Wednesday, November 30, 2011


Sad to say, but at times the atrocities of the twentieth century seem to recede into a bad set of memories until one forces himself to be jarred awake and reminded yet again at how near the Nazi and Stalin eras truly are to the present. My grandfathers may have recently passed away, but both fought in World War II. One fought in the Battle of the Bulge across the killing fields of Belgium, while another helped liberate concentration camps after the war's end. Both men were around, and able to tell these tales, until just a few years ago. But when we let these eras lapse into "history", as they inevitably must, they lose so much of their power to shock us into being better humans and to prevent them from happening again. That's what makes me come back over and over to World War II evil in both books and films. It's a way to reclaim my own humanity from the grotesque crimes committed only 70 years ago, and to try and make sense of how people so much like myself were able to commit and/or tolerate them happening in their midst.

"A FILM UNFINISHED" is not a particularly easy documentary film to watch, but it is a unique and extremely interesting slice of WWII history to learn from. In 1942, the Nazis were only months away from carrying out the final solution in the Warsaw ghetto, where they'd housed thousands of Polish Jews as they determined just when and where they'd kill them. The Germans staged a series of preposterous scenes of "wonderful Jewish life" in the ghetto before the cameras, juxtaposed with much more true scenes of starvation, deprivation, child death and dozens of dead bodies in the streets. The Nazi propagandists would force Jews at gunpoint to dance, to sing, to throw lavish fake parties on sets full of fine china and piles of food, all as a means to say, "Look. Look at these rich selfish Jews who don't care about the suffering in their midst". This was to be a means of showing the German people and the world that the Nazis were treating the walled-off Jews well, but that the Jews could not even treat their own people half as well.

It's pretty barbarous stuff. The Nazis never finished the film before killing virtually everyone in the ghetto. They unwittingly showed far more "real" ghetto life than they'd planned. The starving faces and bodies are heartbreaking. The pain on the faces of the children will make you pause the DVD or stream and have a cold, hard think about things. There are images of the dead pulled from the streets, and dumped naked into pits. This documentary - "A Film Unfinished" - dissects with sparing voiceover what the Nazis were trying to show, what was really happening, and what it all meant. The reels were found in East Germany almost by happenstance during the 1980s, and director Yael Hersonski does an amazing job piecing it all together, almost like a sleuth who has a devastating counter-argument to prove. She succeeds exceedingly well - not that she wouldn't, of course. The lies, egomania and contradictions at the heart of National Socialism were easily refuted even then, albeit at the cost of more than 10 million lives.

Monday, November 28, 2011


The only reason I'm able to review this for you today is because my family all decided to get me Amazon gift certificates at the same time on my birthday, and I in turn went and closed my eyes & plugged my ears, going "la-la-la-la", and spent $80 on what is essentially just five CDs and a book of liner notes. It does come housed in a cool box, halfway between recycled cardboard and wood itself. Dust-To-Digital's JOHN FAHEY box set of his 1958-1965 Fonotone Records recordings is impractical, sure - where am I going to store this thing - and there's no doubt it's for Fahey nuts only. I'm skirting the edge of Fahey mania, but I've long been fascinated with the story of these "lost" recordings from his earliest, bluesiest days. I'm happy I got it, and I'd like to tell you why.

Let me start by acknowledging that there may be more than a few of you wondering who this Fahey cat is and what made him so special. In a nutshell, John Fahey is the premiere "folk" instrumental guitarist of his day and any other day, a man so gifted beyond belief on his instrument that he achieved his desired effect of sounding like a one-man guitar orchestra with a mere ten fingers. It sounded like thirty - at least. He was one of the earliest white collectors - discoverers is more like it - of the 1920s and 30s pre-war blues music that barely anyone outside of black communities had heard before he found it. Names like Charley Patton, Skip James and Mississippi John Hurt were almost completely forgotten before Fahey and his cohorts found them and helped to bring their music onto college campuses and the like in the 60s. Fahey's collector contemporaries did not, unlike Fahey, then translate that love for raw and unvarnished guitar music into an ability to play it that well themselves - and then to take it into another transcendent dimension of experimentation, invention and talent.

