Sunday, March 2, 2014

david baker, shady 1994

Bill Whitten and Dave Baker at The Knitting Factory December 1994 between recording St. Johnny's Speed is Dreaming and Let it Come Down and before I broke up the band to form Grand Mal, I had the good fortune of recording with David 'Shady' Baker, on his World (Beggars Banquet / BBQ CD 166) album. We played a handful of shows: in England, NYC, Baltimore, perhaps elsewhere, it's hard to say from the distant vantage point of the 21st century.
      David was an invaluable, generous friend who helped St. Johnny in immeasurable ways. With record deals, tours, gigs - and of course back-up vocals. He's been criminally underrated as an artist (hopefully, now, he's getting deserved props for his unerring, uncompromising vision) and often relegated (by fools who re-type ancient articles) to the category of 'unhinged loon', which is pure bullshit. Words like visionary are more apt when talking about David Baker.
        We were roommates, friends  and when Shady took shape, band-mates.  I was lucky enough to play lead guitar and co-write Sugar, Sugar, Sugar. And I played droning, shrieking guitar (counterpoint to Doug Easley's stately leads) and sang back-ups on Life's Greatest Fool. And added guitar on the sublime It Sucks Being an Astronaut. I may also have plinked the piano on a track or two.
     In Nashville we drank vast amounts of Mickey's Big Mouth, as was the custom in those far off, lawless days (Imagine not being under surveillance 24/7 or chained to an iPhone) As a result, my memories of Easley Studios are, at best, evanescent.
     David Baker was and is a singular cat.  Put aside his incredible musicality, the voice that brims with personality, his dangerous stage presence and what I remember most, aside from his loyal friendship, is an admirable hair trigger temper. He took shit from no one.
     He was a great interview, too, and wrapped around his finger all the UK hacks and myth-makers. The Rev owes him for that. And also for his unclassifiable work on Yerself is Steam and Boces....
I owe him too.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Grand Maledictions Revisited/Rereleased/Remastered/08/27/13 on Mercury Records



Bill Whitten

They record in a rat- infested East Village room, are dressed by Bowery thrift shops and make the kind of glassy-eyed racket that gives music a
good name: rock'n'roll.
Associates of Mercury Rev, former members of Dwarves, NY's Grand Mal warp their heritage-New York Dolls, Stones, Mary Chain-with evil intent. A
(very) wasted youth. A single and album are due out on London in March.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

not to have a political point of view is like having no soul

Monday, December 9, 2013

Sunday, December 1, 2013

We fictionalize our future, and, unless we are heroically devoted to truth, we fictionalize our past, refashioning it to our taste. We do not study other people; we invent what they are thinking, saying, and doing. Reality provides us with some raw material, just as novelists often take a theme from a news item, but we envelop it in a fog in which, as in all fiction, values are reversed, so that evil is attractive and good is tedious

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

go my songs, seek your praise from the young and the intolerant - ep

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

He gestures to the computer sitting on the table at his elbow. "This is the result of 10,000 years? Really? We have microphone, laptop, this technical society – that's all? This is sad, and very disappointing. After so many geniuses in the human story from Leonardo to Einstein, from the Buddha to Endre Szemer├ędi, these are fantastic figures, and their work is unbelievably important and we cannot do anything with it – why?"

Sunday, October 27, 2013


“If I take death into my life, acknowledge it, and face it squarely, I will free myself from the anxiety of death and the pettiness of life - and only then will I be free to become myself. ”  - Lou Reed

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

ST. Johnny 1989

Seated: the mighty Wayne Letitia
Finger pointing down (like a curse) at the inevitable trajectory of SJ: Tom Leonard, he of the effulgent guitar.
Standing, presenting his left profile,  uncharacteristically grinnning: Bill Whitten
Leg up on (unseen Peavey amp) golden locks glimmering, ladies' man: Jim Elliot

I believe that literature must correct History
Danilo Kis

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Maledictions Revisited/Rereleased/Remastered/08/27/13 on Mercury Records


