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Democracy For Anarchy: Judge For The Best Punk Song

We know it may seem contradictory, but somewhere in our Punk Channel is the ultimate anarchist, and we need your help to decide just who that is. Of all the bands competing, only one Grand Prize Winner will receive a year’s supply of Ernie Ball strings and accessories. So if you think you can spot the next Ramones, Sex Pistols, or Clash, then click here to start judging!

Riffs, Rants and Rumors: Jesse Frohman Catches Kurt Cobain’s Final Act

Veteran photographer Jesse Frohman isn’t easily fazed. He may have become adept at photographing the “beautiful people” in celebdom, but he first began making a name for himself in the late ’80s by capturing colorful moments on the fly with hip-hop provocateurs. So, when a drugged-up, freakishly attired Kurt Cobain strolled into his shoot three hours late in November of 1993, Frohman didn’t flinch. After all, Jesse Frohman is the man who invited a militant-era Chuck D. into his house and insisted on putting a gun in the Public Enemy mastermind’s hand. Fortunately it was all in the service of an iconic photo.

“That was a funny shoot,” recalls Frohman, “because I told whoever was doing the props at the time, ‘You’ve gotta get a gun,’ because I wanted to do that [Black Panthers founder] Huey Newton-style picture, and he comes back with this grandpa gun, and Chuck D. was like ‘Where’s the Uzi?’” Frohman had some strange but memorable shoots with LL Cool J in those days too. “LL Cool J would say the funniest things, he would just call me randomly and say ‘Okay, I want to get my Pathfinder up in the woods and we’ll put a deer on the hood, and I’ll get camouflage clothes’ [laughs]. Just one thing after another, it was just a real crackup.”

But even Public Enemy’s intimidating image didn’t rattle Frohman. “People really thought these guys were very much that way,” he explains, “and it made me realize they’re putting on a show— they were natural entertainers. When you’d meet them in person they’d drop their guard a little bit. I really didn’t have any problems with anybody, I had more problems with people like Dee Dee Ramone out at my house; he picked up the brass knuckles that he gave me as a gift and tried to use them on me. He was having a bad reaction to some drugs he took.”

Frohman doesn’t even betray an ounce of chagrin when he recalls getting kicked out of a shoot by the artists themselves. “Green Day was a great band to shoot,” he begins. “they get the attitude, they’re zany, they don’t care what they look like, they just want to have fun in the pictures, and they put on a show a little bit.” Then he drops the other shoe, continuing, “The funny thing about Green Day is, a magazine said, ‘They’re on tour,’ would I mind going to the show and doing a few pictures there? I went to the show and Billie [Joe Armstrong] says after the first couple of songs, ‘How about we kick the goddamn photographer out of here?’ I’m trying to say, ‘No, it’s me Billie! We just had this four-hour shoot!’ He either didn’t see me or he didn’t care, and I was kicked out, so I didn’t get concert pictures.” But Frohman wasn’t just fattening his portfolio by banging around with all these enfants terrible, he was gaining combat experience. “They were colorful,” he says of the aforementioned artists, “they were interesting, they were great subjects, and it really set me up for a shoot like Nirvana and Kurt Cobain.”

Frohman sets the scene for his short but momentous Cobain encounter, “I think it was November 15, 1993,” he remembers. “The London Observer magazine asked if I would do a cover story on [Nirvana]. They set up a shoot that we all agreed would be five hours. They were in New York performing at Roseland that night, so we had the late morning/afternoon to do the shoot. When I arrived at the hotel, I met the manager at the lobby and he said, ‘The plans have changed, and we don’t have anything close to five hours now, and we have to shoot in the hotel.’ He had reserved a conference room for us. We were planning on shooting in Central Park and on the street, that’s what I was set up for, and he nixed all that. So that was the beginning of the experience.”

If you’re thinking it got worse after that, you’re right. Nirvana rhythm section Dave Grohl and Krist Novoselic showed up for the shoot only to find their fearless leader MIA, so they departed. When they returned some time later, the singer had still not turned up. Finally, a chemically-enhanced Cobain wandered in with only twenty minutes left in Frohman’s alotted time. He arrived with an absurd, garish ensemble including a leopard jacket that looked like it belonged to someone’s grandmother, an earflap-adorned aviator hat of the sort pilots sported in WWII, and a pair of huge plastic sunglasses that would have been better suited to Jackie Onassis. To make matters more difficult, Frohman recalls, “Once he put those glasses on he wouldn’t take them off, so I didn’t get any pictures with his glasses off except when I went to Roseland and shot him on stage.”

Fortunately, Frohman’s luck soon turned around, and he found himself getting some great, soon-to-be-iconic images of the bedraggled rock star. “Maybe not the most flattering pictures,” he allows, “but he was very expressive. He was nice, and he was fine to shoot. It was definitely a partnership in making a picture, but he wasn’t demanding, he wasn’t difficult. He was really very easy to photograph, and that was really my saving grace, because I didn’t have enough time to work with somebody that wanted to change outfits or wanted to take a break—he just walked in and stood up against the wall and he was a happy camper.”

Following the band along to their Roseland gig for some stage shots, he marveled at Cobain’s ability to operate in his impaired state, even though Frohman had no way of knowing how dire the situation really was at that point. “There’s a lot of people out there that have problems or have moments where they’re in that state,” Frohman says, “and he was a rock star, so you just accepted it, and I was really just concerned with my shoot. And then I traveled with him to Roseland and there was no problem, he was fully functioning. He got up and he conducted rehearsal and he performed that night. To me it was remarkable that he was able to do that with such ease. I don’t know how he was able to do it.”

Of course, he wouldn’t be able to do it for much longer. on April 5, 1994, Cobain made the jump from superstar to rock & roll martyr. To memorialize the eighteenth anniversary of that tragic event, Frohman decided to partner with the renowned Morrison Hotel Gallery in New York City, famed for featuring rock-oriented photo shows, to present his complete collection of images from that fateful day in ’93. “It was interesting to look at a shoot from that long a period ago,” says Frohman of putting the exhibition together. “There’s lots of memories about the shoot, about the day and what I expected and what I finally got out of it, and I think that some shoots take on a life of their own. It’s really because of him, not me, to a large extent, but it definitely was a partnership. Had I done some snapshots of him at Roseland, or on the street, I wouldn’t have had the shoot that I had, so I’m fortunate that I had to shoot in a conference room and I made the best out of it. It was a twenty-minute shoot, you don’t know that it can become something.”

Even so, the decision to do the show was not an automatic one for Frohman. “I went back and forth,” he explains, “‘Do I want to do this or not,’ then I said ‘I really do.’ I think it’s the time that there’s enough interest in Kurt and it makes sense photographically. I think it makes sense in this time and place to do something like this.” Allowing all of his rare, raw images of the rocker’s endgame to be seen together like this for the first time (the show will be up throughout the month of April) Frohman not only makes a major photographic statement, but marks a strange, sad, stirring juncture in rock history.

The EditoriaList: Top Ten American Rock Bands

 

Not solo artists. Bands only. All members of the band must be American, or yew kin GIT OUT. For the most part, we’re looking at bands that have had steady careers and a substantial body of work.

10. The Byrds

Their career was so fragmented that it is difficult to assess as a whole, but The Byrds almost single-handedly invented both folk-rock and country-rock while also bringing international attention to young folker Bob Dylan. In melding Dylan’s compositions with the concept of a guitar-based group, The Byrds brought poetry to pop and illustrated the incredible melodicism of Dylan’s not-so-accessible songs. The Byrds got into psychedelia early on, and had a number of their own classic originals (many by Gene Clark) before catching on to the roots revival. When they hooked up with Gram Parsons, to the credit of the band and leader Roger McGuinn, they followed his vision of a unique country-based “cosmic American” band. His time in the group was short-lived, but produced arguably their best LP, Sweetheart of the Rodeo. The Byrds influenced at least two bands on this list, as well as re-inspiring the acts that influenced them, including Dylan, The Beatles and folkers like John Phillips and John Sebastian.

Continue reading ‘The EditoriaList: Top Ten American Rock Bands’

Riffs, Rants & Rumors: When Rockers Go Bluegrass

It seems there’s a worrying trend these days wherein more and more veteran rockers seem to be turning to bluegrass. We’re using the term “turning to bluegrass” here in the interest of fairness, since the more popular “going bluegrass” bears too much pejorative potential, what with its evocations of “going ballistic,” “going rogue” or even “going postal.” At least for the moment, we’re trying our hardest to keep an open mind about this phenomenon, so bear with us on this.

The rock-to-bluegrass move isn’t a new idea—in terms of high-profile artists, you can trace it back at least as far as David Lee “I’ll try anything once” Roth, who may have had mandolin-shaped dollar signs dancing before his eyes ever since the O Brother, Where Art Thou? soundtrack made the mainstream start paying attention. Diamond Dave sang on a back-porch version of “Jump” for the Van Halen bluegrass tribute album Strummin’ With the Devil back in 2006. With the ice thus broken, others began following in Diamond Dave’s footsteps, even though it’s unlikely they were emboldened by the aforementioned VH reinvention itself. The following year, not only did patron saint of punk and last surviving (original) Ramones member Tommy Erdelyi unleash the self-titled debut album of his bluegrass duo Uncle Monk, the original shirtless wonder of stadium rock, Robert Plant himself, delivered Raising Sand in collaboration with Alison Krauss. Of course, in Plant’s case, the aesthetic and commercial rewards for this venture turned out to be enormous, and that probably proved to be the real turning point for this whole thing.

Suddenly, it seems as though we’re inundated with warhorses from the rocking side of the fence willing to dip a toe— if not an entire foot—into the Appalachian stream ofbluegrass music. To wit: some guy named Paul McCartney takes a vocal turn on Steve Martin’s new bluegrass outing (bluegrass-bound actors are a topic for a whole other column) Rare Bird Alert, singing on the Martin-penned “Best Love.” Guitar man Brian Setzer’s latest release, Setzer Goes Instru-MENTAL!, finds the former Stray Cat picking up a storm on the old Earl Scruggs tune “Earl’s Breakdown.” Elvis Costello’s recent acoustic, country-tinged National Ransom was cut in Nashville with a raft of hotshot bluegrass cats. Even the ultimate urbanite, Paul Simon, has collaborated with one of the biggest acts in contemporary bluegrass, Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver, on the former’s upcoming So Beautiful Or So What.

Okay, so most of these are relatively minor dalliances in the high-lonesome hinterlands—guest-spots, one-offs and the like. Perhaps in and of themselves, each one of these examples shouldn’t be enough to inspire concern in those who feel that rock/bluegrass mergers may not be the best thing for artists on either side of the fence in the long run. Like we said at the outset, we’re still attempting to keep an open mind, despite any initial misgivings. But then along comes the clincher, the one that makes all these other examples seem less like isolated incidents and more like a snowball slowly gathering steam as it rolls down a white, wintry hill.

It turns out that Tommy Shaw, longtime frontman for classic-rock kingpins Styx, has just released a full-on, Nashville-recorded bluegrass album, Great Divide, featuring contributions from Alison Krauss as well as legendary pickers Sam Bush, Jerry Douglas and others. Now, even allowing for the relatively generous assumption that you accept such Shaw-penned Styx hits as “Renegade,” “Blue Collar Man” and “Too Much Time On My Hands” as the arena-rock classics they are, does that mean you have any good reason to approach this project with great expectations? Again, we’re just posing the question here, not handing down any overt judgments about the bluegrass potential of Ted Nugent’s former Damn Yankees bandmate. We’ll simply say that the most convincing bit of mountain music we’ve heard thus far from Shaw has been a ‘grassed-up take on “Renegade,” which does not appear on the all-original Great Divide. Regardless, Shaw’s going whole-hog on this thing—hell, the guy’s playing the freakin’ Opry in a couple of days! One can only wonder which of Shaw’s fellow stadium-rockers will be the next one up on the hay bale. Say…has anybody been keeping an eye on Steve Perry lately?!

Punk On The Rocks: The Top 10 Ramones Songs

Tomorrow, the surviving members of The Ramones will receive a special Lifetime Achievement GRAMMY award from The Recording Academy at a special event before the 53rd annual GRAMMY Awards on Sunday night.While they are not this years only recipients of this honor (Dolly Parton and Julie Andrews are also being honored, among others), they are the only recipients this year who have never won a GRAMMY award. To honor this belated but deserved recognition of one of America’s greatest bands, I have decided to compile a list of the Top 10 Ramones Songs. But what does “Top 10″ mean? Are these MY favorite songs? Are they the best selling songs? For the purposes of this post, I decided that “Top 10″ would indicate the ten songs that best represent the incomparable punk rock pop culture weirdness that is The Ramones. If your best friend asked you the question “Who are The Ramones?,” these are the ten songs you would put on a mixtape for them. Now that we are all on the same page….on with the countdown!

One of us: The Ramones

10. Spiderman - Cover songs are a big part of the Ramones’ repertoire. From “Let’s Dance,” to “Surfin’ Bird” to their psychedelic ’60s and ’70s cover album Acid Eaters. My personal favorite is their cover of the “Spiderman” cartoon theme song from the 1995 compilation CD Saturday Morning Cartoons’ Greatest Hits.

9. Chain Saw – Horror movies and cult films played a big part in inspiring The Ramones. This song makes reference to the 1974 horror classic The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. “Chain Saw” also contains one of the most mind-boggling rhyme schemes ever put to music by rhyming “massacre” with “me.” Although I have no proof to support this theory, I like to think that this was the inspiration for R Kelly to rhyme “Beretta” with “dresser.

8. Today Your Love, Tomorrow The World - Fascism and war were popular lyrical themes with early punk bands, and The Ramones were no exception. While there has been a lot of speculation as to whether Johnny and Dee Dee’s facination with Nazi Germany was shock value or something a little more sinister, having goofy, New York Jew Joey Ramone singing comically about how he’s “A Nazi, schatze” is definitely a kiss off to the anti-Semites of the world.

7. Here Today, Gone TomorrowSad and almost somber, this tearjerker of a song is the opposite of lighthearted and cutesy fare like “She’s The One.” Despite what some may think, “Here Today, Gone Tomorrow” is proof that The Ramones are no one trick pony.

6. Questioningly - Written largely by Dee Dee, “Questioningly” is a touching and heartfelt song about running into an ex-lover. This sort of quiet introspection is unexpected in the middle of a Ramones album, but the element of surprise just adds to the song’s impact. In both music and lyrics, there is no other Ramones song quite like it.

5. The KKK Took My Baby AwayAllegedly written by Joey after Johnny stole his girlfriend, this track is full of the offbeat imagery and killer hooks that the Ramones are known for.

4. Pinhead - The song that gave the world “Gabba Gabba Hey!,” The Ramones’ second most famous lyric!

3. I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend – The Ramones are more than just cretins and pinheads. I have already explained my feelings on this song in last year’s “Punk Rock Love” post, but I think it bears repeating that “Shall I compare thee to a summers day?” has nothing on the simple romance of “Hey little girl / I wanna be your boyfriend.” Cretins, after all, need love, too.

2. I Wanna Be Sedated – Minimal chords, simple lyrics and a whole lot of power. This song is instantly recognizable as a Ramones composition.

1. Blitzkrieg Bop - “Hey, Ho – Let’s Go!” Even people who have never heard of the Ramones know this song. “Blitzkrieg Bop” isn’t just the song that has come to define The Ramones, it is the song that, for many music lovers, has come to define punk rock.

What are YOUR favorite Ramones songs? Let us know in the comments!

Punk On The Rocks: The Gods Of Macho

Their OurStage Punk chart-topping song may be called “Loosers,” but The Gods Of Macho are anything but. They’ve rocked the legendary Viper Room in West Hollywood, have a debut self-titled album available for sale in record stores all up and down the west coast and have licensed their songs to shows like TBS’s Glory Daze and ABC Family’s Make It Or Break It.

Taking a page from the book of The Ramones, the band’s member have all adopted the surname “Macho”: Gary Macho, Roscoe Macho, Camero Macho and Egg McMacho.

Fashions by Andrew W.K. : The Gods Of Macho

While they make take their naming cues from The Ramones, their sound is more Bouncing Souls than “Biltzkrieg Bop”. The band describes their sound on their MySpace page as “…1 part nasty rock and roll, 2 parts punk, and one part Burt Reynolds.” While I can’t be sure exactly how much Burt Reynolds was involved in its creation,”Loosers” contains enough hooks, “woah-ohs” and shout-a-long slogans and profanity to guarantee enthusiastic audience participation. With a refrain of “We may be losers / But we’re marching on,” it is impossible not to sing-a-long. Check out “Loosers” in the player below and see for yourself!

Punk on the Rocks: The Queers “Back To The Basement”

I’ve always had a soft spot for New Hampshire’s The Queers. Maybe it’s because their song “Punk Rock Girls” was one of the very first “punk” songs I ever heard, or maybe it’s because, when we started dating, my boyfriend made me a mix CD featuring The Queers tune “I Can’t Stop Farting.” Whatever the reason may be, I was excited to get a review copy of their latest release, Back To The Basement.

Back To The Basement is a solid addition to The Queers’ catalog of Ramones-meets-foul-mouthed-Beach Boys pop/punk. The album kicks off with killer quasi-surf instrumental “Rollerdog” and the band’s Ramones influence is out in full force. Standout track “Outta My Skull” sounds like a long lost Ramones demo, while “Fucked In The Head” could be an updated version of  “Go Mental.”

The Queers keep it punk with 'Back To The Basement'

Short-but-sweet track “I Knew GG When He Was A Wimp” name-checks the late Boston rock hot spot The Rat and gives a nod to the band’s New England roots with the line “…Being from New Hampshire really wasn’t too cool / But we always drank our Bud from a can.Basement closes with two more standout tracks: “Everyday Girl,” a surprisingly sweet love song (and the longest song on the album, clocking in at 3:23) and “Keep It Punk,” an ode to the rough and tumble punk scene. The best part? The 13-song album clocks in at just over 22 minutes. Keep it punk indeed.

Back To The Basement drops November 16th on Asian Man Records. Pre-order on CD or green or black vinyl here!

Punk On The Rocks: Punk Halloween Costumes

Halloween’s just a few days away— have you picked out your costume yet? If not, don’t fret. This week’s Punk On the Rocks has some tips on how to create some easy, last-minute punk Halloween costumes from items you probably already have. Special thanks to the awesome OurStage interns for volunteering their time and modeling skills.

Intern Rebecca as Joey Ramone

Joey Ramone
What you need: Skinny jeans, Converse, ratty t-shirt, leather (or “leather”) jacket.
If you’re anything like the OurStage crew, you can find most of the pieces for this costume in your closet. Long hair and round, John Lennon-style shades are easy ad-ons that really complete the Joey look, but the costume basics can be adapted to any Ramone.Go as the group with some buddies or fly solo as your favorite member.
Total cost: $10
Variation: Lose the jacket, add some bling & questionable tattoos and you’re Dee Dee Ramone during his ill advised rapper phase!

Interns Rebecca and Martin as Sid and Nancy

Sid & Nancy:

What you need (Sid): Skinny jeans or plaid pants, safety-pinned t-shirt, punk pins, spiked collar necklace, snarl.
What you need (Nancy): Disheveled blond hair (real or fake), heavy-handed makeup, mini skirt, fishnets, leather jacket.
Another costume you can put together with items from your closet. We only had to buy the wig, fishnets & t-shirt. What better way to scare the neighborhood kids on Halloween than by showing them what their future will look like if they don’t “just say no”?
Total cost: $25 (both costumes combined)
Variation: Don’t have a Sid? No problem! The Nancy look also doubles as a Courtney Love costume.

You can only push interns so far

Blink-182

What You Need: socks, Converse or skate shoes, a smile
Recreate Blink’s infamous streaking “What’s My Age Again?” video this Halloween for little to no cost (Note: total cost of costume does not include any fines you may incur for lewd or indecent behavior)! We chose not to photograph this one for obvious reasons. You can only push your interns so far.
Total cost: $0
Variation: add some black clothes and some eye liner and you can be Tom from his “serious musician” days in Angels & Airwaves.

Intern Munson the Destroyer as MC Bat Commander

MC Bat Commander of The Aquabats

What you need: Teal shirt, felt, stick-on felt, elastic, safety pins, scissors.

The perfect for those of you who dig wacky ska-punk but break out into a cold sweat at the site of a sewing machine. Use the stick-on felt for the details, then safety pin everything together! Voila!

Total cost: $12

Variation: Honestly, there’s not much you do to transform this outfit, but with a costume this rad, who cares?

What will your costume be this year? Let us know in the comments!

Tour De Force: Road Songs

Life on the road can be tough. It can be at once the greatest, most exciting time of your life and the most trying and tiresome. For many artists, being away from home and their loved ones can be rough but, as we all know, out of pain and heartbreak comes the best songs. That’s why this post is dedicated to road songs—tunes written by bands while on  tour detailing life on the open highway. The honesty and insight these songs offer is unparalleled. It really gives the listener a chance to hear each band’s point-of-view and of their experiences on the road. Check out some of my favorite examples of road songs below!

OK, this Steel Train song is adorable—a true throwback to classic rock-esque anthem. The band crowds around a mic to sing in beautiful three-part harmony: “When I was a little kid/ My father told me to see the world for him /So I took my things/ And painted pink sunsets over the vast oceans /Send your dad a note you made it kid you’re on the road.” These guys have been around in some form or another for the past decade (lead-singer Jack Antonoff formed the band back in 1999) and even though touring is nothing new to them, it seems they still have a deep appreciation and love for the road – “Don’t you know I was resting under the tracks /Even then I knew I would always be back /And I know that this steel train is gonna ride on ’till the end.

While Steel Train’s song is more about the love of the road, Phantom Planet’s song is focused on coming home — “Pedal to the floor /Thinkin’ of the roar /Gotta get us to the show /California here we come /Right back where we started from.”  Many road songs are only played live, or released as b-sides and are not very well known. “California” is not your average obscure road song. It was the theme song for both The OC and The Simpsons episode “Milhouse of Sand and Fog”and is one of Phantom Planet’s biggest singles.

Click For More Songs From The Road

Punk On The Rocks: Punk Rock Love

OSBlog_POTR_MASTERFor a holiday that’s all about love, Valentines day is pretty divisive. To some people, it’s a cute excuse to treat their loved ones to mix tapes and candy. For others, it’s nothing more than a way for  greeting card companies to boost their profits and movie studios to turn out formulaic romantic comedies. Whether you’re making up, breaking up, going solo or sticking it to the man this Valentine’s Day, “Punk On The Rocks” has got your soundtrack covered.

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