I think, as most do, that his best work started with his 1958 LP "The Legend of Blind Joe Death" and continued on various unfolding paths into the early 70s. Everything of Fahey's in these years is worth owning. It bears repeating - none of it has vocals. All guitar instrumentals, only rarely augmented with other experimentation, and then only on a couple of records. So what are these Fonotone recordings, then? Well, Fahey was pals with another legendary cantankerous record collector named Joe Bussard, another fella about whom volumes have been or will be written. Bussard liked to press up his own vinyl recordings of Maryland folk/blues compadres like himself - sometimes even including himself - onto 78rpm records, and then sell them to other collectors through the mail. This became the FONOTONE record label. Fahey recorded multiple sessions for Bussard, often whilst plied with inordinate amounts of alcohol. This box set is the full collection of these sessions, most of which made it onto vinyl or tape at some point, but in editions so small that they've been practically unheard until now.

"YOUR PAST COMES BACK TO HAUNT YOU" has five chronologically-ordered CDs of this material, and to call it a "rough portrait" of Fahey's development as a guitarist would be about right. The liner notes, curated by fellow guitarist and friend Glenn Jones, make it clear that this set was compiled for completists and not as a "best of the early years" sort of thing for dabblers - so you get a few piss-takes, false starts and early versions of songs that went on to be much, much better in the years that followed. Moreover, Disc 2 and 3 "feature" large chunks of time with Fahey in character as an old blind bluesman named Blind Thomas, affecting a "negro" dialect and a drunken demeanor, and - gasp - singing. To say that John Fahey didn't really have the chops for singing would be overly generous. He went fully instrumental for a very good reason, and many of these tracks are worth a few snippets of your time and then very deservedly get the "skip" treatment.

Many of the tracks on the five discs are stabs at material that wound up on his first four records, especially "The Legend of Blind Joe Death". At times, especially on Disc 5, which covers 1962-1965, it's as mesmerizing and complex as anything he ever officially released. Fahey pieces were generally rooted in the old-time blues vernacular, with slide guitar often employed and lots of journeys up and down the frets in pursuit of either rhythm or of a mournful sound. He added his own inventive evocation of classical music on top of this, while never allowing himself to stand in the same place for too long. A legendary iconoclast, John Fahey wouldn't consent to these recordings being reissued until he was long dead. It's been nearly ten years without him, and here we are.

I spent the better part of an evening reading the full liner notes that Jones curated, which come in a jumbo oversized book loaded with old photos, including many from Fahey's childhood that came directly from his mother. I'd give it a hearty "well done". I maintain again that this set is primarily for Fahey nutballs, with the chief reason being that 3-4 of these 5 discs will likely not get played more than twice by virutally everyone who encounters them. They're a "that sure was nice to know" sort of capper on the man's amazing legacy and career - now you've heard his earliest stuff, when he was actually something less than perfect, and you can now die happy and secure for having done so.

Sunday, November 27, 2011


Since not one but two commenters on my previous post indirectly mentioned the "Manly Phrases and Gestures" article from FLESH AND BONES #7 (1988), I went down into my man-cave (the garage), extracted it, scanned it, and am now sharing it for your chortling pleasure. Click on any image to enlarge it.

Friday, November 25, 2011


One of my favorite lost music fanzines from the 80s is FLESH AND BONES, which came out of New Jersey and was published by “Jeffo” and a small circle of friends, far as I can tell. Completely unserious, obsessed with the 70s and low culture, and yet very into the best modern noise/indie bands and into relentlessly mocking hardcore punk, FLESH AND BONES did everything possible to fly the freak flag during the supposedly culturally barren late 80s. Here’s what I wrote about it back on my old Agony Shorthand blog in 2005:

FLESH AND BONES – Outside of Forced Exposure, Motorbooty and Conflict, this is probably the one I enjoyed the most during the time period in discussion. They covered “grunge” before it was grunge, and also took the best potshots at ’81-’82 hardcore punk and at metal wasteoids I’ve ever seen. A lot of the live reviews were just made up fantasies of getting in fistfights at gigs with people like Thurston Moore or Glen Danzig; stagediving to mellow acts like Salem 66; and heckling multiple bands “with a Big Stick wig on” (remember BIG STICK?). The graphics were all hilarious cut & pasted items from other magazines, many of them from the hippie 1960s, as well as a few homegrown comics that were usually quite OK. They also had a few staff photographers who took excellent band shots, usually of the modern acts with the longest, filthiest hair and the lamest clothes (RAGING SLAB seemed to be a favorite). This was not a mag I read as a consumer’s guide, it was one I read because it was always laugh-out-loud funny. Their REDD KROSS interview from 1985 or so still might be my all-time favorite interview, ever.

