DYRT90s // Foo Fighters: Big Me

Even those, such as myself, who wouldn’t necessarily consider themselves Foo Fighter fanatics would have a hard time arguing that Dave Grohl is one of the true modern day G-ds of Rock and Roll.  He’s kicked assholes out of his concerts from the stage, insisted on recording 2011’s Wasting Light in a garage on analog tape,  randomly filled in on drums for bands of much less stature, and, after showing up not just on time but early for a festival gig, happily unleashed a set of classic-rock covers on an unsuspecting beach crowd when a rapping R&B crooner took the stage over half an hour late.

During his tenure with the Foo Fighters, Grohl has established himself as an undisputed champion of whatever right and good is left in today’s hostile and discouraging entertainment climate in such a dominating fashion, it’s almost impossible to believe that this hero of the aughts and beyond was in a former life a member of one of the most critically heralded, mystic and legendary bands of all time.  Morose as the line of thinking may be, one is only left to wonder how things would have worked out if Nirvana did not end in the exact manner in which it did.

Even without Kurt Cobain’s still highly conspiracized suicide in 1994, it’s entirely possible that 1993’s In Utero could have been Nirvana’s final album: A row over songwriting royalties in the immediate wake of Nevermind‘s unfettered success caused a deep-seated rift among the band’s three members and Cobain’s health problems – an interconnected melange of alcoholism, severe heroin addiction and a chronic, yet undiagnosed, stomach condition – began threatening Nirvana’s solvency as early as the spring of 1992.  Add to that the classic tropes of a major label unhappy with a band’s finished product, the band unhappy with the producer’s final mixes and a cancelled world tour, and In Utero begins to more and more take the shape of the precipitate of a buzzband’s demise.

But as the unwitting poster-children of the commitization of the Pacific Northwest’s “grunge” culture, it is indeed far more likely the music industry would have kept Nirvana churning out records until their utility had expired; and Cobain’s tortured public persona and private life – including a toxic and tumultuous relationship with Courtney Love – had already begun to exhaust the good will engendered by his seminal songwriting even before he tragically took his own life. Nirvana existed in a time when every band regardless of talent seemed inevitably doomed by the superficiality of popular music in general, and – by almost any calculation – the fall of Nirvana would have been set against (and probably expedited by) one of the ugliest cultural backdrops of the last 50 years.

A true second act in rock and roll is a luxury afforded to a very seldom few, and while the timing and nature of Nirvana’s dissolution probably caused Dave Grohl more stress than ease, it may have left more daylight for a true follow-up than if Nirvana ended battered and destroyed a decade later. Still, as the grunge audience surrounding the 1995 release of Foo Fighters’ self-titled debut began to take on the appearance of nothing more than a series of splinters, Grohl was forced to both start from scratch and exist in one of the largest and darkest shadows of the era.  That he emerged at all – let alone as the leader of what has become one of the most successful and popular bands of all time – is an astonishing testament to his musical talent and seemingly preternatural knack for handling almost every situation in the most awesome way imaginable.

MP3: Foo Fighters: “Big Me”

Advertisements

DYRT90s // Better Than Ezra: Good

As a young teenager growing up in the greater suburbs of Chicago, my knowledge of Better Than Ezra’s catalog started and ended with their 1993 breakthrough Deluxe, which didn’t come to my attention until Elektra re-released the album in 1995 and it quickly went platinum on the strength of #1 Modern Rock single “Good”.  But just as quickly as I “discovered” Better Than Ezra they slipped off my radar in favor of the next light-alternative rock band to produce a well-written, flawlessly executed power-pop ditty that seemed to perfectly capture the American young-adult zeitgeist du jour.

