Thank Heaven


Things I remembered about the video, prior to rewatching it today: The shimmering red building in front of which the music-playing action takes place, and that “of course” moment where the viewer catches Louise Post & Nina Gordon separating from a just-completed kiss. Selling records was never not a hustle.

What I didn’t remember, or possibly just never saw — there’s a version floating around that features a lot more dismembered baby dolls — were the bits where Post & Gordon frolic and cavort in slips or white dresses, giggling and crying and (in case you forgot this was a video for an alternative rock band in the 90s) feeding each other what looks to be raw meat. In that context, the kiss takes on a slightly less prurient air & suggests our intrepid frontwomen are pretending to be at that age where young girls bond tightly with other girls and create their own cryptic orld with its own rules and traditions that are completely alien to outsiders. (I’m guessing there’s a proper academic term for this kind of social occurrence; all I can do, though, is mention that I’ve seen Heavenly Creatures a few times & take the scenic route to get to my point.) From what little I remember about Veruca Salt lore / gossip, Post & Gordon reportedly formed that kind of inseparable bond when they first met, which lead to the formation of the band, and (when that bond began to fray) ultimately lead to Post & Gordon going their separate ways.

This being the group’s first album, however, that bond and that insular girlish vibe is all over American Thighs. “Seether” walks the walk as much as any other track on the album, but given its relatively chipper mien and spry gate, it’s a bit of an outlier. It’s those very things that make this a song that almost anyone of a certain age and certain listening habits remembers, even if they didn’t realize Veruca Salt actually made three more albums after this. But when you disregard the four singles (especially “Victrola,” a shoddy “Seether” rewrite), this record takes on a totally different complexion.

The internet won’t corroborate this, but I’m pretty sure that snugglebunny Steve Albini, when talking about working with the band on their Blow It Out Your Ass EP, was impressed that there was more to the group than just some radio-friendly unit shiftiness. (I’m paraphrasing, of course.) I’m also pretty sure he dropped Slint’s name when talking about the group’s sense of spacing and dynamics. There’s no real Spiderland moments anywhere in their discography — maybe the discordant “Disinherit,” from the aforementioned ass-blowing EP, comes closest — but most of Thighs finds Veruca Salt making like an honest-to-goodness (and heavy) slowcore band. It’s not a sound that would stick, of course; as they proved on their follow-up LP, Eight Arms To Hold You, all it takes is a drummer upgrade and some Bob Rock knob tweaks to turn a staid and somber track like “Spiderman ’79” into an arena rock behemoth like “One Last Time.”

An attitude adjustment doesn’t hurt, either. On Eight Arms‘ “Awesome,” Nina Gordon (in full-on self-referential “Glass Onion” mode throughout the entire album) says goodbye to 25, presumably referencing the 8-minute track that it essentially Thighs‘ closer; in its wake, the gorgeous “Sleeping Where I Want,” Thighs‘ actual finale (at least on CD), feels more like an epilogue than an actual conclusion. (“Sleeping Where I Want,” with its Guyville guitar tone, is also the one track that serves to remind listeners that Brad Wood produced the album.) The apotheosis of the album’s insular members-only vibe, its boots walk at their own somber funereal pace while its simple yet elusive lyrics employ images and allude to things — loss of innocence, sexual promiscuity, whatever else your own personal baggage highlights — that are never quite spelled out. It’s a tactic employed by most of these tracks, and it’s a tactic those with a less favorable perspective might see as a move cribbed from a dogeared copy of Kristin Hersh For Dummies. I prefer to see it, in combination with the music’s peculiarly slow gait, as a way for the group to carve out their own niche, positioning themselves as a just-right Baby Bear that fits snugly between the anger and aggression of your Hole / Babes In Toyland types and the more measured and thoughtful expression offered by the Breeders / Throwing Muses types. It’s definitely not the best of both those worlds — there’s often a little too much melo in their brand of drama, and the musicianship sometimes fails to do right by these downshifted songs — but as someone that had written this album off as a spotty top-heavy slog of a debut, I was surprised to find that there’s something interesting, if not peculiarly beautiful, in that slog.

Sick Sick Sick

The following is the entirety of the AllMusic / Rovi text regarding the German post-punk band Malaria! (at least as it’s represented on everyone’s favorite fraction-penny purveyor Spotify):

“Malaria! was a group of five German women, together from 1981-1983.”

Descriptive! My original intent was to quote that in a sassier fashion, saying something along the lines of, “Thank god for Trouser Press.” Then I went and saw what Trouser Press had to say about Malaria! Unfortunately, it isn’t isn’t the sort of text that ends up being used for PR pullquotes. (There’s no good way to spin “tedious” or “uninvolving.”)

Anyway, as I mentioned previously, this is post-punk that was actually hot on the heels of original recipe punk, meaning it sounds an awful lot like that band & the other band that you think of when you think of post-punk. Except, since these ladies are from Germany, there’s a certain Teutonic lilt, language notwithstanding, in the way they issue their polemics. Maybe it’s the harsh consonance that causes Spotify’s Related Artists algorithm to offer up RIYLs like Boyd Rice and Throbbing Gristle, but these ladies aren’t quite that abrasive. Hell, a track like “You You” is almost ready-for-flashback-weekend new wave, though its sour aftertaste  might pucker your lips some. (The sax and sample attack on the track that follows it, on the other hand, is decidedly less user-friendly.)

