Reverberations: Beatles, Stones, Dirtbombs and Fleshtones
I’m about to tell you about two shows that are anything except garage rock, but due to their roots, spirit and aesthetic are precisely garage rock. But first, some history:
Early garage bands owe a massive debt to the Stones, primarily the early recordings, which were mired in R&B covers. It could be argued that the Stones brought “black music” into garage the way that Elvis did for the music of the Stones’ generation; there were garage bands kicking around America prior to the British Invasion, but the Stones and Beatles hitting U.S. soil blasted open the doors. As stated in the John Goodman narrated documentary “Tales of the Rat Fink” – about the 50s-60s era of custom cars and the cultural impact of Ed Roth’s vision – once American crowds caught an eyeful of those two bands, “the garage was no longer a place where kids tuned their cars; it became a place where kids tuned their guitars.”
It’s no wonder that the Beatles vs. Stones question remains a staple of asinine bar yammering: The two bands represent two looks, two sounds, two genealogies...two identities. Though their respective discographies were just budding at the time, young musicians were able to discern the tone and – even if vicariously – choose their forefathers, in the process strengthening a musical and cultural divide by forging disparate paths.
And despite all of that, you can never really pull one side of the Beatles/Stones question out of sight of the other. The two bands were the best at what they did, cannot ever truly be compared in any “fair” way, yet will forever be linked by chronology and fate, much like the bands birthed by their records and mythology.
The implications for serious music fans: Should you have an honest, preternatural connection with one of the two main Invasion bands, your side of the fence can dictate your lifestyle, your attitude, your perception, your sex, your drugs, your music and your art. For musicians, the implications are that much deeper. This is not to say that one road or the other is artistically “superior,” but it may be helpful to consider the Brit-Pop explosion, if only to record the notable lack of Stones influence on the prevalent bands of the time. Pulp, Oasis, Suede, the whole of Madchester, including the utterly decadent Happy Mondays...these were bands who followed the Beatles’ sonic influence to the top of the charts, while in many cases the only clear Stones influence was chemical and more of a public- and media-perception issue.
All of that in (a likely futile) attempt to make this point: While the Beatles and the Rolling Stones are both great bands on their own individual terms, the Stones’ influence has remained more pure and potent mostly in the subterranean artists. Which leads to any number of conclusions and separate rabbit trails, but for my purposes I’ll follow this one: The Beatles were brilliant musicians, songwriters, composers, artists and will forever be revered in a way that no other band or artist will. John, Paul, George, and Ringo are still a cultural force, and you can count on one hand the number of musicians who have been able to produce transcendent art while simultaneously capturing the popular mind.
However, the Rolling Stones were – and their records remain – dangerous and rebellious for reasons entirely separate from the Beatles’ motivations. Jagger/Richards might have been able to write “Imagine,” but it would’ve been a different statement than Lennon’s. The Stones not only embraced but sought out every filthy, nihilistic impulse of the adolescent mind, explored the angst-filled world of the paranoid young people, poked their entire bodies into each nook, cranny and primal indulgence found laying in the mud along the unspeakably evil paths of adulthood (in the shadow of unmeasurable stardom, no less), did what seemed Right even when they knew it was Wrong and constructed a monument to the possibilities of R&B birthed rock music decades before they became the guys who would record Bridges to Babylon. The bands who assimilated the Rolling Stones’ soul are the ones who are too scary to fill theaters or sell records, who make you want to try smack, slap a jock, become a jock, leave your girl, find your man or deal with Consequences when the jailer rattles your bars. It is the choice of fun over introspection, or dealing with a lover instead of the world. It may be “selfish,” but . . . what of it? Say what you want about the Stones and where they’ve gone: No one will ever remember them as a band who over-intellectualized.
That being said . . .
Friday night at Rudyard’s, the Dirtbombs will bring a gizzard-rattling sort of rock to Houston. Their most recent album, We Have You Surrounded, is yet another in a line of albums that seems distinguished almost despite itself. For those unfamiliar with the Dirtbombs, here’s your summary: Two bassists, two drummers, one guitarist/vocalist by the name of Mick Collins and generations of thunderous punk mojo. If you think Jack White is the voice of Detroit, it may benefit you to spend some time at the altar of Collins, as even Jack will tell you that there’d be no Stripes without Collins’s Gories. While purposefully indefinable (you don’t end up with dual drummers and bassists via evolution), the Dirtbombs have managed to consciously avoid genre qualifications without falling prey to self-indulgence, overcoming pretension through the raw power that – whether they like it or not – was bequeathed them by the eternal specter of Detroit Rock.
Saturday, once again at Rudyard’s, you have the Fleshtones – too smart for the street, too much fun for academia, who have built an entire, brilliant career on the teenage impulse to party ‘till sunrise and beyond, and not particularly in defiance of anything . . . just because Rock is there and is a thing to be embraced. This is a band who, for over three decades, has skittered near the surface of popular conquest and painfully remained a cult act. As made clear in Joe Bonomo’s eminently readable and essential Sweat: The Story of the Fleshtones, America’s Garage Band, Peter Zaremba and Co. have caught vivid glimpses of the bottom, the top, the middle, and the strange crevasses in between. The story of the Fleshtones is the story of one of those bands who would be massive were they able to commit the live experience to tape: Their shows are non-stop extravaganzas, replete with audience participation, speed-eating weirdness and a bunch of guys who learned to play their instruments to fit a party instead of vice versa.
Friday night, see one angle of where music can go when you try stretching the classics. Saturday, see where music can take you when you perfect the spirit of the classics. Neither progressive or regressive, there are no revivals, revolutions or renaissances happening . . . just a window for a 48-hour party and maybe your best chance all year to drop your guard and connect with the basic, selfish evil offered by rock ‘n’ roll. Mark my words: If you cannot muster the decency to attend and enjoy at least one of these shows, you are a rock and roll heretic, and you deserve whatever lame-ass excuse for “taste” you hold in place of a soul.
See you this weekend. – Chris Henderson
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