Saturday, February 04, 2006

December's Children




How I Learned That A Garage Isn't Just A Place To Park A Car

Gather 'round children, wherever you roam, and admit that the waters around you have grown. Alas, I'm about to tell you about the Paisley Underground and how I got my mojo.
It may be hard to fathom now, but I wasn't always this cool. Certainly not back in the early '80s when I was just another Anglophilic dough-faced doofus with a sideways haircut, avidly scouring the NME for the latest post-punk farts from the ass of London. My girlfriend at the time was much, much cooler than I was, and she'd recently gotten into something called "garage rock," whatever that was, and had signed on as a Nancy Sinatra-style go-go dancer with a local garage band called the Creatures.

The Creatures, like all the bands in the burgeoning neo-garage scene, were directly influenced by Nuggets, a genius compilation curated by future Patti Smith Group guitarist Lenny Kaye. Nuggets was comprised of largely forgotten or never-heard-of bands from the suburban American garages of the mid-'60s, who were desperately trying to master both puberty and the guitar in the service of channeling the Rolling Stones. Invariably, they got it wrong and invented something new in the process: garage rock.

Though these bands were criminally overlooked at the time-most were lucky to release a little-heard 7-inch before being shipped off to Vietnam-in hindsight it was the latest volley in the transatlantic cultural conversation between America and the U.K. We send over Muddy Waters and Howlin' Wolf and they send back the Animals and the Yardbirds; we send over the Beach Boys and they return with the Beatles; we send over Jimi Hendrix and they send back Led Zeppelin. And on it goes. The Ramones beget the Sex Pistols, R.E.M. beget the Smiths, Big Star beget Teenage Fanclub, the Strokes beget the Libertines. And vice versa.

The Creatures were part of a growing American indie guitar renaissance flying under the radar of a moribund mainstream music biz, mining a rich seam of elder sounds: fuzztone garage, psych-pop, folk rock and, above all things, the Velvet Underground and the Stooges. Many of these bands were lumped under the regrettable label Paisley Underground, named after the de rigueur paramecium-patterned shirts that were the white hipster belt of their day.

More accurately, these bands were the fruit of Nuggets' loins, so it makes sense that the third and latest installment in the series should anthologize the bands of my misspent youth under the title Children of Nuggets: The Next Generation. Over the course of four discs and 100 songs, we get a trippy cross-section of largely unheralded rock classicists who labored in lava-lamp obscurity from '76 to '96.

Most of my personal faves from back in the day still sound as timeless and exotic as they did to me back in '84: the Dream Syndicate, the Rain Parade, the Lyres, the Nomads. Though I could quibble with many of the song choices or the exclusion of key scenesters like Yard Trauma and Wooly Mammoth in favor of multiple tracks by the Posies or the Barracudas, even the bands that don't taste so good anymore still had good taste.

Getting back to how I got my mojo: As if you couldn't have seen this coming a mile away, my girlfriend dumped me for the lead singer of the Creatures (I still hate that fucker). So I got myself a paisley shirt and some Beatle boots, grew out my pizza-slice Flock of Seagulls hairdo into a Brian Jones pudding bowl and started my own garage band. But that, children, is a story for another day.

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