Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Fix them margaritas; we're heading straight to hell

The Band of Holy Joy - Leaves that Fall in the Spring
I've heard of this band forever but until now I don't think I've ever listened to them, because I would have never forgotten singer Johnny Brown's somewhat-tune-indifferent, emotionally charged delivery. I still wouldn;t have were it not for a mention by Irvine Welsh in his Living with Music list on Paper Cuts. This fits in nicely with the Some Bizarre stuff I really liked in my high school years. Had I been hipper, I would have recognized the cabaret explosions of Marc Almond and early The The as camp.

Where I lived, Bon Jovi and Molly Hatchet were having a frost giant battle on hearts and T-shirts of my fellow teenagers, whose souls stood to be won by the strongest, so the forced emasculation of new wave, embracing that which was most feared by a non-jock teenager, was a refreshing anathema to all that. This record sounds like a hyper-talented theatre geek going berserk on the disused organ in his grandma's equally disused front room. In other words, a lot like Destroyer.

The Band of Holy Joy also happens to be one of the best band names ever.

The The - Soul Mining
The The is the other best band name ever.

While I dig Matt Johnson's sodium bulb noir from Dusk and Mind Bomb and so on, this post-disco monster is his finest hour. Twitchy new wave and paranoid soul collide on his tape machine as Johnson Shreiks out things

Another year older and what have I done? My aspirations have shriveled in the sun

It's not all squeals at the human condition though. There are sweet inspirational numbers like "This is the Day" and "Uncertain Smile," and the end of "Giant" is, along with the end of Ministry's "Twitch," the reason drum machines were invented.

I wish he's do an unplugged version of this album. Or come to Baton Rouge (maybe he's always wanted to see a real zydeco band or something, "Perfect" has a whiff of accordion funk about it in the opening) and play the whole thing All Tomorrow's Parties style. Or I would be satisfied if he did it in Berlin, the place were industrial soul flowers the brightest, and some hipster music magazine would fly me over there to cover it and interview him. Or 33 1/3 would hear my plea that they need to have me write a book about Soul Mining.

Any of those options would work.

The The's finest hour, though is "Flesh and Bones" off the stellar Some Bizarre compilation...

Various Artists - If You Can't Please Yourself, You Cant Please Your Soul
mostly because of this knuckleduster couplet

I jump out of bed, had my first cigarette
It makes my body feel sick but helped my mind relax

The cranes are moving on the skyline

And the water is dripping from the kitchen tap

one day, I will pen the quintessential industrial soul coming of age novel and I will title it The Cranes are Moving on the Skyline and the Water is Dripping From the Kitchen Tap. Sure, its a pretentious title, but those were pretentious times.

This compilation had a huge impact on me. There is a yet unwritten chapter with the working title of "Faggots, Satanists, Mystics" in my book revolving around it. I guess I am writing a draft of that right now. I bought Please Yourself at the Sound Shop in the Mall when I saw throbbing on a shelf over the import section, sovereign over a grab bag of overpriced albums by British metal obscurities and two Scraping Foetus Off the Wheel records. None of us could bring ourselves to fork over the $15 for Scraping Foetus Off the Wheel, sure as we were that a band with this obnoxious a title had the answer. Scott talked me into buying this compilation expressly so he could tape it. Scraping Foetus did the trick with their electro-anti-gospel rave up "The Only Good Christian is a Dead Christian" (with its contested lyric fix them margaritas, we're headed straight to hell in the chorus) and the The The song, but the real deviant winner is Marc (Soft Cell) Almond's "Love Among the Ruined." A click of ice in a glass, and drug addled industrial Dean Martin slides into gems like

I could be a walking one-man career
For some psychiatrist, it's true
I'm open to everyone, unique to few

I'm a fan of Almond's brand of high theatricality because he embodies the persona of the wretched wastrel so well. When he tried to make he transition to mature artist, like on his Jacque Brel albums and Enchanted, he lost me. I am not looking for Liza Minelli patting herself on the back for surviving, I want Sex Dwarf and Mother Fist. I want the guy that understood decadence deeply enough to have "My cup runneth over" tattooed on his back in Dutch.

I will say, his withered voice on Current 93's Black Ships Ate the Sky was rather endearing. Almond had just recovered from a motorcycle accident, and his strained rendition of the prayer "Iduema" had the autumnal grace of Chet baker's late-life recordings. And that might be a good angle for this angler, but I will always think of the pale pansy on a piano in "Love Among the Ruined" calling some jilted lover "a grease-burger, a sleeze-slimer, eyeliner whiner!"

Public Image Limited - Second Edition aka Metal Box
But to really get a grasp on industrial soul, there are two albums you need to listen to, this being one of them. Second Edition was Johnny Rotten's doped out take on dub and disco, coming off the collapse of the sex pistols and everything they were poised to represent. I say poised, because I've never been convinced that the band themselves ever represented anything. Partially because of the personalities involved, and partially because no band really represents anything - they are groups of people that latched on to something they could do to a degree of satisfaction, and it is up to the listener to make something out of it.

I had this same experience when I did art shows. Occasionally people would see something in my paintings and want to talk about it, and I find that they usually liked something for completely reasons unrelated entirely to my intention. And I mean, why would there be a connection? A painting is a flat thing covered in paint, an album a disc containing the remnants of a rather complex recording, editing, marketing, packaging process. The products that lie between the artist and the viewer rarely have a stickiness that binds the two in any real way.

So who really knows if there is any soul intended on Second Edition. But I can hear it, pushing through the gray sidewalk cracks like a weed, snaking up trellises of razor wire layed out by guitarist Keith Levine and bassist Jah Wobble, trying to find some sun in the eternal cloudy twilight of early 80's England.

If you haven't read Jon Savage's England is Dreaming, quit wasting your time here and go read it.

Iggy Pop - The Idiot
This is the other. You might sqeal, "What about Bowie??" but people are always squealing that. Bowie borrowed heavily from everywhere just like Bob Dylan did, crafting ladders out of society's detritus to get to the roof and board that helicopter waiting. Industrial soul was all about the crappy apartment, the dense city coiling around it like a boa constrictor and the nervous ineffectual inhabitants, exiting all those stairwells and walking all those streets and suffering their way to joy against the chill of the Cold War, and Iggy Pop understood this much better than Bowie ever did.

Iggy was from Detroit, a city the once held the keys to capitalistic enlightenment, only to slide off the pedestal for decades even until today, where gardens and farms are starting to overtake the empty lots reversing the agrarian -> industrial progression that we bet the farm on to begin with. One wonders how long before hunting and gathering sees a comeback.

PiL and Iggy are both entombed in ice on these respective records, but the twinkle of swing, the recombinant zombie hip sway is central to both records, offering signs of life that reveled in the now rather than clung to manufactured nostalgia (a wonderful example of which is the perennial appeal of Northern Soul, something Marc Almond was crafty enough to swipe with Soft Cell's cover of "Tainted Love" a minor Northern soul hit for Gloria James in 1964) That sway gave the tear-eyed soul survivors of the industrial 80's something to hold on to, giving them a brief moment to fix them margaritas before heading straight to hell.

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