Archive for March 24th, 2009

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Garage rock glory

guitarthumbicon Back in my college days, I played in two bands (or three, if you count the Velvet Underbelly, a one-off Velvet Underground cover band for a party). The first, This Many Boyfriends Club, started performing in public before most of us knew how to play our instruments. We wrote punks songs about Dungeons & Dragons (“Player’s Handbook”) and Amy Fisher, and covered tunes by bands like the Vaselines. At our first big gig, I broke strings on three different guitars, including one belonging to the headlining act. At our second gig, we decided to take a band picture in front of a brick wall in the alley—but it was a chilly night, and we didn’t realize until a couple of songs into the set that our guitars and bass had become badly detuned out in the cold air. The second band, called the Love Bees, set out with the explicit intention of being a garage rock band—we’d all been listening to Rhino’s fantastic Nuggets boxed set, and as a result we’d fallen in love with bands like the Seeds, the Sonics, and the Electric Prunes. Somewhere along the way we lost sight of our original intentions and got a bit more ambitious—which probably wasn’t the best idea, really, since most of us still weren’t proficient at playing our instruments.

More recently we’ve joked that if the Love Bees ever reform, we’ll probably be a free jazz act, given how our musical interests have evolved in the years since. That said, there’s no doubt at all that garage rock spirit resides inside me still—and it’s that part of me that’s head-over-heels right now for Fuckbook, the new garage rock covers album from Yo La Tengo. Officially, the name of the band this time out is “Condo Fucks”—a reference to the hilarious fake album advertisements in the liner notes of YLT’s 1997 record I Can Hear the Heart Beating As One. The album title is also a play on the name of an earlier YLT covers album, Fakebook.

Yo La Tengo has always been a great covers band—their fuzzed-out take on the Beach Boys’ “Little Honda” is a pure pleasure, and their version of “I Wanna Be Your Lover” for the I’m Not There soundtrack offers an uncanny impersonation of the sound of a mid-60s Dylan record. On Fuckbook, they’re out to have a blast—it’s a record that perfectly captures the rough-edged glory of good old-fashioned garage rock.

For a veteran band like Yo La Tengo, the point of going garage lies in recapturing the same spirit of naive enthusiasm felt by three or four kids pounding out barely-recognizable versions of “Satisfaction” while their parents plug their ears and roll their eyes. It’s about feeling the uncomplicated, unsophisticated, and absolutely sincere love of rock and roll that even the most jaded and sophisticated contemporary indie rockers must have at once point felt themselves. And it’s a type of music that’s especially close to my heart, as it’s exactly the kind of album that the Love Bees would have loved to have made—if we’d had the slightest idea of what we were doing, that is, or if we’d been able to play in any key other than C, D, or G.

Fuckbook by Condo Fucks

Fuckbook by Condo Fucks

Of course, part of the pleasure of Fuckbook also lies in the fact that Yo La Tengo are not, in fact, a garage band: the false start on “So Easy Baby” is fully intentional, as are the amusing count-ins (including one going down from 9 to 2) on several different tracks. Also, sometimes Ira really lets loose, unleashing some finely-calibrated noise that would be far out of reach for a garage guitarist who only has three chords and the truth to rely on.

But, best not to think about any of that too much—Fuckbook isn’t an album that requires analysis. Instead, you just need to remember the love for rock and roll in your heart, put the record on, and turn it up to eleven.

PS: Congratulations to former Love Bee and This Many Boyfriends Club singer/guitarist/trumpeter Jim Gill and his wife Becky on the birth of James Stanley Gill yesterday. And actually, make that Dr. Jim Gill: congratulations on your successful defense, as well.


Recent Publications

Review of J.M. Coetzee and Ethics: Philosophical Perspectives on Literature, edited by Anton Leist and Peter Singer. The Quarterly Conversation, September 2010.

Review of Union Atlantic by Adam Haslett. The Region, June 2010.

Review of The Man in the Wooden Hat and Old Filth by Jane Gardam. The Quarterly Conversation, Issue 19, Spring 2010.

Review of 1989: Bob Dylan Didn't Have This to Sing About by Joshua Clover. ForeWord, November/December 2009.

Review of The Humbling by Philip Roth. Identity Theory, November 25, 2009.

Review of Imperial by William T. Vollmann. PopMatters, September 18, 2009.

Review of Wonderful World by Javier Calvo. The Quarterly Conversation, Issue 17, September 7, 2009.

Review of Of Song and Water by Joseph Coulson. Identity Theory, August 3, 2009.

Review of Digging: The Afro-American Soul of American Classical Music by Amiri Baraka. ForeWord, July/August 2009.

Review of Death in Spring by Mercè Rodoreda. Rain Taxi, Summer 2009 (#54). Viewable online via Powell's Books

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