London Camden Monarch

Bill Whitten
Put it this way, you don't have to be Sherlock Holmes to guess where they're from. There are five of them, including a guitarist who's heard hair cleans itself after a while and a singer whose face is so thin it could squeeze through prison bars. Three songs in, and they're having a stab at the ultimate junkie's anthem 'Chinese Rocks', just in case anyone hasn'e guessed yet.Comprising various ex-members of St. Johnny, Dwarves and 16 Deluxe, Grand Mal are from New York City. All needle chic and nasty attitude, they're the living embodiment of every rock'n'roll cliche' ever to have crawled out of that town, but none the worse for it.
Their new album, 'Maledictions', was produced by Mercury Rev's Dave Fridmann, but still sounds exactly like you knew (and hoped) it would: a note-perfect smack-rock collision of Johnny Thunders and The Jesus And Mary Chain, with a little Happy Mondays thrown in just to confuse people.Tonight, they do the Mary Chain part. Specifically, 'Superstars', 'Out On Bail', and 'Whole Lotta Nothing': three songs that rattle forward with the same car-crash guitars and keyboard drones, before collapsing into dense, spinning feedback. You've seen it all before, but so what? To pull it off this well requires a special sort of genius. Just not necessarily your own.

James Oldham

Grand Mal Maledictions Revisited/Rereleased/Remastered/08/27/13 on Mercury Records

Music Week
Nov. 21, 1998

Bill Whitten

London's confidence in trying to break new US signing Grand Mal in the UK before the States is gradually appearing justified.
Their New York Dolls/Suicide influences-evident on their debut album Maledictions (released early next year), which was produced by Dave Fridmann (Flaming Lips, Mercury Rev, Jane's Addiction)-shone through at their first London date at Camden's Monarch last Tuesday during a fleeting visit.
And their Radio One Evening Session play/Xfm playlisting was last week compounded by daytime play for their debut limited edition single, the Dinosaur Jr-sounding Whole Lotta Nothing (released November 23) byRadio One's Jo Whiley.

Friday, September 20, 2013

NME Live Reviews - London Kentish Town Forum - Maledictions Reissued

London Kentish Town Forum

December 14, 1999

Some things you just can't fake....

Grand Mal Maledictions
Grand Mal ooze cool, in the sort of sulky, attenuated way only true urban malcontent rock'n'rollers can. They don't play their instruments so much as they sling them, staring into the patchy early-evening crowd with thinly veiled disinterest. "Aaw, you're too kind," drawls frontman Bill Whitten in sarcastic response to some timid applause. Kindness isn't valued too highly in the ranks of Grand Mal. A few things about them. They're from New York City, they associate with Mercury Rev (Grasshopper's keyboard skills grace their debut 'Maledictions' LP), and they have a song called 'Fun Fun Fun' that runs, "Saturday night and I just got killed... I feel like Dracula's teenage son" over a vertiginous slide of greased-up guitar noise. Their reference points are unmissable - the Mary Chain, Primal Scream, New York Dolls - and they foster an attitude of lazy, narcotic nihilism spiked  with alcoholic euphoria. So, 'Superstars' is all Primals' razor-edged soul, 'Stay In Bed' - though anaemic compared to the album's Death In Vegas remix - is a fantastically sleazy paean to idle counterculture, and 'Out On Bail' is all feverish bar-room Hammond glide and careering ("the night is young and dumb and unstable") chorus. Essentially, good old adrenalised rock'n'roll, then, played by impossibly skinny men with the sort of thrift-shop chic Brett Anderson would sell his rhyming dictionary for. You can't get much better than that.

Maledictions Revisited - NME Album Reviews - 4/19/99

NME Reviews
April 17, 1999


It wears shades at noon. It doesn't care about you, baby - it just curls its lip at your love and takes a drag of its life-giving cigarette...

