I’ll admit Wolf in White Van is a book I bought solely because I was intrigued by the title and cover art. I picked it up at a bookstore somewhere and read that the author was the singer songwriter of a band called The Mountain Goats. I’d never heard of them but the title, artwork and the fact that he was a musician tipped the scales enough that I added another thick book to the growing stack in my bunk on the tour bus.
By Russ Rankin
For many who were first being introduced to punk and hardcore music in the 1980s, what grabbed and held their attention was the direct urgency of it. Times were different then. The world teetered on the brink of nuclear war, and there appeared to be no hope for reconciliation between the dominant superpowers. After its humiliating defeat in Vietnam, America was flexing it’s military muscle across the globe and, domestically, President Ronald Reagan was shaping an economic legacy which would leave millions struggling to survive, and from which the country is still recovering.
Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt’s book “How Democracies Die” couldn’t have come at a better time. The patient in question has been run over by a truck that was paid for and manufactured by the Koch Brothers and the Kremlin and is being driven by a tax evading robber baron of bankruptcy laws and sometime reality TV show host who conned his way behind the steering wheel. He’s being cheered on by an audience of Kid Rock and Sarah Palin fans like it’s Evel Knievel at Snake River. Let us warn you folks, it doesn’t end well. There’s a lot of bragging and boasting and bellowing and then you end up beaten and bruised at the bottom of a dry river bed.
2018 was a low water mark in human intellectual evolution, a real u turn in many respects, as if collectively we all decided it was a good time to just flip a tit and head back into the dark ages. But luckily for us some good jams came out of it to head off the “life sucks and so does everyone” blues. Here are some albums we would take with us this year as we plunge head first into the abyss.
Apparently Kurt Cobain was such a fan of Patrick Suskind’s vile, dark psychological thriller, Perfume, The story of a murderer, that he carried a copy with him wherever he went and re-read it hundreds of times. He even wrote a song about the main character, called “Scentless Apprentice” for Nirvana’s second album In Utero, a work that was at first almost rejected by his record label as being unlistenable. Some thought Cobain was deliberately trying to sabotage his career after the pressures and indignities of alt-rock super stardom left him feeling more alienated than even before he was famous. In Utero is in fact a stunningly good album with moments of beautiful discordant music and angst ridden yet resigned lyrics, but if there is one song on the album that you can almost see the point of the people who wanted to write the album off at first, “Scentless Apprentice” would have to be the song they’re looking at. There is very little of the haunting melody we get from songs like “Serve The Servants” and “Heart Shaped Box.” Instead it’s Kurt wailing “Go Awaaaay” in a caterwaul scream filled with venom and spite and very little harmony.
By Russ Rankin
The decision of NFL players to take a knee on the field during the national anthem has been a startling intrusion of politics into America’s idyllic sports landscape. Many fans have voiced their displeasure, booing the kneeling players, and even offering racial epithets from the stands. Politicians have also joined the fray, calling the players un-American, and castigating them for disrespecting the flag and the military, among other things.
The first time I heard Bad Brains was when I bought the Let Them Eat Jellybeans compilation. The comp had great bands like FLIPPER, D.O.A., Black Flag and Dead Kennedy’s, but when the Bad Brains song Pay to Cum came on it sounded like nothing I’d ever heard before. First of all, the song was played ridiculously fast. I still don’t think there’s a song that’s been released anywhere that even comes close in sheer velocity. And then there’s H.R.’s vocals, a blistering stream of consonants and syllables so ferociously jammed together it sounded like auctioneer at cattle sale hopped up on enough speed to power an 18 wheeler cross country. Twice.
X is a sacred band for me. The first concert I ever went to was when they opened for Devo at the Long Beach Arena and I probably saw them more than any other band during my impressionable adolescent years. I bought their debut album Los Angeles when it came out and have purchased everything they’ve put out ever since. Some of my favorite show memories are watching them play at the Country Club in Reseda on Sherman Way pressed up against the stage hanging on their every word. More poetic and accomplished musically than many of their peers, an X show made you convinced that you were witnessing a true original American band. They were punk rock angst mixed with country western pathos and rockabilly roots. They couldn’t have happened anywhere else.
The Ascension Of Trump, And Americas Dangerous New Normal
With President Obama leaving the White House after eight years, America feels more divided than it has been in decades. Arguments will continue in perpetuity as to whether Obama’s Presidency produced positive change, or simply pandered to coastal elites as middle America languished in economic decline. Regardless of agreement or opposition to Obama’s policies, few can argue his effectiveness as a leader. He won the popular vote both times he ran, appeared genuinely conciliatory toward his opponents, and carried himself with an combination of humility and grace.