Wednesday, August 7, 2013

the undeath of rock 'n' roll

When I was doing one of the very first interviews for Retromania back in May 2011 -- for an Irish radio station,  or maybe it was Scottish, can't remember -- I did my spiel, my five-minute nutshell version of the book's arguments, then ran through some evidence, and in there I mentioned certain Creation-y things, like Primal Scream doing the Higher Than the Sun all-the-way-through reenactment gigs, maybe there was a snipe at something Oasis-related, I can't remember - but I do definitely recall that Creation-y things were mentioned as evidence for the case for the prosecution.

Anyway, my bit's over, but the station's producer forgets to disconnect the line: I can't be heard, but I can listen to the show, hear who's up next talking, the next guest. And they hadn't mentioned it to me beforehand, but he doesn't know that so he might well think he's been deliberately dissed: next guest is none other than Alan McGee. (+ some other chap - I think possibly the dude who made the Creation documentary, probably that's why they were on). By way of segue, the presenter asks "so Alan, what did you think of what Simon Reynolds was saying?".  And in a low baleful mutter-growl, McGee sez: "y'know, that guy, Simon Reynolds, always thought, he's the worst thing about music".   That cracked me up no end. Sliiiiight overstatement, no? More evil than my partial namesake Simon Cowell?  More pernicious than the X number people who actually create and release horrible horrible music into the world?  Quite chuffed to have got his goat, actually.

This is but preamble to the (old-ish) news that McGee has started a new record label, 359 Music. One of the signings is Gun Club Cemetery :

"Gun Club Cemetery love their good old-fashioned, down and dirty guitar music but like the bands who have inspired them – The Faces and The Stones among others – they can also turn their hands to a sensitive, heart-rending piano ballad. The band are fronted by Perth-based ex-Hurricane #1 singer Alex Lowe (vocals and guitar), alongside Mancunian Nick Repton (bass), who’d previously played with Bonehead in The Vortex, and Colin Ward from Nottingham (drums). 

"For Alex, it’s the chance to be back where he belongs, fronting a no-frills, no-nonsense rock and roll band. “It feels amazing. I really like playing solo, but to be on stage with a group of friends is the best feeling in the world,” he says. “I want Gun Club Cemetery to be a great band and to stick together through thick and thin. I just want to make it work, make some cool records and get out on the road.”...

 Their forthcoming self-titled album for 359, due out in November, boasts some infectious retro guitar grooves, with an occasional nod towards the likes of Black Rebel Motorcycle Club. Alex’s new-found love of Americana – Townes Van Zandt, Tom Petty, 50′s rockabilly, The Buffalo Killers – can also be heard in GCC’s music.

“Gun Club Cemetery are a cool new combo, with one of my fave singers and my fave bass players. I’d definitely put some of my hard-earned wedge on them being the ones to kick the British scene’s back doors in over the coming months. Lock up your daughters. And your wives!“
- Clint Boon

Truly these people are the living dead.

What's that Greil Marcus quote again, the one about how the source of the sorrow isn't that rock is dead, but that it won't die, it refuses to die?  When he wrote that (inspired by Poison, in 1992 or thereabouts), GM's explanation was, "the money's too good to quit". Nowadays, there isn't much money in it, but people still refuse to turn off rock's life-support machine. They're in it for.... what? The lifestyle? The glory? Meaning, the reflected  glory, retroactively reflected glory, from when it really was something...

Reminded me, fairly tangentially, of the story about how, when a pre-fame Noel Gallagher first saw The La's, he thought they were great but that "the bastard's been ripping off my songs" (magically, since Lee Mavers would not have been in a position to hear them, Oasis not being famous yet). Of course the truth was that he and Mavers were both of them ripping off the same Sixties source.  An echo of this came this week with the news that Jack White loathes the Black Keys as White Stripes ripper-offers (and I never noticed before the name resemblance/inversion - black/white, keys, stripes).

This came out in email from White to his then-wife Karen Elson (somehow uncovered and made public in connection with her restraining order against him) in which White rants about the prospect of their child being enrolled at the same Nashville school as BKey's Dan Auerbach: "You aren’t thinking ahead. That’s a possible twelve fucking years I’m going to have to be sitting in kids chairs next to that asshole with other people trying to lump us in together. He gets yet another free reign to follow me around and copy me and push himself into my world." Gawker notes the rich irony of "white musician heavily influenced by long-dead black musicians hates other white musician heavily influenced by long-dead black musicians. Why? Unoriginality, of course."

Reminded me also, and almost totally tangentially: how awful the Arctic Monkeys were at Glastonbury. A band I once loved, true, but in their current form they now seem horribly fussy-sounding and slick and painfully tight. What was with the Wakefield's-finest-Elvis-impersonator voice that Turner put on for his between-song banter?  The Stones, decrepit as they were, were 1000 times better in their looseness and edge-of-sloppy vitality.What was it Morley said?  Something like: "Better old men playing young man's music"--i.e. the young man's music they invented when they were young - "than young men playing old men's music."


  1. Hi Simon,Alan McGee is a touchy wee man...check out his Guardian columns from a few years back.Back then he was raving about a band the Grants who seem to have sunk without trace.
    Something i wanted to ask you as i am reading (and greatly enjoying) Retromania at the moment is your thoughts on Improvised music.I feel that live improv created in the moment , being unrepeatable and almost impossible to co-opt by mainstream culture is one of the antidotes to the whole retro-culture malaise.
    maybe i am being fanciful but it seems to me and others working at a true underground level (no media exposure,DIY gigs,tiny CDR runs..all funded by day jobs)that this a path to a honest future.
    I would welcome your opinion.
    thanks again for writing such a great book!
    Robert lawson

  2. cheers Robert

    i must admit i've never really gotten into improvisation... a few exceptions, like john butcher... i sort of admire/respect non-idiomatic improv while not getting much out of it as listening experience (also do have a few doubts and issues with of its philosophical principles)

    for the reasons you mention (unrepeatability, etc) improv would seem not to be capable of generating a retro version of itself, or at least, far less likely to... but at the same time it could face the problem of genre inertia like other genres have, a running out of places to go .... i don't follow it closely enough to be able to comment, but is there an ongoing sense of evolution or steady advance across the history of improv from its starting point to now, or has there being a slowing down, an incrementalism creeping in?

    my own taste in post-jazz tends to follow the post Miles into fusion route...

    1. Hi simon,the history of improv thing is interesting..since we can say improvisation pre-dates composed,formal,structured music it is the oldest genre there is!
      For me what's interesting is that everyone I meet who is an improvisor seems to have come to it from a different direction and from a wide range of motives..changes of taste,escaping formal ideas of music,political stance against the mainstream musical culture.I have made an active decision not to rank improv groups and artists in a league table and to avoid the history trap of looking back to a golden era (the late 60s/early 70's for some) and instead hearing each recording as a document of a one off meeting of minds never to be repeated with its own dynamics and flow.
      As for genre inertia and running out of places to go....speaking for myself again I think there is a vast well of ideas and directions in improv that won't be drying up soon.It isn't bound by the same conventions as popular music,doesn't have to pander to or even please it's audience in the same way and there is bugger all money in it! Of course i am talking about improv at a truely underground level here not the arty NY sonic youth/zorn subsidised stuff which i find a bit dull myself.
      I am working on a short zine about underground improv let me know if you want a copy it might give me the incentive to finish the damn thing!
      cheers,robert lawson