Berlin, Free and Rocking
November 1989. After uprisings had occurred in Leipzig earlier in 1989, anti-totalitarian fever spread to the rest of East Germany, and people started demanding human rights and freedom. The Berlin Wall was breached, and tons of East Berliners poured through to the west. They left quickly, grabbing the opportunity, and they did it courageously, not knowing if this was just another temporary reprieve from the totalitarian grip of East Germany or something much bigger.
Sitting in our velvet chairs of hindsight, it is hard to remember just how unfortunate life was for those living in the Soviet sphere. It is estimated that communism resulted in the deaths of 94 million in the 20th Century. And the freedoms that every human being strives for were severely limited by these totalitarian regimes. East Germany had one of the most oppressive regimes, with the Stasi and thousands of informants keeping all manner of information about normal citizens. The Stasi regularly arrested and tortured people simply because they wanted to meet and talk, use the press, or, heaven forbid, listen to decadent rock music from the West.
I was too young to witness the uprising in Czechoslovakia which was violently crushed by the Soviets. But the East German revolution in 1989 happened in the prime of my young adulthood. I remember watching it on TV, swept up in the joy of people demanding and getting freedom, amazed and stunned that it was actually happening, and jubilant that it was occurring peacefully. It remains a super cool memory for me and many others.
Thankfully, November 1989 was not temporary for those brave souls that met at the Wall and demanded it to fall. The Berlin Wall did come down. And it came down fast, just like it went up fast. Individuals went and chipped away at it, holes opened up, and soon, heavy equipment came in and smashed that symbol of repression and death. The two Germanys reunified in 1990. And now, when you go to Berlin, the best parts of that city are basically in the former Eastern side. How cool is that? Sehr cool.
Sections of the Wall still remain. They are there to remind us. And to be preserved as a memory of a tumultuous time when the Iron Curtain became something tangible and real, separating the West from the Soviet sphere. As most of us know, the western side of the wall became a huge art canvas for graffiti artists, dissidents, students, and anyone else with a can of paint and a message to convey. That spirit lives on in a long section of the Wall that remains in Berlin. Here are some really cool pictures from that section:
I never went to West Berlin when it was West Berlin, but it is remembered as a hugely decadent outpost of the West smack in the middle of the communist East. The bars never closed. West Germany pumped in huge amounts of money to keep people there as part of their own propaganda effort, and that led to musicians, artists, squatters and vagabonds of all types moving to the city. Berlin remains one dynamic city, as lively a place as I’ve seen in Europe.
I don’t know if the Berlin Wall resulted in an acceptance of graffiti that differs from other places, but Berlin has a TON of graffiti. [Europe in general has a ton of graffiti. Except for the big tourist attractions, it is ubiquitous. And most of it is ugly.] And Berlin has stickers on everything, too – lightposts, signs, you name it. I took pictures of some stickers that I thought were cool, and picked through the massive amount of graffiti blight to find some street art that was worthy of consideration. Want to see it? Of course you do, so here you go:
I guess the point of this tale is that freedom matters. It’s unusual to have walls constructed to keep people in rather than out. I’m not crazy about either, but I think what the West Berliners did on their side of it was creative, combative, courageous and cool. Be who you are and stand up for what is right.
OK, one last set of thoughts about Berlin and these are musical. There is a Ramones museum there. That both thrilled me and disgusted me, in equal parts. I love(d) the Ramones – their stripped down punk sound, absence of guitar solos, “one two three four”, gabba gabba hey – but are they really museum worthy? And is rock properly the subject of museums? I guess I must think so since I have gone to see stuff about rock in museums, and have visited specific rock-themed museums (Cleveland, Seattle). But, but, but…. Rock is revolution music and revolutions happen in the streets, not the museums. Sigh. I don’t know the answer. Do you? Here’s a Berlin-themed Ramones song to listen to while you ponder this great question of the day.
The Sex Pistols wrote a great song, Holidays In The Sun, that is about escaping the Berlin Wall, including going under it (many tunnels were dug, and lots of people escaped that way – can you imagine doing that in your own life? Remarkable!). Here you go:
As I explained one time recently, I sometimes do a musical themed-approach on jets with my destination in mind, and I played that Pistols song a lot. I also played David Bowie’s Heroes (he lived there in the 70s and wrote this classic while living there):
I also jammed to Iggy Pop. Iggy’s The Passenger was written while traveling on the S Bahn in Berlin. It’s a great song:
And there is a lot of music still in Berlin. It’s a cool place with a long and sometimes very very bad history. I didn’t even touch on the Nazis in this post. Suffice to say, the 20th Century happened there unlike anywhere else on the planet. Go see it.
