I’m the kind of guy who likes to revisit his past. I believe that if I loved something or someone before I probably can again, and possibly always have and will. With that in mind, I post this to mention the possibility of resuming 2bitmonkey after a 2+ year hiatus. Readers, what few of you I had, must have abruptly noticed when after 20 months of blogging I suddenly stopped after a post about punk music in late July 2014. I’d explain why I stopped cold but I’m not sure I can. Things just kind of got away from me as things tend to do.
The site had evolved over time, with less attention given to long featured essays and more to to shorter reviews. I think I liked the 2012 version better. So some things will stay, others will go … we’ll see. And once again we’ll evolve together.
The important thing is that I want to write again. I hope you want to read me again. Enjoy!
On Monday night I had the pleasure of attending a really fun Brooklyn Brainery class: PUNK! A History: 1967-1982. The class itself (taught by punk enthusiast, Master’s degree candidate, and drummer Sean O’Brien) was about what you would expect from a 90-minute class that purported to cover the entire history of punk (to the extent that you believe that punk ended in 1982, which I emphatically don’t). From the class description: “This class will talk about the origins of Punk Rock, the bands that shaped the movement, the clubs where they played, the people who made an impact on the scene, and what it all means.” That’s a lot of ground to cover in 90 minutes. After all, the punk bible is over 600 pages long and would take even the fastest reader at least 10 Brooklyn-to-Manhattan subway rides to complete. Accordingly, this was a surface level class geared more or less to beginners, kind of like Punk 101. And I like to think that I’m at least ready for Punk 201, especially after this.
As far as Punk 101 goes though, O’Brien’s class was excellent. Because of the thoroughness, I was reminded of several bands that I’ve read about or heard once or twice but never pursued. Suicide, the Dead Boys, and the Slits all fall into that category, and the class put those bands into context for me (e.g., I didn’t know that the Slits were all-girl UK contemporaries of the Clash and the Sex Pistols). Also, O’Brien interspersed music throughout the class, which seems like an obvious thing to do but easily could have been regrettably omitted.
None of that helps you, dear reader. But here’s what does: O’Brien put together a spotify playlist consisting of all of the songs he played during the class (minus the songs he chose to play from Wire and Dead Kennedys, neither of which were on spotify). Consider this a soundtrack to the history of punk.
As a thank you to O’Brien for putting together and sharing this playlist, here’s a shout out to his band, Cuervo Jones. Like them on Facebook to find out when they are playing next. On their bandcamp you can download their new EP for free.
When the Hives exploded onto the scene with “Hate to Say I Told You So” in 2000, it was obvious from the get-go that they were one of the top bands of the new breed of guitar/garage rock that within a year or two would include the White Stripes, the Strokes, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs and others. The album, Veni Vidi Vicious, was actually the Hives’ second (though I’ve heard them call Barely Legal, their first album, an EP, which would make Veni Vidi Vicious a debut LP) but it wasn’t until “Hate to Say I Told You So” was released as a single at the end of 2000 that the Hives hit it big. That incredible song improbably led to a “best of” compilation (after just 2 LPs at most!), a re-release of the “Hate to Say I Told You So” in the UK on a new label, a re-release of Veni Vidi Vicious in the US on a new label, and finally a $50 million deal with Universal Music, all inside of 2 years. It was that good.
So what happened? After the dust settled from the bands that changed the face of music in 2001-02, how did the Hives get lumped in with the Vines rather than the Strokes? I’ve posted my thoughts on that topic before and so I won’t do it again here, but I will reiterate that dismissing the Hives as a early-2000s relic is a huge mistake. They are the epitome of a great pop-punk band both in their recorded music and their live shows, as even the most critical reviewer admits that the Hives are among the best live acts going.
In any event, whether you choose to believe me or not that the Hives are still as great in 2014 as we all thought they were in 2001, you can’t disagree with the greatness of Hate to Say I Told You So. And if you’re willing to taste their live performance with as little effort required as possible, you can download the audio from their 30-minute 7-song set at on 9/8/2012 at the Doug Fir Lounge in Portland during Musicfest NW, courtesy of KEXP, or watch the video from that show below.
