Full Circle with The Flaming Lips: 2012 In Review
By Jaime Lees
Thu., Dec. 20 2012 at 11:54 AM
Editor’s Note: The end of 2012 is upon us (also the end of the world, if you believe in that sort of thing), so we thought we’d put a cap on things by sharing some of our personal favorite shows, albums, events and general shenanigans. Join us as we indulge in some navel-gazing!
When I write articles for RFT Music, I’m not just reporting on music happenings — I’m writing about my life. One day my priorities might change, but for now what matters the most to me is music. Maybe that’s wrong or unhealthy or something, but it’s true, and luckily most of my favorite music moments of 2012 have been documented in some way on these pages.
I’m lucky in that I have a lot of freedom in this space. It’s curated not only by people who give a crap, but by people who value what I have to offer. After seven years of writing for this publication, I’m still grateful and excited for the opportunity. I absolutely adore my job here at RFT Music. My life is my work and my work is my life, and I’m honored to share it with you.
That said, here was my life in 2012:
I rang in the New Year in Oklahoma City. My sweet old dog, Ruby, had just passed and I was in the middle of some serious grief. I ran away for the weekend to hang out with old friends and see two shows with the Flaming Lips and my spirit animal, Yoko Ono. At the stroke of midnight, I was tipsy on pink lemonade moonshine, bathed in kisses and standing inside a massive sonic blast fortified by a fog of rainbow confetti, flashing lights, jumping lasers, hundreds of bright balloons and the twinkling reflections off of a giant disco ball. The Lips played Beatles covers with Yoko and Sean Lennon and Nels Cline; it was absolute bliss and served as a strong reminder of the healing power of live music.
I’ve been saved again and again by amazing music — most of it local. I’m a huge fan of so many of our local bands. Many people wait years for their favorite bands to tour, but for me, my favorite bands play all the time. As an extra treat, I get the opportunity to write about these St. Louis music makers: Lion’s Daughter, Prince Ea, Jimmy Griffin, Jans Project, Demonlover, Roland Johnson, Fred Friction, Nelly and the list goes on and on. I know that a lot of what I write reads as love letters to St. Louis, but I just can’t help myself — St. Louis just makes it too easy. Stop being so awesome and I’ll stop writing about you. Until then, the locals have my heart. (Extra double shout-out to people that I’m proud to call my friends, the hard-working folks at Big Muddy Records, Tower Groove Records and the Rats & People Motion Picture Orchestra.)
I’m not sure why, but this year I felt particularly productive. I was given space to write about music-minded locals who inspire me creatively (Dana Smith), about St. Louis music history (STL 2000) and I got to hype the touring bands that I was the most excited about (Future of the Left, R. Ring). I’m still not quite over the fact that I actually get paid to get drunk and watch Guided by Voices, to eat pizza and listen to Taylor Swift, to try to convince readers that Heart is badass, to watch classic bands like Kiss and Mötley Crüe, to review Madonna from the second row, to jump into the world of Juggalos, to get Sinead O’Connor‘s take on St. Louis (and Chuck Berry) and to praise my personal heroes like Bonnie Raitt and Henry Rollins. If you can find a girl that is luckier than me, I’d sure like to meet her.
Under the advice of my very favorite punk rock couple, I attended a show with a band I’d never heard before: I saw Useless Eaters at CBGB and it was the best damn show I saw all year. These kinds of happy accidents only occur when you actually listen to the suggestions of others, so try keep some cooler-than-you friends around.
And though I was stoked on the lineup this year at our big summer festival, LouFest, I had originally declined to do any LouFest coverage. I wanted a weekend of fun, without having to spend all night writing reviews. But there was a last-minute rescheduling and Kiernan came and found me right before Dinosaur Jr played. He needed someone to write about Dino’s set. I said sure, knowing that it would actually be easy– on some level I’d been prepared to review a Dino show for at least half of my life. Kiernan hunted down an empty beer box for me to write on and then he went back out into the crowd, off on his next mission. I found a pen, ducked under a friend’s umbrella and wrote my notes out on the cardboard. Improvising ain’t just for musicians, you know, and the Dino review turned out to be one of my favorite things that I wrote all year.
