“Gigantor” – The Dickies

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Late 1970s LA punks The Dickies do a buzzsaw cover of the theme from “Gigantor,” the first Japananimation series to break big in America (predating “Speed Racer” by at least two-three years). Aren’t you glad you know that now? You can probably guess I was big with the ladies back in the day…

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“Privilege (Set Me Free)” – Patti Smith Group

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In honor of Easter, here’s a boss track from the Patti Smith Group’s 1978 album “Easter.” This is Patti’s cover of the showstopping track from the classic 1967 Peter Watkins-directed rock and roll film “Privilege.”

I realize “Because the Night” is the best-known track and while I like that song, it’s a bit overplayed, especially due to that annoying 10,000 Maniacs cover from the early 1990s (the one with Natalie Merchant over-enunciating every syllable like a high school English teacher after one too many glasses of Chardonnay).

“Swallowed” – Bush

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Bush was always dismissed as a bad British knock-off of Nirvana riding that “alternative nation” bandwagon all the way to the bank. Funnily enough, where was Bush most popular? Yup, the good ole U.S. of A. I look at it this way: just as the Count Five were the uncool (at the time) American version ripoffs of the hip British Yardbirds, Bush were the uncool British version of the hip American Nirvana.

Yes, they may have been derivative, but “Glycerine” was a damn fine grunge power ballad. And, when they hooked up with so-called pigf–k auteur Steve Albini for their album “Razorblade Suitcase,” the lead-off single “Swallowed” was … sorry … really f–king sublime!!!! OK, just because I love this song doesn’t mean I’ve got Creed buried in my iTunes. (I swear on the lives of my internet providers, I don’t.) But this is a very very cool track.

“Breaking the Waves” (1996) dir. Lars Von Trier

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I hope I don’t offend anyone with deep religious beliefs with what I’m about to write. My intent is not to be glib or arch in any way. My point is that sometimes you can find a deeply spiritual message in what may seem like the unlikeliest of sources.

Lars Von Trier’s “Breaking the Waves” is an art-house film from 1996 that garnered some rave reviews and awards that year (including a Grand Jury Prize at the Cannes Film Festival, along with an Oscar nomination for lead actress Emily Watson). However, it’s also a film that polarized many. Like many of Von Trier’s films, “Waves” is a film that people either deeply love and deeply hate. I am firmly in the first category. The description below will contain several spoilers, but there’s no way to discuss why this film is important to me without discussing them…

“Waves” is the tale of a young Scottish woman named Bess (played by Watson) who has some deep psychological issues. She comes from a strict Calvinist religious community that frowns upon her marriage to a Norweigian oil rig worker named Jan (played by Stellan Skarsgard). Jan has to frequently spend time away from Bess because of his job, which causes her great distress. She prays for Jan to be returned home and the next day, Jan becomes paralyzed from an accident on the oil rig. He no longer can walk and can no longer function sexually. Jan urges Bess to seek out other men and tell him about it. Bess refuses because she loves him, but his condition deteriorates and he tells her that if she has sex with other men, his condition will improve. Bess believes these actions are the will of God and starts to do what Jan asks her to, even though she doesn’t want to. Her encounters make her the scorn of the village, but believing she is doing the right thing, continues to do what Jan asks her, leading to the ultimate sacrifice for her husband. A literal miracle then occurs … though, not necessarily the kind that happy endings are made of.

On the surface, “Waves” seems like a depressing, twisted, misogynistic, sexual melodrama with no redeeming value. And … some of that is not entirely inaccurate, especially when “Waves” is seen in conjunction with Von Trier’s other films (“Dancer in the Dark,” “Anti Christ”), which actually make “Waves” look like “Love Actually.”

But there is more to “Waves” than meets the eye, which becomes more apparent once you see the ending. In case you didn’t deduce what the movie is a metaphor for … “Waves” is the story of Jesus Christ’s sacrifice for mankind, albeit told in a modern context. Except that the Christ in “Waves” is the human Christ of “The Last Temptation of Christ,” a real person who doesn’t know if he is strong enough to carry out God’s will, but does it anyway. The physical and mental tortures that Bess suffers parallel the crucifixion. One could potentially see “Waves” as a brutal Marquis de Sade-like satire on the story of Christ. However, I see the opposite.

