Circa 1975-1976

Fragments From a Red Notebook

These are fragments from an old notebook (red cover, not a comment on the contents). New comments are in this color. As far as I've been able to determine, this material dates from 1975-1976. (The only dates are a series of lists from Sept. 28, 1975 to Mar. 6, 1976.) The notebook has several drafts for reviews -- at this time I generally wrote first drafts by hand. There are also lots of lists, few of which make any sense to me now, most of which are omitted below.

Draft and notes for Gary Stewart review.

Red Herring Press was a bunch of ideas swamped by misfortune, a handful of people who contributed them and more or less worked together, and a post office box. This newsletter, at least this premie rissue of it, is basically a gesture toward those ideas, those people, and those others who might like to join in and carry on. This number is pretty much a one-man show, and will no doubt reflect that narrowness. The hope is that the rest of you will see fit to add your own knowledge and insight to the venture, that together we might make out a community of concerns and possibilities. Apres moi, le deluge. How's that for a tease?

This is not meant to supersede any of the publication ideas we had discussed before. But with our people so widely scattered now, it is difficult even to maintain communication, much less to bounce ideas off each other and spur on the sort of creative work we occasionally evidenced. Nor is this meant to scare off any other newsletter attempts, such as the one Bart Grahl and Elias Vlanton had been discussing -- a hundred newsletters movement would really be pretty neat.

Anyhow, the ground suggestions for this venture: it will be quick-printed in a very limited edition (probably less than 100 at the start), distributed to friends and friends of friends as well as a few others we guess might be interested. Anybody who gets a copy can recommend anyone else they think might be interested, and I'll send a copy on. Everybody who gets one will be expected to feed back into the newsletter; if they don't they'll be dropped. The format is in three parts: substantive contributions, correspondence, and revues (I spell it that way mostly on a hunch it might be important). The latter should be real short (otherwise it becomes substantive, if you know what I mean) and can cover anythign that seems worth taking a look at.

The agenda for the first issue consists of a series of documents and ocmmentary on rock, mass culture and corporate politik. It evolves from the lengthy and intense interaction between Don Malcolm, Harold Karabell, myself, and a lot of interesting phenomena. The correspondence and revue sections await your input.

Fencing into the Political Economy of Rock, where Bruce Springsteen and Sean Tyla flash guitars like switchblades, hustling for the record machine, and the hungry and the haunted (and sometimes the downright opportunistic) explode into rock 'n' roll bands.

The first document is by Don Malcolm. It was written just before the peak of the Springsteen craze and -- as I've been out of touch from Don since November -- is neither revised nor even editted. I am coming to some disagreements with the piece, even to enjoy the wretch in my own, marginal way, but both the price and the discussions surrounding it were crucial to the development of the Outlaws review and the whole debate over the matter of Ducks Deluxe. The Outlaws piece, basically as it surfaced in the Village Voice (though I've taken this opportunity to restore the original title), follows. Then, the last, dejected draft to a proposed Ducks Deluxe review, and finally further notes on the matter. Herewith.

  1. Whatever value Springsteen may have as an artist -- and now that I can better think through the matter I must grant Born to Run as a genuine though seriously limited achievement -- two things were immediately appalling about the affair. One was the extent and unanimity of his critical press; the second was the manner in which so large an element of the popular audience received him and his work. I have strong prejudices on both counts and events rubbed me the wrong way. In fact, moral revulsion was what it smacked of.

  2. Concerning the critics, Paul Nelson asked the right question: "Is Springsteen worth the hype?" Only his answer was wrong. Lester Bangs talked about how the album demands superlatives. Aesthetically that is true, though "begs" would be a more apt verb. But what is needed is not aesthetic fidelity; it is solid criticism. The desire to impress upon the public how much one may esteem a certain artist is certainly understandable -- I do that quite a bit, too much in fact -- but one should also take some care as to the climate one is working in.

  3. To put it differently, Springsteen has a couple of neat tricks, but there's definitely such a thing as too much, which for Springsteen doesn't take an awful lot.

