Armagideon Time

No, baby, don’t

March 4th, 2015

I’ve reached the point in Starlog‘s run (around late 1998 or so) where the venerable ‘zine’s content began resembling the back half of a Diamond Previews catalog.

“Depressing” doesn’t begin to describe it, but it is a good place to start when considering such regrettable items as this…

The best part? The truly best part? The “quantity desired” box that suggests that folks might be willing to buy more than one these hundred-dollar icons of after-the-fact regret.

Another week, another seven inches featuring a slice of vinyl which ought to be familiar to long-time AT readers.

The acquisition of a cassette copy of the first Punk and Disorderly compilation was a critical moment in my punk rockerhood. It was playing in the background the first time I worked up the courage to slather some magenta Manic Panic into my limp locks, and I still can’t look or listen to the thing without flashing back to the musty vegetable stink of the dye.

The most intriguing track on that collection was “For My Country” by the brilliantly named UK Decay…

It was a bit too rough around the edges to qualify as true “art punk,” yet it rejected the “chukka-chukka-chukka-yeah-yeah-nuclear-war” model employed by most of the band’s Britpunk peers. It was atmospherically theatric, almost operatic, and like nothing I’d ever heard before.

When I came across the band’s 1980 “Unexpected Guest” single at the Central Square Looney Tunes a few months later, I bought it without hesitation despite the seven buck asking price. I took it home, threw it on the turntable, and made it thirty seconds in before deciding that I hated it — all bass throbs and feedback effects and other shit I associated with the much despised “Manray crowd.”

I passed it off to an audiophile friend and returned to more familiar louder–harder-faster fare.

Jump ahead to 1994, a time when I’d shelved my punk jacket in favor of a vintage longcoat and my punk puritanism in favor of the more esoteric pleasures of the postpunk and gothic subgenres. While flipping through a Trouser Press Guide in search of promising leads, I stumbled across the entry for UK Decay and remembered the One That Was Given Away.

I contacted my pal (though we’d been on the outs for a couple of years) and asked if he still had the record and if he’d be willing to part with it. The answer was “yes” on both counts, giving me a chance to revisit my earlier assessment and determine that 1991 Andrew was a complete fucking idiot.

“Unexpected Guest” is a damn near perfect song. It’s certainly the Perfect Gothic Rock Song, with sound and subject matter in perfect atmospheric alignment. It doesn’t matter if it’s Easter or the 4th of July, spin this single and you will enter October Country’s twilight realm without fail. (And much like the most famous contender for the Perfect Gothic Rock Song crown of thorns, it wears its dub music influences on its ruffled sleeve.)

Honestly, if it wasn’t for fear of anticlimactic repetition, “Unexpected Guest” would be the musical closer for every single one of AT’s Halloween Countdowns. None of the other selections even come close to matching it.

Fun Fact: I didn’t realize it at the time, but Big Cat Records — the label which released Carter USM’s early material — was owned by UK Decay frontman Steve “Abbo” Abbott.

Magnetic mosaic

March 2nd, 2015

From the time Maura bought her first VCR in 1993 up until we moved into the House on the Hillside in 2004, the two of us recorded at least two dozen video scrap books of odds ‘n’ ends taped from basic cable. It was a means of preserving items of note in those days before streaming video-on-demand. Old SNL and Kids in the Hall sketches, fragments of forgotten sitcoms, documentary segments, music videos, and whatever other shit we deemed worth preserving was collected in six-hour blocks labeled with the year/season and tossed into a box for never-realized future screenings.

The box of tapes remained in storage at my in-laws place until a few weeks ago, when I bought Maura a VCR-to-DVD recorder as a Valentine’s Day present. She’d been talking about getting one for ages, mostly to preserve her VHS tapes of Japanese dramas and British sitcoms which will likely never see a North American DVD release. The cost of the machine kept forcing her to put off getting one. Worried that the tech (never mind the tapes) was living on borrowed time, I scraped some cash together and bought her the damn thing.

“I can’t imagine what even on these,” Maura said when she brought the box of old tapes home. Two of the tapes near the top of the pile particularly caught my eye — “Summer/Fall 2001″ and “Fall/Winter 2001-2.” While Maura was out doing her Sunday errands, I threw them in our ancient VCR and took a gander at their contents.

There were clips from short-lived sitcoms and forgotten stand-up comedians, snippets of AbFab and Gilmore Girls, and old Hullabaloo and Ed Sullivan band appearances cribbed from some PBS special. Buffy, Angel, and Charmed were in there, too, alongside fragments of some Bravo documentary on punk rock and a Dexter’s Laboratory cartoon.

Much of it is baffling in hindsight, with the ciphers necessary to provide context to the ephemeral interest or inside baseball being long lost to time.

