The car wasn’t there.
I swear to God, the car wasn’t there.
Not when my head turned like a clockwork ventriloquist puppet to reckon my blindside, not when it turned again to survey the other: a train of yellow-white, beady-eyed, late-night commuters, all rushing a natural ten miles above the posted speed limits and not again as I set off in rushed anticipation. No, the car wasn’t there, it couldn’t be there, it was impossible for it to be there, to my left, camouflaged and curling in slope towards my position as a pantherine passenger vehicle. It wasn’t there until it was, with two headlights flashing into view, blasting from hiding somewhere deeper than the detritus of earth—crust, mantle and core—hellspawn bearing down, turning my head to see clear, luminous death in the eyes of a black metal beast, a careening death cage, a mobile hell-in-a-cell ready to tear me from the seat and bury me below steel and concrete, I say again: fellow driver turned lottery-loser of the day, apparated from the after-shower air shouldn’t have been there. Just music, my obsession with The Man still unabated, just Thomas, excited and en route to Portland, just two concert tickets, waiting to fit like a key and lift the gates to the throng of black-shirt, whip-necked punks await, pushing for punch-back, herky-jerky relief, gyrating, galoshing and jumping upwards above of head-level. Whack-a-moles ready to whack ‘em all to be-fretted fury. In my mind, that was all there—no apparated cretin mass of dark paint and metal in sight. Until it was.
“It had no right to be, not as I,” says a weird, haughty voice drunk on the divine right of dumbasses: one that upends all legality, ignores contract and magicks away guilt. Whether by providence or by fortune however, I was at the stop-sign having picked up a mate, stranded on the border between metropolitia and ruralia viewed from but not seen by the aeroplanes overhead, for a concert. Bully was in town and town was an hour out, necessitating Oregon highways. God, kill me. I hate those roads: bumpy and pockmarked, admittedly easy to adapt to; there’s a science in knowing where and when the next pothole will make carve itself like a sinkhole. But the lights—or absence of them—no one can teach you how deal with the darkness and then the sudden flash of high-beams. How to negotiate dark roads while random Morse code lights pass-by, rendering the road into an abyss with a dot-dot-dot, dash, dash, dash, dot-dot-dot rending sight from my eyes like tears from a widow. That was what frightened me, not underestimating some stop sign crossing with a sloping curve and fence that blocks view of oncoming traffic. So, I swear, now and for the life of me, man: the car wasn’t there. Until it was. In a morbid way, I’m glad that Dodge pick-up L-boned my precious VW—it made for a better title, yeah—but, after the instinct to thrust my foot through the floor, the legs shivering of seeing the rear driver-side caved in, the wet-eye warble of making phone calls to insurance and parents (but not the fateful nine-one-one, thanks to the good Samaritans, just released from their weekly masses and from whom I never caught a name), the sight of what-could-have-been shook my unrepentant ass with a shiver normally only reserved for heat and piss and also gave me something to think about:
Just how visceral is rock ‘n’ roll meant to be?
Is it meant to screech with sound of car axles breaking like toothpicks on the asphalt freeways of America? To holler in choir with the unsatisfied men and women bathed in the marshy, boggy sweat of heat, raving like mongrel hordes depraved in the stadiums, the auditoriums, the dances halls, the dive bars? To fill angst with something, real or other, and mélange the teenage scream with the sounds of the garage? To fill the empty echo chambers with a ringing, clanging, banging, ratchetting, shrieking, growling, snarling, bent and then silence, a clear day, before rumble and groan and erupt! Or is it simply hole-caving with callous fists and wall-kicking with discarded skateboards? I saw this anger in the voice of a man last-named Savage, how apt, first-named Andrew, how convenient, a Brooklynite who sang like Johnny Rotten. Hmmph, maybe I shouldn’t type sang—let’s try rioted with vitriol- and amphetamine-bile blood, with pissed in-and-betwixt the ears like Rotten. Yet somehow you would thank him for being such a coy, gregarious act about it, a Joe Strummer of latter-day punks, bored to tears. But you wouldn’t know as he says “thank you” and then jabs, like any one of the Ramones: Parquet Courts never tried to sound like anybody. But he smiles in stride as I plunge what was a commendatory conversation into the Twilight Zone of Awkwardness.
