The Disco Tex Essay
by Frank Kogan
(Originally published in 1989 in Why Mildred Skis, a.k.a. Wear Mildred Sheets, a.k.a. Why Music Sucks issue #5. The essay was untitled, though the magazine cover promised "Tiffany Held Prisoner in Closet, Bob Dylan Plays Mambo, Monti Rock III, and more!")
MUNICH BEER HALL POOCH
He tried to be famous
And he tried to be blameless
But he couldn’t do both at once
Woof woof woof
THE FRENCH REVOLUTION
The story of the French Revolution
Led many people to their execution
For others it was famine, indolence, and misery
While others learned to import coffee
Welcome to Why Mildred Skis #5. Today these are the ten best rock’n’roll singles ever:
1. Debbie Deb "I’m Searchin’"
2. Spoonie Gee "Spoonin’ Rap"
3. The Kinks "See My Friends" (probably never was a single, but so what?)
4. Muddy Waters "Still A Fool"
5. The Marvelettes "The Hunter Gets Captured By The Game"
6. Strafe "Set It Off"
7. Disco Tex & the Sex-O-Lettes "I Wanna Dance Wit’ Choo (Doo Dat Dance)"
8. The Rolling Stones "I Wanna Be Your Man"
9. Sammy Gordon & the Hip Huggers "Makin’ Love"
10. The Electric Prunes "Get Me To The World On Time"
11. Donna Summer "Love To Love You Baby"
12. Question Mark and the Mysterians "96 Tears"
13. Taana Pistol Stooge "Heartbeat Anarchy Cum Search And Destroy The Noize Like A Rolling Christmas (Baby Please Come Home) I Can Never Go Home Anymore And Anyway I Can’t Stand Myself (When You Touch Me)"
14. The Wailers "Ruddie Boy" a.k.a. "Jailhouse"
15. Millie Small "My Boy Lollipop"
16. Candi Staton "Victim"
17. Charley Patton "Mississippi Boll Weevil Blues"
18. The Shondells "Hanky Panky"
There! a pretty good and expansive top ten. Criteria for getting on the all-time Top Ten for this week was the ability to provide me with the thrill of special-like... like, all gushy fanlike, like... also, more than half were some sort of "free lunch" on first hearing or first liking, in that my liking ended up being "unexpected" somehow, especially if I disliked the song at first, or it denied expectations or (even better) came out of nowhere. And I didn’t have to work my way towards it (at least not consciously), it wasn’t like "learning to enjoy the taste of beer" or "deciding that Tiffany isn’t so bad after all, in fact I like her."
"Makin’ Love" sounds like a prototype of Eurodisco, though I’m sure it was an imitation made in New Jersey (or somewhere). "I Wanna Be Your Man" is the one great Stones song you haven’t heard. I drove a friend out of my room with it (in 1985). "Get Me To The World On Time" is a hard sound and a pure memory of what it was like ("it" being "punk rock" in 1967). There’s this 1988 remake of "Love To Love You Baby" by Jackie Concepcion, not all that good, really, but at the end of the "Lovin’ Jackie" mix she says "That’s it, touch me, harder, harder, ooo ah, mmm, oh how’s that? I’m getting a headache." When "96 Tears" first came out it upset me so much that I couldn’t listen to it. Just now I listened to ("listened to") "Hanky Panky" on the Cruisin’ 1966 LP and didn’t notice it until, after it was over, Pat O’Day said "move up to hanky panky" as his lead-in to the "move up to Chrysler" commercial. I’d rather hear "Crimson and Clover" because it’s louder and maybe it’s a better song. But "Hanky Panky" plays louder in my mind. I saw her walkin’ on down the line. Here I go, higher and higher. You’re gonna cry.
MOVE UP TO HANKY PANKY
Ramon Salcido combines several different genres into one (if he’d written the murders instead of performing them he’d probably be accused of laying it on thick, if not of overkill: "Isn’t the slit throat a bit much?"): (1) the jealous husband, (2) the crazed coworker, (3) the Ernie K. Doe admirer, (4) the Readers’ Poll participant, (5) bizarreness (the nearly severed head), (6) sex crime, (7) turn the lights out on the whole family, (8) social pressures plus requisite night of drinking, (9) Hey Joe ("I think I’ll go down to sunny Mexico"), (10) one little girl survives, (11) metaphor (the trash heap), (12) the angry crowd outside the jail, (13) similar slaying is solved on the same day (accentuates pervasiveness of evil), (14) overshadows similar slaying that is solved on the same day (so this one’s special), (15) hidden past (possible bigamy), (16) "he must be stupid," (17) televised confession, (18) death of seamen due to exploding gun turret dominates national news and is passed over locally (so meaningless catastrophe with too many deaths and no plot development puts this one in bold relief), (19) nonurban community far from the terror and hardship of the city, (20) on the lam long enough for people to stay nervous but caught soon enough so no one has time to forget and no intervening "story" preempts this one, (21) relative tips off police.
In "I Wanna Dance Wit’ Choo (Doo Dat Dance)" by Disco Tex & the Sex-O-Lettes, Tex yells out "Olé." The only remarkable thing about this is that in its context it’s utterly unremarkable. I’m the first person to remark on it, I bet. (Now I’ve ruined it.) I think that "Tex" (a.k.a. Monti Rock III) is Puerto Rican, though he could just as easily be Italian, and his on-record patter (platter patter) has the verve of used-car commercials (which is a lot of verve) and the excitement of the guy who’s always wanted to play Las Vegas and here he is getting his first chance ever doing the performer intros and it’s a gas! "It’s disco time, baby! The disco kid is back!" And now that he’s labeled the thing as disco (which in 1975 is all you have to do to make it disco), the Sex-O-Lettes launch into the second hoariest vaudeville shtick ever (first hoary is "Shimmy With My Sister Kate"), then break into party noise plus instrumental vamp which happens to be the same vamp that underlies both the Stooges’ "1969" (1969) and the psychedelic part of the Byrds’ "Tribal Gathering" (1968) (a song that I call "Bambi Meets Godzilla" because it’s proto-Stooges in part and proto-Crosby-Stills-Nash in other part), neither of which, from the sound of it, influenced Tex in the least (I bet – and therefore assume that the vamp had a long career as some Afro-Caribbean cliché before Disco Stooge & the Dylanettes got hold of it).
(Which reminds me that Dylan calls "La Bamba" the source for the chorus in "Like A Rolling Stone," and "La Bamba" was the original garage song (according to Lester Bangs), before which it was a Mexican folk song for about a hundred years; and "Louie Louie," the other original punk song, was written, according to Richard Berry (liner notes to the Best of Louie, Louie), around a riff from the Latin song "El Loco Cha Cha Cha." I’m curious about whether the riff was just rhythm or included the chord pattern too – the chord pattern is the basic I-IV-V (one-four-five; tonic-subdominant-dominant; e.g. E-A-B; except in "Louie Louie" it’s B-minor) of European music, and of course those chords were used in some blues progressions; but, in my non-extensive and not-always-knowledgeable listening of the world’s music, the pattern done this way – climbing up the chords I-IV-V or up and down I-IV-V-IV-I real quick in one or two measures – appears only in Latin music (Cuban music and offshoots such as salsa) until the early ’60s when the Wailers (the punks, not the Jamaicans), the Kingsmen, Paul Revere and the Raiders, and then Dylan, the Kinks, the Troggs, and a million others used it. In a class I took on the history of salsa, the teacher John Santos wondered aloud why Ray Barretto’s "El Watusi" became such a big hit, since it was no more than a commonplace vamp, kind of a throwaway thing. I pointed out that the vamp was practically the "Louie Louie" progression and hit at more or less the same time as the Kingsmen’s version. (Neither of us knew which hit first – do any of you?) (Was the recorder on "Wild Thing" inspired by the flute on all those Latin hits?) (Leslie says that it wasn’t a recorder, it was an ocarina, which sounds like a recorder but looks like a football.) Not that this has lots to do with Stooges or Disco Tex – genealogy isn’t important, only what you do with it. The importance of "musical heritage" is that it gives you a form to start with. You have to start somewhere. Though I think that blues and mambo (etc.) – blues, anyway – deserve more of the blame for punk rock (Stooges et al.) than they’ve been given credit for – you know, it’s no accident when a form or content (same dif) gets easily turned into a churning, inviting death trip.)
