My Pitch for 33 1/3 - The Full Disclosure

A few days before I left for SXSW I received the disheartening news that my pitch for Continuum's 33 1/3 series was rejected. To be honest, I didn't have much hope that I would be accepted as a legitimate author of a book, let alone a tiny book. I don't consider myself a prolific writer by any means (this blog is merely a receptacle for getting it off my chest) and tackling the deadline of having an actual deadline, for a book mind you, was already giving me anxiety. Needless to say, many others (hundreds) aspired for the same lofty heights like myself. I'd like to imagine my offer was tossed around for a while; one, because I got my pink slip a few weeks after reading other's woes, and two, because they chose to do the book I proposed, but gave it to the other submitter. So, here's what I gave them:

After much deliberation I settled on Public Enemy’s It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back. Not only do I consider it the most important album in the hip-hop cannon (for reasons I will further explain), but personally it was my gateway record; the one that introduced me to a world outside of middle-class suburbia and continued to amaze me through different phases of my life. It’s an album that simultaneously demands academic discourse as well as hyperbolic retroactive accolades.

I plan on approaching the album from three angles:

- Personal Memoirs…

I first purchased It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back from the Camelot Records in the Dayton Mall. I was 11 years old and every dollar earned on my paper route went directly towards filling a shoebox full of hip-hop cassettes. This particular pilgrimage was in anticipation of my trip to a multi-cultural summer camp in Germany. I would never call my upbringing strict, but my mother was keen to Tipper Gore and loved to deny me access to anything bearing a Parental Advisory sticker. I would also never refer to my hometown of Troy, Ohio as a sheltered community, but the absence of black culture is glaringly obvious. Troy is the essence of white-bred, middle-class, suburbia.

Through MTV and late-night radio transmissions from Dayton I was instantly fascinated with LL Cool J’s crotch-grabbing braggadocio and Run DMC’s arena-ready rhymes, but it was Chuck D and Flavor Flav starring at me through prison bars that truly reeled me in. I managed to hide the tape in a cover for Peter Gabriel’s So and managed to smuggle my contraband (which included a copy of Slayer’s Reign in Blood) through customs, learning every word by the time I touched down in Hamburg……

Like I said previously, this was my gateway record. Never before had I heard of Marcus Garvey or Louis Farrakhan. I learned more about African American history and the problems faced by the black population in one sitting, than I ever did in the public schools. Needless to say, Public Enemy prompted me to read The Autobiography of Malcolm X, watch Spike Lee movies, buy Cross Colors clothing, write militant poetry in English class, and scare the shit out of my parents. Most importantly I feel It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back was a watershed for the alternative subculture that blossomed through the 90’s; the Lollapalooza age. It was this album that helped me embrace every aspect of that particular renaissance in music and develop an open mind towards anything remotely considered fringe. If I had the space I would elaborate on other personal vignettes I plan to write that were directly and indirectly influenced by Public Enemy, but to be succinct, I’ll move on…

- The Sound and the Fury

In many ways, Public Enemy was hip-hop’s first rock band, with a cast of characters rivaling any group of Anglo-Saxons that had come before. Chuck D as the patriarchal “Messenger of Prophecy,” Flavor Flav as the cartoonish “Cold Lamper,” Terminator X the “Assault Technician,” possessed a presence that was as controversial and dead serious as it was celebratory and outlandish. They were their own secessionist movement, their own political party; an anomaly that intimidated and stunned even those already deeply entrenched in the culture. It Takes a Nation to Hold Us Back was their definitive statement wrapped up in an hour of high concept, something completely missing from hip-hop music. From the narrative on “Black Steel in the Hour of Chaos,” a song detailing Chuck’s refusal to be drafted, to “Night of the Living Bassheads,” which confronted the crack crisis of the late 80’s, the album presented the headlines CNN were refusing to broadcast. The only artist remotely close to them at the time was KRS-One, who later coined his style as “edutainment,” but Public Enemy was more than that, they were their own revolution.

Sonically the album adhered seamlessly with this rockist aesthetic. The innovative use of sampling by the Bomb Squad was a guerilla assault on the senses, fusing piecemeal squeals and beats from James Brown and Funkadelic, but also integrating sound bites from radio talk shows, people on the street, and speeches from seminal black leaders. Producer Rick Rubin also had a hand in creating this “pulse of the nation” sound by injecting noise from his other protégés (like the Beastie Boys and Slayer) into the overall fabric. In short, the music was as cathartic as the lyrics.

