Nirvana bassist Krist Novoselic videotaping himself in the rest room of an airplane, joking about “this bird [goin’] down”

– it was cool at the end when they credited every person who ever passed through Nirvana equally

– the worst thing you can say about Montage Of Heck is that it gets a little repetitive and ends abruptly—of course, this simply mirrors Kurt’s final years, so maybe this entire exercise is perfectly honest and unflinching

– as sad a figure as Kurt Cobain seems this documentary does a great job proving he could be just as funny and light-hearted as anyone else; in fact, his wit seemed so quick I could easily see him holding his own on “Whose Line Is It Anyway?” next to Greg Proops and Ryan Stiles; I for one would have lovingly embraced Kurt Cobain, Improv Comic

– it’s inevitable another doc on Kurt or Nirvana will be produced someday, but after Heck it shouldn’t be (Obama can secure his legacy by making this an executive order or constitutional amendment or whatever process this country uses to legislate movies about grunge)

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