Hard News by Russell Brown


Friday Music: I like your old stuff better than ...

What a drag it is getting old, if you happen to play rock music. Is there any form in which fans will cling so tight to the work you made when you were a stupid child, even as they politely tolerate -- barely -- your new stuff? It's pretty much the opposite of literature, where a "young" writer will rarely be older than Jimi, Janis and Jim were when they kicked the bucket.

I do this all the time as a fan. My most particular moments when Ed Kuepper played last week were when he reprised songs from albums he made in his early twenties. I am a paid-up member of the Bill Direen fan club, but I'm really hanging out to hear songs from his first two or three albums when my fellow adherents and I convene to hear him play. And, really, is there anyone who has been to a Rolling Stones show in the past eight years looking forward to hearing songs from A Bigger Bang?

The odd thing is that all of the above still know how to bring it when they take the stage. They're better, wiser musicians. But we're not there to hear their new songs.

There are exceptions. Every time Paul McCartney puts out a new album -- which is surprisingly often -- some of my dearest friends will gamely insist that Maccas's back on form. He's not. It's just another lot of annoying sing-song melodies.

And then there are The Flaming Lips. The Soft Bulletin (1999) is demonstrably better than 1986's Hear It Is, and than the seven albums in between. And, of course, Johnny Cash, who spent his last years making some of the most important music of his career.

Which brings us to the late, lamented, Lou Reed.

I'm sorry , but the first Velvet Underground record is possibly my favourite album of all time. Come back when you can write a song better than 'I'll Be Your Mirror', 'Waiting for the Man' or 'Heroin'. Lou Reed's muse radically expanded what it was possible to talk about in a pop song, and what a pop song could be.

White Light, White Heat basically invented the art of noise. It came from a band angry, accomplished and fresh off the road. And Loaded, the Velvets album I revere least and play most often, is, well, loaded, with tremendous songs. (But no, Doug Yule is not an upgrade from John Cale. Scientific fact.)

It's not like Lou stopped after that. Christ, he put out Lou Reed, Transformer and Berlin inside 24 months. You could have built a legend on any one of them. It did get more patchy from there. But a world where 'Street Hassle' was written is a better world than one where it wasn't. And, even if I've never owned a copy, I get why Songs for Drella mattered.

The response to Lou's passing has been interesting. Alongside a lot of pro-forma tribute tweets and quotes of that Brian Eno line, there has been gold and lead.

One of my favourite political bloggers, Roy Edroso, wrote so beautifully:

Reed made sure you knew, and this is another way his story differs from Expresso Bongo or The Idolmaker: More than most, Reed made his own way. Oh, he had a lot of help -- managers and producers and, my God, Andy Warhol. But the biggest contributor to Reed's success was popular culture, and his own ability as an artist and a vendor of his own art to work it to his advantage. People talk about how out-of-place the Velvets were in their time, but really they were only slightly ahead -- leading edge, as it were. Reed, a former song-plugger, saw a quake island emerging from the roiling 60s scene on which he could plant his flag. A lot of people wanted to be dark and transgressive in those days, but not too many thought of doing it with a band that played in discotheques. I believe if Reed had taken the cultural temperature of his time and found it unpropitious for what he was doing, he wouldn't have gone back to doing The Ostrich; he might have become a novelist and played in the garage on weekends. Or maybe the other way around.

 And Dangerous Minds had already published this lovely memory of Rachel, Reed's transexual muse.

On the other hand, there was the Daily Mail's censurious, hilarious, basically incoherent obituary. We should all aspire to the Daily Mail trampling on our graves. And on the home front, Colonel Karl du Fresne returned to his favourite theme -- the depravity of all popular music since 1965 -- with a withering commentary on the Velvet Underground:

Lou Reed has died, and for the next few days the media will be awash with dribbling, fawning tributes. Most of them will probably be written by people who are tone-deaf.

No band in the history of rock music was more over-rated than the Velvet Underground, the "avant-garde" group Reed formed in New York in the 1960s ("avant-garde" being a term that should come with a flashing red warning light attached). Typical of the tributes we can expect is one I heard on Radio New Zealand this morning, in which it was said that everyone who heard the Velvet Underground was inspired to go out and start their own band. The explanation for that is simple: anyone hearing the Velvet Underground quickly realised you didn't need to be able to sing or play to form a group and be lionised by the left-wing, university-educated cognoscenti (who even then were trying to claim rock music as some sort of socio-political statement).