There are two reasons why I’ve scanned only a handful of chosen pages from this one, as opposed to the whole thing: 1.) Scanning takes forever; and 2.) I don’t want to crease the pages of this too badly by bending them to & fro during the scan process. Okay, it’s really just #1. Keep in mind as you read this that “Dinosaur”, the band, weren’t even called Dinosaur Jr. yet. And the reason the cover’s so off-center is because, well, the cover was off-center. Click on any of the pages to make it larger and more readable. Enjoy!

Wednesday, November 23, 2011


If money were no object, and if a career were beside the point, I’d want to enroll in a film studies program at some elite university and spend my days writing a doctorate on 1970s world cinema – with a special emphasis on American cinema. No other era of filmmaking is as exciting to me, though people who pooh-pooh the current crop of filmmakers and look forever backward to the 20s, the 30s, the 60s or the 70s are not seeing the forest for the trees. Great film has been with us for ages, and is still with us. The 1970s, however, were special to me, because it’s when I started watching movies, and the movies I was seeing on our fledgling in-home cable channel were raw, unflinching emotional films that are now considered masterpieces. Those 70s films set the template for what I looked for in a good movie, and led me in the early 1990s to the films of John Cassavetes 

All this probably seems like a weird way to work up to a review of a film that came out in 1984 (Cassavetes’ “LOVE STREAMS”). Yet Cassavetes was so 70s, it doesn’t matter if his films came out in the 60s (“Faces”) or the 80s like this one. The man’s improvisational, experimental films about personal anguish, emotional train wrecks and self-delusion define what a masterful 1970s film is for me. This one, which I finally saw for the first time this past weekend, slots right in with all of the others and is every bit as good. “LOVE STREAMS”, the story goes, was made when Cassavetes was given a diagnosis of six months to live due to various internal ailments. He ultimately died a few years later of cirrhosis of the liver. This immersive, darkly comic film about a brother and sister dangling on the edge of insanity and self-destruction, doesn’t feel like something rushed. It is its own strange avenue in the art of improvisational film, much like Robert Altman’s 1976 “California Split” or Cassavetes’ own 70s films like “Husbands” and “Opening Night”.

If I saw another filmmaker try to copy this style, it would flat-out piss me off. It may be cliché, but it belongs solely in the hands of the masters – and trying to get a watchable, even revelatory film out of something so unstructured is no mean feat. Every time I felt befuddled by some dialog or annoyed by the non-linear nature of “LOVE STREAMS”, I found that another 30 minutes had passed, and I was still totally riveted. The leads in the film are John Cassavetes himself, playing a rich, alcoholic ne’er do well named Robert who dresses in tuxedos at all hours of the day, and cavorts with prostitutes when he’s not running from bad decisions in his past. Gena Rowlands plays his divorcing, fresh-out-of-the-institution sister Sarah, though we don’t know they’re related until at least midway through the 141-minute film. Watching them both in action makes one feel very, very good about your own sanity. They are two sides of the same proverbial coin, which binds them close together in many ways, even though it’s obvious that neither really wants to spend much time with the other.

Both are tremendous in their roles. Rowlands is always amazing, and she essentially plays the same character she did in 1974’s “A Woman Under The Influence” (a film I have seen five times and would gladly watch again tomorrow). Both don’t know how to act around other adults, nor around children – in fact, the two children in this film are heartbreaking, in that each happens to be the unfortunate offspring of one of these two. Even the other adults in this film seem lost and out of sorts at all times – Sarah’s husband, played by Cassavetes ensemble favorite Seymour Cassel – and all the irresponsible young things and the ex-wife of Robert’s, who all seem trapped in hells of their own. “LOVE STREAMS” has never officially come out on DVD in the United States, which is hard to believe at one level (it’s fantastic) and totally understandable on another (it’s difficult and is extremely unlikely to find an audience outside of adventuresome film lovers). I went in expecting to see a lesser Cassavetes work, like the barely-watchable “MINNIE AND MOSKOWITZ”, but would absolutely rank this one among his best. Watch the listings closely for your local endangered art house, or dig deep on the internet to find a copy of this one.

Monday, November 21, 2011


After spending the bulk of the 1980s and 1990s either without a television set or completely uninterested in its non-sports offerings, I settled into a nice little domestic comfort zone this past decade – just me, the wife, our son and the TV. This non-coincidentally coincides with the oft-remarked-upon “new age in television”, in which television programming, led primarily by HBO and secondarily by lesser cable networks, began treating its audience like the adults that they were. At least that’s the argument – though the concomitant rise of reality TV would proclaim the opposite. So scripted TV, then, entered its renaissance period, led by programs like “The Sopranos”, “Six Feet Under” and “The Wire”. This is an argument I concur with, given the new bounty available on television, which has trickled all the way down onto the previous wastelands of ABC and NBC and elsewhere.

