Birthday Loot 2022.

Time for the annual roundup of birthday goodies! My wonderful wife got me (with some trepidation) Jonathan Smele’s The ‘Russian’ Civil Wars 1916-1926: Ten Years That Shook the World — she’s a little worried that, added to the state of the world and our nightly reading of War and Peace, it might push me over the brink, but I assured her I wouldn’t let it drive me to despair. After all, I own (and have read) three other books about the Civil War, so I’m well aware of the horrors involved. This book puts the war in a wider context, both temporally and geographically, with more emphasis on the non-Russian parts of the (former) empire than is usual, and I can’t wait to read it.

Other gifts: Keith Gessen’s novel A Terrible Country, which has gotten great reviews; a DVD of Godard’s Une femme mariée (A Married Woman), which especially excited me because it’s the last missing piece from my run of his pre-Mao ’60s movies and will be coming up soon in my retrospective (see this post); Maxim D. Shrayer’s The World of Nabokov’s Stories; Cixin Liu’s The Wandering Earth (I enjoyed his Three-body Problem trilogy, so I’m looking forward to it); and from my generous and punk-loving brother, Ork Records: New York, New York — I may not belong to the Blank Generation, but I love its music.

I guess this is a good place to list all my Godard DVDs, since I’m not likely to get any more in the near future (when will they issue Passion and Éloge de l’amour in a format I can use? and when will Criterion get around to Histoire(s) du cinéma??): À bout de souffle (Breathless), Une femme est une femme (A Woman Is a Woman), Vivre sa vie (My Life to Live), Le Petit soldat (The Little Soldier), Les Carabiniers (The Carabineers), Le Mépris (Contempt), Bande à part (Band of Outsiders), Une femme mariée (A Married Woman), Alphaville, Pierrot le Fou, Masculin Féminin (Masculine Feminine), Made in U.S.A., 2 ou 3 choses que je sais d’elle (Two or Three Things I Know About Her), La Chinoise, Week-end, Sauve qui peut (la vie) (Every Man for Himself), Prénom Carmen (First Name: Carmen), Détective, Adieu au Langage (Goodbye to Language). And God still lives, at 91!

Update (Jan. 2023). I have since added Soigne ta droite, Film Socialisme, and Le Livre d’image, and have sent away for a three-disc set that includes Passion. And God is dead.


  1. J.W. Brewer says

    The first person to self-identify as belonging to the Blank Generation was of course Richard Hell (born Oct. 2, 1949 sub nom. Meyers), and I daresay you can’t differ from him enough in age to really be in a different generation? Terry Ork’s wiki bio does not give a year of birth, but some other googling reveals that he graduated from high school in 1961, so you can do the math from that …

  2. Oh, well, chronologically I might squeeze in there, but I never felt Blank — I’ll stick with my Boomer cred, thanks.

  3. J.W. Brewer says

    While the punk v. hippie thing can be easily narrated like a generational transition, it was more broadly speaking an intra-Boomer faction fight. The oldest member of the Ramones (Johnny) was less than a year younger than the youngest member of the original-lineup Grateful Dead (Bobby). But I accept the point that only a minority of 1949-born Americans felt Blankness as their factional identity.

    When the future Richard Hell first met the future Tom Verlaine as a teenage boarding school classmate, I was living barely ten miles away, but I was maybe a year old when they both got expelled for various colorful disciplinary violations, still trying to transition from crawling to walking, so those dudes are certainly not *my* generation.

  4. While the punk v. hippie thing can be easily narrated like a generational transition, it was more broadly speaking an intra-Boomer faction fight.

    Cf. Mods v. Rockers.

  5. OK, Blanker.

  6. more broadly speaking an intra-Boomer faction fight

    Eh. You’re comparing the earliest punks with the crest of the baby boom. Darby Crash (b. 1958), Jello Biafra (b. 1958), etc. were very much post-Woodstock, and grew up in an era of boomers already reminiscing of their glory days.

