Thin White Rope: The Band That Got Away

twr_1200The first you hear is an impenetrable wall of grinding, chainsaw-like guitars. Then there’s that steady, motoric pounding rhythm that never surrenders. And then this raspy gravel, a spooky baritone voice, like a raging fire and brimstone preacher, with hazy, slurred lyrics that wasp away like smoke.

Thin White Rope – a name taken from William Burroughs’ euphemism for ejaculation in Naked Lunch – formed around singer Guy Kyser and guitarist Roger Kunkel as its sole constants, along with a revolving cast of members to fill out the quartet being active between 1984-1992.

The group never really fit into the categories used to brand guitar dominated rock in the 1980s. Thin White Rope were too harsh to be labeled as jangle, too loud for the emerging alternative country movement and too dark to fit into the flowery Paisley Underground.

twr_axisTheir widescreen musical scope, borrowing equally from western and eastern influences, is perhaps best described by numerous artists they covered, including Lee Hazlewood (“Some Velvet Morning”), Can (“Yoo Doo Right”), Hawkwind (“Silver Machine”), Suicide (“Rocket U.S.A”) and The Byrds (“Everybody’s Been Burned”). Just as close to Television, Bauhaus and Joy Division than their more successful contemporary counterparts in ’80s American underground (R.E.M, The Replacements, Pixies), Thin White Rope’s desert psychedelia was a far more vast and difficult creature to cast. And despite enjoying a steady fanbase, especially in Europe, they sadly vanished from the common memory following their 1992 demise.

Diving into their album catalog once again is a reminder of how preposterously steady, strong and free of flaws their output was, which that has preserved incredibly well, save for some dated production techniques. Out of time back in the day, they are timeless in hindsight.

Thin White Rope immediately introduced their main modus operandi. The first song off their first album, Exploring the Axis (Frontier Records, 1985), is something of a surreal country-noir story entitled “Down in the Desert,” about a guy called Karl who headed south and came back changed by his experiences in the desert. (“Karl came back and he works and he smiles/But if you look closely there’s still something scared in his eyes…”)

twr_moonheadBased out in the Northern California university town of Davis, Thin White Rope often returned to the desert as a recurring trope in their songs, both emotionally and musically. “Soundtrack,” from the same album, also laid a sonic foundation for what to come later; their ability to let an austere tune about alienation (“Windshields are like TV screens/I’m not involved at all”) explode into a ferocious assault as a sneering Guy Kyser goes full Mad Max (“She throws firebombs on the highway/Glass splashing and bushes burning”), revealing a band with a constant underlying rage – a beast they sometimes tamed, sometimes let loose.

Oh yes, they held us in a firm grip out on that ledge, but one also softened with beautiful melodies and a sense of melancholia and human kindness; elements that would be more prominent later on in their career.
With an uneven but promising album under their belt, they turned it all up a few notches on their somber, bleak masterpiece Moonhead (Frontier, 1987), allowing for more space, more tension, more power. Often completely drenched in feedback, but with glimpses of sunlight peeking through, Moonhead is one of the lost classics of the decade, it was once flourishingly described by British psych-guru Julian Cope: “[Guy] Kyser mumbles stripped down considerations about life, sex and death, and he seems a scientist who describes microscopic life forms. Mankind is reduced to puppet-like dimensions: around us, there’s an enigmatic, useless, obscure universe, apparently enemy of any feeling and thought.”

twr_spanish_caveIn the Spanish Cave (Frontier, 1988), probably their most well known album, is a tad brighter and even more varied than its predecessors. Ranging from almost joyous tunes (“Mr. Limpet”) to bulldozing guitar assaults (“It’s OK”), it features their most known song, the epic “Red Sun.” In a thorough review celebrating its 25th anniversary in 2013, The Quietus points out how they created an alien take on the unfathomable vastness of the American landscape and its effects on the nation’s psyche, and how they used this landscape, not as representing a sense of freedom, but as an area of something uncanny and unsettling, summing up the album as a “potent, fantastical window onto a malign new phase of the American Dream.”

In 1988, at the height of their powers, Thin White Rope even packed up their unique take on American mythology and toured the Soviet Union, experiencing the earliest days of the empire’s revolution through a 15-date long tour, and returned with an album largely written while on the road. Their criminally underrated album Sack Full of Silver (RCA, 1990) was their first and only major label effort. One of a more subtle approach, showing the band experimenting further with dynamic song structures, fully epitomized on songs like “The Napkin Song” and “On the Floe.”

twr_oneIn a fair world, Thin White Rope would be the real heroes. Instead they called it a day after perhaps the most complete effort in their career. The Ruby Sea turned out to be their swan song, described by AllMusic as ‘slowly shedding their more blatantly psychedelic influences and polishing their sound as a surreal and chilling rock band.’ Going out while being at the top of their game – with majestic songs like “Hunter’s Moon” and “Puppet Dog” – the band still had one ace up their sleeve.

As mentioned before, their studio offerings didn’t always mirror their audacious live shows. Fortunately they decided to tape their final 1992 gig in Ghent, Belgium, releasing the monumental The One That Got Away a year later. For a sense on how the band really sounded, this is highly recommended listening. (Play loud.)

