Adopting the name of two Incan kings for his stage name, Atahualpa Yupanqui (Hector Roberto Chavero Aramburo) was one of Argentina’s gargantuan troubadours whose somewhat complicated political history never compromised his essential humanism. “Los ejes de mi carreta” (“The Axles of My Cart”) is a poem by Uruguayan poet Romildo Risso that Yupanqui set to music. “Because I do not grease the axles I am called a fool,” go the words. “[But] it is far too boring to follow the track with nothing to entertain me.” Like with all good art, various levels of meaning complement each other, e.g., a worker’s loneliness, resilience, and/or refusal to keep quiet. Since its first appearance, the song has come to life in numerous milonga and tango versions. A recent Italian interpretation by Vinicio Capossela, though, which features Greek instrumentation, offers up an additional meaning: the resolve to dance coyly.
P. 62: “In Dallas on September 18, , where they were due to play the Memorial Coliseum, the boys – particularly John – expressed a keen interest in driving by the notorious Texas School Book Depository, site of the Kennedy assassination just ten months earlier.
“‘Let’s take a quick look at the scene of the crime,’ John said as he finished off breakfast in his room late in the morning. John had been the most traumatized by President Kennedy’s murder.
“‘He brought it up time and again in interviews with me,’ remembered Art Schreiber, who covered the trip for the Westinghouse network of radio stations.’ He was genuinely outraged by America’s passion for guns and the daily reports of violence that played out nightly on television.’ And he didn’t hold back. He said he loved what little he had seen of America, but was sickened by what he called, ‘America’s fookin’ shoot-first-and-ask-questions-later cowboy mentality,’ Schreiber said.”
Pp. 88-89: “In the privacy of his suite, he also sounded off about gun-happy Americans and the U.S. political system, which he said allowed any trigger-happy geezer to own a weapon. He complained to Art Schreiber that America was still the Wild West, because hardly a day went by ‘without me reading about some bloody idiot with a gun shooting somebody else after a fight over a pint of beer.’
“‘There’s too many loonies with guns,’ he told Schreiber with eerie prescience.”
Minimalist debut single from a Liverpool duo that, for a few years in the early ’80s, had a flair for electropop enchantment. Although their lyrics tended not to communicate clearly, this one actually had building blocks for a social message about Israel’s support of South Africa’s Apartheid. Most of the junky websites with song lyrics have this one wrong, missing the “Israel” in the chorus.
When I hear the Runaways my mind draws a connection between the double-tracked voice of Cherie Currie and the similar-sounding double-tracked voice of Denise Nickerson, who sang lead on some of the “Short Circus” sequences on The Electric Company. This Runaways track especially; It roars out of the speakers and I picture pre-teen kids in rust-colored polyester outfits shimmying while the word THUNDER flashes across the screen. The association, by the way, doesn’t kill it for me.
I wrote about Jerry Wallace previously, about how he had a hit single that sprung from a Rod Serling Night Gallery episode, about how he would pose with a Behee Lyric harp guitar, and about how he marketed himself as a crossover king in the early ’70s. If that info interests you, there’s more you ought to know about this pop singer’s curious resume: The biggest selling single of his career was a 1970 Japan-only release that featured Charles Bronson on the sleeve. It was the soundtrack to a commercial for an aftershave called “Mandom,” starring Bronson as an urbane action figure who rewards himself at night by splashing the product all over himself like victory champagne. As he does this, Wallace gives the following lyrics one hundred-and-ten percent: “All the world loves a lover/All the girls in every land-om/And to know the joy of loving/Is to live in the world of Mandom.”
P. 289: “…I edited a lot at home. Since Carola and I didn’t even own a fan for a while, I often received writers shirtless in the summertime, but not, as I recall in my underwear and certainly not naked – the source of that tale, the great Lester Bangs, never let facts ruin a colorful story.”
P. 335: “A brutal June heat wave upped our stress levels. I spent entire days in shorts alone, slipping into flip-flops and an unbottoned shirt to go buy coffee. Sometimes I even worked naked; in fact, the only time I remember receiving a guest unclothed was when Stephen O’Laughlin came over to talk records once.”
For further study, an accounting of Bangs’s “colorful story” appears in Jim DeRogatis’s Let It Blurt: The Life and Times of Lester Bangs, America’s Greatest Rock Critic (2000), p. 137: “Christgau relished the role of the ex-hippie college professor too preoccupied with great thoughts to trifle with everyday pleasantries. Lester talked about the time he went to Christgau’s apartment and was greeted by the dean sans clothing. Christgau proceeded to edit Lester in the nude.”
Suave, knowing glam rock single that was the final one released by the Jook, a UK quartet that included two former members of John’s Children (guitarist Trevor White on the far left and drummer Chris Townson on the far right). The band shared their manager John Hewlett (another former member of John’s Children) with Sparks, who were led by the American brothers Ron and Russell Mael. Shortly after the single came out in 1974, White and bassist Ian Hampton (middle right) snuffed out the Jook by defecting to Sparks, whose “This Town Ain’t Big Enough for the Both of Us” single had reached #2 in Britain the same year.