  4. Springsteen is not well suited to be a mass figure; the only qualities he has that fit are sophmoricism and romance, which are scarcely the more redeeming faces of the mass audience. (A third might be energy, crucial to so many rock bands and basic to our much hoped for Ducks Deluxe breakout.) Springsteen may generally have little resemblance to Eagles or Yes, but as mass forces they differ only in the elitist sneer of their adherents. Malcolm's remark about the rise of the lemmings was prescient; nothing better illustrates the demise of a revolutionary mass.

  5. Since I prefer to stress consumption over production, hearing over what is heard, when it comes to music I favor a sort of pluralism, a variegation of listening experiences. In the last couple weeks, I've been listening to Hirth Martinez, Gary Stewart, Bob Dylan, Eno, Dave Brubeck & Paul Desmond, David Werner, Ducks Deluxe, George Crumb, Terry Garthwaite, Robert Wyatt, Anthony Braxton, quite a few other rather diverse things, including a little Bruce Springsteen. There are nuggets of truth in all these people, but it is only between them that anything very coherent begins to arise. To take one piece from that texture and put all else in its thrall is to cut oneself off from the world and its secrets.

  6. As Malcolm stresses, Springsteen's cult is messianic; it tends as well to be tyrannical. While cults are objectionable on virtually every possible ground, they are dangerous only when they are popular or hold special power. Springsteen, at the height of the craze last fall, was nothing less than terrifying.

  7. Ducks Deluxe enters into the picture because they share so much with Springsteen's historicism, yet they share none of his popularity. Nor do they share his sophomoricism, nor his romance.

Another Letter to the Movement, or More Subjective Drivel Fit for Liberation

In my impressionable years the two most striking forces on my life were the New Left and Marxism. They have marked my life, defined my hopes, bore my despair. I would like simply to say that I have passed them by, worked them out of my system, but there's no way. Like the gaudiest of Midases everything I touch seems to mutate into politics. And so, however much I disapprove, I go through the motions.

This newsletter is one such motion, little more than a gesture to a handful of fine people I would like to call comrades. It cherishes a memory of Notes on Everyday Life, the things we wished to make of that. A memory of the occasional study groups, the newspapers and journals our imaginations flung back and forth. A gesture to faith and solidarity. As I write this a desperate, dwindling gesture.

For the New Left seems more a naive romance, Marxism a cunning of reason. I am stranged here with a stark sense of class, a vituperative morality, a fanatic of reason, and a quiet longing for decay. This is no editorial; it is a peculiar stance, and it yields its own special insights.

But for my own part I need your people. My work ethic is taking on the hue of Adorno l'art pour l'art -- another way of saying I'm tired posturing about it -- but were it not for people like Don Malcolm, George Lipsitz, Lynne Layton, Harold Karabell, Elias Vlanton, many others, I would neither have anything to say nor any reason to say it.

This issue may look like some egocentric trip -- me wrapping up my unsaleable meanderings and inflicting them on you. I'm not really sure that it isn't. But it is also couched as an invitation. If you can see some possibility in that, I hope you will take advantage of it.

Short review fragments, as numbered, ungraded list. Eno and Nico were also reviewed in Rekord Report: Third Card, but the reviews there were different.

  1. Eno: Taking Tiger Mountain (By Strategy). A record at once aesethetically fascinating and endlessly enjoyable, the intellect at its most joyful. With subject matter mincing the long march and the dialectic of enlightenment, the grandest themes of our contemporary spirit, the work turns at the listener with a dazzling array of effects. Eno engages the listener unlike anyone in popular music, or very, very few in "seroius." Discordance, repetition and discontextualization are prominent, tossing up a continuous stream of ideas clean and shiny as new whistles. A thinking person's record, obviously, but the dividends are uncommonly generous. In fact, the title track is the best revolution text since Charlie Haden's "Song for Che" (which cohort Robert Wyatt performs beautifully on his latest album). And much more fun; we win this time.