Bill Whitten

It's got Johnny Thunders riffs for a heart, Suicide's appetite for destruction for a soul, and its head is filled with the fevered drone of the city that never comes down off its speed jag. It's a clichid beast, New York scuzz rock - but one too attractive to care. Grand Mal are grown men who have spent the last decade ruining their prospects in various dissolute rock outfits. Like a cargo cult that time has passed by, they remain strung out on this superannuated musical formula: witness 'Fun Fun Fun' (so Stooges it hurts) and 'Superstars' (slick with brutalist glam). But elsewhere, they've dosed the nervy '70s prototype with a massive injection of grooviness. 'Stay In Bed''s slacker soul could almost be Primal Scream, while Grasshopper from Mercury Rev tinkles keyboards with warm flesh at every turn. In fact, the Rev's space-rock bliss seems to have infected the Mal's none-more-black hearts, making 'Picture You (As Always Falling)' into a love song of sorts, and 'Sucker's Bet' a knowing quip at their gutter roots. Grand Mal, then. Sick and wrong, but at the same time, just right.

Friday, August 30, 2013

Melody Maker Dec. 15-21, 1999

Melody Maker Dec. 15-21, 1999
Grand Mal
Grand Maledictions
OUT NOW 3 1/2 stars out of 5
Just what the world needs: a French tribute to flamboyant Seventies football manager "Big Mal" Allison. Surely the music/football crossover banwagon has trundled too far.
Er, no, actually. Grand Mal are in fact unashamedly retro New York sleazers whose favorite facet of Seventies revivalism would appear to be primetime Rolling Stones-a cocksure swagger and effortless wastedness imbuing every single track. They inhabit a world of romantic squalor, cheap smack, seedy, stained hotel rooms and wraparound shades, all symbols of their nihilistic nonmanofesto that's most succinctly summarised in "Stay In Bed" (Let's get drunk on cheap wine/Let's stay in bed").

Bill Whitten

The early Nineties is as modern as things get here, coming in the form of the "Honey's Dead"-era Mary Chain grind of "Sixteen" and the Swervedriveresque-but-still-good "I'm In Trouble". Things only go wrong when they go all Semisonic-plodding on "Picture You".
"Malediction" isn't going to win any prizes for gound-breaking originality, but then as Travis have discovered, that isn't what sells records. Pas mal, as the French say.
Abit like? Royal Trux with a bloke singing.
Phil Mongredien

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Maledictions Revisited

As much as Maledictions' sneering rock & roll and decidedly glam bent give the band a retro vibe.there is a quirky, psych-pop vibe informing these songs that makes the group occasionally sound like the Flaming Lips playing scuzzy barroom rock.     
Time Out NY
reissued 8/27/13

Maledictions Revisited - Theater of Seedy Scenarios



This New York foursome's time-capsule nostalgia sounds a lot more quaintly charming than they probably intended. Channeling the glitter-flecked polyester pose of Mott the Hoople and T. Rex through the junkie punk of Richard Hell, Johnny Thunders, and maybe the Only Ones, songwriter Bill Whitten (late of the St. Johnny) and his young dudes have made an album that's absolutely disposable -- and often fun as hell to listen to. Which, if we've learned anything from Ian Hunter and Marc Bolan, is probably the point.
The Bowie/Iggy-esque opening track, "Superstars," pretty much nails what's in store: Grand Mal's is a cheap wine-and-Ecstasy world of "neon boys," "broken androids," and Whitten sneering and feeling "like Dracula's teenage son." This theater of seedy scenarios is backlit by a lot of flashy production -- shuffling Madchester percussion, fuzzed-out Jesus and Mary Chain guitars, and little electronic noises that tell you it's a '90s recording. The wholesale Pavement ripoff "Picture You (As Always Falling)" is only one of the best things I've heard this year, and the equally blatant Stooges cop "Fun Fun Fun" is the kind of tune D Generation would give their leather jackets to have written.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Maledictions Rereleased/Remastered 08/27/13 Mercury Records

A peek at the notebooks of your favorite editor

It's easy to forget that there was a time when great rock'n'roll bands came down the pike reasonably often. Who remembers that joy of discovery, when your ears first grokked the significance of Roxy Music, or Television, or the Velvets or the Dolls? Consider the case of GRAND MAL, an intriguing post-glam quartet from N.Y.C. that embodies everything great about New York bands. On its third release, 'MALEDICTIONS' (Slash/London, 3/7; a previous EP and album appeared on indie label No. 6), the band's '70s- referenced androgyne slouch and junk-rock swagger combine with a serpentine guitar attack to form one of this year's great early surprises. Ergo, bridge-and-tunnel mook rock a la KISS this ain't. But if you jones for complex electric-guitar-based rock with the kind of tuneful but world-weary choruses that sound like they'd be great to sing along to from the back seat of a beater Buick at daybreak after a night of aggressive club-hopping, this here's your ticket. Grand Mal, whose members' c.v. includes stints with Agitpop, St. Johnny, the Dwarves, the Meices, 16 Deluxe and Crown Heights, is augmented on 'Maledictions' by Mercury Rev keyboardist Grasshopper, whose Eno-meets-Suicide tones add fine texture to the band's glam references. Adding to the Mercury Rev connection, 'Maledictions' was co-produced by Dave Fridmann, the Rev founding bassist who also plays with Flaming Lips; the album was recorded at Tarbox Road Studios in upstate Cassadaga, where Mercury Rev cut its current work of brilliance, 'Deserter's Songs' (V2). An added plus is the bonus track that follows song #12, two versions (at 3 and 18 minutes) of an eerily looped vocal sample of singer Bill Whitten's dad crooning "They're all dressed up to go dreaming," mated to a trip-hop track. Play loud. (Griffith) 4. MOST COLORFUL BAND OF THE WEEK:


Maledictions Rereleased/Remastered 8/27/13 on Mercury Records

reissued 8/27/13
CMJ Review
Maledictions - SLASH
From the pages of the CMJ New Music Report, Issue: 608 - Mar 8, 1999

Bill Whitten, whose former band, St. Johnny, mixed the slacker, indie rock style of Dinosaur Jr with the jokey self-consciousness of Ween, is the driving force behind Grand Mal. On the flamboyant Maledictions, though, Whitten dives headlong into glittery guitar rock, taking every last bit of his tragically hip, smart-aleck personality with it. Imagine J. Mascis fronting Mott The Hoople (!) and you'll be alarmingly close to the sonic feel of Grand Mal. As dangerously clever Whitten and the band sound, they still create thoroughly rewarding rock songs. Maledictions' riffs chug       along with the decadent laziness of '70s rock superstars mixed with the grit of long-time punk rockers. Glam rock has always been terribly self-aware -- Grand Mal just gives it a much-needed, ironic smirk.
-Cheryl Botchick

Maledictions Revisited

Grand Mal,'Maledictions'
(Slash) (3/26/99)

Grand Mal, clinically known as Generalized Tonic-Clonic, is a type of seizure characterized by a sudden cry, fall, and rigidity, followed by muscle jerks, shallow breathing, and possible loss of bladder or bowel control. It is also the name of a band paying homage to the yesteryear of glam rock. A little rough around the edges, but something you can almost get jiggy with, Grand Mal borrows classic elements of raw 1970's rock 'n roll and transforms it into something pleasing to the ears and derriere. The obvious rock heroes come to mind at the outset-Iggy Pop, T. Rex, KISS. Also, lurking below the surface are the band's previous and noteworthy Nineties collaborations with Dinosaur Jr., St. Johnny, the Dwarves and a current effort with Grasshopper of Mercury Rev. The lyrics are laden with decadent credos of the last three decades. In "Stay in Bed," Whitten complains "you can't save your money... your friends" and so recommends they "get drunk on cheap wine, let's stay in bed." In "Fun Fun Fun" he croons that "all I want is more medication, it's just like sex without the penetration." These guys are not imitating pure Seventies chic, nor are they attempting pure mockery. If anything, Grand Mal is holding on to the rock 'n roll dream.


Maledictions Released/Remastered  8/27/13 on Mercury Records

Maledictions Re-released/Revisited

Grand Mal follow in a sterling tradition of Gotham guitar-rockers from the New York Dolls to the Dead Boys, for whom fast 'n' loose riffing and gum-chewing indolence are the hallmarks of cool.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Grand Mal, Clandestine Songs

Singer-songwriter Bill Whitten’s “grand” project hits six LPs with this set of 13 songs. Will this finally be the album that pushes Whitten’s critically adored, retro-leaning alt-rock band into the mainstream, or will they remain the music scribes’ little secret? Bet on the latter.

Phoenix Metromix 10/13/13

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

"A woman, burnished by sun, walks down the street in the early morning carrying an eel. Many times I have written of this eel, smooth and dying, dark with the mystery of shadowy banks and, on that particular day, covered with bits of gravel. This eel is a saint to me, oblivious, already in another world."

Friday, May 24, 2013

Intoxicated: St. Johnny's Greatest Hits....

   Ho Chi Minh: It doesn’t matter where you come from or where you are, the important thing is to know where you’re going.
Nothing but disaster follows from applause. -Thomas Bernhard

Monday, April 1, 2013

membra disjecta/lost tracks 2006-2011

….all tracks uploaded from a CD found at the bottom of a shoebox. 
The artillery has fallen silent. This is all that’s left… 
My hat is off to the young men who played on these tracks, wherever they are and whoever they might be...

Monday, March 25, 2013

Scenes from the Class Struggle/2006

From the Groover Comp Jeans & Summer 2005? 2006?
inchoate musings on class from hall, oates
Il faut payer - you must pay!

Saturday, February 23, 2013

The Ecstasies of St. Johnny


From JPeel's record library

Just as Walter Benjamin feared that men might outlive culture, would a band toiling in the '90's foresee that rock musicians might outlive rock music? 

Friday, February 22, 2013

Ingeborg Bachmann

..."Today" is a word which only suicides should be allowed to use.
IB, Malina

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

abyss of the neighbor

slipped under my door after i complained about noise and the smell of reefer wafting into my apartment.
The only good neighbor is a dead neighbor!

Friday, December 21, 2012


We drop stars on NYC
then complain of fatigue after 5 minutes…
(camouflaged wounds dictate our movements)
As the sun forms in the space between the wall and the bed
the earth-shaker comes to life in the basement
He who was once responsible for epilepsy, for the sacred disease
now takes his board to the Rockaways
and commands the waves in an obsidian wetsuit.
Hands upon her hips
I am a series of explosions in a rock quarry
I am William Lewis Herndon as my boat goes over the waterfall.
We argued about temporality and capitalism, witchcraft and capitalism.
Soon followed our dedoublement
(and to think we’d been fatbooting it down the avenue only one week before).
At the cafe a rapprochement seemed inevitable:
‘Your taste in music may be execrable
and your innocence indestructible,
yet I’d like to feel the stubble
of your leghair against my face as I lick your calves.”
Eventually I departed,
in my immense Borsalino,
leaving behind a note:
‘I am at your service,
I am, etc.
W------ W-------’.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

When I hear the word 'authenticity' I reach for my Glock....

Monday, November 26, 2012

Children of Light

Fragment on Rock #2

...Woe to the rock musician who fails to cultivate his megalomania. He will soon discover that one does not become abnormal with impunity...

Saturday, October 20, 2012

"I hated the audience, at times, for things they made you do. They're cunts. Why did they come to see me?"                                                                                                                                             -Ig, Rolling Stone 1979

Friday, October 19, 2012

Applause was an early form of voting in Sparta that was denounced by Aristotle as ‘childish.’

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Applause; the flapping of wings. 
1. Wild female swamp gorillas have been observed clapping their hands in a set routine that appears to hold meaning for other gorillas. There is a growing body of evidence that hand clapping originated with the common ancestor of humans and other primates. It also suggests hand clapping may often serve as a form of communication in great apes.  "Our observations of female gorillas clapping was always inner palm to inner palm, just as humans would clap… the gorillas would do this after stretching their arms in front of their bodies”. 
2. St. Thomas Aquinas from his earliest childhood, felt the greatest hatred of applause....
3. "He calls us castrated eunuchs!" We have already spoken of Toscanini's hatred of applause and his reluctance to come forward and take curtain calls....
Applause as contagion
4. Customs of the theatre (claques – paid applauders, the distribution of handkerchiefs to wave) were incorporated into the liturgy by early Christians. Eusebius says that the vainglorious Paul of Samosata encouraged the congregation to applaud his preaching. By the 4th and 5th centuries clapping for popular preachers had become an established custom. However, applause in church eventually fell out of fashion…
From The Genealogy of Applause by William Sundown.