Forthcoming from Geffen: Various Artists, Hello, This Is Your Mother, subtitled "messages your parents left on the phone machine" – This is a recording unlike any other in show-biz history, consisting as it does of performances only by the parents of rock stars. "We kinda wanted to give a tribute to where we are coming from," said the member of a top L.A. glam-metal band. Geffen has asked us not to release the names of the participants "until all the details are worked out" – WMS thinks they’re just trying to build suspense. Well, the big names are on here, and the advance cassette has been raging 18-hours-a-day nonstop here at the Why Mildred Skis offices. And you thought the Sex Pistols were intense! Features the soon-to-be-classic "The Music On Your Machine Is Shit," "We Haven’t Heard From You In Two Months," "It’s Your Sister’s Birthday On Friday," "Why Weren’t You At Aunt Jessica’s Funeral?" "To Hell With It, I Keep Calling And Calling And What Good Does It Do Me!" "We’ve All Been Wondering Why We Haven’t Heard From You. Are You On Another Tour?" and many more.
In New York in the 1930s a Jew named Alfred Mendelsohn changed his name to Alfredo Mendez and formed a Latin band.
So when Tex (singing in Spanish) and his fellow revelers finish with the Stooges vamp, this wailing voice comes in with this entirely wonderful doowop or proto-Beach Boys (I’m the proud owner of zero Beach Boys records) falsetto "I wanna rock’n’roll with you," Tex does his famous "Olé," and probably a lot more happens but the version I’ve got is on a K-Tel sampler so it fades out here after only two minutes.
And it sounds unified – "Disco," not "eclectic." Other notable (i.e. unnotable) throwaways: chugalug jitterbug, do the bump, do the crawl (during the burlesque routine), oom chogga boom, dig my rhinestone tap shoes, start some mini-Iran, it’s all greek to me.
Probably killing people was the least interesting thing Charley Starkweather did. Not that I know if he ever did anything interesting. No one can be totally boring. Ramon Salcido may or may not be interesting; his murders are just comic relief. (I mean, in the life of the wiseass urban dweller. It wasn’t comic relief to those directly affected.) Maybe for some teenager they’re a lot cooler. When the writer Michael Lydon was fifteen he tried to start a Charley Starkweather fan club. That’s more interesting than Starkweather himself, probably. Possibly.
Though if Michael Jackson formed a group called Rapeman, I doubt that anyone would call it the lamest of punk jokes:
You’re a vegetable, you’re a vegetable
The video "One," by progressive rock band Metallica, number one on the Dial MTV request line for 39 years or so, kind of comes with a label attached, "HORRIFYING." Which means that it probably doesn’t actually provoke horror in anybody – or anyway, its "horror" seems easy to file (but if you were twelve years old you might wish you’d had your limbs blown off too, so someone would do a song about you). Anyway, contrast that to Jackson’s "Smooth Criminal" video, which is a fairly absurd cast-of-hundreds production number, full of playfulness and spectacle and a bizarre séance type thing, and which in no way illustrates or has anything to do with those words coming out of his mouth:
Still they hate you, you’re a vegetable
You’re just a buffet, you’re a vegetable
They eat off of you, you’re a vegetable
He came into your apartment
Since his dancing, costumes, and singing (even on radio and record) neither augment nor neutralize nor express nor define the lyrics, "bloodstains on your carpet" (should anyone notice it) takes on a weird integrity. Like, huh? Who ordered that? I didn’t know it was on the menu!
He left bloodstains on your carpet
Jackson keeps doing "Midnight Rambler" again and again, except he’s the guy hiding behind the steel-plate door. "Gimme Shelter," too. In his lyrics, anyway – "She trapped me in her heart"; in his videos a bit, too, which are often about "pursuit"; maybe a little in his voice the way he "overdoes" various "owwws" and "eeeeeeooooo" and sexy sobs and gasps, and in his dance the way he turns so sharp.
I have to go to the bathroom
— Sophocles 480 B.C.
I have to go to the bathroom
— Benito Mussolini 1926
I have to go to the bathroom
— Joseph Goebbels 1929
I have to go to the bathroom
— Dwight Eisenhower 1956
I have to go to the bathroom
— Eldridge Cleaver 1968
I have to go to the bathroom
— Robert Christgau 1971
I have to go to the bathroom
— Betty White 1988
I have to go to the bathroom
— Trinh Minh-ha 1988
I have to go to the bathroom
— Bill Laimbeer 1989
In the Creem readers’ poll for 1975, I voted for the Sex-O-Lettes as "Best Female Singer." Nothing I’ve written so far will suggest why. The girls – women – on "I Wanna Dance Wit’ Choo (Doo Dat Dance)" are the Dolls. That’s what I decided in the first ten seconds, first time I heard it. I mean, they are glitter babes. They are puss ’n boots, they are there, they are trying – I mean, they are hired hands, the recordmaker wants some pizzazz and they’re the pizzazz, each a backup chick looking for her shot (I imagined); bad girls, each wants to be a star (and so on). I saw this Ronald Colman movie around that time (A Double Life, dir. George Cukor); mainly far-fetched, I thought, but there was one moment... An agent or producer, Hollywood or theatrical or something, or his lackey – I barely remember this at all – appears for a second outside his office door, and a pretty young woman – you know, starlet pretty – lunges desperately for him, she’s got to see him. She gets brushed away, and that’s that. And that was her entire appearance in the movie, as a few seconds of social detail, as context, while the plot walked on by. I really don’t remember: maybe there were two women. All I remember was the lunge and the look of desperate ambition on her face. I was sappy then, still am – anyway, that was her, Babylon girl, or whoever, the Puerto Rican girl, and did she ever, could she ever, expect such a Frankenstein? And she’s in the Sex-O-Lettes. I can’t totally recreate that feeling now, of course – I’m no longer that desperate – but it was there in 1975, I heard it in "I Wanna Dance Wit’ Choo," and I was right!
(Was "Tex" that girl too? Is Noel? Stevie B? I don’t know. In 1975 I could only project that role onto women and maybe gays. I did (do?) sort of identify with guys like David Johansen before he chickened out and Bret Michaels who never even got there and he chickened out too – guys who aspire to be that girl rather than merely appreciate her.) (Maybe it’s like the Charley Starkweather Fan Club – the imitators are more interesting than the thing being imitated.) (Cf. what Andrew Sarris said about Cukor: "The director’s theme is imagination, with focus on the imaginer rather than the thing imagined.")
The fact that the real Sex-O-Lettes, about whom I know nothing, were Monti Rock’s 50-year-old Aunt Gertrude and her neighbor Blanche, in town on vacation and in the studio only because for some reason they couldn’t get out to Disneyland that day and Monti didn’t know what to do with them, is irrelevant; I’m talking about their sound.
Not so irrelevant is the fact that I’m the only person ever (as far as I know) to identify the Sex-O-Lettes with the Dolls. So in what sense could I possibly be "right"?
Okay, I’m a visionary, and if my vision doesn’t get some embodiment out there in the world or at least in someone else’s mind, then I’m a crank – but a crank of sociological interest nonetheless (if you’re a sociologist), because my visions derive not only from my "personality" (whatever that is) but from my world – i.e. from me messing around in relation to other people in that world, such as you. So you, or, in 1975, people a lot like you (I wager), helped create "my" vision. You’re part of it even if you find the vision unintelligible, maybe especially if you find the vision unintelligible – you know, finding a space beyond the intelligibility of others is one of the things that makes us individuals (as the sociologist Mykel Board might put it). Christgau would call such unintelligibility "existential solitude" (with "harrumph" placed before the word "existential" to convey a sense of dissatisfaction or embarrassment with the phrase); I’d call it social solitude, and I think it’s a creation (a social creation) or even an achievement.
But I ought to achieve my unintelligibility honestly by trying to be intelligible. So where was I?... Oh yes! I heard it – the dolls, the glitter babes – in "I Wanna Dance Wit’ Choo," and I was right! I heard a sound! – the Sex-O-Lettes "You got to got to got to get dat" (?) – which was equivalent to the way the New York Dolls looked. And that’s it, the Dolls had a whole look and attitude, a way of moving, but they never found a sound to embody that look. They were party girls who never got their party. "We’re out there and we’re outrageous" is how they look; "we’re out there and desperate" is how they sound, the party barely discernible near the horizon. The Dolls work real hard just to howl "oww-oooo" like a Wolfman, whereas "Tex" takes that sort of nonsense for granted. "Dig my rhinestone tap shoes" gets tossed off, just like the oft-commented-upon "Olé." Disco, besides being a real sleaze pit, is a sandbox; "Olé" is a grain of sand (probably was some latin bugalu cliché). Disco is a context of abundance – but with a bit of desperation at the edges, the Monday through Friday and permanent hassle which just sits there outside, and which accounts (I think) for the extra fizz or bite or dazzle-in-your-face that I hear in the Sex-O-Lettes.
Well, welln’t, welln’t’ve been, unwelln’t, wellingness. (Transitions are my bane.)
Well, "context of abundance" (whatever that is) seems to me (whoever that is) to be essential (s-n-schul) (as-in-school) to the creation (!!)(??) of good music (whatever that is) – but that’s only in the long run.
Disco Tex & the Sex-O-Lettes lived in a context of abundance whereas the Dolls merely worked towards one. But, though Tex means more to me this week, the Dolls meant more to me back then. If the Dolls had easily achieved a sound to match their look, then maybe they wouldn’t have done such a good job at desperation. Dolls’ singer David Johansen had a memory of abundance – all those (at the time) forgotten trash songs from the pre-"rock" pre-respectable early ’60s – and an ever-present context of paralysis which he (single-handjit, as my grandpa would say) was going to transform:
When everyone’s gone to your house to shoot up in your room
I like how after trying to draw a line between them and himself for the whole song, he howls out "I need a fix and a kiss," so he is one of them after all; that’s one of those deft little flashes where – zing – he suddenly lets the whole world break in on him. (Of course without drug-references and death-references he’d just be maudlin, like on most of his solo shit.) And, as I suggested back in WMS#1, that’s why the Dolls were a commercial failure – Johansen’s vision was too all-inclusive to support the Punk Rock Lonely Hearts Club, or the Heavy Metal Lonely Hearts Club, or the Teenybopper Lonely Hearts Club, or the Marginal Artists And Intellectuals Lonely Hearts Club, or the New Romantics Club, or any other. (Punks didn’t mind the fix; it was the kiss they couldn’t handle.) J’s vision is probably too all-inclusive for me, too, since now in my life the Dolls are a nostalgic memory trip while conventional haters like the Stooges, Pistols, and GN’R play interminably on my record player and in my head. (I don’t know; if the Dolls had better rhythm, like Tex, maybe they’d be playing daily in my house like Stacey Q and Debbie Deb and Paris Grey – I don’t know [author gets up and puts Appetite For Destruction on the tape player].) Anyway, the Dolls didn’t get the world’s actual glitter babes – the babes went to heavy metal and disco instead, because Johansen’s vision was too all-inclusive for them, too.
Most of them are beautiful, but so obsessed with gloom
I ain’t gonna be here, when they all get home
They’re always looking at me, they won’t leave me alone
I didn’t come here looking for no fix, ah ah ah no
I’ve been pounding the streets all night in the rain, baby
Just a-lookin’ for a kiss
I need a fix and a kiss
But (as I said), I was "right," those Sex-O-Lettes are the glitter dolls, and history kind of bears it out (maybe, sort of) – I guess it’s not totally irrelevant (well it is, actually) that the first Poison album starts with the same drum beat that starts "That Boy Of Mine" by the Cover Girls (their worst song), which is the first drum beat in Martin Scorsese’s Mean Streets, which is the beat that starts "Be My Baby." [Insert something about Ronnie Spector’s boots – or Mary Weiss’s.] I.e. self-conscious neo-disco "roots" and self-conscious neo-glitter "roots" turn out to be identical. The boots, on the other hand, probably aren’t. "The music and fashion world have always lived together in a harmonious relationship. Now the Cover Girls have finally gotten these two worlds to form a blissful marriage through their music and fashion style." (Judy B. Hutson, liner notes to Show Me.)
It’s less irrelevant that, in her lyrics, Donna Summer’s "Hot Stuff" is the Dolls’ "Looking For A Kiss" and that "Bad Girls" is, duh, "Bad Girl." (This is true even if Summer never heard the Dolls.) "You ask yourself who they are/Like everybody else they want to be a star." So Donna Summer saw it too and knew sex-o-lettes, hundreds of them, I’m sure, and saw them walking on Sunset (or Pete Bellotte or someone saw it and she sang it); and Poison, looking through David Johansen’s eyes, saw them and wrote "Fallen Angel," their version of "Babylon" (though it doesn’t come close). And their best song, "I Want Action," is a mild and cuddly version of "Looking For A Kiss." (Chuck Eddy compliments them like this: "Poison start out pretending to be the Dolls, come out like the Bay City Rollers.") The point here isn’t to say that it all sounds the same or that it’s all equally good (Donna was better being the slut than singing about her), but that it’s the same girl, whether she’s a glitter bunny, a disco babe, a metal bopper, or a punkette. And she’s a guy too, and a rock critic. (Ref. to Robert Warshow: "The sociological critic says to us, in effect: It is not I who goes to see the movies; it is the audience. The aesthetic critic says: It is not the movies I go to see; it is art.... A man watches a movie, and the critic must acknowledge that he is that man.")
[Possible reference to bugalu hit "Bang Bang" in "Bad Girls."]
So, in his music, Poison singer Bret Michaels can’t shoot sparks like the Sex-O-Lettes and doesn’t moan and gasp like Donna and won’t drag along with terror and pills and hate like the Dolls. His audience does.
