Columbia Daily Spectator, May 17 1978

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Rock and roll, Ma

Peter C. McAlevey

Oh, Christ. They're playing rock 'n' roll again, momma. You remember. That crazy shit I used to listen to back in the sixties — and that you used to throw me out of the house for playing.

Yeah, I know, the kids today don't understand. But then kids never do. They just respond — react. Did we "understand" the Beatles and the nature of their appeal back in '64? Nah. Of course not. But you couldn't tell us that we didn't know what we liked. Damn if we didn't.

Anyway they're doing it again. Who's doing it? Those same crazy guys who did it the first time. Those English kids. The silly ones who hang out down on King's Row there in Soho. Yeah. The Soho in London.

Nah. They're not into mop-head hair cuts, and fancy suits these days the way the Beatles were. Oh, I know they shop in the same stores. Only now those stores are called things like "Seditionaries," and the like. I know that we seemed pretty seditious to you in those days, ma, falling head over heels for a so-called "English Invasion." Pretty unpatriotic. And these kids today, now I know they ain't half as revolutionary as the Beatles were. I mean, yeah this guy Johnny Rotten, he may advocate anarchy and other such things, but we know he ain't a patch on John Lennon's ass as far as revolutionaries go. Hell, Rotten takes on the Queen, but remember, it was Lennon who started all that stuff about the Beatles being more popular than God. I mean, taking on the cosmos, now that was heavy.

Some of these young guys today though, they remember. For instance, there is this one fellow, his name is Nick Lowe, and he just put out an album called Pure Pop for Now People. Yeah that's a great title I know, recalling as it does those halycon days of yore when there used to be such a thing as a "now look." Complete with short skirts — (have you noticed how Yves Saint Laurent is bringing back 'the mini-skirt this summer? hmmm...) — and scrawny, under fed young men driving said mini-skirted girls through the streets of London in supercharged Mini-Coopers, those little box-like cars the English kids drove and hopped up the way American kids do Volkswagons. Those days when Rod Stewart was still known as "the Mod." When he was good: when he still sang rock 'n' roll.

But then I suppose we should have expected as much from Nick. He is, after all, the brains behind that whole Stiff Records scene over there. Stiff Records are the people who have taken the whole English punk scene, as they call it, under their wing — sort of the way Sire "Get-Behind-The-New-Wave-Before-It-Gets-Behind-You" Records has sheltered the young New York rockers. Has given them a home. Who else, after all, is going to worry about a guy like Ian Druruy, who calls his band, "The Blockheads"? Or a freak like Elvis Costello, who also might just happen to be a genius?

Remember too that it was Nick Lowe and Stiff who broke Elvis and the lot on the American scene last summer with their marvelously titled sample album, A Bunch of Stiffs! And followed it up with another sampler, Hits Greatest Stiffs! Whew. That was exciting stuff.

It's almost a shame, of course, that they had to resort to such gimmickry in order to attract the attention they deserve, ma, but that's just how this record-and-fame business works. Too many people were getting turned off by this whole "punk band" or New Wave label of business. People who shouldn't have been getting turned off to the music because of its label. People who are smart enough to know better, like what's his name — that other fellow who writes for this paper every so often. Now there was a guy with enough misguided respect for the sixties that he should have remembered that at one time The Beatles were just another "twist" band, kinda like Chubby Checker. They succeeded where Chubby Checker failed precisely because of their genius as musicians — as songwriters. Not because the scene, per se, succeeded. Really, who remembers the twist anymore?

And so it is with "Punk." There are some good bands playing what is called "punk" these days. And some bad ones. The good ones'll make it anyway, of course, because all they're doing is playing some good old raucus up-tempo rock the way it was meant to be played.

Chief among them is this Nick fellow I've been talking about. "The Jesus of Cool" as he's affectionately known to his friends. Jesus, he is good. That album I mentioned, Pure Pop for Now People, is about half parody-musical, lyrical, and otherwise — yet it still succeeds as rock in its own right. It's full of songs called things like "I Love the Sound of Breaking Glass," which you just know are take-offs on the punks whole safety-pin through the cheek fashion ethos, but yet which stand on their own as musical entities. Fun ones at that.

Nick, despite the moniker, ain't exactly infallible yet. He is responsible for the rather vapid production of the new Elvis Costello album, This Year's Model. Elvis had that great one, My Aim is True, released by Columbia last fall, and I think the boys at Stiff may have just rushed this one a bit. I don't know why they felt they had to get it out in such a hurry. My Aim is True has been doing just fine on the charts. Elvis and Nick and Ian are all on American tours at the moment — and are coming into the New York area within the next couple of weeks — and so maybe they just wanted to have some fresh material on the racks to coincide with the tour. Or maybe they's be too bushed after the tour to record. I don't know. All I do know is that despite probably stronger songs on This Year's Model — the popular "Radio. Radio" is an example — there seems to be a hollowness at the core of the music, an unstructured feel that is unnerving. Maybe Elvis needs a new rhythm section. Or maybe his Whirl-wind success actually has him as out of breath as he sounds. Regardless, there is a problem with tempo on This Year's Model that one doesn't encounter on My Aim is True, and that ultimately makes it a less enjoyable effort.

I've mentioned Ian Drury in this piece, but I don't think I'm going to say much more about him than to merely mention that his album New Boots and Panties is so relentlessly weird and enjoyable that it comes highly recommended. Drury is truly a street punk, of the sort that can be found hanging out on any street corner in any industrial town in England or North America — or even Brooklyn. But he's one who has discovered somewhere within himself the articulateness to express in recordable form just exactly what that lifestyle is like. And with not a little humor, too. Or at least irony. For instance, in "Wake Up and Make Love to Me" he entreats his girlfriend to do just that — or else he'll make love to her while she sleeps. He has nothing against doing it that way; it just 'feels better when she's awake. And his "gift for womankind" just won't wait. Of course, if you believe he's serious about all that — or indeed, any part of his whole schtick, then you're probably just square enough to believe that, say, the revolution here at Columbia in '68 had something to do with politics. Of course it did, ma, but it was both less than that, and more. But then you knew that, didn't you? Just like you would have known about this good of rock 'n roll. Punk or otherwise.

And, anyway, like I say, ma. They're playing it again. That rock 'n' roll. And the sun is out, it's spring, and God is in his heaven, I'm sure. All feels right with the world down here, at any rate. It's good to be alive.

See ya.

Peter C. McAlevey is a graduating senior and a 1978 recipient of the Bennett Cerf Award for Fiction, though, he says, not for this piece.


Columbia Daily Spectator, May 17 1978

Peter C. McAlevey profiles Nick Lowe, Elvis Costello and Ian Dury.


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1978-05-17 Columbia Daily Spectator page 17 clipping 01.jpg

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