Ronnie Dawson: Greatest Rock and Roller Ever?

Here’s just a little taste from 1995 of the late great Texan rockabilly king Ronnie Dawson, with Lisa Pankratz (on drums) and High Noon. If you like country, rock, punk rock, and just plain party music, you’re probably going to love Ronnie Dawson. He began in show biz in his teens, changing his name briefly to Commonwealth Jones in the early 1960s to avoid confusion with another Ron Dawson. He died too young, in 2003.  No doubt now he owns the name.

Congressional Record by Dean Drummond, played by Newband

DRUMMOND-obit-articleLarge

I was reading today’s paper, looking at the obituary of George Jones, when I glanced across at a photo of someone who looked familiar. I realized it was Dean Drummond, an American composer, musician, teacher and acolyte of Harry Partch, whose musical instruments and scores Drummond assembled as founder of the Harry Partch Institute at Montclair State University in New Jersey. I was wondering what an arts piece was doing in the front section of the New York Times, when I realized, shocked, that I was looking at an illustration for Drummond’s obituary. Continue reading

#FreePussyRiot: “Punk Prayer” Translated

To mark the impending ban of Pussy Riot from the Russian Internet for being “extremists” dangerous to the state, I’m reproducing  Carol Rumen’s translation of the Riot’s “Punk Prayer,” the song that gained them a trial for “hooliganism” and world attention in the first place.

(Chorus)

Virgin Mary, Mother of God, banish Putin, banish Putin,

Virgin Mary, Mother of God, banish him, we pray thee!

Congregations genuflect,

Black robes brag gilt epaulettes,

Freedom’s phantom’s gone to heaven,

Gay Pride’s chained and in detention.

KGB’s chief saint descends

To guide the punks to prison vans.

Don’t upset His Saintship, ladies,

Stick to making love and babies.

Crap, crap, this godliness crap!

Crap, crap, this holiness crap!

(Chorus)

Virgin Mary, Mother of God.

Be a feminist, we pray thee,

Be a feminist, we pray thee.

Bless our festering bastard-boss.

Let black cars parade the Cross.

The Missionary’s in class for cash.

Meet him there, and pay his stash.

Patriarch Gundy believes in Putin.

Better believe in God, you vermin!

Fight for rights, forget the rite –

Join our protest, Holy Virgin.

(Chorus)

Virgin Mary, Mother of God, banish Putin, banish Putin,

Virgin Mary, Mother of God, we pray thee, banish him!

“Putin Lights up the Fire [of Revolution]!”

Pussy Riot, the Russian feminist collective and punk rock band, three of whose members (Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, Maria Alekhina and Yekaterina Samutsevic) were recently sentenced to two years in prison for “hooliganism,” have just released an answer to that sentence in the form of a blood-racing and rather catchy rocker of an anthem . Don DeLuca, music critic of the Philadelphia Inquirer, posted an informative little piece about the group and the song.

These women are serious punks!

Merrill Garbus Puts Africa In Your Earbuds

OkayAfrica invited Merrill Garbus of tUnE-yArDs (one of my current favorites) to make a mix of her own favorite African pop tunes.  It lasts about 30 minutes, delves into music going back to the 1970s and 1980s as well as more recent numbers, and ranges from the Horn of Africa down to the Cape and into the rainforests. You can read about her choices here.

TRACKLIST
Lema GebreHiwot “Wondemiye (Wedding Song)” ft. Selamawit Gebre Selassie, and Zenebech Tesfaye (Ethiopia)
Dur Dur “Goromphmca: (Somalia)
Hukwe Zawose “Safiri na Muziki” (Tanzania)
Mlimani Park Orchestra ”Tangazia Mataifa Yote” (Tanzania)
Johnny Clegg and Savuka “Moliva” (South Africa)
9Ice ”Gongo Aso” (Nigeria)
Koffi Olomide ”Loi” (DR Congo)

tUnE-yArDs at Terminal 5

Last Friday night, with special guests Delicate Steve and (all the way from London) Micachu and the Shapes.

It was, as expected, an extraordinary evening of far-out African-inflected and futuristic pop/dance/rock music. Great musicianship all around, as this clip of the tUnE-yArDs’ “Bizness” (one of a long series of highlights) only hints at. (I was not the photographer. I was just somewhere between the camera and the Merrill Garbus.) Continue reading

The Profound Beauty of Micachu and The Shapes

Here’s a new band on me: Micachu and The Shapes (with multi-instrumentalist Mica Levi, keyboardist Raisa Khan and drummer Marc Pell)  have been playing and recording highly idiosyncratic pop music since 2008. I’m glad to say I’ll be seeing them with another eccentric pop band I’ve written about, tUnE-yArDs featuring Merrill Garbus, as well as Delicate Steve, about whom I know almost nothing. Of course tUnE-yArDs is my main reason for going to the show (June 1st at Terminal 5 in New York City), but researching the other bands on YouTube, I discovered this is promising to be an extraordinary evening. Continue reading

Pop Croons

I’ve been listening to a lot of Iggy Pop and the Stooges on my iPhone lately and this has reconfirmed for me that “Search and Destroy” from 1973’s Raw Power is at the very apex of great rock and roll songs. The lyrics (“I’m a street walking cheetah with a heart full of napalm/ I’m a runaway son of the nuclear A-bomb”) are pure poetry. I know that rock critics who say such things sound pretentious. Believe me, I know! But “Search and Destroy” is a morbidly beautiful little poem about the violence of lust, made darker and more desperate with its imagery borrowed from the Vietnam war. The sophisticated form, with its internal rhymes within the rhyming lines, is masterful. I think of Iggy in this period as continuously debauched; I don’t know if it’s true when he wrote. Whatever state he was in, this is inspired, yes, but also intensely focused–disciplined, even–poetry writing. Put together with the menacing music and performance of that music by the band, this is rock and roll of a very high order.

I bring up Iggy today because of this news report from Reuters about his new digital-release-only album Apres, comprised of old standards originally by Frank Sinatra, Serge Gainsbourg and Edith Piaf, for example. He had to go to Paris, he says, where he recorded his last album Préliminaires (2009), a collection of arty songs inspired by a novel of French enfant terrible Michel Houellebecq, because his American label (Virgin has produced his most recent titles) doesn’t know what to do with a crooning Iggy. “The American company would have preferred I do a rock album with popular punks,” Pop tells a news conference, presumably meaning bands like Green Day and Blink-182. Pop’s last rock and roll album, Skull Ring (2003), used just such a star-studded backing lineup.

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Merrill Garbus of tUnE-yArDs: Not Your Fantasy Girl

I’ve been listening to tUnE-yArDs via YouTube most of the morning. I am wild about the African-inspired polyrhythms and harmonies, the booming, surprising, versatile voice of founder and chief-creative genius Merrill Garbus, the edgy, Jah-Wobbly bass of Nate Brenner, the discordant post-bop Fela-infused horns of Matt Nelson and Kasey Knudsen. Here’s a live studio rendition of “Real Live Flesh” from their EP Bird-Droppings (the “official video” is awfully cute and fun to watch as well):

I just discovered this band today, randomly selecting “Gangsta” from their second album w h o k i l l to play from a list of new Alt/Punk releases on Rhapsody and falling for it right away. It always stuns me when a band I have no defenses against provokes strong negative reactions in others, and from my morning of exploration of this band, I’ve encountered a lot of viscerally negative remarks (which the kids these days call “hating”) among the comments on every one of their videos.  It’s not just the music that people are reacting to. I guess it never is, really, but in tUnE-yArD’s case, most of it is inspired by the un-pop-star, androgynous quality of front woman Garbus.

Continue reading