- The Legacy?

2008 will be the 20th anniversary of It Takes a Nation…, but it’s hard to find traces of its impact in modern music; the current generation of hip-hop lacks ingenuity and is far from being politically attuned. Teaching in inner-city high schools I’ve found that more teens today own copies of the Flavor of Love than a Public Enemy disc.

My third approach to the record would be more fictional, a hypothesis I suppose asking “What if this album were released tomorrow?” In today’s climate of terror levels and pc rhetoric, how would the public respond, how would Public Enemy be regarded or opposed? They are still making albums, which is intriguing, because the group falls well below the radar of most listeners. In my research of this book I would be interviewing all parties involved in the making of the album, probing into what made this such an incendiary achievement when it was released and what has happened since to keep it out of social conscious.

Feel free to let me know why I got rejected, I can take it. Just don't say "Because you're a shitty, self-disposed, writer," I'm already well aware of that fact. Bonus: the coincidental media blitz afforded to Public Enemy's lone performance in Austin, only added to my pain.


Beach Talk - Deathly Fighter

What could be cheaper than the CD-R you might ask? Why, cassettes or course. Pawn shops across the land will soon find a sudden surge in the number of twin-dubbing-decks flying off the dusty shelves. In Columbus anyways, Deathly Fighter and their ultra-limited (mine says "One of Five") release of Natural Aggression has become an excuse to go magnetic for the time being.

The simplicity of the format matches perfectly with the minimalist ethics of the music. I've been trying to find a comparable reference, and have come up with nothing but Liquid Liquid on 33, perhaps even slower, even darker. Deep breaths and one continuous bassline dominate both sides, though the premium for the moment comes with Snake's electronic dabbling on the outskirts. As if constructing his own FM3 Buddha Box out of dumpster ghost corpse, covering it in black magic gauze, and soaking it in mummifying solvents. Grasping firmly to the dub aesthetics, without infinite delays, and the industrial throb-technicians, without scarring metal shards poking out. Wish there was some way, some how, you could hear this. I suggest begging for one, and then digging through the basement for that decaying boombox.


Of This Moment - The Makes Nice

As of late, I have pretty much waned on the power pop and the bands associated with it or trying to revive it. Just feels like all the feeling has been sucked dry (Superdrag predicted it long ago), now icky things like the Decemberists and Ted Leo give pop a bad name. I'd much rather have JoJo considered pop, than that drivel. At the other end, I'm also tiring of those Hella associated rock jazzbos from the West Coast, those mathematic wanking beard that are considered virtuosos. Zappa was a well-trained charlatan. So it's a strong endorsement that I recommend The Makes Nice's Candy Wrapper and Twelve Other Songs. For one it's a product of ex-members of the Fucking Champs and, two, it's about the most power pop record I've heard in some time. Reminding me vividly of The Toms more sugary moments. For fans of Outrageous Cheery, Big Star, and the High Strung. Here's "Anna Karina".


SXSW 2007 - The Elite Eight

This is my last post regarding the festival you didn't attend. I swear it. By day five I was sleeping in the airport, dreaming of bands I didn't see, unable to catch a reasonably early flight back to Columbus, and trying to register a concise picture of everything that happened to me in the past week. My wife (as wonderful as she is) can't believe all I did was watch live music from 11 a.m. to 2 a.m. from Wed. to Sat. But that's really all I did. I'm a geek, not a playboy. No shopping, no news (other than random NCAA scores, btw I was dominating till Maryland lost), no dog walking, no baseball researching, nothing other than standing in front of people who thought they were much more important than me. As Envelope quipped at the Fader Fort, "everyone here thinks they are important." Austin is the no-coast, welcoming all types, and I met them all. So to sum it up, my Elite Eight performances that will having me bragging well into the holiday season.

The Twilight Sad >>> Wednesday >>> Emo's Annex >>> 2:30 P.M.

Psychedelic Horseshit >>> Thursday >>> Soho Lounge >>> 10:00 P.M.

Dark Meat >>> Thursday >>> Flamingo Cantina >>> 12:00 P.M.

Besnard Lakes >>> Thursday >>> Mowhawk Patio >>> 8:30 P.M.

Clockcleaner >>> Friday >>> Longbranch Inn >>> 1:30 P.M.