Official Video: Hate to Say I Told You So
The Hives: Live at the Doug Fir Lounge in Portland, 9/8/2012
After this month’s installment of LitMonkey, which I posted earlier this week, could my Shriek of the Week have been anything but this song?
Even so, it’s hard to figure out which is the cause and which is the effect: did I read Helter Skelter and Kitty Genovese because I was listening to Psycho Killer? Or is the other way around? I think it must be a coincidence that I suddenly found a really cheap copy of Talking Heads: 77, the bands 1977 debut album, which features this song as its one hit single. (Thank you Hold Fast Asbury Park.) But I bought many other albums that day – this is the one that I can’t seem to take off my turntable for anything else.
I don’t think I have to sell anyone on the brilliance of Psycho Killer. The lyrics are meant to evoke the thought process of a serial killer, which is particularly menacing coming from the vocals of David Byrne. Tina Weymouth provides “one of the most memorable, driving bass lines in rock & roll” according to AllMusic. This combination makes the song at once both threatening and catchy, a rare combination. It’s both really weird and really pop. In that way, it was a signal for what was to come for Talking Heads over the next decade plus – the kind of music that would be both a critical and commercial success.
It may have been the only hit off of the album, but people in the know knew that Talking Heads would emerge from the CBGB stage and go on to great things. The album wasn’t a huge commercial hit at the time, but it was critically very well received and, from all I’ve read, there was a feeling that Talking Heads were the next big thing. The notoriously tough Village Voice critic Robert Chritstgau gave Talking Heads: 77 an A- grade, saying:
A debut LP will often seem overrefined to habitues of a band’s scene, so it’s not surprising that many CBGBites felt betrayed when bits of this came out sounding like Sparks or Yes. Personally, I was even more put off by lyrics that fleshed out the Heads’ post-Jonathan Richman, so-hip-we’re-straight image; when David Byrne says “don’t worry about the government,” the irony is that he’s not being ironic. But the more I listen the more I believe the Heads set themselves the task of hurdling such limitations, and succeed. Like Sparks, these are spoiled kids, but without the callowness or adolescent misogyny; like Yes, they are wimps, but without vagueness or cheap romanticism. Every tinkling harmony is righted with a screech, every self-help homily contextualized dramatically, so that in the end the record proves not only that the detachment of craft can coexist with a frightening intensity of feeling–something most artists know–but that the most inarticulate rage can be rationalized. Which means they’re punks after all.
In Rolling Stone, Stephen Demorest was way more effusive, calling the album “an absolute triumph.” Some other quotes from is 1977 review:
“[Talking Heads] are the great Ivy League hope of pop music. I can’t recall when I last heard such a vital, imaginatively tuneful album.”
“David Byrne’s music is refreshing, abundantly varied and fun to listen to. He takes the buoyant, post-Beatles singles format of the Sixties — brisk pacing, great hooks, crisp playing, bright production — and impulsively veers off on unexpected tangents that are challenging without becoming inaccessible.”
“Not only is this a great album, it’s also one of the definitive records of the decade.”
July seems like the right time for an update to my progress with the Retreat book club Reading Bingo Challenge for 2014. By way of reminder, here’s the 2014 card, courtesy of Retreat (part of Random House Canada) book club:
When I last checked my card in April, I had 16 out of 24 squares covered overall (without using any book more than once). Let’s see how many of the eight “open” squares I’ve covered in the three months since:
- A book with more than 500 pages? √ The last two books I read were each over 500 pages. Read about them in yesterday’s LitMonkey post.
- The first book by a favorite author? √ Wow, 2 for 2 on covering blank squares. I may strain my arm patting myself on the back. The book is Less Than Zero, and the author is Bret Easton Ellis.
- A book your friend loves? My friend Garl gave 4 stars to Helter Skelter, and he’s a notoriously tough grader. For Garl, 4 stars is true love. (And since I won’t use any book twice, that means Rip it Up and Start Again is my book with more than 500 pages. Glad I read the UK version.)