Anyway, for that (the fix and the kiss) we’ve got Axl: "So come with me, don’t ask me where cuz I don’t know," which would be utter sentimental crap (it is, in fact), "Gimme Danger" reduced to a valentine, if it didn’t spring from "Turn around bitch, I got a use for you," Axl’s call for friction earlier in the same song. (Like I said, who knows where, contradictions are mere functional equipment, like drums and like amps. Like, "Do you think that you could make it with Frankenstein?" is no real question if you’re smugly sure in advance that the answer is "Yes." Like "Welcome to the Jungle" works as poetry because Axl’s there promising to eat you alive.) Well, who said "Gimme Danger" isn’t sentimental crap too? And "Like A Rolling Stone"? And Why Music Skis?
[Axl = W. Axl Rose, lead singer of Guns N’ Roses. Tia Mallette refers to him as "Waxxel."]
Alphabetical order: Will To Power "Say It’s Gonna Rain," White Lion "When The Children Cry," Judy Torres "Come Into My Arms," Stacey Q. "Don’t Make A Fool Of Yourself" and "The River," Siouxsie and the Banshees "Peek-A-Boo," S Express "Superfly Guy," Sequel "It’s Not Too Late," Schoolly D "Smoke Some Kill," The Real Roxanne "Don’t Even Feel It," Raze "Break 4 Love," Pussy Galore "Renegade!" Public Enemy "She Watch Channel Zero," Phuture "Slam!" L’Trimm "Cars With The Boom," the latin disco one where she goes "Don’t move away from me" "Don’t ever go away" and other phrases that start with "don’t" (HELP! WHAT IS IT? WHO DID IT? I MUST HAVE THIS SONG), Latifah "Wrath Of My Madness," Joan Jett "Riding With James Dean," The It "Gallimaufry Gallery," House Master Baldwin Featuring Paris Grey "Don’t Lead Me," Guns N’ Roses "Welcome To The Jungle," "Think About You," and "One In A Million," Girlschool "Fox On The Run," Giggles "Hot Spot," The Funky Worm "Hustle To The Music," Samantha Fox "I Wanna Have Some Fun," EPMD "Strictly Business," Desiré "Baby Be Mine," Def Leppard "Pour Some Sugar On Me," Debbie Deb "I’m Searchin’," Cynthia "Change On Me," Cover Girls "Inside Outside," Chip Chip "Never Say Goodbye," Neneh Cherry "Buffalo Stance," Rob Base and DJ E-Z Rock "It Takes Two," Bananarama "Nathan Jones," Bam-Bam "Where’s Your Child," A Guy Called Gerald "Voodoo Ray."
Dolls and D. Tex may have actually (sorta) shared a social context – Monti Rock III is mentioned twice in POPism The Warhol ’60s ("And bands – the Velvets played at the [Cheetah’s] opening; I saw Monti Rock III dash by in a glittering gold outfit, looking, he said, for Joan Crawford"), he appeared once in the late ’60s on Merv Griffin, dressed in a black cape and claiming that his coffin was parked out front waiting for him, and that’s all I know about him. (Can any of you in the Mildred Skis Nation tell me more?)
But "context of abundance" refers to musical context (disco as a state of possibility rather than a form – disco as an imaginary context) rather than only to social surroundings. Dolls were stuck in hoary old rock’n’roll as opposed to whorey disco.
I met a guy, his name was Tussy
"Free lunch" and "context of abundance" may not seem particularly compatible – in context of abundance you’re taking things for granted, e.g. you can say "Olé" and it’s no big deal (if it had to be a big deal, it wouldn’t be worth doing), so you’re in a context that allows you to do a lot; whereas "free lunch" gives you something unexpected from somewhere unexpected, like in 1975 I turn on the punkless, dollsless radio and to my surprise hear the Sex-O-Lettes, who are real Dolls. But what each has in common is that you don’t have to work for it. (That is, you the fan, sitting on your hammock or your yacht don’t have to work for it. The poor performer may have to work very hard to make something no big deal. It’s a matter of timing as well as context, timing within a context.) "Context of abundance" is your sandbox; "free lunch" is the fish that jumps in your lap. So I have to build a sandbox on my yacht; that’s the task of modern music.
Took him to my house and he ate my pussy
I met a Santa, his name was Clawdy
Took him to my house and he had my body
I met a girl, her name was Stacey
Took her home, she sat on my facey
I met a girl, her name was Dabs
Took her to the beach and I gave her crabs
I met a girl, her name was Deborah
Took her to my house et cetera
I met a girl, her name was Tizzy
Took her to my house and we were fizzy
(You know, you shake the ginger ale and it gets all fizzy)
I met a guy, his name was Forceps
Took him to my house and we discussed concepts
I met a guy, his name was Porny
I took him to my house one two three fourny
I met a guy, his name was Melvin
Took him to my house one two five twelve ’n’
Schoolly D calls one of his songs "Another Poem"; fortunately, the world doesn’t take him seriously, so he can call himself an artist and a poet without being contaminated by those categories. "Mr. Big Dick" does all the things that poetry does without being poetry:
Captain Hook had a funny hand
It worked on sea but not on land
Queen Marie had sexy pants
They worked in Spain but not in France
It is my duty to fuck you cutie
Its particular context of abundance is the kid game (real big when I was eleven) of taking a "popular song" and giving it obscene or disgusting lyrics (e.g. "Maria, the girl with the pink diarrhea"), in which you can do whatever you want as long as it’s gross, and none of it’s a big deal because it’s all crap anyway – and I like the way he links duty and fuck and the way "fuck you" slams into "cutie."
(definition of terms) it = Mr. Big Dick (who do you think you are?), Rodney Dangerfield, Olé
The Scene Is Now and De La Soul and Joe Bughead and Art Ensemble of Chicago could do it (say "Olé" or whatever) in an effort to be "open" to everything – it’s a valiant effort, but that’s the point, it’s an effort, and even if it’s not an effort for the performers themselves, it would be rendered so by the audience. "Wow! He’s playing a trombone!" So the audience would italicize it (whichever "it"). Flavor Flav blurts out "beat is for Yoko Ono" for no reason in the middle of "Bring The Noise"; Jefferson Airplane mutters (irrelevantly) "armadillo" in the middle of "The Ballad Of You & Me & Pooneil" – but "armadillo" is a weird freak thing (not an unremarkable thing) and "Yoko Ono" is the same thing actually but in "hip hop." So "Yoko" and "‘dillo" end up sticking out a bit like a sore thumb, like "look how weird we are, look what we can get away with," and lose their "tossed-off" quality. This makes them kind of arid (like an armadillo’s natural habitat) – Airplane and Public Enemy fail to stay in or exist in or discover or create a context ("context of abundance") in which Armadillo and Yoko Ono can be taken for granted ("taken for granted").
Yet Airplane and Public Enemy almost pull it off – that’s thanks to Jack Casady and Terminator X (respectively): the music moves so well and is so full of "stuff" without self-defeatingly pointing attention to the "stuff" that you can pretty much throw in whatever you want (Airplane = jarring (at the time) yet pretty feedback thing, unintentionally out-of-tune singing, soul bass playing à la Dyke and the Blazers that no one notices but that everyone dances to; Public Enemy = noise, political endorsements, image overload, lead rapper who sounds like he’s reciting Dr. Seuss). It’s really sad – the Airplane were one of my favorite bands, and if they’d only been able (or willing) to be identified with the hack commercial context – like being more or less equivalent to (though better than) the Ohio Express and the Strawberry Alarm Clark – then our Armadillo (cute little critter) could have walked into the song and rolled over and sunned itself and it would have been no big deal, just more bullshit (yummy yummy yummy armadillo on my tummy), instead of being (not just the Armadillo, but the whole song, all of Jefferson Airplaneishness, the fact that they did stuff like that) the oh so precious sore thumb that defined and justified the band as "freaks."
