15 December 2011

The day that disco died

Disco Rock

At the 21st Grammy Awards in 1979, Saturday Night Fever (The Original Movie Sound Track) was named Album of the Year.  The album's featured group, the Bee Gees, received the award for Best Pop Vocal Performance by a Duo or Group. By the end of 1979, the disco industry was estimated to be worth more than $4 billion, that meant that it was generating more money than the movie industry, television or professional sport. It was so big that The National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences added Disco as its own category for the 22nd Grammy Awards. Nominated works for the award included "Boogie Wonderland" by Earth, Wind & Fire, "I Will Survive" by Gloria Gaynor, "Don't Stop 'til You Get Enough" by Michael Jackson, "Da Ya Think I'm Sexy? by Rod Stewart, and "Bad Girls" by Donna Summer.

An anti-disco sentiment had been building for sometime however.  By early '79 this sentiment was witnessed in the "disco sucks" and "death to disco" T-shirts and graffiti seen around the towns and cities of the USA.  Rock fans were particularly fed up with watching one "Rock" act after another fall to Disco's influence, from the Rolling Stones to Rod Stewart to David Bowie to Kiss

The anti-Disco movement hit critical mass on the night of July 12, 1979 (just weeks after Newsweek had declared that Disco had "taken over" the music industry) when a promotional event called Disco Demolition Night was held at Chicago's Comiskey Park.  It took place during intermission ata  double header where a young local radio disc jockey named Steve Dahl set ablaze a bin full of disco records and thereby ignited complete mayhem. The Chicago Police were called in with riot gear as 50,000 rioters took over the field, the ball park and an entire city block, forcing the Chicago White Sox to forfeit the second game of the double header.  An excellent discription of the Disco Demolition at Comisky Park is given in Josh Wilker's book Cardboard Gods, where he writes:

That night, in Chicago, the sky had rained flat black discs and lit M-80s. By the late innings, the visiting Detroit Tigers outfielders were wearing batting helmets in the outfield. A vendor reported selling forty-nine cases of beer, more than double the number he’d sold on any single night in his many years on the job. Smoldering bongs were passed from hand to hand like change for a hot dog, giant glossy airplanes made of promotional posters featuring a sultry blonde model known only as Lorelei swooped and dove amid the hail of explosives and Frisbeed LPs and 45s, and inebriated throngs in the parking lot jumped up and down on cars and set fire to white-suited John Travolta dolls and searched for illegal entry into the slightly more focused mayhem inside the packed stadium. As game one of the scheduled doubleheader progressed, this search gained urgency, for between games a local 24-year-old disc jocky named Steve Dahl and the aforementioned Lorelei were going to detonate a mountain of disco records.

Almost immediately after this detonation, a stream and then a gushing wave of longhaired attendees flowed onto the playing field…The revolution, the pointless, hysterical revolution, had come. Some lit bonfires in the outfield. Some wheeled the batting cage around like it was a stalled car that needed a running start. Some performed hook slides and headfirst Pete Rose plunges into where the bases would have been if they hadn’t already been ripped from the ground and stuffed between giggling rib cages and the fabric of Led Zeppelin and Aerosmith T-shirts. More than one person reported seeing couples fornicating…”

The Disco Demolition garnered national headlines that seemed to unleash a backlash against Disco.  Public support for disco music faded alarmingly fast.  At the time of the Disco Demolition (July 21, 1979) the top six records on the U.S. music charts were disco songs. By September 22, just two months later, there was not a single disco song in the U.S. Top 10 chart. Within months the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences (that had just added Disco as it own catagory) reversed itself and eliminated the award category all together. Disco was officially pronounced dead and July 12, 1979 has forever since been known as "the day disco died".

This Aint No Disco!

I remember sometime around 1985 my good friend Ray gave me a mixed tape that included 90 minutes of Rock songs that were largely disco influenced.  He called it Disco Rock and to the best of my memory, here are the songs that were included on that mixed tape:

Pink Floyd - . Another Brick In The Wall Pt. 2
ELO - "xanadu"
Exile - "kiss you all over"
Paul McCartney - "goodnight tonight"
BeeGees - Staying Alive

Blondie - Heart Of Glass
J Geils - Detroit Breakdown
Frank Zappa - "dancin fool"
King Crimson - "sleepless"
Talking Heads - "air"
Chicago - "street player"
Led Zep - "Carouselambra"
roxy music - angel eyes
Rick Dees - Disco Duck

Special mention should be made of the Jimi Hendrix Experience's "Message to Love" (1969) which is arguably the first disco song ever made. 