The second night of LouFest, I again found myself at the emotional mercy of the Flaming Lips live show, but this time as a participant. I danced onstage with some of my favorite people, and I absolutely rocked that slutty Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz costume, if I do say so myself. It was one of the best days of my life and it’s far too personal to write about here, but trust me, it was a good time and I felt absolutely smothered in love.
Since then my life and routines have gotten back on schedule, and this fall has been one great event after the last, and with the upcoming holiday season is bringing tons of shows that I’m excited about– I predict that I won’t get much sleep through the end of the year.
As for the future, who knows? I’m excited about the new crop of weirdness on the South Side. Magic City, Black James, Syna So Pro, Demonlover, Bug Chaser and Horsey Drawers have my interest right now, but nobody can predict what insanity will come in 2013. I, for one, can’t wait. Bring on the New Year. I’ll be lurking in the many venues, festivals, dark basements, loud practice spaces and fancy recording studios around town. See you at the barricades.
link: Riverfront Times
8 p.m. Saturday, March 24. The Pageant, 6161 Delmar Boulevard.
It’s been 31 years since Henry Rollins first joined D.C. punk pioneer Black Flag. Since then, he’s grown older, wiser and even handsomer. Rollins now tours mostly as a spoken-word performer, using his passion and knowledge to offer smart — frequently hilarious — commentary on political mischief, societal missteps and personal injustices. Even when he’s not touring, Rollins spends much of his life traveling. He’s a world explorer, hitting far-off lands and war zones for both work and pleasure. He’s a one-man information-gathering machine, and he’s used what he’s accumulated to become a cranky, entertaining teacher. The uninformed would be wise to listen.
Note: Rollins is still energetic, sweaty and powerful onstage. And he still wraps the microphone cord in loops around his hand, punk-singer style. Old habits die hard.
- link: Riverfront Times
About twenty years ago, Sonic Youth’s Thurston Moore asked his friend, filmmaker Dave Markey, to document the band’s short European tour, including its performance at the massive Reading Festival.
Markey (best known for his underground classic Desperate Teenage Lovedolls) left with his passport, a camera and a suitcase full of Super 8 film. When he returned he had nine hours of raw footage and the makings of the best visual documentary of 1990s indie rock before the grunge explosion. The film features many indie bands in their prime, including Nirvana, Dinosaur Jr and Babes in Toyland. It’s sort of the video companion to Michael Azerrad’s Our Band Could Be Your Life.
1991: The Year Punk Broke existed for years as an out-of-print VHS with a cult following, but it was finally released on DVD last week. The DVD release contains the original documentary and a shit-load of extra features, including more than an hour of interviews, bonus footage and rough edits.
Lovingly described by Moore as a “home movie,” TYPB is gritty, shaky and absolutely perfect. Live concert footage is spliced with scenes of the bands shopping, eating, exploring various cities and just kind of hanging out. Sonic Youth serves as the main subject of the documentary, with Moore emerging as particularly hammy and entertaining. (See: Thurstonitis)
To truly understand TYPB, viewers must first watch Madonna’s Truth or Dare. Madge’s classic black and white tour doc had just been released at the time and it was a major moment in pop culture. There are many skits and inside jokes included in TYPB that reference Truth or Dare. (Including a brilliant scene where Kurt Cobain plays the role of Kevin Costner.)
In the two decades that have passed since 1991, grunge took over and indie stopped meaning anything. But what has all this change wrought on the specific bands featured in 1991: The Year Punk Broke? We check in on some of the featured personalities below:
The doc was filmed one year after the release of Goo, but still before the release of Dirty. In the film, the members of Sonic Youth come off as just a little bit older, cooler and more harder-working than their peers. This has never changed. Sonic Youth will forever be populated with people that seem like cool older brother/sister-types. And they’ve become even more prolific: the band has released nine studio albums since the documentary, and the members have embarked on countless solo projects ranging from music to books to photography to art to fashion. Sonic Youth has always been a band that stood on a well-earned mountain of cred, and this has only become more true over time. Still, it is totally shocking that the band is still as well-respected and, well, as good as it was twenty years ago.
Babes in Toyland
The Babes were fresh off of a tour with Sonic Youth and seemed to be extra feisty. The band only had one song featured on the video, but it was the tribal and violent “Dustcake Boy.” This song is one of the better examples of singer Kat Bjelland’s trademark angry leopard-like yelps. Babes released its biggest album, Fontanelle, in 1992 and had a couple more albums after that before calling it quits. There have been a few reunion shows, but the most interesting story to come out of the demise of Babes in Toyland is what happened to Kat Bjelland. Anyone familiar with Bjelland’s work would should not be surprised to find out that she began to suffer from multiple personalities and was diagnosed as schizophrenic in 2007. She spent a year under medical mental care and came out just as stubborn and creative and badass, releasing albums with her new band, Katastrophy Wife.
Mr. Cole was not in a band included in TYPB, but it is fitting that he was included in the film. Cole was known as a roadie for Black Flag, the best friend of Henry Rollins and was a cheerleader for seemingly every band on the SST roster. He can be seen in the background many times, and there is one long shot of his face, watching a band from the side of the stage, radiantly happy with his arms around his girlfriend, Michelle Leon of Babes in Toyland. Tragically, Cole was shot and killed just a few months after this summer in a random act of violence in Los Angeles. Sonic Youth, Henry Rollins and Hole all dedicated future works to his memory.
We all know what happened with Nirvana. Mere milliseconds after Markey wrapped filming, the whole world fell into Nirvanamania. The little band would soon eclipse its heroes, becoming the biggest thing that happened to popular music that decade. Amazingly, Markey manages to capture a side of Nirvana that the general public would never know: the happy side. In TYPB, the band members are still relatively unknown. They are wide-eyed and playful, with frequent smiles and passionate stage show. But that levity was lost when the fame came along. The band would only release one more studio album, In Utero, before singer Kurt Cobain committed suicide. Drummer Dave Grohl went on to form the ultra-successful Foo Fighters and bassist Krist Novoselic expanded his interests from music to politics, even running for office in his home state of Washington.
Miss Love can be seen in the original doc (and in the extra footage) trying to get the attention of cameraman Markey. Her role in the video is very small- she wasn’t performing, she was in England to hang out with Billy Corgan of Smashing Pumpkins. Of course, she went on to marry Cobain of Nirvana and the two became the Sid & Nancy of the ’90s. Love’s band Hole was also on the verge of fame, having released its debut album, Pretty on the Inside, in August of ’91. Hole went on to release a few more albums, including the highly successful Live Through This in 1994. Love went on to become a famous disaster and the topic of much tabloid speculation.
Dinosaur Jr was always bigger in Europe, due to constant touring of the Continent. This is most apparent during on of the most beautiful, chill-inducing moments of the film. The band is playing “Freak Scene” and at the very end of the song, the whole dang audience sings along to the all-important line “Cause when I need a friend it’s still you.” Dino went on to release five more studio albums and the band is still active today (with years of breaks in between). The members have also put out solo albums and they remain some of the mostly highly respected individuals in indie rock.
Though his band, Mudhoney, wasn’t featured in the film, Mark Arm can be seen in several scenes in TYPB. His little blond mop is always bopping around, accenting a goofy smile. Mudhoney was kind of Nirvana before Nirvana was Nirvana, and it certainly had a longer career. The band has put out ten studio albums in its career and is still active (and awesome) today, mostly playing large international festivals.
The Ramones were included in The Year Punk Broke, but the band’s time in the film was so short and so stiff that it seemed like the Ramones were more included as a tribute to punk elders than as a viable band. Still, the Ramones had one of the most interesting careers in music history. In 1991 the band was already 27 years into its career and it would be another five years before it officially disbanded. After TYPB the band put out three more studio albums, but it didn’t much matter. The Ramones were already considered the greatest American punk band.
