Monday, May 29, 2006

This May Be The Look of The Future!

Courtesy of Seattle's KEXP, I just discovered that Debbie Harry and Chris Stein of Blondie did not write "Hangin' on the Telephone," which is one of my all-time favorite songs. It is a perfect piece of pop: anger, longing, melody, pretty, snarling girl being all angry and longing.

I want to be her when I grow up. And for the last three years or so Urban Outfitters, etc. have been preying on the wallet of every 15-to-34-year-old punk-hearted, or post-punk-hearted, girl who feels the same. (Uh, not that I, uh, ever set foot in Urban Extortioners.) Look at that picture! And I'm supposed to respond to Karen O as some sort of avatar of female rock and roll cool? You're kidding me, right?

The band that wrote the song was an LA power pop band called the Nerves. Complying with the requirements of obscure pop band hagiography, they made their rep with just one 1976 EP. Herewith:

The Nerves were Jack Lee, Peter Case, and Paul Collins. Peter Case went on to co-found the Plimsouls, who you might remember recorded that other power-pop classic, "A Million Miles Away". I found these liner notes--and thought I'd print them here because they're a perfect example of the genre. The hysterical mythmaking, the heavy-breathing of the geek who thinks he's a hepcat, the so-unironic-it-has-to-be-ironic-but-it's-not-ironic whiplash brought on by reading it. This was written in 1986 for some sort of reissue, I think. Enjoy!

The Nerves
by Kenneth Funsten

Whatever happened to the Nerves?
In the blitzed-out onrush of Los Angeles rock and roll there are always those bands that get left behind in the trenches. But in the legendary past of about 9 months ago, the Nerves had seemed to be at the very center of things here. In fact, anyone who was around way back then will probably find it hard to forget those three loud-mouthed aspirants to musical fame and fortune. And they weren't even punk! In retrospect, the Nerves set the "prototype" for L.A. Power Pop.
Jack Lee on guitar, Pere Case on bass, and Paul Collins on drums are the Nerves. It was these three who rented the dilapidated basement in the tacky movie studio at the corner of Sunset and Gower and dubbed it the Hollywood Punk Palace. From here, the L.A. new-wave was born.
At the 5 Punk Palace shows, the Weirdos, the Dils, the Zippers, the Zeros, the Screamers and many others all received their baptism under public fire. The Nerves, too, gained valuable experience.
Rejecting a loud and trashy punk image, the Nerves dressed in quiet-colored three-piece suits. They looked more like Hoover salsmen than rock and roll stars. They played only original material, crisp songs with strong melodies, like "Hanging On The Telephone" and "When You Find Out" off their EP (Nerves Records, dist. by BOMP). Their bare, skeletal sound made every lick seem memorable. They excelled in energy. People compared them to the early Beatles or the Dave Clark Five. And then suddenly, they were gone.
What Happened? Were they dead? Had they given up, stopped playing? Or (God forbid!) had they become accounting students, fanzine editors or perhaps something even worse?
None of the above. The Nerves had taken fate in hand and booked their own cross-country tour. During the first week in May, they played 3 nights at the Starwood in Hollywood. Then, loading everything into their black '69 Ford LTD Wagon ("the highest paid member of the touring organization"), the group took off for dates in San Francisco, Denver, Chicago, Cleveland, Toronto, Boston, New York, and Washington, D.C. And that was only the first leg of their trip!
In an article for the Illinois Entertainer, Cary Baker called it a "Magical Blistering Tour." The band astounded even themselves by playing in Minneapolis on July 4, and then in Cleveland July 5. At one point they drove from Rockford, Illinois, where they'd been playing with the Ramones, straight through to San Antonio, Texas.
When it finally all came to an end after three whirlwind months on the road, the Nerves were in Chicago playing with Mink DeVille. It was by then the Nerves' thrid appearance in the Windy City. Altogether, they had logged 25,000 miles and played over 100 twenty to thirty minute sets. Whew!! As Jack Lee said, "We think we've lived up to our name."
And so it all becomes clear now. Or at least evident - the Nerves weren't dead. They were in training!
But in training for what? Since the end of July, the Nerves haven't been heard from. They've been writing new songs, of course, and talking to record companies about an album, but so far there's been nothing definite. "We've just been getting oriented to what our next move is going to be," explains bassist Peter Case. "I mean, say you're a new group, you've released your own record, you've run your own club, and then you went out and did your own national tour, now what do you do after that?"
Pete answered his own question recently at the Masque, the sleazy basement gathering place for L.A.'s young punks. There, the Nerves headlined two spectacular shows with the Avengers, the Zeros and Shock.
Their music is the same - only punchier, more refined, and as high-powered as ever. Of their new songs, "Paper Dolls" ought to become a classic. They picked up a lot from the Ramones ("those guys impressed us"), and they've changed their image some. Now dressed in streamlined, satin jackets and black stovepipe pants they have a very All-American look - that is All-American like some weird Las Vegas bar trio. But don't laugh! This may be the look of the future.
What does Nerves music mean? "It comes from being in the mainline. It's got meaning on its own for collectors," states Peter, "but when you write a song you want the greatest possible number of people to hear it. That's what every writer dreams about, and why not go for it?"
Go for it they will. They've got the brains, and the balls....and the nerve. "We don't want to be part of the scene," warns guitarist Jack Lee, "we want to be the scene."

You know what also kills me about this? Other than the line "We want to be the scene"? Yeah! The scene is here. The scene is now! We are it! It will eat itself! This line: "This may be the look of the future." Indeed. So years later what passes for Underground Rock are all these bands with one word names, aping the sounds that these guys and Blondie laid down.

And so I leave you with more proof that the seventies were magic: