Don't Call It Nothing Episode 4 now live! We visit the infamous year punk broke – or got broken, depending on your perspective – 1991. We learn that Mudhoney is better than the Stooges, Paul Westerberg is better than Bob Dylan, and pogo with the Sleez Sisters.Support the show
Theme Song: Mike Nicolai, “Trying To Get It Right” [Bandcamp]
Welcome to Don't Call It Nothing, the podcast dedicated to the lost history of '90s roots, rap, and rock 'n' roll, I’m your host Lance Davis and today we’re gonna visit the infamous year punk broke – or got broken, depending on your perspective – 1991.
Before we get into it, though, I’d like to give a shout out to two people who just joined the Don’t Call It Nothing family. First is the lovely Laura Leevy in Seattle. She makes every room better and that my friends is science. And then there’s Bill “5.5 Hole” Struven. Phraaaaassssing! Last time I Facetimed with Struven he was wearing a Fernando Tatis onesie, so he’s obviously handling the quarantine well. I don’t know about the rest of you. But, Laura and Bill joined up at the $5/month level and let’s face it. Between the pod, the website, the Facebook, the laughs, the tears, it’s like you’re making money. So, if you wanna support punk rock musicology at the $5, $20, or go nuts $50 level — that’s per month, not per day — go to dontcallitnothing.squarespace.com or buymeacoffee.com/pantsfucious and sign up. No pressure.
[robot voice] “Yes … I do want to support punk rock musicology. What a life-changing idea.”
Anyway, let’s move on. Did you know this past Friday, July 23rd was the release day for the 30th anniversary reissue of Every Good Boy Deserves Fudge? Mudhoney! Friends, you get the album proper remastered on marbled light blue vinyl, plus a second record on red vinyl with unreleased demos, alternate takes, singles, B-sides, that sorta thing. There’s also a poster of the band included which will be great for my dorm wall. That’s just me. Bonus. Check it out on the Sub Pop website or go to Discogs. That’s where I got it. Those are my recommendations.
Fudge is my favorite Mudhoney album and I don’t think it’s all that close. Obviously, Superfuzz Bigmuff is flawless, but that’s an EP. There’s only six tracks. You extend that over a full-length, I kinda feel like Fudge is the only record, front to back, where Mudhoney just hits it. I’ll admit there’s a few tracks that I think are just pretty good. "Move Out," "Shoot The Moon," and "Check-Out Time." Those are fillery and I mean that in a, well, not a good way, but stylistically they fit, so they’re fine. Not every (song) is gonna be “Touch Me I’m Sick” or in this case “Good Enough.” (That said), you have eleven out of fourteen tracks are damn near flawless. I think we’re looking at a masterpiece. This is Mudhoney operating at peak efficiency and that includes not one, but TWO instrumentals: the opener "Generation Genocide" and on the flip "Fuzz Gun '91," the penultimate track on Side 2. They’re total jams. "Genocide" actually introduces Mark Arm on '60s-style organ. I think it’s a Farfisa, but I could be wrong. That’s the first time that's heard on a Mudhoney record – it’s also heard on "Who You Drivin' Now?" – and that directly anticipates his work in Monkeywrench, who’ll debut the next year, 1992, with the wonderfully titled album, Clean As A Broke-Dick Dog.
But, you come to Mudhoney for the Stooges-influenced garage punk and the album delivers repeatedly. "Let It Slide," "Thorn," "Into The Drink," "Who You Drivin' Now?," like I mentioned earlier, and "Pokin' Around." Loud, fifth gear, search and destroy missions featuring Dan Peters' brilliant, shuffling, just behind the beat trap work, Matt Lukin's squirrely bass (usually on or just ahead of the beat), Steve Turner's primal fuzz guitar leads (and harmonica, don’t forget that), and Arm's steady rhythm guitar and all-time scream. Arm (might) also play harmonica, but I think it’s Turner. The magic of Mudhoney is bottom up. You start with Dan Peters and without him on drums they wouldn't nearly be the same band. You could get a technically better drummer, but Dan Peters totally fits Mudhoney and makes them as distinctive as Mark Arm’s cat scratch voice, which is one of the great rock ‘n ‘roll screams ever. Guitarwise I actually think Turner and Arm are a bit underrated in how they craft guitar parts. But when you’re talking about the great guitarists, of this or any other era, guys like Mark Arm and Steve Turner are never gonna make those kinds of lists. They’re just killer rhythm guitarists who every now and then will stretch out for a solo.
