16 ALBUMS THAT WERE SIGNIFICANT TO ME

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220px-Warmjetsvinyl.jpg9.) My freshman year of college, 1974, my roommate was this cool guy who was a total rock’n’roll freak. He had this huge record collection and we had hundreds and hundreds of rock records lining the walls of our dorm. He had all the ’60s classics, and lots of ’70s prog rock, and all the latest English glitter bands — like Roxy Music and T. Rex — that i had never listened to (he also played guitar in a local Kiss cover band, wearing all the make-up and platform shoes and played gigs at high school dances — Cleveland rocks!!).

Anyways, this Brian Eno album — Here Comes the Warm Jets — was my favorite of his whole collection. Great, well-crafted pop songs, with a zany, almost lunatic, sense of humor, and really innovative and experimental sounds.

So things were going great until mid-way through the school year my roomie had a spiritual epiphany and became a Born Again Christian. He cut off his long hippie hair, started carrying a Bible with him everywhere he went, and hanging out with these straight-laced Christian guys. One afternoon him and two of his Born Again buddies came up to our dorm room and they systematically destroyed everyone of his records, one by one. Because rocknroll was a tool of Satan — the evil one — to lead the youth astray.

So, sadly, I didn’t get to listen to my favorite Eno album anymore after that.

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10.) In 1976, after having flamed out after one year of college, for lack of anything better to do I moved back to my parent’s house in the suburbs of New Jersey, to lick my wounds.

Up to this point the Beatles — and John Lennon in particular — had been my guiding light as sort of the role model of my youth. And they had been with me every step of the way. With each year bringing a new Beatles product — Beatles ’65 and Beatles ’66 and so on, almost like a model of a car that they up-dated every year. And then followed by new Beatles solo albums every year.

But then, by 1976, John Lennon had seemingly flamed out just like me. And disappeared from sight to lick his wounds, too.

So I bought this Lennon greatest hits compilation, Shaved Fish, which, at the time, seemed like the last of the line of John Lennon statements. A wrap-up. So as I listened to it I was also trying to make sense of what the Beatles experience had meant to me. And what it had amounted to. If anything.

And there was this druggy and soporific quality to a lot of the Lennon solo stuff. Compared to the brightness and sharpness of the Beatles stuff. So it really felt, at the point, like the whole Beatles thing had led to a big dead end.

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11.) In 1977 there was all this media hype about the Sex Pistols and “punk rock.” So I figured their record would be a big let-down, like MOST of those media fads turned out to be. This year’s Bay City Rollers, ya know?

But Never Mind the Bullocks turned out to be a great record and lived up to its billing as a bona fide classic. The songs are all surprisingly well-crafted, there’s a great guitar sound, and excellent sonics. And it was completely fresh and exciting. Suddenly it made most of the other rock bands sound flaccid and “corporate” and overly-contrived.

But more important to me, personally, was that Johnny Rotten was my age, 20. And after spending my entire life up to that point living in the shadow of the Sixties Generation and listening to nothing but Sixties re-treads like the Grateful Dead and the Jefferson Starship. Finally MY generation had a voice.

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12.) In 1980, age 23, I had the first real love affair of my life. I was just a boy trying to be a man, really, as the song goes. Anyways the woman I was madly in love with was a rock’n’roll freak like me. She would regularly scour CREEM and all the other rock magazine to be up to date on all the latest releases. That’s how hip she was. Plus she was sexy as hell. And she happened to buy the first U2 album, Boy, back in 1980. Before most people even knew who U2 were.

I immediately loved the album. Especially the haunting song I Will Follow (“These eyes make a circle when I call your name THESE EYES”). I still think its the best thing U2 ever did. And when I listen to it, I’m often transports me back in time to 1980, and I’m in her haunted house, sitting in her bedroom, listening to I Will Follow.

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13.) It’s funny how certain songs are like time capsules that take you back in time.

This one takes me back to the summer of 1982. I had moved back to Berkeley, age 26, with this burning desire to publish an underground punk rock newspaper. And i lived with my pal Duncan in his dusty little hotel room in the Berkeley Inn for three months while I worked on putting together the first issue.

And as I’d sit at Duncan’s desk working on the layout pages, I would often play this song, When Kings Come Home, as soothing background music. Its from the album Leo Kottke, Peter Lang, & John Fahey. I had never heard of any of them at the time. . . Duncan had this cheap little record player — one of those things that packs into a box with a little speaker built into it. And Duncan had a bunch of old records, mostly stuff he had bought in the ’60s. Simon & Garfunkle, Joan Baez, that kind of stuff.

