14 min read

Notes On Anita Lane, Madball in The Park, Kid Congo in The Desert, St. Vincent-gate, and Assorted Punks, Players, + Haters

What is up, rockers? Welcome to another Abundant Living, the third on the slightly less problematic platform!

Since, as I switched from Substack to Ghost, I kind of slacked on sending out the newsletter, I wanted to touch base, even though I don’t have a ton to say. Or, rather, I have plenty to say but my concerns are a hodgepodge of takes, rather than, say, 4,000 words supposing an alternate reality where, after the dissolution of Verbal Assault, the Gorman Brothers joined The Juliana Hatfield Three rather than Belly. I have interviews with Alsarah (of the Nubatones), Rhys Langston, and FACS in the works. Along with the long promised essays on Crimpshrine and Moth Culture. But just because life hassles have pushed all those back a minute, I don’t want you, my friends, to be left hanging. So, in that spirit, and in the tradition of Boston’s 73rd best band (between Morphine and SSD), let us commence to jump around.

RIP Anita Lane

I was grievously sad to hear about the death of Anita Lane. If, as Ron House sang in 1987’s Letter To a Fanzine, Nick Cave is “a genius in a sense,” then Anita Lane was… well, any analogy would only serve to diminish, and she deserves better than to be defined by comparison anyway.

While it would be ahistorical to divorce Anita Lane’s legacy from that of her friend, lover, and and sporadic songwriting partner, her body of work stands strong, on its own. In how her collaborations with Cave resulted in some of his best songs. In how her collaborations with other sharply dressed, hollow cheeked princelings (Kid Congo Powers, Die Haut, various other Germans and Bad Seeds) both exemplified and presaged certain sleazily cinematic trends. And in how her two particularly fine, underrated, solo albums were, tragically, already slated for both rerelease and reappraisal later this year.

As friend and off-and-on girlfriend of Nick Cave, then frontman of Australian/Beefheartian junk-punk outfit, The Birthday Party, Lane (who’d also gone to high school with Birthday Party guitarist Rowland S. Howard) co-wrote “A Dead Song,” “Dead Joe,” and “Kiss Me Black.” Picking the “best” songs by The Birthday Party is like picking the “best” sunrise. People can do it if they want, but even the exercise is pretty disrespectful to the Mystery. So let’s just agree that Lane’s contributions are inarguably among the most Birthday Party-esque of the band’s catalog. If “A Dead Song” isn’t a statement of intent, and a statement that more than one member of the coterie would spend their long or short lives following to its logical or illogical conclusions, then I don’t know what is.

The sheer length of Nick Cave’s recording career has made petty song comparison a slightly less freighted affair. After all, they can’t all be winners. So it’s no big thang to say that “From Her To Eternity” and “Stranger Than Kindness” (written by Lane and Blixa Bargeld) are easily, easily, easily two of the greatest songs that Nick Cave, or for that matter any other slick-haired crooner, has ever committed to tape. While it’s certainly possible that Nick Cave would have inspired the cult that he has to this day if the biggest single off his post-Birthday Party debut was *checks notes* “Well of Misery” but luckily, because of Anita Lane, we are not forced to ponder the imponderable. I will say with a fair degree of confidence that “Saint Huck” probably wouldn’t fly for that one scene in Wings of Desire.

In Rolling Stone, Rob Sheffield wrote an obituary so graceful and empathetic as to remind one that, when he’s not wasting digital ink questing for the False Grail of acceptance by Swifties and Harries, he’s still one of our most knowledgeable and incisive music writers. And The Quietus recently did, preceding their own moving obituary, an excellent overview of Lane’s solo work. I couldn’t do better than either piece, so I won’t try. Hit those hyperlinks and don’t forget to subscribe to The Quietus. I would, however, like to add just two more things.

First, Anita Lane’s 1991 cover of “These Boots Are Made For Walking,” a duet with Bad Seed Barry Adamson, was both the Space Age pop revival and Space’s “Female of the Species,” years before either would shake their electronica-fied martini shakers all the way to glossy-zine/Spin backpages, boho-alt success. Hell, the Adamson & Lane & The Thought Systems of Love EP even came out before a shortstack Scientologist named Beck would lift the aesthetic, mix it with some borrowed Cibo Matto and the rap song he knew, and ride that rocket all the way to a second act that America, quite reasonably, never saw coming. So we can credit Lane for that as well. Why not. “Where It’s At” is a jam, and why should mid-career Beastie Boys get all the credit?

