Jesus and Mary Chain & Primal Scream: Full Circle

About a year ago I wrote an entry called Psychocandy and Me, where I talked about how much that record and the Jesus and Mary Chain, in general, changed the course of my life. I moved to England in 1985 to 'study' at the University of Essex and ended up soaking in a scene that continues to inspire countless fans and bands to this day. My novel Wivenhoe Park is a testimonial to what what down, or at least what I remember going down. It's pretty safe to say that I probably would not have become a music writer, and definitely not have written a novel about mid-'80s England, had I not decided to fill out an application to study abroad just a few days before the deadline. "Fate up against your will" or something like that.

Fast forward 30 years to 2015 and I returned to my old stomping grounds of Detroit, where my rock 'n' roll journey began, to see my favorite band of all-time perform my favorite record of all-time. With me was wife, Arabella, celebrating our 14th wedding anniversary. What better way to celebtare than to see a  loud rock show in the rock and roll capital of the world, home to the Stooges, MC5, and Motown Records. Our first date in 2000 was to see Jim Reid's then post-JAMC band Freeheat, so in addition to this being a full circle moment in our relationship, it felt like a full-circle moment in my 30-year 'relationship' with the Jesus and Mary Chain.

The last time I saw JAMC was in Boston in '98 on the Munki tour, just before they broke up. The show, given the fragile state of the band back then, was a little hit and mess. I do remember "Reverence" being amazing that night, however.

The Detroit concert in May 2015 was beyond compare, one of the best performances I've ever seen. My emotions were on overdrive. The band was all dressed head to toe in black and I was too. At one point during the Psychocandy set I closed my eyes and felt like I had time traveled. As I soaked in the sounds, I remembered old friends -- some I'm still in touch with, some I'm not -- and teared up. It was that powerful.

JAMC @ St. Andrew's, Detroit Rock City, May 2015



Ben and Bella post-gig. 



To understand my obsession with JAMC, I've decided to thrown in an excerpt from Wivenhoe Park when Psychocandy came out and the protagonist, Drew, decides to skip class to purchase it.

On my way to a lecture I stop at the shop to buy this week’s NME and Melody Maker. The Jesus and Mary Chain are on the front cover of both. Their debut album is in the shops today. I won’t be going to class after all. I’ll be going to Andy’s Records in Colchester to buy Psychocandy.  

On the bus ride to town I skim through the magazines. My favorite scribe, Nick Danger, reviews Psychocandy for Melody Maker. He’s passionate and over-the-top as usual, telling his readers that it’s Year Zero and that The Jesus and Mary Chain have drawn the line in the sand. They are the future of rock ‘n’ roll, he says, and if you don’t like it you can fuck off and listen to Frankie Goes To Hollywood. I want to buy him a drink. Normally I like to have a bit of a walk around Colchester. It’s a beautiful little town with cobblestone streets, old churches, and Roman and Medieval ruins, but today I just want to buy Psychocandy and get back to my room to listen to it.  

It’s as good as Nick says. In fact, it’s the best record I’ve ever heard. I bought the “Never Understand,” “You Trip Me Up,” and “Just Like Honey” singles at Schoolkids’, but it’s an entirely different experience hearing those songs and eleven more as a full body of work. The album is catchy like all of the best punk pop groups, such as The Buzzcocks and Undertones, but there’s so much more going on. The combination of screeching noise and heavenly melodies is intoxicating. The lyrics are dark and menacing, too. Most of the songs appear to be about girls screwing the Reid brothers over, but Jim and William live to tell the tale, in fact they seem to relish it. “The Living End” is the perfect fuck off to everything, an Easy Rider-like ode to finding freedom on a motorcycle. Full of swagger Jim declares, “My mood is black when my jacket’s on and I’m in love with myself... and an empty road and a cool, cool wind and it makes me feel so good.” I punch the air as if I’m headbanging to Judas Priest.  

“Taste of Cindy” reminds me of Christine, perhaps too much. “Knife in the back when I think of Cindy,” sings Jim. “Knife in the back when I think of Christine,” I sing back to Jim. “Just Like Honey” is a sober reality check. I hate how much power Christine has over me, and I hate myself for knowing that I’d probably crawl back to her if given the chance. Like that song’s protagonist, I want to be her “plastic toy.” I wanna be her dog. 

An essential part of the early Jesus and Mary Chain is their drummer Bobby Gillespie,who played a minimal kit just like Mo Tucker had done for the Velvet Underground. I would learn that Bobby fronted a group of his own called Primal Scream. One of their early B-sides "Velocity Girl" would later become the lead track on the NME's famous C86 compilation. The early Primal Scream were strongly influenced by American '60s legends, such as Love and the Byrds, and would have a huge impact on the Stone Roses and the Manchester scene that broke in '88/'89. Bobby was also somewhat of a fashion icon, an idol to all the indie boys and girls. Here's a segment from Wivenhoe Park where Drew meets Bobby and witnesses an early gig.

I’m a bit star struck when I shake Bobby Gillespie’s hand. He’s wearing tight black leather trousers and a floral dress shirt. I tell him how much I like Psychocandy, and he somewhat coldly says, “I hope you like us as much, mate.” He seems to be over the Mary Chain. His shaggy haircut is really cool, pretty much what mine could be if I didn’t tease it so much with spray and gel. I make a mental note to use less hair product after seeing how many cute girls come by to say hello. 

Primal Scream is fantastic. Though I haven’t heard anything by them, the songs are instantly catchy. Bobby pours his heart and soul into it and the kids are eating it up. The guitarist, Jim, is incredible. His lines are striking without succumbing to any guitar hero antics, a kindred spirit to Johnny Marr. No flash, no excess, just pure and beautiful rock ‘n’ roll. One song in particular floors me. Bobby tells the audience it’s a new one called “Velocity Girl.” It begins with the line, “Here she comes again with vodka in her veins,” which is about all I manage to catch. The track is much too short, barely a minute long, ending with Bobby repeating the line, “leave me alone” over and over as the music fades out. It’s timeless, melancholic and beautiful, reminiscent of my favorite Rolling Stones songs like “Paint it Black,” “Heart of Stone,” and “Play With Fire.” Primal Scream is cut from the same cloth.  


Primal Scream, Pittsburgh May 2015




Fast forward to 2015 and Arabella and I get to see (and hangout) with Primal Scream in Pittsburgh. Everyone reading this knows that Primal Scream are now legends, albums like Screamadelica and XTRMNTR rated amongst the most influential rock 'n' roll albums of all-time. Like the Mary Chain, Primal Scream are still godlike on stage -- true rock 'n' roll heroes. In an alternate universe someone like Bobby or Jim would take the place of Bono. But maybe it's all for the best.


Ben and Bobby May 2015



Finally got my copy of "Velocity Girl" signed by Bobby -- full circle! 



Ben Vendetta is the author of Wivenhoe Park (2013) and Heartworm (forthcoming 2015). Wivenhoe Park is available on Kindle and paperback via Amazon. Signed paperbacks can be purchased from Elephant Stone Records.

Read more...

Long overdue running update

I've been neglecting the running portion of this blog for too long, so here's a long overdue update. My training has been solid since early March, averaging 25-30 miles on 4 workouts per week with a decided, dare I say Bannister-like specific focus on the 5K. A typical week now is one easy 60 minute run, one easy 30 minute run and two hard efforts. Workout A is a track session -- my favorite at the moment is 10 x 400 w/ brief 100 meter jog recoveries. I learned about this workout from an article by renowned Portuguese coach Antonio Cabral. I find this to be a perfect 5K simulation. In fact, it adds up to exactly 5K on the track. On paper ten 400's doesn't look too difficult but if you do the first few reps too fast, you'll suffer due to the brief recoveries. It really teaches even pacing. Workout B is either a short, hard tempo run of 3-4 miles or a 5K race. Speaking of, I've done two in the past few weeks. On April 18 I ran 18:51 (6:04 pace) and found it to be a good rustbuster. Today I ran far better, hitting 18:18 (5:53 pace) with some solid negative splits (last mile was 5:48). My goal for the Spring is to get as close to 18:00 as I can before ramping it up again for some fast races in the fall. A long shot goal is 17:40 which is the USATF All-American standard for the 50-54 age group. Next up are 5Ks on May 23 and June 6; both on flat, fast courses, so we'll see what I can do.

Read more...

Los Angeles Book Reading

Just got back from two weeks in Los Angeles and Palm Springs. Arabella and I had a blast catching up with old friends, making new friends, seeing a couple of concerts, and just enjoying the weather. God, do I miss nice weather.

The book signing event at La Luz De Jesus was a lot of fun. Arabella took some great photos.

Not from the reading, but this one of me and Dan from the excellent LA band Flaamingos is taken at our friends Charity and Hunters house.


Mingling before the reading.


The reading was puppy friendly, too.


On stage.

One more. They let me take a bottle of wine to the podium! 


Photo shoot in Joshua Tree!


Palm Springs, at the Parker.


Pioneer Town in the high desert


More Palm Springs


Read more...

The genesis of Heartworm

As a follow up to a recent Q&A I conducted about my forthcoming novel Heartworm, I wanted to write a little more about the 1995 album that inspired the book's name.

Lots have been written about life-changing bands -- especially the Smiths and Morrissey -- usually in the context of some shy suburban boy whose life was saved by rock 'n' roll. Much as I love the Smiths, I know that countless people have been inspired by less mainstream bands and records that haven't been discussed to death. Heartworm is my story.

Initially, I pitched Heartworm as a submission to 33 1/3. While I didn't make the short list, I finished writing the book and found another publisher. Most of the books in the 33 1/3 series are in the rock criticism format, but I was inspired by two that were written as fiction: Joe Pernice's Meat Is Murder (perhaps, the best Smiths-inspired book I've read) and, especially, John Niven's Music From Big Pink. In the latter, members of The Band are actually characters in the book, who hang out with the drug dealer protagonist.

I lived in Ireland in 1992-1994 and while I wasn't friends with Whipping Boy, I would later interview their guitarist Paul Page for my fanzine Vendetta. This gave me a starting point; I would attempt to write a novel about an expat American journalist living in Dublin, who's part of the scene that spawned bands like Whipping Boy and Into Paradise.

I wanted to develop on this idea by having my character and some of his friends go through some of the issues and emotions found in the lyrics on Heartworm, the album, including addiction, betrayal, infidelity, anger, and outright violence. Heartworm was an album that saved my life when it needed saving. I was thirty and suddenly single after having been married for eight years. Most of my friends who were my age were just starting their adult lives, getting married, having kids, working serious jobs. I was back at square zero, thirty going on twenty. I was living in a small flat, working temp jobs, drinking far too much, and dating girls six to eight years younger than me.

While writing the novel, I was able to lock myself into that head space and relive many painful experiences, while creating new, slightly different ones for my protagonist.

When people ask me to describe Heartworm the album, I tell them that it's a very male record. I remember an interview where Whipping Boy vocalist Fearghal McKee talked about the record in those terms, adding that it's very hard for men to express themselves. Not that Heartworm is for men only -- plenty of women I know like it as well -- it's just that it captures the male psyche far better than anything I've ever listened to. The Afghan Whigs' masterpiece Gentlemen is the closest  I can think of to Heartworm to in capturing the damaged male psychebut their singer/songwriter Geg Dulli displays far more bravado and swagger than what's found on Heartworm.

Heartworm and other Whipping Boy records were played on loop as I wrote the novel. What I find most amazing as time has gone by is how timeless it still sounds. The orchestrated arrangements still amaze me, the lyrics still pack the same guttural punch.  Most albums sound very much like products of their time, whereas Heartworm falls much more in the 'where the fuck did that come from?' category like Psychocandy or Wire's 154.

Ben Vendetta is the author of Wivenhoe Park (2013) and Heartworm (forthcoming 2015). Wivenhoe Park is available on Kindle and paperback via Amazon. Signed paperbacks can be purchased from Elephant Stone Records.

Read more...

'80s top ten list

Here's a little something I did for Flexipop magazine. Like them on Facebook!They're a great resource if you dig eighties music.



Read more...

Best of 2014

I'm sure I'm missing some things that I just plain forgot about, but here are ten records that I liked an awful lot in 2014.

1. Vaniish - Memory Work: A simply astounding debut by this San Francisco band. Echoes of so many cool postpunk bands from the '80s (Cure, Siouxsie and the Banshees, Joy Division etc.) with their own unique twist. Essential.



2. Singapore Sling - The Tower of Foronicity: Singapore Sling is more or less the brainchild of Henrik Bjornsson and the Icelandic genius shows no signs of let down on his seventh album, an intoxicating mix of JAMC fuzz and assorted '60s garage and surf influences. 



3. Brian Jonestown Massacre - Revelation: Revelation lives up to its name, my favorite BJM record since Bravery Repetition and Noise, encompassing everything from impeccable '60s-inspired songwriting to postpunk, shoegaze, and other experimental sounds.


4. The Raveonettes -Pe'ahi:  Along with Singapore Sling, Denmark's Raveonettes are my favorite band of the 21st century, always finding new ways to make the most out of their unique sound.



5. Ceremony: Distance. Like some of the other artists on this list, Ceremony is more or less a solo deal for John Fedowitz (ex-Skywave). Fans of his former group, JAMC, and assorted '80s noise pop will dig this record immensely.



6. Pete Fij and Terry Bickers - Broken Heart Surgery: Ex-Adorable vocalist Pete Fij and House of Love guitarist Terry Bickers collaborate on this achingly beautiful concept album that documents the breakdown of a relationship. The duo incorporate everything from country pop to John Barry-esque arrangements on this dynamite recording.



7. Comet Gain: Paperback Ghosts. Criminally ignored in the Britpop era, London's Comet Gain are still relevant two decades later appealing to all us lost souls who love punk, soul, and damaged rock 'n' roll.



8. Interpol - El Pintor. NYC's Interpol are back in form with their best album since the first two. Easily the comeback of the year.



9. Ringo Deathstarr - God's Dream. As you can tell from this list, I prefer bands on the noisier side of the pop spectrum. Austin's Ringo Deathstarr fall into that category for sure. While not as immediate as their first two long players, God's Dream is pretty killer just the same.



10. David Long - Water Has Memory. While this came out in Ireland only in 2013, I did not learn about this record until earlier this year. Long fronted Into Paradise, one of the best Irish bands ever in the late '80s - early '90s. This is his first new music in close to two decades and has a similar punch to his finest work.




Ben Vendetta is the author of Wivenhoe Park (2013) and Heartworm (forthcoming 2015). Wivenhoe Park is available on Kindle and paperback via Amazon. Signed paperbacks can be purchased from Elephant Stone Records.

Read more...

  © Designed by Mousetrap Marketing from Ourblogtemplates.com

Back to TOP