But by then Thin White Rope had already vanished back into the dust. For almost 10 years they set the plough in the barren desert soil, finding only weeds underneath. No wonder then, that Guy Kyser returned to school and turned out to be a respected botanist. Working as a specialist for the Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources at the University of California, he’s still affected by the desert.

A scientist describing microscopic life forms, searching for weeds to blossom.

***

We talked to guitarist Roger Kunkel about being a part of this history.

Thin White Rope, ca 1988: Roger Kunkel, Guy Kyser, Jozef Becker, John Von Feldt
Thin White Rope, ca 1988: Roger Kunkel, Guy Kyser, Jozef Becker, John Von Feldt

* * *

Who growing up were your favorite musicians?

My father was a fan of popular country music. I remember listening to Jim Reeves and Patsy Cline on his reel-to-reel as a kid. He had a couple of Chet Atkins tapes that I fixated on. Later, my older brother started bringing home the usual suspects of late-’60s, early-’70s rock, including Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple, Black Sabbath, Creedence and The Doors. The Beatles made a big impression on me, but especially George Harrison because I was obsessed with guitar in general. By 17, someone gave me the Sex Pistols and first two Clash albums, and I was listening to the Ramones. I discovered the Davis college radio station KDVS, and I saw Iggy Pop. Everything changed.

twr_sackfulWho inspired your guitar sound the most?

Chet Atkins was a big one. I loved the rock players, but I’d also watch “Hee Haw” and other TV shows so I could see the country pickers like Roy Clark, James Burton, Les Paul and Glenn Campbell. I started taking guitar lessons at age 6, following the Mel Bay Method. I wasn’t a very good student, but I knew I’d play guitar for the rest of my life. It wasn’t until I was 15 that I convinced my parents I needed an electric. I’d plug it into my dad’s tube reel-to-reel and get a nice fuzzy distortion sound.

I started learning Jimmy Page and Tony Iommi riffs. It took a while to discover the blues and early jazz players I now love because no one I knew was listening to that. Hearing Django Reinhardt for the first time really knocked me out and showed me that you need to dig a little deeper to find the really good stuff. Once I was in college in the early ’80s, I was hearing so much new music it was almost overwhelming. I was also backtracking and discovering all the great music I’d missed. The Velvet Underground, Captain Beefheart, T-Rex, and the Stooges come to mind as influences.

With bands like Game Theory and True West around at the time, I guess Davis was a rather vital musical area. How will you describe the musical environment surrounding the birth of Thin White Rope?

There really was a scene fed by KDVS and the college entertainment council who were bringing in amazing acts to the small, on-campus coffee house venue. Iggy Pop, Gang of Four and the Police came through. Local bands were producing records and getting national attention. Meanwhile, lesser-known touring acts like the Meat Puppets and Camper Van Beethoven were playing at house parties. Sacramento, which is much bigger than Davis, had a thriving underground punk scene, but not much of a college rock, alternative, post punk, art rock, whatever kind of scene.

I was doing my best to learn what I could. I fell in with an interesting crowd of people. We had a great time. The good thing was that there really was no set accepted style of music. Almost anything was embraced as long as it was something original and heartfelt.

twr_ruby_seaDid you have a clear plan or idea from the beginning on what Thin White Rope should be when you first started out playing?

Guy had already been writing and singing with Joe Becker in a previous group called the Lazy Boys. They advertised at a local music shop for a guitar and bass player. That’s how I met them and our original bass player Kevin Staydohar. We worked on Guy’s songs. Guy and I had the general idea that a lead/rhythm guitar construct was kind of boring and that we would take a more orchestrated approach, having lots of intertwining lead lines.

Guy was already playing with a pretty heavy fuzz sound. He gave me an old Maestro Fuzz he wasn’t using. It didn’t produce the Big Muff sound, but I was able to find a big feedback sound with it. Guy went with a Marshall crunch and fuzz and I went with a Fender clean sound but we both had the ability to go into controlled feedback as well. Together this was great combination and the effect really came together on the Moonhead record.

You been called desert rock, linked to the Paisley Underground, compared to early Americana and what not. All in all you were thankfully hard to pigeonhole. How will you best describe the sound of Thin White Rope?

We were once described as a cross between Johnny Cash and Black Sabbath, and I like that. There was a purposeful desert aesthetic in Guy’s lyrics and album art and that’s because Guy did come from a small town in the Mojave called Ridgecrest. Some folks got the idea that the band lived in a desert, which Davis is not, although it gets damn hot in summer. It was impossible to shake the desert rock moniker so we generally ignored it.

I describe the band as noisy guitar rock with a blues and country influence. We had some influences that were common to bands of the day, like the Velvet Underground and ’60s garage bands. We also had some less common influences like Doc Boggs, Slim Harpo and Lee Hazelwood.

I’m interested in your tour in the USSR in 1988. Not many bands did this before you, I would think. How did that tour happen in the first place, and what was it like?