(I use the term “discovered” extremely loosely here, as during the halcyon days before the Telecommunication Act of 1996 precipitated the implosion of commercial FM radio and MTV moved away from a programming panorama that highlighted videos from every genre of popular music over the course of any given week, “discovering” music didn’t take much effort nor was it something in which people – or at least people my age at the time – took a self-congratulatory amount of pride.  In a major market like the greater Chicagoland area, the legwork required to find breaking artists was left up to the sea of disc jockeys flooding the FM dial; experienced, well-connected musicheads empowered to play songs largely of their own choosing and expected to be on whatever cutting edge existed before the internet flattened the music world once and for all.  There was no real venue outside of limited circulation fan ‘zines or a savant record store clerk to get a band-knowing leg-up on your peers, nor was there a real need to do so, for there was a brief moment in time when the radio and MTV seemed to perfectly serve all the needs of even an avid music consumer.)

That is, of course, until I moved to New Orleans four years ago, a city where Better Than Ezra’s fan base still thrives, boasting in its ranks men and women of all ages and dispositions. Because while Better Then Ezra was a charming one-hit-wonder in many parts of the country, locally they are a band that formed at LSU in 1988 and have been consistently recording and relentlessly touring for almost 25 years and counting, long before and even longer after their time in the national limelight.

It’s a cool reminder that – even at a time when songs can get pinged across the globe within seconds of being recorded – music comes from somewhere; not just in the figurative sense of emerging from some mystical tranche of the creative ether, but in the literal, functional and geographic sense.  The commoditized version of the product may drift in and out of cultural relevance, but the majority of the human beings making the songs that once dominated independently programmed radio stations and now surge through the Hype Machine ranks are actual people who live to make music.  And even though there will never be a lack of manufactured tween pop-stars fueled only by widespread popularity, they will always be outnumbered by hardworking artists with enough perspective to understand the fickle and mysterious nature of the music gods and enough talent and wherewithal to make decent music regardless of how long their mainstream success lasts or whether it even comes at all.

MP3: Better Than Ezra: “Good”

Barryfest v. Wikipedia // Rotary Downs

When taking on the arduous task of editing Wikipedia, one is faced with a draconian and arbitrary editorial process, hyper-specific technological codes and an altogether baffling insider culture.  If you haven’t done  your research, learned how to tailor citations to meet certain ambiguous yet rigid criteria or developed a neutral voice, you might as well quit. By the same token, even if you’ve mastered Wikispeak, perfected the art of navigating Wikipedia’s difficult reference guidelines and honed your journalistic writing style, you still have an uphill battle to avoid speedy deletion.

But it is a fight worth fighting, and one that fits with our mission to document the music of New Orleans (and beyond). So we have set out to create, edit and update Wikipedia entries for as many noteworthy, important and deserving New Orleans artists as possible. In this edition we’ve revamped the existing entry for greatest band in the universe Rotary Downs, reformatting the citations as well as adding a much-needed information block and a link association with Lafayette Indie Pop group GIVERS via former Rotary member Tiffany Lamson.

Rotary Downs is a two time winner of the “Best Rock Band” category at Gambit Weekly‘s Big Easy Music Awards.[2]NPR‘s Morning Edition considers them “outsider artists” and characterized their 2007 album Chained To The Chariot as “a stunning collection of psychedelic art-pop songs that play like brilliant mash-ups of Neutral Milk Hotel and Odelay-era Beck“.[3]

Rotary Downs on Wikipedia

If you would like to help us in our noble quest, all you have to do is visit the newly created/updated pages and use Wikipedia’s page rating system to evaluate the articles’ trustworthiness, objectivity and completeness.

Exploring Empire Records // Stomach Pump

I’ve always wondered why Empire Records, a film that both impliedly embodied the climate of underground rock music in the 1990s and appeared during one of the lower morale points in modern music, found most of its charm in flighty humor and outright silliness. Though the “Grunge Explosion” of the decade’s first half had already begun to rapidly subside with the death of Kurt Cobain, which happened on the heels of the heroin deaths of 7 Year Bitch guitarist Stefanie Sargent in 1992 and Mother Love Bone lead singer Andy Wood in 1990, the film all but sidesteps every potential genuine allusion to disaffected youth, drug use or depression. Even Robin Tunney’s botched suicide attempt and cry-for-help head shaving stunt are treated with a strange type of levity by the filmmakers, which is surprising considering this is the sort of melodramatic material that mass audiences at the time would have eaten up.

