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Friday, February 25, 2011

Rock & Roll Confidential Part 5

Diamanda Galas 1981 promo from Club Lingerie, she played to maybe 30 people in the club but still sounded awesome, singing through five mikes, all set at different frequencies. A lot of sound from such a tiny lady!

The Runaways at The Whiskey A Go-Go when they were a power trio consisting of Joan Jett on guitar (brown hair), the late Sandy West and Micki (aka Michael) Steele on bass and vocals, ten years away from starring in The Bangles. They were good back then, much better than headliners The Hollywood Stars.

Promo postcard for the 1972 Captain Beefheart & The Magic Band show in Long Beach reported in my blog "There Ain't No Santa Claus On The Evenin' Stage".

Promo postcard for the same concert series, this time for Commander Cody & The Lost Planet Airmen, a fun band that played a great cover of "Beat Me Daddy Eight To The Bar" and Phil Harris' classic "Smoke That Cigarette".

Ze Records promo postcard for Lydia Lunch's "Queen of Siam" album (1980). She wore that black dress to death, and I'm sure she never dry cleaned the damn thing (bleh). I like the toy store concept.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Neon Park: Grandaddy of Lowbrow

If anyone painted lowbrow art before there was a name for it then it was the late, great Neon Park aka Martin Muller, a former poster artist for The Family Dog. As early as 1970 he was producing some of the most memorable images in rock music. Here's just a small sampling of his great work, indelibly scarred into my subconscious:

Yeah, I hate Little Feat, too, but who can forget that awesome album cover. Constance Bennett with an accordion? Insane! The great thing about his work is that it's right at home with the current lowbrow art scene even though the majority of these great works were produced in the 1970's. Check out this rare film festival postcard:

The image that sent him over the top, of course, was the brilliant cover of The Mothers of Invention album, "Weasels Ripped My Flesh", which Frank Zappa allegedly fought Warner Brothers Records to put out. So much for Warners and their artistic freedom they're always crowing about. Huh!

Neon Park recalls a day when Southern California artists didn't get much attention in the art scene but produced all sorts of radical work, guys like Robert Blue, who inspired the movie "Heartbreakers". Yeah, L.A. used to be a really weird art town, weirder than you can imagine.

Somehow the superkitsch schmaltz that passes for art at places like Gallery 1988 don't get it, art should be new, really new, as in original, shocking, and not so eager to tickle people's bungholes. Just look to guys like Neon Park and Robert Blue for inspiration.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Christopher Milk

If there was ever a footnote in music history that was as large as an elephant it would probably be Christopher Milk. A band that never really attained stardom, much less major attention, they were still deep in the pocket of the glam scene in Los Angeles in the early Seventies.

Christopher Milk was largely the invention of John Mendelssohn, notorious critic for Rolling Stone Magazine, the Los Angeles Times, and Creem Magazine. He gained a good deal of his notoriety by panning bad hippie bands like Led Zeppelin at a time these bombastic, over-indulgent monsters were at the peak of their popularity. Regardless of whether these bands sold out arenas or not, Mendelssohn, representing L.A.’s largest newspaper, would tell us these bands were bunk. You could call it punk journalism before there was a name for it. It was debatable as to who garnered more hate mail, him or Lester Bangs.

John Mendelssohn’s love of all things mod and freakbeat wasn’t a solitary passion. If anything, there was a quiet explosion of people and bands from the West Los Angeles area at the time who were rabid followers. In 1971-1972 there was the Mael Brothers, who formed Halfnelson, eventually Sparks, rock critic Harold Bronson, co-founder of Rhino Records located down the street from the UCLA campus and other mod misfits in addition to the Christopher Milk project.

All these maniacs embraced bands like The Move, The Yardbirds, pre-“Tommy” era The Who, The Kinks, Bonzo Dog Band, Small Faces, Hollies, Procol Harum, pre-Ziggy David Bowie, solo Syd Barrett and a host of others. It was an exciting antidote to the Jethro Tull-Blood Sweat & Tears mind rot that was happening at the time.

Mendelssohn often wrote in Phonograph Record Magazine about his band Christopher Milk, announcing a 7” EP release on United Artists Records, with a gatefold cover and lyric sheet, no less. It was available only through mail order. I think the whole thing cost $1.00, so I jumped at the opportunity to score this puppy.

When I got the record I was pleasantly surprised. The songs were cool and the band played pretty well, especially on songs like “Basket Case”, “Just A Cop”, a sort of gay “X-Offender” (“…to you he’s just a cop but to me he’s Mister Right”), the sublime “Hey Heavyweight”, and one of my favorite titles ever, “There’s A Broken Heart For Every Rock & Roll Star On Laurel Canyon Boulevard”.

A few months later I was watching my favorite teen beat cable access show (KDOC-TV Anaheim) and who should be lip-syncing to their new record but Christopher Milk! Surly Ralph Oswald the guitarist played piano and sang “There’s A Broken Heart” and John handled vocals on “Hey Heavyweight”. I was thrilled to see them on TV right after The Little Rascals (hosted by Stymie Beard!).

John kept writing reviews and not much was heard from the band for awhile until the Fall of 1972, when a new album was released on Reprise Records titled “Some People Will Drink Anything”. The cover looked cheaper than the UA release and the songs were more eclectic, including a Bonzo Dog-influenced cover of “The Locomotion”, a Procol Harum sounding tune called “In Search of R. Crumb” among others.

The album wasn’t really bad but it was so derivative it was almost a game of “Play The Influences”. It seemed kind of disappointing especially since bands like Halfnelson, Roxy Music and Lou Reed’s “Transformer” were all coming out at the same time. It sounded aimless pitted against everyone else. Too bad.

The album, like the band, faded into the ozone. My next run-in with the band in some form was 4 years later when I bought a microphone advertised in The Recycler and the man selling it was C. Milk drummer G. Whiz. He was living in some communal hippie house right by The Hollywood Bowl. When I mentioned Christopher Milk he seemed polite but uncomfortable. The impresssion I got was that the band just sort of fizzled out. But John sure as hell didn't.

A year later (1977) my friend Rich D'Andrea told me he was playing bass in a band called The Pits fronted by John Mendelssohn. I said, "WHAT???? He's got a new band? When are you guys playing?"
Well, they were doing a show at The Starwood and I got on the guest list and John was back to crooning great songs, no Christopher Milk stuff but new tunes like "Hollywood Can Be Cruel" and "You're The Pits".

The Pits maintained a C. Milk-type mod sound but with an aggressive metallic approach, very much like another new band that had just played The Starwood, Cheap Trick. They even opened with the ultra-heavy "Hello Susie" by The Move. I thought The Pits were terrific.

The Pits didn't really last long after a handful of shows - Rich left to play with Gary Valentine & The Know, etc. Wherever John may be I hope he knows that he produced some fun records and bands that may not have been genius but were at the very most solid entertainment. That counts for a lot in my book, and it would be great to see the complete Christopher Milk recordings re-released on CD sometime soon.