Punking Out (1978): American Indie #13

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Punking Out

You can never get enough Ramones and footage of 1970s CBGB, can you? So although this short documentary – it lasts only a smidgeon over 25 minutes – is not a millions miles away from this entry in the series, I reckon that Punking Out deserves a post here. Despite that awful title.

Directed, produced and edited by Maggi Carson, Juliusz Kossakowski and Ric Shore on a budget of around $7,000, Punking Out was filmed inside CBGB in the spring of 1977. Three acts are featured with snippets of their performances, together with interviews from some of the band members backstage after a set.

The documentary also talks to punters dotted around the bar. These range from committed regulars like Lydia Lunch and Helen Wheels, through to a couple of straights who had only ventured in to have a nosey at the much talked about bar. They weren’t going to come back. CBGB owner Hilly Kristal is also quizzed about noise and violence in the venue. It is noisy. It’s not terribly violent.

PO2 2020_07_06_19_42_33_dvd_VLC_media_player

Richard Hell’s great anthem Blank Generation opens proceedings, and we see more of the crowd, a real mix of music lovers. Some guys have long hair, some have bushy beards and nowhere is any kind of codified punk look in evidence. In other words, 1977 CBGB is absolutely nothing like Spike Lee’s vision of 1977 CGBG in his film Summer of Sam with mohicans, mohawks, piercings and a mosh pit. Whoever did the research for that film should never work in the same capacity ever again. Just as Randall Miller, the man behind the CBGB film of 2013, should never at any point in the future be allowed to step in front of a camera.

The interviews here come across as natural, with no questions and answers being discussed beforehand. Some look drunk, some stoned, some zapped on a high that isn’t entirely obvious.

‘Do you belong to the blank generation?’ a guy with fuzzy hair and aviator shades is asked. ‘I’m blank, you know,’ he replies, smiling. ‘There’s nuthin’ coming in and nuthin’ going out.’

Up next are The Dead Boys, who I always judged to be trying too hard to come across as young, loud and snotty. Here they play a pub band cover of Anarchy in the UK and when interviewed, they talk over themselves and are keen to stress that they haven’t rehearsed in a month.

The camera cuts to a pre-Teenage Jesus & The Jerks Lydia Lunch. With a mischevious grin, she talks about throwing a ‘genuinely used tampon’ at the band and tells us they’re ‘great fucks’ and that she’s fucked them. I’m guessing she must have skipped a few classes at finishing school. Inevitably we hear I Need Lunch.


Then it’s Ramones time. They blast through Now I Wanna Sniff Some Glue and then a childlike Dee Dee, who’s wearing Bay City Rollers T-shirt, is quizzed about the song’s controversial lyrics. ‘It’s really just a frustration thing, cause there was nothing else to do. We got something better to do now. What’d’ya want me to say? That I want all kids to go drink ammonia or something? No, I don’t want that.’

You’ve likely seen some of this footage recycled in a number of later documentaries like The End of the Century: The Story of The Ramones and the punk episode of the BBC’s 1996 music documentary series Dancing in the Street. There’s a reason why it’s been reused so often. It’s fantastic.

Yeah, it would have been good to see some Patti Smith, Television and Talking Heads, and maybe some lesser known acts, but the documentary is only a snapshot of the venue that became one of the most legendary in music history.

CBGB Punters

Many now feel sad that some shop called Patagonia currently resides in what was once CBCG, but nothing lasts forever – and many of the faces we see in Punking Out are now dead: Joey, Johnny, Dee Dee and Tommy, Stiv Bators, Robert Quine of The Voidoids, Helen Wheels and Hilly himself.

Let’s face it; the Bowery has been utterly transformed since the 1970s, with retail values rocketing during the area’s gentrification. Going to see a show where you have to step over a Bowery bum on your way in to see Blondie or The Heartbreakers must have been a far different experience to sitting next to a horde of tourists and middle-class hipster locals while watching some group with precious little of the talent of the acts that helped establish CBGB as a byword for musical innovation.

As Patti Smith said during the set that would be the last performance there before the shutters came down for the final time: ‘Kids, they’ll find some other club.’