  2. Hirth Martinez: Hirth From Earth. I've never been into UFOs, and I don't much care for the word "pity" that pops up in a couple songs here, but Robbie Robertson has really hit paydirt. Martinez' songs are uncanny, showing off an improbable marriage of lyric and melody which, while evincing no pretension, belies a sensibility wholly alien to our common consciousness. Robertson's production is simultaneously lush and spare, gilding his treasure with classic good taste. A snatch of lyric: "I don't know why the hell you fell for me/ You didn't even know my name/ You didn't even know the sign what I was born under/ Or that I was crazy as they came." A gas.

  3. Neil Young: Tonight's the Night. I've never liked Young, and I'm almost pigheaded enough toclaim that Young could not possibly have concocted this perfect an album. But to do so would demand an even more implausible claim, that somebody else could sing like that. So I call it a fluke, but even if you loved Young all the way down the line, it'd still be a fluke. That's its greatness, the plain incompetency to comprehend its events; that's the real terror behind the deaths of Danny Whitten and Bruce Berry. And that's why Berlin, which I still consider a great album, is so pale in Young's wake.

  4. Steely Dan: Katy Lied. In my class war with the media elite at Horton Watkins (Ladue), Steely Dan was a ready foil. In fact, I was quoting "Throw Back the Little Ones" as they were unleashing their attack on the work. The offense they took to "Your Gold Teeth II" delighted me, and thei rclaim that nothing int he album was hummable had me singing from each of the ten songs as I worked. Curious such reactions to Becker and Fagen's notorious oblique. Maybe we know something special.

  5. Amazing Rhythm Aces: Stacked Deck. So, just as I was recounting all my past affections for Dixie rock, along comes a group that writes perfect country songs, throws in some gospel, a little jazz, some rockabilly, a neat ballad, a super Lynyrd Skynyrd outtake, and another song that sounds a lot like an old Flamin' Groovies standard. Like Ducks Deluxe, the sensibility suits my predilections and it soudns good to boot. "Life's Railway to Heaven" is even my mother's favorite song now; it sure gets a lot more requests than "L.A. Blues" ever did.

  6. Flash Cadillac and the Continental Kids: Sons of the Beaches. Side One is Flash's doctoral dissertation on the Beach Boys; Side Two adds some post-graduate work on Leiber and Sotller, and features at least one bona fide classic, a toon called "Rock 'n Roll Menace" that in 3:35 obsoletes about four David Bowie albums. Nice to see that good scholarship continues. Nice to see it can still be fun.

  7. Patti Smith: Horses. A watershed work, suggesting that art may indeed have some value for the world. That rock is art matters; that even in this late stage of the game art might offer a broader, wider sensibility.

  8. Nico: The End . . . . I've grown up with no more love for Sprechstimme than any othe rhigh school dropout turned motorcycle jock and otherwise wasted Cowtown citizen. But I do like noise, and if it grates, annoys, blusters, ennervates, that's all the better. There's a lot of noise in this album -- the kicker to the title piece is as hard as rock has gotten sine 1970 -- and some of it's good enough to make up for Nico sprechstimming. But sine my conclusion to the whole aesthetics mess is that the tastes and prejudices of our determinations must be combatted to open up possibilities for a new world, I'm even coming to appreciate that. I might even get around to digging Pierot Lunaire out of my dead dogs file. John Cale produced, which is evident. If you dig Patti Smith, this is the same thing, , only with a kraut who can't sing. Or who sounds in way s most of us don't like. And "Das Lied der Deutschen" is church music -- take off your hat and show some respect.

  9. Roxy Music: Siren. Softer, slower, more sentimental, their best-integrated, most plain-spoken album. Whereas Eno always favored tension and ambience, flirting with the relations of production and consumption, Ferry aimed straight for the Zeitgeist. It is a matter of importance that Ferry's music be accepted; his principal concern is upward mobility, not style but conquest, the trick of not only accommodating but mastering the world of one's betters.

