Fancy Plans Guide to Rock and Roll Vol. 8

August 1, 2009

And now, a series that needs no introduction…

I honestly don't see how anybody could poke fun at this.

I honestly don't see how anybody could poke fun at this.

Vampire Weekend
The next big thing, according to everybody everywhere, Vampire Weekend are the refinement of all the most pretentious parts of hipster touchstones, such as: Paul Simon, the Talking Heads and hippie apparel store background music. As this indie world music band began its meteoric rise to stardom, they became increasingly unbearable. Now safely coasting on its laurels, Vampire Weekend is primed for its slide into “legacy act,” a restful state of listlessness, no doubt hurried along by its incessant public fellation by mainstream tastemakers such as Rolling Stone, Spin and Pitchfork. (Yeah, don’t kid yourselves.)

No doubt the release of a new album will only encourage the mass fellatio, allowing them to pass Obama in the number of times they’ve heard “Use me like a filthy congressman.” Unless they make a Goo Goo Dolls-esque leap into power balladry or discover how hard it is for someone to say “poly-rhythmic” withtheir mouth full, Vampire Weekend should continue to raid Paul Simon’s record collection and liquor cabinet for years to come.

I think we all preferred them back in the day, when David Lowery was still an integral member and they performed under the name “Vampire Can Mating Oven.”

Another fine selection from the "Malcolm McLaren Collection of Arrestable Art"

Another fine selection from the "Malcolm McLaren Collection of Arrestable Art"

Bow Wow Wow
Another one of Malcom McLaren’s projects (after holstering his Sex Pistols) which allowed him to take nude photos of his underage lead singer and file it under Art, Album. (If it’s an album cover, it’s beyond reproach, apparently.) Their biggest hit was I Want Candy, which made a mockery of sex offender laws with its open baiting of cargo van owners everywhere.

Fortunately (mostly for Malcolm) this was done in a more permissible time before our teenagers’ incessant sexting made child pornographers out of many unsuspecting parents. Many people were able to pick up the album without having to mail order it in a plain brown wrapper or register with the county after opening it.

Karen Carpenter, in happier times

Karen Carpenter, in happier times

The Carpenters
Breaking into the soft rock scene with their hit single Close to You(well, not “breaking” really; they actually knocked first and politely asked if it would be ok to come in and play a couple of their songs, if that was “cool” with everybody), the Carpenters began an impressive run of hit singles and skipped meals.

Never content to rest on their laurels (out of concern for the laurels, poor things!), the Carpenters continued boldly into the future with both hands grasping wildly at the past. They toured tirelessly, entertaining thousands of politely seated concert-goers nationwide.

The endless touring and soft rocking began to take its toll. During the Carpenter’s 1982 Rock You Like a Pleasant Breeze tour, Karen Carpenter frequently found herself pinned underneath her shadow on the stage, due to unexpected lighting changes.

She collapsed in her parents’ home after an attempt to close the screen door and was rushed to the hospital. On February 4, 1983, Karen Carpenter was declared dead when an intern mistakenly allowed her to turn sideways, at which point she vanished completely.

A panoramic shot featuring 1/4 of Chicago's touring band

A panoramic shot featuring 1/4 of Chicago's touring band

Despite popular opinion, Chicago was not named after the city. The Chicago Chamber of Commerce often places unsolicited calls to Wikipedia to make sure that this is being made perfectly clear.

They are actually named after their favorite mode of transportation, the Chicago bus line, which had the vehicles large enough to carry their entire bloated band, which at times swelled to over 1,200 members. Plus, they actually came from nearby suburb Vernon Hills, so their claim to Chicago’s name and street-tough history was about as legitimate as Vanilla Ice’s claim of being raised on the mean streets of Miami.

Setting out to be the “worst band in rock and roll” by ensuring an unhealthy ratio of non-rock instruments, Chicago worked the bar circuit for years before their recorded debut in 1969. Chicago-area bar owners breathed a sigh of relief as booking the massive band often meant they had reached capacity before any paying fans even had the chance to get in the door.

Being the “worst band in rock and roll” took a heavy toll on the band and extensive touring often found various members on the disabled list and Peter “Et” Cetera scouting the local talent for a replacement “5th Trombonist” or “Backup Vocalist #8 – Verbs Only.”

But as all proud “rock” bands do, they kept on keepin’ on. Ceteradid all he could to retain the “worst” title by his dalliance with Amy “Whore of Babylon” Grant and his refusal to use anything more than a mixture of Roman numerals and “real” numbers to name their albums. (Exception: Hot Streets, which was their XIIth album.)

The “worst” remained the best at being the worst, running virtually unopposed for several years until Jefferson Starship wrested the title away from them with the release of We Built This City (On Suck). Chicago (the “rock” band, not the city – thanks, City of Chicago Chamber of Commerce) was never the same again. Cetera left the group, claiming that he had “done all the damage he could.”

So who is the current holder of the “worst” title in rock today? With so many front-runners, it’s hard to pick one. (Nickelback.)