    That is from a U.S. perspective, but the same would go for John Lydon (1956), Poly Styrene (1957), David Vanian (1956), etc.

  7. cuchuflete says

    ¡Feliz cumple, chaval!

  8. J.W. Brewer says

    @: Y: Darby/Jello/Lydon/Poly are all ancient-ish Boomers (modulo the having-died-young thing) to me, even though I can conceptually see the distinction between born-’47 and born-’57. You need to get into the earlyish ’80’s before I can directly identify with punk(ish) bands generationally. E.g., Black Flag drummer Bill Stevenson (not their original drummer, but in the lineup I saw when I was 18) is less than two years older than me, and Replacements bassist Tommy Stinson (in the classic lineup I first saw when I was 19) is a year younger than me. I was 18 when Dan Stuart (then aged 22) proposed the “Brave Generation” as a post-Blank organizing principle that would presumably encompass the both of us, but it didn’t catch on.

  9. OK, but I think those guys saw themselves in 1977 as belonging to quite a different generation from the boomers.

  10. J.W. Brewer says

    @Y: yeah yeah, and Serbs sincerely think they’re very different from Croats and vice versa. Doesn’t mean that I, as an outsider to the situation, have to believe their self-centered narrative(s), although of course I need to take it into account in understanding their behavior.

    There’s a fine-if-minor Mott the Hoople song (written by Overend Watts, not by Ian) called “Born Late ’58.” Which may have made sense in ’74, but my scorched-earth Gen X attitude is that born in ’58 is born kinda early. You mIght as well be my parents (both born in ’38), or perhaps a member of the Beatles or something equally old and uncool.

  11. Wait, was there truly a time when children by the millions thought of Alex Chilton? Till I followed your Ork Records link I’d never heard the name anywhere but the Replacements song.

  12. Oh man, if you don’t know Big Star you have a treat coming. #1 Record and Radio City are simply wonderful.

  13. J.W. Brewer says

    @Ryan: well, no. Definitely not by the millions. Maybe by the tens of thousands. The whole historical irony of the first two Big Star albums is that they *sound* like they should have been million-sellers because there’s nothing particularly edgy or abrasive or “difficult” about the sound and the style is broadly consonant with that of e.g. Badfinger and the Raspberries who were doing well commercially at the time. (I.e., just because it didn’t sound like Jethro Tull or whatever didn’t mean there wasn’t a market for it.) But for whatever snakebit reasons, they were commercial disasters with a small but intense cult following.

    The first solo EP he did for Ork in ’77 was divisive even among that cult following, since it reflected a shift into a punk-adjacent loose/sloppy/spontaneous style without the harmonic power-pop shimmer of the earlier work (the 3d Big Star record, which is in its own unique style which may be more of an acquired taste, had been recorded but not yet released at that point). He did more loose-and-sloppy stuff in the late ’70’s as well as production work (I probably first saw his name circa ’80 as the producer credit when I bought the Cramps’ “Gravest Hits” EP), before disappearing almost entirely from the music biz for the first half of the ’80’s.

    He had a pretty good cult-artist comeback starting around ’85 with the Feudalist Tarts and No Sex EP’s, which I would commend to your attention and which got him college-radio (although not mainstream-commercial) airplay before the Replacements song came out in ’87.

  14. J.W. Brewer says

    To switch off the Ork Records subset of your loot, I am mildly frustrated to learn that while the N.Y. Public Library unsurprisingly owns a copy or two of the Smele book, it does not have a hard copy available in the circulating collection. It does have an e-book version you can digitally check out and read on your screen at home if you’ve got a library card, but I’m enough of a Luddite as to not particularly enjoy that experience and don’t have enough free time during library-open hours to go down to the research collection and read a book that thick while sitting there in the library.

  15. That is annoying. Maybe try Brooklyn or Queens? They have different collections, if I recall correctly.

  16. Oh, and as for being thick — there’s only about 250 pages of text, with a whole lot of notes and bibliography, so if worst comes to worst it won’t take as long to read as you fear.