- A book that scares me? All that true crime and yet no real scares. I have a feeling this is going to be my toughest square to fill. Suggestions welcome.
- A book set on a different continent: Sid Vicious: No One is Innocent by Alan Parker.Vicious (and girlfriend Nancy Spungeon) both died in New York City, but 90% of this biography takes place in the UK where Vicious, and the Sex Pistols, were born.
- A book based on a true story: Here’s what I wrote in April and in July it still stands: Everything I read is either fact or fiction. None of this “based on” stuff.
- The second book in a series: Nope.
- A book with a number in the title: There’s Less Than Zero, but I used that above. So instead Ill go with One More Thing: Stories and Other Stories by B.J. Novak. The loneliest number, but still a number.
Five out of the remaining eight filled, which means that halfway through the year I’m at 21 of 24 overall. Yet I know these three will be hardest. I don’t read series, I don’t do “based on”, and I don’t scare easily. Luckily I have more than enough time to work on it …
LitMonkey is a monthly series where I discuss the books I’ve read over the past month in a highly personal way. It is in no way an exact clone of Nick Hornby’s “Stuff I’ve Been Reading.” This is the twentieth installment. Enjoy!
Books I Read:
- “Kitty Genovese: The Murder, the Bystanders, the Crime That Changed America”, Kevin Cook
- “Helter Skelter: The True Story of the Manson Murders”, Vincent Bugliosi, with Curt Gentry
- “Rip it Up and Start Again: Post Punk 1978-1984”, Simon Reynolds
- “Mad World: An Oral History of New Wave Artists and Songs That Defined the 1980s”, Lori Majewski & Jonathan Bernstein, with Nick Rhodes (Foreword) & Moby (Afterword)
- “Oasis’ Definitely Maybe” (33-1/3 series), Alex Niven
Books I Purchased:
- “Fool the World: The Oral History of a Band Called Pixies”, Josh Frank & Caryn Ganz, with Chas Banks (Foreword)
- “Killing Yourself to Live: 85% of a True Story ”, Chuck Klosterman
- “Fierce Pajamas: An Anthology of Humor Writing from The New Yorker”, Henry Finder & David Remnick (Editors)
Books I Borrowed from the Library:
- “Kitty Genovese”
June was a month for two things: Murder and early-‘80s (mostly British) music. The 33-1/3 book by Alex Niven fits in because although Oasis is a ‘90s band, they effectively murdered Britpop. For my review of Niven’s book, click here.
If you’ve read LitMonkey over the past year and a half, you’ve probably noticed that I read almost no history books and almost no true crime. So both Kitty Genovese and Helter Skelter are outside my typical wheelhouse. However, each book had something that intrigued me. The Genovese story is famous because of the outrageousness of the generally-accepted fact that 38 people witnessed the murder of the young woman over the course of a half hour’s worth of stabbing, and yet not one acted, even just to call the police. At the time it was considered to be evidence of the decline of morals in society, especially in New York City (Genovese was killed in Queens). Later on, it spurred psychological research into what became known as the “bystander effect,” a social psychological phenomenon that refers to cases in which individuals do not offer any means of help to a victim when other people are present. The probability of help is inversely related to the number of bystanders. In other words, the greater the number of bystanders, the less likely it is that any one of them will help. It’s an amazing story and an even more amazing phenomenon. The fascinating thing about Kevin Cook’s Kitty Genovese is his demonstration that most of the story is myth. The bystander effect is very real and has been proven, and so the Genovese example has survived and been cited in everything from introductory psychology courses to Malcolm Gladwell’s bestseller, The Tipping Point. But the truth is that the story, first told by the New York Times, the story which everyone agrees would be a textbook example of this phenomenon, which in fact led to its discovery, was mostly fabricated by the newspaper and perpetuated by an angry populace and later by the psychological community. This got me thinking – if most people believe that the Genovese murder happened this way, and it could have happened this way, and the fact that it was reported to have happened this way led to a social psychological breakthrough, does the truth even matter? Cook’s book is an eye-opening tale of how the media can control a story, even in 1964, but I wonder whether 50 years later the story is all that matters.