For more writing by Ed Wagemann click here: Ed Wagemann

©2006 Rockism 101. All Rights Reserved

30 April 2010

What Elton John song were you listening to when you realized he was a homo?

PhotobucketThe question seemed strange.  It came from a young girl I had a crush on (who we will just call Betty) while sitting on her couch watching Mtv--circa mid 1983.  The video on the screen was called something like “I guess that’s why they call them the blues”.  I’m not going to go back and look up the video to verify the details, but I seem to recall that Elton was sashaying along a boardwalk somewhere, making strange gestures with his eyebrows and lip-synching lyrics like “…rolling like thunder, under the covers…” while dressed in a purple top hat and a cane, and I think there were feathers involved in there somehow also.

I was 14 years old at that time and, as strange as it may seem, I didn’t fully know what being a homosexual entailed.  All I knew was that calling someone a “faggot” was the worst insult possible—maybe even worse than being called a “nigger”.  At 14 years old, those were the only two insults that automatically provoked a fight. And actually, in the case of “nigger”, it only applied if you were black; and since I grew up in a very rural Midwestern small town where there was only one black family in the entire population (plus one kid who was of mixed race), that meant that “faggot” was really the sole trigger call for automatic fisticuffs. Dickhead was acceptable, Stupid Asshole was fine, even Dirty Motherfucker wouldn’t necessitate a fight. But Faggot?  That was it: the shit was on. 

Needless to say my idea of what a homosexual was at that time was somewhat undeveloped, so when Betty asked me that question and it first dawned on me that Elton was a stick-eater, I kinda panicked.  The timing of this possibility couldn't have been worse.  I mean what the fuck was happening to the Rock Gods of my youth?  John Lennon had been gunned down on the streets of New York.  Bob Dylan had become a bible-thumping Jesus freak. Neil Young was making electronic music and being sued for it. And now Elton John was a homosexual?  Seriously, what was next? A god-damned family TV show starring Ozzy Osbourne? This just could NOT be happening. There must be some kind of mistake.  After all, I had grown up listening to, singing to, and *gasp* even dancing to Elton John songs.  How could he be gay? 

PhotobucketMaybe it was just some kind of mistake, I thought. Maybe I was falsely accusing Elton simply because his video seemed to be in line with the New Romantics (a fancy British term that meant “music for really, really gay people”) that was so in vogue at the time.  That must be it, some kind of mistake.  So that afternoon when I returned home I decided to do some research.  I gathered all of the Elton John records that had been in heavy rotation on my parents' turntables during the mid-to late 1970's into a stack next to the stereo. Certainly the lyrics from those records would provide the answer, for there was one thing I knew about Elton John: he had a huge Beatles fixation. For example, Elton copied the idea of his fictional rock band “Bennie and the Jets” from the Beatles' "Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band", going as far as even editing canned audience applause into “Bennie and the Jets”, just like the Beatles had done on Sgt. Pepper’s.  Therefore if Elton was really gay then he would have put hidden messages in his songs—just as the Beatles had been known to do (and don’t dispute this—just ask Charlie Manson if you dont believe it).

So I began thumbing through my parent’s record collection, pulling out every Elton John album and single and given it a good hard look.  The very first one that I randomly plopped the needle onto and began listening to was "Rocketman":

"I’m not the man they think I am at all…" (Roh-roh Shaggy).

"Oh no, no, no, I’m a “rocket man". ....

Rocketman? What the hell was a Rocketman? That’s when it dawned on me. A rocket, of course, is a classic phallic symbol. Elton is telling us that he's a rocket man. In other words, he's a penis man. Just like some guys consider themselves to be a leg man or a titty man or an ass man, Elton is a Penis man. He prefers penis. And where is it that Rockets go? To the moon, of course. And the moon is an obvious reference to the butt. So the entire song is one big homoerotic musical fantasy, detailing how Elton wants his butt to be probed by a space-penis-rocket-ship. This realization made me a bit sick to my stomach and then I started thinking of "Benny and the Jets" again, for a jet was just as phallic shaped as a rocket. The jets, in other words were penises.

I decided to lift the needle again, and my next random selection landed on a nice slow love ballad about..."Daniel"...a dude! The lyrics were revealing:

"I can see Daniel arriving tonight on a plane..."
(Oh Christ, wasn't there a single song of Elton's that didnt conjure up airbound phallic-shaped projectiles?!?)

"Lord, it looks like Daniel, must be a cloud in my eye... " (A penis-shaped cloud I bet). 

Next I scooped up several of the Elton John 45s my parents had and began dropping the neddle on them.  The first lyric I heard was:

"Don't let the sun go down on me!"

No, I quickly replaced that and heard:

"Philadephia freedom took me knee-high to a man!"