Gumball is the only band included in TYPB that never quite achieved any level of mainstream success. Despite releasing 1991’s Special Kiss (featuring both Thurston Moore and members of Teenage Fanclub), Gumball never really caught on with indie audiences and was dropped from its label in 1994 due to disappointing sales. Gumball disbanded shortly after that, but the band members went on to have very successful individual careers. For example, frontman Don Fleming is a noted producer and participated in many other musical indie ventures, including Half Japanese, Dim Stars and The Backbeat Band.
Get in the Van: Henry Rollins — musician, spoken-word artist, writer and punk legend — talks about life on the road
By Jaime Lees
Published on November 03, 2008
Henry Rollins is a workhorse with a considerable legacy. As the vocalist of Black Flag from the early- to mid-’80s, he played a major role in the evolution of American punk rock. With both Black Flag and later the Rollins Band, he was a powerful and dynamic frontman, using his enthusiasm to dredge up raw emotion and induce cathartic explosions of energy in audiences.
Even now, more than two decades later, Rollins is still a captivating performer, although in a slightly different capacity. On his solo spoken-word tours, the 47-year-old tells stories, makes observations and (of course) shares his opinions on current events and politics. Judging by recent reviews, expect an exhaustive, passionate three-hour performance full of Rollins’ trademarks: thought-provoking anecdotes and stamina testing rants all presented with a big, contagious smile.
It’s a testament to his endless energy and humble nature that although Rollins pushes out hundreds of thousands of words a night, he always makes time to greet his fans post-show. This tireless ambition and attention to detail also feeds his many other occupations: author, columnist, commentator, documentarian, actor, narrator, blogger, radio host, television personality, poet and USO volunteer. We spoke with him about his current tour and found him to be intelligent, inspirational and utterly charming.
Jaime Lees: What else are you doing on tour? I know you have a bunch of things you have to get done, but how are you prioritizing it?
Henry Rollins: Well, deadlines. I’m on deadline for a book so I have to keep kind of pushing that along, and it’s quite a ways off from being finished. So I try and work on that when I can. There’s always something, and I’m always planning for what’s to be done in the next few months. In my line of work you plan well ahead of time — you know, shows, booking, holding down a venue or whatever else. All of a sudden you’re already planning the first two quarters of the next year, which I’m already doing, so far as releases, travel [and] work.
What’s your day like? You have your show at night, and then do you get on the bus and wake up in a different place?
Yeah, but it takes quite a while to get to sleep post-show. Yesterday I worked out for a long time at the gym, did the show and got off the stage with my legs being fried. And then you get on the bus and you’re very tired but unable to sleep, because the mind is still racing. So you find a way to somehow grind your teeth or whatever until you finally wear yourself out. I just try to get my head down as soon as possible, ’cause there’s always the show, the press and the gym waiting for me the next day. So there’s a small pocket of time to try to get something done, and I usually fall way below the amount of stuff I want to get done on the tour. I bring a lot of books out with me, they rarely get read all the way.
You also seem really courteous with your fans. After the show you’ll stay and talk to them for a long time.
Yeah, and I don’t mind it. It’s the right thing to do, but it is taxing, because people want to make a connection with you. I understand it. But I don’t blow people off. I don’t say, “Uh, uh huh, sure. OK, bye.” I listen ’cause they’re sincere, and I don’t dislike them. Quite the opposite, in fact.
Do they still tell you that they feel as though you’re speaking for them?
Yeah, that’s [been] said to me all the time for many, many years. I think that’s just the nature of the fact that my feelings are not all that unique. My sentiments, whatever I’m coming up with, I’ve just gotten more access than some people do in the fact that I have a microphone, I’ve got an audience. So they might want to say “stick it to the man” or something, and they can say it to their friends at work, but I can kind of get it out there, fairly far and wide. So sometimes they’ll thank you for that, like, “Hey, thanks for getting that out there.” And I’m like, “That’s no problem. Glad to do it.”
Do you know what you’re going to say when you get up there? Do you know topics you’re going to hit?
