Billy Bragg in The Guardian: “whisper it … but the British invented Americana”
Archive for the ‘Music from Canada’s Bow-tie’ category
Jon Savage in The Guardian: “Cleveland’s early punk pioneers: from cultural vacuum to creative explosion”
Interstellar Rodeo, the Six Shooter Records 2nd annual Edmonton music festival, was this past weekend. The show wrapped up with a brilliant set by Steve Earle and the Dukes. The only other time I’ve seen Earle play was at the Ottawa Bluesfest in 2009.
Both times, Earle sang wonderful songs, and he also told amazing stories.
When I saw him in Ottawa, it was on a side-stage by the water, with drunk dudes in their early 20s in matching polo shirts and khakis yelling out for him to play “Copperhead Road.” Earle told them he’d play whatever he wanted. Over the noise of much of the crowd having isolated conversations, Earle talked about how his nephew had broken his arm falling off his bike. The emergency room doctors wouldn’t help the kid until Earle “wired down cash” to pay for it. The health care debate was a hot topic at the time, and Earle made it clear what side he was on: he was with the everyday folks, hit by hard times.
The stories were similar at Interstellar Rodeo, but the scope widened further. Folks were listening, and nobody yelled out for “Copperhead Road.” There was a guy who had had a few drinks, but he just sang along with all the songs.
Earle talked about the struggle of New Orleans since Katrina, and the inability of the most powerful country in the world to take care of its own. Instead, the United States is caught in a tension between maintaining dominance abroad and pandering to the wealthy at home – but as Earle said, you “can’t take over the world and lower taxes.”
Earle is a gunslinger for the downtrodden, who shoots words instead of bullets at injustice. He sees the plight of folks in United States today as even more difficult than the dust bowl of the 1930s, which Woody Guthrie sang about.
Where he lives in New York City, there’s an old church that Earle walks by everyday. He said he never noticed the church’s soup kitchen before, because there was never a queue.
Now the line goes all the way down the block.
In 1988, Seattle was still a few years away from seeing its music community explode into the mainstream. That didn’t mean the city’s musicians weren’t getting noticed by major labels. Here’s a page out of Backlash, a Seattle fanzine aimed at covering the local music community:
J.R. Higgins’ article was about the rumors going around Mother Love Bone, a super-group made up of members of Malfunkshun, Green River, and Ten Minute Warning. Jokingly, it quotes frontman Andrew Wood on what would happen to the band after hitting the big time: “we won’t forget Seattle,” he said, “until we come back and we’re all at the Coliseum and we’re like, ‘Hello Portland! How ya doin! and everyone boos.”
Dawn Anderson’s piece was about how a stalwart of the Seattle punk scene left town and started a band in Los Angeles (hint: the group had a name that combined both guns and roses). Anderson playfully included old quotes from the migrant punk rocker, Andrew “Duff” McKagan on the topics of selling-out and community.
This fanzine page offers a glimpse into the Seattle music community in 1988. At the time nobody knew, of course, what would happen three years later. What folks did see was a) local musicians on the threshold of the supposed fame and fortune that comes along with signing a major-label contract and b) a guy that left the community for greener pastures and it had panned out.
Everyone knows that things ended up ok financially for McKagan. Mother Love Bone, unfortunately, ended up with a huge debt when Andrew Wood passed away on the eve of the release of Apple, their debut LP. The surviving band members were fronted a lot of money by their record company, which was now almost impossible to pay back.
Luckily, two of the members of Mother Love Bone, Jeff Ament and Stone Gosssard went on to form Pearl Jam. But the musicians mentioned in Backlash showcases the tension between local music scenes and major labels, and the dangers posed by being drawn further into the depths of the music industry.
Calvin Johnson is in Edmonton tonight, and he’s performing at the all-ages Elevation Room on Jasper Ave. Edmonton’s Liam Trimble, Halifax’s Nick Everett, and Vancouver’s Katie & The Lichen are also playing. Even if you haven’t heard of Johnson, you’ve likely been influenced by him. Here’s an excerpt from my MA thesis, discussing his importance:
…While [Bruce] Pavitt was still in Olympia, he met Calvin Johnson, who also volunteered at [college radio station] KAOS. Johnson, starting under similar circumstances to Pavitt, went on to form Beat Happening, a band that stressed emotion first, and musicianship a distant second. This vital component to the punk attitude was apparent from the Beat Happening’s first performance, which was at a house party where they did not have any equipment. The band played regardless, for Johnson felt that they could “proceed on their own terms,” without having to rely “on equipment or technical issues to be who [they] are.” The band continued with this approach throughout its career, never touring with a drum kit: “our attitude was if people don’t let us borrow drums then we can go grab a garbage can or cardboard box and that will do,” recalled member Bret Lunsford. Indeed, Heather Lewis estimated that Beat Happening had practiced 20 times by 1988. Lyrically, Calvin Johnson carried an air of innocence, but songs were often critical of chauvinism, or even the [baby] Boomers. In “Bad Seeds” Johnson sang, “the new generation for the teenage nation/ this time, let’s do it right.”