Then there is Helter Skelter, Charles Manson, and the murders that not only killed innocent people but also are commonly said to have killed the ‘60s. Helter Skelter is a long book that had been sitting on my shelf for a long time, as I’d been waiting for the right time to commit to the detailed account written by prosecuting attorney Vincent Bugliosi. I could not wait any longer. The more I read about the ‘70s, punk music, and pretty much everything that came after the hippie era, the more I saw that Manson was a blind spot that I needed to address. That’s because before the Manson murders, hippie culture was all about drugs, peace, free love, etc. For most of my life I thought that’s all the ‘60s were about, and it was hard to see why it ever ended. Then, as I read about the punk movement and youth culture in the late ‘70s, I learned that everyone was rebelling against hippie culture, albeit years later. Why would a counterculture movement rebel against their hippie predecessors? Because they saw where it all ended up. Manson, and “the Family”, had turned something that was pure into pure evil. You might think that the Beatles are pretty vanilla when compared to, say, the Sex Pistols, but it was the music of the Fab Four that led to what is likely the most bizarre mass-murder case in American history. It was time for me to understand the inexplicable, by reading Helter Skelter.
Helter Skelter isn’t a book for the faint of heart (or queasy stomach). Bugliosi goes into gory detail about what the Family did, in particular over the two nights of the Tate and LaBianca murders, and what they did was incredibly gory. I won’t go into it here, but suffice it to say that this wasn’t simply murder – it was a bloodbath, a slaughter. Moreover, the degree of control that Manson had over his followers, willing to do anything for him, willing to take the death penalty for him, is chilling. Then there is the motive, the idea of “Helter Skelter”, and Manson’s horrific notion (which even some of his detractors couldn’t easily dismiss) that he was Christ. Originally I wondered how so much could have been written about one mass-murder case; eventually, at one point during my reading, I began to realize that there is so much story to tell that 670 pages probably isn’t even enough. Bugliosi does a great job of telling it and is probably the only man who could have done so. As the prosecutor in the case, he had the motivation to dig into a level of detail that not even the world’s best journalist would. And Manson’s reach was so wide and so complete that a substantial number of people could speak to one aspect or another of his personality, his motives, or his relationships. This case is one that shook the nation at the time and is one that is still relevant today – just a few weeks ago one website made news with a hoax article claiming that Manson was released on parole. Kitty Genovese and Helter Skelter are both true crime books, but to my mind they have both entered the realm of popular culture, even if not for the stories themselves but for how they shaped society after. The pop culture enthusiast should not miss either, and especially not Helter Skelter.
Speaking of filling in gaps, in June I wrote a special edition of LitMonkey focused on punk books, which I read in part to fill a hole in my knowledge base. I wrote that, “I would classify myself as an ‘80s/’90s indie/alternative music listener. … but I finally started listening to – and learning about – ‘70s punk rock around the start of the current decade. Over the last few years I’ve become a huge fan and a little more educated, but I was still looking for that one text that would be my punk bible, similar to how I feel about Our Band Could Be Your Life, Michael Azerrad’s fantastic account of the 1980’s ‘American Indie Underground.’” Fortunately, I found that punk bible in the form of Please Kill Me: The Uncensored Oral History of Punk. That book began with 1967 (the Velvet Underground and MC5) and ends with 1978, the death of punk.