Helen Wheels in Punking Out

Its closure in 2006 did made me think back to my own teenage years. There was a plan in 1978 to convert the Glasgow Apollo into a bingo hall.

I was livid, I wanted The Clash and The Jam, not Legs Eleven and Two Fat Ladies. I’d seen many brilliant shows there, including The Ramones headlining. I’d seen The Dead Boys support The Damned and Richard Hell support The Clash. I signed all the petitions going to save the venue and dreaded it being shut and Glasgow becoming a ‘rock ghost town’. A reprieve was eventually granted but by the time it did close in 1985, I was hardly ever there. The Barrowlands had reinvented itself as a music venue and the old ballroom was a better place to see a band.

In his book Ramones (33 1/3), Nicholas Rombes called Punking Out ‘probably the best documentary of the 1970s CBGB scene’. It was selected for both the Chicago and the Philadelphia International Film Festival in 1978 and the following year it screened at the New York Film Expo. It is undoubtedly well worth seeking out.

For more on the film: http://www.punkingoutfilm.com/

Donald Is Possessed By The Devil (& Papa Gets a Brand New Pigbag, Whatever That Is): A Y Records Two For Tuesday


Anybody remember Pulsallama?

The band were apparently synonymous with Club 57 on St Marks Place in the East Village in the early 1980s, when singer Ann Magnuson was a manager there.

Club 57 sounds a lot more exciting than my local arts centre. It played host to avant-garde plays, performance art events and readings by writers like Kathy Acker. Regulars Keith Haring and Kenny Scharf staged exhibitions. Movies were screened: grindhouse favourites like Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! and Satan’s Cheerleaders. Horror fanzine Gore Gazette took over the venue for their first anniversary – Herschell Gordon Lewis was special guest and Sleazoid Express held several events there too. Many, many fantastic bands also took to the stage, from The Cramps to Ultravox, The Slits to Suicide.

For their first shows at 57, Pulsallama advertised themselves as a ‘Thirteen piece all girl percussive orchestra’, while Glenn O’Brien in Andy Warhol’s Interview magazine described them as: ‘a rhythmic band consisting of a dozen or so women who whomp and whoop up a storm of frolic on a wide range of percussive devices and some bass guitars.’

I’d guess if The Waitresses, ESG and a Caribbean steel band all entered a studio together, they might have ended up sounding not unlike Pulsallama.

The band had great names like Jean Caffeine and Wendy Wild and dressed theatrically in cocktail dresses. This was one act that refused to take themselves too seriously.

Pulsallama - The Devil Lives In My Husband's Body

I had almost forgotten about them since the days when John Peel would give them the odd spin on his radio show almost forty years ago, although Simon Reynolds had quoted an old East Village Eye review in the Mutant Disco and Punk-Funk chapter of Rip It Up and Start Again back in 2005. They got more of a mention in Stanley Strychacki’s Life As Art: The Club 57 Story, where Cynthia Sley of The Bush Tetras enthused about a typical Pulsallama live excursion, where they would bang on all kinds of percussion and yell. ‘A tremendous cacophony. Something like, Listen to us or die. But funny’.

NME gave them a one page spread. They shared a bill with a very young Madonna and supported The Clash in Asbury Park and Cape Cod.

By the time of their 1982 single The Devil Lives in My Husband’s Body, they had slimmed down to a seven piece. The song tells the tale of Donald, a suburban husband, who begins suddenly each evening after work to head down to the basement of his home, where he yelps, barks and growls like a dog.

Not the last barking mad Donald you may be thinking.

As daft as it is infectious, here it is:

The Pulsallama EP, a live set of seven tracks including The Devil Lives in My Husband’s Body, recorded in a New York studio for French radio, is just out, available here on pink or splatter coloured vinyl, CD or download.

Pulsallama signed to Y Records, named after the debut studio album of noisy English post-punks The Pop Group. Bristol based, the label was set up by Dick (Disc) O’Dell, who once upon a time had worked as a lights/sound operator for Pink Floyd and The Sensational Alex Harvey Band, and at this point was The Pop Group’s manager.