Wooden Shjips >>> Friday >>> Beerland >>> 3:00 P.M.

Yo Majesty >>> Friday >>> Beauty Bar >>> 11:40 P.M.

Los Llamarada >>> Saturday >>> Blender Balcony at the Ritz >>> 12:00 A.M.

Most of these shows can be read about below. But if you have any inclination to hear more, post a comment, and I'll be happy to reply and point you in the right direction.


SXSW 2007 - Day Four

Saturday passed in a daze; being void of internet access, miles away from downtown, and having lost my voice shouting chants and slogans with Times New Viking, I wasn't exactly scrambling to get everything in like I did the three days prior. Sleeping late, enjoying the sunshine, and walking Austin's pedestrian-friendly streets, is equally important. Plus I had to take out a small loan to pay for cabs at this point.

That said, a late-afternoon triple threat of Ghostface Killah, Rakim (both backed by full bands) and a brief but lively (and smoky) infomercial from Redman (I think his record drops...ummm....March 27th, had to be there), displayed SXSW's magical element of chance/surprise.

Strangely (and sadly), in three days, I didn't get to see much comedy from the current indie-renaissance (Micheal Showalter, Tim and Eric, Zack G.) that was everywhere, save a tiny bit of Saturday night's Human Giant showcase. I'm sure for some, this whole week has felt like living in a half-hour of absurd, McSweeney's-referencing, stand-up.

Saturday night was also the best representation of what Columbus has to offer. Columbus Discount Records took over the surreal Light Bar on South Congress. Upon a roof-top stage complete with waterfall and neon, Terribly Empty Pockets showed why, even when the odd-man out, they possess a quality both deep and endearing, pop go jangle and pop go sad.

But of course, instead of turning the atmosphere into 'nother night in the Boo Boo, I headed to Rusted Shut, who don't get around to Ohio much. Even with technical difficulties, the 20 year old trio from Houston grasped onto the week's aforementioned revolution of mayhem with a level of volume that made it impossible to distinguish one song from the next or your skull from your Flipper damaged mind.

The best tip of the week though belongs to Mr. Roland Woodbe (go figure?) and his urging to see Los Llamarada, a barely legal group from Monterrey, Mexico that seemed to just discover rock and roll last week. Better yet, they didn't even discover rock or punk, or post-punk or post-rock, or simple noise for that matter, they recently invented it. Teenagers the world round, wash your hands, unite, and give up peacefully.


SXSW 2007 - Day Three

My morning started at the Vice three stage extravaganza, it's usually a swinging time, but this year it was overrun with bands about 5 years too late (Big Business, Foals, Against Me), bands that didn't show up (David Yow's Qui and Boris), and hordes of tacky Turbonegro zealots. This is no dig on the actual group, just their army of knuckle-dragging, patch-wearing, male-pattern baldness having, man-child fans. Maybe this was an intentional Vice strategy; to get an unusually high concentration of "donts" (there was an entire family in the denim garb) milling about the same location.

Good fucking thing Clockcleaner's brutal sludge punk pretty much kicked this party in the teeth first thing. Lead singer John Starkey is the ultimate anti-hipster, figuratively pissing into the mouths of the posing, incredibly too self-conscious, audience that would rather swallow than admit they like it. Yeah, that's kinda how the whole day went.

Every year there always seems to be one band that follows me around everywhere. Friday it was Deerhunter. I was curious to see how their headphone echo psych translates live, but I didn't need to see it three times in a 24 hour period. They truly lack a stage presence; a connective thread with the audience and within their playing. Their effects pedals deserved the applause this week, not the band.

Wooden Shjips could teach them a thing or two about how this new weird America is beginning to change hands and move from bohemian grove to scruffy nihilism and kaleidoscopic drug jams. More than a handful of bands on Friday exhibited this freakish destruction of cultural norms, reconstructing rock and pushing things so far forward that there's no looking back. Blues Control with beats and cassette manipulations, Times New Viking with irresistible hooks and holy distortions, and Entrance, who finally put down his acoustic and found Electric Warrior hidden on some Turkish bootleg of Bunalim. Or Columbus' Teeth of the Hydra, who carpet bombed the Lava Lounge with purplish-black, molten, metal like three giant demons of goodwill.

Now that's a face that says, "We are at the precipice of something mighty, beware and rejoice."