To a great extent, yeah. I go up there every night and try to shoot my entire life though a pinhole in the wall. So I’m fairly front-loaded just coming out here with my big stories and whatever. You know, I have a path I want to go on, there are ideas I know I want to do. How I get to them — basically, I know the riffs and I jam on it on stage verbally.
Do you feel like there’s separation between you and your work at all?
No, they’re kind of all the same. All smashed together, for better or for worse. It’s not always a good thing.
Well, you seem like you take your work very seriously, but at the same time, whenever I’ve seen you, you’re very funny onstage.
The trick is to take the work seriously, but not yourself, you know? That way you can really just get in it and do your work and just be enthralled by your own fumes. ‘Cause I think that’s what gets in the way, to be thinking about how you’re coming off or how you look too much. You should just be really all about what you’re trying to say, what you’re trying to get across. So that’s what I try to do — and that’s not unique, either. I’m sure you’ll find a lot of people onstage who take the audience to task with a great amount of seriousness, but when they talk about themselves, it’s almost dismissive, because they know that the bigger priority is this thing they’re trying to do. The person trying to do it is not what it’s all about.
Well, at the same time, there’s not a lot of people who do what you do, if any. I can’t think of anyone whom I would consider your peer at this point.
As far as the talking shows and stuff, yeah. Well, it’s a unique thing in a way, but then again not. There’s been people onstage kind of ranting and raving since the proverbial soapbox made of marble in Rome. But in coming from the punk-rock thing, doing it in this way, maybe there’s a uniqueness there. Again, I really don’t give it much thought. I’m just trying to get this thing over the wall every night. And it is a considerable task. It takes a lot out of me. Like, whenever I walk offstage, I’m kind of surprised that I did it.
8 p.m. Thursday, November 6. The Pageant, 6161 Delmar Boulevard. $23. 314-726-6161.
>> EXTENDED INTERVIEW HERE <<
Interview Outtakes: Henry Rollins Talks Politics
Thu Oct 30, 2008 at 03:09:04 PM
Jaime Lees: I was wondering how it’s all been changing since you started [the tour] with the election getting closer? Because it’s mostly political, this tour, right?
Henry Rollins: In a way, it all is [political], in that if you’re kind of alive and living in the world at this point. But I don’t go and opine about George W. Bush all night. You have your opinion of him by now, after seven years and some months, and you don’t need me to tell you what you know, or what you think or need to think.
You’re a big person now and you can draw your own conclusions. But this election has been interesting in a lot of ways. For all of the obvious ones: the first time a woman has gotten this far with Hillary, and having an African-American, Barack, it’s made it very interesting. The debates, those things are never all that much to write home about. It’s been interesting watching kind of the body language and mannerisms of McCain. That’s been interesting for me.
Oh, especially that last time.
Yeah, I don’t think he came off all that well just on a human level. Where Barack, who I thought was going to be kind of a letdown in the debates, has surprised me by being way better and more together than I thought he was going to be. I thought he was going to be a big more stammering, but I think he really presented himself very well. I also think that people are kind of freaking out on Sarah Palin. She is really… [laughs]… she is somethin’ else.
That’s a nice way to put it.
Yeah, I’m trying to be generous. I don’t know much about her mayorial [terms] or careers as governor, but apparently she left Wasilla fairly bankrupt, and I have no idea what will be as far as this thing will go. Weeks and weeks ago I thought it was going to be McCain, and now I’m not so sure.
That’s the same thing I was feeling.
Yeah, I mean, I thought McCain was going to ratchet up the fear, which he tries to do. And I thought Barack was not going to be able to bring what he’s been bringing to the whole thing. And he’s surprised me, and I think the Wall Street thing was kind of a perfect storm moment for Barack.
It’s a bad situation, but it’s kind of looking better if you’re a Democrat in all of that because no matter what McCain says or who he tries to assign blame to, the Republicans and conservatives have a lot to answer for with the deregulation that brought us to that place. Of course there’s always people who will tell you that it’s the New Deal that brought us all to all of this, so that’s always going to be contested.