If you’re looking for the purest post-punk thrills, then you want “Thrill Me” or “Your Turn To Run (I’ll Be Your Only One).” (Thanks to Alternative Press EIC Jason Pettigrew for the heads-up on the former.) If you’re in the Advanced Studies program when it comes to the angular banging and strumming, though, this entire compilation is worth a listen. It’s doubtful these ladies will get the red carpet reissue treatment that peers like The Au Pairs and LiLiPut and Delta 5 did — their catch-all approach doesn’t quite catch all that often — but sometimes going down the road less remastered and repackaged offers its own rewards.

Why?

Because I wanted to give writing — like honest to goodness get-PAID kind of writing — a legitimate shot. As legitimate as I could give it while maintaining full-time employment & with the mountain of debt I’ve been shuffling around for the past 10-15 years staring at me every damn day.  So, instead of just playing it safe with the gigs that I had — taking what was offered, rarely sticking my nose out, never pitching outside of my comfort zone — I threw my hat in the ring, risked absurdity, and all that stuff. For about six to nine months — I think between June 2011 and March of 2012; I’d have to consult the list of freelancing work I don’t have access to anymore to be sure — I was published and paid by the following publications:

  1. Pitchfork
  2. Indy Week
  3. eMusic
  4. GQ.com
  5. RollingStone.com
  6. Kill Screen Magazine
  7. Buzzfeed.com
  8. The Village Voice
  9. Paste Magazine

The moments when I got the thumbs-up from an editor for a pitch I made were great. The moments when I hit SEND on a piece that I spent all night on were great. The post-SEND moments where I felt I did good work were also great, but rare. Everything else — the stupid hours I kept to get the work done (around my 9-to-5), the meager pay, chasing down that meager pay, and of course the actual fucking writing — made me a miserable despondent mope. More miserable than usual, that is; while all this was going down, I was also expending loads of energy actively hating my full-time job.

Just as a brief aside on the former dayjob: When a headhunter approached me about applying for an opening in the overworked understaffed group I was currently stuck in — an opening that was available because a former full-time coworker spent 18 months working maybe 20 hours a week doing everything in his power to make more work for the rest of us — doing 95% of what I was currently doing, but with a paybump of approximately 25-30%, after not having received a raise for four of the five years I worked there, and having had my pay docked for 2 of those years (which conveniently coincided with a sale of my employer to a larger corporation), I had to laugh. And then verify that my resume was updated.

Suffice it to say that my I spent most of my week miserable, and too much of my downtime dreading the misery, and a good portion of the time I spent searching for a new job wondering what the hell I was going to do. When I originally decided, sometime in 1998, to go for a degree in something job-friendly — spending my early 20s as an unskilled college dropout did a number on me, boy — the plan was to give The Man his 40 hours, but then stick it to him on the sly with the writing thing. Writing was supposed to be an escape, a place where I didn’t have to deal with any quotidian bullshit. That I was able to fool folks into paying me to write things was a bonus; it wasn’t the fiction or poetry or what-have-you I imagined I’d make my millions off of (cough) (teenagers are so dumb), but it was something, and having it as a supplement instead of my main source of income was nice.

That is, until I made it not nice. I turned my quiet little hobby into another source of frustration and grief, and put myself in a position where I wanted to not write anymore. To be fair, that’s usually my default position; if I’d known that working the 9-to-5, especially one I hated, would slowly erode my interest in doing anything else once the whistle blew, maybe I would’ve made different decisions 14 years ago. At any rate, I quit writing. And, with one exception, I didn’t say anything to anyone. I just told myself I was going to stop, and let e-mails go unanswered, and let whatever few contacts I had fall by the wayside, and let entropy take hold. I originally told myself I was going to stop with the paid stuff to work on writing for me, but after a couple of weeks of downtime, I knew that was bullshit. I just wanted to take control of something that I could control, and do with it what I wished. So I pulled the plug, on just about everything.

On one level, I empathize with Bethlehem Shoals’ Dear John letter to his writing career. I’ve never had the pleasure of acquainting myself with an agent, or working on a book proposal, but outside of how much farther up the ladder he was than I, the shit still smells the same. Even before the web stuck print publishing in the woodchipper, everything conspired to make freelancing a tough row to hoe. Now, with content farms and the hand jive of SEO and most long-running publications getting smaller and smaller and most newer publications rarely making it into a 2nd year, it’s a daunting gauntlet that’ll weed out even the most fervent believer. At least those whose interest in eeking out a living above the poverty line means as much, if not more, than seeing one’s name up in lights.

But now that I’m in a much better full-time situation, I find myself ruing the bridges I passive-aggressively burned about a year ago. Not just the ones involving me getting a chance to spit out a couple hundred words about some album or some band, but the ones I burned in my mind about doing anything writery at all. That involved letting the domain name I used to store all my bloggery from the past 16 (!) years, good old falsebinary.com.  I didn’t lose any of that work, thankfully; it’s somewhere, in a WordPress database, just waiting to be downloaded and reposted here, or elsewhere. But I think I’m just going to leave it where it is for now, if not for a long while. My hope is that a complete fresh start, even if it’s purely cosmetic, does something for me. As for what this thing will become, I don’t know. After all the times I promised myself and “the world” to do something with this, I figure it’d be better to just stay mum and see what happens.