CARBONA YOUR ENTHUSIASM (20)
August 20, 2020
One in a series of 25 enthusiastic posts, contributed by 25 HILOBROW friends and regulars, on the topic of our favorite punk songs, c. 1974–1983.
“DREAM OF ’63” | THE POP RIVETS | 1979
Billy Childish has more records on my shelf than does any other musician, including Nina Simone, Miles Davis, Abdullah Ibrahim, and Morton Feldman, who are also on the high end of my collection spectrum. Given that these days I mostly listen to the subtle variations of refrigerators humming (né sound art), this vinyl census data sometimes surprises me.
Then I recall how obsessed I was with Childish back in the 1990s. How textured the instrumentation of his songs was (and remains) to me, how potent his voice, how stripped-bare the arrangements. It’s bluesy and ragged and personal; it rages even when it’s quiet. And he’s obsessed, too. He records the same rhythms, the same songs, over and over. Like Agnes Martin honed lines. Like M.C. Escher etched lizards. Like Chuck Close paints his own face. (In his visual art, Childish also has a thing for painting his own face, though it often looks like Vincent van Gogh’s face.) Billy Childish’s music sounds to me like Carol Swain’s comics read to me — simultaneously resolute and dissolute, unrepentant and penitent, erotic and hermetic. Punk is if anything a mass of contradictions — contradictions that, frankly, generally hold little interest to me. Except when they do, and in Childish’s music they most certainly do.
Billy Childish was nearing 20 when the Pop Rivets, the first of his many (so many) bands, recorded their first album, cheekily titled Greatest Hits. Little did he or anyone else know at the time that the concept of a Billy Childish “hits” collection would, as decades proceeded, become an impossible task. If you release 150 records, your greatest hits will be a box set.
And likely none of this album’s dozen songs would make the cut. There’s barely an original moment here, filled as it is with elements lifted from the Clash, the Beatles, the Jam, and countless garage bands. It’s also a lot of fun. A whole lotta. “Dream of ’63” (the year Childish turned 4, for the record) comes two thirds of the way through: a flurry of guitar before the band doubles the speed, before he sprays a spittoon’s worth of unintelligible lyrics. When Childish screams, it’s not aggression; it’s an opportunity to buy himself a break from a perceived need to maintain a steady diet of staccato spasms. When the guitar picks up the pace, it’s a silhouette of frenzy. The evident desire to break free of rock’n’roll (to break rock’n’roll), however, is gratifying and persuasive.
To listen to “Dream of ’63” today is to have a sweet daydream of ’79, to listen back to when Childish’s music — more to the point, the music to which his music then aspired — was overly eager, self-consciously busy. I listen to it now for split-second aural glimpses at how less busy his music would become over the years, how expertly Childish would chart a course to coarseness, to roughness, to an inspired economical efficiency that deserves, I imagine, to be called punk.
CARBONA YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2020): Series introduction by Josh Glenn | Mimi Lipson on Flipper’s “Sex Bomb” | James Parker on The Jam’s “Going Underground” | Dan Fox on The Cramps’ “Human Fly” | Adrienne Crew on Bad Brains’ “I and I Survive” | Devin McKinney on Romeo Void’s “Never Say Never” | Deb Chachra on The Buzzcocks’ “Ever Fallen in Love” | Mark Kingwell on The Demics’ “New York City” | Jessamyn West on Dead Kennedys’ “Kill the Poor” | Douglas Wolk on The Homosexuals’ “Soft South Africans” | Josh Glenn on The Freeze’s “This is Boston, Not L.A.” | Stephanie Burt on Sorry’s “Imaginary Friend” | Luc Sante on Public Image Ltd.’s “Public Image” | Miranda Mellis on X-Ray Spex’s “Oh Bondage! Up Yours!” | Adam McGovern on The Clash’s “Washington Bullets” | Mandy Keifetz on Germs’ “Forming” | Gordon Dahlquist on The Sex Pistols’ “Problems” | Anthony Miller on The Soft Boys’ “I Wanna Destroy You” | Deborah Wassertzug on The Mekons’ “Where Were You?” | Tor Aarestad on Gang of Four’s “Return the Gift” | Marc Weidenbaum on The Pop Rivets’ “Dream of ’63” | David Smay on The Rezillos’ “(My Baby Does) Good Sculptures” | Vanessa Berry on The Cure’s “So What” | Chelsey Johnson on The Slits’ “Typical Girls” | Lynn Peril on Crass’s “Smother Love” | Mike Watt on The Dils’ “You’re Not Blank”.