So around the early part of last decade, we, and thousands like us, stopped automatically defaulting every open evening to a rented (and now often streamed) film. We watched live or recorded TV shows instead – or in our case, DVDs of TV shows we weren’t paying HBO and Showtime for. This thereby ensured that we had to dodge spoilers every off-season and were always late to every TV-driven cultural trend (like, I could have dressed like Don Draper way earlier if only I’d known I already had AMC as part of my cable package). This year we got all growed up, swallowed hard, and ponied up for an HBO subscription. Now the couch’s mastery of our minds and our asses is complete.

I set a pretty high bar when it comes to TV. I cut TV a little slack as it compares to film – how else would I watch a preposterous show like “The Walking Dead”, or even “Lost” for that matter? – but if I’m not sucked in on the first viewing or two, forget it. I’m out. The only thing that makes me stick around past one lousy episode on anything is the knowledge that I hated “SIX FEET UNDER”’s pilot and was totally ready to walk, only to give it one more chance and have it be the best HBO series not called “The Wire”. Here’s what The Hedonist Jive often spends its time with in 2011 when we should instead be at the computer, typing out more blog posts for our low three-digit readership:

“ENLIGHTENED” – I’ve heard grumblings that this intense black comedy from the damaged mind of Mike White (“Chuck and Buck”) is already on the chopping block, and is HBO viewers’ “least favorite show”. What the hell is wrong with you people? This absurd evisceration of the New Age lifestyle and mindset is the best show playing on TV at this moment, far as I can tell. I like to squirm and to be surprised, and not only is Laura Dern excellent at putting herself in self-made emotional situations that make your skin crawl, the supporting cast that plays off her is excellent. The show effectively captures the tenuous grasp that many adults have on reality, and the difficulty they face in dealing with the world around them. Think of it as a sadder version of “Curb Your Enthusiasm”, full of the same sort of self-delusion & mockery of many things.

"BREAKING BAD” – And this just might be my favorite show ever. I wrote extensively about the show on this blog at the end of Season 3; Season 4 was even more incredible and had a final episode that was one of the most pulse-rushing, grim, laugh-out-loud hours of TV I’ve ever seen. I can’t believe I have to wait until summer for Season 5, the show’s final stand.

“CURB YOUR ENTHUSIASM” – Eight seasons and counting, and other than the shooting location (NY instead of LA) and the loss of Cheryl Hines as Larry’s wife, the show has not even imperceptibly shifted in tone, style or humor. You know exactly what you’re going to get in every episode, just not how you’re going to get it. Larry David will make some self-serving and/or buffoonish comments that come back to bite him; Susie Essman will scream at him and call him a “bald prick” or somesuch; Larry will annoy some other celebrity or one of his circle of “friends”; and so on. This past season (8) was as riotous as all the others, particularly the “Palestinian Chicken” episode and the final episodes with Bill Buckner and Michael J. Fox. They even hinted that they’ll be taking this thing to Paris next year - Dieu m'en garde.

“PARKS & RECREATION” – Not on cable! Regular old NBC! A consistently great comedy in the ever-popular “we’re making a documentary” style about a, insular small-town Indiana parks & recreation department and the wacky characters that populate it. It has some big names from stand-up comedy, improv and general comedic acting – Aziz Ansari, Amy Poehler, Chris Pratt – even Rob Lowe, who is outstanding and who has been set up to be funny even before he opens his mouth. Every character has his or her own little world of insecurities or quirks or zingers that they unload on the rest of the cast, and I like it way better than the similar but far too manic “30 Rock”.

“MAD MEN” – It would not be additive for me to write anything about a show that virtually everyone loves, and which shows no signs of slowing down. I got hooked in late, and still haven’t completed this most recent season, but I agree with you that it’s a fantastic show.