“Sorry, mate,” I said, “but that’s just what I heard,” and I shrugged. Thinking back, I probably sounded like a well-meaning tool. Still, I couldn’t help but sense that the band—Austin Brown, Sean Yeaton and the brothers Savage: Andrew and Max—had found the holy grail of classic punk attitude: they wrapped up themselves in a transatlantic city-grime, dragging the pit by the spine on a string, nay—a chain nailed to the neck of new-millennium misfits. Parquet Courts, uno spettacolo di punk gigolos, ventures into a time-place of stagnation making hotbox hysteria and digs through the discarded dins and ratchets: the screech of subway brakes, thud-hums of an amp, the feedback shriek of a mike, even the hypnotic Gordonite beeps and doops, all sounds of urban post-modern mania—nay, dysphoria—and then pieces together what’s broken into a punk mobile, ready to roll the listener backwards over their head. Remarkable: I could be talking about their album, I could be talking about a live show—Parquet Courts is consistent hardwood punk all the way through: riding with a rhythm of the Clash, then savaging like starved Sex Pistols, and then somehow moving into the sounds of the computer glitch—winged, live bugs and all—it’s Austin Woods flittering his hands alongs the keys like a Talking Head memento, a new millenia’s Jerry Harrison building instrumental outros with a bazzt, clank and ding, smashing dishes, bashing in doors, hands replete with a damn-huge spanner. The mix of glass breaking and metal tearing, the sounds of the unpleasant, the lysergic limitor—a line in the sand become internal voice become your voice still that reckons fuckiness ran between the faded cannabisical mist: “man, something ain’t right, the trip shouldn’t be so jolted, man, something… something ain’t right—“
“Ain’t right?” says a voice, a partner to this internal dialogue.
“Ain’t right at all, man!”
“What ain’t right?”
“This man, it shouldn’t be so jolted, ad-hoc, brick-a-block?, chitty-chit and fulla’ shit. I don’t know, man, it ain’t got no flow anymore… just nothing man.”
“Yeah, dude, that’s true, what happened to that?”
“Uh, what—I dunno man, It felt like my head was a, um, y’know, watermelon tossed in like, a bag—a sack and then thrown across the bathroom floors, on like the walls, until it’s just gushy-pink kibbles and bits of, like, brain fallin’ out an’ shit.”
“Why the fuck would anyone do that? Why would they like that?”
“That’s what I ‘m askin’! Why would anyone like music that sounds like a fucking car crash and kitchen fight at the same time, dude?”
I stop, bug-eyed, mouth agape. Remembering how Savage’s voice picked back up with a riff-run rumble and scream, the crowd started to jump and push and shove and—holy shit, that dude just saved the chick!—and fall on each other like a quantum experiment, before—eeeeeeeeeeeet ski-rooooo, bang, crash! Brown’s rhythm guitar squeals wheels and bats about to the screams of steel. The metal flies and glass shatters and shreds the seats and the bender is on the fender, the fires of a good ol’ fashioned New York riot running the streets like a Parisian revolution, climbin’ light poles, tearin’ down trees, throwin’ molotovs and flippin’ burnin’ cars for no reason or nothin’, fuck-all but for blowing off the anarchic steam—the system’s rigged!—Well of course it’s rigged! It has to be! And to keep it rigged someone has to win the lottery or fire bomb the casino just to make sure the illusions feel real. If not, then the revolution would have been bigger—a youth and anger not submitted to the demeaning title of “acceptable protest.” Yet there I was, acceptable or not, listening to music that ruminated on every sentiment cleaved in two: “fuck it, I’m done!” and the music popped and my head was mashed, I wanted a baseball bat and a junkyard find, ready and willing for a beating. Alas, a vinyl in-hand—bought too soon—I was doomed to these inner savageries without the vacillations, the convulsions to see them through, to let them pound and course my blood and “to let lightning hit the earth and create craters under foot, goddamn!” I damn-well need this, to trample on a bouncing hardwood floor, a trampoline dancehall made for the balls, the socials, the proms and the galas of an American Fifties serial, black with an on-the-edge dystopian grain, white with the cum of an equally American wetdream, a sociographical pornography for a time that only existed between seven and 10 pm central. The days of the Crystal Ballroom’s big-band jazz had passed, this would’ve been the bobby-soxer hang-out, where the gals could jump, guys could slide and everyone in between would swing. Listening to Parquet Courts didn’t just feel like profaning these traditional grounds, it fucked them right up—like building a Museum of the American West over a native burial site. Shit like that be Trouble and it felt like we were knocking the everliving hell out of that shithead, who or whatever it was, Trouble—a floor, our feet; a tom, our fist; a car, our bats. And after the bodywork had bent and crumpled under a different many wrinkles of rage, it felt great: an hours’ worth of stamping out the oppressors after tamping down the feelings in psychedelic drab and soft-love; Jay Som soothed and swung herself with a Bayside bitter-sweetness, Cat Hoch kicked heels with a day-dance aesthetic munched on by a hard-rock rhythmic break or equally spacey solo while Japanese Breakfast submitted itself to emotional whirlwinds that felt more like a breeze on my face. Nice, but not enough to deliver draughts along a dancehall pulsing and shiver me cold with the flash flood of artistic Eureka’s. In fact all of them proved one thing: pop-psych is better in the box.
