Monday, December 22, 2014

The Kinks, "Father Christmas"

Punk rock never had a bigger year than 1977, with Never Mind the Bollocks, The Clash, Rocket to Russia, Marquee Moon, Blank Generation, Damned Damned Damned, In the City and Iggy Pop's two Berlin records near the top of a year flooded with great music. It might have been a bittersweet time for the Kinks, whose proto-punk garage rock and cockney insolence had its fingerprints all over punk and metal but hadn't had a major hit in years (although hit covers from both Van Halen and The Jam were just a few months away).

Thus Kinks rose to the occasion with possibly the most punk rock thing they could have done, a new song about a department store Santa getting jumped by a gang of kids who want money instead of toys ("Father Christmas, give us some money / Don't mess around with those silly toys / We'll beat you up if you don't hand it over / We want your bread, so don't make us annoyed"). It's catchier than "Christmas Wrapping", funnier than "Christmas at Ground Zero" and infinitely more agreeable than "Do They Know It's Christmas?".

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Revocation, "Fracked"

I was glad to see Governor Cuomo move to ban fracking in New York today, with state health commissioner Howard Zucker noting that the health risks wouldn't be worth the gas and jobs. However, I was disappointed that the announcement didn't contain a single quote from Revocation's "Fracked."

Death metal lyrics are often useless, and usually incomprehensible even when they're good (see Misery Index and Pig Destroyer.) But "Fracked" ranks with Metallica's "Blackened," Testament's "Greenhouse Effect" and the entire Gojira discography as one of metal's sharpest odes to environmentalism. The lyrics are blunt but avoid the self-importance that undermines too many environmental crusaders' arguments. And even the less direct stanzas ("unearthing the crypts"--perhaps a Suffocation reference?) sound killer laid over Dave Davidson's progressions.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Steel Panther, "The Stocking Song"

Metal is perhaps important during the holiday season, when the umpteenth Muzak version of "The Little Drummer Boy" sends you right to Goatwhore's Carving Out the Eyes of God, or whatever your preferred means of blocking out Christmas music may be. I'm also in favor of busting out some of metal's Christmas best, whether AC/DC's "Mistress for Christmas," King Diamond's "No Presents for Christmas" or Spinal Tap's "Christmas with the Devil." Yet for all of metal's perks, the genre has yet to provide a truly excellent Christmas song, something on par with Run–D.M.C.'s "Christmas in Hollis" (although maybe that's setting the bar too high.)

Steel Panther come close this year with "The Stocking Song," possibly the most ribald Christmas double entendre song since Clarence Carter's "Back Door Santa." The music is just as uproarious as the lyrics, nailing the wimp-rock slush of Tesla, Extreme (yes, there are congas) and pulling out a melody that could have come directly from the '80s if it didn't sound a little like Boyz II Men. God rest you merry, gentlemen.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

James Niggemeyer

Ten years ago this morning, I was a college junior walking to my favorite English class when my friend Matt (on his way to becoming a famous musician in The So So Glos) stopped me. "Hey Ben, did you hear about Damageplan?"

"Yeah, Dimebag Darrell and Vinnie Paul's new band. What about them?"

"Someone killed Dimebag and three other people last night."

This show is terrible, and the tracking is off, but please sit through it for glimpses Officer Niggemeyer's courage.

I don't remember my reaction, or what book my classmates talked about while I stressed out. I spent the rest of the day between the library, refreshing Google News by the minute in hopes of some sort of insight into what had happened, and my room, where my high school metalhead friends, tightly bonded in Virginia but now split up by college all over the country, had already left me somber messages by the time I arrived. "Cemetery Gates" was stuck in my head for weeks, maybe even months.

I've written much about Dimebag since then, and as Pantera means more to me each year I'm sure there's more to come. But today I want to honor Officer James Niggemeyer. This has not been a good year for police publicity, and I hate that it takes a case like Niggemeyer's to remind me what a noble, risky, heroic and thankless job a cop has.

The Columbus Dispatch released a heartbreaking update on Niggemeyer yesterday, in which he opens up about the counseling he's been going through for post-traumatic stress disorder. I hope you'll read it in its entirety.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Empress on Prince and Morbid Angel

"As early as I can remember, music was such an integral part of my happiness. When I was a baby I got a Fisher-Price record player and my father who was a radio DJ here in NYC for 50 years on 101.1 CBSFM would bring home 45s and 12" LPs. I remember seeing old footage of myself at age five, where I was coordinating dance routines in my bedroom according to the content of each song. I grew up in a very stressful, broken home where my parents violently separated when I was six, so music became my escape and distraction from the pain, stress and fighting.  Music was the force that lifted me up and gave me hope and happiness.

I started going to shows at a very early age. The first concert I went to was Prince when I was eight years old. I won the concert tickets by being the 100th caller on Z-100 radio and I remember being paranoid that they weren't going to give me the tickets if they found out who my Dad was. My first club that I went to was the Limelight when I was 13. It was for a Morbid Angel concert. After that awesome show, they turned it into a club night. Once I saw all those vibrantly dressed club kids and heard that underground electronic dance music, I was hooked. I went every week. Luckily for me, I met Tom, one of managers that first night I went and I didn't have a hard time getting in after that, despite my young age. Since I was so young, I wasn't thinking about what I wanted to do at that time, all I could think about was that was where I wanted to be."

--Outtake from the current issue of The Deli Magazine, out now.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Living Colour, "Funny Vibe"

The single remix and music video for "Funny Vibe" are helplessly stuck in the 1980s, but its message sadly isn't.

I don't know whose idea it was to give "Funny Vibe" a pop-rap remix, complete with the most embarrassing tagalong rapper this side of the New Power Generation's Tony M., but thankfully it's the original, from Living Colour's still-smashing Vivid, which graces the band's setlists. Exhibit A for Will Calhoun's Drum God status.

As a grade school boy falling in love with heavy metal, this song made me a little uncomfortable when I first pored over Vivid. I didn't think Corey Glover was going to rob, beat or rape anyone--why would he even bring that up? Even Vernon Reid's jangling, complicated leads are discomforting. There weren't any riffs or hooks to latch onto, like "Cult of Personality" or "Glamour Boys." Change the joke and slip the yoke...

Growing up with progressive schools and families, I was taught about acceptance and diversity from an early age, never getting a decent sense of issues with names like Driving While Black, Racial Profiling or Fear of a Black Planet. But Living Colour dropped them on my doorstep (even the last one--"Funny Vibe" includes guest spots from Chuck D and Flavor Flav, three years before they teamed up with Anthrax.) "Funny Vibe" weirded me out. I didn't associate my unease with racism, but by putting those thoughts about rape, robbery and assault in my mind, Living Colour taught me more about the way people saw them than they ever would have by singing "White people think I'm a bad guy." For a kid who believed racism was solved at the end of Eyes on the Prize II, it was quite a shock.