Friday, August 28, 2015

Hippies vs. Punks: The Bridge, A Tribute to Neil Young (1989)

Punk seems to be enjoying one of its periodic rebirths. Two recent articles piqued my curiosity. The first, "Berserktown Festival Offers a Chance to Meet Lesser Known Bands" by Ben Ratliff, mentioned a band by the name of Downtown Boys:
SANTA ANA, Calif. — “We are not all born equal,” announced Victoria Ruiz, the singer of Downtown Boys, on Sunday afternoon at the Berserktown festival here, in a voice usually reserved for megaphones at protests. 
“Some of us are born with resources very different from others,” Ms. Ruiz said. “These resources might be money, they might be land, they might be love. Maybe these resources shouldn’t be destroyed, but should be taxed. This inheritance is the euphemism for why we’re unequal. What if we taxed it by exactly 100 percent?” 
While introducing almost any song — this one was “100% Inheritance Tax” — Ms. Ruiz vaulted into sermons about ancient and modern power relationships, speaking to the end of her lung capacity and rushing on with gulps of air. 
Her speeches slid into music, and the band would start its wild, danceable clomp, accented by Joey L. DeFrancesco’s manic guitar riffing and Adrienne Berry’s short, stubborn tenor-saxophone vamps. 
Downtown Boys played one of the best sets at Berserktown, a provocative three-day festival of various extremes of punk, noise, metal and D.I.Y. culture, a sophisticated index of messy music and a rebuke to the proliferating summer music festivals that seem to book from the same pools of alternative music.
I downloaded the band's new album, Full Communism, but have only listened to it once. The sax does stand out, reminding one of First Wave Punks X-Ray Spex. Also, Victoria Ruiz's vocals seem to me to be similar to Meredith Graves of Perfect Pussy. Perfect Pussy is a Syracuse band, while Downtown Boys call Providence home. Maybe there is a I-90 Upstate New York to New England Punk sound.

The other article, Monday's "Review: Grace Jones Headlines a Bold Afropunk Festival Lineup," also by Ben Ratliff, caught my attention because of its mention of an incendiary set by the band Death Grips:

Punk appears to be back, to which I say good. Something is shifting. Punk usually arrives on the scene when dead weight needs to be blasted free. We can only hope that the present Punk rebirth is not of the ersatz variety. I am thinking here of the Green Day ascendancy. Following the Cobain burnout and the gradual banking of the flames of the grand Grunge barbecue, Green Day's schmaltzy pop Punk was shrewdly promoted by the major record labels as "the next big thing." It was nothing of the sort; it was an end of a line though.

Grunge got started at the end of the 1980s in Seattle, or so the story goes. But it was really two bands -- the Pixies out of Boston, and NYC's Sonic Youth -- and two records -- Surfer Rosa (1988), by the former; Daydream Nation (1988), the latter -- that made Grunge possible.

But the secret ingredient in Grunge is Neil Young. Throughout the 1980s, many a youth listened to Hardcore Punk -- Black Flag, Circle Jerks, Meat Puppets, Minutemen -- but when the lights dimmed at the end of the day and the last quart bottle of beer had been drained and the all the dope had been smoked likely to be found spinning on the turntable was After the Gold Rush (1970) or Harvest (1972).

When The Bridge: A Tribute to Neil Young appeared the summer of 1989 it heralded a new age. The Reagan era was coming to an end, and it was apparent, to me at least, that George Herbert Walker Bush wasn't going to be able to keep it rolling. I brought The Bridge home and played it repeatedly and I remember feeling validated, that I wasn't the only one who, despite the occasional derisive comment from a friend, was listening to Neil Young. Here, after all, were the leaders of the avant-garde, the Pixies and Sonic Youth, paying homage:

I read somewhere an interview with Neil Young where he said his two favorites tracks off The Bridge were "Winterlong" and "Computer Age." I think based on "Computer Age" he asked Sonic Youth to tour with and open up for him and Crazy Horse. (Kim Gordon had none too pleasant things to say about the experience.)

Most of the tracks on The Bridge are covers from songs off After the Gold Rush, like Victoria Williams' version of "Don't Let It Bring You Down":

A Nick Cave fan, I was partial to his version of "Helpless":

It was a high time, brimming with confidence that old forms could be made new.

It didn't work out that way. The flesh is weak and the mind is easily distracted. What starts out as a good idea usually gives way to the exigencies of making money. All we are left is the backward glance and the solace of sentimentality.

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