Sunday, May 20, 2007

Maximumrocknroll #288 May 2007

There's a cat living in my house just now. She's not allowed out, she's an indoor cat. She's been de-clawed, so even if she did go out she doesn't have the tools to defend herself. She is always trying to make a break for it though. You have to be careful not to leave the door open too long when you're coming or going. It's a terrible shame. She sits at the window and looks at the exciting world outside. Birds, squirrels, dogs, other cats. It's almost cruel to show her the freedom she's missing. She retains some of her natural instincts though. She paws at the furniture¬–in her imagination I'm sure she's shredding it with phantom claws. At night she goes on the prowl, padding from room to room on the trail of imaginary prey.
I watch her and I feel a common bond. We're all a little like de-clawed cats. We sense there is something better out there, but at some point along the line someone closed the door on us and took away our ability to defend ourselves. Or maybe we willingly gave it up in exchange for the comforts of domesticity.
From an early age I wanted to be a cartoonist. I read the comics in the paper every day, and used to check out collections of cartoons from the library. I used to draw all the time, copying popular characters and trying to come up with my own. I managed to get a couple of cartoons in school newspapers and such but my own efforts were always unoriginal and derivative. Still, I could adequately recreate all the greats and was always getting requests for Popeye, Snoopy, etc. As a youngster, the Peanuts cartoons were far and away my favorite. I would get completely swept up in their world, devouring collection after collection of Charlie Brown strips. Naturally, I related to Charlie Brown: the morose, awkward, and unpopular, but reliable, down-to-earth, nice-guy hero of the comics. The funny thing is, I think everyone relates to Charlie Brown in some way. Isn't that the key to the strip's massive and enduring popularity?
The point of all this is to somehow illustrate what a hero Charles M. Schulz was to the youthful McNaughton. As time went by and I got older other interests took over. As you can probably tell, I never became a cartoonist. But I remained a fan of Peanuts all along. One time after I had moved to California, I read in the paper that he actually lived just an hour or two North of here. The article talked about the ice rink he built so that the kids in his adopted hometown of Santa Rosa would have the opportunity to enjoy skating and hockey as much as he had as a boy in Minnesota. Apparently he often ate breakfast in the cafe attached to the ice rink. I always told myself that one of these days I was going to go up there and meet my childhood hero face to face. I'd read that he was a fairly private person, but all I wanted to do was shake his hand and thank him for the years of pleasure.
Of course, you've probably guessed where this was going. I never did get around to going up to Santa Rosa and trying to meet the great man, and in February 2000, he passed away. I was too late.
Today I finally did make that trip, to visit the Schulz Museum that was built to celebrate his life and work. There were some great original cartoons on display, as well as Peanuts-inspired works from many other famous artists. One of the highlights for me was the recreation of his studio. The room had his desks laid out with work on them, as if he'd just stepped out moments before. The shelves are lined with what I imagine were his books. On one shelf sits a nice turntable with a Brahms LP on it, ready to play (or just finished). I couldn't help but check out the small selection from Sparky's record collection that sat next to the turntable. Among the jazz and classical sat two Buck Owens LPs and the Best Of ABBA. I couldn't picture Charles Schulz sitting there sketching away to the strains of "Knowing me, knowing you", but it probably happened.
I never thought I'd see the day. But when Empress Carolyn informed me that the one and only Roky Erickson was going to be performing at this year's Noise Pop festival in San Francisco, I knew I had to secure a ticket as soon as they went on sale. In the 12 years I've lived in the Bay Area, I think this is the first time I've actually attended a Noise Pop event. It's just never appealed to me - usually the headliners are big time indie rock acts that I don't care about. If, by some bizarre instance of mate-rock nepotism actually coinciding with decent musical taste and a band I like makes it into the lineup, I would generally prefer to see them the next time they play, when the ticket price isn't $25 and the venue isn't full to bursting with 'industry' bottom-feeder laminate monkeys.
Anyway, I digress... Roky Erickson. I was not cool enough to be rocking out to the 13th Floor Elevators in my nappies. I first heard Roky after my mate Angus (as mentioned a few columns ago) heard me listening to the Minutemen's cover of "Bermuda" (as recorded over the telephone) and told me what it was. I dispatched myself to his record collection forthwith and taped all the Roky records he had. I've been a fan ever since, but after reading up on a bit of Roky's bizarre history, I'd long given up on the possibility of ever seeing him live. Even after I started hearing about his sporadic performances in his hometown of Austin, it seemed unlikely that he'd get a full-time band together again and go out on tour. Well, he did, and am I glad. Roky Erickson brought the house down at San Francisco's Great American Music Hall the other night, and while the set list wasn't my dream collection of hits from his back catalogue, I was in no way disappointed. When he and the band kicked in to "Starry Eyes", the smile on my face was splitting me in half. He didn't say much up there; he looked a little bewildered by the adulation at times, but he managed some decent guitar shredding and his singular voice was in strong, if not perfect, form.
I saw many familiar faces in the audience that night, as well as many more I'd never seen before, but by the end of the show they all shared the same elated expression. It almost felt like we'd all witnessed a miracle. In a way maybe we had. From the sounds of things, Roky Erickson has all but recovered from decades of mental illness, and is back to share his music with us for good. Let's hope.
"Bermuda/The Interpreter" singles and signed, original Peanuts strips to: PO Box 22971, Oakland, CA 94609. Email me at Columns are archived on my blog at (now RSS-enabled!).
(For more background on the strange tale of Roky Erickson you can visit some of the many excellent websites that exist, or you can wait for the release of the new documentary on his life, "You're Gonna Miss Me.")
For the record, I am against de-clawing cats. But at least she won't kill any songbirds...

Maximumrocknroll #287 April 2007

My Rules.
Flip-flops should not be worn unless you're at the beach or pool. Girls have a bit more leeway but not much. I don't have too many rules but that's one of them. I know that in warmer climes even the punks wear flip-flops. In New Mexico I've seen punk bands rock living room concerts in footwear that is ordinarily only appropriate for sand-bound applications. I'm not a haberdasher or tailor but some things just have to be said. Enough with the flip-flops. Israeli combat boots, Goodwill penny-loafers, topsiders, sweatshop-free Adbusters gutties, box fresh ltd. ed. kicks etc, I don't care. Just put some proper shoes on. And no sweatpants either. OK the more I think about this the more rules I apparently have. I suppose it's about being casual. Casual=hippy and not in a good way. I'm not talking about football casuals, obviously they are far from being hippies. Not a lifestyle I'd recommend emulating either.
I realize I'm talking about fashion here and punks are supposed to be anti-fashion. Of course, that's total bullshit and everyone knows punks are as into fashion as anyone else, if not more so. I don't think it's a bad thing at all. Style is hugely important. Would the Ramones have been as iconic without the leather jackets? Would Discharge have been as enduring without the charged hair and bullet belts? The Misfits without the devil lock? Even the supposed 'non-style' of the flannel shirt around the waist suburban skatepunk hardcore vanguard became a fashion pretty quickly.
I suppose I equate loose, casual clothing with loose, casual thinking. As Joe Strummer allegedly had it, "like trousers, like brain" although you could read that to imply that narrow trousers equals a narrow mind, which is the opposite of what he was getting at I'd guess.
To me, looking like you think about what you are wearing demonstrates that you actually think about things. I don't mean that you scour the pages of fashion magazines looking for the latest craze, but the way you dress says something about you whether you like it or not.
Years ago my mate Colin suggested I dye my hair bright red. He had some leftover dye. At the time I thought of myself as a serious political activist punk rocker and wouldn't consider anything so frivolous. He called me out on this. "Of course, you can't be constantly thinking of the problems of the oppressed peoples of the world and have dyed hair" or words to that effect. He was right, I took myself way too seriously. Since then my hair has been a few different colors but now it's back to its normal mousy brown with bits of grey. I'm 36 now and I'm through with dying my hair.
What the fuck is a 36-year-old man doing writing in a punk fanzine about clothes? I know it's ridiculous but it is something I think about. I've been through some embarrassing stages. Someone sent me a photo recently of me from about fifteen years ago with a short Travis Bickle mohican and baggy chinos. What a combination. Baggy trousers will be to nineties punks what flares are to anyone who grew up in the seventies. I wish I'd had the foresight or self-possession to forego that fashion disaster but we all make mistakes. Unfortunately both flares and baggy jeans are still with us. "Like trousers like brain," remember it. Live by it.
The Correct Use Of Soap is the title of an album by Magazine, the band started by Buzzcocks founder member Howard Devoto when he left the band after recording the Spiral Scratch EP. It is also the name of an instructional pamphlet that may or may not exist, but which ought to be handed out with the membership cards at Gilman and maybe slipped into mailers with crusty distro orders. You're not too busy thinking about the world's problems to take an occasional bath or shower. Or to shave, while we're at it.
What's with the beards? I've been boycotting Gillette since before I was old enough to shave. Got some leaflet about them testing on animals off some crusty at a gig once and never looked back. All my post-pubescent life I've used the crappy shop brand of razors and my poor beautiful mug has suffered as a result. As if whatever faceless Taiwanese manufacturer Superdrug gets their blades from doesn't test on animals anyway! I tried tracking down the PETA-approved razor blades and while they might be okay for hippies who hack their beards off once a year to visit mummy and daddy and ask for another loan they don't stand up to the rigorous frequent shavings of the manly McNaughton beard. On a recent trip to Los Angeles I forgot my shaving kit and was forced to purchase the predominant brand for once. The scales fell from my eyes! It was a revelation. Gillette really IS the best a man can get. The smoothest, most comfortable shave I've experienced. Over twenty years of inferior shaving products. Well I've learned my lesson.
I've just re-read this column and it's ridiculous. All 20 readers are now nodding their heads in unison, in agreement with the previous statement. However, it's deadline day and I've been late a few times lately. I'm determined to get this one in under the wire. I know it seems frivolous but what we wear is part of who we are, it's part of our culture and it's something we have in common, whether we're serious political punks or crusties or bike punks or garage punks or bandana thrash skate punks or ageing bmx riders with a knack for tracking down discount mod clothes or whoever. Maybe I'll write about something serious next month. Or maybe I'll dye my hair and write about that, who knows?
If you've got any green size M Paul Weller limited edition Fred Perry shirts you don't want you can send them to PO Box 22971, Oakland, CA 94609. For fashion advice or shaving tips email or check I know what's what. Or you could make it easy on yourself and just go to and click on 'merch' to buy a Maximumrocknroll t-shirt. P.S. This column goes out to MRR's consistently most stylish shitworker, Sean Dougan, with Shane White a close runner up.