This was a surreal trip. We were working with an Italian booking agency that had a connection to the Ministry of Arts in Rome. They had some kind of sister city arts exchange program worked out and had had some Russian musicians come and perform in Italy. The reciprocal was to be Italian musicians visiting the USSR. We were inserted into the equation and flew to Moscow with two Italian bands.

It was December and incredibly cold. We played in Moscow at a fancy theater. It was shown on Soviet national television. We then travelled by train to Tbilisi, Georgia for four sold-out nights at the famous opera house. No one had a clue who we were, but we were an American rock band, so it didn’t matter. The 1988 Armenian earthquake hit. We drank green vodka and ruined a beautiful traditional dinner thrown for us by a local family with projectile vomiting – there is a long version of this story.

We flew to Lithuania and played two cities in basketball arenas and almost froze to death, arrived back in Rome later than expected and had no flights home. We found room on Pan Am 103 and made reservations but couldn’t find a connection from New York to San Francisco and cancelled our reservations last minute. Heard about the bombing at the airport the next day. Made it home alive, dazed and confused.

Thin White Rope have a remarkably strong album catalog. You established a rather unique sound from the beginning, but also pushed yourself into new sonic terrain all along. How will you describe the evolution of the band?

Naturally, we matured as musicians and became smoother, more capable guitar players. Guy’s voice developed into a bigger, more resonant instrument. Guy’s songwriting got more ambitious, more poetic. It was unfortunate that we had a revolving cast of bass and drum players. This affected the sound of the band in somewhat unpredictable ways, but ultimately our live performances got strikingly better. We went from a shaky and uneven live band to being known for our powerful shows.

You had a short stint with RCA. How was your experience working with a major label back then?

Not so good. The only RCA record was Sack Full of Silver. It sold less than our others as far as I know. It’s a common case when an indie band gets a major deal and the major doesn’t do any promotion. They’re just hoping the band’s fan base is growing so it’s time to snatch them up. In the ’80s –and maybe today, I don’t know – being on a major was bit of a scarlet letter. The indie distribution networks like Rough Trade wouldn’t touch it because it was the evil corporate BMI. So it didn’t last.

Looking back after all these years, where do you consider Thin White Rope’s place in music history? What are you most proud of during your existence?

I believe we’ve achieved the title of most famously un-famous band or something like that. ‘Criminally ignored’ was one we heard that had us laughing. I do think we were an influence on a lot of bands. I’m very proud of the live CD and I’m so glad it got made because it almost didn’t. I had to talk Guy into doing the final tour. The recording captures the band at its peak in its most intense and raw state, ploughing through most of our catalog. I can listen to it and remember exactly how that felt.

twr_bottomWhat’s your favorite Thin White Rope album?

Moonhead has to be the quintessential TWR record. The first album Exploring the Axis was very frustrating. Even though it turned into something interesting, it didn’t feel natural. With Moonhead we had found our sound. Next to that, I think our covers which are mostly on the Red Sun and Bottom Feeders EPs are my favorite recordings.

Why did you call it a day?

The band had been together for 10 years. There were some personal frictions; not too bad, but not helpful. There was the belief that the music business is a corrupt and unfair place to be. It seemed that you could be the best band in the world and still not make a living. We were getting more popular in Europe, but not in the States. It was time to enter a new phase of life. And the biggest reason was that Guy quit.

Are you guys currently in touch?

Guy and I actually played together for a couple years in a bluegrass band. He’d gotten into banjo and I was playing mandolin. Unfortunately, this fell apart when the guitar player moved back east. Matt Abouresk lives in Connecticut, so we just say hello on Facebook. Stoo has moved back to New Orleans. Joe Becker lives in San Francisco and I’d love to see more of him. Steve Tesluk is a veterinarian in Ashland, OR.

Any chances to see the band ever come back again?

Seems that Guy does not feel he wants to do this. I don’t want to put words in his mouth about it, but I think he simply feels he is a different person now.

Thin White Rope, ca. 1990: Roger Kunkel, John Von Feldt, Matthew Abourezk, Guy Kyser
Thin White Rope, ca. 1990: Roger Kunkel, John Von Feldt, Matthew Abourezk, Guy Kyser

Bjørn Hammershaug
September 21, 2016

Reklamer

1980-tallet: 200 Favorittalbum

80s_albums_final_1200
Denne lista over de 200 beste albumene fra 1980-tallet er ikke satt sammen av et panel med eksperter som har kåret en objektiv og endelig avgjørelse (som om det skulle være mulig). Dette er en liste over mine favoritter. De fleste ble oppdaget på 80-tallet, spesielt etter 1986, og står dermed selvsagt ekstra sterkt i internminnet. Andre har blitt ervervet og verdsatt i ettertid, og bidrar (heldigvis) til at sjangerbredden er noe variert og at tilsiget er konstant økende.