“THE WALKING DEAD” – Finally, there’s the zombie show. Since I love “Breaking Bad” and “Mad Men” so much, my hope was that AMC – the network those play on – would come up with a third masterpiece. I tried “Rubicon” – no dice (no one else liked it either, and it was cancelled). Tried “The Killing”, and though it showed promise, it too lost me through overblown to-be-continueds that ended up to be awful red herrings. So my wife talked me into checking out the zombie show, and damn it, I’m totally enjoying watching flesh get torn from bellies, people panicking and running in terror, and the general paranoia and dread that hangs over this show. It’s not particularly well-acted, but neither was “Lost”. Both were saved by great storytelling and a goosebump-raising sci-fi element that feels totally real. I’ll keep watching until I don’t.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011


I keep thinking that the Danish director Lars Von Trier, who has been cinematically provoking and thrilling me (and many others) for years now, has a far bigger body of work than he actually does. When you get down to it, he’s got 3 (now 4) major films – all masterpieces in my book: “Breaking The Waves”, “Dancer In The Dark” and “Dogville”. There are a couple of lesser works, some early noodling that I haven’t seen, and “The Kingdom”, a hilarious yet thoroughly annoying “haunted hospital” miniseries he made for Danish TV. To his 3 key aforementioned works, all about tortured, complex females played by actresses rising to their capabilities in the best roles of their lives, we can now add a fourth, “MELANCHOLIA”. Believe every bit of hype you’ve heard about this sweeping, somewhat terrifying film about depression, anxiety and the end of the planet. It’s my top film of the year, with only six weeks left.

First you have to get past the opening ten minutes. Some will not make it. It’s a long, slow-motion artistic rendering of the last moments of the characters’ lives as one planet (Melancholia, which had been hidden behind the sun for millennia, and unknown to astronomers) crashes into another (Earth). Once you’ve suffered a little for Von Trier’s art, the real movie begins. It’s broken into two parts about two sisters, “Justine” and “Claire”, which my wife and I decided were really themed explorations on the manifestation of human depression and human anxiety. Justine, played by Kirsten Dunst, is a beautiful but tortured depressive, about to marry a man who adores her at her brother-in-law’s seaside castle/estate. I read this was filmed in Sweden, but we’re supposed to probably believe that it’s somewhere in the eastern United States. The characters never leave the confines of the estate, at least on film, and no reference to their location is ever made (only to “the village” that they sometimes venture into) – adding to the claustrophobia in what should be an idyllic setting.

Justine can’t handle a wedding, as becomes clear. She gamely tries to smile and go through the motions, but as the night progresses, she exits the festivities for hours at a time – taking baths, hiding, and even having random insanity sex with a boy/man she doesn’t know. Her destructiveness in one evening effectively turns her husband against her – even though he very well should have known what he was getting into – and leaves her jilted and left on the estate with her panicky sister Claire, played by Charlotte Gainsbourg. Along the way, we see the film’s minor characters improvise their way across some of the best acting they’ve ever done – among them Stellan Skarsgard (always one of the best evil guys of our time), Charlotte Rampling and John Hurt. Best of all – best in the entire collection of top-flight performances – is (surprise!) Kiefer Sutherland, who plays Claire’s obscenely rich and extremely annoyed husband John. If he doesn’t sweep every supporting-actor award there is to win in the cinema awards game next spring, there is no justice, no justice at all.

We then shift to the post-wedding aftermath in the section of the film entitled “Claire”. Justine has an intense depression that is literally crippling. She can’t walk, and sleeps all day. Claire, on the other hand, is trying to calm her nerves about the recently-discovered planet Melancholia, which appears to be headed in a collision course for Earth but which “reputable scientists” – and more importantly to her, John – say will instead be a near-miss. Before watching, my wife and I were wondering why this film – which was available on-demand via Amazon before it even hit the theaters last Friday – was listed as a thriller. After the second half of this film, it’s abundantly clear. It is a predicament made believable, horrifying and all too real by intense acting, masterful story-writing and a bare minimum of special effects. I don’t need to give away the ending, as I more or less already did in this review – but it’s something that hasn’t left me all week.

Von Trier is both cruel and sympathetic to his two leads, as is his wont. He seems to bring the most incredible performances out of actresses – Emily Watson, Nicole Kidman, Gainsbourg and Dunst and Bjork for crissakes – and always puts them into crisis and multiple tests of will. In this film, it’s more that he’s playing two different types of mental anguish against each other. There’s the cold indifference of the depressive, vs. the outwardly nervous mania of the anxious. Oh, and planets smashing into each other and the apocalyptic end of civilization. If this all adds up for you as a good night out (or in) at the movies, then by all means, “MELANCHOLIA” is as good a film as has been made since last year’s “BLACK SWAN” and “BLUE VALENTINE”.

Monday, November 14, 2011


One of my great off-and-on passions is exploring the tripped-out world of 1970s Jamaican dub, and digging as deep as I can into it until I’m convinced I’ve found all the best versions there are to find. My time period is roughly 1973-1980, after which dub increasingly went electronic, or lost its mojo in general. I’ve bought a heaping helping of CDs to help me figure it all out over the years, but I went sort of dormant on this passion a couple years ago and am only now reawakening from my cultural slumber. A capped time period definitely helps matters a lot – I can mark 1980 as the time when dub pioneers like KING TUBBY, SCIENTIST and others ceased being interesting or when they fell off the map entirely. Lucky for all of us, there’s a small legion of crate-diggers out there who continue to find rare 45s and LPs from this time, and who still compile them onto CDs for labels like Blood & Fire, Trojan and Soul Jazz.
BRAIN-ERASING DUB, VOLUME 1 is my attempt to make some sense out of everything that’s sitting in my digital collection right now. I made this CD a couple of years ago, but had yet to foist it upon the world. My favorite kind of “version” is the heavy, echo-laden, trippiest of the trippy. My kind of dub drops vocals out almost entirely and carries a ghostly, almost otherworldly sort of vibe. Cliché, I know – and not always the case with these 23 tracks – but I’m pretty confident that this set is among the best of the best. I wanted you to have it. Just click on the link to download, and let me know what you think.


Sunday, November 13, 2011


If you haven't been checking out the HEDONIST JIVE TUMBLR - our companion mobile/web site with pithy reviews, mp3s and photographs - well, what in Sam Tarnation are you waiting for? In the past two weeks we've been talking about or showing off Desperate Bicycles mp3s; French cinema; hiking photgraphs; other great blogs; Dust-to-Digital CD reviews and a whole lot (well, a little bit) more.

Come take a look over here - and bookmark it on your phone if you've got one of those fancy web browsers. It reads even better on your mo-bile.

Thursday, November 10, 2011


My college tenure was marked by extreme record nerd mania and music immersion of a degree unparalleled outside of that of true obsessive-compulsives and 19-year-old college students. My life at UC-Santa Barbara in California from 1985 to 1989 was defined only partially by my studies and by my friendships – though these are by far the most lasting, memorable and tangential results of those 4 years (not to mention that through these friendships, I met my wife of 13 years). Yet if I’m honest with myself, a far greater portion of my mental space during this time period was instead devoted to my record accumulation, my radio show (“White Trash” on KCSB-FM Santa Barbara), to live music, fanzine buying & reading, “singing” in multiple bands (Umbilical Chords, Sluggo, We Got Power) – and dreaming of the next two-hour trip to Los Angeles, city of angels and record store buying sprees straight from heaven itself.

Those frequent trips down to LA generated a level of excitement totally out of proportion with the end result. Sure, I’d come home with some new records, usually about $20-$25 worth, most of which couldn’t be found in the Santa Barbara area. And yeah, we’d usually see some bands, probably The Lazy Cowgirls at Raji’s or The Anti-Club, or maybe a touring act like the Volcano Suns, Pussy Galore, Naked Raygun, Soul Asylum, Half Japanese, Dinosaur Jr., Das Damen, Sonic Youth and so on. Most of the time was spent on driving freeways, in keeping with the Los Angeles stereotype. My companions for these excursions varied, but were usually some combination of my record-collecting pal Bruce, my record-collecting cousin Doug, various optional parties (Linda, Brian, Brett, Rubin Fiberglass), and myself. We had a routine and a route that we kept to almost religiously. Anticipation built feverishly during the week, and unless we were blowing off school for these trips (which was absolutely the case on a couple of noteworthy days – I’m remembering the free daytime Soul Asylum show at UCLA in ’87), these jaunts were usually on Saturdays. A trip to LA to hit the record stores was certifiably the highlight of my month, and these trips were indeed taken just about every month without fail.

Every record store we visited back then is now gone. All of them. Most record stores everywhere are now gone, and the ones that aren’t will be soon, alas. I started these trips as a 19-year-old with a part-time dishwashing job and a part-time telemarketing job. I owned a 1980 Mustang that fit 4 people very uncomfortably. The route to record dork nirvana went down the 101, through towns like Ventura, Oxnard, Camarillo, Thousand Oaks, and Agoura Hills. A stop at the Calabasas Taco Bell was almost always on the agenda. After this landmark belly-filler, we hit the fabled San Fernando Valley, of “valley girl” and porn fame, and the monthly rapture would begin.