Maximumrocknroll #286 March 2007

I can't believe it was seventeen years ago now but it was. I'd gone to King Tut's Wah Wah Hut in Glasgow to see Snuff, who were probably the best band around at the time, if not in the world, then certainly in the UK. Their first EP, with all the coppers on the sea front, had been getting constant play at home since I'd heard them on John Peel and picked it up. The support band for the night had a familiar name but I'd never heard them before. Leatherface they were called. Seemed like a pretty stupid name and a guy I knew told me they weren't that good. Still, I decided to check them out. One guy had a dodgy spiky-topped mullet and the drummer looked like a bit of a bruiser. Visually not very arresting, but when the first guitar kicked in it was instantly familiar. Then it registered that the mullet guitarist was out of HDQ, who I really liked. This was something else again though. I was instantly swept up in the power and melody of Leatherface, and was blown away by the gruff intensity of Frankie Stubbs' voice. Snuff were also great that night, but it was the surprise discovery of a new favorite band that marks the night as special in my memory.
I'd borrowed a clunky VHS video camera from college to shoot Snuff that night, and I managed to get a few Leatherface songs as well. At some point I think I lent the tape (the original!) to a guy from Preston called Frosty and I've never seen it since. There's one other copy that my friend Sandy's got somewhere. After the gig Sandy and I interviewed Snuff (with the members of Leatherface present) for the second issue of our zine that never actually appeared. How many zines never make it past issue one? That first issue was like a cry for help from a small town–there were about four punks in our village so we started a zine, doing through-the-mail interviews with bands we liked (Doom, Cowboy Killers, and Stretch Heads) and a star-struck in-person interview with Joe Lally from Fugazi (he was star-struck by the way, not us). Once we'd put the zine together (nicking layout ideas liberally from the Skate Muties, who had nicked their ideas from Sic Teen) and photocopied it at our mate's mum's office after hours, we brought it to gigs in Glasgow to sell. In hindsight the zine was crap, but through trying to sell it we met a few other zinesters and people in bands–in other words, it had the desired effect of putting us in touch with the wider punk scene around us. Once we had established those acquaintances and friendships, the zine had lost its raison d'etre. We did a bunch of interviews for #2, including DOA, UK Subs, and Snuff, but we were too busy going to gigs, socializing with our newfound punk scene friends, and communicating with other punks around the world via flyer-stuffed re-used envelopes and glued stamps.
I don't really know where I'm going with this. I suppose I'm just writing this down so I don't forget it, so we don't forget. It's pretty unlikely these days that I'll randomly see a band and they'll become a lifelong favorite. Not because there aren't great bands playing today, but that my tastes are pretty developed by this point, and also because I tend to find out about bands long before there's any chance to see them live. Some of us still find out about bands via the radio and through mags like MRR and The Big Takeover, but I think we're increasingly in the minority. I confess I hear a lot of bands for the first time now via the Internet, and it's usually less than a few clicks, if that, from reading a mention of a band on someone's blog or on a message board to listening to their music on their MySpace page. Convenience-wise, this is just unbelievable, but I really hope that one day I'll be pleasantly surprised again at some random show.
Similarly, with all these online communities and such, will isolated kids in small towns feel the need to start zines to reach out to the world at large? Should they? Should I care? I dunno, there's just something endearing and romantic about it. It would be a shame to see that sort of thing disappear for good.
Writing this stuff got me nostalgic so I went on YouTube to look for footage of Snuff and Leatherface. It's amazing how that site just sucks you in. It's a fucking goldmine. I never even knew that Leatherface had made a video, yet here they are, messing about in a scrapyard to the strains of their track 'Peasant In Paradise'. Quaint and wonderful.
If you live in an isolated small town and do a zine, good for you, but don't send it to me.