Second, Anita Lane co-wrote “Blume,” a song shared between her and Einstürzende Neubauten (the same version appearing on both Dirty Pearl, Lane’s first solo album, and on the German industrial band’s Tabula Rasa), that takes the spoken word seduction of Histoire de Melody Nelson and transposes it onto a cosmic scale; Lane and Bargeld as celestial bodies, affecting each other’s tides and whatnot. It’s a tremendously gorgeous bop; sweet and sublime enough to, even if that was all Anita Lane had written or sang, warrant cultural remembrance. The fact that “Blume” is instead just one of many darkly lovely and brazenly sly pop subversions, most of which are now considered classics in other artist’s canons, is a testament to both Anita Lane’s generosity and, even more so, to her own vivacious talent. Like everyone, she died too young. But, also, she died way too young. Love and condolences to all those who knew her.

Kid Congo & The Pink Monkey Birds Swing From The Sean DeLear EP

This four song collection was released by In The Red in February but has just been made available digitally on Bandcamp. Kid Congo (who was a close friend to Anita Lane and has my deepest condolences) has been a guitar and fashion icon since his days stargazing from the gutter in those twin constellations of trash-strewn transcendence, The Gun Club and The Cramps. He played on the first Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds album I ever got (the woefully under appreciated The Good Son, purchased at the Berkshire Mall in 1990) and, while so many peers retreated into schtick or death, he’s not missed a step since. The wry humor of his songs (influenced as much by brow-spanning iterations of camp culture as to the farthest left field rock and roll esoterica ever committed to 45), while never less than charming, can sometimes threaten to distract from the man’s primary gift; the way he can make a guitar buck and sing like nobody’s business.

Kid operates within a set Rock and Roll tradition, but he operates from the far corner of that tradition, where riffs meant to make a body move intersect with no wave soul exorcism. Few people alive, and even fewer in the post-punk/garage sphere, are as adept at making a silvery roar that can be as inventively free as it can be comfort-food familiar. So it’s doubly delightful that, on Swing From The Sean DeLear, Kid and his Monkey Birds are all very much in touch with their higher, third eye winking, selves; the funny lines are funny, the weirdo voices are weirdo, and the actual songwriting, playing, and production choices give the house rockin’ and tin-roof rustin’ the kind of un-novel heft that separates “Land of 1000 Dances” from, say, “Walk The Dinosaur.” (Not to say that “Walk the Dinosaur” is a bad song. But I’d only want the Wilson Pickett badassery played at my funeral and/or bris.)

The first half of Swing From The Sean DeLear’s half hour running time is swaggering psychedelic funk and Texan garage boogie, all delivered with a joyful ferocity. The fourth song, a fourteen minute track called “He Walked In,” is something else. The swagger is maintained for sure, but it is restrained into a loping walkabout rhythm, one suited to Kid Congo’s meditation on his long-time-gone friend, Jeffrey Lee Pierce; the frontman of The Gun Club and a man famously haunted even before death.  The song proceeds at its own serenely groovy pace, Richard Linklater’s Waking Life as soundtracked by Booker T and the M.G. 's, and then the music changes again. The loping, at close to the eight minute mark, soars into its final form as a polyrhythmic, flute driven, full on, Fania funkified workout, replete with tambourine, handclaps, and (I think) cabasa. Without Kid ever losing the narrative of a dream about his dead friend. Over this past year, as for a lot of you, “celebration of life” has become a phrase I’m all too familiar with. But the idea itself is beautiful. And “He Walked In” is exactly that. The song may be one the best things Kid Congo has ever done. And there aren’t many bars higher.

Sidenote: I really, for some reason, wanted to call Kid Congo and The Pink Monkey Birds “lupine,” without actually knowing what the word meant. But I just looked “lupine” up and it can mean either wolflike or a multicolored, spiky flower. So I’m going to congratulate myself on my critical intuition (if not my vocabulary) because “this record is wolflike and/or kaleidoscopically flowery, also silkily spiked” was all I was trying to say about six hundred words ago.

Saturday In The Park With Madball

OK, look. I talk a lot of shit. Online and off. Like, a lot. But I do actually strive to subscribe to the principle of not saying shit online that I wouldn’t, at least conceivably, say to someone’s face. With that in mind, there’s very little shit that I would talk to your average Doc Martin Skins’ face. I just wouldn’t. So let’s keep it simple: I think outdoor shows are fine. Or at least I think they're more fine than, apparently, a lot of my peers. Though, as is so often the case, a lot of the anger had as much to do with the response to the thing (John Joseph, singer of one of the two Cro Mags, lashing out at critics and basically saying that the hardcore show existed on an equal or higher moral plane than the Black Lives Matter protests) as the thing itself (Madball playing for 2,000 people in Tompkins Square Park).

