Listen – The World Has Changed – MP3
Listen – All Around the World – MP3
I just finished Joe Bonomo’s fantastic biography of one of the truly great American rock bands, the mighty Fleshtones.
When I first saw ‘Sweat: The Story of the Fleshtones, America’s Garage Band’ I was naturally suspicious. I am – and this is no exaggeration whatsoever – a voracious reader. Even under the current free-time constraints that come with having two little kids, I generally put one (sometimes two) books to bed per week.
Whenever I hit the local mega-mondo-book-and-music-plex (in our case either Borders or Barnes & Noble) I head right over to the music books first, to see if there’s anything new worth checking out.
Any suspicions I had were wholly created by past experiences with music bios about artists that might be thought to inhabit cult/fringe status (and as you know, this is no value judgement on my part, as a good 80% of the music I consume on a given day hails from those hinterlands of little reknown). I’ve often found that such biographies have often been written by fanboys (or girls) who have neither the skill nor the remove to bring the proper perspective to any story.
I’m more than happy to tell you that this is not the case with Bonomo’s book. Not only is he an excellent writer/storyteller, but he had great material to work with, that being the 30 year career of the Fleshtones.
I can’t say that I’ve been following the Fleshtones since the beginning, but my brothers and I got on the bus pretty early. Back in nineteen and eighty two, I grabbed the band’s first IRS EP ‘Up Front’ and played ‘Theme From the Vindicators’ until my record player was an ashen heap.
A few years later, at a long gone and lamented New Brunswick record store (anyone remember Music In a Different Kitchen?), I picked up the 45 that since that day has been a fave, and that you are downloading as we speak.
‘The World Has Changed’ b/w ‘All Around the World’ revealed itself as a winner from the second that the needle hit the wax. The topside is a punishing sonic assault that runs the Yardbirds through a blender with the MC5, that with steller production by Richard Mazda verily leapt from the turntable directly into the listeners brain.
The flip – the tune that introduced me to Little Willie John – was a supercharged cover of Titus Turner’s ‘All Around the World’ (aka ‘Grits Ain’t Groceries’). All told one of the finest 45s to be produced by ANY band during the 1980’s, and sorrowfully (nay DISGRACEFULLY) out of print.
Through the 80’s I saw the Fleshtones (one of the truly great live bands I’ve ever had the privilege of seeing) many times, though the show that stands out for me was a sparsely attended – but no less blistering – show at a place called the Green Parrot in Neptune, NJ. The club, where I also saw the Dickies, Pylon, Screaming Tribesman and a grip of other amazing bands, was for a brief period an oasis of “alternative” music, where many touring bands would stop on an off-night between New York and Philadelphia.
That long ago night I walked out of the Green Parrot drenched in sweat, with a huge smile on my face, the Fleshtones’ set list in one hand and Peter Zaremba’s harmonica in the other.
At the time a good portion of the audience was known to the band – if not by name, then by face – as we were all denizens of the New York City garage scene. If I have a bone to pick with Bonomo’s book it’s that those few years in the mid-80’s, when the streets of New York City were crawling with bands devoted to 60’s Mod and Garage sounds, to whom the Fleshtones were most definitely godfathers – are pretty much neglected in the book. The Vipers (who’s leader Jon Weiss played sax on the Fleshtones ‘Roman Gods’ LP) are mentioned, as are Fleshtones offshoots like the Love Delegation*, yet the vibrant scene that yielded the Fuzztones, Outta Place, Mod Fun, Cheepskates is glossed over. There is some mention of the higher-profile ‘Paisley Underground’ bands out in Cali, and oddly enough later bands like the Strokes and White Stripes, yet the NYC garage scene, which may very well not have happened without a band like the Fleshtones didn’t get much play.
Either way, it’s still a fantastic book, and if it does anything to get the word out about the Fleshtones, who are still a going concern today, then all the better.
Until IRS (or whoever controls their catalogue) gets off the pot and reissues the classic early 80’s Fleshtones material, you can troll the interwebs for OG vinyl, or you can take advantage of the late-era stuff that is available on botheMusic and Itunes for download.
*I saw the Love Delegation a couple of times, and they were a tremendous amount of fun. In a bizarre twist, years later one of their singers, Micheal Ullman ended up working with me for short time in the composing room of a local newspaper.