I first watched “Breaking the Waves” on video on a Friday night, when I was very tired and only expected to watch a half hour before going to sleep. I not only raptly watched the entire 2 hour and 36 minute film that night, but was so shaken and moved by what I had seen, I couldn’t sleep for at least two hours after it was over.

There’s a lot of people who positively hate this film and I can understand why. As you can imagine, “Waves” is not a big hit among feminists. But it made me understand the Christ story in a way I never had before. It was also one of Martin Scorsese’s 10 favorite films of the 1990s.

On a side note, the soundtrack (featuring T. Rex, Elton John, Deep Purple, Roxy Music, Mott the Hoople, Thin Lizzy, among others) is one of the best rock soundtracks ever assembled for a film.

“All Along the Watchtower” – Jimi Hendrix

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Even after over 40 years of overuse on classic rock radio, movies, etc., this stupendous cover of Bob Dylan’s “All Along the Watchtower” by Jimi Hendrix still blows me away. Especially that damn opening with the hard acoustic guitar and opening percussion blasts leading into Hendrix’s blistering solo … A prime example of that cliche “It’s the singer not the song.” From the 1968 album “Electric Ladyland.”

“We Never Learn: The Gunk Punk Undergut, 1988-2001” by Eric Davidson

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Back around 1996 or so, while I was record / CD shopping, I heard something great over the store’s music system.  The music I was hearing was similar to a lot of the punk rock I enjoyed over the years, only it was much more aggressive, loud, and crude.  It also  sounded considerably less polished, like it was recorded on someone’s home tape recorder.  Yet the drums, bass, and guitar still bled through loud and clear.   I asked the clerk what it was.  He replied it was the New Bomb Turks and showed the sampler CD it came from, a $7.99 blast of joy with over 70 minutes of music called the “Cheapo Crypt Sampler.”  As more songs blasted out by such bands as the Devil Dogs, Teengenerate, The Mighty Caesars, The Gories, The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, Nine Pound Hammer, and The Oblivians … among several others, I knew I not only had to have this sampler, but to also check out more bands of this ilk.

By 1996, a lot of so-called punk / grunge / alternative / whatever bands had gone mainstream and signed with major labels.  While some of these bands would occasionally hire someone like Steve Albini to dirty up their tracks, most of it sounded polished.   The punk I was hearing on the Crypt sampler was a revelation.  Unlike the Nirvanas or Green Days of the time, these songs weren’t politically correct … or even remotely political.  The songs weren’t mopey tributes to alienation.  They weren’t trying to change the world, nor were they full of irony and ennui.  Instead, like AC/DC at their best, almost all of the Crypt songs were about drinking, f–king, and fighting and the bands played like their lives depended on it.  It reminded me of wild 1950s rock, only with increased aggression and lots of really really bad language.  I felt like I had died and gone to heaven.

This genre of punk rock never really had a name … and arguably still doesn’t.  However, former New Bomb Turks member Eric Davidson came up with the term “gunk punk” for his  book on the genre that may or may not have a name.  That book “We Never Learn: The Gunk Punk Undergut, 1988-2001” is a wonderful overview and introduction to this unheralded and indescribably awesome genre.  The book covers many bands, not only the ones mentioned above, but also The Cramps, The Dwarves, Union Carbide, and my hometown favorites, The Candy Snatchers (who were previously featured on Dave’s Strange World) among many, many others.  Many thanks to Mr. Davidson for not only writing this awesome tome, but for keeping the spirit of important, rarely acknowledged, and kickass genre alive.

If you’ve never heard any of these bands, please check out these fine tracks which are some of my favorites of this genre:

The Devil Dogs, “Big F–kin Party”

The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, “Backslider”

New Bomb Turks, “Mr. Suit”

Nine Pound Hammer, “Feelin’ Kinda Froggy”