Tag Archives: decline of western civilization



Salutes to Charlie Morgan for putting me onto Jenkem’s post that highlighted the YouTube appearance of Concrete Jungle — a lost documentary on the link between hip-hop and skating. I’m sure I saw this on IMDB a couple of years ago and had a fruitless Google hunt film assuming that it would appear officially one day (I’m still holding out for the Harry Jumonji documentary too). But suddenly it’s online. Concrete Jungle feels like a more commercial companion piece to Deathbowl To Downtown, and where Deathbowl had Chloë Sevigny on narration duties, this one has her Kids buddy Rosario Dawson talking the viewer through proceedings.

Directed by SHUT and Zoo York co-founder Eli Morgan Gesner, and executive produced by QDIII (Quincy Jones’ son), it’s part of the lineage of straight-to-DVD releases that began with Tupac documentaries, the compelling Beef series and some genuinely insightful work like The Freshest Kids, Infamy and the Christian Hosoi bio, Rising Son. Sadly, QD3 Entertainment seemed to end in 2011, leaving Concrete Jungle in limbo. Beyond the unnecessary motion graphics and Gangland style anonymous hip-hop beats, there’s loads of good stuff in it — I would argue that more New Deal and Underworld Element talk (seeing as a mohawked Andy Howell is in it), some Menace, extra Chocolate, and Mike Carroll in conversation (who really joined the dots for me in Virtual Reality) over a little too much talk of the Muska Beatz album would have been a better move. But here’s the thing about critiquing a documentary like this — keeping everybody happy would be nigh-on impossible, and getting a dream roster of talking heads to sit and break it down would be a hellish ordeal of timings and shifting equipment from state to state. Plus the thing is supposed to appeal to the person who doesn’t know who Sal Barbier or the Fu-Schnickens are anyway.

Concrete Jungle really finds its form (and to judge a documentary’s pacing based on a rough cut would be unfair) as it approaches the mid-way point, when the early Zoo York footage appears and there’s some good information on the Tunnel’s legendary half-pipe. It’s a testament to the speed that things have evolved (see Wiz Khalifa’s recent ownage at the hands of Supreme LA’s staff) and the rise of Odd Future, Yelawolf (who can actually skate) and co, plus Weezy’s admirable but faintly doomed determination to be respected as a skater, that this documentary seems deeply dated in many ways — a good thing, because skateboarding is so multiracial and rooted in rap right now that, after just 8 years since filming wrapped on this project, its seems weird that it would be seen as anything different. In a world where Rick Ross and DJ Khaled might make a Vine appearance teetering on a skateboard in a You’ve Been Framed style tipsy dad on a Variflex one Christmas afternoon wave, things definitely done changed.

On the documentary subject, The Decline of Western Civilisation has been discussed here a lot — Wayne’s World director Penelope Spheeris’ trilogy is pretty much perfect, and part three is a perfect companion to Martin Bell and Mary Ellen Mark’s Streetwise (which I urge you to watch — especially after Mary Ellen Mark’s recent passing). Different generations of Los Angeles musicians and hard-living kids make it a set of films that are amusing and disturbing in near-equal qualities. For nigh-on 15 years, thedeclineofwesterncivilization.com has been promising a DVD release. I gave up hope, just as I abandoned the idea of Dr Jives’ webshop opening after four years of a holding page. But at the end of the month we get to watch Darby Crash and a tarantula, Black Flag before they became their own tribute band, Claude Bessy ranting, Chris Holmes from W.A.S.P. disappointing his mum while floating in a swimming pool, plus this absolute bellend, in Blu-ray quality. Part III (from 1998) is a rawer affair that’s been tough to track down, but Shout! Factory and Second Sight are putting it out as a boxset. When BBC2 showed the second film in late 1989 as part of Heavy Metal Heaven, hosted by Elvira (which also included Guns ’n’ Roses Live at the Ritz, a lost Zeppelin show and a show about thrash metal), it changed my life for the better. The prospect of bonus footage alone makes my hands shake enough to spill orange juice like Ozzy.



We’re not grooving on the same vibes any more. We’re grooving on different vibes…ugly vibes.

Magazine editors can be a real disappointment. You want intensity – wild-eyed maniacs hurling submissions into the air in a rage, phlegm flying in the faces of critics taking potshots at the publication, interns beaten to a pulp for ballsing up the coffee run and artists ordered out the premises with fists raised. The reality is duller. Most of them are normal people – too normal in fact to inject their own personality across the pages. As everyone decides that they can create a readable rag on the regular despite rudimentary writing skills and life experience in regards to the lofty subject matters faked via Google, editors will become even more tiresome.

