Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Vinyl Vacation: L.A.M.F. Revisited - The Heartbreakers

Doesn't the world of pop music ever seem hopelessly expansive to anyone else? And by "hopelessly", I of course mean "thrillingly"... unless it's the first one.

The thing about being an intellectually inquisitive (at times veering dangerously towards acquisitive) person, especially in the 21st century is that there will always be infinitely more stuff to know than anyone, even one guided by supposedly impeccably high standards of taste could possibly hope to take in. So even as someone who's spent far more time than most reasonably socialized people diving into snobby depths of various strands of pop, punk, hip-hop, R&B, folk, indie and whatever else meets my very high and somewhat arbitrary standards of worthy music, I still have more glaring gaps in my knowledge than I like having to admit.

Just as declaring oneself a history major makes one keenly self-aware of the vast amount of recorded humanity of which you have only the very faintest hints of knowledge, writing semi-seriously about music will drive the self-aggrandizing intellectual into spasms of guilt over their own shortcomings.

Punk was one of my earliest musical loves (or, should I say, quote-unquote "serious" musical loves) but even within its confines I have large gaps. I'm great on pub rock, proto-punk, sprit of '77 UK stuff, American '80s underground (maybe a little light on hardcore but not embarrassingly so) and, of course, most of the big name/reputation stuff since the second Bush administration. But even that leaves something to be desired and one of my many musical projects in recent years has been to buff up on my early NYC punk. Sure I knew my way around the Ramones, the Heads and Television but there were so many groups (New York Dolls? Dead Boys?) that clocked in with barely more than a line and maybe one song in my mental encyclopedia entries.

It was with this ridiculous sense of self-important record nerd guilt rattling in the back of my poor, overworked subconscious when last year I stumbled across a copy of the Heartbreakers sole record L.A.M.F. in Logan Hardware last spring. I new little about the band other than stories about Johnny Thunders or Richard Hell and that they did a mean version of "Chinese Rocks" and that Jeff Tweedy, in his salad days, responded to a record exec's suggestion that they sound Tom Petty's version to suggest that they preferred the original. This seemed more than pedigree enough.

Experiencing this record for the first time on vinyl was one of those sickeningly rewarding experiences that you hate vinyl lovers for waxing on about until you become one. First of all, it was a picture disc. I normally find this kinda tack but in this case "tacky" is pretty much the perfect aesthetic. Named after a graffiti tag which stands for the already junior high yearbookish phrase "Like A Mother Fucker", the album is a big sloppy mess of sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll whose attitude practically begs for treatment with sneering action pics and stylized bright pink lettering. Indeed, a picture disc wrapped in two clear plastic wrappers seemed far more fitting than a cardboard cover, collector-ready white sleeve and stuffy set of reissue liner notes.

I decided to hold up on my usual procedure of doing homework on any new album before dropping the needle and just started playing L.A.M.F. as soon as I got it home. As I did, I was blow away by just how delightfully unrestrained these songs seemed and didn't end up getting around to learn its backstory until about six months later. In the meantime I'd fallen in love with this early punk gem. I loved the way the guitars sliced and buzzed, I loved the singalong choruses, I loved straightforward, damn-the-torpedoes songwriting that neither pulled punches giving it the kind of don't-give-a-fuck reckless honesty that makes raw rock 'n' roll great.
Eventually I would start playing my rock critic game of spotting its later influences which included everything from the Replacements ("Born To(o) Lo(o)se") to the Stiff Little Fingers ("Get Off The Phone") and beyond But before I started doing that, I was able to just loose myself in the fun and fury of an undiscovered gem of the early punk years. There is something so satisfying at being totally blown away by a great record from the past and trying to imagine just how ridiculous it would have been hearing this during the Ford administration. And it was incredibly not mediating this through the iTunes scree, the writing deadline, the Wikipedia article and allowing myself to just take it in. As music. Music to enjoy because it was there. Throwing on the Heartbreakers' cover of "Do You Love Me?" or their endearingly enthusiastic romp through "Chinese Rocks" became a treat to be enjoyed upon returning home, a blaring, distorted oasis from not just life, the job, etc. but also from omnipresent, deadline music.

18 months after purchase, L.A.M.F. remains one of my go-to Saturday night pre-gaming albums and, even after delving more deeply into its backstory (and relating music), I still enjoy being able to burn through 40 minutes of mindless post-adolescent debauchery without turning on the old brain too much. If I'm ever in trouble of doing that all I have to do is start staring at the pretty pink lettering on the disc and start watching it spin around and around and around. It makes me kinda dizzy but I kinda like that. Why shouldn't an album give you at least that much?

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