About Ron

Rockabilly guitarist, writer, library technician, Ron fills the daylight hours with dreams of reading, well-behaved pets and the perfect dark beer. Reading interests range from humor to mystery, steampunk to travel writing, historical fiction to surrealism.

Trapped in the 80s!

I find myself talking more and more these days about things that happened 40 years ago. In an effort to move towards the present, today we look at music that was recorded 30+ years ago. It’s a small step but… hey, get off my lawn!

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Synthesizers became commercially available in the 1960s, and one can hear them pop up on Abbey Road and other late 60s gems. But it wasn’t really until new wave arose that synths became a common tool of the trade. Bands such as the Cars and B-52’s used synthesizers as a lead instrument, filling in for or working in tandem with lead guitar. Eurythmics, not thought of primarily as a synth pop band, permeated their music with keyboards. Recommended cuts: Candy-O, the first song I ever sang in public, from the Cars’ 6-album compilation The Elektra Years; 52 Girls off of B-52’s Time Capsule, a raucous dance tune punctuated by screams of, “Tina Louise!”; and Would I Lie To You?, another confirmation of Annie Lennox’s complete domination of all earthlings, from the Eurythmics’ Ultimate Collection.

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Other groups relied primarily or entirely on synthesizers to create their music. Kraftwerk, formed in 1970, gives us an early example of electronic rock. Their music was often cold and spare (referred to as robot pop by the band), a mechanical dream (or nightmare!) of precision. Recommended cut: Pocket Calculator from Computer World, a machine-driven paean to that earliest of hand-held computers, the pocket calculator.

Human League hit it big in 1981 with the single Don’t You Want Me, which spawned the first video I ever saw on MTV. This song came off the brilliant album Dare, but their previous album, Travelogue, was also a big hit in the UK. With a dazzling array of sounds ranging from synthetic drums to sweet strings to buzzsaw explosions, Human League delivers catchy, infectious grooves to your ear sacs. Recommended cut: Empire State Human from The Very Best of the Human League, a quirky, swirling circus of calliope surrounding the lyrics, “Tall, tall, tall, I wanna be tall, tall, tall…”

In a similar vein, Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark uses synths for all aspects of their music. Their style is a bit more toward the techno sides of things, although many synth pop gems adorn their catalogue. Recommended cut: Enola Gay off of The Best of OMD, a catchy synth pop look at the bombing of Hiroshima.

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Rising from the ashes of post-punk poster children Joy Division in 1980, New Order did not immediately bring an unrelenting dance beat to their music. However, by 1983 they had created the best-selling 12-inch single of all-time, Blue Monday, a favorite dance club number. Eventually, the band transitioned into pure pop dance music filled with synthesizers as well as typical rock band instrumentation. Recommended cut: Age of Consent off of The Best of New Order, a toe-tapping, happy little tune filled to the brim with gorgeous electronic sounds.

So, there you have everything that is known about synthesizers. Perhaps print a copy for your own reference or to give to a friend. Oh, and be sure to check out these and other albums to see what someone clever can do with electricity and a keyboard.

Songs of the Zombie Apocalypse

Does everyone remember the desert island albums game where one answers the question, “What 10 albums would you take with you to live out the rest of your days on a desert island?” Assuming that you had a record player. And a power source. And speakers.

Perhaps a more relevant question in this day-and-age is, “What 10 CDs from Everett Public Library’s collection would you want to have during the zombie apocalypse?”

Here is my answer.

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This is the Sonics by The Sonics
For a fuzzed-out, high-energy return to garage rock’s heyday, you cannot do better than this 2015 release. Catchy riffs, gritty vocals and extreme intensity combine into 33 minutes of rock and roll perfection.

So Delicious by Reverend Peyton’s Big Damn Band
From the backwoods of Indiana, Reverend Peyton brings his phenomenal guitaristing and keen understanding of traditional blues to smack the world upside its head on So Delicious. A fine blend of foot-stompin’ goodness and infectious melodies make this album a tasty treat to be joyously consumed.

The Essential Louis Armstrong by Louis Armstrong
How better to spend a sunny afternoon than with a soundtrack of Louis Armstrong unfolding beneath your halcyon perambulations? His peculiar voice and spectacular trumpeting combine with tremendous musicianship to create a happy moment free from fear of the undead.

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Q: Are We Not Men? A: We Are Devo! by Devo
When you’re on the run, variety is essential and Devo provides a unique listening experience. Manic energy, cuh-razee vocals and heretical interpretations of rock classics provide ample fodder to help you forget about your pathetic predicament.

Presidents of the United States of America by Presidents of the United States of America
Humor is a most excellent cure-all in trying times and the Presidents have provided it in spades. From annoying cats to annoying Californians, no topic is safe from the skewer of the POTUSA’s wit. Bonus feature: Fast tempos are conducive to fast escapes!

The Essential Django Reinhardt by Django Reinhardt
Speed-burning gypsy swing, incendiary violin and guitar solos, an inferno of perfection. Check out this soundtrack of joyous acceleration, guaranteed to propel you out of the grasp of virtually any hungry minion of death.

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Too Dumb to Die by Clambake
A pounding at the brain, brains, brrrrainnzzzz sets the old lymphatic system into a happy purr upon experiencing Clambake’s mighty thump of garage rocking goodness. Driving guitar riffs assault the senses, humorous lyrics tease the meninges, reeking zombies grab at your feet…

Road to Ruin by Ramones
24 hours to go, I wanna be sedated. This helps reduce the pain when zom… Uh, Ramones. Right. Godfathers of punk, leather coats, rock rock rock and roll… If you want to hear punk at its best, here ya go.

Only a Lad by Oingo Boingo
Speaking of ears, I seem to have only one left (coincidentally, it’s the left one), but through it I can still hear the phenomenal horns, high-energy and general weirdness of Oingo Boingo. Strange meters, uncomfortable topics and blazing fits of genius. Biggish band at its best.

Cramps

Songs The Lord Taught Us by The Cramps
Time is nearly gone and hey, the Cramps look suspiciously like those creatures that have been tracking my every move… Psychobilly, chainsaw guitars, hyperdramatic vocals. One of the most influential bands in the… aaaaaaaaaarrrrrrrghhhhhhhhh.

Northwest Rocks!

The Pacific Northwest is filled with brilliant musicians who create spectacular albums. Some of those albums find their way into the Everett Public Library local music collection. And on Saturday, September 15 at 2:00 pm, I will present a talk on some of those local musicians.

But wait, there’s more!

After the presentation, Everett’s own Oliver Elf Army will play some rock and roll tunes that shock and assault the senses. In a good way. And there will be much rejoicing.

“So,” you might say to the version of me that lives in your head, “what can I expect at this so-called talk?” Wellsir, we will delve into the history of northwest rock, attack the ever-present confusion surrounding genre definitions and witness interesting (and perhaps boring) stories about local musicians. But perhaps most importantly, we will listen to snippets of songs by various northwest artists.

Here is a preview of some of the groups that will be discussed. They appear here more or less chronologically, with a nod to their approximate genres.

Prepare to behold the instrumentals of The Frantics, garage rock from The Sonics and early local punk from The Accident.

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Thrill to the power pop of Seattle’s The Heats, proto-grunge from the U-Men and the dawn of riot grrrl punk from Olympia’s Bikini Kill.

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Bow down to the experimental offerings of Anacortes’s Mount Eerie, to the post-punk brilliance of Seattle’s Blackouts and to the wide open spaces of Nevada Backwards and their dark country musings.

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Need a breather? There is no time for breathers! Behold the majesty of your northwest heritage!

Prepare to be aurally assaulted by the heavy, heavy sound of Montesano’s own Melvins, get down to the dark cabaret of Bellingham’s Pirates R Us and swing, yes swing, to the rockabilly of Seattle’s Hard Money Saints.

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Dance like a dancer to the synth pop of Seattle’s Perfume Genius, foxtrot to the old-timey swing of Bellingham’s Birch Pereira and the Gin Joints and boogaloo to some raucous garage rock with Bellingham’s Clambake.

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What of Everett, you say? Pogo with Sleepover Club, get blue with Ryan LaPlante and go electronic with goawaysun.

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And finally, weighing in at 325 pounds, Everett’s own Oliver Elf Army will present their brand of sinister pop in a live performance.

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 But wait! We got books:

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We got DVDs!

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We even got audio books!

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So come see what’s happening with local music at the Everett Public Library. In the words of The Presidents of the United States of America:

It’s gonna blow… Volcano!

Attack of the Jacksonauts

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Joe Jackson was one of the most profoundly talented musicians to surface in the 1970s. With the release of both Look Sharp! and I’m the Man in 1979, Jackson and his band made a meteoric impact on the new wave scene. 1980’s release, Beat Crazy, found the band travelling in a more eclectic direction with some songs leaning towards reggae and ska, others featuring slow, dissonant music that one would not typically hear on a “rock” album. This captivating LP remains one of my favorites, one of the more unusual entries in my collection.

After recording Beat Crazy the band broke up and Jackson put out Jumpin’ Jive, an album of Cab Calloway covers! Because, of course, this is a natural career move after releasing two power pop/new wave albums and… No, I can’t finish the sentence. This was a really strange thing to do. As a fanboy (a Jacksonaut?), I was perplexed and none too pleased by this choice (until later in life when swing became one of my favorite genres). Jumpin’ Jive was followed by a pianocentric pop album, Night and Day. I enjoyed the album, but it was lacking in the edge that was so wonderful in Look Sharp!.