Et kjapt blikk på de 200 avslører at amerikansk gitarrock stod – og står – høyere i kurs enn, la oss si britisk synthpop. Ei heller er sjangre som hardrock og hip hop overrepresentert for å si det forsiktig – og mange av tiårets storselgere innen pop og rock gikk under denne radaren da, og har blitt liggende senere. Men noe skal man også ha til gode. Dette er min liste pr nå, og den er på langt nær hugget i stein. Tvert i mot, jeg gleder meg til å flikke på den, og bytte ut med nye favoritter ettersom de kommer min vei. Dette er uansett alle vinnere.

Utvalget er begrenset til to album pr. artist, så her er det mange darlings som er killed. Albumene er satt opp i rekkefølge, men etter de 20-30 første må det sies at den eksakte plasseringen er noe lemfeldig organisert. Uansett, skal du først ha med deg 200 80-tallsskiver på en øde øy ville jeg startet omtrent her.

doolittle1-10:
Pixies: Doolittle (1989)
Sonic Youth: Daydream Nation (1988)
Dinosaur Jr.: You’re Living All Over Me (1987)
Nirvana: Bleach (1989)
The Replacements: Let It Be (1984)
R.E.M: Murmur (1983)
Violent Femmes: s/t (1983)
Pixies: Surfer Rosa (1988)
Beastie Boys: Paul’s Boutique (1989)
Giant Sand: Valley of Rain (1985)

miami11-20:
Gun Club: Miami (1982)
The Feelies: Crazy Rhythms (1980)
The Dream Syndicate: The Days of Wine and Roses (1982)
Hüsker Dü: Warehouse: Songs and Stories (1987)
Wipers: Youth of America (1981)
Minutemen: Double Nickels on the Dime (1984)
Butthole Surfers: Locust Abortion Technician (1987)
Thin White Rope: Moonhead (1987)
Green on Red: Gravity Talks (1983)
Public Enemy: It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back (1988)

reckoning21-30:
R.E.M: Reckoning (1984)
Mudhoney: Superfuzz Bigmuff (1988)
deLillos: Suser avgårde (1986)
Meat Puppets: II (1983)
Sonic Youth: Sister (1987)
Dinosaur Jr.: Bug (1988)
Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds: Tender Prey (1988)
The Smiths: The Queen is Dead (1986)
Nomeansno: Wrong (1989)
Hüsker Dü: New Day Rising (1985)

freshfruit31-40:
Dead Kennedys: Fresh Fruit For Rotting Vegetables (1980)
Brian Eno & Daniel Lanois: Apollo – Atmospheres & Soundtracks (1983)
Talking Heads: Remain in Light (1980)
Black Flag: Damaged (1981)
Giant Sand: The Love Songs (1988)
Slayer: Reign in Blood (1986)
David Bowie: Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps) (1980)
Jokke & Valentinerne: Et hundeliv (1987)
Joy Division: Closer (1980)
Julee Cruise: Floating Into the Night (1989)

fugazi41-50:
Fugazi: s/t EP (1988)
The Replacements: Tim (1985)
The Stone Roses: s/t (1989)
Raga Rockers: Maskiner i Nirvana (1984)
The Rain Parade: Emergency Third Rail Power Trip (1984)
Tom Waits: Rain Dogs (1985)
Jane’s Addiction: Nothing’s Shocking (1988)
Green on Red: Gas Food Lodging (1985)
N.W.A: Straight Outta Compton (1988)
Killdozer: Intellectuals Are the Shoeshine Boys of the Ruling Elite (1984)

songsabout51-60:
deLillos: Hjernen er alene (1989)
Leonard Cohen: I’m Your Man (1988)
Godflesh: Streetcleaner (1989)
Arthur Russell: World of Echo (1986)
Naked City: Torture Garden (1989)
Descendents: Milo Goes to College (1982)
Cosmic Psychos: Go the Hack (1989)
Tad: God’s Balls (1988)
Big Black: Songs About Fucking (1987)
Swans: Children of God (1987)

brownreason61-70:
Butthole Surfers: A Brown Reason to Live (1983)
The Dream Syndicate: Live at Raji’s (1989)
Thin White Rope: In the Spanish Cave (1988)
The Cramps: Psychedelic Jungle (1981)
The Pogues: If I Should Fall From Grace With God (1988)
Barracudas: Drop Out With the Barracudas (1982)
Jonathan Richman and the Modern Lovers: It’s Time For… (1986)
Bad Brains: s/t (1982)
The Fall: This Nation’s Saving Grace (1985)
Sunnyboys: s/t (1981)

suffer71-80:
Bad Religion: Suffer (1988)
The Soft Boys: Underwater Moonlight (1980)
Faith No More: The Real Thing (1989)
Bruce Springsteen: Nebraska (1982)
American Music Club: California (1988)
Metallica: Master of Puppets (1986)
Napalm Death: Scum (1987)
The Waterboys: This is the Sea (1985)
Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds: Kicking Against the Pricks (1986)
Hasil Adkins: He Said (1985)

ultramega81-90:
Soundgarden: Ultramega OK (1988)
Lounge Lizards: s/t (1981)
Cowboy Junkies: The Trinity Sessions (1987)
Rapeman: Two Nuns and a Pack Mule (1989)
Orchestra Baobab: Pirates Choice – the 1982 Sessions (1989)
Massacre: Killing Time (1981)
Michael Jackson: Thriller (1982)
Guns N’ Roses: Appetite for Destruction (1987)
King Sunny Ade: Juju Music (1982)
Knutsen & Ludvigsen: Juba Juba (1983)

junkyard91-100:
The Birthday Party: Junkyard (1982)
The Jesus and Mary Chain: Psychocandy (1985)
XTC: English Settlement (1982)
Prince: Sign ‘O’ The Times (1987)
Tom Waits: Swordfishtrombones (1983)
The The: Infected (1986)
Talk Talk: Spirit of Eden (1988)
dePress: Block to Block (1981)
Brian Eno & David Byrne: My Life in the Bush of Ghosts (1981)
Motörhead: Ace of Spades (1980)