Someone could pretend that there’s a hip new dance called the Yoko Ono, and everyone else would be embarrassed because each would think he or she’s the only one who doesn’t know the dance. ("Then he pulled his knife and did not throw, no/So come on all let’s Yoko Ono/Cuz I’m a livin’ a-well and a-ready to dance/So come on girl let me show my romance.")
So you do the spank, and you do the laundry/Either one you want girl, the setup’s tawdry/So rock rock, and you don’t stop. (A new dance called "the laundry.")
I’m trying to imagine an alternate universe in which non sequiturs and political interests and idiosyncrasies and ______ and ______ expand the context of abundance rather than destroy it – where the Airplane hadn’t split off from the Ohio Express, where Public Enemy and De La Soul (etc.) won’t – but they already have, I’m afraid – split off from L’Trimm and J.J. Fad (a world where you can have your armadillo and eat it too); a world where "armadillo" and "beat is for Yoko Ono" are unremarkable (like "Olé") and where "We are all outlaws in the eyes of America" and "Farrakhan’s got a message that I think you ought to listen to" are a free lunch, just playfulness taken somewhere unexpected. (Rather than what they actually were/are: the deadly work of self-justification.)
"Politics lead him to the burning question of inadequate housing and inspires a unique innovation with almost all the lines rhyming." (Liner notes to the Mighty Sparrow 25th Anniversary LP.)
Frank: "At least Marcus likes a group that says, ‘Boredom is counterrevolutionary.’"
Leslie: "What group is that, the Ohio Express?"
Stacey Q on the unreality of social similarity (with an unnoticed – by her – threat to her own identity):
"I can’t believe it. You like all the songs I like. You’re not real."
The song starts with a whale of a clatter, like someone threw the pans downstairs. "She dropped her purse," Leslie explains.
How come there’s been no comment on the fact that Edie Brickell and the New Bohemians’ "What I Am" and Living Colour’s "Cult of Personality" have identical lyrics? This is the first time that such a conceptual coup d’état or cultural coup de grâce or whatever has ever hit the pop chart (except I guess for 1987 when "I Think We’re Alone Now" and "Mony Mony" went one-two).
But would it have been possible for the Ohio Express or Disco Tex (even) to sing "armadillo" and have it no big deal? Or for L’Trimm to sing "We like the cars, the cars that go boom/Yoko Ono goes boom" and have it taken for granted?
Boom is for Yoko Ono.
In some situations the world will tell you that you’re weird, that you’re a freak, any time you do something halfway interesting. The ’60s "freak" thing was a defensive reaction, trying to turn a socially defined "weakness" into a strength.
My "PBS" metaphor is a remake of the Shangri-Las’ "Out in the Streets." ("He used to act bad/Used to, but he quit it/It makes me so sad/Cuz I know that he did it for me.")
Assume that my "alternate universe" is pretty much like the real one, that it puts you in the normal situation of thinking that you’re (1) insignificant, (2) abnormal (deep down), but (3) too normal (because you’re not enough of an "individual"). I mean... I don’t know... we’re ourselves, we’re like Paul Kantner and Flavor Flav (which we are), we don’t have infinite wisdom or infinite ego strength, but nonetheless in this new universe we... we... well, what do we do? We create a slightly different social chemistry? We...? (Who...?)
Elvis was sighted in the most recent Real Roxanne video. He found the Real Roxanne in the desert and gave her a lift into Vegas, where – with great aplomb – she lost all her money. (So Elvis finally did something worthy of his so-called icon status – he gave R. a lift. Any cabbie could have done the same.)
I’d rather hear Funkadelic sampled on a Public Enemy record than listen to Funkadelic; I’d rather hear Public Enemy sampled on a Real Roxanne record than listen to Public Enemy. (Funkadelic’s "Get Off Your Ass and Jam" becomes a "free lunch" on Public Enemy’s "Bring the Noise"; the Real Roxanne is herself a context of abundance, so on her record Public Enemy and Rodney Dangerfield and almighty G-O-D become equal and no big deal.)
Future vitality of hip hop probably depends on the almighty R-O-X-A-N-N-E (both of them) and apparent one shots like L’Trimm and shit like 2 Live Crew and "shit" like Tone Loc – If Public Enemy and De La Soul can exist within hip hop without dominating it, then it (and maybe they) will be okay. If Roxanne Roxanne can absorb Public Enemy without being "influenced" by them, then she’s on a roll. (Let’s see, this needs some explanation for you hip hop non-aficionados: 2 Live Crew want some pussy; L’Trimm are Tigra and Bunny and they like the boom (you’ve heard the cars go by with those giant woofers, with that loud "boom"); when Tone Loc gives his dog love potion #9, the loveable mutt humps his leg.)
The Mothers Of Invention and Funkadelic and Camper Van Beethoven and De La Soul throw so much "stuff" and shit at us that nothing in particular is a big deal, but, unlike the Sex-O-Lettes, none of them are in a context of abundance – the entire output of each constitutes a sore thumb. "Oh boy! look! we’re not afraid to do this." (I can enjoy sore thumbs – I’d flush Zappa’s oeuvre down the toilet, even the stuff I "like" (an occasional guitar part), but I’ll buy the De La Soul record soon and like it (I anticipate). I mean, hip hop might be turning itself into some utter ugh-thing, the new progressive rock, with De La Soul and PE and Eric B. and Rakim on the vanguard, but if you were De La Soul what would you or could you do differently? [A lot of things – ed.])
Schoolly D takes black militance and turns it into popcorn. (That’s a compliment.)
Flavor Flav almost gets by as an all-purpose free lunch; Chuck D’s role in history may be to take up a lot of space, like Ralph Kramden, and center everything on POLITICS and POETRY and ARTICULATE BLACK MEN and so draw attention away from his sidekick Norton (portrayed by Flavor), who’s thus free to fuck around.
A free lunch is not a shock effect and not necessarily something that stands out from the context, but rather something that happens in addition to what is "officially going on" – like the psychedelic bridge in Guns N’ Roses’ "It’s So Easy," like every time Michael Jackson does "Midnight Rambler."
Rob Ewan was fooling around with the bass line to "Anarchy In The U.K." by the Sex Pistols, and it reminded him of "Then He Kissed Me" by the Crystals.
[The concept "free lunch" has nothing to do with "suppressed matter" (e.g. "that which is suppressed in the dominant discourse"), which is work and I’ll let puritans waste their time on it.]
A free lunch can be intended and heavily remarked upon (though it often isn’t) as long as it’s generally seen as either extraneous or (if it unexpectedly becomes central) unanticipated. A "sleeper" hit is a free lunch, but "follow up" isn’t.
Just now I was listening to "Mashed Potato Time" by the Crystals and I realized I was hungry, so I got a leftover potato from the refrigerator. Yummy with ketchup.
There are two types of free lunch:
(1) Anyway Lunch – What the music does in addition. The music (incl. hairdos, promo kits, the lead singer’s hairy chest, etc.) does things and does things anyway, too. (Richard Meltzer, Aesthetics of Rock, p. 7, "So my whole summation does whatever it does and does anyway too, but watch the anyway level.")
(2) Soundtrack Lunch – What the audience adds or does (or might do) with or to or even instead of the "music," excluding of course what the audience is expected to do or is officially obviously doing such as dancing or drowning it out with screams or giving it to your sister as a Halloween present. (Meltzer again, pp 147-148, "I once asked filmmaker Peter Kubelka if he realized that one of his films, which consisted of black frames and white frames and only sporadic noises, actually had the loudest implicit sound track of all his films, since it summoned quite a bit of audience laughter and endure-the-tedium chatter and get-away-from-it-door-opening at the exits.... All films have an implicit sound track in addition to their own...") (Also see Manny Farber’s Negative Space.)
Axl Rose: "People have an awful lot of misconceptions about Guns N’ Roses. What’s more, they’re right!" (Blast!, April 1989.)
There’s no real boundary between the two lunches – Soundtrack Lunch just moves you farther away from the "song" or "show" or "that goddamn radio" (away from the ostensible center of attention), it really all depends on where you think you lifted your meal from, the song or the world around it, no big difference.
Simon Frith (Music For Pleasure, p. 91): "What’s ‘good’ here usually is described by its straight musical elements (a haunting tune, etc.), but what matters is a tone of voice: suddenly there’s this stranger, involved in a different conversation altogether, talking about you." (The "outsider" lunch.)
I didn’t hear Highway 61 Revisited until 1970. No one had told me that Dylan was a nihilist. (The "nihilist" lunch. The "no-one-told-me" lunch. The "disparity-between-hero-and-his-pedestal" lunch.)
A friend of mine was real disturbed by punk rock (in 1977) until he heard some of it. "Oh, I get it," he said, "the Kinks." (The "oh-I-get-it" lunch.)
When Meltzer (Autobiography) was in seventh grade, kids would sing "I found my thrill on top of Miss Grill" and "I found my thrill on Miss Grill’s hills." (Miss Grill was a teacher.)
J.J. Fad’s "Anotha Ho" partakes of the same context of abundance as Schoolly D’s "Mr. Big Dick," the take-a-song-and-give-it-dirty-words game (they’re singing the melody to "Bingo," not "Old McDonald" as you’d expect):
Howie Tee he had an MC
It’s funny because the singer inserts "ho" in this nonchalant, almost professional voice, like she’s a file clerk.... ["Ho" is the Lithuanian word for "prostitute."] Several years ago I would stick the word "amoeba" into songs like "You’ve lost that amoeba feeling." It was very funny. Maybe it wasn’t. Back in the ’70s a little boy I knew sang "Shake shake shake, shake shake shake, shake your booty, shake Jim’s roody" for an hour or two. He thought it was funny. [Jim was his brother.] J.J. Fad got their song from the Queen classic:
And Roxanne was her name-o
This ain’t G.I. Joe
And that tramp has to go, hit it
Bom bom bom, anotha ho bites the dust
But radio stations turned the record over and made the flip side, "Supersonic," into the hit – because of the bass sound, I thought, and didn’t understand. But then I got it (Leslie’s younger sister and younger sister’s friend were walking along singing "Supersonic"): J.J. Fad had finished "Anotha Ho" for you, so it was nice and fun (context of abundance, yeah yeah yeah) but also done, game was over, unless you applied it to another song. "Supersonic," on the other hand, was the boiler plate, kind of came with instructions, showed you how to cook your own lunch with it. "S is for super, U is for unique, P is for perfection...." So the two girls were walking along singing their own version of "Supersonic" (I don’t remember the words they put on it, just the idea): "S is for shitfaced, U is for ugly, P is for pencil pecker..."
In the early stages of her career, Madonna’s clothes were the visual version of this sort of children’s song. [Insert essay on how fans ran variations on the Madonna model. Use my girlfriend as an example.]
Melle Mel’s stickup-kid rap in G. Flash & Furious Five’s "Superrappin’" is a free lunch, and so are the food references in Sugarhill Gang’s "Rapper’s Delight"; the songs could just as easily not have them. Though maybe at the time, rather than being free lunches, they were no big deal, just there in the context of abundance; in retrospect they seem like a free lunch because most current rap songs are so "focused," having lost the ability to be irrelevant. (The Fat Boys’ food references are not free lunch; nor is Melle Mel’s rap when it gets regurgitated at half speed and in close-up as the centerpiece of "The Message.")
Schoolly D’s a free lunch a lot of the time because his music has flute and shit or is it ocarina and no one notices, and because his lyrics wander so that the focus becomes as irrelevant as his extraneous stuff. Like, he starts off about politics or sex but then it’s about the Brady Bunch or his mom, so (like I said before) the politics are popcorn.
In the context of all the yucking it up he’s doing, the ominous bass and dissonant horns in "Mr. Big Dick" are garnish. In the context of ominous bass and dissonant horns, the yucking it up in "Mr. Big Dick" is gravy.
Toots and the Maytals’ "Revival Reggae" is the best of many unintentional attempts within reggae to sound like Slade ("Revival Reggae" has a rhythm very close to Slade’s "I Won’t Let It ’Appen Agen") or, more accurately, attempts to sound like Slade is going to sound (because "Revival Reggae" came out around 1970 and Slade didn’t really sound like that until 1972).
Slade’s stuff c. 1972-1973 is now (I mean now, still, in 1989) the best through-and-through free lunch within "rock." For instance, their status in the ’80s as revered "founding fathers" of heavy metal (whatever that is) makes their actual music extraneous since (1) it was not considered metal at the time of its release, at least not in America, (2) it has had no impact or influence on metal except for a few nods in the direction of "glam vocals" and "Noddy shrieks" recently by Kix and Girlschool, except that (3) its actual use as a source of Pretty Pop Melodies by nerf-metal bands like Britny Fox and Quiet Riot is the influence of an entirely "non-metal" aspect (whatever that is).
(Since heavy metal has nothing to do with heavy metal, perhaps you could call the whole genre a free lunch, but that opens up a can of noodles that I don’t want to deal with right now.)
"C’mon headbangers, feel the noize! Bang your heads and let’s go crazy!" was the kind of typical moronic gesture vocalist Kevin Dubrow would’ve squawked for Quiet Riot back in 1983.... It seemed to give this awful impression to those who didn’t understand metal.
So writes Pat Prince in Powerline, May 1989. Gee Pat, you wouldn’t want metal to give a bad impression, would you?
I was anxious to tell [drummer Frankie Banali] how happy I was that all the Bang Your Head, Cum On Mama, we’re all crazy now, feel the noize, girls rock your boys-Metal Health bullshit that Dubrow pushed on us for years is gone for good.
(Slade singer Noddy Holder’s origination of "Janis-vocals-by-a-man" and "British-accent-in-loud-hard-rock-songs" (rather than in novelty songs), which were done subsequently by Axl Rose and Johnny Rotten respectively, and Slade’s use of the march-beat stomp, done subsequently by the Pistols and the Clash, might make those elements mere "precursors" rather than free lunch, but since almost no one cares or knows about this anymore or even in the first place, I think they get to remain on the menu. The "no-one-told-me" lunch. Though now I’ve told you.)