One of the things I like about Fudge is that beyond the Stooges influences and the "Touch Me I'm Sick" template, you have stylistic evolution. "Broken Hands," for me, is the one that stands out. It begins with the coda riff that’s on "Cinnamon Girl." What’s funny is that Neil Young uses that riff as the outro to the song. Mudhoney flips that. It’s the start of the song and then it goes full slow burn anthem with some of Peters' greatest drumming and then Turner unleashes an epic distorto guitar solo from 4:48-5:43. Badass guitar that gives way to this oscillating feedback apocalypse.
I got a quote from Mark Arm talking to the AV Club:
“Our musical interests are pretty broad and diverse. It’s not like we only like Blue Cheer and The Stooges. We like Neil Young and that was touched on in the first album. ‘Come To Mind’ is kind of that. Our best fake Neil Young song is probably ‘Broken Hands,’ and that’s kind of a quieter thing, too, on the same record. As much as I love Discharge’s Hear Nothing See Nothing Say Nothing, I don’t want to do an album that’s all almost the same song.”
— Mark Arm to Sean O'Neal, AV Club, April 9, 2013
That motivation to mix up the Mudhoney formula is why you have songs with organ, why you hear Neil Young references, even why you hear jangly guitar and surf drums on a song like "Good Enough," for which a video was made. Seattle music was kinda consonant with Charles Peterson's blurry, black and white action photos, which were awesome. Ed Fotheringham's artwork was not part of that calculus, but in retrospect (having him do the Fudge cover) = genius move. The last thing the band wanted to produce was Superfuzz Bigmuff II. Or III really, because the self-titled is Superfuzz Bigmuff II. I say buy the reissue and check it out on Spotify. Every Good Boy Deserves Fudge is a rock ‘n’ roll litmus test.
Mudhoney > Stooges
I’m gonna make a statement that I believe to be true. Some may think this is a hot take, I think it’s just a take. The statement is this: Mudhoney is better than Stooges. They’ve had a better career than the Stooges. If we put all of the Stooges songs on one side of a gladiator pit and all of Mudhoney’s songs on the other side of the pit and we have them fight to the death, not only do the best Mudhoney songs match the Stooges best, but the depth of the Mudhoney catalog will eventually force the Stooges to tap out. They’re as good at their best and they’ve just been at it longer. If you think the Stooges are better it’s because you need the myth. Mudhoney is better because the songs tell me they’re better. I also enjoy rewarding their hard work, longevity, and consistency. I’m not interested in facile boomer mythology. Also worth mentioning, I can hear a bunch of Stooges fans talking about how great they were live. Not denying that. Crosley (Field, Cincinnati, June 13, 1970) probably better than any Mudhoney show ever. But, I’ve seen Mudhoney play in four different decades and they delivered the goods every time. So, are you overvaluing the idea of the Stooges versus the reality of Mudhoney’s consistent excellence? I’m saying that’s what’s happening.
I want to briefly fast forward to 1996 because that year Iggy released an album called Naughty Little Doggie. Y’all ever heard this turd? Oh boy. It’s a rough listen and a window into the '60s/'70s culture we continue to uphold uncritically as some sort of high water mark of American culture. I love The Stooges and am a fan of Iggy, but when the first lines in "Look Away" are "I slept with Sable when she was 13/Her parents were too rich to do anything," that shit’s creepy as fuck. Sable, of course, is famed groupie Sable Starr, and she was one of many teenagers groomed and abused by pedophiles who just also happened to be rock stars in a white suburban middle class rock culture that encouraged closet predation and depravity.
In "Pussy Walk" (co-written with guitarist Eric Schermerhorn), Iggy sings:
"I found myself surrounded by Latin American and dark women
And as I looked at their ankles
Their knees and their thighs
And the curve of their bodies
Their mysterious eyes
I couldn't help but thinking about their pussies"
And as I'm processing that “interesting” take on racial relations, Iggy then sings:
"Now you know from time to time
My musical group and I have occasion to visit
The high schools, junior high schools and
Other centers of learning in this wonderful land of
The United States of America
And when I do, from time to time
I run into the young girls that attend these places
And I see them smiling at me with their young girl clothes
And while I smile back, I never say anything
But inside I'm thinkin
Can your pussy walk?"
Right now there’s a bunch of old white dudes making excuses for racist objectification, non-racist objectification, and basic pedophilia because it’s more important that their icon maintain his position of cultural privilege. “They’re just songs.” “Artistic license.” “What … can’t you take a compliment?” They can’t admit that for all of the talk about open-mindedness in the ‘60s and ‘70s, time and time again in that era we see females as objects to be controlled and possessed. Even in a Mudhoney song like “Sweet Young Thing Ain’t Sweet No More,” the narrative isn’t exploitative. If anything, the lyrics posit a traumatic home life in which drug addiction and attempted suicide are symptoms of a deeper problem. In fact, there’s no point in the Mudhoney catalog where I have to make excuses for Mark Arm’s lyrics. It’s almost like he was an adult writing songs for other adults. What a novel concept! Look, the Stooges are still a great band. They’re just not as good as Mudhoney and there’s nothing wrong with that.