***

graceland101-110:
My Bloody Valentine: Isn’t Anything (1988)
The Pogues: Rum, Sodomy and the Lash (1985)
This Heat: Deceit (1981)
Paul Simon: Graceland (1986)
Richard & Linda Thompson: Shoot Out the Lights (1982)
Dire Straits: Making Movies (1980)
The Go-Betweens: 16 Lovers Lane (1988)
Young Marble Giants: Colossal Youth (1980)
Echo & The Bunnymen: Ocean Rain (1984)
Prefab Sprout: Steve McQueen (1985)

nightfly111-120:
The Cure: Pornography (1982)
The Wipers: Over the Edge (1983)
Neil Young: Freedom (1989)
Dumptruck: for the Country (1987)
The Jesus Lizard: Pure (1989)
The Gun Club: Fire of Love (1981)
Donald Fagen: The Nightfly (1982)
Elvis Costello/The Costello Show: King of America (1986)
Lou Reed: New York (1989)
Dexy’s Midnight Runners: Searching For the Young Soul Rebels (1980)

lost_weekend121-130:
Scratch Acid: Berserker EP (1987)
Pylon: Chomp (1983)
David Sylvian: Secrets of the Beehive (1987)
Anthrax: Among the Living (1987)
Scientists: Weird Love (1986)
AC/DC: Back in Black (1980)
Talking Heads: Stop Making Sense (1984)
Orange Juice: You Can’t Hide Your Love Forever (1982)
Flipper: Album – Generic Flipper (1982)
Danny & Dusty: The Lost Weekend (1985)

donut_comes_alive131-140:
Mission of Burma: vs (1982)
Iron Maiden: Number of the Beast (1982)
Slint: Tweez (1989)
Roky Erickson: The Evil One (1980)
Alice Donut: Donut Comes Alive (1988)
Died Pretty: Free Dirt (1986)
The Legendary Stardust Cowboy: Rock-It to Stardom (1984)
U2: War (1983)
Killing Joke: s/t (1980)
Circle Jerks: Group Sex (1980)

houndsoflove141-150:
Saccharine Trust: Paganicons (1981)
Squeeze: Argybargy (1980)
Radka Toneff: Fairytales (1982)
Kate Bush: Hounds of Love (1985)
Fang: Landshark (1982)
Steve Earle: Guitar Town (1986)
Moving Targets: Burning in Water (1986)
The Long Ryders: Native Sons (1984)
Swell Maps: Jane From Occupied Europe (1980)
Tears For Fears: Songs From the Big Chair (1985)

oceanrain151-160:
The Triffids: Born Sandy Devotional (1986)
Motor Boys Motor: s/t (1982)
Living Colour: Vivid (1988)
P.I.L: Metal Box (1980)
X: Los Angeles (1980)
The db’s: Stands For Decibels (1987)
Hoodoo Gurus: Stoneage Romeos (1984)
Agent Orange: Living in Darkness (1981)
The Psychedelic Furs: s/t (1980)
Eyeless in Gaza: Red Rust September (1983)

repareres_jokke161-170:
ESG: Come Away With ESG (1983)
RUN DMC: Raising Hell (1986)
Galaxie 500: On Fire (1989)
True West: Drifters (1984)
Minutemen: What Makes a Man Start Fires? (1982)
Jokke & Valentinerne: Alt kan repareres (1986)
Black Flag: My War (1984)
Minor Threat: Out of Step (1983)
Divine Horsemen: Devil’s River (1986)
Naked Prey: 40 Miles From Nowhere (1987)

rotorvator171-180:
The Feelies: Only Life (1988)
Stan Ridgeway: The Big Heat (1985)
Green River: Rehab Doll (1988)
Coil: Horse Rotorvator (1986)
D.O.A: War on 45 (1982)
Dead Kennedys: Frankenchrist (1985)
David Lynch: Eraserhead (1982)
The Cramps: Songs the Lord Taught Us (1980)
Wall of Voodoo: Call of the West (1982)
The Beasts of Bourbon: Sour Mash (1988)

paganplace181-190:
The Waterboys: A Pagan Place (1984)
Beastie Boys: Licensed to Ill (1986)
Dead Moon: In the Graveyard (1988)
The Pretenders: s/t (1980)
Los Lobos: How Will the Wolf Survive (1984)
Suicidal Tendencies: s/t (1983)
Camper Van Beethoven: Telephone Free Landslide Victory (1985)
Violent Femmes: Hallowed Ground (1984)
Lloyd Cole & the Commotions: Rattlesnakes (1984)
The Rainmakers: s/t (1986)

deadcops191-200:
Rockpile: Seconds of Pleasure (1980)
The Crucifucks: s/t (1984)
Glenn Branca: The Ascension (1981)
M.D.C: Millions of Dead Cops (1982)
Dumptruck: for the Country (1987)
The New Christs: Distemper (1989)
Bitch Magnet: Umber (1989)
Oxbow: Fuck Fest (1989)
Lard: The Power of Lard (1989)
Alphaville: Forever Young (1984)