SXSW 2007 - Day Two

SXSW soon becomes a game of survival, thriving on little sleep and little citrus. Dark Meat kicked things off in grand fashion, marching in their 12? piece marching band at high noon. I was never sold on the Polyphonic Spree, but this is something vastly different, worshiping mother earth and lsd instead of Scientology. The communal juices were flowing over.

I made a joke with the Besnard Lakes guitarist about how their latest long player could finally topple OK Computer as the definitive album for introverted yet inspired dreamers. Live they didn't fail in that commitment, even adding to the pungent, dense, fog of layered melody and chaotic noise. Hirsute and head-banging. I'm beginning to see a trend here in Austin, the freaks are finally out in force, looking to bring down the man and his endless parade of free shoes, Lily Allen samplers, and promotional whiskey.

That line of freedom, was certainly snorted up by my favorite band of the moment. While the Walkmen fall out of fashion, playing to an audience that look more concerned with mortgage payments than chord changes, Psychedelic Horseshit ramble through a sutured set of Dylan revelry and cracked pop songs. Or following suit, Diplo assembles masterpieces with Top 40 and South American travelogues, becoming the upper echelon of the whole "DJ who wants to be respected as a musician" camp. And once my Columbus brethren rolled into town, the party really started to take a nebulous shape. Even the Ponys sounded good. Can't wait for tonight. Times New Viking and Peaches? Goodness.


SXSW 2007 - Day One

Being a seasoned pro of the SXSW gauntlet of free food, free booze, and free bands, Wednesday felt like a preliminary round; people were still getting into town, important bands were hiding out till later in the week, and the weather was less than desirable. Cloudy with a chance of whooping cough. That said, weaving one's way through the maze of day parties has rewards. Like finding rough diamonds after a few steps into the coal mine.

The pick of the day, and perhaps the entire week was Glasgow's Twilight Sad. During their brief day set, they blazed through an tiny orchestra of feedback. This must have been what it was like to see My Bloody Valentine back in the day. Blistering noise with thick Scottish accents cutting through, creating a dour and stoic blend of rainy day "pop." You could hardly call them a pop band, though at night, their set seemed more reserved and deliberate, as if Snow Patrol was a fluke, and The Twilight Sad sold millions on multi-hued hits of morphine.

Or maybe it was the CPC Gangbangs that cured my non-existent hangover. Perhaps the Hives and the Mooney Suzuki killed the garage rock revival, or in the case of the former, simply mastered it. Well this Quebecois outfit, got the package late, broken in shards, played out on a wooden turntable, wobbling and constantly shifting speeds. Quite a contrast to New Zealand's Mint Chicks, for whom I had hopes, only the day-glo punk of their records is not that fashionable live, proving too many Elvis imports made it down under. Ugh.

The party officially got started when Tampa, Florida's Yo Majesty tore through the Creekside Lounge with enough beats, bitch slaps, and occasional nudity, to get a crowd of white hipsters to chant "fuck that shit," twice, as they played their soon to be underground hit "Club Action" until the kids could no longer take it. Seeing the trio roaming the streets completely blotto at 1 A.M. gave me a good feeling that Yo Majesty embraced exactly what the spirit of SXSW is about. Go see them tonight.

Final proverb? "Old people will always prefer free bloody marys and art cars, while the young still get hard for Victory Records and new Sub Pop bands." Avoid Maps and Atlases as if they were herpes. Till tomorrow.


SXSW 2007 - Obligatory Nod

The Devil and the Deep Blue Sea, well, they should be rocking your planet tomorrow. But unfortunately, defunct. Dusty White, a now-Columbus time-share holder, has been holing up in Los Angeles (a city I despise), to great avail. Though he is in the band fronted by the man pictured above, SeaWolf, he claims it is "COMPLETELY fucking different than ANYTHING" he's ever done before (and I'll take his approval based on the fact that he'll contest to Amon Dull's Yeti being the greatest album ever). They are playing at the Blender "Bar" at the Ritz first thing Wednesday night (8:00 p.m.), contrary to the recommendation of my last post.

But if we must get into semantics, Dusty is also the "quasi"-legendary guitarist of Freedom, a band, in essence, that you'll be yucking about three years from now.


SXSW 2007 - When All Else Fails...