Like A Rolling Pin
On a similar note, I was recently having a chuckle on Facebook thinking about the myth of Dylan going electric. This has to be one of the silliest legends of all-time. Dude plugged into an amp and people act like he desegregated the Ryman. As funny as that is that isn't even the most preposterous part of this myth. In order for Dylan to be the brave, courageous hero he needs to have an equally terrifying villain. He’s standing up to The Man. “No one tells me not to plug—See this plug in my hand??? I’m gonna plug it into that amp and you ain’t gonna stop me!“ You know who that villain was? Folkies. Seriously. Whitebread folkies who use such vulgar language as ... Judas! LOL. Is there any realistic context in which folkies are legit threatening? Come on. You’re at Kerrville and you hear, "ROCKERS, COME OUT TO PLAAAAA-EEE-AAAY!!!!" Good Lord. Dylan was an acoustic musician and chose to play electric. Just say that. It's not that big a deal.
Which brings me to The Replacements. They retired after their July 4, 1991, performance at Grant Park in Chicago. Their final album, All Shook Down, was released the previous year, so they were basically running out the clock on that last tour. However, if you were in college radio in early ‘91, as I was, you would’ve received an EP that conveyed the strategic importance of The Mats to the overall Sire/Reprise universe. That EP was called, Don’t Sell Or Buy, It’s Crap. It’s not crap. I don't know if I'd call it essential, but "Ought To Get Love" is a fun, Chuck Berry type song. "Satellite" is Tommy Stinson's first proper song to be recorded and while it sounds like a poor man's Paul Westerberg, it's understandable that he'd start writing songs in that mold. As for "Kissin' In Action," I like the verses, but the chorus is kinda lame.
Then there’s "Like A Rolling Pin," a totally Replacements-sized cover of Dylan (i.e. fucked up). No respect given, it’s just amusing drunk rock. It’s a one-off. I’m not gonna sit here in Struven’s Fernando Tatis onesie and claim that the Mats cover is better than the original. It’s not. The original Dylan “Like A Rolling Stone” is a certifiable classic. Don’t worry. I’m not gonna burn down the village. However, there is one moment of pure brilliance in The Replacements’ version that absolutely equals the original and demonstrates why for my money Paul Westerberg was a better songwriter than Bob Dylan. Instead of singing:
Nobody's ever taught you how to live out on the street
And now you're gonna have to get used to it
Nobody taught you how to live on $60 for three days
But you're gonna get used to it
Dylan was a master of mythic, romantic exhortation. Same with Springsteen. Boomers love that shit. But, I love that Paul kneecaps the romanticism with the depressing specificity of living on $60 for three days. By the way, that sure sounds like a per diem. When’s the last time Dylan had a $60 per diem? 1962 lol? Westerberg’s casually unromantic realism spoke to me in 1991 and continues to do so.
All right, enough with the big names. Let’s get small, yo. The Sleez Sisters were a Japanese quartet whose sound sat in the power pop/punk rock sweet spot. Their guitarist Rico Kohala and bassist Mikako Honma came over from the 126.96.36.199's, a Japanese band that most of you probably know from the Woo Hoo Song as heard in Kill Bill. The Sleez Sisters’ drummer Hisayo was in American Soul Spiders, a Japanese band who released the "Spanish Doll" 7" on Sympathy For The Record Industry in 1990. That was probably the connection that got the Sleez Sisters in at the label. And though they didn't release another thing domestically, the A-side is an infectious slice of pure pop. I defy you to not love it. From 1991, The Sleez Sisters’ “Theme Song.”
That was The Sleez Sisters from 1991, the year we are focusing on (today), and you can find that on Sympathy For The Record Industry. There’s a comp that looks like that Rolling Stones album, Satanic Majesties. It’s a spoof of that. (Their Sympathetic Majesties Request - A Decade Of Obscurity And Obsolescence 1988-1998) Check it out on Spotify. There’s a lot of good stuff on there.
We’re gonna get going. You don’t have to be a sleaze sister to subscribe to this podcast, but it probably doesn’t hurt. Please go visit the Don’t Call It Nothing Facebook page and website. Like, comment, become a member, tell yo mama, and tell a friend. We’re going to 1992 next week. Talk to ya next time.