Here’s a portion of an interview (by Phil King) of Jook drummer Chris Townson in Jeremy Thomson and Mary Blount’s Wired Up: Glam, Proto Punk and Bubblegum: European Pictures Sleeves 1970-76 (2013) (pp. 206-207):
Phil King: Did you go and see Sparks play?
Townson: No, because there was a bit of argy bargy going on. I took a swipe at Russell over a table. He said something that I thought was quite disparaging. I used to be quite aggressive when I was a young man. I just caught his nose. They were really quite arrogant. I really didn’t like them at all. I went out for a meal with them once – Ron and Russ – and it was really one of the most unpleasant meals I ever had. There was no conversation…
King: Did they come and see Jook play?
Townson: They came to see Jook play and said “Yes, they sound like a rock band.” No further discussion.
King: What about the story about the Bay City Rollers stealing your image?
Townson: We were playing in Scotland and this rather scruffy long-haired bunch, who looked like we did a year previously, came in after the gig and said what a fantastic show it was and how impressed they were with the image. Not two months later, even less, we saw these same guys and they’d patched it up with lots of tartan and everything. It was essentially the Jook image….
King: That must have been another nail in the coffin.
Townson: It was, and it was also bloody irritating when you go somewhere and they say, “You look like the Bay City Rollers.” I think I came close to punching many people.
Two years ago I heard this song, with its ghost voices and Star Trek organ, through static on a Mexican oldies station in the Arizona desert. Because none of the instant-info apps on my phone could get the job done and the station’s Clear Channel website contained nothing of use to anyone, I conceded defeat to the gods of ephemerality who oversee the affairs of most pop music in people’s lives. All of the song’s residue then vaporized except for three words from the chorus: “y mi sentimiento.” The gods had mercy on me last month when I was listening to Austin’s 1560 AM and it slithered out of my car speakers again, giving me time to pull over and scribble down more of the lyrics. Information, then: The song title translates to “I Swear I Love You” and was recorded in 1972 by a group of young adults from Venezuela. Calling themselves the Earthlings, they watched their song take control of Mexican radio for a moment in 1975.
Miriam Linna’s 1988 Kicks magazine cover story about Bobby Fuller brought him to life in a way few other writers could do. This is because her enthusiasm for – and knowledge of – Fuller’s records and the music that inspired him revved up her feature like a V8 engine. The gloom surrounding his mystery death couldn’t possibly enshroud the euphoric sound she celebrated. (It was also packed with historical details available nowhere else. I remember a Saturday I spent in the early ’90 zigzagging across El Paso with a copy of the magazine on the dashboard, locating all the sites she pinpointed.)
Her new book, titled I Fought the Law: The Life and Strange Death of Bobby Fuller, is a different, darker sort of prospect, which it perhaps has to be. It includes much of that first Kicks piece but adds material from Bobby’s brother Randy and lots of extended quotes from other first hand sources. While the death doesn’t get solved, you get a clear sense of the motivating factors and which parties likely qualify for the eternal damnation treatment.
A sense of desolation takes the forefront in I Fought the Law to the extent that you wonder if that, too, wasn’t as crucial to the Fuller sound as its trademark euphoria. Tiger Moody’s foreword gives the doom Bobby sings of in his most famous song an alternate, but no less stifling, context. (This instantly made my personal racing lit Hall of Fame.) Randy’s introduction recounts the devastating ride home to El Paso from Los Angeles in the never-to-be-impounded death car, reeking of the gasoline that once drenched Bobby’s dead body. Also included is the stark and detailed revelation that the Fuller family had already suffered through the murder of Bobby and Randy’s older stepbrother.
Then there’s passages like this, spoken by Randy who ruminates on his decision to join his brother’s band full time and to go wherever it would take him (p. 57): “In El Paso, there was nothing for me, period…You’d get days when the wind would blow, and sand would be blowing across the street, and the clouds were a certain way, and it just seemed like there was never anything good ever gonna happen. It was a hopeless place. It was hopeless from the day we got there…[A]ll I would do is get in my car, and I’d drive all the way to northeast El Paso, watching the sand blow across the desert by the airport, and watch rabbits and wild things run across the road, and then I’d drive all the way over there where the teen club was and turn around and drive home. That was my thrill.”
If a second edition of I Fought the Law is ever in the works, I hope that a “where are they now” appendix makes the cut, especially since Randy’s introduction stokes reader interest for such after-the-funeral info. (Maybe, too, some of the long transcribed quotes can get a trim.) The best reason for a second edition, though, would be that positive developments in the Bobby Fuller story would call for one, and I wouldn’t want anyone but Miriam Linna or Randy Fuller to deliver the news.