The first time I ever paid attention to the running of a magazine was back when I was left alone one in front of the idiot box twenty years ago, back when terrestrial TV scheduling was significantly better post-11pm. Not only was I faintly disturbed but impressed by the underrated and deeply eerie ‘Little Girl That Lives Down The Lane,’ but I got to see Penelope Spheeris’s ‘The Decline Of Western Civilization’ parts one and two over two consecutive nights on BBC2. That’s where I was introduced to the genius of Claude Bessy, whose wild-eyed rants, rockabilly dress-sense and out-and-out intensity as one of the main characters behind ‘Slash’ gave me the notion that being an editor could be an occupation worth pursuing, seeing as my wonky-handed illustrations were gradually deading my dreams of being the next Frank Miller.

Best of all, Claude would loathe this blog entry. He appeared to hate mediocrity and sycophancy, and was deeply critical of the music industry, and notion of a ‘new wave’ – payola, ad-money and all that other profitable stuff mixed with a lack of any in-depth know-how means that most of y’all bloggers aren’t saying a damned thing, and magazines are wall-to-wall advertorial. That wasn’t the Bessy way.

As an exported luminary of the L.A. punk scene in the late ’70s, Claude’s legendary ad-libbed rant tops the most memorable quotes from my other favourite documentaries like ‘Salesman,’ ‘The Animals Film,’ ‘DOA,’ and ‘Style Wars’ –

I have excellent news for the world. There is no such thing as new wave. It does not exist. It’s a figment of a lame cunt’s imagination. There was never any such thing as new wave. It was the polite thing to say when you were trying to explain you were not into the boring old rock ‘n’ roll but you didn’t dare to say punk because you were afraid to get kicked out of the fucking party and they wouldn’t give you coke anymore. There’s new music, there’s new underground sound, there’s noise, there’s punk, there’s power pop, there’s ska, there’s rockabilly. But new wave doesn’t mean shit.

The bile, the turn-of-phrase and the sincerity blew me away then, and it still resonates today, applicable to any fly-by-night movement, and the inevitable mass exodus to be down with it. The best part of it is, he really, really meant it. Brendan Mullen, LA punk promoter and friend of Bessy’s passed away last October, ten years to the month since Bessy died of lung cancer, but after Bessy passed, in his eulogy he wrote,

No one was sacred from his barbed wit, not even myself (and I liked to think of him as my favorite drinking crony), and certainly not the major record companies, who’d frequently find their full-page ads adjacent to an editorial review mercilessly trashing the record.”

That’s the spirit we still need. Relocating himself from Normandy to Los Angeles, Claude founded ‘Angeleno Dread’ – the county’s first reggae fanzine.That explains his choice to give himself the nom de plume, ‘Kickboy Face’ after Prince Jazzbo’s on wax attack on I-Roy; ‘Kick Boy Face,’ complete with a particularly bombastic face to foot interface on the record sleeve. Just in case that seemed too standard a career path, he also had a brief foray in acting, playing musician ‘Frenchie’ as ‘Claude Bessey’ in a 1977 Hardy Boys/Nancy Drew ‘…Meet Dracula’ crossover special. Yep, that is ‘Phantom Of The Paradise’s Paul Williams camping it up there – Claude is behind him, and that’s teen sensation Shaun Cassidy on the right. Elton’s boy Bernie Taupin is just out of shot. It’s a televisual oddity.

Entering the fray at ‘Slash’ he was a truly inspirational writer, unleashing elegant but brutal polemic like Rimbaud in a Seditionaries suit, lambasting the fly-by-night fakes and bullshit, and championing the Germs and X. The preoccupation with Lester Bangs is certainly justifiable, but while Bangs gets an affectionate portrayal in Cameron Crowe’s ‘Almost Famous,’ a dramatised depiction of Kickboy in the middling Darby Crash biopic ‘What We Do Is Secret’ is more of a sweary caricature. Both scribes are linked by a vitriol that’s the byproduct of the frequently disappointing quest to find the curious romanticism at the core of don’t-give-a-fuck rock’n’roll attitude. Finding true outlaw spirit is like hunting dodos, so you can allow the writer his frequent typewriter vents.

And then there was Kickboy. Slash’s main writer was originally from France; he had the deep, melodic tone of his countrymen, a lopsided grin, and eyes that found humor in the most mundane of things. There was also a grizzled quality to his face…one that spoke of long nights spent with friends, debating the ironies and paradoxes of life. Kickboy clearly did not suffer fools well, so it’s likely that the waves of hero-worship wafting across the waiting room in his direction just irritated the hell out of him.” Aimee Cooper ‘Coloring Outside The Lines: A Memoir’