  17. When I was a post-doc at Indiana University, I would sometimes walk the four blocks down Kirkwood Avenue to the library and just read there for a while. When I was stuck on a scientific problem, it could be useful to take an hour or two to think about something totally different. I would take a book from the stacks, read for a couple hours, then reshelve it and pick it up again the next time. I read Scott Turow’s memoir about Harvard Law School, One-L that way, plus some other books I no longer recall.

  18. John Cowan says

    born in ’58 is born kinda early

    That would be me (and so I am 64[*] today), and of course by the same token real Boomers would see me as born kinda late: how not? This suits me: in any case, in those days my music was classical and my attitudes idiosyncratic. These things are still true, although I have added other preferences and beliefs since. The notion that some large number of people might like what I like, except by accident, would strike me as bizarre at any time in my life.

    [*] Gale was going to feed me breakfast, but she didn’t feel up to it, so I made breakfast, as I have been doing almost every day since the start of the pandemic.

  19. Rodger C says

    Brett, are you really old enough to have been a postdoc when the library was near Kirkwood? Or did I misread that?

  20. [*] Gale was going to feed me breakfast, but she didn’t feel up to it
    As long as she still needs you and doesn’t lock the door, all is well 😉
    @LH: Has another year passed? Herzlichen Glückwunsch zum Geburtstag!

  21. Has another year passed? Herzlichen Glückwunsch zum Geburtstag!

    I know, unbelievable… and vielen Dank!

  22. Trond Engen says

    More birthdays? Happy birthday to all!

  23. @Rodger C: As far as I know, the main public library is on Kirkwood to this day. It was more convenient to where I worked than the main university library.

  24. Rodger C says

    Oh, the MCPL! Sorry.

  25. Serbs sincerely think they’re very different from Croats and vice versa.

    I am a little younger than you but the divide seemed quite sharp at the time. When I was a kid in the 1977 I thought people born in the 1940s – who had real memories of rock n roll in the 1950s but were young enough to smoke pot and at least consider going to Woodstock – were the archetypal “boomers”. I.e. my parents. The generation born in the late 1950s was very different, and obviously so to us at the time. In my more provincial America, the divide was not punk but arena rock (as well as attitudes toward recreational use of hard drugs). Our older siblings – say 1958-1962- loved Led Zeppelin, AC/DC, Van Halen, Aerosmith, etc. My parents and their contemporaries mostly detested those bands. Now of course that 1940s war generation is no longer recognized as “boomer”, although someone born in 1942 has a lot more in common with someone born in 1949 than someone born in 1949 has with someone born in 1958.

  26. got him college-radio (although not mainstream-commercial) airplay before the Replacements song came out in ’87

    I assume not coincidentally, Alex played at a lot of campuses on the strength of that song. I saw him at Yale in 1987- I want to say in Commons. I remember that show being well after the Replacement’s single had become part of our standard playlist – but you are right “Alex Chilton” was released in June 1987 so the show could at most have been four or five months later, although that is still an eternity when you are 20 years old.

  27. happy birthdays! biz a hundert tsvantsik!

  28. J.W. Brewer says

    1. I may have been too rigorist and harsh toward the 1958-born like John Cowan, some of whom were at least able to fill a cool-older-brother role for my cohort. I think in that regard particularly of the much-loved and much-missed D. Boon (4/1/58-12/22/85), whose tragic death was the leading candidate for The Day the Music Died in my little cohort of just-turning-twenty underground-rock enthusiasts.

    2. Vanya: I played in my New Haven days a lot of songs with objectively quite offensive lyrics over the New Rock 94 airwaves, but Alex Chilton’s “No Sex” (a somewhat jaunty and sarcastic song about AIDS that might well have been criticized as “too soon”) holds the distinction of being the only one to actually draw an angry phone call from a listener unhappy we were putting that sort of thing on the air, probably some time in ’86 although it could have been early ’87. Although I think for some reason I was doing a New-Rockish shift outside our usual 11pm – 3am timeslot when listeners were perhaps more self-selected for being unlikely to take offense at the Butthole Surfers or whoever.

  29. D. Boon (4/1/58-12/22/85), whose tragic death was the leading candidate for The Day the Music Died in my little cohort of just-turning-twenty underground-rock enthusiasts.

    I remember that day well — I think (though I’m probably forgetting something) that it was the last rock death that really shook me up. A few years later, Cobain’s death meant nothing to me (though of course I have sympathy for those for whom it was The Day the Music Died).

  30. J.W. Brewer says

    @hat: the death the following autumn of Paul O’Halloran of the Dogmatics (+10/23/86; I can’t immediately google up his exact date of birth although he was reportedly 26 when he died) was a TDTMD competitor for me, although I accept that they were a more regional act and not as formally innovative/revolutionary/”important” as D.’s band had been. But total Boston-Irish sweethearts and cool dudes who lived and died for rock n roll, to rip off a phrase from Neil Young. But yeah, the Cobain thing didn’t affect me emotionally although I can understand how for people 10 years younger than me it might have been the Worst Thing Ever.

  31. Rock-n-roll’s dead, but I am not yet.

    Stay alive! Будьмо!

  32. i’m inclined to think that Days The Music Died are as much regional as they are generational. my crew of boston-area punks(/hardcore kids/metalheads/goths/ska kids), all deeply committed to the local scene of the early 1990s (whether as musicians or audience) was thoroughly unmoved by cobain’s death. a musician from the pacific northwest, who we only encountered through a major-label “breakthrough”, didn’t matter to us at all. the only memorialization i remember was some slightly younger friends changing their band’s sarcastic name from The McVeighs to The Dead Cobains – which was decidedly not an act of mourning. the boston scene is notoriously parochial, but i think as a difference of degree rather than kind from other medium-sized cities with strong subcultures: i never met anyone who cobain’s death affected deeply until getting to know folks who grew up on the west coast.

  33. I was in Russia when Cobain died and remember being a little surprised how much coverage it got. The last Boston death that I remember upsetting people was Mark Sandman.

    Rozele – you may remember Mikey Dee, although I think that was a smaller circle.

  34. John Cowan says

    Most of the musicians who mattered to me were long dead, although there are exceptions like Stan Rogers.

  35. I remember Cobain’s death mostly because of my friends’ mockery of the anguished responses coming from a small minority of Nirvana superfans. I probably heard about Stan Rogers’ death when it happened, but I was much younger, and I don’t remember.

  36. For any other upsides of rock’n’roll, there’s something to be said about picking musical heroes who are not likely to die young. A few of mine did pass away just this spring — Klaus Schulze and Vangelis, if anyone’s keeping track — but them having made it to their 70s, or me having made it long enough to see a few other people die already anyway, it’s no longer coming as a great shock. For that matter even if they may have been personally still alive and around, the music of theirs that mattered to me was already half a lifetime in the past anyway.

    A Blank Generation I think I’ve never even heard of before this post…

  37. I think it was pretty much restricted to the Lower East Side of New York City.

  38. January First-of-May says

    Most of the musicians who mattered to me were long dead, although there are exceptions

    Most of the musicians who mattered to me had their main activity periods a long time ago, usually before my birth; whether they were nominally still alive was a separate and rarely relevant question. Some of them (notably Tom Lehrer) still are; at least one of them, Yuliy Kim (b. 1936), ended up doing a live performance in my school (which I attended). I think a few died in the 2010s, though offhand I can’t name anyone in particular.

    I agree that Vysotsky, Tsoi, and (I guess) John Lennon died far earlier than they should have. (Don’t know enough about Kurt Cobain’s music to count him on the same level.) All three deaths happened before I was born; if there was ever a Day The Music Died, I wasn’t (yet) alive to see it.
    Lately I’m discovering (through my brother) musicians of far more recent times, and maybe if some of them end up dying I’d be sad. AFAIK that hadn’t happened yet.

