Tag Archives: punk

Nirvana’s ‘Nevermind’ – has it really been 20 years?


I remember the first time I heard “Smells Like Teen Spirit” like it was yesterday. I was driving on a little country road with my brother, listening to a rock ‘n’ roll station out of San Antonio and this strange song blasted out of my speakers. I was stunned. I didn’t know whether I loved it or hated it. I couldn’t even say exactly what kind of music it was, couldn’t make out all the words. I just knew it was powerful. And it was the first time in ages I had heard anything like real rebellion in a rock song.

It arrived just in time. I had little or no interest in what the top 40 pop stations were playing and had spent the last 5 years or so getting sick and tired of what passed for heavy metal.

Growing up in rural radio hell, metal and hard rock were about as “alternative” as I could get. I heard new wave in the early ’80s and liked it, but punk rock completely passed me by. There were no stations that played it. I asked a classmate in high school once what punk rock was and he thought Kiss might be a punk band — way off. None of us had a clue.

Hard rock and metal seemed rebellious to me at the time, because the songs flouted the norms of the day and because you had to get in the orbit of San Antonio or Corpus Christi to hear it, or hang out with stoner friends. If the preachers didn’t like AC/DC or Van Halen they had to be cool.

Over the years though, rock ‘n’ roll got more and more mainstream and just didn’t satisfy. All the songs about partying and chicks started to come across as bland and boring, awful ballads began to predominate. At some point it became clear that the main point of rock ‘n’ roll had become, not melody, not attitude, but commerce.

I was always jealous of my mom’s generation. Even when it wasn’t obvious, the music back then had a rebellious streak. Songs protested the Vietnam War and mainstream culture, promoted free love and hinted at drug use and pushed musical boundaries. I used to love digging my uncle’s old albums.

Unbeknownst to me, there was a whole class of exciting music being created, from the ’80s through the ’90s. Punk, hardcore, British and American postpunk, industrial. There were bands that pushed the envelope — The Pixies, Mission of Burma, The Meat Puppets, The Minutemen, Butthole Surfers. The thing is, it was all underground. I never heard any of it until years later.

Nirvana took all that stuff that had been bubbling under the surface and created something that was at once familiar and full of hooks — and subversive as hell. Their music was powerful stuff and somehow it managed to crack the mainstream. It changed the way I listened to music, and it changed the music business. Suddenly bands like Pearl Jam, Soundgarden and Alice in Chains ruled the airwaves. It made the ’90s into an exciting time for music.

Nothing good lasts forever, alas. Singer Kurt Cobain fought his demons and lost, killing himself in April 1994. And gradually the grunge music revolution ended. Music became less and less exciting and the bands less creative. It was about commerce once again. It’s a shame Kurt wasn’t able to keep it together. His heroin addiction got the best of him and I don’t think he ever came to terms with his popularity. Trying to do something different and underground and having it suddenly turn huge time and again. Wanting to be a rebel and at the same time be a rock star. That plus the heroin — mostly the heroin — did him in.

It’s a damn shame, but I think if he hadn’t been so tormented, he wouldn’t have made the music he did.

We’ve been waiting a long time for another revolutionary figure of his caliber to turn up in music. There is a lot of awesome music out there, but is any band or musician likely to turn everything on its head the way Nirvana did? Is it even possible with the music industry’s current state? Not sure. I’m definitely open to the possibility. In the meantime I reckon I’ll keep digging around in the underground. That’s what gave us Nirvana in the first place, and where the most interesting art and culture has always been.

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Filed under indie, indie rock, music, postpunk, Uncategorized

Malcolm McLaren RIP (I guess…)

Talk about a dilemma. How do you pay “tribute” to someone you basically despise? How can someone be despicable yet worthy of respect all at once? I’m not sure how, but if anyone fits into that realm of ambivalence, it’s Malcolm McLaren, who died yesterday at the age of 64. He’s best known as the manager for the Sex Pistols, but he managed a number of other bands as well, and became a public figure of sorts by manipulating the press and people in the music industry. I developed a pretty strong dislike for the man after reading Rip It Up and Start Again, by Simon Reynolds, a book about the British postpunk movement. The way he used and dominated the people he was supposed to be managing was just disgusting. Bow Wow Wow and Adam Ant in particular.

