Sunday, March 30, 2008

I Killed Albini With My Big Fucking Dick


Displaying the usual teenage penchant for useless gestures, I actually called Steve Albini's home phone once. Albini used to write a regular column back in the early 80's for Matter, a really bad glossy 'zine outta Chicago that must've paid writers a little bit of money, because occasionally top-notch guys like Gerard Cosloy and Byron Coley would contribute. Albini's column was called "Tired of Ugly Fat?", and sometimes he'd give out his phone number, probably because he had no real reason to give a shit.

Anyway, Albini slagged "Let It Be" (which would place this around '84), and since the Replacements were my favorite band at the time, I called the number-- as if I actually had a chance to get him on the phone and have a discussion or something. Really, the only interesting thing that happened was I got to hear Albini's answering machine message, which went, "How can you tell how many Hitlers are in the room? Count the number of balls, and divide by one!"-- I swear to God. I mumbled something stupid about how I thought he was a jerk, leaving my own number to show that I wasn't a pussy, and hung up.

Since I disliked Albini as a writer before I ever heard Big Black as a band, it took some really awesome records to sway me back to the other side, and "Atomizer" and "Racer-X" were those records. I did get to see Big Black once before they broke up, at CBGB's in 1986 (?), a show which also featured Killdozer (who were totally killer at the time), Pussy Galore, and Happy Flowers. I didn't even bother trying to talk to Steve after the show, though I did talk to Dave Riley a little. The crowd all went off in the other direction, leaving Dave sitting by himself on the edge of the CB's stage, drinking a can of Bud. Dave was feeling a bit prickly, and made some sarcastic comments to the effect of, "I just do whatever Steve tells me to do, we're all just here to do what Steve wants." It was an obvious sign that Big Black wasn't going to be together much longer, which was really just as well. To me, Albini's disturbed/gross-out type of subject matter had a creepier edge when Big Black was just a small-time project out of Albini's apartment, or whatever; once Big Black got huge and were playing in front of tons of fist-pumping college dopes, it all became too cartoonish and silly.

Not that it didn't stop Albini from sounding the death knell for one of my other favorite bands, Scratch Acid, by stealing their rhythm section for his next band, Rapeman-- although at least they were rock, y'know? Fuck this faux-new wave drum machine shit.

Onto the records; all of them at once, since I don't feel like writing three separate Big Black posts:




This was released in tandem with the "Headache" 12-inch, which I found kinda boring, so I slagged the two of them together in the first issue of Brushback when they first came out ("Doesn't suck by any means, but I can't wait for them to break up now. Jerry-rigged 'collector's items' suck shit, too"). I admitted to liking "Things To Do Today", and that was about it. Man, I can be a dumbfuck sometimes.

The sayings on the back of the sleeve are a reference to Dr. Bronner's All-One-God-Faith soap; if you don't know what that is, you should really go to a hippie health food store and read the label on a bottle sometime, it's a riot.




Big Black -

"Heartbeat" (crackly!)

"Things To Do Today"

"I Can't Believe"

(these files are now listen-only)





click for enlarged view

At the time, it seemed weird to me that Albini would like Cheap Trick, but they're both from Chicago so I guess it makes sense. This single was my first clue that Albini had more up his sleeve than just acting all dark and scary, and that he actually had a sense of humor-- slight as it might have been. A couple of years later Albini was covering ZZ Top and talking about how great their first three records were, while producing records for the Pixies and eventually Bush and Nirvana. I think it woulda been better had he stopped at Cheap Trick, but what do I know.

The effort they put into the picture sleeve is awesome; it kills me how much they actually look like Cheap Trick. Albini's vocal on "He's A Whore" is a total rip-off of Steve Björklund, too. As for the Kraftwerk cover, who woulda guessed that Big Black would be into Kraftwerk? I mean, that's a stretch.


click for enlarged view

Big Black -

"He's A Whore"

"The Model"

(these files are now listen-only)


click for enlarged view



click for enlarged view

This one's not the original version that came out on Homestead in '85, but the Touch and Go re-press from '92. This was the first Big Black record that I remember liking, and I still think it's one of the all-time great 80's singles.

The picture sleeve to the Homestead pressing baffled me a bit when I first bought it, as it was a thin, glossy paper sleeve, and the other Homestead singles that I was buying at the time (as well as the ones on Ace of Hearts, etc) all had thicker paperboard sleeves. I think I figured that flimsy glossy sleeves were better left to the Huey Lewis 45s that were sold at the mall.

In any case, if you stare at the back of the sleeve long enough while trying to read it, the colors get fuzzy and you'll start to go cross-eyed.