The reason I'm not automaticaly outraged about the concert (besides my well documented affection for knuckle dragging chugga-chugga tough guy shit wildly incommensurate to my background/muscle mass) is because, like a lot of people, I don't really understand much of what has happened this past year, so I am forced to look to other, smarter people for guidance. In my case, I've consistently looked to Zeynep Tufekci, the Atlantic writer whose track record, even when she was saying stuff I didn't like, has been stronger than just about anyone's. Here's what she had to say, in her most recent piece, about outdoor transmissions:

"Let’s start with the outdoors. Study after study finds extremely low rates of outdoor transmission. So far, I’m unaware of a single confirmed outdoor-only super-spreading event, even though at least thousands of confirmed super-spreading events took place indoors. (The Rose Garden party to celebrate Donald Trump’s nomination of Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court and the multiday Sturgis motorcycle rally in South Dakota both had extensive indoor components.) When outdoor transmission does occur in small numbers, it’s not from fleeting encounters, but from prolonged contact at close distance, especially if it involves talking, yelling, or singing."

I wrote Tufekci to ask about the Madball show specifically, but I imagine she gets a million emails a day so my expectations for a response are low. Probably more an Integrity fan anyway. But, looking just at the above paragraph (and links), the first part strongly suggests that outdoor concerts are OK. The last sentence... not so much.

So, even if I'm agnostic on the issue of large outdoor gatherings, I strongly believe that criticising outdoor shows, especially ones where the majority of attendees are maskless and there’s a ritualized smooshing of bodies against other bodies, is fine too. And should be expected. Especially if said show's organizers and/or performers are going to imply that the CDC mandating a Year Without Windmilling and the wearing of a thin square of fabric during a pandemic is akin to Stalin himself dragging them to the gulags, where they'll be forced to listen to Blatz's "Fuk New York" on repeat, at full pussifying volume, for the remainder of the Kali Yuga (aproximately 426,878 years). While undoubtedly seeing oneself as living through an "Age of Quarrel" is more dramatically satisying than days spent scrolling through an "Age of Facebook Scoldings," what can I say? Fate is a real scamp. Anyway, I strongly believe DMS guys are, generally speaking, extremely scary guys and they should have confidence in that fact and therefore not bother getting upset when criticised online. They certainly shouldn't, and I can't stress this one enough, be threatening critics. Physically or otherwise. Nobody is questioning concert participants' toughness, just their appreciation of virus transmission.

And I strongly believe that, in general, the anti-vaxxing views espoused by the organizers fucking suck. It’s debatable whether I would take that up in person though. But my girl and I have lost family from this shit show, so maybe I would. Probably would depend on how many Natty Lights I'd had. And how close I was to an exit.

I believe that John Joseph's comments about Black Lives Matter were not fine. Far from it. Little of his general worldview is, to my mind, close to reasonable. When your baseline is “dinosaurs didn’t exist,” there’s not a lot of places you can go from there. I know his whole steez is "I'm a street guy," and I respect (or at least fear) that but, end of the day, underneath those mean streets of endless struggle and Sunday hardcore matinees, there's a not-for-nothing-butt-load of fossil records.

Anyway. I still love NYHC. Especially Sheer Terror (who didn't play Tompkins but are playing an attendance-limited show this Saturday). But one of the reasons I especially love Sheer Terror is because they've largely resisted the lure of the conspiratorial mindset and self-victimization. And, unlike some, they continue to make new, relevant work and decline to coast off a single album from half a century ago. Or spend their time screaming at people half their age on Instagram.

Long story short: I don't think Madball has killed us all (knock on wood). But they should have booked the show for August. And told that jerkoff from SSD to stay in Boston. Now, because NYHC couldn't keep it in its slam-pants, even the Tompkins Square Riot Anniversary Show has been cancelled. And I was really looking forward to seeing Blitzspeer.

OK. I’d like to think that I would say all that to whomever’s face. Though I really wouldn’t want to. And my voice would definitely go up a couple octaves as I said it. So if, next time you see me, I’m a haze of bloody pulp, with a pair of broken glasses resting precariously on top of the pile of torn-to-pieces Ben Sherman fabric and bone shards, you’ll know I tested the theory out and seriously misjudged my own likability.

