Thursday, June 25, 2009

Sky Saxon is Really Dead

In the mid-80s, I discovered Greg Shaw's Cavern Club in Hollywood when he booked my band Blue Garden Blue to open for The Unclaimed there. I guess he considered us a part of the Paisley Underground scene, which we really weren't. We did, however, self-consciously adopt elements of what was, at that time, a twenty-year old look and style. We wore short paisley-esque ties and black boots and played a garage-type of post-punk that also tapped into The Kinks, Hard Day's Night-era Beatles, Love, and The Seeds. We were simpatico, it seemed.

It was through that experience at the Cavern Club in 1985 that I began to go to the club to see different bands from time to time. One night, I went with my friends to see Yard Trauma and Sky Saxon. I knew The Seeds, I dug The Seeds. What I saw on stage was not exactly The Seeds but Sky Saxon solo. Here was a skinny, scraggly, loosely-garbed Saxon, mumbling into the microphone between songs and lettin' loose when the music played. I didn't recognize a lot of the tunes, except for "Pushin' Too Hard" and a few others. (I can't recall who was his backing band. It could have been Yard Trauma themselves.) I enjoyed it. It was memorable. I got the sense that Saxon was somewhere else, mentally. Impenetrable.

I have no idea if that aptly gets at who he was offstage. It's only an impression from my teen years. Maybe he was still into Father Yod at the time and had his mind-antenna pointed to the center of the cosmos. Or to Laurel Canyon. I don't know. But I'm glad I got to see him when he was probably the exact age I am now, being free and creative.

Sky Saxon, sadly, is really dead.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Rush to Judgment: "Fly by Night" (1974)

This is the first Rush song I ever heard. I think I turned 12 when my dad gave me a Radio Shack tape recorder, before anyone in my household even thought about the efficiency or practicality of a tape deck. With that tape recorder, I made incredibly low-fi recordings of the radio: I would place the recorder on the floor with the stereo headphones close to the built-in mic, turn up the volume, and record KLOS (local L.A. rock station, now defunct) or KROQ (circa 1980, still gasping and wheezing with life in 2009). I remember recording Rush's "Fly by Night" that way, on the same cassette that included the Ramones' "Beat on the Brat" and Brian Eno's "America is Waiting."

I listened to that tape over and over again, the same as I would do over the next couple of years, using the same headphone-duping "technology," with Rodney on the ROQ. I thought Rush's song ruled, perhaps even more so than the Ramones. I didn't differentiate at that age between "punk" or "prog" or "new wave" or "rock." Whatever sounded good to me was fine. Thinking back on it, that probably explains a lot of my musical taste today.

So, here is a clip of Rush circa '74 playing that song. Mentioning Rush in casual conversation about rock can conjure up a chortle or two, as if saying "Rush" is shorthand for "over-the-top nonsense." Well, songs like "The Trees" certainly give them that reputation. But seriously, "Fly by Night" is a great song. In 3 minutes and 19 seconds or so, Rush had melody, swing, punch, Rickenbacker bass grittiness, and, of course, chops galore. They didn't overdo anything here.

So I will go on record right now as a Rush enthusiast. They had several great songs and albums, up to and including 1981's Moving Pictures (a masterpiece). Hell, even some of their synth-washed 80s stuff is fairly decent, though I don't choose to listen to it. "Fly by Night" is 180 degrees from this, but I love it just the same. When I heard the Sun City Girls' cover of this song on the great Midnight Cowboys From Ipanema, I took it as sincere and liked it, whatever the Bishop brothers may have actually intended. It works for me.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Crime at San Quentin

Doing their public service, Crime played for the cons at the California State Prison, San Quentin. Though the copyright is from 1984, I don't know what year this performance actually took place. It's from Target Video, the good people who brought you such performances as The Cramps at Napa State Mental Hospital.

I appreciate how the prisoners proudly hold up fliers with the band's "crime" logo, giving new meaning to the term audience participation. It is a mystery how the woman appears toward the end, dancing languidly to the beat with seemingly no barrier between herself and the men. I wonder how they pulled that off?

The song, incidentally, is Crime's "Piss on Your Dog." Dig their white socks.