When the girls put pen to paper, the label was likely best known for being the home of Pigbag of Papa’s Got a Brand New Pigbag fame and an element of crossover existed between both acts, such as playing a show together at New York’s famous Peppermint Lounge and sharing a producer in O’Dell. Peter Shapiro even suggested in Turn The Beat Around: The Secret History of Disco that Pulsallama ‘sounded like Pigbag combined with Julie Brown’.

That Pigbag single was one of the most insanely danceable records of the era, a guaranteed instant floor-filler in Maestros in Glasgow and likely every other club across the country. Even the really crap ones.

In 1981, it created a stir in the indie charts, albeit it would be best described as an underground hit. On its re-release a year later, as the band toured Britain to promote their Dr Heckle And Mr Jive album, it really took off. It entered the British charts at #50. A month later it had climbed to #3, where it peaked, unable to go the whole hog and dislodge Bucks Fucking Fizz’s The Camera Never Lies and Paul McCartney and Stevie Wonder’s turgid Ebony and Ivory. Perfect harmony, my arse.

Here is Papa’s Got a Brand New Pigbag on Top of the Pops:

For more on Pigbag: http://www.pigbag.co.uk/

Goodbye, Ennio Morricone

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Ennio Morricone Trumpet

Today, a repost from exactly two years ago in tribute to Ennio Morricone, who died aged 91 today in Rome. The man was an absolute colossus in the field of soundtrack composition and what a magnificent legacy he has left behind.


If you don’t already know this obscure little gem then you’re in for a real treat. Honestly, don’t even think about leaving this page without reading on!

Ennio Morricone is the maestro behind the music of such films as A Fistful of Dollars and Once Upon a Time in the West through to The Untouchables and The Hateful Eight. His work has been sampled by a long list of acts from Big Audio Dynamite, Goldfrapp to The Prodigy and, of course, Stereolab.

He is also one of the rare musicians that I would firmly class in the category of genius.

Even so, I’ve still seen less than half the 500 plus films that he’s supplied the scores to and I can’t claim to have seen Vergogna Schifosi (or Dirty Angels, to give it its English translation) apart from some poor quality clips on YouTube.

It doesn’t seem to be available to buy from eBay or to download anywhere so Mauro Severino’s 1969 movie might be an underappreciated masterpiece or, alternatively, utterly awful, but even if it is a dud there’s still an exquisite Morricone soundtrack to enjoy.

According to someone commenting on YouTube, the opening track Matto, Caldo, Soldi, Morto… Girotondo sounds like a ‘satanic erotic mantra’ and I can see where they’re coming from but from the little I can glean from the internet, the song has some kind of connection to Giro Giro Tondo, an Italian nursery rhyme that is the equivalent to something like Ring Around the Rosie.

Featuring the honey-saturated soprano of Edda Dell’orso, whose voice here conjures up visions of earthly paradises, I’ll go for a Capri beach with golden sands, inhabited by Monica Vitti lookalikes in bikinis and the most intensely coloured rainbow you’ve ever seen in the sky.


PS. I only very recently came across Dirty Angels on YouTube although it’s in Italian with no subtitles. Despite living with an Italian in the 1990s, I sadly only know a handful of words and phrases in that language but I do still intend to watch it soon.

Finally, some more Morricone magic. A Fistful of Dynamite, to give it the title it’s known as in Britain, is an entertaining spaghetti western featuring James Coburn’s never terribly convincing Irish accent, Rod Steigers’s never terribly convincing Mexican accent and explosions galore.

The soundtrack is superb throughout and here is its main theme – and, yes, Coburn’s character is called Sean.

Ennio Morricone: 10 November 1928 – 6 July 2020

Spring Night Summer Night: American Indie #12

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Spring Night Summer Night

Like Quentin Tarantino, Nicolas Winding Refn is a film obsessive. Not only does he direct and produce films, he confesses to having ‘collector-mania’, possessing a huge quantity of movie-related artifacts from quad posters through to celluloid itself. He loves to promote obscurities that he especially admires, and many of these can be found on his site byNWR.com.

There you can see Jac Zacha’s 1970 psychedelic saga Walk the Walk; Orgy of the Dead, an erotic horror scripted by Ed Wood and Night Tide, a sometimes magical movie about Mora, a woman brought up to believe she’s descended from mermaids.