St. Vincent-gate

It’s a shame that St. Vincent had her team kill a perfectly reasonable, if somewhat leading, interview. I saw Vincent’s performance on SNL and, with its Kid Creole aesthetic and slightly cringy racial dynamic, it was the first time that I found St. Vincent to be actually interesting, as opposed to being an artist that I thought I should be interested in. Not that I’ve ever not respected her, just that I’ve always taken her art in the same way I take Spoon’s music: smart, skillful, arty guitar pop that’s mainly a bunch of neat sounding verses in a row, with no choruses in sight. And why would I bother with rock and roll at all if I saw verses as anything other than what the listener was compelled to suffer through while waiting for the icecream cake to arrive?

Actually, I don’t know if I mean any of that. It’s possible that I don’t really care about this one. Main Thing Is: the main villain is the spineless publication. They’re the ones that caved. The reporter did nothing wrong. And St. Vincent’s team got away with what they were allowed to, which turns out was plenty.

And, while forever being a full throated Janet Weiss fan, the St. Vincent produced S-K album has some bangers. If not exactly willing to die on this hill, I could definitely take a cozy nap upon it.

OK thanks! Let’s do some quick cuts and get out of here!

I Don’t Speak Japanese So I Don’t Know What This Album is Called

Or anything else about it. All I know is that the band is called Sarushibai and it totally rules. Like a Burning Spirit hard rock band.

American Music Club Catalog Finally on Bandcamp

I will absolutely write about my love for Mark Eitzel in a future newsletter. Consider this a chance to buy all his band’s early, shatteringly amazing work beforehand so you’ll understand all my insider slowcore baseball references. To be honest, I didn’t know they were considered “slowcore” until I started rebuying all these albums. American Music Club was neither slow nor core. Pretty comforting that music criticism has always been throwing words against the wall and seeing what stuck. Regardless, songwriting so glorious and narratively inspired that you’ll dare to think this world is something someone, somehow, might get out of alive. Nothing but pure pop for now people (with angelically deformed psyches).

PremRock & Willie Green Engraved Bouquet

One half of the always delightful Shrapknel collaborating, for the umpteenth time, with the Don Zientara of Backwoodz Studioz. PremRock is as deftly commanding as always, a world weary(ish) tough talker too smart to be dumb, but not averse to seeing what he can get away with within the space of a single bar.  And Willie Green, fresh off the deserved plaudits Haram received, can’t or won’t make a boring beat. The tail end of this EP is instrumentals so the listener can luxuriate in the producer’s lacing of wiggly space-synths to soft-focus vibes (the word I’m choosing to use when I don’t know the actual instrument… not literal vibes) to echoing drums you hear being dropped from the roof just before they hit you. Prem’s sharpness (in both tone and lyrical content) works in contrast to the groovy wooziness of his surroundings, but the gruffness is charming and conversational, never at direct odds with Green’s warm architecture. Basically the four song collection is like ending up at an after hours by yourself, a bit tipsy but also maybe grinding your teeth just a little, and actually finding a couple dudes you can relate too. Friendship is terrific.

The Mind Open Up The Window and Leave Your Body

Maybe The Mind aren’t as exciting as I think they are. Maybe there’s some Welsh DIY band from 1883 that they’re a complete rip of. Possible! But if you think I’m going to go relisten to fucking Tronics or whoever just to crush my delusions and seem smart, you’ve got another thing coming. Over at Turntable Report, Tracy Wilson described The Mind beautifully and thusly, “The psych band The United States of America's record playing on as it melts in a fire. The Sugarcubes practicing hauntology. The corner of sickness and health. Rose Melberg's reflection in an oil spill.” Works for me! All I know for certain is that a lot of ostensibly “weird punk” sounds like Devo played by handsome people; a decidedly, in 2021, unweird proposition. The Mind, within the constraints of this being genuinely delightful, catchy music, sounds weird. The songs range from twee thuggishness (and vice versa) to the sound of a dolphin pod trying to make a dub record without ever having heard an example of the genre, and with nothing to go on but the sound of the word itself. Plus, again, they’re dolphins. Anyway. This band is the platonic ideal of “opener way better than the headliner” music. I pity the slick losers that would have to follow this blessed mess. Truly lovable stuff (backed by force).

OK I’m clearly losing the plot. I need to post this and go to bed! Thanks for reading. PLEASE share. Ghost is slightly more complicated to subscribe to than Substack and I wanna get those numbers back up. Thank you!

Oh I Almost Forgot… I Have a New Band!

We're called Telematics! Check it out!

And Please Tune Into The Abundant Living Soho Radio Show!

OK bye for real. Thanks for reading.