Knee-high to a man.  This was too obvious. It was too much...Dazed and confused, I noticed a 45 that my mother bought in the early 80s, a tribute Elton had done to John Lennon called "Empty Garden". Certainly this couldn't have any secret homosexual-coded messages in it, could it?  But halfway through the song I realized that Elton's obsession with John Lennon had huge homoerotic undertones. The garden, after all, is a common metaphor for the vagina; but Elton, of course, doesn't have a vagina. He has an "empty garden"-- in other words...a mangina...in other words, his ASSHOLE!!!  So basically, Elton is singing to a dead John Lennon, "Won't you come out and play in my butthole, Johnny..." 
Oh God, I felt as if I was going to be sick.  Yet I still forced myself to find just one shred of proof that this was all just in my imagination. So I pulled out Goodbye Yellow Brick Road in which the title track once again referenced the phallic-shapped projectile motif:

What do you think you'll do then, I bet that'll shoot down your plane

But then there was also this:

Back to the howling old owl in the woods, hunting the horny back toad...

What the fuck, right?  But then, get this:

You can't lock me in your penthouse, I'm going back to my plow...

Howling owls hunting horny toads in the woods?  Locking people up in a penthouse? What kind of perverted shit is this sickfuck into???  And by 'going back to his plow' ofcourse he meant penis.  In otherwords, he's going back to a penis.  

By this point I had had enough. The evidence was overwhelming. Every Elton John song I listened to was nothing short of perverted homosexual propaganda cloaked in Soft Rock melodic stylings. How could Elton spread such gayness to the youth of America?

PhotobucketMy curiousity for an explanation led me to the liner notes.  My first clue was that the actual song lyrics were not written by Elton, but by some guy named Bernie Taupin. That meant there were two of them! Suddenly this was all something more sinister. It was a full on homosexual conspiracy. The panic was starting to set in and an urgent need to go take a shower and cleanse myself of all the homo-ness that I had just been exposed to built inside of me. And the scariest part of this conspiracy was that I had been a victim of it. I mean, if I was listening to, and singing to these songs throughout my youth, then what did that say about me? I had even danced to these songs—and as every 14 year old will tell you, dancing is the closest thing you can do to sex, without actually having sex. So did this mean that I might be gay, too? Had these subliminal homoerotic/phallic symbols from Elton and Bernie's perverted imaginations brainwashed me into being a homo? Did I now have hidden homo-urges bubbling down in the deepest recess of my adolescent psyche? 

I vowed there and then to never listen to another Elton John song as long as I lived.  This vow became severely tested however when a few years later Princess Diana was killed and it became virtually impossible to turn on a TV or radio without hearing Elton's “Candle in the Wind” every five minutes. And every time this song came on, instead of thinking of Princess Di, all I could see was Elton John’s little candle (penis) dangling in the wind as he sashayed a boardwalk somewhere on that purple-pink landscape from the “I guess that’s why the call them the blues” video.  So to further distance myself from all of the Elton John homo-ness I decided I would only listen to the most masculine, non-homo Rock I could find. That ofcourse meant large doeses of heavy metal ala Freddy Mercury's Queen and Rob Halford' Judas Priest. Certainly that would rid me of all the homo-ness. And thus began my Summer of 1983 Hair Metal phase... * 

*Ironically, not long after my short-lived Summer of '83 Hair Metal phase Elton (perhaps realizing that the Betty's of America were catching on to his gayness) went out and got married to a female.  The marrage didn't last of course and by the late 80s anyone who didn't realize that Elton was in fairy land had to be deaf and blind and Republican.

For more writing by Ed Wagemann click here: ED WAGEMANN
©2010 Rockism 101. All Rights Reserved

The Worst Mustaches In Rock History

The mustache plays an important role in Rock History. In fact the mustache was so integral to mid 1970s Guitar Rock that the genre was at times referred to as Mustache Rock (mostly just by hipsters though). When done right the mustache serves a purpose that goes far beyond simply keeping the upper lip warm. The mustache is able to make a statement. What kind of statement, you ask? How about this kind of statement:

...or this:
Or even this kind of statement (known as the French Tickler):

Or this (one ming AND one french tickler all in ONE band):

But inevitably there would be "those" who got it all wrong. Here are some of "those" and their sorted stories:

Exhibit A:

Prince played guitar leads that would have made any lead axeman in any 80s Hair Metal band proud. He also was very short, and short men naturally have a Napoleon complex and therefore must compensate by displaying their manhood in the form of facial hair. His first attempt was the ever-famous 'chocolate milk mustache' or just simply the 'chocolate milk'. This didn't last long, and by the early 80's, when Prince inherited the wardrobe from The 1976 Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band movie, he also streamlined his mustache into an elegant, pencil-thin, Little Richardesque piece which began referring to itself as the "mustache formerly known as the Chocolate Milk".

Exhibit B:
This one really needs no explanation. The classic "porno stache" that was all the rage among every Debbie Does Dallas Porno-star-wannabe of the late 70s. Perhaps the only time in the history of Western Civilizaton that this stache could have been taken seriously was the late 70s/early 80s. But when sported along with the 'Brady Bunch fancy-boy perm' and 'jazz hands', you have a walking, breathing, living douchebag.

Exhibit C:
Q: What do you do when you are an internationally famous singer-songwriter at the peak of your skill living during the long-hair 70s, but rapidly going bald as the nation turns their lonely eyes toward you? A: You grow a mustache. Actually, first you try hiding the baldness by wearing hoodies, cowboy hats or ballcaps. Eventually, you get so desperate to see hair growing somewhere on your head that you embrace the mustache. Simon decides to go with the "fluffer". Not quite as blatant as the Porno stache, but equally ridiculous. But by the late mid 80's, Simon saw the error of his ways and axed the stache, got a hair transplant, then married Edie Brickell (religion, is a smile on a dog...).

Exhibit D:
Known as the she-ming or the FeMing, the female "Ming" is one of the hardest staches to pull off (particularly for non-Hispanic womyn). If anyone could pull it off, it would have been the punk pioneer Patti Smith. But after rubbing our noses into her hairy, unkempt armpits all throughout the 70's, some see the mustache as a bit too much...follicle overkill. As we all know, the reason woman rockers grow 'staches or beards or let their armpit hair go, is to give a visual ''tease" to male audience members, as if to say, "Look, this is basically what the hair of my vagina is gonna look like--are you turned on?" Sometimes this works, sometimes it doesn't.

Exhibit E:

Known as the 'walrus' (sometimes also called the Wilfred Brimley) this stashe is uncommonly popular among recovering drug addicts whose best years are obviously a distant memory in the rear view mirror. This mustache says "I'm the kind of guy you would have liked smoking a doobie with and getting a little 'weird' with back in the day." It was first popularized after Dennis Hopper famously unveiled it in his portrayal of a free wheelin' hippie sidekick in his film masterpiece Easy Rider

For more writing by Ed Wagemann click here: Ed Wagemann

©2006 Rockism 101. All Rights Reserved

Signature Rock Poses: The Frontman

Welcome to installment 3 of our five part series on "How To Be In a Tribute Band without having to mortgage your home". Today we look at the frontman -- the lead singer, and the signature Rock poses that he (or she...but mostly he) has to master in order to succeed.
One of the most important and often overlooked posing opportunities for any lead singer comes during that so-called 'downtime' when the frontman is not the focus of attention. It could be during a bass solo, or an intricate 3 part instrumental jam that the other band members insist on wallowing in for 5 to 10 minutes. But when that downtime comes, as a frontman you must be prepared.

So, how do you handle this? Do you shuffle off to the side and twiddle your thumbs? Hell, no. There are a myriad of ways to subtly give the audience a little eye candy (or in the case of David Lee Roth, actually steal the limelight) during these 'musical' moments.
Take for instance, Mick Jagger. Pretty much a total wanker, yet Rock fans pay hundreds of dollars to crowd together in sweaty, smelly, 20,000 seat arenas just to watch this 60 year old walking marvel of plastic surgery (who hasn't written a half decent tune since the Carter Administration) strut around like a rooster set loose in a hen house while Keith Richards stumbles over a guitar solo as if he were trying to climb a coconut tree. Why would any Rock fan do this? Mostly because they are idiots, but also because of the eye candy Rooster strut (and a few other reasons that I'll save for another time).

Fortunately for Mick, the Stones' guitar solos are basically short and sweet, but what do you do if you are in a Led Zep cover band and your Jimmy Page-wannabe is making a career out of the 'Dazed and Confused' solo? That's when you go to the tapes and study the master (Robert Plant) himself-- and you just 'groove, man'. Close your eyes, throw your head back, sway your hips, and throw in a few moaning, sexual, orgasm-ish sounds. It also doesnt hurt to have long, luscious, flowing, golden locks and an armadillo in your trousers as well...