Not to be confused with Digg! which contains no artistic merit whatsoever

Brian Jonestown Massacre/Dandy Warhols
Two bands whose fate is forever intertwined thanks to Ondi Timoner’s rockumentary Dig! and his follow-up, Holes, which went down a much more commercial path by straying from the original subject matters (much like Dandy Warhols themselves.)

Originally BFFs, both bands had the same original ambition: to have a really clever band name. The Brian Jonestown Massacre combined Brian Jones (whose deathkicked off a 30-year period where you couldn’t step out the door without tripping over a cooling rock star corpse) with the Kool Aid guzzling hi-jinks of the Jonestown Massacre (which kicked off a still-ongoing trend where you can’t step out the door without tripping over a cooling religious fanatic’s corpse).

The Dandy Warholswent in a much more upbeat direction withtheir band name, combining Dandy with the name of Portland’s famous Warhol’s Dinner Theatre, whose “fine dining” and “outrageous antics” are not for the weak of heart. Or stomach. On the other hand, the Soup of the Day is pretty consistent.

The BJM, with their antagonistic name, and the Dandy Warhols, with their inadvertent play on artist Andy Warhol’s name originally presented a united front as the revolution of music. They also both claimed the Velvet Underground as an influence, which put them in the exclusive group of every fucking band ever. At least the BJM followed through on it.

The Dandy Warhols, however, soon realized that they were operating several levels above their pay grade and began to tentatively return the embrace of the mainstream. Once it was clear that the feeling was mutual, the Warhols threw caution (and credibility) to the wind and proposed on the spot to their many suitors. Tragically, most of these suitors operated on the “use ’em and lose ’em” policy, cutting the Warhols an alimony check before leaving them alone, jealous and stoned. (Hello, Secret Machines!)

The Dandy Warhols did have the good fortune and lack of self-respect to be picked up immediately on the rebound, starting the vicious circle over and over again. Their mom keeps hoping they’ll finally find Mr. Right, but has sort of resigned herself to fielding late-night phone calls and making emergency Ben & Jerry’s runs.

The BJM went in a different direction. They wanted nothing less than a full-on music revolution. Their first step was to form antagonistic relationships with label after label. A&R men and label execs were treated to Ike and Tina Turner-type dustups and subjected to long lists of demands, like “full creative control,” “studio selection” and “a hoverbus for tours.”

Another point of contention was the pay scale: BJM frontman Anton Newcombe argued, unsuccessfully, that they should be making more as every band member was a “multi-instrumentalist.” The execs frequently mooted this point by stating (yet again) that their “royalties were based on record sales, not on number of instruments played.” They further pointed out that “all the talent and artistic integrity in the world won’t sell any records, and unless your name is Prince, we honestly could give a shit how many instruments you play.”

As the Warhol’s success increased, BJM began to complain that their former friends had sold them out. Astute observers reputed this by pointing out that:

a.) the Warhols sold themselves out; and
b.) the world does not revolve around BJM; that’s called “projection.”

BJM went on to make a metric shitload of records, flying bitterly and jadedly under the radar. The Dandy Warhols continued to splash around the in main stream, being fairly successful and losing their right to be described using interesting adjectives.

The lesson to be learned from this tale: Don’t be afraid to stand up for what you believe in. Don’t expect to get paid for it, though. And: If you must whore yourself out, at least get paid well for it. Because an amateur whore is just a slut.

You may be asking “All else being equal, which one is the band for me?” The answer is: Go with whichever band name appeals to you more. You’ll probably be right.


Previous episodes here: the RockNRoll Archives


  1. Wonderful – again! So much to think about. I will confess to originally being pleasantly surprised by Vampire Weekend. At one point “Walcott” was a regular spin around here. But then, somewhere along the line, I just decided, “Okay that’s me done with them…” (I think it was with Oxford Comma – their next single?).

    I’m sure I’ve asked you this, but have you read “Rip It Up And Start Again”? The Bow Wow Wow stories are pretty amusing. Apparently Mr. McClaren wanted one of the boys in the band to deflower Annabella. There was a coin toss (yup) and it fell to… the drummer? But he couldn’t go through with it.

    And Malcolm always wondered why Annies mom hated him so…

    (Hey, on the subject of books, have you read “So You Wanna Be A Rock N’Roll Star” by Jake Slichter? Beyond “Closing Time” I have no knowledge of Semisonic, but it’s a damn good book and worth checking out… Why is it that the drummers are always the articulate ones?)

    Ha! Nice juxtaposition: Chicago – The Carpenters. Bloated verse anorexic. You get a big trucker salute for that, buddy!

    And my favourite faux rock battle of all time. More fun that Blur battles Oasis, more fresh then the Stones meets The Beatles…

    But to choose? I’ve seen both. The Dandy’s played for 3 hours. Anton looked like a deer in headlights on the verge of a nervous breakdown. Hard to choose. Both bands had curb appeal.

    The thing about that movie, for me, was the first time I saw it I came away thinking poor Anton was certifiable, his own worst enemy, and that he acted like a silly dick when it came to the Dandy’s. The second time I saw it, I came away thinking poor Anton was certifiable, his own worst enemy, and that Courtney Taylor-Taylor (I’m Marc Bolan, no, I’m Iggy Pop, no, I’m…) acted like a silly dick when it came to the BJM’s.