Kickboy fronted his own band, Catholic Discipline, who, despite ‘Slash’ ultimately founding its own record label post-paper (bear in mind the magazine only lasted from 1977-1980) that once housed Faith No More, never made it to wax. In 2004, a CD of compiled live recordings was released. Showcased in ‘The Decline…’ they’re actually pretty good. Disgusted by Reagan’s 1980 presidential campaign, Bessy left America and moved to the UK where he took a role at Rough Trade as a minister of propaganda, penning press releases. Inevitably he also crossed paths with the Factory crew and worked making scratch videos for the Hacienda and appearing underground in FACT 125 – a 1984 VHS giveaway, and the ‘TV Wipeout’ tape of the same year, repping for IKON – Factory’s US-based video division. He evidently had an instinct for tracking the zeitgeist. What went down with Rough Trade remains a mystery, but he’s the voice on Sonic Youth’s ‘C.B’ on ‘Walls Have Ears’ where he’s recorded introducing the band before a show on the 30th October 1985 with a lengthy rant condemning the label for attempting to censor the cover of ‘Bad Moon Rising’ which has a collaboration with Lydia Lunch, who also worked with Bessy in 1989.

I’m the emcee, um… so I’m supposed to be saying “let’s hear it for Sonic Youth, all the way from the states”. Except uh… actually I’d like about two minutes of your attention. Shut your fucking face, I want just two minutes of your attention, I have a very interesting little story to tell you. Two minutes, not very long, right? And it’s a… it’s a very instructive little story. Um… Sonic Youth, um, are a band.. shh shh shh… Uh, they’re about to put out a record in this country except their record company has decided to put a no-no on the record. Because of, uh… the cover which is offending some people at Rough Trade. And now, it’s not.. I mean it’s not very offensive cover, it’s uh, it’s got a naked lady, a naked Puerto Rican lady, it’s not very obscene, she’s not doing anything weird. Uh… it has nothing to do with.. you know, in this day of AIDS, an uh.. and all that shit, uh, you would think the major alternative record company would have better things to do than worry about the shape of our bodies. So, I thought I’d let you know, uh, so… um… next time you go and buy a record, and you think you’re really alternative and groovy, and uh, everybody is in… is into the alternative charts, remember it’s just like the other side except it’s a bit, a bit stranger, you know… but just remember, it’s not uh… there’s no fucking culture there, you know. There’s just as much censorship among people our age, or you know.. than anyone else.

It figures that he’d continue his work within the video medium with one William Burroughs – the beat influence was all over his work in the most positive way – taking the root cause and making his own mark across a number of disciplines rather than becoming mired in clone bohemian-lite pretension. Still, the nomadic spirit continued and England in 1987, at its yuppie peak must’ve been as repellent as Ronnie’s new world order at the turn of the decade, so he left for Spain, where his life ended twelve years later at his home in Barcelona. The role of Gitane puffing, louche bar philosopher might be a hefty Gallic stereotype (shit, I even assumed the cigarette brand on account of Claude’s nationality) but it’s a beautiful one.

“First we had no intention of sneaking out of the back door like adulterers in the night, we’re not done with the incomprehensible propaganda yet and there was such an overload of information to lay on your frail intellects, such a gorgeous display of terminal confusion and unexplained phenomena to report and inflict on your village sensibilities as well as much local cliquey foulness to deposit on your elegant rug and offend your world-conscious sophistication (we welcome all types – even the proxy thrill seekers who go slumming thru our X-rated binges), there was so much to give and share and communicate (oh what a sense of duty) that even Jah Jah the old tea head himself couldn’t have stopped this cultural apotheosis. A man with a mission delivers the goods, and when many are involved and they all come thru (take a bow boys and girls) watch out, timber, the impact might kill you. Potent stuff everywhere, droogies, a panoramic scope without equal even if it occasionally blurs out, stunning absence of manifestos and editorial unity (meaning respect in the reader and a stand still at the office), obscure beliefs exhumed from the tomb, cover symbolism (Indian land and punk music meet with…) that doubles as a fashion exclusive. No one asked for it but we can’t resist showing off, there was more but you can only take so much of a good thing. And you ought to know when to stop. Like now?” Kickboy Face editorial in ‘Slash’ Vol. 3, No. 5 (The final issue)

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And I’m still recycling my Black  Lodges blogs…

Lately I’ve been pondering as to why Emilio Estevez was the major studio’s punk rocker of choice back in the early ’80s. On face value, he fits the mould as a varsity jacketed jock or rough-edged clown (as demonstrated in his Mickey Mouse tee-wearing, ‘Two-Bit’ Matthews turn in ‘The Outsiders’) than he does as a punk rocker.



Blog post from May 2009.

I am, as the blog post I enthusiastically bashed out after Travis the chimp went buckwild may have indicated, a ghoul. I’ve been a ghoul since I was a child. In fact, this post only came about thanks to a tasteless combination of the recent YouTube leak of UK funnyman legend Tommy Cooper’s onstage death – a playground legend the day after in 1984, and last week’s US face transplant revelations. Those two unpleasantries brought one name back from the recesses of my grey matter – Mr James Vance.
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