Bjørn Hammershaug

The Replacements: Getting Nowhere Fast

The Replacements ble dannet i Minneapolis, Minnesota i 1979. Hoveddelen av karrieren bestod de av Paul Westerberg (gitar, vokal), Bob Stinson (gitar), Tommy Stinson (bass) og Chris Mars (trommer). Bandet ble oppløst i 1991. Bob Stinson døde i 1995, og erstatter Slim Dunlap ble i 2012 innlagt på sykehus etter et alvorlig slag. Paul Westerberg og Tommy Stinson spilte inn veldedighets-EP’en Songs For Slim, og annonserte en reunion høsten 2013. Det blir deres første konserter på 22 år.

Hør 10 favoritter i WiMP

The Replacements: Stink (Twin/Tone, 1982)
‘This is the Minneapolis Police: The party’s over!’
Slik innledes Stink på myndig vis av en lovens håndhever på en aller annen hjemmefest. Et par ’fuck yous’ senere – historien vil ha det til av en ung Dave Pirner (Soul Asylum) – og The Replacements overtar ballet med sitt latterlig fengende tenåringsanthem ”Kids Don’t Follow” og langfinger’n ”Fuck School”. På denne måten fulgte Minneapolis-bandet opp debuten Sorry Ma, Forgot To Take Out The Trash med en 8 låter snau EP, sommeren 1982.

Da var The Replacements allerede relativt etablert i den lokale undergrunnsscenen, der de sammen med Hüsker Dü var de absolutt mest sentrale. Debuten ga ikke noen spesielle signaler om annet enn nok et punkeband grodd fram fra forstedenes trygge, kjedelige rammer og middelklassens snevre trangsynthet sett gjennom øynene på de unge og utålmodige. Amerikansk punkrock, i hvert fall den som dannet grobunn for og som senere ble definert som indierock, er i stor grad et slik suburbia-fenomen, et uttrykk som ikke ble skapt først og fremst ut fra sosial undertrykking og klassebevissthet, men heller sosial utbrytertrang og mistilpasning. Amerikas velfriserte plener og velordnede nabolag har vist seg å være det fremste arnestedet for ungdommelig misnøye og aggresjon uten nødvendigvis noen andre fiender enn de nærmeste.

Skole, autoriteter og arbeidsgivere blir i løpet av 15 effektive minutter behandlet med virilitet, klarsinn og humor etter denne tradisjonen. ’Hey, Merle, I was wonderin’ if ya had any ‘ludes on ya?’ synger Paul Westerberg på ”Dope Smokin Moron”. På ”Stuck In The Middle” tar de for seg oppvekst i Midtvesten: ’Ah, there ain’t nowhere to go/When you’re stuck right in the middle’, mens de på ”God Damn Job” skriker etter en eller annen jobb for å tjene litt cash. Enkle emner tilpasset enkel tregreps hardcore garasjepunk er altså lyden av The Replacements anno 1982, der tilbakelente ”Go” representerer det mest interessante musikalske innslaget – som et gløtt mot senere utvikling.

Bonussporene underbygger The Replacements’ rølpete omgang med klassikerne i denne tidlige perioden, der versjonene av Hanks ”Hey, Good Lookin’” og ”Rock Around The Clock” (!) vel mest er for kuriøse innslag å regne. Men så, helt til slutt. Et aldri så lite gullkorn. ”You’re Getting Married” er et nydelig soloopptak med Paul Westerberg, fanget hjemme i kjeller’n og med crappy lyd, men som viser det følsomme låtskrivertalentet Westerberg i sin pureste form.

Stink er ikke bare et historisk minnealbum. Energien som spruter ut er like smittsom i dag.

The Replacements: Hootenanny (Twin/Tone, 1983)
’Hootenanny is to folk music what ‘jam session’ is to jazz, namely a gathering of all sorts of people.’

På sitt andre album søkte Minneapolis-kvartetten tydeligvis mot det spontane og umiddelbare som opprinnelig lå i dette uttrykket, og de ønsket å ta essensen tilbake fra den kommersielle betydningen det med årene hadde blitt tillagt:

Today, folk music is practically in the Big Business category and the word ’Hootenanny’ has even made Webster’s (…) Luckily, for us folkniks, the essence of the old Hootenanny – its immediacy, variety and incredible excitement – still remains.

