|Tom Hull's Old Rock Critic Writings|
Fragments From a Yellow Notebook
These are fragments from an old notebook (yellow cover, not a comment on the contents). New comments are in this color. I haven't figured out the dating yet, but the earliest stuff seems to date from 1975 (e.g., the Kansas review), while the Ducks Deluxe drafts were probably later, like 1978. There are a number of notes on football, which might help pin it down if I felt like doing that research.
Notes for a New Set
Ducks Deluxe: Taxi to the Terminal Zone [RCA import]. What Taxi loses from their first brilliant album -- and by all means check out the British edition, with one more song and a much more interesting song order -- namely a shade of ambition and a fair amount of experimentation, it more than makes up for in sheer power, a well balanced set of hard rockers. But hard and fast they may be, they are no mere contact band. The answer lies in the listening, in the unraveling of history (that's sedimentation for all your phenomenologists out there). For, like Brinsley Schwarz and Dr. Feelgood, they piece their music out of patient, considered listening; to confront Ducks Deluxe is to meet oneself, to re-encounter Chuck Berry, Jerry Lee Lewis, Bob Dylan, Buddy Holly. The list goes on, but that's not all: it is to confront a unique intelligence, talent and vision. Taxi is one of the few synthetic masterpieces extant, a record you can listen to, that wears not a whit.
Roxy Music: Siren (Atco). Personal fave/"Both ends burning . . . will lead you to an early grave." As expected it sheds new light on the earlie rfour albums, underlining the suspicion that this is one band with ulterior motives. English art schools have been a substantial resource to rock, but none of their errant students has ever raided the music business with the cunning and aplomb of Bryan Ferry. Not merely does Ferry study upward mobility; he practices it, showing keen understanding of the aesthetics of stardom, the vicissitudes of the self as a public symbol. The literary thematic, which achieves new levels of coherency and pungency in Siren, is important: aface the simple rigidity of British class structure.
Below, some fragments:
romanticisim, sentiment ----> fatalismThe false promise of upward mobility, accommodating a world beyond one's fate. The deterioration of good sense, a second nature of manners. The sublimation of politics into art.
Revolution offered the hope of escaping one's fate by creating a new one; lacking that there's always upward mobility, the trick of accommodating the world of one's betters.
While style is certainly an affectation of upward mobility, the real content is conquest.
For Ferry the first two albums served principally to find a voice; two albums under his own name, the brashly offensive These Foolish Things and the grossly sentimental Another Time, Another Place, situated that voice in the terrain Ferry had staked out.
Bruce Springsteen: Born to Run (Columbia). Brushing all the critical hype and political economics aside, and for that matter the godawful "Jungleland," and just tag this "Roy Orbison produced by Phil Spector," that's sort of a neat trick. And it wouldn't be half bad. Could it be that I'd rather my scholar/stars shiver in the rain? Could that be why I haven't managed to write a saleable Ducks Deluxe hype? Ask the shadow.
Flash Cadillac and the Continental Kids: Sons of the Beaches (Private Stock). Side One is Flash's doctoral dissertation on the Beach Boys; Side Two adds some post-graduate work on Leiber and Sotller, yielding amongst its amalgam of old good-timey rock 'n' roll at least one bona fide classic, a toon called "Rock 'n Roll Menace" which does everything in 3:35 that David Bowie spent four albums trying to accomplish. Nice to see that good scholarship continues. Nice to see it can still be fun.
John Hiatt: Overcoats (Epic). Hiatt's got an exaggerated folkie voice and a genuinely warped sensibility, very Midwest. He's also got a gift of the hook and a fine sense of production; his arrangements are so interesting they often overwhelm his lyrical expression. But he also seems bound and determined to remain obscure -- take the world on his own terms might be a nicer way to put it. And he's likely to succeed, for his peculiar brand of midwestern anomie, the protestant guilt and sexual repression, can hardly link up with anybody, at least publicly. I like this album, but in a private, almost shameful way; neath all the nifty arrangements, unraveling all the surrealisms, there lies a record of unmitigated gloom, a down I too often share in. Recommended to the saved.
John Lennon: Rock 'n' Roll (Apple). This album's so full of sludge -- by the time Lennon gets to "You Can't Catch Me" he sounds even more tired of singing this stuff than I am of listening to it -- chances are some sort of statement is intended. Naive simplicity can no longer be attained? Artifice is no substitute for nostalgic sediment? John just can't get it up anymore? Still it could be worse, folks. Imagine the same songs with Manhattan Transfer pizzaz.
John Cale: Slow Dazzle (Island). The going assumption is that "Mr. Wilson" is a tribute to Brian, but the album's best number, "Dirtyass Rock 'n' Roll," is ripped straight from Dennis. That sort of slyness is what makes you think Cale is some sort of genius. His penchant for throwing his best ideas away, masking them or just plain beating them to death, is what keeps us guessing. Possibly his most brilliant, certainly his most aggravating, album since Academy in Peril.