You looked, didn't you? (freaking weirdo) Anyway, neither Mick's nor Plant's tactics are really that difficult to master, but if you are really lucky you will find yourself in a Ramones tribute band. The Ramones decided to bypass this entire guitar solo bullshit and blast out two-minute thrash-fests in which Joey barely had time to catch his breath and part his hair between choruses.
But even then, Joey had to rely on what all frontmen secretly need, and that's a good prop. Something they can fondle or twirl or rub their crotch against while the rest of the band is jamming away. Joey had his hair and his sunglasses. But other singers need bigger props. Roger Daltrey, for instance, was famous for his microphone twirl.
Axl Rose, of course, was known for using his mic stand to gyrate against. Elvis used a prop guitar to accentuate his pelvic liberations. Steven Tyler needed Gypsy scarves. David Johansen used 6 inch high heels. Alice Cooper used everything from snakes and straight jackets to electric chairs and guillotines. Then there was Gibby Haynes, who used an assortment of props (including a live nude female whose oil he would check right there on stage).
Let's also not forget Ian Anderson, who used his flute, which technically IS an instrument, but come on--its a fucking FLUTE! And what better classic frontman pose is there than the famous one-legged 'I gotta let one rip' flute-stance right before squeezing out a medieval flute solo?

But the all time master of the Rock pose had to be David Lee Roth. No frontman in the history of Rock ever had his work cut out for him more than Diamond Dave. Not only did he have to steal the limelight from a bass player who looked like an out of work plumber and whose guitar looked like a whiskey bottle, but he also had to outshine the Stravinsky of the stratocaster, the innovator of the axe, the Mammoth of the modded Marshall amp, Edward Lodewijk Van Halen himself.

But how exactly did David Lee accomplish this? Well, he actually used his entire body as a Prop. He studied martial arts and was an avid mountain climber. All of which came in handy when he'd be required to do his patented backward flips, or his head-cheerleader-esque "I've got spirit yes I do! I've got spirit how bout you!" high kicks, or his olympian somersaults and so on. And then, if that wasn't enough, he'd punctuate it all by fluffing his hair as if he were in a shampoo commercial or else holding his hands in front of his cock in a suggestive manner, as if he was offering it up for auction. All of which, by the way, makes Van Halen the most difficult band to tribute. There have been other physically active frontmen in Rock, guys like Anthony Keidis and Henry Rollins, but none of them really had the poses like Roth did. (Only Jim Morrison, who once whipped his wang out on stage just to see what it looked like in the spotlight, could possibly challenge Roth as the most commanding frontman in the history of Rock...but that's a debate for another day).

Since every frontman can't be a martial arts expert or whip out his wangdoodle on stage, there are other ways to compete with spotlight-stealing gunslingers who engage in gravity defying, high flying guitar leaps like this:

Or guitar smashes like this:

One thing you might do to steal the spotlight back is to bite the head off of live bats a la Ozzy.
Or stagedive into the crowd...

Or slice yourself up with razor blades...

Or maybe just throw your guitar player on your shoulders and go for a piggy back ride...

Or hell, why not just say fuck it all to hell, like Arthur Brown and go light your fucking head on fire (afterall the burns only last a few days but the memories last a lifetime)!
But for god sakes, whatever you do, Please don't burn off your penis--else you be doomed to a life as the frontman for an Emo/BritPop coverband, in which case you would have to learn the unfortunate 'little sister tattling on her big brother for blowing the head off her Barbie with a M-80, hands-tied-behind your back, deepthroat' mic sway, like this(tamborine optional):
Poor Freddy Mercury must be turning over in his grave...

©2006 Rockism 101. All Rights Reserved

Is Michael Jackson Responsible For The Great Indie Rock Uprising?

The music industry was once a welcoming place for young unsolicited musicians and writers. But all this began to change in December of 1984, when a musician from Illinois named Fred Sanford took Michael Jackson to Federal court and sued him for copyright infringement. Two years earlier, Sanford had given a demo tape for a song called "Please Love Me Now" to a CBS Records exec, who then sent the tape to Johnny Mathis's office on the ninth floor of CBS Records in Los Angeles. The ninth floor, at that time was where Michael Jackson (who was anxiously behind on the recording schedule of his latest album Thriller) was holed up trying desperately to meet his deadline. This might have meant nothing, except that 18 days later, Michael Jackson's "The Girl Is Mine" which sounded "substantially similiar" to Sanford's "Please Love Me Now" was heard for the first time ever by anyone other than Michael himself.
micheal jackson photo: Home Alone - micheal jackson edition funny.jpg
Sanford called "foul" and sued CBS for five million big ones. CBS executives were so upset with the case that they responded by instituting a strict company-wide policy prohibiting all employees from accepting unsolicited material. This set an example for the rest of the record industry as well, and by the late 1980s it was no longer possible for start-up musicians to have their demo tapes circulated to the influential decision makers in the music industry. Every major label, publishing company, and artist management firm was now sealed off from young artists trying to break into the music industry. This in turn set the stage for the rise of the Indie Rock phenomenon of the 90s.