Do you feel like the audience is changing as the election is getting closer? Are you feeling different vibes off of them?
I’m not getting much of a feeling from the audience, though they’re showing up in wonderful numbers. It’s post-show when I talk to people outside you hear the concern. You know, how a lot of that stuff is really resonating with them. And a lot of people will be voting. I think at least one of the upsides of the Bush administration has perhaps polarized a lot of people in America, or perhaps polarized America, but it has gotten a lot of young people kind of off their asses to vote, which I think is a great thing.
I’ve never seen that happen in my time until now.
Yeah, and it took this. Well, since all of this is in the past now, as far as the two Bush terms. And we can’t undo it, it is nice to look for some good parts of it. And I think it got a lot of young people to realize [that] this is their country, this is their planet, this is their time and they really gotta weigh in. They can’t sleep on this. And that’s not bad, I’ll take that. ‘Cause there’s so much awful stuff to catalog the last several years and the more you look, actually, the more bad stuff there is to note. Like, a lot of non-congressional appointments that a president is allowed to make. When you see who is in some of these positions, it’s enough to make you howl.
No lie. I’m just now getting to where I feel like I understand the hippies a little better. Like, I’m starting to get what was happening in the 60s. I’m starting to feel it, with everyone talking about it all the time.
Yeah, absolutely. You see, uh, a lot of similarities in the protests and the rhetoric from both sides when you hear people talk about the invasion and occupation of Iraq. When you hear your Pat Buchanans and your Bret Humes and all of these conservatives, the rhetoric is the same. And there was so many people questioning and protesting the Vietnam War, you know, very vigorously [there were] a lot of cracked heads, you know, and you’re seeing the same kind of things being said now. You know, where presidents are getting the hard eye from the proletariat, and it’s interesting to see the same thing happening now. None of this is new. It goes in cycles, and at the end of the day people are people, you know, they protest and it’s interesting to be an American and have at least the Vietnam War as some perspective, and you know, hated presidents, like Nixon, to kind of run similarities between.
Yeah, no one can shut up about it and it feels good.
Yeah. You know, without a doubt, that you’re in the middle of something extremely important. You are part of it, you’re going to make a difference. I don’t think about how it will be judged later ’cause I’m too busy being in the present. But we are really cursed with interesting times at this moment.
When you’re reading all this news do you read something and think “Oh, I can’t wait to talk about that tonight”?
Sure! Yeah, there was some interesting moments in those [presidential] debates [that made me] so happy I had a gig that night. Or there was a night off during the vice presidential debates and I was in a gym on a treadmill listening to the debate with great interest. And I was making notes in my head the whole time I was listening and when it was over, I was like “Oh, I can’t wait for tomorrow.”
Henry Rollins started as the howling, robust frontman of legendary punk band Black Flag. Those who are familiar with Rollins’ vitality and exuberance won’t be disappointed in his spoken-word show. Deceivingly billed as “quintessentially American opinionated editorializing and storytelling,” the show is mostly smart stand-up comedy. The “spoken word” classification often implies a snooze-y presentation of pre-planned, carefully worded poetry, but Rollins’ show couldn’t be more different. He stalks the stage with the same energy and aggression once used for winding up jaded punkers, exploding on the audience with entertaining (and often hilarious) personal stories and tirades. The show is also political: Rollins doesn’t miss any opportunity to express his views and his convincing rants are not without intelligent points — “Dubya” supporters beware.
Fronted by feminist hero Exene Cervenka, X have been playing their own style of shaky punk rock since the late ’70s. While their lyrics describe horrors such as rape, abuse and Los Angeles, their surprisingly thick and melodic song structures are ripe with riffs that honor our rock & roll daddy, Chuck Berry. Henry Rollins will take a break from his main gig as witty cultural commentator to once again lead the Rollins Band in displays of sweating, gritty speed-rock. Don’t let his new status as a man of words and wisdom fool you, though — on stage he’s still the same blasting force we first encountered in Black Flag. Get to the east side early to catch Texas’ the Riverboat Gamblers and The Lou’s own 7 Shot Screamers.