Then there’s Spring Night, Summer Night from 1967. This has been said to have brought Italian Neo-Realism to Appalachia, and had been selected to screen at the 1968 New York Film Festival only to be dumped late in the day and replaced by John Cassavetes’ Faces. Oouch.

Virgil and Jessie

It’s the tale of a dirt poor family living on a farm in rural Ohio. This is the kind of family often vilified as white trash or hillbillies by folk who would normally claim to be against stereotyping. The film, though, certainly does little to combat some of these common perceptions, albeit it’s never malicious about the community it depicts.

At its heart is Jessie (Larue Hall). Her life lacks glamour and freedom in equal measures. Her days mostly consist of cleaning and cooking for her mother Mae, stepfather Virgil, stepbrother Carl, four younger siblings and grandmother.

Directed by Joseph L. Anderson, Spring Night, Summer Night opens with the sound of gunfire. Carl (Ted Heim) is shooting at a bucket attached to a tree, before turning his attention to the wing mirror of a rusting tractor.

Carl’s a rebel, probably without much of a cause.

‘What the hell are you doing?’ Virgil demands to know. ‘You’ll pay for that,’ he continues before he receives an answer from son.

That night, a Saturday presumably in Spring, the family gather together to eat. They say grace before meals and then glower at each other across the kitchen table, the adults sucking every strand of tobacco from their ciggies. Mae moans about the food not having enough salt. Virgil barks out complaints about the lack of respect shown to him by his children.

Family Dinner in Spring Night Summer Night

Rather than taking his wife out to a local hootenanny, he declares that he’s taking his favourite bird to a cockfight. Yes, a cockfight. When Carl accidentally stumbles into the bathroom (or was it accidental?) his gaze lingers a little too long on his step-sister lying naked in the tub.

This is a film about a family that you likely wouldn’t want to watch with your own family.

Carl and Jessie head off to a bar. Spring Night Summer Night may have been shot as psychedelia was on the rise but believe me, Haight Ashbury this part of Ohio ain’t. Carl launches into a brawl with a boy dancing with Jessie. He then drags her out the hall. In the car he forcibly has sex with her – although she later says she could have stopped him.

He’s been talking of leaving for some time and the next morning he does so, hitching to nearby Columbus.

Miss Jessica is Pregnant

When he returns during the summer, Jessie is visibly pregnant and Virgil is unsuccessfully attempting to discover the identity of the father.

Carl tells Jessie he loves her, insisting that they should move away together. He speculates that they maybe aren’t even really related through a bloodline to one another. According to persistent local rumours, Mae hasn’t ever been the most faithful of wives and, when confronted, she finds it impossible to be sure who Jessie’s father was.

It’s easy to assume that this isn’t going to end happily.

Carl and Jessie in Spring Night Summer Night 1967

Made on a budget that didn’t even stretch to $30,000, with most of the crew being pupils of Anderson at Ohio University, Spring Night Summer Night can be a gruelling watch but it’s shot beautifully with a striking cinéma-vérité feel. Anderson particularly excels at capturing movement with a handheld camera, whether it’s the younger kids whirling around during impromptu games or Jessie running through the woods in a wet dress.

It’s like a cross between Peter Bogdanovich’s The Last Picture Show and the short stories of Breece D’J Pancake, a writer from West Virginia who has been called ‘the Hillbilly Hemingway’. And yes, Breece D’J Pancake was his real name.

Jessie in Spring Night Summer Night 1967

On its release, Spring Night, Summer Night was seldom shown beyond a handful of local screenings. Oblivion beckoned until some scheming distributors hit on the awful idea to re-cut the movie to play as the bottom half of a exploitation double bill on the grindhouse circuit where it would be renamed Miss Jessica is Pregnant. With no better options on the cards, Anderson obliged, shooting some new racier scenes to be shoehorned into his film.

Rediscovered in the 21st century, Spring Night Summer Night was eventually screened, in a restored version, at the New York Film Festival in 2018. It was belatedly greeted with much praise.

Okay, it’s not as good as Faces, but only a very small percentage of films are. I would guess that it’s far better than the majority of films chosen for the NYFF that year and I’d be surprised if any of the postponed blockbusters that were originally scheduled to playing now at our local multiplexes would be anywhere near as good.