It’d probably be easy to find parallels between the heroin and suicide fatalities of rock stars of this era and the string of deaths in the late 1960s of Jim Morrison, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Brian Jones and many others as being the sort of world shaking events that soberly remind people that grunge, like psychedelia, was never anything more than entertainment; with that, it makes perfect sense that no fun-seeking music listener would feel like being constantly reminded of the past, but would instead the decade proceed purely on a footing of entertainment for entertainment’s sake. And just as the 1970s quickly brought on an era of artistic posturing so pretentious as to be a barefaced parody of the beloved late 60s, the late 90s gave us a generation of rockers capable of nothing more than over-dramatic negativity and shock-value arena music.

However, Empire Records somehow has always existed in the middle of those two halves of the nineties without really being an artifact of either: the film probably never spoke volumes to kids who heavily absorbed the mass culture appeal of the grunge era (you’d be hard pressed to find any Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Alice In Chains or Soundgarden shwag on the walls of this record store), but also appealed a great deal to kids who didn’t have much use for the the late 90s Limp Bizkit era.

Nonetheless, as is obvious at this point, the set dressing of Empire Records is riddled with obscure references to music of the twenty or so years before it. And one, possibly the most cryptic of them all, appears as a tiny “Stomach Pump” sticker on a first aid kit in the back office. As it turns out, Stomach Pump, a defunct barely-was grunge band from Seattle in the late 1980s, both represents that seemingly ignored link between the film and the grunge era and provides some possible insight into why the filmmakers’ made such a lighthearted picture at such a dark time in popular music.

Stomach Pump, essentially an off-shoot of an earlier band called the Thrown Ups, came together when half of the latter group (Mark Arm and Steve Turner) jumped ship to join Mudhoney. Thrown Ups bassist Seighton Beezer, considering his former band mates to be “sellouts” to the burgeoning scene of ultra-noisy punk soon to be known as Grunge, partnered up with a fan named JCX9 (who now, as a successful radio personality in Austin, TX, goes by the name Jack Blood) and recruited bassist Max God and drummer Duff Drew (formerly of My Eye) to form a sequel band of sorts.

The basic premise behind Stomach Pump was the same as it was with the Thrown-Ups: all music, live and recorded, was totally improvised with only song titles and vague lyrical concepts haphazardly contemplated beforehand. Their resulting modus operendi involved messy, drug and booze-fueled live performances that found the band heckling audience members almost as much as (and often more than) they themselves got heckled, making Stomach Pump something of a unabashed – even proud – black sheep of the Seattle punk scene.

Often times, as was probably the goal all along, things would get completely out of hand. Singer Jack Blood would later relate: “At a gig in front of Seattle royalty on Eastlake, I pissed everyone off by wearing L.A. Poser red vinyl chaps and covering “I Put A Spell On You”, which ended in me kicking a girl in the tits for throwing a beer on me. They weren’t in on the joke, and the audience never was.”

Unfortunately, Stomach Pump’s penchant for obtusely vulgar in-jokes and outrageous onstage antics would eventually catch up with them. After pissing off every other band in town and being allegedly involved in the late night drug use that resulted in Stefanie Sargent’s heroin overdose, they were universally avoided by everyone from Steve Albini (who was supposed to produce their debut LP) to Sub Pop Records (who had originally courted them for a time).

As a result, Stomach Pump’s only official release was a Penultimate Records seven-inch (containing the tracks “Cake Hole” and “Log Clench”), which today is extremely difficult to find. Nevertheless, the band did manage to hold true to their shit-to-the-wind writing style for a slew of demos and home recordings (many with the aid of Jack Endino, producer of Nirvana’s Bleach and Soundgarden’s Screaming Life) such as the anti-rape trip “My Pussy’s Got Teeth”, the North Seattle catcall “North End Slut” and the locally-true pederast story “Bad Plaid Daddy”.

