Music Journalism A-Z – Rick Johnson

Rick Johnson

I hope you are enjoying the music journalism A-Z series this month. Rick Johnson (1950-2006), CREEM Magazine rock journalist was someone I read often in my rock and roll music heyday. I had extended subscriptions to CREEM Magazine and Rolling Stone Magazine during the 70s and 80s. Each publication provided valuable  knowledge about  bands playing rock music with tenacity and passion.

I must admit these many years later aside from Lester Bangs and Rick Johnson I don’t recall many of the CREEM journalists I read.

I am educating myself in retrospect how pivotal a role Rick Johnson conducted at CREEM Magazine. He was widely known as Ranger Rick and Reek. He succeeded Lester Bangs at the magazine. He was the beloved Boy Wonder of CREEM’s new-wave-and-beyond phase–the star writer from what was arguably the greatest era of the greatest music ‘zine ever

Rick Johnson’s music writing contribution are captured in a book, Rick Johnson Reader: Tin Cans, Squeems and Thudpies

Bill Knight served as Johnson’s editor for many years at the Prairie SUN and SunRise (two Illinois alternative publications), Knight set out to put Johnson’s work between covers in 2006, after the writer’s untimely death in April of that year.

rick johnson book

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Music Journalism A-Z – Daphne Carr

I appropriate the letter C music journalism post to Daphne Carr who helms the independent publishing project for best music writing.

Daphne Carr

I discovered the resolve of Daphne Carr in my pursuit of music writing excellence. First and foremost Daphne has been the series editor of Best Music Writing (Da Capo Press 2007-present). The Best Music Writing book series (2000-2011) was published by Da Capo Press until the 2012 edition.

Daphne Carr is taking the Best of Music Writing publication independent in 2013. Last year a  Kickstarter project was created and successfully funded to carry out that goal.

Launch Best Music Writing as an independently published book series

I pledged $15 to get an e-book version of Best Music Writing 2012 delivered to me on launch day and a thank you postcard. Launch day has not been announced yet but I remain hopeful for future communications in this regard.

Daphne Carr has started Feedback Press which provides a home for new writing about music, along with other reflections on culture and fiction. Feedback’s titles will be available in print and electronic editions.

The first publication from Feedback Press was Pop Papers, a series of short works about music that were  released simultaneously in print and digital formats. The first five titles in the series (Session One) had their début at the IASPM-US/Experience Music Project Pop Conference (March 22-25 at New York University).

I am very interested in this music writing appreciation community. The Music Book club meets periodically in Greenpoint, Brooklyn at WORD the Independent Bookseller to discuss music writings and published works. I hope to attend one of their 2013 meetings the writer series looks interesting.

So hopefully you have a better inkling why Daphne Carr’s momentum matters in the dynamic evolution of music publishing. I know I do 😉

Music Journalism A-Z – Lester Bangs

Music journalist Lester Bangs forged a lasting impression on my music psyche.

Lester Bangs

Lester Bangs was widely considered to be the most influential critic of rock and roll. He wrote for CREEM, the Village Voice, and Rolling Stone. He lived fast and died young like the rock and roll he wrote so passionately about. I believe his formula of self-destructive genius was why he commanded such a command of the subject.

I got the chance to meet Lester Bangs in 1978. I was walking through the Rock and Roll Memorabilia Expo at the Hotel McAlpine in New York City. I literally stumbled upon Lester Bangs. I did not recognize him at all, but then I didn’t know what he looked like. I just knew him from his byline in Rolling Stone and CREEM. He was sitting at a card table selling his collection of Rolling Stone magazines. As I poured over his pile of Rolling Stone issues I saw the mailing label with his name Lester Bangs typed on it. I don’t recall his physical street address but I think he resided in the East Village section of New York City.

I remember that he was witty and sarcastic as hell. This matched the writing persona I had come to relish from Lester Bangs. We discussed music and bands. He was very articulate. He was also very direct. “Hey kid”, he said to me, “Are you going to buy some of my magazines or not?” I had every intention of purchasing his back issues as they were rare and from him. He had no love lost for Rolling Stone or Jann Wenner let me tell you.

I forgot about that past interaction until I saw the movie, Almost Famous in 2000. The memory of my 15 minutes with Lester Bangs surged within me as I watched Phillip Seymour Hoffman portray Lester Bangs in the film. Having met Lester Bangs I can attest to Phillip Seymour Hoffman’s ability to capture and represent Lester’s dynamic/caustic personality.

I love what Lester Bangs tells young Cameron Crowe about becoming a rock journalist, “You have to make your reputation being honest and unmerciful.”

Its difficult for me to pinpoint my favorite Lester Bangs music article. Thankfully several music journalists have captured his work for us to savor today.

Psychotic Reactions and Carburetor Dung: The Work of a Legendary Critic: Rock ‘n’ Roll as Literature and Literature as Rock ‘n’ Roll a collection of essays written by Lester Bangs.  It was edited by Greil Marcus and released in 1987.

Let it Blurt: The Life and Times of Lester Bangs, America’s Greatest Rock Critic by Jim Derogatis is a definitive biography of Lester Bangs’s wild enigma.

Talking Heads: Chronology Deluxe (2011)

The Talking Heads: Chronology Deluxe (2011) DVD is now available.

Beautifully put-together with classic performances and interviews, the viewer gets to see the transition from the early three-piece days (singer/songwriter/guitarist David Byrne, bassistTina Weymouth and drummer Chris Frantz in 1975) to a quartet (keyboardist/guitarist Jerry Harrison joined in 1977), on into an ensemble of multi-cultural proportions. The deluxe edition of the release will include a 48-page hard-cover book with photographs and an essay by the late Lester Bangs, originally published as a review of Fear Of Music for the Village Voice in 1979. The essay is the complete and unexpurgated version, available here for the first time.

TRACK LISTING:

  • 1) Mic Test (1976)
  • 2) With Our Love (1975)
  • 3) I’m Not In Love (1975)
  • 4) Psycho Killer (1975)
  • 5) Intros Montage (1976)
  • 6) The Girls Want To Be With The Girls (1976)
  • 7) Don’t Worry About The Government (1978)
  • 8) Dressing room fan footage: Found A Job (1978)
  • 9) Thank You For Sending Me An Angel (1978)
  • 10) Warning Sign (1978)
  • 11) Artists Only (1979)
  • 12) Take Me To The River (1979)
  • 13) Crosseyed And Painless (1980)
  • 14) Animals (1980)
  • 15) Love → Building On Fire (1982)
  • 16) Cities (1982)
  • 17) Burning Down The House (1983)
  • 18) Life During Wartime (2002)

Though it may not seem it, this little project took years to pull together. I had seen much of this footage, and realized there might be an interesting video timeline of the various manifestations Talking Heads went through. But, tracking down all of the owners of these bits of footage and followed by getting the rights of the material was another matter. Some of the early clips were obviously not commercial—the sound and image can be a little rough in those—but you can see the extremely stripped down version of the band playing at CBGB in those days. These bits and pieces of footage coming together into a cohesive chronology morphed into something very different and impossible to predict.

This was very much a live band—at least until the late 80s. The initial recordings emerged out of what we played live, what worked in that context and how we refined our skills playing together. For a lot of musicians in the digital era this is not always the case. These days, the record often comes first and then how it is staged comes later. The Lester Bangs essay is also very much part of this time. Other than some very specific references, it holds up amazingly well as a passionate and idiosyncratic piece of writing. There’s a reason a lot of writers continue to hold him up as a role model (though I hope they bypass some of the substance abuse). Though his piece is in the form of a record review, it is in truth a beautiful existential rant—and I am proud to be in some way associated with it. Come to think of it, maybe many of these songs are partly something else in disguise as well?

With each iteration of Chronology, you can pretty plainly see what came before as well as a hint of what was to come—all easy to spot in retrospect, of course. There are some fashion don’ts as well as some prescient looks—but what you really get is a sense of how tight this band was. Of course, there is more footage to be found from these sources but I thought to myself, “How many versions of the same songs can one view?” I think the sampler approach gives the viewer a sense of the musical and performative changes we were going through, but without the possibly tedious repetition.

David Byrne
NYC

MC5 – Kick Out The Jams, Motherfucker

Revolution is in the air as Anonymous and Occupy Wall Street gain momentum. 2011 is reminiscent in ways of the sentiment  in 1968 when revolution took to the streets. Music has always played a role in shaping our thoughts when there is strife.

The Detroit high-energy rock scene in 1969 gave us the central protopunk bands known as the MC5 and The Stooges. I was 17 years old then and the rock and roll scene plus its voice, Rolling Stone magazine were my prurient interests.

The first and most explosive MC5 recording was Kick Out The Jams. It is their signature recording. How rare is it that a début album is recorded live and sold to the public for their digestion? Virtually never.

The influence MC5 had on the punk rock music scene is clear throughout this live recording. If you listen closely to “Kick Out The Jams” you can hear  The Ramones sound. MC5 is the bedrock for many of the punk rock bands that followed.

MC5’s Kick Out The Jams introduced me to my favorite rock and roll music journalist, Lester Bangs. His review of Kick Out The Jams was his first published article for Rolling Stone magazine.

I recall the controversy that surrounded the MC5. I am not a fan of censorship and the use of the word, “motherfucker” posed the MC5 and Elektra Records issues through its sales channels. I purchased the “uncensored” Elektra vinyl recording of the MC5’s Kick Out The Jams and I played it real loud.

The MC5 was rooted in hard-core revolutionary politics. They represented the thrash for the White Panther Party led by John Sinclair, who was their manager. You may recall John Sinclair from the song “John Sinclair” by John Lennon, Yoko Ono and Elephants Memory on the album, Sometime in New York City.

It is important to note that one of the founding members of MC5 was lead guitarist Fred “Sonic” Smith. Rolling Stone magazine ranked Smith number ninety-three in its list of The 100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time.[5] The band Sonic Youth took its name from Smith’s nickname.

Motor City 5 "a.k.a. MC5" - MC5 pictures from 1969 LS-4137-002

Fred “Sonic” Smith was married to Patti Smith. They were introduced to each other by Lenny Kaye. Patti Smith wrote a song about her husband, entitled “Frederick” which appears on her Wave album.

File:Frederick - Patti Smith Group.jpg

I especially like how full circle Fred “Sonic” Smith’s activist vision became as a result of writing “People Have The Power” which is an anthem for protest. Fred “Sonic” Smith passed away at 46 years of age in 1994 of a heart attack.

Patti Smith performs this song with conviction and purpose. It speaks to the triumph of the human spirit and their symbiotic, eternal relationship.

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