  • David Werner: Imagination Quota. B+
  • Steely Dan: The Royal Scam. A-
  • Amazing Rhythm Aces: Too Stuffed to Jump. A-
  • Flash Cadillac andthe Continental Kids: Sons of the Beaches. A-
  • Dr. Feelgood: Malpractice. B+
  • Eno: Another Green World. A
  • Robert Wyatt: Ruth Is Stranger Than Richard. A-
  • Fripp & Eno: Evening Star. B
  • George Crumb: Music for a Summer Evening. B+
  • Ramones. B+
  • 10cc: How Dare You. C-
  • Robert Calvert: Lucky Lief & the Longships. A-
  • G.T. Moore. B-
  • Brinsley Schwarz: New Favourites. A
  • Abba. B-
  • Elton John: Rock of the Westies. B
  • Hirth Martinez: Hirth From Earth. A
  • Gary Stewart: Steppin' Out. A-
  • James Talley: Tryin' Like the Devil. A-
  • The Modern Lovers. A-
  • Guy Clark: Old No. 1. B+
  • Todd Rundgren: Faithful. B-
  • Randall Bramblett: Light of the Night. B+
  • Hank Williams Jr. & Friends. B+
  • Have Moicy. A
  • Richard & Linda Thompson: Pour Down Like Silver. B+
  • Gram Parsons: Sleepless Nights. B-
  • Burning Spear. B
  • Jim Capaldi: Short Cut Draw Blood. B+
  • Speedy Keen: Y'Know Wot I Mean? B
  • Bob Marley & the Wailers: Rastaman Vibration. B
  • John Cale: Helen of Troy. A-

This is a scratch list (note 12 records in "Top Ten", 7 in "Twenty", 22 in "Thirty"). It was originally written in three columns.

Top Ten

  • Eno: Taking Tiger Mountain
  • Hirth Martinez: Hirth From Earth
  • Neil Young: Tonight's the Night
  • Steely Dan: Katy Lied
  • Flash Cadillac: Sons of the Beaches
  • Patti Smith: Horses
  • Roxy Music: Siren
  • Man: Slow Motion
  • James Talley: Got No Bread . . .
  • Gary Stewart: Out of Hand
  • Roxy Music: Country Life
  • John Cale: Slow Dazzle

  • Bonnie Raitt: Home Plate
  • David Werner: Imagiation Quota
  • Terry Garthwaite: Terry
  • John Cale: Fear
  • Dictators: Go Girl Crazy
  • John Hiatt: Overcoats
  • Dave Edmunds: Subtle as a Flying Mallet

  • Anthony Braxton: Five Pieces 1975
  • John Prine: Common Sense
  • Nico: The End . . .
  • Randall Bramblett: That Other Mile
  • Bob Dylan: Blood on the Tracks
  • Phil Manzanera: Diamond Head
  • Led Zeppelin: Physical Graffiti
  • Gary Stewart: You're Not the Woman
  • Hank Williams Jr. & Friends
  • Toots & the Maytals: Funky Kingston
  • Marley & the Wailers: Natty Dread
  • George Crumb: Music for a Summer Evening
  • Leon Russell: Will o' the Wisp
  • Band: Norther Lights -- Southern Cross
  • Elton John: Rock of the Westies
  • Lost Gonzo Band
  • Sonny Rollins: Nucleus
  • Guy Clark: Old No. 1
  • Beserkley Chartbusters Vol. 1
  • UFO: Force It
  • Cate Brothers
  • Elliott Murphy: Lost Generation
Unchartered Possibilities

  • Neil Young: Zuma
  • Miracles: City of Angels
  • Little Feat: Last Record Album
  • Leon Redbone: On the Track
  • Who: By Numbers
  • Pink Floyd: Wish You Were Here
  • Manfred Man's Earth Band: Nightingales
  • Al Green: Is Love
  • Elvin Bishop: Juke Joint Jump
  • Abba

  • Dylan/Band: Basement Tapes
  • Springsteen: Born to Run

Draft and notes for Notes for an Eno Year.

Several pages of lists of records, broken down by category. Following is incomplete. Most are things that I remember owning.

50's, 60's R&R, Soul, Documentary Collections, Etc.