Mayhap I’ve listened around the revolutions of a Dead disc or spun the cycles of a concert tape or two (or three…hundred), but for must modern-day pop-psychedelia, it is damn near impossible to move with and therefore be moved by. Oh, sure you can smoke some warm colitas and space out to it, a twilight horizon, but you can’t full-body groove in total flow to it. Nothing compels me to cross them like a California road at dusk. They divorced the jam-band from the psychedelic, forget just mining out the rock, they’ve polished off the roll, too. It’s not that the artists are worse—maybe they don’t have the total devotion to guitar that the old masters did, learning every intricacy of their one, their gun, their love, like it held the secrets above, but that’s not for me to say and that’s definitely not due to a lack in skill; it’s a change in approach. The days of teenagers dropping school and scheduling nothing but sessions? They’re gone. The days of a fearsome four-piece taking on 10 years as a full unit? They’re rare. Parquet Courts and Real Estate and Bully are an exception, not a rule. Today’s artist experience is all in collaboration. Waxed-off session work is replaced by waxed-on production, artists working in piecemeal collaboration and a Musical-Industrial Complex newly committed to this net of individual protocols working like spiders together to form a set of different webs instead of a singular internet. This is a Cthullian horror of networking (a task I dread every second it breathes in my conversations): if Zeppelin released a song today I can only despair at this abhorrent fucking title: “Houses of the Holy feat. Lil’ Planty and Bonzomite (JPJ Remix).” Ugh, where’s my icepick, I’m gonna need a shotgun lobotomy (I hope they never remix those tracks—samples? Sure, but remix?) You can’t remix a unit so magnetic it shifted the poles when they broke-up because that recovery takes time and the Complex no longer has time for that now. Indiedom and especially pop-pysch remains overwhelmingly a genre of the duo or solo act (possibly with a backup band). Tame Impala, Unknown Mortal Orchestra, Ty Segall, Panda Bear, the leaders of the psychedelic (pop or otherwise) work as one man recording engines, pushing the genre into new areas whether by embracing classic motifs (Lonerism, Multi-Love, Ty Rex), or leaving them behind (Currents, Sex & Food, Melted or literally anything the Animal Collective have touched). Simply put, the male psychedelic/progressive/proto-metal rock act, blazing like oiled-up Olympians on the hemp-fueled fumes of gassed up teenage adherents is a faded memory. The scene never calls out for an extended jam, only 8 minutes of medley or curio stops, farcries from the half-hour improv-work of the Dead or Phish, operation on a level of “Whose Note Is It, Anyways?” Sure the brownie may work exactly as I planned—kicking in when Real Estate came out after Bedouine, but there was rarely a moment that truly wham-bam-thank-you-m’am blew my mind with Thrompsonite double-barrel booms. The atmosphere congealed, but there was nothing to hold and cut it through, no electric machete to slice the pea-soup atmosphere. Real Estate may play and make albums worth their salt in magnesium, something to stop teeth from grinding themselves smooth as cerebral lysergia surged all around, but the live show felt like the puzzle missed some paper square pieces. Shit, I was more blown away by the way Bedouine beguiled her singing voice only to belt it at the last song and leave my jaw to be picked from the dancefloor.
And, oh, the irony is delicious: rock ‘n’ roll of old never required a cosmic accompaniment; Zep, Floyd, Hendrix, Beatles, Cream, Sabbath, Deep Purple, the B-O-C, the C-C-R, the Allmans, Skynyrds, Iron Butterfly, Steppenwolf, Doors, Hollies, Dead, Young, Eagles, Fleetwood Mac (soft or hard), even Cars, Ramones, Police, Pistols, Costellos, Straits, Bad Seeds, Smiths, Pixies, Soundgarden, Nirvana, Pearl Jam never required me high for feeling. Sober on Earth or blasting off beyond the asteroid belt, the Dead can accompany me anywhere. And forget the laments of a kid remembering the good ol’ days that he never even saw and then turning around to complain about these new-fangled artists that the other “kids” keep listening to—these are the days of our lives when alternative and indie rock is in the makings of a stylistic renaissance, thanks to much of the Parquet Courts, the Alt-J’s, the Chastity Belts, the Cat Hoch’s, the Childish Gambinos, the Lordes, the Blood Oranges, the Grizzly Bears, the Jay Soms, the Sol Seeds, the Temples, the UMO’s, the Gorillaz, the Tame Impalas, the Warpaints, the St. Vincent’s, the xx’s and what-have-you’s finding ways to incorporate the influences and genres they love into their style rather than conforming the other way around. Because really, if people are conforming to rock ‘n’ roll, then what’s the fucking point in the first place? Because something is better than nothing, so I ask you again—in aftermath of a t-bone en route to the middle of the Bully mosh pit, just how visceral is rock meant to be? Is it brutality relegated only to the wheel squeal of the bodywork thrashing itself like a wolfman against its own bearings? Or is it the clutching claws of a lover ripping my heart and forcing my eyes wide to see it die, reigniting in Aztec ritual a sun I’ll never see? The New York punkers of Parquet Courts came close to the former; missing Alicia Bognanno and her grunge Bully felt like the latter; but Real Estate live did neither.