Big Black actually left Homestead for Touch and Go over this record, or actually the 12-inch promo version, though not because they put it in a junky Huey Lewis sleeve that made people crosseyed, but because Homestead supposedly sold some of the promos when they weren't supposed to.


click for enlarged view

Big Black -

"Il Duce"

"Big Money"

(these files are now listen-only)



12 comments:

Anonymous said...

Is the heading a reference to that one oddball Sonic Youth song I seem to have foggy recollections of?? I appreciate this post both for the answering machine hilarity, as well as coming to terms with admitting if it weren't for the "heartbeat" cover, I might not have discovered Wire for another six months or so. As for deep sixing Scratch Acid, at least he didn't keep Jeff Pezzati from Naked Raygun on bass longer than needed!! -Sean / Wires In The Walls

Brushback said...

Yessir, Sonic Youth put out a Forced Exposure record called "I Killed Christgau With My Big Fucking Dick", which I owned when I was a wee little tot. That's the reference.

If I remember correctly, my copy of that SY record had something crossed out with a paint marker on the back of the picture sleeve. I'm not sure why, though.

By the way, Naked Raygun could've broken up at that point ('87-'88), and I might not have really cared.

Jersey Beat said...

I was on the staff of Matter when the infamous Albini Let It Be review ran and I can assure you that none of us got paid a dime. We didn't even get free records. Unlike quality fanzines of the era (like, uh, Jersey Beat,) Matter didn't give records out to reviewers. We round-robin'd them, each of four or five reviewers borrowing the album to be reviewed, listening to it, and then passing it along to the next person. At the end of the process, all of the records had to be returned to Editor/Publisher Liz Phillip.

I distinctly remember we all believed that Albini really liked Let It Be and just wrote that dismissive review to cement his reputation as the Simon Cowell of his generation (or as we used to say back then, "pigfucker.")

gabbagabbahey said...

opinions of Steve Albini aside - I for one wouldn't besmirch his association with Slint or Mclusky, two of my very favourite heavy bands - I really like these tracks. 'Heartbeats' especially.

I've never been particularly interested in Shellac, but I'm liking Big Black here. Also, I should really get round to checking out some Scratch Acid sometime.

But yeah, fuck that derd niffer...

Brushback said...

I've been meaning to make the first Scratch Acid 12" one of my next few posts, if you wanna stick around for that. Awesome band.

Jersey Beat said...

Seeing Scratch Acid live was like having somebody throw a bucket of acid in your face.

harge said...

I could talk for hours about the personal importance of Big Black on my music development, but I won't. I will say this: those first three ZZ Top records are fucking killer!

ba-da-bum-bum-bum-ba-da-ba

Anonymous said...

"Seeing Scratch Acid live was like having somebody throw a bucket of acid in your face."

This is the single least creative metaphor ever used to describe a musical experience. Please grace us with more of your wisdom.

"Seeing Cheap Trick live was like having sex with a hooker for a remarkably small amount of money."

"Seeing Gang of Four live was like being confronted with a cadre of authoritarian Maoists."

Brushback said...

Wow, the crowd's getting rough in here.

Fingers crossed that T&G doesn't shut this post down in about 5 seconds.

Brushback said...

^
Just as I figured.

The mp3 files on this post are now listen-only (non-downloadable) files. For those of you who came to the party late, I will do my best to respond to any e-mailed requests for the original files.

For instance, if someone from the Electrical Audio boards wants the mp3's to make a .zip file to share with the rest, send me an e-mail.

lex dexter said...

As quoted from Chuck Eddy’s rad-looking book:

Pigfucker, n. 1. Perjorative used to label participants of any in several strains of obstinantly noncommercial, abstract yet noncerebral, post-hardcore art-rock, characterized by peculiarly structured intentional dissonance (typically loud, often unconventionally-tuned electric guitars), mechanical and/or funkless rhythms, subtle textural shifts, violent lyrics addressing taboo subjects, and a general quest for assumed “extremes.” 2. Fan or apologist of this subgenre.

[Coined as music term by Robert Christgau in The Village Voice
3 March 1987; from pig and fucker,
compounded in 1967 by Hunter S. Thompson to describe Hubert Humphrey]

Brushback said...

Just goes to show how all of those 'established' critics tried to dig in their heels against this stuff back in the '80s. Of course, now bands like Sonic Youth and Dinosaur Jr. are "respected" members of the rock scene and everyone pretends that they always liked them from the beginning, but I know for a fact that it wasn't the case. Guys like Pisstgau hated the stuff and tried hard to take it down.