  39. J.W. Brewer says

    The fame of the Blank Generation and/or Richard Hell in generic American suburbia of the late ’70’s was perhaps marginal, but it nonetheless equaled or exceeded that of Klaus Schulze and probably also (when still in the ’70’s proper) of Vangelis, who only became a known name in American suburbia after he first started collaborating w/ Jon Anderson and then did that big-hit-movie soundtrack thing.

  40. J.W. Brewer says

    One can easily agree that Lennon died far too young just on the general basis that death by homicide at age 40 is nearly always regrettable. However, the implicit premise that Lennon would have made additional music of high quality had he lived longer seems to me a fantasy when one looks at the actual post-1980 output of his fellow ex-Beatles not to mention virtually every other member of his generational cohort of first-wave British Invaders once they hit 40. (Van Morrison is one notable exception – Ray Davies still wrote some good new material into the early ’80’s but he had started quite young and was still in his late thirties.)

    I will say more generally that none of the ’80’s Days the Music Died were quite the same as the locus classicus Don McLean/Boomer mythology, because we felt sad for the fallen comrade but just kept on going forward, as if in wartime or something. The underground/post-punk artistic movement could withstand any number of incidental casualties along the way. The “American Pie” mythos is part of the false Boomer-mentor-intellectual construct claiming that the original wave of rock n roll lost momentum and fell into decline when Buddy Holly died (and Elvis went into the army and Chuck Berry went into prison etc), leading to approximately five years of torpor and stasis from which the British Invasion (plus Dylan Going Electric) rescued us. This is fabricated court history by people with an axe to grind. The era of the Bristol Stomp and Runaround Sue and Surfin’ Bird and Louie Louie has nothing to apologize for.

  41. PlasticPaddy says

    What I understood was not a change in the quality of the music, but a change in the style of the fans (also some of the artists) from “cool” to “mainstream”. Here is John Lennon (grinding his axe, but I think there is probably a good deal of truth in it) as quoted in the Washington Post:

    “When we got here, you were all walking around in Bermuda shorts, with Boston crew cuts and stuff on your teeth. There was no conception of dress or any of that jazz. We just thought ‘What an ugly race,’ it looked disgusting. We thought how hip we were, but of course, we weren’t. The Stones were the hip ones — the rest of England were just the same as they ever were.”

  42. J.W. Brewer says

    @PlasticP: caring more about wardrobe and hairstyle than about music is a very English perspective … It’s like teenage boys in England decided to be Teddy Boys or Mods or Rockers or skinheads or punks or ska-revivalists or Goths or whatever based on the look first, and then agreed to pretend to like whatever music was supposed to go with that look. “There’s no youth culture, only masks they let you rent,” as one cynic from Swindon said.

  43. David Marjanović says

    I don’t think that’s limited to England or to boys or indeed to teenagers.

  44. I agree with DM.

  45. @Vanya: mikey dee of The Noise and WMFO! took me a minute to bring him to mind (i was already a few years out of boston when he got sick, and was more from the Pit Report side of the local music fanzine ecosystem), but an absolutely central figure for the scene!

    and mark sandman’s death was certainly a big one for me! Morphine held an interesting place in the boston scene – heroin groove music that jazz-loving punks and hardcore kids could enjoy. dana colley’s baritone sax alongside sandman’s bass was what got my crew into the room, though, since we were listening to mid-/late-period mingus (next to Heretix, 999, Think Tree, Cobalt 60, and Fields of the Nephilim).

  46. Good lord, I just learned (from the booklet in the Ork Records CD set) that the song “Blank Generation” was based on (or ripped off of, as you prefer) Bob McFadden And Dor’s “The Beat Generation” (1959, the B side of “The Mummy” — the first single Tom Verlaine ever bought)! Also, “Dor” was Rod McKuen.

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