It’s weird when I think about it, that I was working on making a punk rock newspaper while listening to this particular genre of music. Anyways, I haven’t listened to the song since the summer of 1982. But I finally managed to track it down on Youtube. So I’m mind-tripping my way back into Duncan’s little hotel room while I listen to this one, one more time. . . .

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14.) In 1984 I wrote a novel, JOURNEY THROUGH THE TENDERLOIN: A Pornographic Love Story (later published by Loompanics in 1996 as a novella in one of their Greatest Hits compilations). It’s the story of this young guy who falls in love with a beautiful young stripper, and the misadventures he has while living in the Tenderloin district of San Francisco. It was sort of a device for exploring the dynamics between romantic love and sexual attraction — love and lust — and how they often work at cross-purposes and how we often mistake one for the other.

The book was flawed (because, frankly, I didn’t know how to write a novel). But there are a couple of really good scenes. And a good screenwriter could probably turn it into a really good movie. And I always envisioned this song from the packed! album by Chrissie Hynde — When Will I See You — as the perfect theme song for the movie. It’s this wistful song about lost love, with nice, chiming guitar by Johnny Marrs of the Smiths. I always envisioned the song playing at the beginning of the movie, and at the end of the movie, and bits of it interspersed as background music during the course of the movie.

And maybe one day it will be. You never know in this life.

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15.) This CD, Telegraph Street Music, is significant to me because I recorded it myself. For many years I co-published a photo calendar of the Telegraph Avenue street people. So I thought, why don’t I record a CD of the street people, too. So people could hear them as well as see them. So that’s how this one came about.

It featured some of the prominent Telegraph street characters of the time, like Hate Man, Rick Starr, the Rare Man, etc. And some of the more talented street musicians like Michael Masley, Larry the Drummer, Anthony Bledsoe. Plus Ace Backwords. I’d describe the CD as, half interesting music and half interesting characters. It was the soundtrack of my life for the year of 1994. Literally.

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16.) This CD was significant to me because it was the last album ever bought. Back in 2009 I was working as a Telegraph street vendor, and I always had a big boombox at my vending table, and I’d regularly spin the radio dial in search of cool tunes. There was one hit song back then, Epiphany by Chrisette Michelle, that I really got me. This sort of good-love-gone-bad torch song. I used to listen to the local rap station (not my favorite genre of music) simply because they were the only station that played that song.

Finally, I broke down and bought the CD. And I used to smoke pot at my vending stand and play that song over and over and over (which I was wont to do when I was stoned). Until people would finally come up to me and say: “Ace, that’s a very nice song, but would you PLEASE play something else.” Ha ha. Everybody’s a critic.

I stopped buying records and CDs after that. Because, like most people, I mostly listened to music for free on the internet (It must be tough to try and run a record store these days). It’s amazing how you can find just about any song ever recorded on the internet. But nothing beats actually physically holding an album in your hands while you’re listening to it. That’s the best!

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The best concert I ever went to

 

Its impossible to pick the best concert I ever went to.  Because I’ve been to so many great concerts.  And they were great for so many different reasons.  So it’s impossible to compare them.  The Watkins Glenn Festival (Grateful Dead, the Band, Allman Bros.) in 1973.  Emerson, Lake and Palmer in 1974.  David Bowie “Diamond Dogs tour” in 1975.  Randy California and Spirit in 1975.  Fear at the Elite Club in 1982 . . . Just to name a few off the top of my head.

But the Sex Pistols show in San Francisco in 1978 really stands out, if only for the historical factor.  Not just because it was their final show before they broke up.  But because that tour ushered in the Punk Rock movement as a cultural force.  And also because, for the first time, it was somebody (Johnny Rotten) of my age (20) and my generation (high school class of 1974) that was up there on that stage.  https://acidheroes.wordpress.com/2014/05/09/the-sex-pistols/

Before that it had pretty much been an endless succession of ’60s retreads.  The Grateful Dead, the Jefferson Starship, the Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, on and on.  The ’60s cast a long shadow on my generation.   Especially in the fields of the arts and media — writing, music, punditry, etc.  There was a log-jam clogged up by the sheer bulk that was the ’60s generation.  They had gotten in there first, hogged up all the good positions, and my generation was left scrambling for whatever crumbs were left over.  It would be like that all throughout the ’70s and ’80s.

A typical example is a ’70s phenomenon like the TV comedy show  “Saturday Night Live.” A ’70s show, yes, but mostly starring John Belushi and all those guys — ’60s generation retreads, all.  And just as typical, when the original cast finally burned out and were replaced by comedians from the next generation, they would be lambasted and compared unfavorably with the “innovative” and “cutting edge” humor of the ’60s comedians.

