My Life with the Thrill Kill Kult

The song stuck in my head this week is… Shock of Point 6, by TKK:

Bow down and worship me, and I’ll give you everything the eye can see…

My Life with the Thrill Kill Kult is an industrial band I first listened to in the early ’90s, and their sounds still resonate strongly with me. They have a grindhouse, sleazy pulp sensibility, and many of their song and album titles come from pulp novels (A Daisy Chain for Satan, by Joan Fleming is one) and they seem to spring from an alternative universe where the Satanism panic of the late ’70s never ended, and Hollywood Babylon is a neverending party behind a secret door.

Sex on Wheelz is their biggest hit, and with its blaring sexy sax it feels like it was written for a nonexistent Russ Meyer film of the same title. Though they have done lighter and trippier fare, including their Hit & Run Holiday album which has more of a surf edge. They aren’t for everyone, and do sound a bit like club dance music, but the trashy lyrics and tone are clear.

Devil Bunnies was my first introduction to their music, off of Kooler Than Jesus, a CD that collected their first extended singles. I’m a sucker for a good title, and their albums include the great ones Confessions of a Knife and I See Good Spirits and I See Bad Spirits, both of which I would gladly steal for book titles if I weren’t afraid an actual Kill Kult would sever my johnson and feed it to a devil goat, or worse, a devil bunny.

I saw them play at Prince’s club in Minneapolis- The Quest? I can’t remember the name. It’s a good venue, we always grabbed a good balcony spot near the bar.  They put on an amazing show, tons of energy and showmanship. They were touring their album A Crime for All Seasons, which has a bit of a sleazy noir edge to it with songs like “Mr. and Mrs. Bottomless Pit.” That’s another thing I liked, they went with a mild theme for each album and changed just a little bit to keep it interesting, while remaining true to their origin.



Bang! by the Raveonettes

The song in my head this week is Bang! by the Raveonettes. Like Metric, who I spoke about a while back, they’re a rock band with a female vocalist who pump out tunes I can’t get enough of. Their album In and Out of Control (link below) is great listening, as are their numerous other albums and EPs.

The Raveonettes hail from Copenhagen, a city I admired very much when I toured it with my friend Sonny a few years back, when he lived there. I’ve wanted to return, and seeing them perform live would be a great treat.

In And Out Of Control

The Mooney Suzuki

I’ve been hearing this band on Underground Garage, Stevie Van Zandt’s Sirius radio station, and this song cracked me up. It has a mocking yet mournful quality to it. After reading Johnny Ramone’s autobiography, it started playing in my head again.

You may be growing older,
we may be growing old-er,
but you’ll never be older than dinosaur bones
and you’ll never be older than the Ramones

In Johnny’s bio, he said that he put dinosaurs on their last album cover- ¡Adios, Amigos! because that’s how he felt. They went out early, before they turned fifty.  And for some, that’s better. Some musicians rock it long into their seventies. Pete Seeger seemed a little confused when he was on The Colbert Report, but he still played like gold. I haven’t seen the Stones- I’m not paying hundreds of bucks to see any band- but from video, they seem all right. I saw Dylan in the nineties and it was pathetic, we were all making excuses for the rambling wreck onstage. I have a sort of love-hate relationship with Dylan because he writes great music, but you never know what is his image and what is him, what is a put-on.  I’d think at this point, when not acknowledging that he is a legend starts an argument, that he could chill out and let the curtains down. I’m not a fan of anyone who clings to their imagined persona beyond the stage.

My favorite Cary Grant quote is when he said, “Some days I wish I could be Cary Grant!” He admitted the artifice, he retired gracefully. He looked classier than most long into his silver years, but he stopped working. Cary Grant died young, Archie Leach got to retire and enjoy life. I think that’s what most stars ought to do, but not everyone has the fortitude to admit it.

The Mooney Suzuki – Have Mercy

Take the Skinheads Bowling

Song stuck in my head this week is a oft-unheard classic from 1985 by Camper Van Beethoven. This song, like many, is a time machine for me. I can remember when my friend Frank Ritacco mentioned it, and it took me a long time to find it and listen to it. No youtube in the ’80s. I couldn’t find the album, so I bought the band’s EP “Vampire Can Mating Oven,” and still love their version of “Photograph.”
If you don’t know the band and they sound familiar, it’s because the lead singer left to join Cracker, the ’90s band famous for “Teen Angst (What the World Needs Now)” and “Low.”

11 years without Joey Ramone

It’s hard to believe that 11 years ago our nation suffered a terrible blow from which we can never truly recover. In April 2011, Joey Ramone gabba gabba heyed into the great rock’n roll beyond.

My friend Peter introduced me to the Ramones. I’d heard a song here and there- Sheena is a Punk Rocker, Rock Rock Rock Rock Rock’n Roll High School- but he lent me RAMONES MANIA, the double LP greatest hits album with its day-glo yellow cover. I must’ve flipped those discs a billion times. We rented Rock ‘n Roll High School from Curry’s Home Video, a video store for suburban New Jersey akin to Kim’s in NYC, who had everything from Kubrick to Pink Flamingos. It informed us on such things as irony and camp and the stunning sexual energy of P.J. Soles.

And it make gawky, lanky, bemopped Jeffrey Hyman look like the coolest black leather zombie in creation.