Monday, October 15, 2012

St*Johnny >> I wanna burn like a martyr in my Chevrolet

 St*Johnny - "Go To Sleep"

(Ajax Records, 1992 / Caroline Records [U.S.], 1993; Rough Trade Records [U.K.], 1993)

This song was released as a 7" by cool indie Ajax in '92, and then appeared on the band's High As A Kite singles compilation the next year.  (The U.S. version on Caroline, which I own, has 11 tracks, while the U.K. version on Rough Trade has only 8.)  This type of song is a perfect example of why I started this site: An obscure indie band releases a universe-destroyingly great anthem; no one hears it back in the day; the band breaks up; the song languishes in cool ppl's mix tapes / closets / iTunes for years or decades until the song decides to break free and assert itself much like when the robots rose in T2: Judgment Day.  The only unfortunate thing about this song is its name, which does not exactly generate much excitement, especially when the mundane band name is factored in.  Note: They sometimes spelled their name St. Johnny (in the early days), st. johnny, or St Johnny, and the asterisked (DGC-era) version of their name is technically spelled st✮johnny.
Reviews and zines from the early to mid '90s always pointed out how St*Johnny were proteg├ęs of Sonic Youth, though I think they were more aligned with fellow New Yorkers Mercury Rev.  (The Rev's Grasshopper guested on at least three of their songs: "Velocity," "My Father's Father," "Matador.")  Either way, this kind of thing is always a double-edged sword.  The band was allegedly scoffed at relentlessly, at least by the hipsters and tastemakers of the era, which seems really sad to me.  This song obviously has a ton of S.Y.-esque characteristics and charisma, down to the Thurston-y vocals, but it is definitely its own beast.  To describe how awesome this song is would take me a while, but I don't think most people need a roadmap to its bounty.  That one killer guitar riff immediately grabs the attention, and melds perfectly with the vocals, which are delivered in a desperate way, and with interesting post-Lou Reed / Tom Verlaine enunciation.  It's a really amazing vocal performance overall.  He says "I know that we're in trouble now, and I know that we're in deep" and "You're cursed and I'm a liar" without explaining the conflict in question.  More cool lyrics: "If we live long enough we'll see the other side of everything," "The stars are out and they're comin' down on my head," and of course "I wanna burn like a martyr in my Chevrolet."  (Note: I had thought for the last decade that it was "I wanna burn like the motor in my Chevrolet.")  The somewhat detuned, violin-esque guitar anti-solo at the 2:29 mark is the perfect bridge between arena dino-rock and the noisy indie rock of the '90s.  And I love when any instrumental break is preceded by a frenzied volley of drumming.  Another cool touch is that the song's title is only uttered right before the guitar solo and as the final words of the song.  I mean, check this out, they should build a whole museum dedicated to this song, if only so that lame, putzy, non-rocking rock bands like Wilco, Arcade Fire, Spoon, etc. can make pilgrimages to it in order to learn how to rock like motherfuckers.
The band's proper debut album in '94 had the great title Speed Is Dreaming.  But, aside from the killer "A Car Or A Boy?" (featuring some backing vocals from Mercury Rev's head weirdo David Baker), sucked.  I owned that CD but actually threw it away years ago; wish I had it back to check it out again, though.  Being signed to DGC (Nirvana, Sonic Youth, Beck, Posies, Sundays) apparently didn't land them in the Buzz Bin, and they faded into obscurity in the mid-'90s.  Singer Bill Whitten reemerged with the band Grand Mal (named after a St*Johnny song, which was named after a type of seizure) soon afterwards, but I don't think I've ever heard them.