MOBY DISC was a medium-sized used & new record store in the borough of Sherman Oaks, right in the heart of the Valley. Because it was on Ventura Blvd., and therefore not too far from the freeway, it was always a stop on our route despite it bearing the least amount of purchasable vinyl fruit. The only item of note that I ever bought there – that I can remember – was a copy of REDD KROSS’s “Neurotica” about five minutes after it arrived at the store. Bruce & I were big Redd Kross/Red Cross fans, and they hadn’t put out an album of originals since the godhead “Born Innocent” LP. We called ahead to see if Moby Disc were going to get it in that day, which they gruntingly confirmed, and then we basically arrived to nab it as the store was opening, like little girls. I recall the frustration of the owner as we asked him to root around on the loading dock or “in the back” when it wasn’t immediately on display when they took the locks off the doors. They ultimately found a cardboard box of LPs, cut it open, and gave us our prizes. The irony of the whole shebang is that I didn’t like that record at all from the first moment I heard it, and still don’t to this day.

Next we’d head into Hollywood itself and onto Melrose – the home of the hipster/shabby clothing boutiques, candle stores, ironic toy shops – and at least 5 record stores in the late 1980s. VINYL FETISH wasn’t a store we went to all that often, as it tended to focus on goth music and “industrial” beats, and was horrifically overpriced. Same with BLEEKER BOB’S – some amazing old punk records on the wall to gape at, but nothing I could afford. There was a sort of unsung hero used store called SECOND TIME AROUND where I used to find some treasures, usually for $1.99 or $2.99 a pop. It was horribly cluttered, and likely one of those places that was immediately put out of business in the very first years of illegal downloading. The Melrose granddaddy was ARON’S. I loved this store then, and almost as much when it moved over into a space twice this size on Highland Blvd. in the 1990s. Before there was Amoeba Music and its miles of used vinyl, there was Aron’s. I really had to pace myself in this place, as they had all the new stuff from the UK and Australia (I was big into Australian garage punk at the time); all the new SST, Homestead & Touch-n-Go releases; and tons of used vinyl at good prices. I still had two more stores to go.

So then it was usually time to hit another Taco Bell before heading down to Long Beach to ZED RECORDS. I think this was about 30-40 minutes away, along the 405 and then the PCH (Pacific Coast Highway), but totally worth the drive. A great, weird, esoteric little store, ZED stocked a ton of 45s, lots of punk stuff, and seemed to cater both to dorks like us and to the more hardcore punker element buying Corrosion of Conformity and GBH records. This was also the era of a term no one uses any more – “speed metal”. In fact metal itself was tremendously popular in the late 80s, as any MTV viewer knew, but this Metallica-inspired speed metal (essentially, metal informed by punk) was h-u-g-e in the underground record stores of ’86-’87. I hated it, as I do now, but I recall ZED being a big gathering place for metalhead burnouts as well. In fact, compared to the bustling, if dusty, Melrose stores in Hollywood, the dark and somewhat ominous Zed Records was a place where one was potentially at risk for a fistfight. At least it felt that way at the time. I found a copy of the first Pussy Galore single there (“Feel Good About Your Body”) a little after their initial 12” EP came out, and I stupidly sold it on eBay years ago, way before its market peaked.

Finally, the trip headed back into LA for the coup de graceRHINO RECORDS on Westwood Blvd, right over by UCLA. If any money was left after the previous rounds, it surely was blown here. Rhino sold most lightly used records for a mere $3.99 each, and I found crazy things – like all The Flesh Eaters records, or the 1978 “Tooth & Nail” punk compilation – for this price. There was this older (than us) guy Otis whom our friend Eric Stone knew and bought records from, and Otis was renown in collector circles. Long before the internet, Otis would mail out “The Otis list” of mail-order punk records you could buy directly from him, all of which most assuredly came from his used buybacks at Rhino. When I think of the prices then – Crime 45s for $8, “Yes LA” for $30 – it’s almost laughable. I only ordered from him a couple of times, because I didn’t have “that kind of money”. But he worked at Rhino, and he liked to talk vinyl and the Lazy Cowgirls. Totally our kind of guy.

