Tuesday, November 29, 2005
BRMC and the Legend of Link Wray
After being inundated by the you-gotta-stop-what-your-doing-and listen-to-this-song, “Shuffle Your Feet,” by the Black Rebel Motorcycle Club on Little Steven’s EVERY SUNDAY (as a former “coolest song in the world”) for the past three or four Sundays, I had to see if the rest of “Howl” matched up to Steven’s hype (and the undeniable greatness of the song). Maybe you’ve heard it; it kicks off with the boys harmonizing a cappella: “Tiiiiiiiiiime won’t save our souls” (repeat 3 times) enter laughing and stomping. And guess what? It just gets better and better from there.
It’s a throw back record, totally. That’s their shtick—but they’re really good at it. Even to the point of putting their CD in a case that resembles a very old timey album sleeve (complete with a split Side One and Side Two as well as a yellowed back cover). To top it off right, “Howl” was not coincidentally released on the 50 years after the mega-landmark-iconic poem of the same name by Allen Ginsberg was published. (One of the most famous lines, ''the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness,” still totally gets me and just seems to be so bloody true for all of history and all of the future, right? Tie that up with his buddy and my man Jack Kerouac's talk of "the mad ones," and...*sigh* (See: drugs, mental illness, etc. SO MANY musicians that can't replicate and create those sounds in their head...)
“Ain’t No Easy Way” is my favorite track right now. It’s all of 2 minutes and 36 seconds long and it is pure bliss. It’s very Led Zeppelin III. Stompy, white man country blues. Full of slide guitar, with juicy solos and passionate harmonica playing, all highly sexual. The record sounds like they’ve matured a little bit—at times they come off like a more complex Black Keys. They dabble with organ use and amazing vocal harmonies all over the place.
Like a good ol’ blues record there’s talk of Satan, Jesus and drugs. Some of the lyrics are painfully simple, but it doesn’t matter. Robert Plant wrote about Hobbits and dick all the time and it’s some of the best music that’s ever been recorded. Some of the BRMC melodies sound a little too familiar—sometimes they sound like they’re really ripping someone (Neil Young, Willie Dixon, Zep, et.al.) off but it’s just so fucking charming, you can’t deny it. Some surprises: the varied themes of each song—dude sounds like a cross between Marc Bolan and Rufus Wainwright on “Weight of the World,” and it’s great. I first heard about them from Mr. Noel Gallagher who praised the fuck out of them in MOJO before they were anywhere (he tried to sign ‘em, too—dunno what happened there). BRMC even opened for them; somehow I managed to see Oasis on three different tours and missed that one. (Um, but the most devastating moment of my concert-going-life has to be when the Verve cancelled as their opener when they came to MPLS. I will still cry if I think about that too much. Fuck.) So—moral of that story: listen to Mr. Noel when he tells you about the up and coming (“Cast No Shadow,” sweet, sweet Richard).
I actually got my first taste of BRMC at the wild festival experience that was Coachella, May 2004. Their performance was my little secret highlight (besides the Pixies, of course—but that was a given and it was so large scale…yadda yadda). I wandered over by myself, leaving my boyfriend-at-the-time and our friends who, I believe were watching Radiohead, or some major band that they had the unfortunate same time slot (late evening, first day) as them. I was a little dazed and confused (the unbearable desert heat didn’t help) but it enhanced my experience. I was mesmerized. They ripped it up electric, and then something went wrong technically. They abruptly left their instruments on the stage and walked off. People started booing, thinking it was going to be a diva thing, and they were done. Nope: they came right back on stage with their acoustic guitars and launched into a beautiful, hypnotic set that showcased what pretty voices they all have!
It was a trip. I was in love with the showmen.
But… back to “how nasty and crazed rock and roll guitar can be”…
In the news of rock, Link Wray just died, at age 76 (just about my grandparents age--that's a weird thought). I had barely heard of him, but he was a huge influence on Neil Young, Springsteen, Townshend (I kinda like those guys. Yeah. Kinda. Ha.) and, um, he is only credited with INVENTING THE POWER CHORD!!!!!!!!!!!!!! His most famous single was “Rumble,” that came out in 1958. It was actually banned because it was thought to promote gang violence and rioting. RIGHT ON. Mysterious bloke, a rebel genius, apparently; poked a hole in his amp (and worse) to get fucked up sounds out of it.
NY Times obit: http://select.nytimes.com/search/restricted/article?res=F20A17FB345A0C718EDDA80994DD404482
All Music Guide--a good little bio capsule: