Rock bible returns
Stuff We Like For music fans under fifty, this site will keep arguments raging well past last orders have been called.
Trouser Press was a New York-based shoestring independent music 'zine that ran for ten years from 1973, with a heavy bent towards British artists - it was named after a Bonzo Dog band tune - and new music. And it published an epic artists encyclopedia, which was last updated in 1996.
And as of this week, the whole freaking, monumental lot is back on line - a tribute to co-founder Ira Robbins' persistence.
"This is a critique not a catalogue," wrote Robbins in the preface to the last edition, which gives you a clue that it steers away from the academic worthiness that kills so many similar projects. In fact it's a cross between the two - it's pretty comprehensive, but not exhaustive; and yet it's personal and catholic enough to leave room for some terrific writing. But the fact that it's opinionated, not canonical, makes for addictive browsing.
The bad news is that in its new incarnation, little has been refreshed since 1996, as the curators admit. The good news, is that they're looking for new submissions. And the best news of all, is that the old hands seem to be in charge, so fortunately new reviews will trash both Phd-length thesis and fanboy cumshots. So the future could be bright indeed.
It's in two sections, reflecting when the two books were updated: a 70s/80s section and a nineties section.
To be honest, the fun of reading this results from the inconsistency, which makes for a great talking point. The entries for Captain Beefheart and Bongwater (eg, "Some of the funniest, smartest and messed-up ultra-psychedelia ever invented.") were obviously written by admirers, for example, while Can get such arms-length treatment, the entry sounds like it was written by a lab technician observing a not-too-interesting new bacteria. Can were, or are, the high point of European kultur for me, and deserve more. (Pete Shelley of The Buzzcocks said he only learned to play guitar because of Can.)
And omissions and anomalies abound. Beefheart is in, though he wasn't strictly an artist who began his work in the 1970s artist, but not Laura Nyro, or The Who. And shockingly, there's no place for The Groundhogs, who were surely as much part of the 70s as Can?
Nor is there a mention for The Normal, whose "Warm Leatherette" is known to millions after Grace Jones, and many others covered the single, who've never heard of The Normal, but that's a footnote that should be recorded, if only with a footnote. Plastikman gets in, but neither Black Dog - nor Plaid - earn entries. These are such thirtysomething staples for the chemical generation, that they're practically engraved into IKEA flat pack furniture. There's a fleeting reference to "It's A Fine Day" - a global hit more than once - as a sample in the Orbital entry, but no entries for Jane and Barton, or Edward Barton. DieTotenhosen are in, but not Der Plan.
And not a week goes by without Bristol's The Pop Group being namechecked by one of the alternative US weeklies, but all The Pop Group spin-offs - Rip, Rig and Panic, Pigbag and Mark Stewart - receive far more lengthy entries than the epic mothership. (And they've overlooked Maximum Joy and Mark Springer's brilliant solo piano lp altogether, if we were going to be really pedantic).
But then you go looking for omissions, and find that such forgotten gems as Judy Nylon (once Brian Eno's girlfriend) are in - with a beautiful summary of her ON-U Sound record, and Nurse With Wound, or the Electric Eels. Artists who either only made one epic record, or who pursued a path so far from the mainstream that the bookish historians of rock would foolishly exclude them altogether.
And all is forgiven. So let the arguments begin.
Asked about the old Trouser Press values Robbins recently wrote that much contemporary music writing has discarded them "in favor of a comfortable and profitable collusion between stars, audience and publication."
Which is very true. I'll save a footnote for a magnificent exception, though - HeadHeritage - home for Julian Cope's reviews. Cope wrote the best rock memoir I've ever read and he believes in rock like his soul depended on it. If you're a Reg regular, you'll know exactly what we mean: let some of this joyous stuff rub off on you too. ®