FERB YOUR ENTHUSIASM (1Q2021): Animated TV series. CARBONA YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2020): “Sex Bomb” | “Going Underground” | “Soft South Africans” | “Typical Girls” | “Human Fly” & 20 other Seventies (1974–1983) punk singles. KLAATU YOU (2020 weekly): ZARDOZ | METROPOLIS | DARK STAR | SINS OF THE FLESHAPOIDS | SOLARIS | & dozens of other pre-STAR WARS sci-fi movies. CONVOY YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2019): THE TAKING OF PELHAM ONE TWO THREE | ROLLERBALL | BLACK SUNDAY | SORCERER | STRAIGHT TIME | & 20 other Seventies (1974–1983) action movies. SERIOCOMIC (2019 weekly): LITTLE LULU | VIZ | MARSUPILAMI | ERNIE POOK’S COMEEK | HELLBOY | & dozens of other comics. TUBE YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2018): LOONEY TUNES | THREE STOOGES | THE AVENGERS | ROCKY & BULLWINKLE | THE TWILIGHT ZONE | & 20 other Fifties (1954–1963) TV shows. WOWEE ZOWEE (2018 weekly): UNISEX | UNDER THE PINK | DUMMY | AMOR PROHIBIDO | HIPS AND MAKERS | & dozens of other Nineties (1994–2003) albums. KLUTE YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2017): THE KILLERS | BANDE À PART (BAND OF OUTSIDERS) | ALPHAVILLE | HARPER | BLOW-UP | & 20 other Sixties (1964–1973) neo-noir movies. #SQUADGOALS (2017 weekly): THE WILD BUNCH | BOWIE’S BAND | THE BLOOMSBURY GROUP | THE HONG KONG CAVALIERS | VI ÄR BÄST! & dozens of other squads. GROK MY ENTHUSIASM (2016 weekly): THE THEORY AND PRACTICE OF LUNCH | WEEKEND | MILLION YEAR PICNIC | LA BARONNE EMILE D’ERLANGER | THE SURVIVAL SAMPLER | & dozens more one-off enthusiasms. QUIRK YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2016): “Tainted Love” | “Metal” | “Frankie Teardrop” | “Savoir Faire” | “Broken English” | & 20 other Seventies (1974–1983) new wave singles. CROM YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2015): DARKER THAN YOU THINK | THE SWORD IN THE STONE | OUT OF THE SILENT PLANET | THIEVES’ HOUSE | QUEEN OF THE BLACK COAST | & 20 other Thirties (1934–1943) fantasy novels. KERN YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2014): ALDINE ITALIC | DATA 70 | TORONTO SUBWAY | JOHNSTON’S “HAMLET” | TODD KLONE | & 20 other typefaces. HERC YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2013): “Spoonin’ Rap” | “Rapper’s Delight” | “Rappin’ Blow” | “The Incredible Fulk” | “The Adventures of Super Rhyme” | & 20 other Seventies (1974–1983) hip-hop songs. KIRK YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2012): Justice or vengeance? | Kirk teaches his drill thrall to kiss | “KHAAAAAN!” | “No kill I” | Kirk browbeats NOMAD | & 20 other Captain Kirk scenes. KIRB YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2011): THE ETERNALS | BLACK MAGIC | DEMON | OMAC | CAPTAIN AMERICA | & 20 other Jack Kirby panels.