Tips for the solo and/or disgruntled South By Southwester. If you find yourself being shut out of higher profile shows (you don't really need to see Voxtrot, do you?) or itching to duck into some place more intimate and "black lodge"-esque, you may want to try the Blender Balcony at the Ritz. While the door for the main bar, on the first floor, will be crammed with badges trying to pile in, cut to the left and head up the stairs. In past experiences there's never been much of a line, and this is a dark, dank, unusual theater, with stadium seating. This year tends to have a high ratio of psych mutants mucking up the confines; including Black Moth Super Rainbow, The Phantom Family Halo Band, No Age, Dead Child, Lords, and Indian Jewelry (pictured above, and whom I witnessed at the Balcony last year). Be warned, this smarmy, grotesque, trio will force you to join in.


Of This Moment - Welcome

Nostalgic for the 90's? A question that's up for debate. I realize grade C, translates to a good drubbing, and a not so good album, but Seattle's Welcome have some pretty brilliant moments on Sirs. "All Set" is the brightest gem, giving into simultaneous love for both the Archers and the Shellac. Then cut directly down the middle with a 60's psych fetish, those fashionable around 1998. Sound like a tough sale? I still stand by what I have to say about the rest of it though.


Beach Talk - The CDR Promo Drop

Do not hitch a ride to Austin, spend all your cash on drugs, and get left behind. You'll end up there for months before returning to Ohio. I've got worries about a bus full of Wash. Beach bands succumbing to the Xanadu that is SXSW and Texas in the spring. Some might not make it back the same/alive. Columbus Discount Record's artists in particular. The label's latest onslaught of singles proves there is no shortage of ether in this city.

Brief fumes:

El Jesus De Magico - LGNO (as fucked as them come. the title track may be their most realized song to date, with the cdr crew obviously fucking with this one to infinity, trails and trails of entrails dragged around the room.)

Necropolis - Song for the Working Man and Stumpf (one old, one new? now a sound all their own, jerking around with tricky rhythms and beautiful squeals, carving a road map into the black, tar-stained, abyss. Can I call it pop guys?)

Night of Pleasure - Night of Pleasure (pictured above, finally on wax, finally some recordings. makes you forget New Bomb Turks used to make great albums. very Destroy Oh-Boy but through darker alleyways.) Taste.

More on the Columbus Discount Showcase later. Till then, beg them to buy them.


Of This Moment - The Besnard Lakes

At first I was under the impression this was just another Canadian supergroup, consisting of a girl who sings with Broken Social Scene and the guy who recorded Wolf Parade, or something like that. I swear I saw them open for the Unicorns. Regardless, my esteemed Stylus colleague Derek Miller wrote this informed review of Besnard Lakes are the Dark Horse, I read it, bought it, and never looked back. This is epic stuff, congesting Pet Sounds harmonies, My Morning Jacket's big sky psych, and tragic muckraking into thick, enthralling songs.Try "And You Lied to Me" to begin your voyage. I can't seem to turn this up loud enough. Playing more than once in Austin.

Bo Jackson's Shoe Box - Do the Dugs Dig?

WANTED: The evolution of hip-hop in cassette and cassingle format, accompanying Bo Jackson Cross-Trainer shoe box that housed them, and the cigarette carton proportioned mini-boombox Lamar sold me for a dollar. Will pay $1,000 US dollars, OBO.

The Goats - Tricks of the Shade
1992 (Columbia/Ruffhouse)

If Public Enemy were a revolutionary version of punctual mass media; "The Black CNN." The Goats, a trio from Philly (Oatie, Madd, and Swayzack) and their underrated Tricks of the Shade, was like an unassuming issue of the UTNE Reader. It's full of multi-racial (Native American, Latino, Asian, African American) cyphers against Christopher Columbus ("Columbus killed more Indians than Hitler did Jews/But on his birthday you get sales on shoes") and freeing Leonard Peltier, plus half a record worth of skits covering Roe vs. Wade or Bush the First's hatred for the ghetto. Though at times their content is past expiration, much of it, like Public Enemy's rage, should still be addressed in hip-hop dialogue today.

The production is similar to the native tongue , particularly De La Soul is Dead, with odd samples spliced with smooth jazz lines and Stetsasonic beats. For their sophomore effort, they chose to go with complete live instrumentation, and there's a inkling of that here. Tricks best tracks thrive on it, like the horn-driven "Hip-Hopola," one of few that strays from a message, or the mission-statement bassline of "Typical American." Click to hear the latter and a few more.

It's high concept for sure, but trimming the lesson (over-produced skits)that become awkward stopgaps and Tricks would be amazingly tighter.