In spite of their short and woe-ridden lifespan, it’s undeniable that Stomach Pump refused to take themselves or their career aspirations seriously. More than anything they sarcastically reveled in their negative image, touting Soundgarden front man Chris Cornell’s extreme distaste for their music and purporting Kurt Cobain to have once described Stomach Pump as “the punk version off Spinal Tap”. Because ultimately the members of Stomach Pump, like most artists who haunted the city of Seattle in the late 80s and early 90s, were less concerned with dollars and cents than they were with recklessly enjoying the most unique and incestuous era in the history of American music.

Seighton Beezer can be seen in the 1996 documentary Hype! humorously demonstrating the subtle differences between punk and grunge – differences so trivial that the term “grunge” was seen as laughable to almost everyone who played in and around Seattle at the time. The documentary perfectly dispels the myth of “Hate Myself and Want To Die” mainstream grunge, instead portraying the scene as something more akin to a tight-knit network of friends who – in between emulating glam idols like Kiss and drinking to excess around countless bonfires – enjoyed playing music that was outrageously gritty and earsplitting simply because there was a certain degree of hilarity in doing so.

Hype! also brought to light a snarky, irreverent sense of humor native to the region and typified by Stomach Pump that was inevitably lost on the rest of the nation when the genre reached mainstream critical mass. Though – whether by design, subconscious digestion or complete accident – that subversive, lighthearted, brilliantly lowbrow sense of humor wasn’t lost in Empire Records.

DYRT90s? // Soundgarden: Black Hole Sun

Almost 13 years after calling it quits following a worldwide tour in support of their fifth studio album, Down On The Upside, Soundgarden announced on New Year’s Day, 2010 they were reuniting and hitting the festival circuit (including a stop at our own Voodoo Music Experience later this month).  It was welcome news, not only for Soundgarden die-hards, but for supporters of decent music everywhere.  After Soundgarden disbanded, Cornell’s work was inexplicably and tragically dismal.  I mean, if you would have told me in 1994 that a band featuring Chris Cornell and 75% of Rage Against The Machine would suck as hard as Audioslave, I would have called you crazy; and his solo work offered little respite or consolation for those hoping Cornell could put his uncanny vocal range and proven writing chops to any good use in the 2000s.

But his forgettable post-Soundgarden output speaks less about his particular talent as a songsmith – Superunknown and even Badmotorfinger can rightfully be called triumphs of the mainstream grunge era – and more about the fickle and obscure nature of all creative talent. Who really knows why some artists craft timeless epics and others middle away in uninspiring mediocrity, or why the same person can create magic in the company of a select few individuals and absolute dreck with a different set of co-conspirators or when left to his own devices. I guess it’s just one of those eternal mysteries that makes art in all its forms so compelling.

MP3: Soundgarden: “Black Hole Sun”

Barryfest v. Wikipedia // Kindest Lines

When taking on the arduous task of editing Wikipedia, the largest web-based encyclopedia, one is faced with a draconian and arbitrary editorial process, hyper-specific technological codes and an altogether baffling insider culture.  If you haven’t done  your research, learned how to tailor citations to meet certain ambiguous yet rigid criteria or developed a neutral voice, you might as well quit. By the same token, even if you’ve mastered Wikispeak, perfected the art of navigating Wikipedia’s difficult reference guidelines and honed your journalistic writing style, you still have an uphill battle to avoid speedy deletion.

But it is a fight worth fighting, and one that fits with our mission to document the music of New Orleans (and beyond). So we have set out to create, edit and update Wikipedia entries for as many noteworthy, important and deserving New Orleans artists as possible. Our first edition, Kindest Lines:

After signing to New York City-based Wierd Records at the end of 2010, Kindest Lines were featured on MP3 blog stereogum as one of “18 Dark Bands To Watch In 2011”.[3] Prior to the release of their debut album, the single “Destructive Paths To Live Happily” made its premiere on United States-based music and culture magazine The Fader, with its subsequent video premiere on Stereogum and British magazine FACT.[4][5][6]

Kindest Lines on Wikipedia

If you would like to help us in our noble quest, all you have to do is visit the newly created/updated pages and use Wikipedia’s page rating system to evaluate the articles’ trustworthiness, objectivity and completeness.