And yet… I find I still owe the man. Without him we wouldn’t have had the Sex Pistols. He put them together. His DIY attitude infused their sound. Even if you don’t like them, you probably like one or more of the countless bands they influenced. Maybe he was a jerk, but he did something important. Might as well give him credit.

Probably the best thing I can do is link to this article, in which Johnny Rotten and others tell what McLaren meant to them: Johnny Rotten Pays Tribute To Malcolm McLaren

This quote from Duran Duran’s John Taylor was pretty apt:

“Duran Duran would have never existed. Before Malcolm being a musician in England meant you had to read music, and clock up years of dues and motorway miles, hours of practice and play interminable solos wherever possible. Malcolm’s attitude changed everything. Without him, no punk rock revolution, no ‘Anarchy in The UK,’ no ‘Never Mind The Bollocks,’ no Sex Pistols, no Clash….He was a true artist, and a continual restless source of inspiration. There will never be anyone quite like him again.”

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Filed under commentary, punk

The Venopian Solitude – unique voice from the global village

We are definitely living in a global village. If you don’t believe it, give a listen to The Venopian Solitude, one of my favorite recent discoveries. I don’t think there could’ve been a musician like her before the net. If there had been, I certainly never would’ve found her, which would’ve been a damn shame.

The Venopian Solitude is a one-woman band whose sole member is Suiko Takahara, a young lady in Malaysia (Suiko is another pseudonym. She’s not really Japanese — she’s just very fond of Japanese culture). I was very surprised to find out just how young — 18 last time I checked, just about to head off to college. Based on her music, I expected to find someone a lot more experienced. Her voice has a nonchalant sophistication that’s well beyond her years. She has a slight vibrato on some of her songs, which I like a lot.

Suiko refers to her music as anti-folk. I’m not 100 percent sure what anti-folk means or if her music truly fits, but her philosophy basically comes down to composition over execution. She doesn’t want to be a virtuoso. She wants to make songs that express what’s in her heart and mind. It strikes me as almost a DIY punk rock ethic. Her songs could be described as loose, at times sloppy, always charming.  She plays guitar, ukelele and other instruments and records her music on a laptop herself, laying down tracks and sometimes harmonizing with herself. Some of her songs are catchy and I liked them instantly. Others turned out to be growers. She generally sings in English, but sometimes sings in Malay, or other languages. Her songs are witty, sad, joyful, funny, sometimes challenging. Her songs on the web are usually accompanied by little doodles – more DIY ethic, more charm.

She has a delightful self-deprecating sense of humor and is a lot of fun to talk to (best way to do that would probably be through her MySpace page, or her artist page on Uvumi. Also make sure to visit her blog. It’s interesting to see what’s on her mind.). She doesn’t seem to realize just how gifted she is and keeps acting surprised at how much people like her songs. I think she’s starting to get the idea, because she keeps putting out new songs and making them available — and they keep getting better. She has a real knack for songwriting.

Suiko has made quite a few albums available on Bandcamp. You could spend a very long time listening to them all, an exercise I encourage. If you find some of her songs a bit challenging, just give them time. They’re bound to take over your brain sooner or later. Here are a few of my favorite Venopian Solitude songs from different albums (or maybe they’re EPs?):

P.S. Suiko informs me that she’s actually 19, going on 20 in December. Positively elderly.

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Filed under experimental, indie, indie pop, indie rock, one to watch, Uncategorized, world music

Awesome indie punk rock by the Ettes

This is one of my favorite finds on the old T61. I love the energy of this band from LA. Very creative video too. Love the frenetic Wild West theme:

Here’s another interesting video:

They have a bunch of other great songs and are touring heavily. Check out their MySpace page and see if they’re coming to your city. (Looks like they’ll be in my neck of the woods for SXSW, but I most likely won’t be there this year.)

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Filed under indie rock, video