From there, it only made sense to next read Simon Reynolds’ Rip it Up and Start Again. The subtitle alone – Post Punk 1978-1984 – almost makes it seem like a sequel to Please Kill Me. Meanwhile, Abrams books released a brand new book that I’ve mentioned on the blog a few times before and which I was lucky enough to get a free copy of from the publisher – Mad World: An Oral History of New Wave Artists and Songs That Defined the 1980s. I expected Mad World to, for the most part, cover bands I was already all-too-familiar with: Depeche Mode, New Order, and the like. As it turns out, the book is almost exclusively about the period from 1980-1983 (i.e., before new wave could have possibly hit me) and so much of the content of Mad World was brand new to me as well. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
Rip it Up and Start Again is not the first book I’ve ready by Simon Reynolds. That would be Retromania, which I wrote about here. In reading Retromania I discovered that when Reynolds decides to write a book he develops an encyclopedic knowledge base for the topic of that book and then bestows every last bit of that knowledge to his reader. Rip it Up is more focused than Retromania, which is a good thing because it forces Reynolds to stick to the topic rather than meander into a chapter on hauntology. That said, assuming you – like me – read the longer, UK version of Rip it Up, which comes in at 752 pages in the hardcover version, you will undoubtedly be struck by the volume of information contained in this book, a book about a relatively small slice of music history when all is said and done. Words used by Goodreads reviewers like “thorough” and “exhaustive” really don’t do it justice; Reynolds writes thoughtfully, intelligently, passionately (but not too passionately) and critically about literally hundreds of bands – including many I’ve never heard of – strictly from two genres/eras: 1978-1981 post-punk and 1980-1984 new pop and new rock. Essentially, Reynolds takes the extreme opposite approach than Azerrad in his Our Band Could Be Your Life. Whereas Azerrad depicted an entire decade’s worth of underground music by focusing on 13 carefully selected bands, Reynolds makes sure that that there is nothing left to be said about post-punk and new wave (and if you think there is, you probably weren’t reading closely enough). At 752 pages, is it compelling reading at every turn? Of course not. But if you want to learn about these genres in depth, beyond PiL, Joy Division, Talking Heads and the various other big names featured on the back cover, this is the book to read.
Though I loved it, I understand that not everyone, not even the most ardent post-punk or new wave fans, wants to read a book that could double as an encyclopedia. Enter Mad World, the bathroom book version of Rip it Up. Reynolds’ book is 100% substance; Mad World, by contrast, is all style. It is very stylish though. The photographs are nice, the font and design is eye-catching and pops in an ‘80s sort of way – the book just jumps out at you like the opening theme to Saved by the Bell. The subtitle of this book is almost laughable. Mad World is not anywhere near a definitive oral history of new wave. There is probably more (in terms of content) about this era just in chapter 21 of Rip it Up (“New Gold Dreams 81-82-83-84: The Peak and Fall of New Pop”). Each chapter in Mad World is about one song and one song only; there is sometimes a little detail about other music from the artist, but not always. There is no continuity from chapter to chapter, no overall story told and often only one “speaker” per chapter. In each chapter the speakers are exclusively the band members – no other people from the scene are represented. And if a band missed the book’s cut they get no mention at all, which is especially odd when some obvious new wave bands (e.g., Squeeze) missed the cut while other non-new wave bands (e.g. Joy Division, in a chapter separate from one on New Order) are represented.
Fortunately, there’s room in the world (and on my shelf, and on the book table at Rough Trade NYC) for both kinds of books. Plain and simple, Mad World is fun. If you are a fan of early ‘80s new wave music you will enjoy it. (If not, don’t bother.) Take a stroll down memory lane and hear the thoughts of Simon Le Bon, Phil Oakey, Kim Wilde and countless others of your childhood idols. It’s the guilty pleasure of listening to “Come On Eileen” 30 years later (and yes, there is a chapter on Dexy’s Midnight Runners which claims that they are not one-hit wonders), but in book form. I think even someone as devoted to serious and thorough intellectual analysis as Simon Reynolds would agree.
Next month … I try to avoid reading anything about murder or English music. It’s summer after all!
 The U.S. version is still long, but substantially shorter than the UK version. The differences are described here, with the key ones being: three chapters are cut and two chapters are compressed into one for reasons of space, the timeline is absent for reason of space, and there are no illustrations in the US edition. Frankly, if you’re bothering to read a book like this, I’m not sure why you’d bother with the shorter one. It’s a long book; bite the bullet or move on.