These trips to LA definitely formed my view of the city as a cultural haven, as long as you were willing to look for it. LA’s alterna-culture didn’t hit you over the head the way New York’s or San Francisco’s did, but in a city of 7 million people and nearly 7 million miles to traverse, it was something you had to seek, possibly with the help of an alterna-sherpa. The journey, in a lot of ways, was indeed the destination. I wanted to pound out this blog post now, before I forgot the names of all these stores, and also as a tribute to the last record stores still standing in 2011, all of which are undoubtedly doomed. May you thrill the hearts of socially inept teenage & twentysomething music accumulators for the rest of your days.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011


How much did you learn about the Rape of Nanking in high school or college? If you’re like me – and most westerners – your knowledge of this seminal event in the annals of WWII evil is sketchy at best. Or at least it was until the flood of memories, testimonials and witness-bearing that was unleashed by this landmark work of history by Iris Chang in 1997. “THE RAPE OF NANKING” attracted a ton of attention to a Japanese army atrocity in Nanking, China in 1937 and 1938, and was praised widely for its polemical insistence on naming names & its ability to shine a shameful light on the months of systematic barbarism, murder and rape. Chang was praised in some quarters and vilified in others – many of the latter the predictable Japanese ultra-nationalists who to this day deny the events occurred, but also from scholars who nitpicked at some of the details she related. I thought I’d better tackle this one myself finally, since my knowledge of Japan’s road to World War II was woefully lacking.

The book needs to be approached as a polemic first, for that’s what it primarily is, and as a work of history second. This is not to say that its history is bad, wrong or poorly-conveyed. It’s just that Chang was trying to right some historical wrongs, and in so doing needed to be scathing in her descriptions of just what the Japanese did, and how they covered it up in the years to follow. Nanking was invaded in 1937 after the Japanese had conquered Shanghai in their march through China’s cities. Despite ample evidence that Chinese soldiers were not going to resist the invasion – which was preceded by a devastating aerial bombardment – the Japanese invaded the ancient city as if they were facing an enemy hell-bent on their destruction. They killed, in ritualistic fashion, anyone who could conceivably be thought of as a “solider” – which was virtually every male alive. They tortured, maimed and burned alive thousands upon thousands of men and women, and long after the city was in Japanese hands, carried out a policy of rape of virtually any remaining woman or girl. For months this went on, and while it was reported in the western media to some degree, it appeared to have been shunted off as one of the many apocalyptic crimes of the 1930s and was safely ignored.

Chang focuses the first third of the book on the Japanese perspective – what they saw or did as they looted, raped and murdered – and then the Chinese in the second third. Finally, her book talks about the westerners based in Nanking who helped save hundreds of thousands of people from death, rape and starvation. One was a Nazi (!) named John Rabe – his story was broken by Chang in this book, and it’s fascinating. What’s less clear is the why of this horror story. People who criticize Chang for pointing at the Japanese psyche of the 1930s, at the centuries-long samurai and bushido culture, need to offer a more compelling explanation for how an army can do what these men did, under no provocation and often not even under orders. I don’t feel any smarter about why human evil expresses itself when it does after reading this book, and I think that’s OK. I do know a detailed history of this event now, and I felt it was gripping while reading it. It helped me place into context the War in the Pacific, and the army mindset that made those battles so intensely fought by the Japanese. I also appreciated the polemic part of it. It’s easy to whitewash history, and the post-WWII era was full of countries conveniently forgetting their recent pasts in order to move forward. This one should not be forgotten, and like the Holocaust in the west, should be taught to every student of World War II as an example of behaviors that brought the world to the worst conflict it has ever known.

Sunday, November 6, 2011


Note that I call it an "album", even though that term is effectively archaic? Well it feels like an album, the way a record from a past favorite band did when every song was excellent - sequenced logically (with the right opener & perfect closer) and with every mood, fast song & slower song in its appropriate place. The record in question - which actually does exist on vinyl, but which I've only heard digitally - is the 2011 debut release from the UK's VERONICA FALLS. They're a dual-gender pop band of the highest order. They're raw, they're twee, they're jangly and they're so friggin' good.

Veronica Falls popped out a few 45s before this one, and we at The Hedonist Jive were onto them early, right when the blogosphere was shouting about the first one, "Found Love In A Graveyard". Then came "Beachy Head" and then a couple of pre-LP leaks to the press. It seemed to be building things something fierce toward this release, which came out in the US on able popmeisters Slumberland Records. Melodic, even obtusely baroque at times, Veronica Falls come off as The Mamas & The Papas if they'd been deeply informed by the Postcard Records & C-86 scenes. And it rocks harder than the M's & the P's by a country mile - at times dissonant and with a little scorch. Pop fiends who haven't heard this yet are going to absolutely crap a brick when they do. Some of you garage punkers might as well. Go listen to their stuff online and then place your order with the folks at Slumberland once you agree.