It would be like that through my entire twenties.  This failure to live up to the greatness that was “the ’60s.”  The ’60s generation had gotten the ball rolling,  launching the revolution, expanding our consciousness, burning their bras and saving the environment.  Why, they had practically eradicated racism and brought about social justice.  But it was because of all the losers of my generation that the whole grand thing had sputtered out and collapsed.

The acid was always purer in the ’60s.  The pot was always stronger.  The love was always groovier.  And  the political activism was always more righteous (why, they burned their draft cards and stopped that war, man!!). By 1980 my generation had even been slurred with the derogatory term “yuppies.” In contrast to the  righteous “hippies” who were selfless in their devotion to creating a beautiful new society, curing the world of racism and sexism, as well as greed and world hunger, in between loving mother earth.  As compared to those greedy and self-centered “yuppies” who not only couldn’t care less about creating a better world of love and perfect harmony.  They just wanted to plug into the corrupt capitalist system like parasites, and exploit it for their own grubby personal gain.  Man!  We were the narcissistic “me generation.”  As opposed to the ’60s generation that I suppose saw themselves as the “we generation.”  Their altruism and all-round goodness knew no bounds.  At least according to the endless press releases they kept issuing attesting to the greatness that was themselves.

Even today,  you could fill entire libraries with nothing but the memoirs from the members of the ’60s generation.  Reminiscing fondly on those incredible days. Their heroic struggles, their incredible innovations that were nothing short of stunning in their brilliance compared to the dirtclods of the generations that preceded them and followed them.  Followed by the final chapter that detailed their stints in various re-hab centers where they heroically fought to avoid the dismal fate of self-destruction that had destroyed so many others from their lame-ass generation.  Followed by the up-lifting epilogue where we’re giving the opportunity to learn the many great lessons that the ’60s generation has to offer us.  The end.

So yeah, when Johnny Rotten hit that stage with his mockery and vitriol and sneering  at the pompous excesses that defined the ’60s, I could only think: Yeah!  About time!

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The Sex Pistols

 

“NO FUN!! NO FUN!! NO FUN!!”

Recently, I’ve heard different people speculating about the Sex Pistols last concert at Winterland in January, 1978.    Mostly from people who weren’t at the show.  Speculating about whether it was boring or if the Pistols sucked or if the whole thing had been over-rated.

“Ya ever get the feeling you’ve been cheated??”

Myself, I loved every minute of the show.  It was one of those rare times when you knew you were taking part in history while it was happening.  Plus, in my opinion, the Sex Pistols were way UNDER-rated, then and now, as rock musicians.  The songs on “Never Mind the Bollocks” are almost all tightly written, with built-in hooks and exciting sonic textures.  To hear some people talk, you’d think it had just been a bunch of yobs screaming and bashing about.

One thing that might surprise some people.  In my memory, I only remember maybe about 5% of the audience actually looking like “punk rockers.”  And they were mostly in the front rows, screaming and spitting and pogo-dancing and throwing shit at the stage.  But most of the rest of the crowd looked like any other Winterland rock concert crowd of the ’70s.   If you hadn’t of known better, it could’ve been a Huey Lewis & the News concert.  In fact the San Francisco punk scene was pretty small at the time.  I’d guess maybe a couple hundred people and only a hand full of bands (though that would all start to change rapidly after the Sex Pistols show).  The Mabuhay — one of the few punk venues at the time — was a surprisingly small club.

One of my oddest memories of the show:  In between bands I was hanging out in the lobby, looking at this big Grateful Dead trivia posters that was hanging in the hallway.  One of those “How many Dead song titles can you spot from the pictures?” kind of deals.  Anyways, this guy passes by me — he had long hair and a beard just like me at the time.  And he says, with sort of an expression of bafflement and exasperation (like “What is this world coming to?!!” kind of tone):

“What the hell are two Deadheads like us doing at a Sex Pistol show?”

Ha ha. Good question.   Ahh, memories. . .

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Brushes with Greatness

First published November 11, 2002

John Lydon in the early 80s

Never mind the bollocks, its Johnny Rotten!!!

This chatroom posed the topic: “Have you ever had an encounter with a celebrity?” So I wrote this:

I met Johnny Rotten of the Sex Pistols back in 1982. He was in San Francisco plugging his latest PIL tour, so I got invited — along with the other stiffs of the working rock press — to a “Press Conference” at the swanky, ultra-trendy 181 Club in the heart of the Tenderloin. I showed up with my crazy girlfriend and we took a seat in the back of the club.

