Monday, July 21, 2008

rama lama fa fa fa




In the summer after I finished 10th grade, I got a job working as a gopher in a New York City photography studio. The work was not at all glamorous, but I had a nice time being around friendly and creative people. Drew Carolan, one of the photographer’s assistants at the studio, made the summer especially fun. Unfortunately for Drew, he was charged with the task of finding menial things for me to do – things that normally wouldn’t get done if there wasn’t a 16-year-old around willing to do them for minimum wage (cleaning windows, reorganizing cabinets, clearing junk out of closets, etc.). But instead of being resentful about having to deal with me, Drew treated me kindly. He showed me the ropes around the studio, joked with me, asked me questions about myself, and took an interest in me in a way that made me feel like somebody actually gave a shit.



As we became more comfortable with each other, we found that we shared a love of music. Drew used to buy albums at Freebeing records on 2nd Avenue, near St. Mark's. He'd bring them to work and crank them on the studio stereo. I really admired the range and adventurousness of Drew’s taste. Without his ever knowing it, he taught me to cast a wide net when it comes to discovering and appreciating music. He turned me on to a lot of what was then called “New Music”, bands like REM, The Smiths, Echo and the Bunnymen and Aztec Camera (remember Roddy Frame?), but also older stuff like The Turtles and The Mothers of Invention…







…Drew also introduced me to the MC5’s first album, a raucous live recording called Kick out the Jams…




There are a couple of songs on Kick out the Jams that I still have a lot of fun listening to today (“Ramblin’ Rose”, “I Want You Right Now,” Motor City is Burnin’,” “Kick out the Jams”), but what I loved most about the record back then was the insane and hilarious banter between songs. A manic emcee at the start of the record introduces the band. “Are you ready to testify?” he yells, “I give you a testimonial... The MC5!”… At the end of a song called “Come Together”, one of the guys in the band (I think either Wayne Kramer or Fred ‘Sonic’ Smith) says, “thank you, and we hope you all did come…together.” …Elsewhere on the record, the same guy sounds like he's foaming at the mouth as he yells, 'I hear a lot of talk, by a lot of honkies, sittin’ on a lot of money, tellin' me they're high society. Well, I'll let you know something. If you ask me, this is the high society! This is the high society!”


But the best part of the album is when Rob Tyner announces that, ‘right now, right now, right now, it’s time to…KICK OUT THE JAMS, MOTHERFUCKER!!!

I doubt any of this translates all that well when I try to describe it in writing now, but believe me when I tell you that this was exactly the kind of talk I wanted to hear when I was 16, and I think Drew played Kick Out the Jams for me because he knew it would be right up my alley. For the remainder of the summer, we spoke to each other in the language of the MC5. If he saw me crossing the street, he would greet me with ‘right now, right now.’ …If I had to call down to the darkroom where Drew was working, I would call him on the intercom and ask, ‘are you ready to testify?' ... This would go on all day. Those are some of the nicest memories I have from that time in my life.






Sadly, I lost touch with Drew after that summer and we didn’t reconnect until he shot me an e-mail from out of the blue last year. In that long time between, though, Drew became a much sought after photographer, filmmaker and music video director. He is currently working on a book titled Matinee, a collection of amazing photographs he took in the mid 1980s of young punks at the CBGB weekend hardcore matinees. If you’d like a little taste of how intense these photographs are, go to www.myspace.com/drewcarolan. ...You can also view a great video about the project.


After I got the e-mail from Drew last year, I went to visit him at his home here in L.A. I remember driving across town and wondering if he’d even recognize me since he hadn’t seen me since I was 16. I look a little different now than I did then…I parked the car and crossed the street, looking for Drew’s house. Then I heard a familiar voice calling out to me for the first time in 25 years, but it picked up right where we had left off...


'...And right now, right now…'


I originally wanted this post to be about The MC5 and The Flamin’ Groovies. But thinking about the MC5 diverted me, so I’ll hold off on the rest until next time.


3 comments:

Molly Stevens said...

Excellent! I love how New Yawk the guys in the video are.

Dan E said...

Ah, magical post - a wonderful example of how music (and the love thereof) can break down barriers between people and bond them together.

And if you're looking to add another great "Collapse" record to your list, I'd nominate the MC5's "High Time". They're still kicking out the jams at that point, but the party got a lot darker and druggier...

Max Stevens said...

Definitely! High Time and Back in the USA are on the way. I just need to find the (high) time to write about 'em...