Photo by M. Henry
With a patented blast of stompbox-laden sturm und twang guitar, greazy organ, blowzy sax, slobbering harmonica, wordless vocals and a party vibe that only comes in screw-top bottles, the Fleshtones returneth with Do You Swing?, the NYC quartets 12th studio album since they first brought their getting down needs no justification mantra to 45 rpm vinyl lo these 25 years ago.
Much like their kissin cousins the Cramps, the Fleshtones have reveled in their roles as Americas foremost trash compactors for so long a trio of mind-bending early-80s albums for I.R.S. coupled with front man Peter Zarembas 198487 stint as the original host for MTVs The Cutting Edge, for starters that theyve been christened garage fathers of the musical sensation thats been threatening to sweep the nation ever since threes a trend journalists got slapped upside the head by the Strokes, the White Stripes, the Hives and blah blah blah ...
Speaking for co-founding members guitarist Keith Streng, drummer Bill Milhizer and since 92 bassist Ken Fox, Zaremba remains rather sanguine about the Fleshtones current éminence grise status: On one hand, it makes me feel slightly vindicated after almost 30 years of people asking us, Why do you even bother doing this? On the other to paraphrase Leo Gorcey I wouldnt mind a piece of that action.
But Ive always said the Fleshtones are a band that no movement can help. The English have never gotten us maybe cause were too quintessentially American and thats sort of hurt us in this country. Theyre always saying, That doesnt respect the Standells! But if you ever met the Standells, youd know not to respect them anyway. Zaremba laughs.
And weve always avoided those typical Nuggets-type things like Dirty Water or Wooly Bully, cause those songs are total statements and youre only going to do a crummy version. Theres a quote from Jorge Luis Borges Both copulation and mirrors are abominations because they multiply mankind and when it comes to music, its the same thing.
Yet the Fleshtones have always spiked their albums with not-quite-faithful renditions of hopeless obscurities or radical revamps of rock standards, and Do You Swing? continues this tradition in the form of the Coastliners mid-60s frat-rocker Alright and Led Zeppelins Communication Breakdown, respectively.
A lot of times well try to take a song that bands we like mightve done but didnt, and try to figure out what they wouldve done with it. That Coastliners thing is just a fun, dance-type number, and the Zeppelin tune was an attempt to take it back to their roots in the Yardbirds, but since we cant really play like the Yardbirds, it just sounds like punk rock.
As far as the Fleshtones own songs being covered, that hasnt happened much. Theyre too quirky, says Zaremba. The instrumentation is too weird otherwise it just sounds like another three-chord whatnot and theres a certain lack of proficiency at work. Its kinda like if Shemp Howard died and Moe and Larry asked Laurence Olivier to take his place. Hes great, but he really wouldnt have fit in. But Id love it if a few bands covered our stuff rather than just recycling our stage moves.
Such as the Hives appropriating your arms-crossed powerstance from 1991?
Yeah, but the only thing that really bothers me is when some writer says were ripping off the Hives. Zaremba laughs again. All the choreography weve ever done has been to try and break down that invisible wall of pretense that separates the performer from the audience in favor of creating a communal orgiastic experience. And when its a good show, weve succeeded in that.
Its kinda like why weve always done a bunch of instrumentals, from Roman Gods and Theme From The Vindicators on down to the new albums Double Dipper and One Four Five. For one thing, doing an instrumental is a helluva lot easier, cause then I dont have to think of any dopey lyrics, which is always a big pitfall. Like what shouldnt you say? I love doing instrumentals, cause then its just the emotion of the music thats going to take you away.
A lot of music critics have a hard time getting their heads around that concept ...
Yeah, well, a lot of people dont understand why Hershell Gordon Lewis is a better filmmaker than Steven Spielberg: Cause he makes a lot more entertaining movies, and doesnt have to spend $100 million to do it.
THE FLESHTONES | Do You Swing? | (Yep Roc)
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