True to his name, Rotten kept the assembled throng of reporters and media-hipsters waiting for an hour before he made his entrance (I flashed on his classic quote to the audience at the Sex Pistols last gig at Winterland: “We’re not here to amuse YOU. You’re here to amuse US.”). Roadies and pseudo-technicians spent an hour tinkering with the microphones and the sound system, as if they were getting it just right, while the assembled rock press nervously drank their free drinks and ate from the free hors d’oeuvres and stared at the empty press conference table up on the empty stage.

https://i2.wp.com/www.fodderstompf.com/IMAGES/press/brave3.jpgFinally, Johnny Rotten and the band strode up to the table and sat down in front of their microphones and fielded questions from the audience. Of course the microphones didn’t work, or were purposely turned down at low volume. The press kept screaming at PIL: “We can’t hear you! Speak up! Our tape recorders aren’t picking up the answers!” Which was duly ignored by the band, who continued to drone on their replies in barely-heard whispers. Finally, one frustrated reporter screamed out:

“Why did you call this press conference?”

To which Johnny Rotten replied: “So I wouldn’t have to talk to you individually.” We all heard that one loud and clear.

A woman English disc jockey chastised Rotten as a “sell-out” for charging so much for PIL tickets, which, to her thinking “betrayed the whole idea of what punk started out as.”

To which Rotten scoffed: “Do you get paid for your radio show?”

“No, I do it for the love of it,” she said.

“Then you, my dear, are a turd,” he said. “We do this for the money.”

My crazy girlfriend called out her question: “God and dog are 3-letter words. Can you think of any others?”   Johnny Rotten said: “Huh?”  (which now that I think of it was the correct answer)

Mostly PIL sat up there smirking at us with contempt, like they were the super-cool in-crowd, and we — the cream of the Bay Area rock press — were lower class dirt-clods trying to crash their hip party. They had their rock star cheekbones, and the latest in English rock-star thrift-store fashions. And of course we loved it, ate up the whole act, because we were all star-fukkers so of course we wanted our rock stars above us. The whole event had the feel of a weird performance art piece and we were all playing out our roles in it. Public Image Limited.

Finally, Johnny Rotten and PIL put an end to the whole farce and suddenly stood up and walked off backstage. Press Conference over. And the reporters staggered off to try and make sense of their barely-audible tape-recordings.

I went backstage and interviewed the bass player. He said: “The one thing Johnny Rotten really hates is when reporters come up to him and immediately start asking him questions about the Sex Pistols.” So that’s the first thing I asked him when he suddenly showed up in front of me. He looked exactly like Johnny Rotten — which was disconcerting because it was sort of like seeing a cartoon character come to life. Like talking to Popeye or Mickey Mouse. There is something other-worldly about celebrities; people we mostly relate to as fleeting images on our TV screens or on newsprint. To see them in flesh-and-blood is jarring. Like seeing a ghost. Johnny Rotten talked in an ultra-serious, grave, undertaker’s voice, almost a whisper. Something ghoulish about the guy, like a grave-digger. I showed him the cover of Twisted Image #2 which featured a cartoon I had drawn of him choking Ronald Reagan in front of the White House while Sid Vicious and a gang of punks rampaged. He whined in seeming pain when I tried to pin him down on his politics, as if I was trying to trap him.

“That wouldn’t be FAIR! I know NOTHING about that!” he whined.

“Well, you have an effect on your audience, on people’s minds,” I said.

“That would be the point, wouldn’t it?” he scoffed.

“I was just wondering what effect you’re trying to have,” I said.

At that point, Johnny Rotten went on a harangue against “record companies,” which he was apparently against. I asked him about Sid Vicious and he said, “Sid bought into his public image. Originally his name was a joke because he was such a wimp.”

My crazy girlfriend was off somewhere in the bathroom of the swank 181 Club, choosing that moment to wash her hair in the sink, for some inexplicable reason. So I left Rotten to track her down. We were all kind of crazy back then. Punk Rock 1982. It was exploding all over the place at the moment, infecting the high schools and everywhere. And somehow Johnny Rotten was at the center of the whole thing. It was interesting to get to meet him. He always reminded me of a skinny, surly orangutan, or maybe Gollum from “Lord of the Rings.” He wasn’t my hero or anything, but he was one of the first people my age (19 at the time of the Winterland gig), from my generation, to get up in front of the media microphone and make a statement (before the Sex Pistols it was all post-60s retreads). So I identified with him on that level. It was neat to meet him. I wrote up the interview in Twisted Image #3, a punk-art tabloid I was publishing at the time. And now, it’s ancient history in a weird sort of way. But back then, it was just one more surreal conversation in a backroom with a famous stranger.