Incidentally six years after the Sandford suit, Jackson was back in court when Denver Diva Crystal Cartier claimed MJ had stolen her song “Dangerous” which she had written in 1985. Cartier made audio cassettes of her recording and distributed them to music industry employees in July 1990, a year prior to Michael Jackson’s album Dangerous which included a song called “Dangerous” which sounded “more than accidentally similar to Ms. Cartier’s [version]” according to music expert Jim Mason who testified during the case. Both songs were in D-minor, both recordings contained urban sound effects and rap passages, the bass and drum patterns were very similar and the word “dangerous” was repeated in the third measure of each song’s chorus. During the trial Cartier, an middle-aged overweight Gospel-bred singer appeared in court wearing a hoochie-mama get up that was so revealing that the judge ordered her to go home and changer her clothes.  Cartier protested because Michael got to “sit there wearing makeup, like a chocolate version of Boy George…” yet the judge didn’t make him change his wardrobe.

The Pebble That Stood Alone

Syd Barrett: A Very Irregular Head

One muggy summer afternoon in 1988, I was at a stoner party - back in those days 6 or 7 unemployed small town teenagers sitting around, listening to albums and drinking 7up in a basement constituted a stoner party--when this kid in an Aerosmith shirt said, "Enough of this snake-charmer shit," then got up out of his seat and began filing through the stack of cassette tapes beside the stereo.

"Where's my Van Halen tape?" he grunted, "I'm outta here."

The music coming from the speakers that so repulsed Aerosmith was, without a doubt the scariest and most confusing sounds he had ever heard - but it had me totally floored. I had been indoctrinated to Syd Barrett some years earlier via the first two Pink Floyd albums plus the handful of Barrett-era Pink Floyd singles--all of which swept me off my feet. But now this was something beyond that. This was the first time I had ever heard Barrett's solo work and I couldn't have been more hypnotized if Barrett actually had been Baba Gulabgir and I was a Sir Lanka Naga Naja.

Apparently my Van Halen-loving aquaintance hadn't been innoculated by the early Pink Floyd vaccine like I had and therefore had no way of processing what he was hearing on Madcap Laughs. I on the other hand was instantly absorbed into the ether of Barrett's universe. Maybe it was the timing--maybe it was synchronicity. I used to think about my emotional/mental health in terms of it being like the American economy. In this context, late 1985 to early 1986 would have been my Great Depression, followed by another lesser depression in in late 1987 to mid 1988. In between that however, 1986-1987 was one of the happiest times in my life. When I first heard Barrett I was in the grip of this second lesser Depression. This lesser depression was less intense but lingered a bit longer than the first one. Not yet 20 years old, I was still in the midst of learning how to deal with adult emotions. Like many teens I used music to remedy what had ailed me. I medicated myself with heavy doses of Bob Dylan and John Lennon and Neil Young, Tim Hardin, Cat Stevens, Donovan, Lou Reed--all those serious cats. As great as this music was, as thought-provoking and uplifting or emotionally stirring as all of it was, they weren't able to get to me the same way as Barrett did. These artists all had the ability to seem as though they were singing directly to you, or directly for you. Barrett though, was something else. His music was as if it was actually coming directly from me. As if he had somehow teleported inside my head and flushed out all of the thoughts and melodies and visions that were hidden away in there. It was a listening sensation that I would very rarely ever experience again.

Gradually I ventured out of my second Depression, but I did so now armed with the woe-is-me sensative/misunderstood and tortured artist persona that Syd Barrett embodied in his solo work. It was a dark, haunted, menacing Modigliani/Luis Bunuel/Edgar Allan Poe persona that allowed little or no tolerance for anything other than my own self-absorbtion. To be blunt, I had become a total ass.

My self-absorbtion was so complete in fact that I actually realized that I had become a total ass because of it. Luckily I also realized I had to hide this fact from others. Which I did for the next decade or so...until I was able to mature beyond it somewhat. Which brings us to Syd Barrett: A Very Irregular Head by Rob Chapman.

Chapman's book is easy to read for a Barrett fan, the research is adequate--the entire Syd Barrett story is there, starting in typical biography fashion with descriptions of Barrett's family lineage complete with thumbnail portraits of ancestors.  The narrative then progresses chronologically from Syd's birth to his death and then ends with a chapter on his legacy. Mixed into the stew of course is ad naseum analysis and comparisons of everything that influenced Barrett from traditional British children's literature to cut-up methods of writing lyrics to the effect of light shows on his guitar playing* and so on and so on and blah, blah, blah. Chapman's biography also has a large amount of pop-psychology analysis of Syd not only by the subjects of Chapman's interviews, but by Chapman himself.

