That was a real cliffhanger back there in Episode 1, wasn’t it? I was threatening to name my “best” Nirvana song, with a hint that it wasn’t by Nirvana. It was one of those tropes that sounds good when you toss it out there, but completely impractical or even imaginative. See, I went back and basically rifled through the Nirvana catalog, and came away with the following conclusion. I don’t believe they had a best song. They had a bunch of really good jams, but to say that “Drain You” is better than “All Apologies” is a stretch.
A lot of bands were buoyed by the wake of the Nevermind sinking cruise liner, but only a small percentage could be considered to be Nirvana rip-offs or copy-cats. Bush sounded exactly like Nirvana – with a decent guitar player. Anybody who wants to argue with me about Kurt Cobain – God bless the man, the myth, the legend – being an incredibly talented guitar player, get in line and you might want bring something to read, cuz it’s going to be a long wait. The so-called alternative-grunge phenomenon was bigger than any one band.
Certainly, there were bands that nicked bits and pieces from Nirvana’s routine, just as they scavenged from the Pixies. That’s been going on forever in music. In the meantime, alternative rock was a festering sore that had been building up for more than a decade, waiting to burst. And wallow in its own puss.
Failure – Saturday Savior
Failure is one of the few post-grunge, mid-90s American rock bands that make me think, “Why weren’t these guys huge?” As opposed to mid-90s British rock bands like Bush and Oasis that make me think, “How in God’s name are these guys huge?”
Failure first came to my attention in 1996, around the time “Stuck on You” reached #23 on Billboard ‘s Alternative Songs Chart. Dale Meiners turned me – us – on to Failure. Our band Whitey was recording with Dale at Ghetto Love, his Chicago studio circa 1996-97.
One day, Dale and said, “Hey guys, have you ever heard of [this band] Failure?” He put on Fantastic Planet and we were impressed. Very impressed.
It reminded me of a similar incident back in 1990, when our band Brain Kiss was recording an EP with Matt Suhar – who passed away last year in a bizarre and tragic accident. Matt Suhar was one of the good guys.
Brain Kiss had enough money to record five maybe six songs. Matt was producing, while some cat named Neil was engineering. One day they brought in the first Fugazi record (Repeater, 1990) as a reference record. Matt said, “Dudes, you should be listening to this, not Jane’s Addiction.” And in a way, he was right.
We were embarrassed by how good Fugazi was. Oh wow, we really are a bunch of suburban slackers. Fugazi was kicking ass while we were tripping balls. And that was pretty much the last time you would have caught me wearing a tie-dye t-shirt.
Being in the studio puts me in a different headspace in terms of listening. If you’re a music nerd and you read interviews with producers and engineers, they frequently talk about having “reference records” during the recording process. For instance, Trent Reznor said that while recording 2005’s With Teeth he would use Brainiac’s Electro-Shock for President as a “sound reference.”
“Brainiac was a band that, on this particular record, the sound would be something we’d reference, because it sounded very low-tech, electronic garagey sounding. It has an interesting low-tech sound to it that was inspiring. Even thinking about that visually would lead us into certain paths of production ideas.”
Failure – did a band ever live up to their name like these guys? Were the Outlaws really outlaws? Were the Eagles really eagles? Failure had it all – good songs, great production, mid-major label support, critical and peer approval – but 1997 was more or less the last anyone heard from Failure – until now.
If you’re interested in their story, click here. or watch the following clip, in which Ken Andrews and Greg Edwards discuss Failure’s demise and recent revitalization. I’m kind of curious to see these cats live. I think it might be good.
“Saturday Savior” gets the nod over “Stuck on You” for several reasons. It opens the album, hence the first song I heard when Dale popped the CD in the player, and thus, remains my strongest impression. “Hmm,” I thought, “it sounds familiar, but sounds amazing!” Of course, the average music nerd could probably name about 10 bands that Failure “sounds” like – I could – but this is just…better.
The second reason is that it was more appealling to me than “Stuck”. The song has one progression with a tonic and a sixth. I hear it and I love it.
The third reason is:
Lionel Ritchie – Stuck on You
Doesn’t that make you smile? How about this:
Wesley Willis Fiasco – Jesus is the Answer
Even though I missed posting on Wesley’s birthday this year (May 31), “Rock Over London, Rock On Wesley Willis” tells the story of how we met and became friends – which led to meeting Dale Meiners, who played guitar in Wesley Willis Fiasco, one of my all-time favorite bands. See how I did that? Slick, huh?
The first time seeing the Fiasco (1995) was the most compelling live rock performance I had seen since Jane’s Addiction at the Aragon Ballroom (1990). And as I wrote in that original article, the Fiasco blurred the lines between spectacle and art, resulting in a jarring musical experience. When you’re standing there thinking, “Are these guys for real?” You realize that this doesn’t happen every day, but it’s happening right now.
Again, the above link contains just about everything I need to say about Wes, but here is a rare clip of WWF live in Hollywood.
Wesley Willis Fiasco – Intro/The Frogs/Casper the Homosexual Friendly Ghost
Arthur Fielder and His Boston Pops – Bond Street
When I was a youngster, Arthur Fiedler And The Boston Pops, What The World Needs Now: The Burt Bacharach-Hal David Songbook (1972) got a lot of airplay. For the most part, whenever my mom put it on, I’d think, “Christ, this again?” It’s an instrumental record but even a four-year-old can’t help but earworm that insidious trumpet bit about the clown and his pathetic shoes too big for his bed. Cryin’s not for me, no… Next thing you know, Dionne Warwick is standing in your living room, and she smells like lavender and cocoa butter.
But there was one song – “Bond Street” – which really pricked my ears. I was like, “That drummer is doing something cool!” and I didn’t know it was an entire percussion section.
The Frogs and Eddie Vedder – Jeremy/The Longing Goes Away
Ah, speaking of the Frogs and since we’re on this whole post-grunge kick anyway, it wouldn’t be right to leave Eddie Vedder out of the mix. I’ve watched this video maybe half a dozen times and I keep thinking that they couldn’t have picked a worse camera angle to film this shit, unless of course it was just some dude with an iPhone – wait, this was 1994, nobody had iPhones or even cell phones.
For a spell in the mid-90s, The Frogs were the underground band du jour for successful alternative musicians like Vedder and Billy Corgan. [I’m so tempted to post super embarrassing clips of Corgan on stage with these cats. Google it yourself. Corgan – is there anything he can do?] Anyway, the original recording of “The Longing Goes Away” is one of the most beautiful songs I’ve ever heard in my life, too, Ed.
It was also during the same period of time – the mid-90s – that I was writing for a series of Chicago magazines, most notably Tail Spins, Subnation, and Velocity. As a result, I got a lot of demos and press kits shifted my way.
For a year or two, I wrote a recurring, pseudonymous column in Tail Spins called “Felix Navarro’s Bitter Corner”, which was basically a free-form editorial platform for the most unhinged or diluted fake music critic/impressario in existence. The pseudonym was created from inter-breeding the characters Felix Unger (actor Tony Randall) of The Odd Couple, and Dave Navarro, guitarist for Jane’s Addiction, et al.
The writing wasn’t always AP style, or good, but it was conversational and real, and more importantly, the vitriol was present and accounted for. And surprisingly, appreciated by the readership. Felix was one of the more popular features of the ‘zine while it lasted.
Somewhere along the way, I developed a concept for the Felix Navarro column called Demo Dare, in which I literally dared bands – 95% of which were inherently obscure local bands who didn’t have a label and couldn’t get any press in the Illinois Entertainer if they held Ma Nugent at gunpoint – to send me their demo tapes, in exchange for a guaranteed review. That was a big deal for nobody bands – getting press. It didn’t matter if it was good or bad press, you just needed someone to talk about your stupid, shitty band.
The complete story of Demo Dare is most definitely a tale for another time – I got death threats and shit – but one thing happened right after I’d published my first story about Wesley Willis (credited under my real name, Christian Adams):
I received a Demo Dare package from a woman in Franklin Park, Illinois, named Jan Terri. She sent a homemade VHS tape, a self-released cassette demo, and a press kit complete with glossy headshot that I wish I would have framed and saved for antiquity, but I didn’t. Now these people are telling me that Jan Terri is a “viral video legend.”
Jan Terri – Journey to Mars
At the time, I was initially reluctant to write about Wesley because of his schizophrenia. I didn’t want to write about him because he had issues, I wanted to write about how those issues influenced his art. Plus, he had a support system of righteous people who weren’t trying to exploit him.
With Jan Terri, I didn’t want to write about her because she obviously had issues and it didn’t seem like anyone was trying to keep her in check. Or at least whoever was in her corner was like, “Fuck, yeah! This broad is insane!” And that was unsavory to me. There was absolutely no Art – with a capital A – to what she did.
Then I learned the truth. Jan Terri was a limo driver who fancied herself a musician, entertainer, performer – and more or less continues to make it happen, depending upon how you define “making it happen.”
The VHS tape contained several music videos, most notably, “Journey to Mars”, and the press release said something about breakout hit single. Some shit like that. It was so cringingly bad that everybody I showed it to was like, “Nuh-uh, that shit is whack.” And so, Jan Terri may have had a mention in Demo Dare, but I don’t remember. I dropped the subject. Not interested.
This was absolutely pleasant news to me: Jan Terri appeared on The Daily Show in 2000, and was hired to play parties for Marilyn Manson. She’s considered an outsider musician.
Oddly enough, I’m pretty sure I still own that original VHS tape she sent me in 1995; I was haunted by the headshot for years.
Twenty years later, I’m online looking for the original “Journey to Mars” video, and I know it’s out there, when I stumble across the newest, latest, worst Jan Terri video I’ve seen to date. Actually, I’m a couple of years too late on this crap. “Losing You” is – according to Dangerous Minds a “regularly-voted worst video,” but “Skyrockets” is way, way worse.
Jan Terri – Skyrockets
Stay tuned for Jukebox Antagonist – Episode 3