As is so often the case, my interest in Jackson’s music waned as time went on and I remained focused on his first few records. I still bought the new albums as they came out, but never seemed to listen to them quite as much as the early ones. But those first five records became an indelible part of my lifescape.

Is She Really Going Out With Him? from Look Sharp! is one of the songs that best represents my high school and college years. It is an obelisk commemorating the deluge of quirky music that opened my eyes to art’s possibilities. Or something like that. And there was the added bonus of having a friend named Jeanne who really hated to hear its lyrics:

 Look over there! (Where?)
Here comes Jeanne with her new boyfriend
They say that looks don’t count for much
If so, there goes your proof

I can’t overstate how different, daring, edgy this music seemed in 1979. It was truly an exciting time to come of age, as it were.

Let us consider another great tune from 1979, this one found on the album I’m the Man. The song? It’s Different for Girls.

No, not love she said
Don’t you know that it’s different for girls?
You’re all the same

With slow and introspective music, the lyrics are a conversation about the differences between men and women, about a particular man’s difficulty in understanding women. The simple ringing guitar lead is invasive, a true earworm that immediately evokes this lovely song. You can hear this one on Joe Jackson’s Greatest Hits album.

Jackson also released other albums, but I don’t care about them.

But I joke.

Later in life Jackson wrote a symphony, reunited the band, and released many more albums. Some might call him a renaissance man, I call him Mr. Jackson. His music is well worth checking out, so make it so!

Finally, I leave you with philosophical and educational lyrics from Evil Eye, off of Beat Crazy. Enjoy.

I stack a pig’s head on the shelf
The boss comes along and says move yourself
I can’t move I’m hypnotized
Staring into a dead pig’s eyes

More the Best of 2018 (So Far)!

Like a crisp newly-minted road map, the music of 2018 unfolds before our eyes leaving a wake of paper cuts and indecipherable allusions. Welcome to: More the best of 2018 (so far)!

The first thing one might notice about Screaming Females is that only one-third of the band is female. Were I to describe them in one word, that word would be HEAVY. Distorted guitars, hard rock riffs, vocals that bring to mind Ann Wilson. Screaming Females does not enter the realm of sludge nor are they simply hard rock, but there is a certain weight that permeates the music of their 2018 release All at Once.

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From the Bunyanesque opening chords of Glass House to the spine-blowing mammothness of Agnes Martin (a song about an American abstract painter) to the angular punkosity of Fantasy Lens, you could say that SF deliver the musical goods in a hefty bag filled with delight. But don’t get the idea that these two mute fellas and one screaming gal have only a single note in their bag of picks (see what I did there?); their music moves effortlessly in and out of a variety of feels and genres. In the words of Thomas Alva Edison, it’s good when a band is hard to pigeonhole.

If you like a hefty sound filled with hoo-ha and hullabaloo, you could certainly do worse than All at Once. This seventh album by an unknown-to-me band, fronted by a singer/guitarist I’ve never heard of who has been named the 77th greatest guitarist of all-time by Spin magazine, is definitely a standout in 2018. So far. As always, check it out.

In an unintentional gender-solidarity pick, Goat Girl (Goat Girl, Screaming Females; get it?) delivers another more-the-best-of-2018-(so-far)! album with their self-titled debut.

Goat Girl

The music is genre-defying: cavernous reverb, country-tinged riffs, jazz noir vocals… These elements combine to create a dark goth-like palette filled with down-home fiddle licks and a free ticket to the rodeo of the undead.

It’s hard to describe music that’s like nothing one’s ever heard. Take the song Cracker Drool. The opening features a simple, typical country bass line. Drums with an equally simple country backbeat, sparse faux pedal steel guitar and good-ol’-girl vocals complete this simple song. But wait! Simplicity is quickly engulfed by a driving, dissonant section that just as quickly disappears. This pattern more or less repeats and we think we’ve got the song figured out. Mais non! Suddenly the tempo and feel change dramatically, although the riffs stay fairly constant, and after a bit of this the song ends. Not at all typical.

And Cracker Drool is unlike any other song on the album. Variety is king. Sounds ranging from riot grrrl to swamp blues to indie rock with a country fiddle permeate this brilliant debut. So get out the excessive eyeliner, saddle up and discover aural worlds never dreamed of with Goat Girl. As always, seat belts are recommended.

2018 has already brought us a mix of pleasant, even brilliant albums. Stay tuned to the future for more excursions into the best of 2018 (so far)! Time machines are optional.

Some Types of Punk Music!

I have become fascinated with the definition of punk rock. There’s little doubt that the term was first applied to bands of the same ilk as the Sex Pistols, but as time passed punk became a blanket term for a variety of styles.

