“Ghost Cop” is the first episode in what we hope will become an ongoing series about one of our favorite local punk rock bands, Braver.
There are so many things to disagree with in Chuck Klosterman’s 2001 cult favorite Fargo Rock City we wouldn’t know where to begin. It’s why we’ve read it more than once over the years — his candid take on heavy metal is insightful but also hilarious, even if he’s just downright wrong about a whole lot of things.
A good starting point would be Iron Maiden. How in nearly three hundred pages he could hardly mention one of the awesome-est bands in the genre is beyond explanation. When Iron Maiden makes an appearance in Fargo Rock City, it’s when Klosterman suggests their lyrics are funnier than Spinal Tap’s satire.
He does at least admit their widespread influence on other metal bands: “Iron Maiden was fond of ‘perspecitve’ songs, a songwriting technique that later evolved into a cornerstone for death metal … this allowed bands to sing about virtually any subject imaginable without personal responsibility for what they said.”
“Can I Play with Madness?”
Inevitably, this leads to some pretty dark subjects, and Iron Maiden albums surely aren’t for the faint of heart. That said, there are a lot of fans out there, and if you’re one of them you’ve noticed that their records are few and far between these days. Used copies of their classic albums don’t stick around the record shop for long.
In a lot of ways, Iron Maiden is a record collector’s dream band: their albums are hard to find, they stand up to repeated listening (at least we think so) and they look sweet. If you want an example of why LPs are far superior to CDs as far as cover art is concerned, look no further than the classic Maiden albums.
Any time the PMRC* wanted to illustrate the dangers of rock n’ roll, they would always show the cover art for Live After Death or Seventh Son of a Seventh Son. It’s my suspicion that Eddie (or, more accurately, the concept of what a character like Eddie reflected) was the biggest reason Iron Maiden was an elite metal band. These guys were unattractive, they weren’t prototypically cool, and it was impossible to sing along with any of their songs — but Iron Maiden was a type of band. They were the type of band that embraced geekiness, and they did it very, very well. (*What’s this?)
Yep, Iron Maiden’s album covers were awesome. Our favorite was, and still is, Powerslave, even though its not as good an album as Seventh Son or Piece of Mind. They undeniably raised the bar for cover art at a time where most metal albums looked like something you were unable to justify to your parents as ‘actually art.’
We think Klosterman’s first observation is the key to Iron Maiden’s enduring popularity — folks have explored unique perspectives as long as they’ve been writing songs, but those classic Maiden albums took the idea to awesomely weird extremes. One of the their best tracks, “Run to the Hills,” explores both sides of the conquering of the New World (we’d post it here but we discovered this morning that somewhere along the line we lost our copy of Number of the Beast). Another fan favorite tells the story of a World War II flying ace (fun fact: lead singer Bruce Dickinson is himself a licensed pilot). “Quest for Fire” explores the experience of primitive people attempting to, yep, conquer fire.
Metalheads love lists, and Fargo Rock City includes a long list of essential albums — we think Iron Maiden’s Piece of Mind, which includes “Quest for Fire,” should be on that list. And maybe at least one more. Which is their best album is subject to debate, but our favorite is Piece of Mind. Here are the first two tracks:
“Where Eagles Dare”
The good news, dear readers, is that the Iron Maiden catalog is being reissued starting next week. The first three albums are out next week, and we’re excited to have them in stock — and replace our lost copy of Number of the Beast! The rest will follow, and they’re also reissuing all the singles.
You might have noticed a clipping of this news story in the shop, about Leonard Skinner, the coach at Jacksonville’s Robert E. Lee High School who sent teenage Gary Rossington (or Ronnie Van Zant, depending on the account) to the Principal’s office, causing his suspension. His hair violated the dress code because it was long enough to touch his collar.
We were reminded in most stories about Skinner’s passing in 2010 that the band should have listened to him, as though wearing their hair shorter would have prevented the tragic airplane crash which killed several members of the band and crew.
In fact, after their debut album, (Pronounced ‘Lĕh-’nérd ‘Skin-’nérd), became a certified-gold chart topping hit, the band began a long friendship with their former coach. Skinner introduced them on stage in Jacksonville, and allowed a photograph of his Skinner real estate sign to appear inside their third album, Nuthin’ Fancy. Go ahead and look inside your copy.
After the October 20, 1977 plane crash, in which Van Zant was one of several killed, Skinner spoke about them with reporters. “They were good, talented, hardworking boys,” he said. “They worked hard, lived hard, and boozed hard.”
“Every Mother’s Son”
We think all the reporters with their clever story missed the point by dwelling on the band member’s faults, and it seemed like most of them hadn’t really listened to a Lynyrd Skynyrd record in a long time. If they had they might have quoted from one of our favorites, Gimme Back My Bullets. “Every Mother’s Son” is sometimes mistaken for a cover of the song from Traffic’s John Barleycorn Must Die, but all they share in common is a title. It’s almost as if Ronnie Van Zant were predicting the future.
Well I’ve been ridin’ a winning horse for a long, long time
Sometimes I wonder is this the end of the line
No one should take advantage of who they are
No man has got it made
If he thinks he does, he’s wrong
Every mother’s son better hear what I say
Every mother’s son will rise and fall someday
Twenty years ago I was entirely ready to leave home, although entirely unprepared to do so. One thing I knew was which of my parent’s books and records I would take with me. I couldn’t simply claim my mother’s Herman Hesse novels to pad a shelf to impress girls, as I assumed they would, but if I had read them and expressed enthusiasm they were mine. So I read Siddhartha and I listened to a lot of Cat Stevens records. And that’s how I came to read John Kennedy Toole’s A Confederacy of Dunces, based on its humorous title (borrowed from Swift) and its Mort Drucker-ish cover. Oh, we had paperback then! and I that was one I wanted on my shelf.
