Sayonara Amerika, Sayonara Nippon

New Music, Old Music: Mid-Summer Report

Posted in Music,Putting One Foot in Front of the Other by bourdaghs on the July 20th, 2010

Driving up to Minnesota with my 18-year-old earlier this month provided an unexpected educational opportunity. For a change of pace, I ceded hegemony over the radio to him and as a result, I now can identify many of the songs that have topped the hit charts this summer. I know my Kate Perry and “California Gurls” (and I know that the break is by Snoop Dogg), and I sometimes now even find myself spontaneously singing in my mind that catchy line about melting popsicles. I know my Lady Gaga and “Alejandro,” I know my B.o.B. and “Airplanes.” In fact, we spent a good deal of time turning the knob in search of the latter.

So I encountered a good deal of new music on the road trip. I also met up with some old musical friends I hadn’t heard in decades. Back in 1981 or 82, I had the opportunity to interview Chris Osgood, one of the founding members of the seminal Minnesota punk band the Suicide Commandos. Osgood is creative, smart, funny, and the interview was by far the best I’d ever done–full of hysterical stories, wistful remembrances, pithy one-liners. And then I got home and realized that the tape recorder batteries had died and that only the first couple of minutes of the hour-long session were preserved….

Anyhow, at the time Osgood gave me a cassette tape that included a number of studio recordings he’d done recently with his then-current group, The L7-3 (in addition to Osgood, the band included Commandos’ drummer Dave Ahl and bassist Steve Fjelstad, late of another fine Minneapolis band, Fingerprints). I fell in love with the tunes on the tape and basically wore the thing out, playing it over and over. But The L7-3 broke up shortly thereafter and the recordings were never issued.

Fast forward to my summer 2010 trip to St. Paul: I’m flipping through the CDs in the “Local Music” section at Cheapos Records on Snelling Ave., and come across Men of Distinction, a CD by The L7-3, released late last year on the Garage d’Or label. From the cover photo, I know immediately that it’s them.

Of course I buy the thing and out in the parking lot immediately pop it into the car CD player (temporarily reclaiming hegemony over the roadtrip musical soundtrack). I break into a huge grin with the opening bars of the first song because I recognize it immediately: the CD consists of those same unreleased recordings I fell in love with thirty years ago.

The music sounds just as good now as it did then: punk rock with an M.F.A. and a sense of humor (the music contains allusions to, among others, The Monkees and The Bonzo Doo Dah Dog Band). Take the quirky fragmented sound and intellectual lyrics of the Talking Heads, combine it with the goofy garage-rock spirit of The Replacements, and you start approaching what makes this so appealing. These are two-minute punk rock workouts packed with symphonic intricacies: simple guitar chord progressions that collide with sound effects, complex musical bridges, rhythmical shifts, etc. Highlights include “The History of Philosophy,” “Metaphysics vs. Loud Music,” “Emergency Art Liquidation,” “Snafu,” “What Rock ‘N’ Roll Means to Me.” The song titles provide a hint to the band’s style, I think. Anyhow, I can’t tell you how happy I am to welcome these amazing songs back into my life.

In trying to figure out how this miracle happened, I poked around the Internet and learned that other previously lost material from late ’70s Minnesota punk was also now available. The remarkable 1978 debut EP by Fingerprints (think Iggy and the Stooges meet Television) is available at I-Tunes, as is the long out-of-print debut EP by The Suburbs.

By coincidence, The Flamin’ Oh’s, another terrific Minneapolis band from that era, has recently created a new Facebook page with lots of good stuff on it. They’ll be playing a live gig July 31 in Minneapolis in honor of their recently deceased drummer, Bob Meide. If I weren’t scheduled to be giving a talk in Tokyo that afternoon, you can bet I’d be there…. In the meanwhile, here’s a clip from a typical Oh’s gig from back in 1981 at Duffy’s (man, how much of my youth did I waste at that bar?). If you’re pressed for time, advance the clip to 2:59 for the second song in this sequence: “We Do What We Like,” a great rock anthem that should have conquered the world.

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