My personal mythology features a specific box of records. A friend gave it to me in the spring of 1985 when I was 16, and it had once belonged to an uncle of his who had died young in a motorcycle crash. The records in this box distracted me for months, if not years, and they’ve had a long-term impact on my life that I’m not sure has been entirely positive. One of these had an image of a crab carved out of wood on the front cover. The label said both “Crab Tunes” and “Noggins” and I never knew which was the album title and which was the group. The album chronicled what sounded like the evolution of two distinct songs on guitar, bass, drums, and piano including every false start, flub, and absent-minded improv along the way punctuated by two separate full-song interludes.
Another friend of mine developed a fascination with this record and always wanted to hear it. He had saved up money doing yard work to buy a Tascam 4-track, and the two of us more or less frittered away the summer of ‘85 making “crab tunes” of our own: barely listenable musical hiccups carefully captured and assigned to luxurious tracks on cassette tapes destined for shoeboxes. I recently found one of these and even heard us playing a motif that scurries in and out like a lost and confused crustacean throughout that entire album. Should we have used our time and musical initiative differently during those precious, formative days? A school of thought would certainly argue yes. But the album had affected us rather deeply, and that’s what I’m getting at: Most record collectors likely end up doing what they do because certain records have broadsided them at unexpected times in unexpected ways.
My other point: When I first cracked open The Record Store of the Mind by Tompkins Square label owner Josh Rosenthal (who understands what I say about record collectors), I beheld the track listing for the Crab Tunes/Noggins album and gasped a bit. Rosenthal’s product had zeroed in like a smart bomb on a member of its target audience who would succumb to it as expected. I trusted correctly that the book would fill me in on records with similarly impressive credentials in obscurity like Crab Tunes (even though the question of where I should file it – under C or N? – remains unanswered). Coinciding with his label’s ten year anniversary, the book aims, as he puts it, to share with readers some of the “records, people, and live music experiences that have forever changed” the way he listens. It’s all over the place, then, and that’s a strength.
Tompkins Square first got my attention when I had started doing my International Folk Bazaar show on Austin’s KOOP radio. I noticed that much of the new instrumental guitar music I was interested in giving airtime to was coming out on the label. I found out in time, though, that it was no mere genre exercise and that Rosenthal was a record man whose sense of aesthetics and personal curiosity were calling the shots. Scan the Tompkins Square catalog and you’ll see that alongside the Imaginational Anthem guitar compilations and expansive meditations by UK guitarist James Blackshaw are releases by jazz pianist Ran Blake, British pop innovator Paddy McAloon’s Prefab Sprout, country legend Charlie Louvin (with label-exclusive recordings), forgotten Texas gospel singer/pianist Arizona Dranes, cajun pioneer Armede Ardoin, and up-and-comers like Ryley Walker and Daniel Bachman.
The music and experiences Rosenthal shares with us in his book are similarly varied. He writes about his teenage days in Syosset in Long Island, where Hicksville’s Billy Joel loomed large, where his buddy Judd Apatow (who would later find inspiration in Rosenthal for his film This Is 40) plotted a career in stand up comedy, where Eric Clapton’s Just Another Night “embedded” itself on Rosenthal’s soul, and from where he would steer his ship directly toward the music industry. The chapter about his tenure with Sony reminisces up close on working with Chris Whitley, T Bone Burnett, and Jeff Buckley, to name a few. (I was glad to read that the album cover for Grace, something that always seemed wrong to me, was not lost on some staffers.) The role of jazz in his musical upbringing gets a chapter, as do the acoustic guitarists who gave early shape to the label Rosenthal would launch, almost as a challenge to the skills he developed at Sony. (He’s printed up a great set of trading cards called Obscure Giants of Acoustic Guitar, by the way.)
The lion’s share of pages in The Record Store of the Mind, though, devote themselves to profiles of specific musicians, most of whom don’t fit in a convenient category and who rightly deserve more of the meager spotlight fate has thus far granted them. Among these are Ron Davies, Tia Blake, Harvey Mandel (who’s fighting cancer and could really use your help), Bill Wilson, Ernie Graham, Robert Lester Folsom, Smoke Dawson, and Mickey Jupp. You’ll want to keep pen and paper handy as you read so you can make a hunting list – it’s a record junkie’s funbook.
Which brings up some questions. Why is Rosenthal telling us all of this? Wouldn’t the more natural instinct for the record collecting personality be to keep more of the best record haunts mum and to preserve the shadows cast on treasured obscurities? Doesn’t music run the risk of losing its savor the more it circulates? Do we want to hear Tia Blake’s lonely voice on car commercials someday? Such questions would likely sound trivial in the ears of someone who heard the late Charlie Louvin utter the following words: “Now I pick up my guitar. My fingers won’t work. The notes don’t sound clear… and Lord, how that hurts. The sweet sound of life is so quickly fading. Still I strain to hear through the silence of aging.” Thanks to people like Josh Rosenthal, more of life’s sweet, age-proof sounds are indeed being heard.
(The Record Store of the Mind will be available October 27.)