Draft for a Ducks Deluxe review.
This roughly matches the unpublished review that I attributed to 1979,
but this notebook seems earlier. Perhaps there was more than one
Ducks piece? Some of the other letters and notes suggest as much.
Actually, neither of these pieces match my memory of the last Ducks
piece, so there may still be one missing.
Later on in the notebook I have lyrics for several Ducks songs,
including "Please Please Please," "Rio Grande," "Woman of the Man,"
and "Paris 9."
Later on in the notebook I have lyrics for several Ducks songs, including "Please Please Please," "Rio Grande," "Woman of the Man," and "Paris 9."
On the basis of two British elpees, one somewhat lobotomized in its U.S. edition and the other deemed unfit by RCA even for release here, I'd say that Ducks Deluxe has consistently, completely, produced the most interesting, amazing, overwhelming music of the seventies. Period. If you're one of what is probably no more than a few dozen people in this land to have turned in on these masterpieces, you know what I mean. If not, read on.
It all has something to do with what's been dubbed Pub Rock. Economically that was a resurgence of pubs as employment and exposure for rock bands. Pub Rock broke out in England around 1971, recreating much of the barroom rock scene of the early sixties, where group slike the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, the Kinks and the Pretty Things first learned their chops. Those who've been dubbed Pub Rockers run the whole gamut from Kokomo to Ace, to name two of the better known and less deservedly so bands. But the core is simple odl fashioned rock 'n' roll, bands like Brinsley Schwarz, Dr. Feelgood, Bees Make Honey, modelled on the first generation fo pub rockers and their own models, people like Chuck Berry and Eddie Cochran, at best tempered with a sense of history and craft.
It essentially comes down to an appreciation of American music, a glimpse of American mythos, a special listening and considerate recreation. Just who are the Rolling Stones to invoke Memphis as they do? Or what could a Prairie Rose mean to Roxy Music? Ducks Deluxe starts out California bound, one song talks about being born "in the swamps of Tennessee," and even if they do wind up juiced in Paris, they cover a lot of territory in between.
But Ducks has something more, as a comparison with Brinsley Schwarz might point out. The Brinsleys' seventh and last album, New Favourites, also available only as an import, is excellent, a synthetic masterpiece, a record of painstaking attention tot he details of genre. It also is something of a game. Try to guess the sources? Where have you heard that before? Or almost that, something a bit earlier or later? And why to put those sounds together? What does that say about the artist? What does that mean to you the listener? None of this is to say that the music doesn't satisfy in its own merit; simply that it has a social and historical fascination that demands a more inquisitive listening.
The first Ducks album had much that synthetic pleasure. Opening with "Don't Mind Rockin' Tonight," an urbane indulgence worthy of Little Feat, they committed themselves to straightahead rock and roll with a flash of intelligence. Then there was "Daddy Put the Bomp," slow and thick, the swamp's legacy to rock, both myth and fact. "West Texas Trucking Board," with the Dylanish organ and Sean Tyla's most affected voice. And "Fireball," a raver that runs rings around Elton John's "Saturday Night" fare, with a vocal toughness that makes Bruce Sprinsteen sound like a cloistered wimp.
The British version was still better, including an extra song, the easy rocker "I Got You," and a whole different order. Whereas the American version spun the material into a strong side and a weak side, featuring a couple of lackluster covers and winding up with a couple plain weirdos, the bluesy "Falling for That Woman" and the jazz tinged "Too Hot to Handle," with Nick Garvey disguised as a girlee chorus. The British version spread the shit around, the oddball songs gained strength and meaning from their context, even the covers ("Nervous Breakdown" and "It's All Over Now") made sense. The whole thing stated with a number called "Coast to Coast" and 40+ minutes later the whole landscape had been traversed, it smyth and music called out.
The second album, taking Chuck Berry's line, "Taxi to the Terminal Zone," out of context for its title, is strictly available as an import. It is simple, straightforward, and awesome. Gone is the detachment of "Don't Mind Rockin' Tonight"; instead the commitment of "My My Music," the spector of "Teenage Head" (a Flamin' Groovies classic and the album's only nonoriginal), the reverie of "Paris 9" prevail. High spots include a pair of Sean Tyla stormers, "Rio Grande" a western motif to a sexual potboiler, and "It Don't Matter Tonight," where it don't.
Like that first generation of pub rockers, Ducks are masters of America's most prototypical music, masters of rock and roll. And in their mastery they have added something. Too many bands have been compared to the Rolling Stones, but for once they merit it. Maybe with the provision that they feature three Keith Richards but no Mick Jagger. Which, come to think about it, may make them even better. I only hope we get a chance to find out.
Draft for Kansas