The central issue of any Barrett biography or dicussion is the fact that for a very brief period (of just a few years really) Barrett created one of the most fascinating bodies of work that the Rock world has ever known--and then, he simply stopped. By the age of 24 his entire recording career is through. "What the fuck happened?" is one of the great rock mysteries of all-time. Some say he went crazy, others say he created a persona of craziness to escape the pop spotlight. Others say he started out being eccentric because it was fun, but then he enjoyed it so much that he actually became that way. Some say that his imagination was so great and fascinating that he prefered living in the world of his imagination as opposed to the world of reality.

Although I was never a great recording artist and never lost my marbles to the degree that Barrett supposedly had, I had teetertottered my way through the 1990s going from periods of being extroverted and social to periods of being withdrawn and not wanting to be around other people at all. From all accounts Barrett was a very social person up until he obtained pop stardom. From which point he became withdrawn in varying degrees until his later years when he seemed content to simply read, tend to his garden, ride his bicycle to the pub, shop for groceries once or twice a week, and create paintings that he would imediately burn after capturing them in photograph. 

To be honest, his later years seem to be a pretty idyllic lifestyle to me, except for one huge emission: Love. Although Barrett had a number of girlfriends as a youth and was even engaged once, he never actually got married or had any children. Chapman's book offers almost no insight on this, however there are a few anecdotes that illustrate how well Barrett got along with children.  There is also an emphasis on a teenage love affair Syd had.  Then there are also a few examples of how Syd sabotagued his various relationships, including an episode where Syd became upset at his own engagement party, went into a room by himself and shaved his head before returning to the party.  Hilarious!  Yet psychotic.

Maybe Syd just never wanted to ever get married and have a family. Maybe if had gotten married it would only have ended in disaster. Who knows? But what I do know is that in my story, falling in love, getting married and having children worked wonders for me. Eventhough I ended up divorced by 2010, the experience knocked me out of my self-absorbed deep-thinker, tortured poet/artist persona faster than any drug ever could. Today, I will occassionally slip a Syd Barrett tune into the mix of songs that I listen to with my 5 year old son and 3 year old daughter. They seem to like them.

*The influence of Barrett's guitar playing for instance can be heard in punk, art rock, grunge and Indie rock. As the leader of the Pink Floyd, the genius of Syd's guitar playing was that he used his guitar more as an effect generator instead of simply a device for playing chords and solos. He experimented with the sonic possibilities of distortion, dissonance and feedback--one of his most famous techniques was sliding his Zippo lighter up and down the fretboard of his Fender Esquire that was manipulated through an ancient echo box. This created the mysterious, spaced out noise that became a trademark of Pink Floyd's early sound.

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Almost Infamous

I didn't really know what a groupie was until I was about 14 years old. I had seen them at local fair grounds and other places Rock bands performed, but I didn't know what they really were until one day I read a magazine article that detailed the infamous Led Zeppelin episode in which John Bonham 'made love' to a groupie using a trout (or some kind of fish). After that I became kind of fascinated with the entire groupie culture, and I soon came to realize that it was an instrumental part of Rock, going back to the beginning days when Elvis Presley had his manager line girls up outside his hotel room for him to pick and choose from. So I began to study groupie culture and the groupie phenomenon. Here's my report:
By the mid 60s, in many ways, the Groupie factor had become a force that was shaping the Classic Rock landscape. The key was that, although there were some groupies who were famous within Rock circles at that time, for the most part, groupies were NOT famous. They were almost famous. This was important, because it meant that they would have to fuck and suck their way through managers, promoters and roadies to get to their desired rock star. Occasionally they would be rewarded with a song written about them:
~'200 Motels' or 'Our Bizarre Relationship' by Frank Zappa.
~'American Band' by Grand Funk Railroad who paid homage to a wild, almost famous groupie from little rock Arkansas named Sweet, Sweet Connie (who was also a school teacher).
~The Beatles' 'Polythene Pam' and 'She came in through the Bathroom window' which was a tip of the hat to a band of groupies called the Apple Scruffs who stood post outside the Beatles recording studio everyday.
~In the Rolling Stones song "Rip This Joint" they reference 'the butter queen' who was a groupie from Dallas Texas named Barbara Cope who was well known for using butter as a lubricant when she gave blow jobs.
~Kiss wrote a song called "Plaster Caster" that made reference to Cynthia and Diane Plaster Caster, who were possibly the first groupies to actually become semi-famous. The Plaster Casters had a niche. They traveled to various rock venues carrying around a small briefcase that held the tools with which they created plaster of Paris duplications of the Rock god's penises. They would finagle their way into the back stages and hotels, use their powers of persuasion to get the rock star naked and then make a molding of that Rock star's famous penis. Their collection eventually contained casts of Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morrison, Noel Redding, Eric Burdon, Peter Shelly, Jello Biafra, Richard Lloyd of Television, and a cast of dozens.
The first
semi-famous band of groupies was the Frank Zappa-inspired GTO's (which has been said to stand for Girls Together Outrageously, Girls Together Occasionally, Girls Together Only, or Girls Together Often). Their group included Miss Christine, Suzi Cream Cheese, Miss Lucy, Miss Mercy, Sparky, Cinderella, Miss Sandra as well as probably the most prolific groupie of all-time: Pamela Des Barres. Miss Pamela had personified the free-spirited, free-lovin' '60s groupie. She managed to become involved with many of the biggest rock stars of the Classic era including Jimmy Page, Mick Jagger, Jim Morrison, Nick St. Nicholas of Steppenwolf, Noel Redding of the Jimi Hendrix Experience, Waylon Jennings and the Who's Keith Moon.

