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MUSIC» The Top 30 Albums of 2010 - Fashionably, fabulously late, our favorite music (and believe me, there was a LOT) of 2010, the year that some have called the best year for music ever. And only some of those fools work here. Plenty of usual suspects, lots of ties and a few surprises that I won't spoil, including our unexpected #1.
MUSIC» Live: Surfer Blood/The Drums at Lincoln Hall, Chicago, IL - Remember when Weezer used to put together records that you could sing along to and rock out to? That's what Surfer Blood's show was like!
Branded with its trademark "dead fish" logo, the arty, noise-mongering Flipper just said "No" to the accelerated speed of hardcore and went about grinding through viscous, oil-stained tempos and bleak sonic landscapes in long-out-of-print recordings that laid the groundwork for the grunge explosion of the 1990s.
Left to his own devices, Ted Falconi, Flipper's resident handyman, would thatch together dense, alien thickets of noise that seemed at odds with what everybody else in the band was doing. It's entirely possible that he was channeling the suppressed memories of chaotic skirmishes with the Viet Cong.
"From some understanding from him, [he was] in a pretty special place as far as operations and forces went," says Flipper bassist Bruce Loose. "I'll just leave it at that."
Breaking the mysterious Falconi code is, for all intents and purposes, impossible. And in a musical environment where imitation as a form of flattery has run amok, a true original like Falconi - and for that matter, Flipper - was a breath of fresh air.
"You couldn't get Ted to play regular guitar," says Loose.
Flipper drummer Steve DePace agrees. "He is no doubt the most, or one of the most, unique guitar players in the world. There is no one who can decipher what it is he is doing. You can't copy the notes he plays or the chords he plays, because he may be playing some chords that are familiar, but he plays them in a way that no one else plays them. He plays them sort of backwards and inside out."
That spirit of DIY innovation extends to Falconi's gear. "He would buy an amp and then hot-rod it out. You know, change the parts, customize it, and use all those different, bizarre distortion things on it and whatnot. I've never heard any other guitar amp do this, but his guitar amp used to pick up radio signals, and we would laugh, because it was always picking up the same jazz station, like in the spot where we rehearsed. And depending on where we were, whether it was at a gig or in a club or something, he would pick up whatever radio station was in the area. And there were never quiet moments between songs. I mean, his guitar was always alive and kicking. When he wasn't playing, there was feedback screaming out of his guitar, or amp that is, and you know, it kind of drove you crazy after awhile."
Flipper, as a band, had that effect on people as well. Formed from the wreckage of Bay Area hardcore bashers Negative Trend - a band that featured DePace and Flipper's deceased former vocalist/bassist Will Shatter - near the end of the '70s, Flipper's slowed take on punk was, in essence, the sound of the drug residue and debris The Stooges left behind in a Detroit dumpster post-breakup. It could be ugly and menacing, but the bruised droning was also irresistibly hypnotic.
"People used to say about Flipper that Flipper was the band you loved to hate," says a gleeful DePace. "We went against the grain. Once everything went hardcore thrash, we were grungy and slow. Carlo McCormick [friend of the band] said people would go to the show and complain and bitch about this and that, but they were at every single show. You'd see the people who said, 'Flipper sucks.' They'd be there the next night, and they paid to see it."
A Flipper show was an experience like no other. During the second-to-last show Flipper would perform with Shatter, at the Rathskeller in Boston, Loose, after engaging in a verbal sparring match with someone in the crowd, was kicked in the groin from behind by a combat boot-wearing female punk. "I saw his face, with that instant pain, you know," laughs DePace. "It was beyond description, and his face turned as white as a ghost, and she ran back in the audience. And in a nanosecond, he collected himself and jumped in the audience after her, and that's when the whole riot ensued. I mean, it was like a cowboy movie where a brawl starts in a saloon, where everybody's fighting and breaking chairs over each other's heads."
Then, one time at the Hotel Utah in Flipper's hometown of San Francisco, DePace recalls Loose and Falconi brawling on the floor. Another time, an hour-long show was neatly divided into 45 minutes of fighting and 10 minutes of playing the band's trademark song, "Sex Bomb."
"We were out with The Dwarves on tour, and - this happened quite a bit - we were fighting among ourselves, and The Dwarves used to like to fight members of the audience," laughs DePace. "And they were drinking at the bar one night, and they said, 'What's wrong with you guys? You're not supposed to beat each other up. You're supposed to beat up other people."
One of the band's early singles, "Sex Bomb" was paired with "Brainwash" on a Subterranean label release. Before that, Flipper issued the disturbing "Love Canal"/"Ha Ha Ha" single, its first recording. Album, which also goes by the title Generic Flipper, was the group's first full-length, and its mix of drone and atonal noise squalls made it a punk classic. But, it is "Sex Bomb," the song that put Flipper on the map, that triggered the most interesting critical reactions.
"Flipper was always big on audience participation, especially during 'Sex Bomb,' and the kids would jump onstage and jump around and scream, 'Sex bomb baby, yeah!' into the microphone, and this punk guy and punk girl kind of slammed into each other right in front of the drum riser," remembers DePace. "And the girl fell down, and the guy fell on top of her, and they just started screwing."
While Flipper could sneer at a Ronald Reagan America with disdain and articulate the disenfranchisement and alienation of the era with intelligence and a sharp wit, "Sex Bomb" was simply good, dumb fun. In the same way that The Kingsmen's version of "Louie, Louie" caught on with the frat-party circuit crowd, "Sex Bomb" is the closest punk ever got to a party anthem.