Utgitt bare et par år etter debuten var The Replacements allerede på dette tidspunktet på vei ut av den mest tradisjonelle gatepunken og inn i mer variert terreng. Hootenanny er på mange måter en overgangsskive, og som så ofte for slike har den blitt noe oversett i årenes løp. Hootenanny har ikke punkenergien til forgjengerne og den har ikke den lurvete skjønnheten som preget de to neste (Let It Be og Tim). Men det betyr likevel ikke at den er uinteressant. Den har noe av det tidlige 80-tallets uskyld over seg, før ’indierock’ ble et husvarmt begrep uten særlig betydning og det meste allerede var forhåndsdefinert, gjennomlyttet og analysert allerede før det var utgitt. Det er en slags prøve-feile, anything goes-holdning her som er ganske så sjarmerende.

Blant låtene finner vi mørke ”Willpower” og alvorlige, mer følsomme ”Within Your Reach” som to høydepunkt. Den instrumentale surfsaken ”Buck Hill” låter som REM fra omtrent samme tid (rundt Murmur). ”Lovelines” er småjazzy Minutemen-light, og legg til de mer trampende hardcore-låtene, så står vi igjen med en ganske eklektisk plate, som med en del slurv og tilsynelatende likegyldighet ikke klarer å skjule flere perler. Best av alle; ”Color Me Impressed”:

’Everybody at your party/They don’t look depressed/Everybody dressin’ funny/Color me impressed.’

Slik åpner de flotteste tre minutter på Hootenanny, med en poplåt som fremdeles står seg som en av 80-tallets fineste. Her hører vi også hvordan Paul Westerberg er i ferd med å finne balansen mellom sinne og sårhet, og det er nettopp denne følsomheten som gjorde The Replacements til noe mer. Dette fikk prege etterfølgende plater i større grad, men det var Hootenanny som åpnet porten.

Sistesporet ”Treatment Bound”, en sjanglete akustiker et sted mellom Beck og Dylan, og stilen signaliserte at andre sider ved Paul Westerbergs tanker var i ferd med å bli anerkjent innad i bandet. Den er et stilsikkert postkort fra grøftekanten og teksten oppsummerer på få linjer mye av bandets essens:

We’re gettin’ no place fast as we can
Get a noseful from our so-called friends

We’re gettin’ nowhere quick as we know how
We whirl from town to town treatment bound

First thing we do when we finally pull up
Get shitface drunk try to sober up

There’ll be no pose tonight no money in sight
Label wants a hit and we don’t give a shit

Dette var før infrastrukturen var på plass (selv om USA fremdeles ikke er noe mekka for småband på tur). Det var band som The Replacements som tråkket løypa, og få gjorde det med større innsatsvilje. I kjølvannet fulgte alkohol, dop og endeløse mil i skitne stasjonsvogner, konserter for en håndfull mennesker, før de vendte tilbake på veien. Men jobben skulle betale seg, selv om prisen for enkelte i bandet ble lovlig dyr (særlig for Bob Stinson som snart ble tuppet ut av den grunn, og som ble funnet død av en overdose noen år senere).

Det hører også med til historien at Hootenanny ble omfavnet av mange sentrale kritikere i sin samtid, og den gjorde at The Replacements virkelig ble lagt merke til utenfor Midtvesten og den indre krets av fans.

Denne reutgivelsen fra 2008 inneholder hele 6 ekstra spor, stort sett råmikser, alternative versjoner og demoer. Mest for de hardbarka, med andre ord.

The Replacements: Let It Be (Twin/Tone, 1984)
Det er vanskelig for meg å skrive om Let It Be uten å tillate en smule personlig inngang. Denne utgivelsen er for sterkt knyttet til min egen musikalske oppvåkning til at jeg egentlig er egnet til å stille meg helt objektiv til dens kvaliteter – nå snart 30 år etter at den ble utgitt.

I løpet av noen korte sommermåneder i 1988, finansiert av en gavmild arbeidsgiver og salg av en ganske omfattende kassettsamling, kjøpte jeg et knippe skiver som jeg den gang ikke selv visste ville danne et fundament, være retningsgivende for senere musikalsk styring. Ja, de ble sentrale for alt som senere skulle skje mellom mine ører og en platespiller. For å nevne noen og de viktigste: Hüsker Dü (Warehouse), Dinosaur Jr. (Bug), Pixies (Come On Pilgrim, Surfer Rosa), Violent Femmes (debuten), Dead Kennedys (komplett), REM (Murmur, Reckoning), Giant Sand (Love Songs), Thin White Rope (Moonhead), Butthole Surfers (Hairway To Steven), Minutemen (Double Nickles On The Dime).

Og Let It Be av The Replacements.