Slade is one of the few immensely popular bands to make a major change in the rhythm of music and have no one notice it (very few people noticed it) and no one be influenced by it. Okay, you know those New Orleans hits from the early ’60s by Chris Kenner, Ernie K. Doe, Willie Harper, the Showmen, Benny Spellman, and so on, how they have this real light touch, how the beat dances around eighth notes, not quarter notes? (How in Jamaica the New Orleans back beat became the emphasized off beat of ska?) (This is just an "abstract" way of talking about how the rhythm feels to me – you can call any 4/4 rhythm an 8/8 or 12/8 if you want to. Hell, rockabillies loved doing the 40-yard dash through eighth notes, but I don’t think they had it confidently and implicitly there to dance around, they were forcing it – that was one of the exciting things about them, they really pushed.) Well, Slade learned those beats (maybe via rockabilly, maybe via Jamaica, maybe via New Orleans, I don’t know), learned to dance with them rather than bang them – while at the same time using them to Bang your heads, let’s go crazee, feel the noize, girls rock the boys. Hard rock. Heavy, man.
(Yeah, the Yardbirds and Kinks in their "rave-ups" originated the unison headbang on the eighth note, which was copied by the garage punks and which Maureen Tucker originated several years later with the Velvets and which the "Punk Rock Movement" originated about ten years after that, but that’s just kind of taking the 4/4 and filling it in (that’s what it feels like to me). See "They were forcing it, the rockabillies," in the previous paragraph.)
Other Slade innovations that had no subsequent effect on anyone important and so remain uncontaminated: Slade’s music-hall chug (which may have Afro-Caribbean roots or are they polka?); reverb added to crucial shouts and handclaps to make them "stand out" so the audience will "join in," which could be another Jamaican "influence"; the violin hoe-down (?) in "Coz I Luv You"; the use of "irrelevant" quotation marks in this article; the idiosyncratic spelling of "cuz"; the way they didn’t call attention to any of this, so it’s like "Look, we’re doing the same old thing (and it happens to be different, if you’re interested)" (and no one was), so all bands that have "copied" Slade ignored most of it and put the beat back into clomp clomp 4/4 back beat clomp. (Compare it to the Clash, who advertised it in lights every time they did something "rhythmic.")
If the Sex Pistols had come along in ’65 they wouldn’t have been generically distinguishable from the 4 Seasons or Barry McGuire or the Buckinghams. (The 4 Seasons sang in falsetto; Barry McGuire pretended to be significant and sang about nuclear war; the Buckinghams had a pop hit that was so hack-normal and full of mid-’60s touches (organ) that ten years later it was considered punk.)
1964 – Dylan’s unsuccessful free-lunch move: "Mel, station two wants another side of cole slaw. Make that two sides of cole slaw and another side of Bob Dylan."
Of course, audiences can screw things up badly, cancel a potential free lunch – a performer does something interesting and the fans miss it, only hear what they want to hear. (This is the Soundtrack Lunch in reverse.)
Something can have all the characteristics of a free lunch except for the fact that you don’t like it. Then it’s a stomach cramp.
Sociological gobbledygook-type digression: Whether or not something is a free lunch for you will depend on what you’ve been led to believe is going on, what you expect will be going on (what you hope or fear will be going on?), and what you can get away with saying about it. This makes it "personal" in the social sense rather than the personal sense; that is, it doesn’t have to do specifically (or only) with what you feel but more with where you live and what time of day it is, i.e. with "feelings" in the social world rather than merely in the nervous system; it’s "personal" because it has to do with other persons; because there’s no social methodology for finally resolving "differences of opinion"; because to some extent you can disagree with other people without being called insane. (In fact, differences of opinion are cherished, as are conflicts arising from the differences of opinion.) A judgment is "personal" if it has the potential to put you in unchangeable contrast with other people. So it’s other persons who get to decide when something is personal.
GN’R a free lunch because they’re a rock band that plays rock (you know, the world of rock music is about the last place I expect to hear rock).
On their first three LPs (especially the "hot" American pressings), back when they were considered "the worst sort of noise" by people who liked "music," the Beatles put a hectic clatter around the edge of their music that aspired to the sound achieved years later (due to the usual shit live "recording") on the Heartbreakers’ Live At Max’s LP.
In normal bad poetry you take something and compare it to a conventional poetic thing like "the clouds" or "the seashore" or "diamonds" or "bluest skies." E.g., her eyes shined like emeralds, her gold fillings sparkled like diamonds, her hair was like stormy weather. But you can reverse the process; in the late ’60s, Kenneth Koch was teaching children from the Lower East Side to write poetry (see his books Wishes, Lies, and Dreams and Rose Where Did You Get That Red), and one of them, Emilia Scifo, wrote:
Under the sea is like Times Square
Emilia’s reversed things by taking the conventional, exotic poetry image – "the sea" – and comparing it to something vivid and close at hand. This is a free lunch – you thought you’d never ever again get anything out of this dead part of poetry, out of "the sea," but all of a sudden it’s interesting again, it’s like Times Square.
R.E.M. is like the Byrds, but the Byrds aren’t like R.E.M. The Byrds are like Will To Power. (In my New York days, I sent John Wójtowicz my drawing of "Dinosaur Eating Spaghetti Western" as a Christmas card, and in return he left this message on my phone machine: "Frank, there’s avant garde and then there’s just plain weird." There’s avant garde and then there’s Will To Power.)
Some guy is hounding this woman almost to the point of psychopathology – calling up ten times a day to ask her out, threatening to kill her boyfriend, being in love with her. Finally, he stops. Then after a few months he calls up again to invite her out to lunch. "This isn’t going to be weird, is it?" she asks him.
Gogheeboo is like joojoobug, but joojoobug isn’t like gogheeboo. Joojoobug is like berniebeer. (There’s avant garde and then there’s just plain berniebeer.)
1965: Bob Dylan is like Times Square.
1962 and 1963: "A Hard Rain’s A Gonna Fall" and "The Lonesome Death Of Hattie Carroll" are Bob Dylan’s original attempts to resemble the mambo. In Cuba in the ’30s, when everyone was adding horn parts, Arsenio Rodriguez (I’m told) took the call-and-response section at the end of the son and scored the horns in the rhythms of Yuka drum parts, increased the polyrhythms. (Yuka is a Bantu musical form that survived in Cuba, I think. I don’t know what I’m talking about; I took a course once.) Arcano and Cachao did something similarly polyrhythmic to the call-and-response section at the end of the danzon. The call-and-response section tended to grow and grow at the expense of the other sections. James Brown did something similar in the early ’60s, took a song ("I Lost Someone," "Prisoner Of Love") and threw a church-derived call-and-response vamp into it; the call and response grew and grew on his records and dominated his live show; finally (on some stuff) he abandoned the "song" form altogether and just did the vamp, and put in new polyrhythms (derived from Caribbean rhythms but jammed tight between the measure bars) to form his characteristically tense North American funk. And Dylan did something analogous (though without the focus on polyrhythm, so it really doesn’t have much to do with mambo or funk, does it?): he had all these words he wanted to put in, so to get them in he’d take a sung line and just vamp on it, adding line upon line of words, rather than getting on with the song. (And it gets real tense, you’re ready to scream while you’re waiting for the tune to resolve.) He’d also use vocal as drone, rhyme as drone, word-repetition as drone, so you had a blues drone stuck in the middle of a folk song:
Who carried the dishes and took out the garbage
Finally he sold out and went electric and on "Subterranean Homesick Blues" he got rid of song altogether and just did the vamp (and the drone and the repetition).
And never sat once at the head of the table
And didn’t even talk to the people at the table
Who just cleaned up all the food from the table
And emptied the ashtrays on a whole other level
Yardbirds did sort of the same thing at the same time with those rave-up drones (beat-your-head-into-the-wall things) that tended to take over their songs – then some garagers took the rave-up drone and added the Dylan vocal drone, and you get the Velvets.