You’ve got your hardcore, your horror punk, Oi!, grindcore and pop punk just to name a few. And you can’t identify your genre without a scorecard. So, in the interest of Properly-Defined Genre Understanding (PDGU) I give you: SOME TYPES OF PUNK MUSIC!

Punk: ClassicPunk® bands, also known simply as punk bands, play ramped up rock and roll. Not so different from 50s rock, add distortion and politics, shake well, go heavy on the melody and voila!
Group punkHardcore: A response to what was seen as the selling-out of punk. Fast, loud, aggressive and hard-hitting. Rhythm is more important than melody and vocals are typically shouted. The standard verse-chorus song structure, a staple of punk, is not used.
Group hardcoreHorror punk: A highly visual subgenre steeped in horror and sci-fi movie imagery. Elements of goth and punk mix with doo-wop and rockabilly, creating a unique sound.

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Pop punk: Punk was never commercially successful. Until someone thought to add pleasant melodies to fast and furious music. Hey, that kinda sounds like ClassicPunk®, don’t it?

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But wait, there’s more! Crust, thrashcore, anarcho-punk, D-beat, stenchcore, powerviolence… It kind of makes a person want to create their own subgenres: sniffletrot, bonesaw-crunch, free retch… Ah, I see a hobby in my future.

But I digress.

My point today, if I do indeed have a point, is that the term punk has shifted in meaning over the years. The original punk bands, i.e. ClassicPunk® bands, are not significantly removed from the mainstream of rock music. Hardcore bands, on the other hand, are an entirely different beast. The aggression, the shouting, the breakneck speeds all combine to form a new type of musical expression. And in my mind, if not in the minds of others, punk has come to mean hardcore punk.

So while I struggled for many years with the label punk being applied to bands like the Buzzcocks, I now realize that their 3 minute songs of teenage angst, love and fast cars are all magnificent pop gems that we simply decided to call punk. And while there may have been but a single flavor of punk for a short time, now there are many. To be entirely clear one must cite which type of punk music one is speaking of.

So be the coolest kid on your block and check out some horror punk or crust or bloodspattergorefest (I made that one up!) from your nearest public library. Remember: Leather jackets are optional but open minds are mandatory!

The Name Of This Band Is…

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Talking Heads ’77, the initial offering by this New-York-via-Rhode-Island band of post-punk art rockers, came out more than 40 years ago. And it still sounds as fresh as the morning dew on the backside of a newly-hatched tadpole. Needless to say, the album quickly joined the soundtrack of my teenage life, with Psycho Killer paving the way for a musical awakening.

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By the time I started college in 1980, Talking Heads had released four albums in four years and I had begun to immerse myself in their vision of funk. As a white suburban kid from the homogenous WonderBread suburbs, funk did not often cross my path, but songs like I Zimbra and Born Under Punches (from Fear of Music and Remain in Light respectively) helped this white boy learn to play that funky music until I die.

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After the release of Remain in Light the band took a break from recording, focusing on touring and pursuing side projects. Finally, 1983 brought the release of Speaking in Tongues, the hit single Burning Down the House and the group’s greatest commercial success. By this time I was itching to see my favorite funksters live, and conveniently the band embarked on its Stop Making Sense tour, visiting the Seattle Center Arena on December 2nd. By turns enthralling, intriguing and energizing, this concert stunned my tiny mind. David Byrne is a master performer, not just singing pleasantly but also providing creative visual flourishes (such as running in place in his giant white suit) as part of the total experience.

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Now, I have to be honest here. Somewhere around the release of Little Creatures in 1985 I started losing interest in the band. This had more to do with my complete disdain for anything commercially successful than it did with the quality of their music. Little Creatures includes fabulous songs such as Television Man and Road to Nowhere. True Stories (labeled simply as Talking Heads on the cover) is music from the movie of the same name, a film which I thoroughly enjoyed. And Naked, an album which I’ve not heard enough to even recollect, received critical praise upon its release in 1988.

These later albums are definitely worth revisiting, but Talking Heads ’77 is the disc that continues to astound me. Back in the days of vinyl it was fairly common to have a favorite side of a platter (as we called them) and side 2 of ’77 is one of the greatest there is. The Book I Read, Don’t Worry About the Government, First Week/Last Week… Carefree, Psycho Killer and Pulled Up. Each song is musically unique yet cohesive with the others, different moods all fit within a larger happy feel (well, perhaps Psycho Killer is not so happy) and a good listen is had by all. Music can tie into our senses and memories in ways that are quite complex, and this album is forever part of my ascent into adulthood (which, coincidentally, I am still experiencing).

The band has now been disbanded for 30 years but their music is still vital and invigorating. We got a passel of Talking Heads albums here at Everett Public Library, so come on down and check them out. And never forget those immortal words of David Byrne:

“Psycho killer, qu’est-ce que c’est, fa fa fa fa fa fa fa fa fa fa…”