Det er unødvendig å si at alle er klassiske skiver for meg, og de har da også blitt kanonisert til det kjedsommelige av andre utallige ganger. Det hadde derfor vært mer interessant å høre hva en 16-17-åring i dag ville ment om disse enn en med tilstivnede meninger, men den evnen til hukommelsestap og nullstilling har jeg ikke utviklet til fulle foreløpig. Derfor:

Omslaget på Let It Be viser fire ugredde lømler sittende på et hustak, stirrende uinteressert mot ingenting i alle retninger. Bak seg hadde kvartetten da et knippe løfterike, om ikke definerende, plater rotfestet i en klar garasjepunk-filosofi. Forløperen Hootenanny pekte riktignok videre med en stemning av mer eklektisk new wave og melodiske oppbygninger, men er likevel å anse som en lillebror i forhold til Let It Be. Her krysses endelig vokalist Paul Westerbergs sårbare sider og melodiske teft med det øvrige bandets rufsete arbeiderklasse-fyllik-sullik-image i det som er sjeldent øyeblikk av bedugget klarsyn.

Tittelen, arrangementene, låtskrivingen, popen hinter like mye mot The Beatles som The Clash – holdningen, rølpen, bluesen og aggresjonen mot Rolling Stones og Faces. The Replacements nærmet seg altså et klassisk rockuttrykk på det som ble en grunnstein innen 80-tallets undergrunnsrock. Det unge bandet vokste raskt opp, bare et par-tre år etter den utagerende punken har de snublet inn i voksenlivet til et band med fokus på å skrive gode, mer ‘seriøse’ låter, i den klassiske rockbetydningen, og bry seg mindre om hva hardcorekidsa måtte mene.

Forfatteren Michael Azerrad skriver i sin bok Our Band Could Be Your Life (2001) om mange av de bandene som er nevnt overfor, og om Let It Be poengterer han noe av dette:

The dividing line between the indie and major worlds was between punk-derived music and the blues rooted fare of the bloated, indulgent, aged superstars who had attained seemingly eternal life on classic rock radio. The Replacements were a bridge between the two.

Hvor kommer dette bedre frem enn i deres versjon av Kiss’ ”Black Diamond”. Her møtes de utilnærmelige tegneserie-dinosaurene fra 70-tallets arenarock og de tøffeste gutta i gata fra 80-tallet i et definerende øyeblikk av det som skulle utvikle seg mot collegerock, americana, grunge, indierock og what not. Allerede innledningsvis får vi et frampek mot det som følger, på en av platens aller beste enkeltspor. Singlen ”I Will Dare” er ikke historien om musikalske vågestykker, men om rastløs kjærlighet, en Springsteen for generasjonen etter Mary og ’the screen door that slams…’ der Westerberg trakterer mandolin og Peter Buck (REM) spiller gitar:

Call me on thursday, if you will
Or call me on wednesday, better still
Ain’t lost yet, so I gotta be a winner
Fingernails and a cigarette’s a lousy dinner…

Med denne sjanglete sjarmbomben førte de inn på en vei som vennene i REM og en drøss andre senere kunne følge til større kommersiell suksess. Det er dette spenningsfeltet tusenvis av band senere har forsøkt å gjenskape. Noen få klarer det, de fleste er langt unna. The Replacements var blant de første, og her er de på sitt beste. Selv om de fletter inn akustiske låter og bygger ut lydbildet en del, har de fremdeles rom for den rene punken i sitt uttrykk. Energien i låter som ”We’re Comin’ Out” fremstår da også sterkere i kontekst som denne, rammet inn av mer edruelige låter. Det er et lite stykke mellom denne og finstemte øyeblikk som ”Sixteen Blue”, men det er som nevnt i grenselandet mellom den da falmende punken og den gryende collegerocken The Replacements med Let It Be ikke bare markerte seg, men egenhendig satte markøren ned i bakken.

Let It Be ble varmt mottatt i sin samtid, og hyllet blant annet i trendsettende magasin som Rolling Stone og Village Voice. Hypemaskinen hadde startet sitt møysommelige arbeid, men The Replacements lot seg ikke affektere av den grunn. De sank ned i en pøl av intern uro, plateselskapstrøbbel, fyll & fanteri. Alt ved det samme med andre ord. Selv om deres etterfølgende skiver alle har gode kvaliteter, påfølgende Tim er kanskje deres aller beste, så vil det alltid være Let It Be som er deres store merkestein i min historie om bandet.

Yeah, I know I look like hell, I smoke and I drink and I’m feeling swell…»

Av de nevnte platene og bandene innledningsvis er det flere som har skapt kraftigere spor etter seg. Mange ble inspirasjonskilder for band og musikalske uttrykksformer gyldige over 25 år senere, slik nevnte Azerrad trekker frem så fint i sin grundige bok. Hva med The Replacements? Tja, som de i sin samtid ikke i første rekke utfordret det musikalske grensesnitt, slik har de ettertid heller ikke blitt stående som de største pionerer eller de mest utfordrende band å bli kjent med. Men deres ærlighet, energien, viljen, den nødvendige trangen av å dra seg i håret, kaste bakrusen av seg, og kjøre videre, spille videre, gi alt for enhver pris, den kraften er noe de deler med andre uavhengig av tid, sted, og musikkform.

Lyden av kjeller som leder mot asfalt som fører til røykfylte klubber er nemlig en rute som bærer et ekko The Replacements ga sin helt spesielle klang til. Den sitter fremdeles igjen i vegger og på tak der ute i forstaden.

Bjørn Hammershaug