Változatosság

1. This Saturday, I was pleased to watch my beloved Midshipmen beat the Black Knights for the 13th straight year in the 115th Army-Navy Football Game. Army played a fine game, and it was closer than I’d like it to be, though in the end, Navy got the job done. Much respect to both teams. I root for Army every day of the year except for this one, and I admire their tenacity during a long, tough stretch in this storied rivalry for the Cadets. I had two minor annoyances during the game this year. First, I really do not like that Navy has joined the Oregon-inspired fad of changing football uniforms multiple times in a season, and I thought Navy’s uniforms in the Army-Navy Game bordered on being a distracting eyesore. I wondered if the Mids seemed a bit out of sorts in the first half because they didn’t like looking at each other, either. Please, sirs, can we return to the classic Navy Blue jerseys and solid Gold helmets, without additional adornment, next season? The second annoyance came when I went to the gym before the game and picked up our local alternative newsweekly, which contained a really obnoxious preview of the Army-Navy Game, which you can read here, if you want to. The piece was so misguided, so disrespectful, and so lacking in broader perspective that I actually sat down at halftime to write a letter to the editor complaining about it. Harrumph! Take that! Today, though, I received an e-mail informing me that my editorial e-mail was being returned unread, because the newspapers’ inbox was full. Really? Wow, I guess that’s kind of a counter-harrumph. So I’ll publish my thoughts here, instead, just for the record:

Dear Sirs:

Darren Tromblay previewed the Army-Navy Game this week as “the meaningless one that takes place every year” where “all people in the stands are dressed in long coats and wearing hats,” before offering “Don’t care? Join the majority.” I’d respectfully like to note that every player on the Army-Navy field — and all of those young men and women in the coats and hats (they’re called “uniforms”) — will be serving their nation on active duty within the next four years, and that many servicemen and women around the world (and their families at home without them) will pause on Saturday to watch the 115th edition of this great sporting tradition. While those of us who have taken an oath to support and defend our Constitution (including all of Army and Navy’s student athletes) may never comprise the majority of the local football-watching population, dismissing the Army-Navy game and all that it represents as “meaningless” displays a somewhat stunning lack of perspective. Cyclones vs Hawkeyes may be a big, meaningful deal in Iowa (though not elsewhere, sorry to report), but Army-Navy is a truly national sporting event, and it represents the best that college sports has to offer, year after year after year. That’s enough meaning for me.

Sincerely,

J. Eric Smith, Navy ’86
Des Moines
2. I’ve been binge-listening to The Stranglers and the Damned lately. Both emerged in the initial flushes of U.K. punk, though The Stranglers were a bit older and lot more musically adept than most of their peers, The Damned included. Both bands grew by leaps and bounds in the ’80s and ’90s, eventually crafting some really smart, creative rock music with some killer hooks and chops, both featuring great, forceful, baritone vocals. I don’t know why, exactly, I tend to listen to them in tandem, but when I get in the mood for one, I usually quickly jump to the other. Since I blew up my 2014 playlists, they’ve been the twin anchors of a new year’s listening (along with the excellent new AC/DC album, I should note). Here’s a preview of one of my favorite Damned songs, and then a favorite Stranglers song, in case you want to listen along:

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2 thoughts on “Változatosság

  1. I’m glad to read your praise of the Damned. I saw them perform in 2011, and that same lineup is on this year’s “Another Live Album from the Damned”. They were fun in concert, and you can hear that same attitude in the banter between songs on their new recording.

    • I saw them in 2002, when Patricia Morrison (Mrs Vanian, and former Sisters of Mercy and Gun Club) was still in the band, and they were fantastic! I think the current line-up is the same guys, with another bassist, so they must really be titanic live at this point with another decade together under their belts . . . glad you enjoyed them (and the article above!) Here’s the piece I wrote for Metroland the last time I saw them . . .

      The Damned
      Valentine’s (Albany, New York), October 8, 2002

      The Damned earned themselves a well-known and oft-quoted place in modern musical history books by issuing the U.K.’s first punk single (1976’s “New Rose”) and the first full-length British punk album, Damned Damned Damned, in 1977. A year later, after the poorly produced and dismally reviewed Music for Pleasure, the original band imploded — and that, for all intents and purposes, was the end of the Damned as a vital punk concern. But not, fortunately and gloriously, as a vital musical concern: throughout the ‘80s, the Damned issued a stellar sequence of albums, wherein they managed to channel punk’s energy into great, dark, theatrical pop music (without the cheese factor associated with most “New Wave” music of the day), while somehow also managing to cast the visual and sonic template for much of the Goth movement in the process.

      The early ‘90s found the band drifting a bit, toying with nostalgia for a spell by reuniting the original band, then working through prolonged legal and creative roadblocks rising from tension between founding members Dave Vanian (vocals) and Rat Scabies (drums). But by 1998, with Scabies out of the band (having essentially self-released the dubious and marginal Damned record Not of the Earth, over Vanian’s protests), fellow founder Captain Sensible (guitar) and Vanian built a new version of the band, featuring Patricia Morrison (onetime bassist for the Gun Club and the Sisters of Mercy), keyboardist Monty Oxy Moron, and drummer Andrew “Pinch” Pinching (ex-Janus Stark and English Dogs).

      It was this version of the band that played Valentine’s Tuesday night, touring behind their latest record, Grave Disorder, which marked the first batch of officially sanctioned new Damned studio tunes since 1986’s Anything. And let me tell you, Bob: this version of the Damned was as kick ass and classy a rock band as any I’ve seen, and I can’t help but think that if they were unknowns fighting their way up through Clubland, any number of record labels and music magazine would be falling all over themselves to dub them the next U2, the next Strokes, the next Radiohead, or the next whatever the record labels and music magazines were excited about at that particular moment. There are benefits to being in the history books of times a quarter-century past, sure, but getting fresh and open-minded listens from the industry are not, apparently, among them. Which is a damned, damned, damned shame, since new songs like “Democracy,” “She” and “Would You Be So Hot (If You Weren’t Dead?)” held their own most emphatically with the classic war horses and thoughtful album cuts that filled out Tuesday’s set.

      The startlingly-young-and-healthy-looking Vanian was in fine voice throughout, his sultry and powerful baritone stylings closer to the more potent bits of the Jim Morrison or Bono canons than to Johnny Rotten or Joe Strummer’s barks and whines. And ever affable bloke Captain Sensible somewhere along the line managed to turn himself into a real guitar hero, laying down string after string of sweet, sweet solo lines, just so and just right. Morrison, too, proved herself to be a virtuoso on her instrument, her left hand moving like a spider on crack, doing everything it could to get up that freakin’ waterspout, taking numbers like the seemingly straightforward “New Rose” or “Neat Neat Neat” into places where punk-flavored songs rarely have the audacity — or opportunity — to tread.

      Those two Damned Damned Damned-era nuggets were set highlights, as were the expected “I Just Can’t Be Happy Today” (a demi-hit from ‘79’s Machine Gun Etiquette) and the U.K. chart-topping single “Eloise.” It was also a treat, though, to hear savage renditions of unexpected cuts, such as “Disco Man” (a B-side to 1981’s “Friday the 13th” EP), or “Under the Floor Again” (a minor, rarely anthologized track of the Strawberries album in ’82). Based on the total package delivered by the Damned Tuesday night, I think they’ve still got it in ‘em to earn another important page or two in tomorrow’s musical history books, which should make for a damned, damned, damned good read.

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