Last week, when I was uninspired whilst reviewing my running list of blog topics, YouTube operated as a sort of Oblique Strategies, the deck of cards initially developed by musician Brian Eno and artist Peter Schmidt independently in the late 1960s and early ’70s. (Eno included four of Schmidt’s prints in his 1977 album Before and After Science.) The cards’ suggestions and comments can act as disinterested—oblique—prods for artists when they encounter roadblocks during the creative process. And so YouTube essentially did the same for me, but not obliquely—rather, evidently, based on my past searches and pointing-and-clicking. “Recommended for you” last week was an obscure track from The Zulu Compilation (1984), an album I happen to have in my collection. Zulu Records was formed by Jayne Casey and Ambrose Reynolds (both of whom also worked in the band Pink Industry, which issued lovely minimalist and melancholic music in the ’80s). The compilation is perhaps most collectible for its inclusion of a pre-Trevor Horn version of “Love Has Got a Gun” by Frankie Goes to Hollywood.
I hadn’t listened to that compilation LP in years and had completely forgotten the track YouTube selected for me: “The Kremlin in Flame [sic]” by S.T.F.O.T.P.A. It sounds like something from the 1976 Art & Language-Red Crayola collaboration, Corrected Slogans (discussed in my post I Found That Essence Rare). After some searching I found the identity of the track’s creators in a 2010 interview by Arthur McDonald of The Royal Family and the Poor fame. Except that I’d never heard of the band. Or, rather, when coming across their LPs, two of which were issued by Factory Records, I’d passed them by. Continue reading “Vaneigem and Bubblegum”
We’ve all got opinions
Where do they come from?
— “Why Theory?”
Reading Jim Dooley’s invaluable Red Set: A History of Gang of Four last year I was fascinated with how some of the philosophical underpinnings of the band’s songs mirrored what I’ve been dealing with in writing materials with comrades in a labor group. What follows is not a review of Dooley’s book, but rather a commentary on the mirrored passages and also, to a much lesser degree, remarks on my exposure to theoretical thought through pop music (of all things). This post is based on the notes I took at my first (and only) full reading, and is not a comprehensive look at Gang of Four reasoning. Continue reading “Gang of Four Part 2: I Found That Essence Rare”
Last month I saw Gang of Four for the third time.
The first was at a small club, probably their show at the Starwood in West Hollywood, capacity 400–800, May of 1980. Earlier that same year, the band had opened for the Buzzcocks and later, Iggy Pop, both at the much larger Santa Monica Civic. But those garnered lousy reviews by the Los Angeles Times, the first due to bad sound, the second to fatigue. The Civic could put a lot of distance between the stage and the floor. And it ostensibly seated 3,000, but when I saw the Clash there, the seats were replaced by metal plates; when we bounced, so did they—and there were a lot more than 3,000 bouncing.
Obviously that Starwood show in 1980 featured the band’s original lineup: Hugo Burnham on drums, Dave Allen bass, Andy Gill guitar, and Jon King vocals. It was riveting. The stage was small enough to bridge the Civic’s divide, but broad enough to allow Jon King his signature sprints between microphones. If King was a gazelle, Gill was a beast of prey, exactly as described by poet Ted Hughes in his “Second Glance at Jaguar”: “He coils, he flourishes/ The blackjack tail as if looking for a target.”
Continue reading “Gang of Four Part 1: Natural’s Not In It”