After that motherfucker from an East Village bodega (which shall remain nameless for legal reasons) threw me out for reading an article on Bad Company’s much-anticipated reunion, I stumbled down Third Avenue shaken. I’ll admit the two hours and 33 minutes I spent reading magazines I had no intention of buying may have warranted an “Excuse me, sir, but are you going to be purchasing that issue of Guns and Ammo this evening?” But having two coppers hog-tie me and fling me headfirst into oncoming traffic was a bit harsh.
Anyway, it wasn’t the abrupt ejection that had me shaken, no sirree, it was that Bad Company article. And once I got to my maroon ’79 Oldsmobile, disarmed the Rattlesnake antitheft system, aimed the Maroon Ma chine toward home, Bensonhurst Brooklyn, I started thinking about the riff-rock days of yore. The days when a good Saturday night pivoted around three dollars, a joint, and low-riding cowbell anthems like Grand Funk’s “We’re an American Band.” (Though I was sloshing around in shit-caked Huggies back then, I did see Dazed and Confused six times.)
But as the Machine glided down 18th Avenue, all was not well—a black, sharklike Lincoln was tailing me. These goons may be hit men seeking retribution from the Vito’s Pizzeria incident (a story for another time, let’s just say never take “Drive Thru” literally), I thought. They probably recognized my “Don’t Laugh It’s Paid For” bumper sticker and “Happiness Is
Being A Grandmother” license plate frame. Or maybe they recognized me, one of the nation’s elite tastemakers, from my nationally televised segment on MTV and wanted to chat about my controversial metaphysical take on the new David Lee Roth record? I was soon to find out.
After edging me off the road, a pin-striped, pinky-ringed pair emerged from the Lincoln. The two men dragged me into an adjoining alley way, whisked me through an old wooden door, thrust me into a dimly lit back room, and then stood arms folded, blocking the door with their thick frames. “We’re with the Metal Mafia,” one calmly croaked. Metal Mafia? Like Metal Mafia, the record by Italian Brooklyn mustache studs Shängo? Aha…these two must be affiliated with the same organization that sent me that letterbomb three weeks ago because I never mentioned Shängo on MTV. (Such techniques are standard practice for publicists, though a rat’s head with “You’re next” scrawled on a crumpled sheet of paper is more what I’m used to.)
“You never mentioned Shängo,” one said, rubbing a clenched fist. “See,” I squealed as the two brick shithouses edged closer, “too many of these arena-rock schmucks get away with schlepping the old school schmear of bell-bottoms, blues runs, and badboy behavior in the name of coolness….’Scuse the Yiddish fellas, in times of great fear I revert to the mother language….It’s like these buffoons are exempt from writing good tunes and multidimensional re cords because they’re clever enough to have rediscovered hair and Humble Pie, so they parody a time period and spend too much time rocking out with out writing anything memorable.
“This is often the case with the Chicago band Loudmouth, on their self-titled debut album,” I said, producing the CD, my Discman, and a set of portable speakers.
“Loudmouth sometimes forgets that in riff-rock, there has to be some thing after the part where you get that overbite and bang your head. There has to be a part you can hum on the way to the record store. Re member,” I said, leaning forward and dropping my voice a few notches, “it’s the ‘oh-yeah, oh-yeah, ah ah ah’ part of ‘Black Dog’ that filled arenas.”
“Now, when Loudmouth took time out from rocking out to find the perfect balance between muscle and melody, they penned the gruffly catchy, Zep-via–Stone Temple single, ‘Fly.’ See, ‘Fly’s’ verse grooves in such a deep pocket that the best way to make the tune heard and not only felt is to go for the obvious in the chorus, almost to the point of the
‘la-la’ pop hook. And that’s just what Loud mouth did, went for the hummable chorus, and that’s why ‘Fly’ works.”
“Shängo has humble choruses,” one of my baby-sitters grunted. “That’s hummable choruses,” I said with a wink and a pointed finger. “And the alternative to this is the beat that gets ’em to laugh their asses off while they dance their asses off. James Brown and War made careers out of this. And Whatcha Gonna Do Honky? by local Lower East Side boys Honky Toast makes a memorable al bum of this—
decorating slithering funk-rock riffs with organ flourishes and busy-but-spot-on percussion.”
“On these slinky workouts, singer–rhythm guitarist Eric J. Toast’s charismatic vocal
affectations—every thing from James Brown shrieks to a heavy-lidded stoner drawl—
establish that Honky Toast ain’t playing a style, it’s playing with style. A claim the band backs up with its rootsy ornamentation on their boogie-ballads ‘California’ and ‘Alcoholic Mama.’
“Okay, now for the interactive portion of this lesson,” I said, tossing the guys Shängo’s Metal Mafia Frisbee-style. “Find the ‘Ace of Spades’ on this record.” And as the boys fumbled around the Discman, searching out the parallel to Motörhead’s metal masterpiece, I slid out the door.