The Ramones were a fresh take on ’50s rock after the indulgence of the ’70s era. Second verse, same as the first. Lyrics ripped from low budget movies like Tod Browning’s Freaks and the Texas Chainsaw Massacre. They could blister the paint of the walls, then switch to sweet melody like “I met her at the Burger King/ Fell in love by the soda machine” in “Oh Oh I Love Her So.” Their newest album was Halfway to Sanity, with “Bonzo Goes to Bitburg,” which gave Reagan a brutal skewering for saying the German soldiers buried at Bitburg were “victims as surely as those in the concentration camps.” (Now, not every German was a Nazi, and plenty of soldiers die not believing in the country for which they fight, but at the time, veterans groups were staunchly against forgiveness, and so were a lot of other people.)

If there’s one thing that makes me sick
it’s when someone tries to hide behind politics

But the Ramones weren’t about politics, which is what made their one foray into it so stinging. They were about having a good time, and their songs never feel mean-spirited, even when they want to “Smash You” or beat on the brat with a baseball bat. There’s an unspoken but obvious humor in it.

They were a great cover band, from Tom Waits’ “I Don’t Wanna Grow Up” to “Needles & Pins” and versions of “California Sun” and “Surfin’ Bird” that will give you sunburn at thirty paces, like being too close to a nuclear blast. However my all-time favorite is from Joey’s solo career, when he covered Louis Armstrong’s “What a Wonderful World.” He makes it a rock song but imbues it with the same sense of hope.

Joey’s solo album is pretty good, and very funny. He wrote a song about being hot for Maria Bartiromo, the financial news anchor, which still cracks me up. Their songs were rarely about sex, but about the goofy innocent love of the ’50s. Today your love, tomorrow the world.

I regret never seeing the Ramones in concert. Joey is buried in the same cemetery as my grandmother, and I work nearby. So I give them both a visit during lunch hour, sometimes. I miss them both, and memories of them bring me joy.

Here’s the video for “What a Wonderful World,” which stars a young Michael Pitt.

Metric – Breathing Underwater

The song stuck in my head this week is Metric’s “Breathing Underwater” from their album Synthetica, which has a few other good singles like “Youth without Youth.” I also like their first album, Fantasies, which has “Help I’m Alive” and “Gold Guns Girls.” I think I might see if they’re on vinyl.

Another band I’m getting back into are the Subhumans from Canada, who’ll get their own post soon. They have quite a history, and for my money, they wrote the catchiest punk songs. Like the Ramones with the politics of the Dead Kennedys. I’ll post about them next week. I’m going to try to catch up on the foodie and literary part of my vacation. We visited the homes of Edward Gorey, Lovecraft, Stephen King, and Lucy Maud, and ate the heart out of Maine and Prince Edward Island.


The Ballad of Ira Hayes

“Call him drunken Ira Hayes, he won’t answer any more, not the whiskey-drinking Indian or the Marine who went to war…”

Wars battle on until everyone touched by them is dead.

I remember watching the last American soldiers leave Saigon. On television, of course. And likely years after it occurred, on April 30th 1975. The footage replays in my head. My young mind couldn’t comprehend the images, but with the long-range empathy of the innocent, I could feel its import, sensing the troubled minds of the adults around me. What’s that, Mommy? Viet Nam.

Maybe it was the succession of Vietnam War movies I saw in the ’70s and ’80s, like The Boys in Company C, but it always felt like the war raged on forever, and always had been. When I read Vietnam: A History, by Stanley Karnow, I realized that I was correct. At least from the perspective of the Vietnamese, that war began centuries ago and continued long after those choppers tumbled into the sea.

And it is the same with World War 2. Europe is rebuilt, though monuments and wreckage in the forests and along the shores remain; but the scars of warfare run deep within those who fought, those who suffered, and their families.

Ira Hayes was one of the Marines who raised the flag on Mount Suribachi on Iwo Jima, in the iconic photo. The government whisked those men home for photo ops, and many, including Hayes, suffered survivor’s guilt for leaving their buddies in the fighting. I didn’t think much of the film Flags of Our Fathers, but give it credit for dramatizing the reality behind the manufactured glory of World War 2. As the song states, Hayes died of alcohol poisoning and exposure. A tragic and lonely death for a war hero who served in the company of many forgotten heroes.

My great-uncles fought in the War, some in the Pacific, some in Europe, and one in both. Only two of them are still kicking. Jimmy- who I recently learned is actually my Uncle Vincenzo- and Dominic, who everyone has called Butch, since before I was born. My great-grandparents came over from southern Italy, the seaside city of Bari and the mountaintop village of Acri. (The priests and teachers wouldn’t accept Italian first names, so Dominic and Vincenzo became Butch and Jimmy.)

Like most soldiers, they don’t talk much about the War. Jimmy’s feet froze at the Battle of the Bulge. Patton’s tankers saved their behinds, he says. Butch proudly wears his medals, when a suit is required. Jimmy never has. Both of them are past 90, and are now widowers. They helped each other survive the Depression, and they visited my grandmother every Sunday morning for coffee, until she passed away six or more years ago. We were very close, and I try not to remember losing her. Now uncle Jimmy is deteriorating, and that same sadness wells inside me. So that’s why a depressing song about a war hero dying forgotten and alone is in my head this week. Uncle Jim is a generous, kind, hard-working man. Him & Butch worked as plumbers and roofers- just to keep busy- well into their eighties. He hunted until his eyesight faded, and gave me venison when his freezer overflowed with it. I’m planning to visit him this weekend, and I’m afraid it may be the last time I see my great-uncle, whose sly smile and pencil mustache, whose straight man humor and upright authority made him a giant to me.

The War will smolder on, in dying skirmishes and distant echoes of small arms fire, in my memories of my uncles Jimmy and Butch, and the stories of them that I will tell my own children. Like the unexploded ordnance buried in the woods, or land mines long forgotten, war touches us long after the last soldier is lain to rest.