In the 60's, most groupies were harmless hippie chicks but by the 70's groupies like Des Barres were setting the foundations for what would become the Super Groupie. By the 70s, the role of a groupie had evolved into being a necessary rite of passage for any girl who wanted to eventually enter into a relationship or possibly even get married to a rock star. One legendary super groupie who worked this angle was Bebe Buell. Bebe dated Todd Rundgren, Mick Jagger, Iggy Pop, David Bowie, Jimmy Page, Steven Tyler (whom she had a kid with—actress Liv Tyler), Rod Stewart and Elvis Costello (who she claimed had gotten her pregnant and had written a number of songs about her—which Costello denies). Buell also claimed that Prince had written "Little Red Corvette" about her in which Prince sings "Bebe, you're much too fast".
Another super-groupie was Cyrinda Foxe-Tyler who worked with Andy Warhol and was best know for her role in "Andy Warhol's Bad." She also had an affair with David Bowie, got pregnant and had an abortion then worked with David Bowie as a Marilyn Monroe look-alike, appearing in his "The Jean Genie" video before marrying David Johansen, frontman for the New York Dolls, in 1977. Cyrinda then bounced off of Johansen a year later and landed on Steven Tyler. Her last marriage was to musician Keith Waa which lasted 3 days.

The list of Super groupies of the 70's is a long one, there is Sable Starr, whose sister Corel was also an important groupie. Sable Starr had gotten into the groupie trade at the age of 15 when she met up with the New York Doll's Johnny Thunders. Later she hooked up with Jimmy Page, Marc Bolan, and Iggy Pop.

Then there was Angie Bowie who married David Bowie in March 1970. Angie was as well known for her female sexual conquests as her male ones, including Cyrinda Foxe-Tyler, Marianne Faithfull and Cherry Vanilla.

Cherry Vanilla herself was also part-groupie. She had been one of the first DJ's of the late 60's club scene. She also worked with Andy Warhol in various plays until she met David & Angie Bowie and began an affair with the both of them. Later she was the original singer for the Police and she also helped Debbie Harry get started. Her book Pop Tarts is considered to be the prototype for Madonna's book Sex.
These SuperGroupies of the 70s all set the stage for the drastic changes in the role of the groupie that transpired in the 1980's. In the 80's, aided by Mtv, it had become possible for the Rock groupie to go from being 'almost famous' to being just as famous as the rock stars they were humping. (Winona Ryder, Pamela Anderson, Kate Hudson). The first Super Groupie to actually attain this kind of break-through fame was the legendary Tawny Kitane. Kitane first came to fame as the spread-leg video vixen and girlfriend of Whitesnake's lead singer David Coverdale. Coverdale famously gave Kitane a part in his music video. This led to a lackluster career in the movie industry for Kitane before she ended up marrying major league baseball pitcher Chuck Finley--a relationship that ended with Kitane being arrested and charged with spousal abuse and battery after she allegedly kicked and twisted the ear of Finley during an altercation where she used her fists and boots to beat the snot out of him. She then accused him of being a boozer, a pot smoker, and a steroid user to the press. I guess this is what happens when sports stars trying to enter the mysterious and dangerous world of Rock...

Occasionally a groupie will come along that seems to be like poison. They somehow become responsible (or at least blamed for) either ruining a Rocksters career, breaking up the band, or causing him to get hooked on drugs and every other bad thing that happens in his life. The three most famous evil groupies are: Courtney Love, Nancy Spungeon, and Yoko Ono.

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