Look, it's not use arguing that the Velvets laid the ground for so much of what followed -- Karl can't abide that rubbish either. It's wonderful that he managed to shoehorn in a moan about Radio New Zealand, though. He's nothing if not dedicated to his grievances.

One local connection that has passed largely without notice is Reed's promo for Radio Hauraki in 1977. My friend Harvindar Singh quoted the account of Fred Botica on Facebook:

"In 1977 Lou was touring NZ. It was one of Lou's 'being a grumpy prick' phases. I was the Programme Director at the time, and Lou was due at the station for an interview. We were preparing for Rocktober, so I asked Steve Kennedy (Production) to set up the bed, just in case. Lou was sitting in reception reading Billboard magazine looking surprisingly relaxed. I asked if there was anything he wanted, coffee, tea, etc? He said "Have you got anything harder?" "Like what?" I asked. He told me "what", and I said "Sure, but it would take a little time to organise."

"So we went into the production studio to recorded the planned interview, and I asked for a favour in return. "Please record a Rocktober jingle for us" Lou happily agreed, and after a few takes, mainly to get the pronunciation of 'Hauraki' right, we had a Lou Reed station jingle. Which got quite a thrashing, I might add. During that time with us, he was the exact opposite of what I expected. Lou was a very cool dude."

And this is it:

So, yes, thanks Lou. You were very special indeed.


Voom's 'We're So Lost' is one of Buzz Moller's most singular songs; a guileless lament for the earth and all of us. It's months since Princess Chelsea let bFM have a copy of her cover of the song to play, and then released it as a 7" vinyl single. Well, now there's a video.

And it's sensational:

The clip was made by Simon Ward at Skyranch, which also produced the recent clip for the Phoenix Foundation's 'Evolution Did'.

The digital single of 'We're So Lost' is available on Bandcamp at a price of your choosing (including free),and you can buy the 7" from the Lil' Chief Records store.


 You probaby know Th' Dudes' ironic anthem, 'Bliss'. You may well know most of the words. You may be surprised to see the original, handwritten lyrics, just added to Audioculture. (Tip: they include the words "falafel" and "stiffy".)

The scrap of paper comes from a trove of emphemera preserved by the late Ian Morris -- literally in his garage -- and made available to Audioculture after his passing. Thanks to the family.


Lawrence Arabia continues his "fairly extensive" national tour (I beseech you to click through and read the press release) -- with band -- in Wellington tonight.

I'll give away a double pass to tonight's SFBH show at noon today. Just click the icon at the bottom of this post to email me and I'll draw it then. And, I'm giving away a double pass to one of his South Island shows -- same drill, but you have a bit longer to get your bid in. Put "South Island" in your subject line so I can keep it all straight.

UPDATE: Nicola Kean is the lucky winner for Wellington. South Island draw still open!


 Speaking of Velvet Underground influences, as we were above, Dunedin's Males say the title of their new album (out today), Run, Run, Run, was inspired by the Velvets song of the same name. It's an album of sharp indie-pop songs that bear witness their geographical origin.

Note that you can click through to Bandcamp to buy the CD and imited-edition vinyl too. And there's a cool video ...

In a completely different vein -- and thanks to Simon Grigg for the tip -- revered Chicago house music producer Theo Parrish has done something unexpected: released what is basically a mixtape from the 1970s record label Black Jazz, as part of a series called Black Jazz Signature. It's fantastic:

This album doesn't just open up a catalogue of soulful, fluid, adventurous jazz music, it makes explicit connections with the dance music revolution that Parrish was part of. The exultant Metacritic reviews are here and you can buy it in digital formats including uncompressed WAV here at Juno. And Boomkat has physical formats.


At TheAudience this impressive, elegant work of neo-soul by Brisbane-based Noah Slee:

Martyn Pepperell has a profile of Slee, who was once a member of West Auckland's Spacifix, who some of you may remember. He has more on Soundcloud.

High H00ps, who I first came across at TheAudience, has some really amazing new reverby disco goodness up on Soundcloud this week:

And there's another new track from always-reliable Aucklander the Dastardly Bounder. I'm going with "aqua-dub-funk-rock" as a characterisation:

And it just keep freakin' coming! New from Thomas Jack (who I note now lists Miami USA alongside Sydney Australia as his place of residence):

And, finally, a nice, chunky rework of some Stax gold:

Don't say my sponsor and I never do anything for you ...


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