And then, following the end of the X-Files episode where Scully had her baby, the realization of my anticipated dread appeared — two hours of 9/11 footage taped across half a dozen stations on the day itself. Terrified panic and rampant speculation unspooling in real time, with howls for blood serving as a backbeat.

And lots of shots of bodies falling, at which point I had to pause the tape and do some housework as a distraction.

Next up were the monologues — Leno, Conan, and Stewart — shaky calls for solidarity mixed with lashings of patriotism with the insistence that the show must go on. Then a sequence of Daily Show and CNN segments covering the fall of the Taliban, color-coded threat levels, and a growing sense that the “War on Terror” was shaping up to be a permanent fixture of American society.

This in turn was followed by a Buddy Holly performance clip and footage of Kevin Spacey singing, which my Maura is at a complete loss to explain.

And as hard as the 9/11 stuff was to take? This clip — which I deny all knowledge of taping — was still the worst thing I found on there.

Song for Sunday #129

March 1st, 2015

Heavenly – Trophy Girlfriend

Silver Age Science Saturdays #54

February 28th, 2015

(from “The Wizard of Time” by Jack Kirby and Wallace Wood in Challengers of the Unknown #4, November 1958)

Only Kirbytech can be trusted to tell the innocent from the guilty.

Just doesn’t seem logical

February 27th, 2015

Leonard Nimoy was a true son of the Bay State and an iconic figure who transcended multiple generational lines. He could also rock the Swinging Seventies look like no man before or since.

He will be missed.

Recommended listening: Len goes electric.

Up until a post-marriage merger and some lucky estate sale finds, my record collection was fairly light on single releases. The economics of the used vinyl market in the early 1990s meant that LPs and compilations were an almost always more affordable alternative to a 7″ scene where the truly cool shit was dominated by some price-gouging collectors who sold stuff on consignment through the local record shops.

For a student on a fixed income, ten bucks (minimum) was too much to casually drop on anything but the most known of quantities. As a result, most of my single purchases came from the shops’ own jumbled piles of 7″ inch inventory, where the typical one dollar asking price mitigated the risks of taking home a scratched-to-hell clunker on the off-chance you’d strike pure audio gold.

One of the earliest and best of these blind buys was a 7″ copy of Classix Nouveaux’s “Guilty” from 1981 in its original picture sleeve, to boot. The band mutated out of X-Ray Spex, swapping out Poly Styrene for a New Romantic Nosferatu named Sal Solo. I only knew this because I’d read it somewhere, and had no idea what to expect in terms of the actual recording.

What I got — to my initial shock and eventual delight — was the Platonic form of 1980s teen movie music, a luscious slice of synthesized melancholy delivered with the finest Brit-mope accent Hertfordshire had to offer.

It was another decade before I finally caught the promo video on VH1 Classic, which only made me love the song that much more.

Fun Fact: The quest for cheap 1980s new wave and pop records — which would eventually eclipse my purchase of material from “cooler” genres — began here.

Akuma To Tenshi No Kiss

February 25th, 2015

It’s odd what memories an old ad can trigger.

During the last few days of my freshman year in college, I was approached by a female member of the Sci-Fi Club. She handed me a folded up slip of paper, said “Have a great vacation,” and left. The paper (which I still keep in my wallet after all these years) had her name, phone number and address on it, with a note pointing out that my regular bus route passed by her street.

I only called her once over the summer, resulting in a halting conversation about shared geeky and musical interests.

We ran into each other again when classes resumed in September. She gave me a plastic bag containing a Bubblegum Crisis t-shirt she bought for me when she attended AnimeCon ’91 a few days earlier. I thanked her, then started dating another woman in the club a few weeks later.

It didn’t last, and the note-passing, t-shirt gifting lady was still willing to give me a chance when it ended.

We’ve been together ever since.

“You were the only person in the club I brought something back for. That should have been a hint.”

The t-shirt — or rather the tattered remnants of it — sits balled up in back of one of my dresser drawers.

Recommended listening: Hey, they’re playing our song!

A sticky bigot

February 24th, 2015

“Damn it, Nigel! This bloody war has upset our plans to sell worthless stamps on approval to gullible tykes who fancy themselves collectors! We need a new angle for our pitch. Something new, yet still familiar. Something like…”

“Jingoistic racism, sir?”

“Jolly good show, my boy. As a reward, here’s an extra pint of black market petrol!”

Song for Sunday #128

February 22nd, 2015

November Group – Pictures of the Homeland

I understand why the 1980s Boston hardcore scene gets all the attention, but that hype does overshadow the far richer and more diverse musical history of the region’s new wave scene in general.

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