Matthew T Grant


Tall Guy. Glasses.

Homage to Saccharine Trust

Until the appearance/Of a lone ocean bird/Skimming over the choppy water/Airily eyeing after anchovies/And occasionally glancing at the people/Who had come to be at the beach/On the winter solstice – from “Estuary,” by Saccharine Trust

I think it was in the late summer of 1981 that I jokingly suggested to my friends that we go see a concert at the Whiskey A Go Go featuring the Minutemen, Saccharine Trust, and the Meat Puppets. I had not ever heard any music by these groups and was probably just amused by their names, especially the Meat Puppets.

Who knew, then, that some four years later these would actually be among my favorite bands?

Indeed, it was in the spring of 1985 that I went to see the Keystone Palo Alto installment of what SST billed as “The Tour.” The bands involved? SWA, Saccharine Trust, The Meat Puppets, the Minutemen, and Husker Du. I had gone mainly to see the Minutemen, having had my mind blown over the preceding months by their magnum opus, Double Nickels on the Dime.

The Minutemen totally rocked, as they did every single time I saw them. SWA was forgettable. The Meat Puppets, oddly enough, left no impression (though later in my life I devoted significant turntable time to Meat Puppets II and Up on the Sun, and, in fact, if I were inclined to recommend any band from that era now, it would probably be them). Husker Du were a white noise blur and my rock concert companion (Eric!) and I left during their set.

The band that ended up haunting me, however, was Saccharine Trust. Jack Brewer, the singer, was dressed in a banana yellow leisure suit; Joe Baiza, the guitarist, had a piece of spin art taped to his guitar. They produced a very angular and spastic kind of punk noise with Baiza given to hacking out long, experimental lines while Brewer—curly haired, baby faced—spit his beat-inspired words. At one point, Brewer hit himself in the forehead repeatedly with the mic until it drew blood. Later, he took off his belt, tied it around his neck, and awkwardly jerked himself into the air with it over and over again.

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A Disappointing Film About Norwegian Black Metal

I watched the documentary film Until the Night Takes Us and was disappointed. I really think it fails on every level.

Neither a true “history” of black metal (Norwegian or otherwise) nor a revealing portrait of the genre’s main innovators (Fenriz of Darkthrone and Varg Vikernes of Burzum), the film never even raises the questions it should answer.

For example, wherein lies an engagement with or appreciation for this genre, especially in its purest, “necro” form (as one might find it on Emperor’s Wrath of the Tyrants, for example, or Darkthrone’s incomparable, Transylvanian Hunger) as an aesthetic experience?

Sure, Fenriz and Varg talk about choosing the crappiest amps and mics, etc., but why does the result sound so compellingly haunting?

And, frankly, how did it even become a recognizable genre and how do we categorize its defining characteristics?

On the other hand, where is the discussion of the neo-Nazi ideology associated with this music, so associated with it, in fact, that there is a sub-genre known as NSBM, or National Socialist Black Metal? I use the term “sub-genre” here guardedly since some of the genre-defining artists have produced music that falls squarely in this dark realm.

On that last front, why don’t the filmmakers actually call Varg on his bullshit?

For example, during the segment about his trial for the murder of Euronymous, Vikernes states that he was given a stiff sentence (by Norwegian standards, not American) because, in his words, the authorities wanted to say, “We don’t tolerate this kind of rebellion.” What kind of rebellion was that exactly? Stabbing a man, fleeing from you in his underwear, to death?

Varg is also shown saying, “It’s very hard to recognize the truth, when you are bombarded by lies all the time.” This may sound noble, until you realize that this is the kind of “truth” he’s after:

If we have a positive relationship to our homeland, to our blood, to our race, to our religion and to our culture we will not destroy any of this with modern “civilization” (id est capitalism, materialism, Judeo-Christianity, pollution, urbanization, race mixing, Americanization, socialism, globalization, et cetera). The “nazi ghost” has scared millions of Europeans from caring about their blood and homeland for sixty years now, and it is about time we banish this ghost and again start to think and care about the things that (whether we like it or not) are important to us.

Finally, why do they let it slide when Hellhammer—known for saying things like, “Black metal is for white people”—refers to the man Bård Guldvik “Faust” Eithun (erstwhile drummer of Emperor) killed as a “fucking faggot”?

I’m sure they’d fall back on the “we’re letting our subjects speak for themselves” ethos of some documentarians (and if you’re reading this, please feel free to comment!) but even there they don’t let their subjects speak enough or at length. One of the most interesting segments involves Fenriz being interviewed by a German journalist (in which he says, “We’re not just sitting around in a trailer camp listening to Anthrax!”). Why couldn’t we have more of his views or ramblings (and, while we’re at it, a conversation about his use of the phrase “Norwegian Aryan Black Metal” back in the day)?

For good or ill, I don’t tend (any longer) to reject music or other works of art based (solely) on the politics or behavior of the maker.

Nevertheless, I firmly believe that one should at least explore the ways that politics and aesthetics inform and influence each other and, if only on a personal level, ask ourselves why our response to something, on a visceral level, may be positive when we would reject it on an intellectual level.

Anyway, if you have the time and interest, Lords of Chaos is a much more satisfying account of black metal, its origins, and its consequences.

Fishing for Jim

I never call into On Point, but when I heard Greil Marcus on there talking about The Doors, I did.

Unfortunately, no matter how many times I dialed, I always got a busy signal.

Fortunately, there’s this thing called the Internet where I can tell my story to the whole wide world. Who knows? Maybe Greil Marcus and Tom Ashbrook will read this along with everybody else! <crosses fingers and closes eyes to make that “I’m wishing really hard” face>

Why was I moved to call in? Because I had a story I wanted to tell and a question I wanted to ask.

My story goes like this:

In the early 80’s I used to go to a club called the Cathay de Grande which was behind the Hollywood Palladium. I went with my girlfriend, Flannery.

Basically a basement with a bar—I don’t think there was even a band riser—at the Cathay de Grande you were just standing there with the bands. I saw some amazing and some frightening music there and one night I even saw Ray Manzarek sit in with Top Jimmy and the Rhythm PigsJohn Doe was on bass.

They played “Backdoor Man” and “Roadhouse Blues.” In between, Manzarek teased with the opening run to “Light My Fire.” Top Jimmy was in his prime then and the band—which included blues guitar’s unsung hero, Carlos Guitarlos—rocked these tunes hard.

It was as close as I ever got to seeing The Doors (and it might have even been better!).

My question is this:

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“Flowers” on MOG

I am listening to Flowers by the Rolling Stones on MOG.

I have never owned this album and, although I have yet to hear a song I haven’t heard before (I’m on “Let’s Spend the Night Together“), I feel like I’m hearing it for the first time. It’s pretty amazing.

The first thing that hits you is the bass. It’s way up front and in the stereo mix a galloping, insistent presence.

There’s also a dark noisiness—the blunt organ, the shattered drums, the jumpy, rawly harmonized vocals—that makes this thing seem both straightforward and experimental.

More interesting to me than the music—”Lady Jane” is a weird anticipation of the Grateful Dead (“Rosemary,” “Mountains of the Moon” on AOXOMOXOA) and Depeche Mode (“One Caress” on Songs of Faith and Devotion))—is the fact that I’m listening to music on MOG.

I’m sure others have written this elsewhere (if there were only a way of searching the Web to find out if anyone else has posted anything about MOG), but there is a “dream come true” quality to MOG that I can’t get over: almost any music I think of, I can listen to at will.

After a lifetime of listening to music as chosen by others, in the case of radio, or to the extent that I could access its recorded form (I include mp3 or other rips of albums to be essentially the same thing in a different recording medium or, more accurately, encoding), I am now plugged in to a vast, explorable library of music.

I must say it means that I haven’t used iTunes in going on two weeks.

And that my burgeoned cd collection seems even more archaic than ever.

As long as we have electricity and connectivity and a robust information infrastructure—and are not being attacked by government forces or rebel militia—this is how recorded music (and all recorded media?) will be consumed henceforth.

In Praise of Waylon Jennings

Back in ’88 I really dug the Cowboy Junkies’ The Trinity Session. Their spacey take on country (had “alt country” been invented yet? I mean aside from Rank and File?) was deep and cool. From the spare lonesome of “Mining for Gold” to the bleak landscape of “200 More Miles” and the druggy swing of “Working on a Building,” I was hooked.

My favorite song on the album, however, was “Dreaming My Dreams With You,” a dark waltz drifting up from the void with a hopefully hopeless refrain: “Someday, I’ll get over you.”

I think I knew that the song was a cover, as was about the half the album, but I didn’t actually hear the original until, some 17 years later, I bought Waylon Jennings’ Dreaming My Dreams at a cd shoppe in Santa Monica. More than a novelty or a hip re-working of hip and semi-hip tunes, I recognized this album immediately as a classic, a keeper.

Seriously, this album is rock solid, perfect. It’s focused and restrained, under-produced, but at the same time muscular, virile, intense. “Are You Sure Hank Done It This Way?” chugs out of the gate, relentlessly working it’s two chords, maintaining a tone that’s both confessional and confrontational, daring you to get in its way.  The next tune, “Waymore Blues” is surprisingly and crassly vulgar (see video below). “I Recall a Gypsy Woman” is sentimental kitsch, saved by a sincerely expressed sense of loss. And so on.

The band is road-hardened, world-weary, tough as nails. Waylon’s voice, drifting as it does from a lascivious drawl to a sturdy, honky tonk baritone, is wise, human, hungry. And the songs are a perfect mix of backwards-looking nostalgia, invoking the ghosts of Hank Williams and Jimmy Rogers, and gritty, contemporary (mid-70s), cowboy urbanity.

Every time I listen to this record (I still call them that), I’m astonished.

Here’s the man himself invoking his poetic license:

Albert King, Live 1970

Lately I’m entranced by the slashing wail of Albert King’s guitar playing.

What’s entrancing you of late?


FM Radio: Gateway to the Unknown!

When I was in 7th grade, my brother started having trouble falling asleep. Turned out that the local easy listening station, KJOY, could help him settle into slumber, so that’s what we, who shared a room, listened to at bedtime.

In addition to cultivating in me an enduring fondness for low-key and lushly arranged instrumental pop, this meant we in fact had a radio in our room.

I had been listening to the radio for a while at that point, of course, but had always listened to AM. In fact, the first time I consciously became a fan of any radio station, it was an AM station:  KHJ. I remember listening to KHJ and, for some reason, distinctly remember hearing Coven’s “One Tin Soldier” on it.

So, I’m in 7th grade and nodding off every night to KJOY and my friend, Scott, asks me if I’ve ever listened to FM radio. I tell him I have not. He says that’s what he’s been doing and he likes this band called KISS. (As a direct result of this conversation, KISS Destroyer later became the first record I ever purchased.)

I was curious and thus, one morning, whilst lying in bed, I decided to check it out. I took the radio off the night table, flicked the switch from AM to FM, dialed around for a station, and heard this:

Having only listened to AM, having fairly square parents, and having no older siblings, I had never knowingly heard anything like the introduction to Zeppelin’s “Nobody’s Fault but Mine.” The phased guitar and futuristic chanting sounded so alien, so weird, I could only think to myself, “Man. FM really is different.”

This experience had at least two long-lasting effects.

First, my undying belief that Zeppelin rules and that Presence is an under-appreciated masterpiece. (A friend once told me, “I think you have to be from California to like that album.”)

Secondly, and more significantly, when I first heard FM radio, it dawned on me that there was a world out there of which I was entirely unaware. I had to wonder, “What else was I missing?” For good or ill, I have never stopped wondering that.

In Praise of Generic Music

Back in the old days, if someone asked me what kind of music I liked, I would generally answer, “Jazz, rock, and classical.”

Six Views of a Machine Gun

Inspired by Chuck Klostermann’s inspiring analysis of Led Zeppelin’s last performance at Knebworth. Thanks, Chuck.

1. Jimi Hendrix kicked off the last year of his life (1970) playing a series of shows at the Fillmore East with the Band of Gypsies. It is from one of these shows, recorded for posterity and released first as the album Band of Gypsies, that we have the definitive performance of his only overtly political song, “Machine Gun.” While the band played this song several times during their engagement, and Hendrix continued to play it until his death that September, this is the keeper:

2. When I was a kid, the off-handed political militancy of Jimi’s intro to this song was one thing that made it especially cool, even subversive and dangerous. Quoth Hendrix, “Happy New Year, first of all. I hope we have a million or two million more of them, if we can get over this summer [Foreshadowing!]. Ha, ha, ha. We’d like to dedicate this one to the draggin’ scene that’s going on: All the soldiers that are fighting in Chicago, Milwaukee, and New York. Oh, yes, and all the soldiers fighting in Vietnam. I’d like to do a thing called, ‘Machine Gun.'”

Now, Hendrix wasn’t particularly political and, if

Jimi Hendrix

I’ve been listening to Hendrix ever since I bought a 45 of “All Along the Watchtower” back in 1978. I’d like to write about the waxing and waning of my obsession with him but, instead, I’ll just post this video of his appearance with the original Experience in Stockholm in 1969: