Sunday, January 15, 2006

This is the weekend I discovered X, seminal hardcore punk band from Los Angeles. I've heard them before, on various Rhino box sets, but that was just a small taste: you need a full belt.

They play rock and roll at breakneck, Ramones-like amphetamine speed, with the distinction (and I don't mean this negatively) that they can actually play really, really well.

The early records Los Angeles and Wild Gift present them as a band with talent to burn, from the punk poetry of lead singer Exene Cervenka to the manic guitar virtuosity of John Doe to the out-of-control precision of aptly-named drummer DJ Bonebreak, with ex-Doors keyboardist Ray Manzarek (who also produced these early records) occasionally filling in (and ripping up with Jerry Lee Lewis-like intensity) on the Farfisa.

They were so beloved when they burst on the scene in the late 1970s that, by the time the Rolling Stone Record Guide's 1983 edition rolled around in 1982, asshole-in-chief Dave Marsh took considerable pains to dog them, in what has to be one of the most bitterly wrongheaded reviews ever written.

After pointing out their Doors and Velvet Underground influences, Marsh says that Doe and Cervenka "possess only a smidgen of Lou Reed's ability to delineate the demimonde, and Exene lacks even a hint of Jim Morrison's pop charm." One listen proves how utterly useless these comments are, because these records just leap out of the speakers with sheer blazing energy. Delineate the demimonde -- who bloody CARES? Marsh further finds them "abrasively unemotional," which raises some question about what does move him. (I know -- Springsteen. He moves me, too, always has, but so does this.)

What really gets me is this line: "Critics may be required to contort themselves into positions in which this kind of rubbish represents a major statement, but there's no reason for anyone whose hip credentials don't depend upon it to do likewise."

Talk about critical contortions -- my guess is that Marsh worked himself into one NOT to like the band. I know it's pretty much impossible to account for taste that differs strongly from one's own, but to hear these records and read Marsh's dull, dismissive words, it's impossible not to think you're being willfully lied to, that the critic isn't just pissed, or doesn't have a monster-size chip on his shoulder.

Hell, I've been accused of that myself when I honestly, truly disliked a writer; someone came along and said I wasn't really telling the truth as they saw it, which of course usually means their opinion can withstand no objection.

Well, certain opinions are like that.

Every now and then, no one asks me, "Rodney, what is the greatest rock and roll recording of all time?" and my answer usually depends on the last thing I've heard. At any given time I might well say "Where Were You?" by the Mekons or "Oh Bondage! Up Yours" by X-Ray Spex or "Be My Baby" by the Ramones or ""All the Way From Memphis" by Mott the Hoople. A few weeks ago, I would have sworn it was "This Damn Nation" by the Godfathers -- mainly because I had just heard it and all I could think was "Darling, where've you BEEN all my life?"

Today, I ask the same question of X's "The World's A Mess (It's in my Kiss)." Someday it will, possibly (or impossibly) seem only okay; today it's the most blistering, adrenaline-enhanced, wild, crazy, pumping, mind-blowing classic I think I may have ever, ever, ever heard. I'm addicted. I can't stop listening.

Dave Marsh had his head so far up his ass it plugged his hearing.

If, as Sam Spade once put it, that doesn't mean anything to you forget it and we'll make it this: if you don't like this band, there's something WRONG with you.

(This is what means to love old music. You find yourself waging battles on an unread blog that no one even cares about anymore.

Oh well.)


Anonymous said...

For what it's worth (my opinion, that is), yours is more or less the only blog I *do* read or care about. So there.

Charlie Haverty

RW said...

Charlie, my good man, thanks for the vote of support. Do please write.