"It's the most simplistic thing," says DePace. "It's a no-brainer. 'You're my sex bomb baby, yeah!' is the entire lyrical content, you know what I mean? There's nothing complicated about that. She's a hot-looking chick. She's a sex bomb baby, yeah!"
Riding along a rumbling and simplistic, but infectious, bass line that left open space for all kinds of sound effects - " ... sirens, breaking glass, girls screaming ... we added all this crazy stuff to it that made it work," says DePace - "Sex Bomb" inspired legions of imitators, including Nirvana and other grunge-era heavyweights. "I can tell you that countless, literally countless, thousands upon thousands of kids growing up and playing in their first bands played that song," says DePace.
In fact, a radio station in Boston once did a contest where bands could submit their versions of "Sex Bomb" for what was supposed to be a two-hour show of "Sex Bomb" covers. "They got so many versions, hundreds and hundreds of tapes," recalls DePace, "that they did a full weekend marathon."
Generating more publicity was the flap with Johnny Rotten and Generic Flipper's cover art. A play on the generic foods phenomenon going at grocery stores and supermarkets back then, Generic Flipper featured a black-and-yellow generic design. A few years later, the graphics for generic foods had changed to a blue-and-white design, and Johnny Rotten and Public Image Ltd. put out their own "generic"-themed album.
"It was cool and fun, and all that, but ... I had a thought like, he copied our concept," says DePace. "We had this double-live album that was due to come out. We were putting it together and combing through songs when that PIL record came out. So, we didn't have a title for our record yet, so I said, 'We gotta answer this guy. We gotta answer this.'" And so, after playing with the words, Flipper came up with Public Flipper Limited.
Adept at playing the marketing game and doing things on the cheap, Flipper included a game board with Public Flipper Limited, and once, when PIL was first touring the States, the band got its friends to flood San Francisco radio stations with calls, begging that PIL take Flipper on as its opening act for its initial Bay Area concert. Another cost-cutting scheme from early on in the band's career found Flipper, in an effort to get free studio time, agreeing to fix up an old studio, just so they could record for minimal expense.
But after Generic Flipper, things began to go haywire for the band. Flipper began alienating itself with even an more atonal, noise graffiti sound, like that found on Gone Fishin', and Shatter eventually distanced himself from the group, forming A3I before ultimately dying of a drug overdose. Loose took it particularly hard.
"I really have mixed feelings about Will these days," says Loose, who worked closely with Shatter on writing lyrics for the band and saw Shatter as a mentor. "Knowing him, knowing the way he created and knowing what's come out of it, and working on still anything of his, I'm just like, I really liked working with him, and it took me a long time to process his death. I don't think I processed it until 2000. Our relationship was pretty deep on an intellectual level. It was creative, which is strange between two men."
Loose has had to overcome a lot more than Shatter's death. A back injury sustained in high school gymnastics, and made worse by a series of auto accidents, left him with chronic pain for more than a decade. "When I went in for my first tests, it was like, 'Oh yeah, we can tell there's nerve damage here. But it's not doing anything, so it's not anything we can fix, because we don't know where the nerve damage is,'" says Loose. "It just took years for it to continue falling apart, until one of the discs shifted completely, where you could see it on an X-ray and say, 'Oh yeah, this part of the structure is collapsing."
Recent surgery has fixed the problem, and now Loose, like Flipper, is back in form. The band has reformed with former Nirvana bassist Krist Novoselic in the fold as Shatter's replacement. But this is not the first time Flipper has attempted a comeback. Spurred on by producer Rick Rubin's interest in the band, while still embroiled in legal entanglements over its Subterranean label back catalog, Flipper released American Grafishy in 1992. Again, however, tragedy derailed the band as bassist John Dougherty died of a heroin overdose.
Flipper stayed dormant until 2005, when the group - with band friend Bruno DeSmartass on bass - reunited to play a live gig in support of legendary New York punk club CBGBs (Loose performed with a cane back then, but he now says he's back to maneuvering about the stage like he used to). More live dates followed in 2006, and a DVD of two live performances titled Flipper Live TargetVideo77 - 1980-81 [LAS feature] was released this year.
Soon, DePace hopes to get all of Flipper's out of print and unreleased material out to the public, and then Flipper can move forward, possibly with plans to record new material.
"There's been a network of bootleg tape collectors around the world who exchange tapes with each other, and Flipper tapes, and bootlegs of some of these albums that never came out... most of those records, most of them came out on vinyl. Most of them never saw digital," says DePace. "Our old record label in San Francisco, called Subterranean Records, put out all but one of those records on vinyl, and some of them have come out on cassette, and a couple of them ended up coming out on CD, but there's three or four albums out there - and now they're in the tape vaults - that need to be released digitally for the very first time, and there's one album in particular of completely unreleased material."
But, after all that's happened to Flipper, just being healthy and playing live is a minor miracle. SEE ALSO: www.myspace.com/flipper
Peter Lindblad lives in Appleton, Wis., and bleeds green and gold just like all the Packer fan nutjobs in the area. He does draw the line at wearing blocks of chedder on his head, or any other body parts for that matter, though. His professional career has taken weird twists and turns that have led him to his current position as an editor at a coin magazine. He hopes his stay there will be a short one. Before that, he worked as an associate editor at a log home magazine. To anyone that will listen, he'll swear that Shiner was one of the greatest rock bands to ever walk the earth. Yet he also has much love for Superchunk, Spoon, DJ Shadow, Swervedriver, Wilco, Fugazi, Jawbox, ... And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead, Queens Of The Stone Age, and Modest Mouse, among others.
See other articles by Peter Lindblad.
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