    I think I’d like to see them all up on stage in a cage death match. Whoever wins get the CD sale.

    • First and foremost, thank you Alan for the thoughtful comment which nearly exceeds the length of this post, and now will require an answer nearly the length of this post. 😉

      Vampire Weekend – have not listened to much of their work, although I certainly feel like I have. If that makes any sense.

      Bow Wow Wow – Haven’t read that book. Sounds like a corker as they say in those parts. And apparently I have been spelling Malcolm McClaren’s name wrong since the beginning of this post. Thanks for nothing, spellcheck/Edna Morton! Someone’s ass is now officially on the line.

      (Follow up questions: No. And I have got to say that I would never have thought about picking it up, especially because of Semisonic’s involvement. But as we say around here, if the talking dog says it’s good, then it’s probably worth looking into.)

      Fat v. Thin. The neverending battle. I really could do without ever hearing songs by either of those groups again. Which is why I’m drastically cutting down on my wedding attendance.

      And the Battle Royale – I have only heard one album by BJM and scattered shots here and there from the Warhols. The small amount of research I did do enlightened me to the shoegazer leanings of BJM’s first album and their most recent one, so I will be checking those out.

      Thanks again for the wonderfully thought out comment, Alan. Now I am off to prepare tomorrow’s Heavy Rotation.

    • Cheers CLT,

      I’ll be here on Sunday downloading.

      Do check out the Jake Slichter book. I think you’d like it a lot. I’ve read it twice. The guy is funny, a great writer, self deprecating and it’s a nicely detailed look at the industry from a guy who’s experiencing it all for the first time. Plus, he’s a drummer and a Harvard grad. (Okay, we won’t hold the last one against him.)

    • Harvard grad, eh? Well, at least he didn’t get elected president.

  2. In the liner notes of one his American Recordings, Johnny Cash wrote that he did not know what Beck means when he sings, “Dog food on the floor and I’ve like this before,” but he knows how that feels. When Vampire Weekend sings “the Holy Roman Empire roots for you,” I don’t know how that feels. Much worse, I doubt they mean anything at all by it. It is sound and fury (and light on the fury), signifying nothing. VW are the musical equivalent of the folks Andrew Lahde mocked in paragraph two of his famous resignation letter last year.

    So, thanks CLT for chipping away another piece of clay.

    Big ups on BJM/DW. BJM did want a musical revelation (they still do, I suspect). These drug addled (cliché!) hipsters pursued that dream with all the coherence and success of their late sixties antecedents. Still, Anton exhibits genius often enough to make listening worthwhile.

    Great FPGR&R. You keep it gangster.

    • Good to see you again, Overconfident.

      I had to go look up the resignation letter. I was previously unaware of this. Great point. Great letter. Thanks for the inadvertent pointer.

      As for the Weekend, see the comment above. And as for the Holy Roman Empire, I much prefer Robyn Hitchcock’s insistence that not only are they not rooting for you, but that it takes their power “just to get you by my side.” Sounds less like romance and more like coercion in his voice.

      Or conversely, take Lowery and: “I’d be happy just to get your attention.”

      I can see I’m tending to ramble here, so I’ll try to sum up. I agree with you on BJM to the extent that I love shoegazer and would like to get acquainted with their take on it. The country-tinged psychedelia? Probably not so much.

      Thanks for the great comment and for the repeat business.

      Peace out, or whatever the hell it is the gangsters are saying these days.

  3. The Dandy Warhols were exactly the sort of people Pulp whinged about triumphantly in their hit track “Common People;” the assholes who wear “poor” as an affectation.

    “But still you’ll never get it right
    ‘Cos when you’re laying in bed at night
    Watching roaches climb the wall
    If you called your Dad he could stop it all”

    As for Vampire Weekend – as I said to Alan, I’m not really familiar with their work, but at this point I feel like I don’t need to be. Every bit of their ouvre has been obsessed on and played out by hundreds of other tastemakers.

    The irony of this (or hypocrisy, if you’d rather) is that I’m a huge fan of the indie critics’ darlings that started this all: Yo La Tengo. I won’t berate them in this forum simply because the Onion already took care of that with a snarky beatdown that cannot be topped:


    Nice call on the JB for PBR, RF. I’m sure whoever that is in the top photo realized that the shorts were too expensive to allow him to purchase anything more than an unpainted guitar.

    I’m not so much worried about some sort of VW backlash. I’m sure there’s plenty of it out there already, most likely better written and captioned.

    What I am dreading is the emotional wrecks that may wash up on our shores, demanding an apology for my cheap jokes at Karen Carpenter’s corpse’s expense. They’ll be horrified and self-righteous and wondering why this buffet is laid out here and why we haven’t got more than one working restroom.

    • you and The Onion are not funny at all, simple as that

  4. Razzle-Dazzle-Munchie-Bunches-of-Oats!

    • “Two thumbs up!” declares Rooster.

      Thanks for the compliment(?), Bill Cosby. Great to see you here.

  5. […] certainly acceptable. After all, I’ll never be able to listen to Vampire Weekend after seeing this photo of them playing live. Superficial, yes. But COME […]

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