Philly on a Sunday night is generally B-O-R-I-N-G. But that's better than the Main Line, which is, well, dead. Of course, those are more guidelines than rules, and every once in a while, Sunday's rock. Such was a recent Sunday at the Electric Factory. Little Steven and the Disciples of Soul were in town, and they were here to party. It was a very fun show.
Why would BRP hit this show? There are 4 reasons. F-R-E-E. That doesn’t mean that I don’t like Little Steven, in fact far from it. But we all have to make choices with our greenbacks, and this one, while a little enticing, just didn’t qualify. However, when I was at UA seeing Stiff Little Fingers, they were giving out freebies to guys like me, you know suave rock bloggers that no one has ever heard of (a/k/a any ticketed persons entering the SLF show). I grabbed 4 tickets, and was gone, baby, gone.
FREE doesn’t do justice to the effort that SVZ put into this show. The dude brought a band of 15 people! Five, yes, five! horns. Two percussionists. 3 female backup singers/go – go dancers, boots and wigs and all. Guitars, bass, etc. I’m a sucker for rock bands with big horn sections and go go dancers. [I once saw the Slickee Boys in DC and they had male and female go go dancers – the male was a huge dude, probably of Samoan descent, and he was shaking his tail feathers in a grass skirt like a madman – fun!] And this band was tight, having fun, and blasting out the tunes. We had a very good time. And since no one is out on Sunday nights, we were able to catch 2.5 hours of great rock ‘n soul, and then fly home in order to do The Man’s work the next day with only a minimum of sleep deprivation. That’s living, right there.
I won’t say that I knew a lot of the songs that SVZ played. But there were some tunes that he co-wrote with his Dutch buddy that were instantly recognizable for that Asbury Park sound. And he also took us on a musical tour of different rock styles, from doo-wop to soul to funk to blues to reggae. And he finished with Southside Johnny Lyons’ famous song, I Don’t Wanna Go Home. Yeah, me either. After seeing a show like this, I was reminded of Skynyrd’s lyric from You Got That Right: “I want to drink and dance all night/comes to a fix ain’t afraid to fight/you got that right?” Hells yes, rockers, that’s what I felt like, and I did not want to go home. More rock, please!
The show wasn’t sold out, which made for some nice spacing in the audience, and we were able to get pretty close to the stage. My pictures are decent, but I didn’t shove my way up to the front like I sometimes do. You know I do that just to get good pictures for you, right? Well, that and I also love to be right there, pumping my fist while SLF blasts through Suspect Device or Low Cut Connie tears up Boozophilia. Otherwise, I’m there just for you.
Does anyone know the answer to why SVZ always wears a kerchief? I don’t think he’s bald, which is the normal reason men cover up the dome. I used to think it was kind of cool, and when accompanied by one of those long feathery earrings, gave him sort of a gypsy look. At post-60, however, it begins to look a little odd. I get the “it’s his trademark” sentiment, and maybe that is good enough. Or maybe he does it to keep the sweat from dripping down into his eyes – my face gushes sweat when I’m hot and maybe we share that dubious trait. But if you know the real reason, enlighten us.
There was no opening act. That is good and bad. It’s good because the main event comes out and the party just starts from there. It also usually means that the headliner is going to play a long time. But I’ve recently seen some good opening acts, and I love seeing bands that I don’t know come out and blast their way into my consciousness. I share with you those that I think are worth checking out, and disrespect those that, well, deserve it. It adds to the fun either way.
That is what I did on a Sunday. What did you do? Whatever it was, I hope you had a good time. I missed seeing you there! Let’s look for another Sunday show that is badass and come Monday we can stick it to The Man together and don’t give him the blood and sweat that he usually bullwhips out of us. Are you with me? Of course you are! Everyone hates The Man! See you on Sunday, rockers.
Ian Anderson of Jethro Tull wrote a song decades ago about the hazards of being an aging rocker. Too old to rock ‘n roll, too young to die! But boomer rockers have ignored that warning and instead have continued touring, making new albums, and dressing like they are still 17. Still, it’s strange to see bands trying to recapture their (and their fans’) youths while performing their 50th anniversary tour. The Stones did that about a decade ago, as did the Who. And now it is the original punk scene that is blasting away with new tours while celebrating decades in the business. That was the case at Underground Arts on a recent Thursday as Stiff Little Fingers rolled into Philly on part of their 40th anniversary tour.
SLF formed in Belfast, Northern Ireland in 1977, and were probably the first punk act to incorporate reggae into their music. As far as I can tell, the current lineup features Ian McCallum on drums, Steve Grantley on guitar, bassist Ali McMordie, and longtime frontman/singer/guitarist Jake Burns. They are all as old as me. But they can still bring it, and they have some really great punk tunes from the past in which to display their talents. It was a heckuva fun show with some serious moshing and a crowd that was pumped up.
I’m not going to lie and say that this band has the on-stage energy that I’m sure they brought decades ago. But the music! It’s just damn hard not to get the crowd in a frenzy when well-played punk songs with heavy guitar and drums are blasting out. And these songs are tuneful, with hooks galore, and some have great “sing along” lyrics, too.
I was standing right up against the stage so that I could get you great pictures. Well, and to have a fantastic view of the show, too. I succeeded on both accounts, and I think you’ll be happy with the pics. So what about the songs? Well, SLF ripped through songs like Barbed Wire Love, Johnny Was, Nobody’s Hero, Roots Radicals Rockers and Reggae, Just Fade Away, Alternative Ulster and Suspect Device. They played many more, too, but I can’t remember them all. I love Nobody’s Hero – a rocking song about being a normal person, not some star, and ends with the refrain “Be What You Are” over and over. I love that notion, and try to live my life according to it. I yam what I yam, as Popeye would say. Roots Radicals Rockers and Reggae has a driving beat, great guitar riff, and lyrics about ending war and taking care of those who need protection. And did I say it rocks? Ahem, yes indeed.
I had a great time and felt young again for a few hours. Underground Arts was its normal funky self, hot and packed tight. I’m getting to like this venue as quirky as it is. I’m sure I’ll be back as they get good bands there.
Oh, I can’t forget about the opening act, Death by Unga Bunga. DUB is guitar heavy, punky but with lots of classic/arena rock references, features three guitars (a BRP favorite), and had some pretty good tunes. I got some good shots of the band, and enjoyed their set quite a bit. They pulled some tried-and-true stunts, like having the lead singer go into the crowd while singing tunes. But they also had a good little theatric trick of the 3 guitarists and 1 bassist all holding their guitars behind their heads while playing (and they were playing a solo from Thin Lizzy, yet another BRP favorite). Below are the pictures of that. All in all, a credible opening act who entertained a crowd that was itching for SLF.
OK, enough? Nah, it’s never enough, right? It’s like having too much fun – impossible! But it has to be time for me to say sayonara so that I can do some other things. You keep the faith and keep checking back periodically to see what else is happening in the world of BillyRocksPhilly. And I’ll keep trying to post some entertaining things from the world of rock and beyond. 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 … I’m outta here.
What's In a Name, Part Two
Hey BRP loyalist, good to have you back. I have a bunch of stuff all ready to post, but alas, I need a different computer to populate the pictures. How fancy pants is that? They are worth your time, so check back shortly to see what’s brewing. In the meantime, I have some more band names to riff about, and I hope you enjoy.
Bully – I don’t care for bullies. But maybe this isn’t a bad name. I’m on the fence about whether I love it or hate it. As the Pretenders sang, it’s a thin line between love and hate. Thoughts?
The Buzzcocks – Alas, like the Beatles, a great band with a terrible name. Is it a haircut? Or something worse having to do with a man’s nether region? One of BRP's favorite bands ever!
Car Seat Headrest – Descriptive. Silly. But a good up-and-coming band.
Catfish and the Bottlemen – I like the Bottlemen part because another thing that characterizes rock is alcohol abuse. But what’s with the Catfish? How does that fit? Good band, stupid name.
Cheap Trick – Clever name, good band. Rock ‘n roll hall of fame worthy? Hmmm, maybe. Not. But this is one great song.
The Rolling Stones – who thinks about whether or not it’s a good name? It’s just the Stones right? I guess it’s ok, but it’s odd that they named themselves after a magazine.
U2 – Pretty good name. Pretty good band, especially in the early days before pretention sank in.
The Clash – good name for a punk band that wanted to change the world and had a political message with many of their songs. Much better than their compatriots, the Sex Pistols, who sported a silly name but spawned an alter ego band called the Celibate Rifles. It’s true – look it up.
The Cramps – for a band that explored the not-so-large gap between rock music and horror films, it’s a pretty good name. But I always wondered what women thought of this name – why not call themselves the Monthlies? What’s the male equivalent – Jock Itch?
The Cure and The Damned – both fantastic names. What ills do you have? We have the Cure. Will rock save you? Nope, you’re Damned in the eyes of the establishment. You’re on the highway to hell – at least your friends are gonna be there, too.
The Darkness – Ooooh, pretty good for a heavy metal band, right? Black Sabbath, another great name, laid the groundwork for this name. It’s scary, it’s Satanic, it’s rock and roll marketing at its finest!
Sheesh, after that video, I think it's time to take a little breather. Don't you worry, I'll be back with plenty more commentary on rock band names. It's a rich and rewarding field! In the meantime, hang tight, go see a band, and trust in me that I will be posting some really great (make that badass) stuff in the very near future. Devil horns up!
Hey stags and hens, what's happening? I've been tripping around listening to a few songs that I think you would like, too. Wanna hear them? Well, you've come to the right place.
First up, it's Deer Tick with Jumpstarting. I like this band, and I like this song.
The War on Drugs is a Philly band going big-time. Trippy at times, but catchy tunes, too, and good lyrics. I've had this track called Holding On on my brain for a while now. Be careful with it as you, too, might get hooked.
Oh, baby, Silversun Pickups are the kind I like to ride around in. Old school riding: climb in the back, sit on the sides, and live dangerously. Here's a track that I think you'll like called Lazy Eye.
Do you still listen to the radio? The Vines told us not to do so a while ago. Don't tell them, but I still pop on the radio because I'm old as dirt and it's just what us old turds do. But this is a good song by an underrated band.
Fire - human kind need it, love it, fear it, and constantly deal with it. Here's a song by Springsteen that is about fire. Sexy? He does nothing for me, but the song is great. Baby, you know you can't hide your desire, ooohh, yeah!
That's enough for you right now. I'll be back. With what, only I know. But I'll try to entertain you, try to reach out and grab you through this screen. You go ahead and do what you do, and then you come back to BRP and feel the love. It's always here.
Best and Worst Band Names. How big of a subject is this one? An analysis of band names from me, a guy who titled his blog BillyRocksPhilly. Hit the “nurse” button, pot calling kettle! Laugh if you will, and I hope you do, but rock bands spend sometimes months and sometimes minutes coming up with names, and there is always a purpose behind them. Some are hits, some are misses. Let’s jump right in with some good ones:
Luscious Jackson – I love the word “luscious,” don’t you? It’s sensual. Let me whisper it in your ear. So any band name with “luscious” in it is probably going to be a BRP hit. I don’t know who Jackson is, but to describe any person as luscious is high praise in my world.
Arctic Monkeys – Stupid name dreamed up by teenagers.
Bad Company – oohh, perfect name for a rock band. Mama told me not to hang out with trash or I’ll start smelling like it myself. Hanging out with Bad Company makes you a rock ‘n roll rebel and outlaw. That’s the whole point of rock, right?
The Beatles – the British answer to Buddy Holly’s Crickets, but a terrible name and misspelled on top of it. Thankfully, this was about the only bad thing about these guys. I remember reading an interview with some rock star, and while I can’t remember who it was, he said that the Beatles probably wrote about 85% of all the rock songs that can be written. An overstatement, but we know from whence this sentiment arises. “Great” is too small of a word to describe them. Still, the name sucks.
The Guess Who – Funny Canadian stuff! Someone asks “who is this” in reference to a song, and your reply is Guess Who. They say, “I don’t know, I give up, tell me” and you say Guess Who. Clever! And a damn good band to boot.
Black Flag – A punk band named after a deadly pesticide. Yup, that’s good stuff.
Blondie – Debbie Harry has blond hair and overflows with sex appeal. Rock is about rebellion, but it’s also about sex, and so this name is fantastic: here she is, Blondie, and she's stalking you!
Blue Oyster Cult – Love the band, hate the name. Cults give me the willies. Blue oysters give me nausea. Combine the two and I freakin’ fear the reaper.
The Bottle Rockets – if you’re from the south, you’re experienced with bottle rockets. They shoot high in the air and explode in a blaze of glory. Testosterone levels jump, just like when you turn up the volume to eleven and strum that Stratocaster. Have you ever held a bottle rocket in your hand then lit it and held it until it takes off? It’s really scary. And really fun. It’s even better to break off the stick, put it under your neighbor’s dorm room door, and light that thing. Been there, done that.
BR5-49 – Alt-country band paying homage to Hee Haw, the Soul Train of country music. Sheer perfection! Hey Grandpa, what’s for dinner? I gotta do something, even if it's wrong.
That's enough for today. But you know where this is going. I have lots, lots more. Jump in if you want to comment, the water is fine. I have a few reviews to get to as well. Patience, grasshopper, I'll get there, but I'm busy these days. Talk to you soon, luscious ones.
A Hard News Day
October 2, 2017 was one bad news day. The Las Vegas massacre is unfathomable. God bless all those killed or wounded, their loved ones, and those who attended and survived but who will be traumatized by the event forever. We all stand with you united in love for our fellow humans, and opposed to unspeakable terror and evil.
After trying to digest the undigestable, along comes news that Tom Petty suffered a massive coronary and died. He was only 66. I just saw TP in July and wrote up a review of the show and my thoughts on his career. I won't restate that here. Suffice to say, the world is worse off today as one of the world's best rock musicians no longer walks among us. RIP, my man.
My name is Bill, and I live in the greater Philadelphia area. I love music, and I have a lot of opinions. This site is primarily focused on music, but sometimes I get off track. I hope you enjoy.