("Lonesome Death Of Hattie Carroll" was a warm-up for "Subterranean Homesick Blues" in another way – Dylan had been kept from the table, he’d been hit, like Hattie Carroll (emotionally, anyway), but in 1963 he needed a Hattie Carroll to act it out for him, while in 1965 he said, "Look out, kid, you’re gonna get hit," and he was that kid.)
The "retrospective" lunch, which I guess is the "no-one-told-me" lunch all over again: "things" that were no big deal in the context of abundance in 1966 or 1975 or 199_ appear in retrospect, when you go back and discover them, to be anomalies and or incongruities, hence free food. That’s because the present always has such a thin image of the past. On the other hand, the reverse happens too: what was initially anomalous or shocking or incongruous or sore thumb or free lunch in the density and confusion of the actual 1966 (or 194_) as it was originally lived is all lost in our present-day taking for granted or appreciation of the song-type artifact that has had the bad or good luck to "last." Unless it manages somehow to pull along its own density, the poor song-thing sounds so thin; unless a good history writer restores it to its original density, or we add our own density to it (projection a.k.a. the "soundtrack" lunch), or we add it to our own density – like a video maker inserts Elvis into the Real Roxanne’s density.
In 1966 punk was just one thing among many – one thing indistinguishable among many – e.g. "96 Tears" is a novelty song or teenybopper song or commercial hack song or version 12 of "Wooly Bully" or Tex Mex. "Get Me To The World On Time" was a teenie weenie "love song" masquerading as a "psychedelic" song, and the fact that it also used, as a commercial ploy or hook, a hard hard sound for beating up on people... well, that was just another thing. A band segues from "Get Together" to "Hey Joe" and it’s natural. Or from "I’m A Believer" to "Steppin’ Stone." In the context of abundance, stuff like "Under My Thumb" and "You Can’t Do That" could just be more "love" songs (you-broke-my-heart songs) or simultaneously they could jump you suddenly as hate songs, stand out by contrast. The Seeds and the Happenings could run along as the putative same thing, same genre; at the same time "Pushin’ Too Hard" smacked you (smacked me, anyway) extra hard because there chugging along next to it was lame old "See You In September." (It also smacked me with relief; like, "Thank God, they’re not playing ‘See You In September.’")
In the late ’70s, Elvis Costello made hatred precious; Sham 69 and Chelsea and several million hardcore bands made anger religious. So punk rock moves became common within "punk" and "post-punk" but were never taken for granted, never just popped up, never lived and breathed.
The question "How is the weather?" in the Turtles’ "Happy Together" was an anomaly, is an anomaly, always will be an anomaly.
The Premiers: "Has anybody seen Kosher Pickle Harry?" Shouts of "No." "If you see him, tell him that Herbert is looking for him." Shouts of "Who’s Herbert?" and yelling and cheering.
Damaged people leaping into playfulness may be better than Disco Tex – e.g., though I wouldn’t rank "Bring The Noise" with "I Wanna Dance Wit’ Choo," it’s not even close, perhaps I’d prefer (though not today) Dylan’s "Subterranean Homesick Blues" and "Tombstone Blues" to anything by the Sex-O-Lettes – but then, even if he couldn’t take his own wordplay for granted, Dylan was able to jump into a context where wordplay was taken for granted – he was able to jump into the world of Little Richard and the Premiers and Napoleon IV and the Shirelles and "She Loves You" and "Wooly Bully."
The "sore thumb" can be effective. Ellen Willis, in The Rolling Stone Illustrated History of Rock & Roll:
Joplin’s metamorphosis from the ugly duckling of Port Arthur to the peacock of Haight Ashbury meant, among other things, that a woman who was not conventionally pretty, who had acne and an intermittent weight problem and hair that stuck out, could not only invent her own beauty (just as she invented her wonderful sleazofreak costumes) out of sheer energy, soul, sweetness, arrogance, and a sense of humor, but have that beauty appreciated.
But "sore thumb" usually only works in the short run – freak costumes began as something flashy and ended up a few years later as army jackets and jeans and a basic pseudo-prole (or real-prole) fear of standing out or "dressing up." From sore thumb to bore thumb.
Punk rock is one of the few musics to also thrive in a context of non-abundance. To thrive as a sore thumb. E.g., early-to-mid-’70s (my favorite period for punk rock, actually): Stooges, Dolls, Slade, Electric Eels, Pere Ubu, the Sex Pistols. I can even imagine (I wasn’t there) Ubu’s version of "Pushin’ Too Hard," which isn’t that good, having more of an impact on an audience in 1975 than the Seeds’ original had in 1966. Or, for that matter – I was there! – the garage hits ("96 Tears" and all that) sounding more virulent upon rediscovery in the early ’70s than they had originally. I remember getting excited by some shitty Suzi Quatro song ("48 Crash"?) just because it seemed potentially trashy and bubblegum and garagey – and by that stupid Deep Purple song, the one where the guy says nobody better touch his girl/his car ("Highway Star"), because I heard in it some semblance of "aggression." Punk was normal – a "feature" or "free lunch" or "gravy" – and unnamed (no need for one) in pop music c. 1966. The mid-’60s was punk at its most effortless and uninhibited; virulence showed up all over, who could predict where, without being fully comprehended and without being noted. (The "nihilist" lunch.) By 1972, punk (along with teenybop) had been thrown out of "rock" altogether and suppressed from memory and from the definition of "the Sixties." Like, 1965-1966 was the most searing and hateful time in my life, and it had a soundtrack to match, but see if any "’60s" revivalists celebrate the "era" as the gushing well of despair and nihilism that it was. (Though it was probably no worse than the 1890s or any other decade – I’m talking about "expression within pop music" here.) Anyway, Stooges and crew made it twice as intense by reviving all that forgotten slime and aggression, by working at it rather than lifting it free from the smorgasbord.
So, I don’t know if my writing will do better (I mean, be better) in a context of abundance, but I’m pretty sure I can’t last creatively (any more than Iggy did, or Janis) without abundance and free lunch. I’m sure it would read better in a context of abundance. WMS and The Village Voice and Spin and Swellsville aren’t that context. The Stooges and Dolls were nourished by a memory of abundance – I am too, and by partaking of disco’s ("disco’s") semi-abundance – but I’m wondering if we can create a word-type of abundance – if it’s possible to expand the tone of voice. The letters page in the Australian Smash Hits is the most uninhibited thing going now (even though there are a mess of limitations – maybe because there are a mess of limitations – like they don’t print "Fuck" and I don’t know what else), probably because everyone is posing and lying and fooling around and writing the silliest happy benign nonsense about how isolated and angry and desperate and teenage they are. I’d stick out like a sore thumb in Smash Hits – underlying all three Smash Hits (Britain, USA, Australia) is the fact that, since no one’s allowed to say much that’s analytic, the writers just "fool around" to keep from getting bored and to impart a sense of "charm." What if Smash Hits printed Simon Frith and it was no big deal? Like Creem in the early ’70s, which created its own context of mini-abundance. I guess what I need is a magazine with a lot of bright colors.
In "Rock! Rock! (Till You Drop)," Def Leppard work their way up through these deadly notes, climb the highest pomp, then boogie in VERY SLOW MOTION to the depths of the deepest... to the draggy deeps, to the... (some journeys should never be contemplated, let alone undertaken; some SENTENCES should never be undertaken, for instance this one)... then finally arrive gloriously back in ho-hum "pop," their journey having prepared them for this simple truth:
Rock rock googgie pop