The novel was published more than a decade after Toole took his own life after its rejection. His mother found a carbon copy in his belongings (the original manuscript remains lost) and spent years pursuing its publication — when finally put to ink, A Confederacy of Dunces won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction, and remains not merely a cult favorite but a genuine classic of American literature. Walker Percy, a Loyola University professor who helped Thelma Toole push her son’s book on publishers, wrote in the introduction:
… I read on. And on. First with the sinking feeling that it was not bad enough to quit, then with a prickle of interest, then a growing excitement, and finally an incredulity: surely it was not possible that it was so good.
Like Percy, I read Dunces laughing, shaking my head in wonderment. How could its magic have been unrecognized? And reaching the last page … how could it end? It was the only time in my life I finished a book and I didn’t want it to end.
There are a number of records we’ve been known to flip back to the beginning after the end of side B. Spider John & Willie Murphy’s Running, Jumping, Standing Still, for instance. One particular favorite around here over the past few years has been Songs to Love and Die To, the first album by Southside Desire. Two years ago the band approached us about carrying it exclusively for the first month, and they said some of the nicest things about the record shop in an interview for the City Pages‘ music blog Gimme Noise (here). Our first listen to the album might have been a little like Percy’s response to the unpublished novel a mourning mother had been haranguing him with, incredulous: surely it’s not this good.
It is and we wore out a copy that winter, and chose it as our favorite album of the year, although it went heartbreakingly unnoticed by most local music media. While we thought “When I Was Your Queen” was a natural radio hit, we hardly heard it on the air.
Songs to Love and Die To left listeners with a story yet untold, just as John Kennedy Toole had with his novel. A listener couldn’t help but wish there were just a little more when the bass walks aways just as it had arrived at the end of “The Ballad of a Flickering Flame,” a classic torcher in which Devitt speculates on life and death with striking candor. If you ask us (although no one has), this song alone should have merited Marvel Devitt as one of the best young songwriters in the Twin Cities. You should give it a listen, along with the whole album, here.
from the end of our days til the birth of the suns
our particles wanted to turn into one
and the birds will keep singing and the trees will still grow
and i’lll hold you forever, that’s all i know
Southside Desire’s story is essential to the band’s sound: a group of south Minneapolis kids who grew up together, playing in a succession of bands that didn’t ‘make it.’ The bassist who opens and closes Songs to Love and Die To is Devitt’s husband (and, full disclosure, an employee here at Hymie’s Records) — so when she speculates on “mak[ing] one together” in this last song from their first album, it’s very real. They’re expecting their first next month. “Ballad of a Flickering Flame” could easily have turned into a much darker piece of music, something like the Cowboy Junkies’ “To Love is to Bury,” but instead Devitt focuses on the precious time we have, in this case our heads safely rested on a shoulder.
The band is back with a new album after two years of recording and launching a successful record label, Piñata Records, which has a staggering six new releases in 2014. They’ve shot some great videos (here’s the latest) rehearsed their way to more than merely a reliable live set, but one you wouldn’t want to miss.
Southside Desire approaches the same themes as the debut album (loving, leaving, dying) through more sophisticated arrangements without losing their appealing blend of old fashioned rhythm & blues, power pop and punk rock. In fact, in a lot of ways it makes us think of those second and third albums by new wave-y bands coming into their own — Get Happy!!!, All Mod Cons, Plastic Letters, those sort of albums.
You can hear the entire album for yourself on their bandcamp page here. It opens with “Four Broken Souls,” a song which pushes the boundaries of their further than any other into the same new wave/disco territory Pennyroyal tapped in our favorite song of last year, “Record Machine.” Everything about this song works well, especially guitarist Paul Puelo’s performance which has become more prominent as the band has expanded its sound. The dynamic opening establishes high expectations, but the album doesn’t disappoint — especially Devitt, who delivers with all the dexterity and dignity of a genuine pop music diva.
What we’ve come to love about the Piñata Records approach, which includes bands like Black Diet, Narco States and Mystery Date, is that its not a rehash of something we’ve already heard as much as a fresh approach to the familiar. They’re giving new life to power pop, garage rock and good old fashioned soul music. Southside Desire ties them all together, even shades of sixties girl pop and the singer-songwriter expressions of the seventies, where Devitt is accompanied by piano and vocal arrangements on “Taking Time.”
On either side of that song are solid single we hope to hear on the radio. “The Heat” sounds a little smokier than the tune they released on a split single with Black Diet last year, “Casualty of Love.” Puelo and fellow backers Trevor Engelbrektson and Damien Tank sounding so surely like the Stax rhythm section (eg the MGs) one can’t help but tap a foot or nod a head.
Most of the songs have rich back stories the listener has to discern from context, which makes them all the more interesting each listen — none of them seem like happy stories. The sugar-sweet artwork on the album, by singer Joy Spika, hides the heartbreak-heavy themes throughout the songs, just as the band’s bright sound often has. Besides the far heavier production of “Four Broken Souls,” the other stylistic change is their increased inclusion of keyboards. “Taking Time,” Devitt’s piano ballad, is the simplest arrangement they’ve recorded yet but one of their very best songs.
This album exceeds their debut in every way — it’s that next chapter we wanted each time we flipped Songs to Love and Die To back to the beginning. On the last track Devitt sings, “We are saving for the things dreams cost / the work is never done.” It may be so, but it seems to us the work is paying off. The insights into love and loss in Devitt’s songs are sharper, the band’s backing better. Southside Desire is the kind of record you can listen to several times, discovering something with each passing, and it’s become a favorite around here this fall.
Southside Desire’s record release show for their self-titled second album is this Wednesday at the 7th Street Entry. Details here.