  • Animals: includes H/RS
  • Cilla Black: Hist. of Brit. Pop, Vol. 7
  • Coasters: Their Greatest Recordings: Early Years
  • Drifters: Their Greatest Recordings: Early Years
  • Freddy Fender: Recorded Inside LA State Prison
  • 4 Seasons Story
  • History of R&B Vol. 7
  • A. Koerner: Pop Blues Vol. 2
  • Roy Orbison: The Original Sound
  • Johnny Otis: Great R&B Oldies
  • Carl Perkins: Original Golden Hits
  • Otis Redding: The Great OR Sings Soul Ballads
  • Otis Redding: Otis Blue
  • Otis Redding: The Soul Album
  • Righteous Brothers: Greatest Hits (Verve)
  • Rivieras: Sing
  • T. Rex: 12 in a [???]
  • Rock & Soul 1958
  • Roots of British Rock
  • Sensational Jimmy Gilmer & the Fireballs
  • Shannon
  • Smash Sounds (Atco)
  • Hist. of Joe Tex
  • Gene Vincent: the Bop That Just Won't Stop (1956)
  • Mary Wells: Vintage Stock
  • WOKY Rock 'n' Roll

Draft of 10cc review.

Just a title here. Must've thought about writing something.

James Talley: A Smart Hick Leaves College

This letter draft should be the easiest to date: I moved to Washington DC, which lasted no more than three weeks; I came down with a second bout of mononucleosis, and wound up high-tailing it back to Wichita. This makes several references to DC. Although it mentions Terminal Zone, that would be in the future. The recipient is Bart Grahl, who I knew through Telos and mutual friends in Buffalo.

Bart --

I'm not so sure I properly understood you many nights ago; not that in this tropical clime I have anywhere near presence of mind enough to clarify myself. Also I have taken ill here to something I occasionally fancy to be hepatitis, though that remains unfounded rumor, not to be wildly brandied about. Basically, the scheming here continues apace -- I have a dandy $1.6 million newspaper-research complex scheme that nobody seems to take very seriously -- but our old friend praxis seems in summer recluse. Elias will possibly add a few words on our latest (mit Harold) newsletter determination; I would prefer to speak not for "us" but for my own idiosyncratic, reactionary self. Mostly --

  • I am still interested in grand strategies, though it occurs to me that I know of no one who takes these seriously; a whole new roster of people would have to be recruited, but they still strike me as the only viable full-time approaches. Failing these, I would rather work for a living, pursue my occasional commercial writing outlets (Voice, Newsworks, Creem), and experiment a bit.

  • Though I still hold to certain friendships (you, Kevin, Harold, Elias, George, Don, Lynne) I have nothing to offer the left.

  • E.g. I have no interest in any association with Liberation, Socialist Revolution, or Radical America (in descending degree of emphasis).

  • Terminal Zone depends on the actual presence of interested parties, e.g., Don Malcolm. Under present circumstances it is impossible, though I'll probably help out Mark Jenkins on Hype, and may develop further contacts.

  • The Newsletter is indefinitely canned, though it should be noted that we have substantial technical expertise (typesetting equipment, cameras, layout tables, cheap printing, professional labor) here in Washington, and I am at your disposal for any technical matters.

  • I have no clear idea as to what you have in mind regarding a writing collective. Is it a collective resolution to do better? or an invite to collaboration? what to write? for whom, or what? I think anything likely to be produced by any of us would ultimately be only for our own edification. Some things may be interesting, like my own ill-fated Secret Agents, but lacking a systematic basis I don't see us cutting through to any significant problems.

  • Strange how imagination seems wedded to wistfulness.

The evident gloominess may disappear once the temperature drops, I find an (air-conditioned) apartment of my own, my throat clears and strength builds, if of course any of the above actually happen (not the surest of bets). I have a job now, should start raking in a bit of money, though the expense is considerable. I enjoy working, at any rate, and I have several worthwhile leads here, and generally good experiences with most I have met here, even a couple one could not have expected so much of.

I'll show this to Elias for his additional comments. Take care, and write as you can.