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Warhol, Wrestling, Muppets

This review was originally published a few years ago in The Classical Mess, a newsletter I was doing on Substack until I discovered they were giving money to very bad people.

Debbie Harry has always seemed remarkably well-adjusted considering her global renown. This image is not shattered by her 2019 memoir Face It. Harry unfolds the road map of her life and nothing, it seems, has driven her off sanity’s edge. Not sour business or lost love or discovering that world famous drummer Buddy Rich was one of the two 40-something creeps who followed her home at the age of 12 after making their intentions clear at a nearby lobster shack.

Harry writes about that mortifying episode and several other very traumatic incidents like they’re just wacky family stories to be told after a few drinks around the holidays. Is she too well-adjusted? Millions of people cope this way — downplaying visceral horror with a laugh or wry comment. Maybe she is truly unaffected. Either way, it doesn’t prevent Harry from coming across as a relatable, endearing human in Face It. Often it feels like the only thing separating us from her is we don’t own paintings of ourselves by Andy Warhol.

What are Face It’s revelations for the casual Deb head? Harry “made it” once with David Johansen back in the day. She admits she “was never a Muppet fan” and only went on “The Muppet Show” because Dizzy Gillespie had been a guest (Harry offers praise for Jim Henson, though, whom she labels “a big pervert, in the best possible way”). Also, Debbie Harry once enjoyed an Edgar Winter concert.

Then you have this fascinating aside about Lydia Lunch, that high priestess of the underground, and her devotion to Bret “The Hitman” Hart. Lunch, Harry, and Harry’s longtime beau Chris Stein were all wrestling fans and used to attend matches together. “Lydia Lunch was hot for Bret big time,” Harry writes, noting that “heads turned [and] eyes stared” when Lunch began screaming in her “earth-shatteringly loud” voice for Bret when he was on the card. I wonder if Bret Hart ever heard Teenage Jesus.

The back half of Face It starts to feel like a sprint to cram in every notable event from Harry’s life during the 21st Century. Now maybe you understand why Richard Hell halted his life story I Dreamed I Was a Very Clean Tramp around 1984. Harry’s work is more humane, though, and more human, so we bounce along, happily adjusting.

Gord

The first thing that comes to mind when I think about legendary Canadian punk band Teenage Head is the guitar playing of Gord Lewis. I love to hear him blaring like a siren during the opening moments of “Tearin’ Me Apart.” I love the romantic growl of his power chords across their debut LP. Everybody in Teenage Head played their asses off and the material couldn’t be written any better, but there was crazy magic in Gord’s style.

It was very upsetting to learn this week not just that Lewis had died but that he was apparently murdered by his own son Jonathan. Sounds like those in the know assumed something like this was going to happen. Gord’s brother Brian has spoken of mounting tensions between the father and son in recent weeks and that they were both “dealing with their own demons.”

Rest in peace, Gord. Thanks for the music. I crank the Head your honor.

Talking About Heads

This article debuted in January on The Classical Mess, a newsletter I was creating on Substack until I found out they were doing bad stuff.

The offstage rancor between David Byrne and the rest of Talking Heads has become just as legendary and captivating as their music. I cannot tell you what reverberates through my mind more often — the brilliant quirk of “Once in a Lifetime” or bassist Tina Weymouth pushing the rumor that lead singer Byrne once killed a child “using voodoo.” Drummer Chris Frantz, also Weymouth’s husband of many decades, doesn’t address witchcraft in his 2020 memoir Remain in Love but he does swat at Byrne more often than he praises him. Reading between the lines, I see a guy who is hurting for a warmth and a friendship from Byrne that will never come. Maybe his wife hasn’t told him about the voodoo yet.

It’s probably disheartening to have such a fruitful creative connection with a person who simultaneously cannot or refuses to connect on a more human level. The flip side of Frantz’s Talking Heads coin is the cosmic bond he’s shared with Weymouth, a union that has clearly helped him cope with whatever traumas life has delivered. Weymouth and Frantz don’t need Byrne, personally or professionally. When this wife and husband debuted their side project Tom Tom Club in 1982 it actually eclipsed Talking Heads in popularity (Tom Tom’s upbeat single “Genius of Love” earned gold sales and a Rich Little parody, two things Talking Heads had yet to achieve).

Crusty “Saturday Night Live” heads like myself might be wondering if Remain in Love mentions early ‘80s cast member Charles Rocket at all. Yes, Frantz talks about Rocket, whom he knew during his college years at RISD. There’s a palpable affection when the author writes about his late friend Charlie and the performances he gave as singer for a group called the Fabulous Motels. The Motels did a spoof of “Sweet Soul Music” where the refrain was “Do you like big men, y’all? Big strong men, y’all?”

Rocket’s music career extended to include a guest shot on Mesopotamia by the B-52’s. Frantz briefly touches on this release in the text but only to imply that David Byrne’s production made it one of that group’s worst performing discs. No shot at Byrne is too obscure or petty. Frantz even takes a swipe at some drawings a young David made that Byrne’s parents had hanging up in their home. I’m sorry he hurt you, Chris.

Byrne will most likely do his best to ignore the fact that Remain in Love even exists. I think he should film himself reading the entire book in real time and release it as his next art installation. That would be fascinating. Would he agree that it was a mistake to end his relationship with Twyla Tharp?

Another Age?

This article debuted last year on The Classical Mess, a newsletter I was creating on Substack until I found out they were doing bad stuff.

Anyone with a heart and a brain can tell you America is a land of disillusion, a land of embitterment, a land of anguish. There are systematic problems we refuse to address, even when the fix is simple, because we’re indoctrinated to be racist, selfish, and lazy. So the American experience involves grim acceptance. We try to ease our hopelessness with irony. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t.

You can hear all this on the 1969 Phil Ochs LP Rehearsals For Retirement, the acclaimed folk singer’s response to the dark tumult we stumbled through in 1968. The revolution was over, Ochs felt, a point driven home by the picture of his own grave on Retirement’s cover. Here’s a man resigned to an acrid fate of racial injustice, state violence, foreign wars, and toxic masculinity. Ochs doesn’t let that destroy his beautiful, compelling voice, though, and he hasn’t given up entirely.

“So I pledge allegiance against the flag and the fall for which it stands,” he declares amidst the simmer of “Another Age.” “I’ll raze it if I can.”

Phil Ochs had already drifted away from pure folk by this point. In fact, Rehearsals For Retirement was his third foray into standard pop and rock arrangements with producer Larry Marks (better known as the original singer of the “Scooby-Doo, Where Are You!” theme). What the pair accomplish on Retirement is masterful, from the delicate piano lilt of “The Doll House” to the hammy brass that accents “The World Began in Eden and Ended in Los Angeles.” There simply isn’t a false move.

Unfortunately, a fourth collaboration between Ochs and Marks wasn’t in the cards. Rehearsals For Retirement tanked and Ochs moved on to the bizarre final stage of his career. He began emulating the rock n’ roll stars of the 1950s in an attempt to, as he put it, “[get] Elvis Presley to become Che Guevara.” Fans felt bemused or betrayed by the singer’s glitzier attire and Buddy Holly throwbacks. Ochs watched his career evaporate as personal problems seized his life. He hanged himself in April 1976.

The tragedy of this concluding chapter makes Rehearsals For Retirement’s emotionally raw title track all the more heartbreaking. “The days grow longer for smaller prizes, I feel a stranger to all surprises,” Ochs quietly laments. “You can have them, I don’t want them…I wear a different kind of garment in my rehearsals for retirement.”

It’s a true indictment of our nation that the social and political themes of Rehearsals For Retirement continue to be relevant 50 years after its release. Maybe in 100 years we’ll have evolved. I’m not holding my breath.

Drippings With Goo

I considered myself a pretty serious student of Ghostbusters before I started work on this book and now I can’t believe how much I’m learning. There’s still a year of labor to be done but I think the end result will really be something special. My fingers are crossed that all the ghost heads will agree.

By the way, I’m still trying to get to Manhattan to complete a leg of research. If you’d like to help, check out my GoFundMe. Donate enough scratch and you’ll receive a signed copy of this yet-to-be-titled volume when it’s complete. Thanks for even considering; there are more worthy causes for sure.

My zine Idiot Time is on hiatus for the moment while I focus on the book. If you’re thirsty for new writings, I’ve started penning the occasional article for Hard Noise. It’s a nonfiction offshoot of The Hard Times. Here’s one I wrote about the Reagan Youth song in Airheads. Here’s an interview I did with a former Dead Kennedy. And this one’s about Wendy O. Williams and Kiss.

I’m getting married in December. My heart is full of love and I can’t wait to be a wife guy. For my bachelor party I will go to a deli and eat a sandwich.

Until the next update, stay fresh, stay funky.

Come Inside And Read You Can’t Come Inside

“I bet you have a lot of great stories about writing that Misfits book,” people occasionally remark, and they’re right.

Here now are those stories, collected in one easy-to-look at PDF. Who was nice / cool to me while I was making This Music Leaves Stains? Who wasn’t? What was the book tour like? Also, selected pieces of Misfits lore deleted from Stains that you might not be overly familiar with. Please, come inside and read You Can’t Come Inside.

If you want to absorb this thing for free, be my guest. If you want to give me money for it, wow, that’d be fucking cool. Think up an amount and Paypal or Venmo jgreenejr at gmail dot com.

Click the cover image or click this –> You Can’t Come Inside

The photograph on page 42 was taken by Rob Farren, whose name was accidentally omitted from the credits. James Greene, Jr. regrets this error. James Greene, Jr. also regrets the typos on pages 6 and 14.

Thanks for indulging me. I love you all.

OMG, It’s The Brave Punk World 2017 Promo Event Schedule

Come see me read from, answer questions about, and sign copies of my latest book, Brave Punk World: The International Rock Underground From Alerta Roja to Z-Off, at the following venues. No, the cat will not be there.

11/16 – Quimby’s Bookstore (Brooklyn, NY) 8PM
11/24 – Books at Park Place (St. Petersburg, FL) 6PM
12/09 – Shakespeare & Co (Missoula, MT) 1PM

This is it, folks. No other live dates this year (no one else would have me!), so please come if you can. I honestly genuinely wanna interact with you all.

Like The Kraken Before It, Brave Punk World Is Released

My new book, Brave Punk World: The International Rock Underground From Alerta Roja to Z-Off, is now officially out, released as of October 15, 2017. It’s 350-ish pages exploring the history and development of punk rock music in regions outside the United Kingdom & United States, regions such as Asia, the U.S.S.R., Eastern Europe, Western Europe, Africa, Central America, South America, North America, and Oceania. Don’t worry, there are pictures.

This book is a labor of love I spent the past couple of years laborin’ on almost every minute of every day and I’m very excited for it to be out and potentially in your hands. So go get it at Amazon or Rowman dot com. Or some other place, if you find it there. Barnes & Noble? Barnes & Barnes?

Good news if you live in New York City or the surrounding area: at 8 P.M. on November 16, Quimby’s Bookstore in Brooklyn will be hosting yours truly for a Brave Punk World reading and signing. You will also be able to ask me questions, questions which I will answer. A real Q&A!

More promo events to be announced soon, I hope, in places not unlike New York City (and maybe a few very unlike New York City). Yeah, I know I said I wouldn’t be doing live public appearances for this book, but guess what? Things changed! So stay tuned!

ALSO, if you contributed to the Brave Punk World research fund last year on a rewards level (one or more autographed books), your rewards are coming to you in the next two to four weeks. Thank you so much for your patience and thanks to every single person who donated, rewards level or not.

Hey, big fat thanks to everyone who did anything to support or encourage this book and my writing in general. Wouldn’t be here without youse.

Happy reading!

Here’s The Brave Punk World Pre-Order (& Other Info) Post

The hardback edition of my new book, Brave Punk World: The International Rock Underground From Alerta Roja to Z-Off, is now available for pre-order. CLICK RIGHT HERE to access the magical pre-order page and use the secret wizard’s code RLFANDF30 to get 30% off list price.

Brave Punk World (due for release this October) explores the evolution of punk rock outside the United Kingdom and United States, tracking how the genre took shape in regions like Asia, the U.S.S.R. and Eastern Bloc, Western Europe, Africa, Central and South America, North America (yes, there are countries other than the United States in North America!), and Oceania. It’s over 320 pages long and even offers fifteen pictures. You know how many pictures are in The Grapes of Wrath? Zero!

Is every single band from every single country covered in Brave Punk World? Of course not. That book would be six times as long. Unfortunately neither I nor the publisher could commit to that. Despite this handicap, advanced word is positive. Rolf Yngve Uggen, star rocker of Lust-O-Rama and Astroburger, signed off on the following pull quote: “I absolutely inhaled this book! [The] writing is filled with enthusiastic taste and warmth and fascinating tales of anti-establishment action.”

Yes, my friends, hot buttered anti-establishment action. There’s also sex, drugs, rock n’ roll, murder, suicide, robots, bluejeans, bowling, saran wrap, and one “CHiPs” reference. Larry Wilcox, I wish I knew how to quit you.

So there you have it. Pre-order Brave Punk World. Or don’t. It’s your life.

No Recess!: The (Online) (Music) Magazine (Pic Unrelated)

A few very esteemed colleagues and I have started a new publication dedicated to the wonders of melody and measure, recorded and otherwise, called No Recess! (it’s a more concise Nirvana reference than We Hate Ourselves And Want To Die). I’m contributing on the weekly tip. My first three joints:

a thing about ’90s grunge n’ roll band O-Matic

a thing about the scoring of various Dracula films

a thing about Paul Shaffer’s nutso solo albums

Don’t just read my junk, though, read every savory morsel of No Recess! because everyone writing for it is Actually Good™. Thanks for your interest and see you in the “well, they seemed funny when I was six” pages.