Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Rick Johnson!!!! Squirrel Grunts into the Void (MX-80 Sound)

He was funnier than Lester Bangs and R. Meltzer on their best days, and though admittedly influenced by both he lacked the occasional cranky self-righteousness of the former and the perpetual self aggrandizement of the latter, leaving us, the lucky readers, with that increasingly rare beast, writing that is simply PURE FUN.  Friends, I'm here to tell you that Rick Johnson is one of the funniest writers you will ever have the pleasure to read, and even if you don't get all his references, that only means that you stand to learn some things in the bargain.  There's no one who writes like him today and truthfully probably few who would want to, but that's much more a testament to these sad times, than to any deficiencies in his prose, cause Ranger Ricks stuff is pure gold, at least to those that understand the genius humor of a parenthetical reference to Hitler as George Harrison's favorite painter (in the midst of attempted explanation as to why Harrison's solo records lack bite) or the compact and ACTUAL insight of describing Arthur Lee as an "idiot savant".

The good news is that Bill Knight, a friend of Rick Johnson's, has taken the time to edit a posthumous anthology of his writings,  "Rick Johnson Reader: Tin Cans, Squeems and Thud Pies".  It's mainly short half page record reviews with a handful of longer (only when compared to half page record reviews) pop culture pieces, subjects dear to Rick's heart such as junk food, beer and most especially, T.V.   Now admittedly this might sound underwhelming at first, hmm not one but two reviews of albums by largely forgotten bands like Starz, until you see what the man does, in record time (no pun), to explode these forms.  It's the kind of writing where you find yourself pausing every other line either due to uncontrollable laughter or to puzzle out and marvel over his bizarre descriptive phrases and wild ass juxtapositions, the kind of writing you run to the other room to read aloud to your significant other, the kind of book that if you read it on the bus people think your nuts, what with all that grinning and laughing.  Let me just shut up and give you some examples of Rick in action.

"Live albums are a great idea and like most great ideas (the electric back-pack, adult-proof caps, any given country's constitution), this animal stands with bovine distraction between the feed trough and its own shit, wondering, "Which one should I eat first?"."  Thin Lizzy- Live and Dangerous

"It's hard to find something bad to say about such a nice person, but I'll try. His voice whines like an overheated egg. His guitar playing is whiny as well.  In fact when he trades off his vocals with his guitar, it sounds like two extremely tired waitresses discussing a particularly obnoxious customer."
Peter Frampton- I'm in You

"With an anguished vocal performance bordering on bed wetting, singer Jello Biafra recklessly rhymes neutron bomb with Jane Fonda and sportingly invites his audience to 'jog for the master race'.  This is not mere music, this is climate control!"  Dead Kennedys-Fresh Fruit For Rotting Vegetables

"Other bits of verse you'll want to embroider on burlap and hang in your dump include "Curses and Invocations" ("I'll always be a word man/better than a bird man") (but not a soul man!) and the charming "Lament for My Cock" where he describes his little pal as "a tongue of knowledge." Yeah, but can it play Wipe Out?        
Jim Morrison and the Doors- An American Prayer

"Listening to Moody Blues albums is like going to school, only harder.  At least in your average classroom predicament, there's an actual answer to the question you slept through..................
But these MB questions are tuffies.  Nebulous, you might call them, although other, less kind students have described them as pointless, meaningless, and who gives a shit anyway? (Bad attitude.)
Moody Blues-Octave

"His seeming inability to compose music with any sort of bite since then could be chalked up to any number of reasons; psychedelic fascism (his favorite painter is Hitler), religious overindulgence, self-conscience musical maturity (pronounced ma-tour-ity) or even chronic vegetarian constipation, but I think it's just the real stockbroker in him coming out of the closet."
George Harrison-Living in the Material World

"Their lonesome-outlaw lyrics are about as poignant as plugging your speakers into a roll of pastel toilet paper"  The Eagles-Desperado

"Lawrence Welk's eat-it-right-out-of-the-pan approach to the Nothing World of television stuck with me, and helped me through the years to understand such diverse cultural phenomenon as Real People, Cher's tits, the Gerald Ford administration, and commercials suggesting you redecorate your home with attractive mirrors.  A game-show host without a game, Welkie was one of the first to condense Low Budget into an art form- on the tube, at least."

Here's an interview with the late Rick Johnson http://rockcriticsarchives.com/interviews/rickjohnson/rickjohnson.html

And as a bonus (or extra credit) here's a record that Rick had nothing but praise for 1977's
Hard Attack by the MX-80 Sound (see where Sonic Youth borrowed some of their ideas)

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