Tuesday, December 19, 2006

THE MAJESTY OF "THE DAYS OF WINE AND ROSES"

It was 1985. I was 17. I was given a dorm room at UC-Santa Barbara and a new roommate from deep in the Inland Empire, Canyon Country to be exact. This guy proved to be quite a piece of work. When he learned that there was - gasp- a gay guy amongst us on the dorm floor, he took it upon himself to write a charming note that said "No fags use this stall, I don't want AIDS", and taped it in the communal bathroom. He and his pal would pour several bottles of liquid paper into a bag on a Friday night, and then violently huff it until they drooped over, while the rest of us sat in shocked silence while nursing our Meister Brau cans. Ah yes, to be young again. This particular nihilist also turned me onto one of my favorite records ever, the DREAM SYNDICATE's "The Days of Wine and Roses", which had come out a few years before but which I'd only read about and seen in stores (it somehow seemed to miss the orbit of my teenage college radio station, which was probably a little too stuck on English post-punk to notice the dozens of incredible American bands making noise at the time). I think I can forgive just about anything he ever did - including the time he wouldn't let me walk within 5 feet of "his side" of the room because I had a cold, or when he would open our door by putting his hand under his shirt to protect himself from germs - because he gave me the gift of knowing about this singular masterpiece.

I think it's probably fair to say that I've spun this record more than any single disc outside of the FLESH EATERS' "A Minute To Pray, A Second To Die". From the thumping single snare intro to “Tell Me When It’s Over” to the abrupt static-sharp end to the feedback swirl of the title track, “The Days of Wine and Roses” is rootsy American indie rock’s shining moment of the 80s. The album traffics heavily in multiple VELVET UNDERGROUND-isms, from choppy guitar to targeted feedback whine to complete & utter lyric lifts like the opening to “When You Smile”. Back in the early/mid 80s you’d hear a lot of talk about how the nascent indie bands of the day, particularly many the ones from LA, were heavily influenced by 60s acts like The Byrds, the Stones and some of the harder psych bands, and actually this sound was often dubbed “college rock” due to its frequent play on American college radio. But I always figured that tag was applied to safer, more genteel acts like R.E.M. or THE THREE O’CLOCK, and a band like the Dream Syndicate, with a real hard edge and squalling sound, only got that tag because their key influences were so obviously 60s-based as well. Anyway, this album busted the band into the hearts of many, and it wasn’t long before you found rock-n-rollers the world over pining for guitar god Karl Precoda or for winsome bass player Kendra Smith (who unfortunately left the band after this record). Europeans in particular ate it up, as they so often do, sometimes years before Americans rightly figure it out.

I was playing the expanded CD of this recently and I had a few thoughts. First, that opening single snare on the all-time classic “Tell Me When It’s Over”, the one that precedes the shredding psych guitar line that defines the song? Which is all of one second long? It’s TOTALLY MUTED on the CD. It’s lame! On the LP it was loud, hard, and in your face – here it’s almost gone. What a bummer way to start the listening party, but at least it's only a second. Other than that, though, the CD sounds just like the record, which is to say pretty goddamn great. They were kind enough to tack on most of the band’s debut 12”EP on their own “Down There” Records (the “green EP”), as well as some revealing rehearsal takes + the lost 45 from Steve Wynn’s early solo act 15 MINUTES. Like for instance, the song “That’s What You Always Say”, easily one of this amazing album’s top songs, gets 4 different versions going back in time to that weirdo, drum-machine-driven 15 Minutes single, and every time it was recorded it just got better, and it’s great to hear it taking shape in reverse order. The LP version, of course, was by far the best. Those EP tracks actually sound really stark and demo-ish in comparison to the LP, and while that's often a compliment, this time it's not. If they'd broken up after that first EP they'd be thought of as just another pretty good paisley/roots/garage act of the day, like NAKED PREY or solo RUSS TOLMAN, but "Wine and Roses" is just full-tilt overdrive on everything that made them so wonderful. I anticipate it being among my Top 10 favorite albums until the day I die, and I hope you get a chance to appreciate it as much as I do if you don't already.

10 comments:

o.Sano said...

agreed. one of the finer moment of rock, period but most certainly thee record of what was called paisley underground of la. searing live, i can recall the look of the band being so perfect too, precoda with that weird hair and huge guitar, kendra eyes closed and keeping it together with duck (who might be one of la's most underrated players/unsung heroes)and wynn looking like dylan pre motorpsycho...amazing. even when they got paul cutler they cranked it out like nobody else! DAYS is one of those records which gets better and better and better again.

tim ellison said...

Naturally, I gotta call out the comment about R.E.M. and the Three O'Clock being more "safe and genteel." Three O'Clock had a ripping guitarist in Louis Gutierrez (certianly more of a "hard edge" - if not "squalling" - sound than Precoda on their Arrive Without Travelling album - the peak record as far as that band's rock dynamics go) , a really hard-hitting drummer in Danny Benair, etc. And plenty of early R.E.M. songs ("Second Guessing," "Little America," etc.) had way more velocity and energy than I ever remember hearing in the Dream Syndicate.

Anonymous said...

Great, great album and live band at that time. One of my favorite show memories of that era was Karl Precoda wrapping himself in the stage curtain mummmy style at the Country Club in Reseda and continuing to solo. Fucking brilliant. It was a double bill with the Three O'Clock and I am with Tim on this one though I think they lost it quite a bit after the Frontier stuff. Quercio was an excellent bassist and Greg/Louis a hellava lot more punk than you were at the time Jay!

In all the talk of the lp, I almost prefer the live on KPFK 1982 thing that came out in the 90's "The Day Before Wine and Roses." Covers of "Mr. Soul" and "Outlaw Blues" that smoke.

Am I the only one that likes Karl's instrumental rock outfit the Last Days of May (BOC reference?). If I ever get the blog up and running, an indepth piece on those records.

JB

Jay said...

JB and Tim, no one was “making a dis” on the Three O’Clock fellas – genteel doesn’t mean lame, OK. I saw them myself in high school with REM and True West at the Santa Cruz Civic Center and it was a blast. Precoda’s spacey, atmospheric 1990s instrumental mood music band LAST DAYS IN MAY were excellent – though I only heard that first CD and never anything after that. Are you telling me it’s worth buying?

Smash said...

Agreed. DOWAR is definitely my no. one record of all time ...

Kyle said...

I agree on all counts and listen to this album all the time still. Hadn't noticed the snare being muted in the beginning, but I guess that's the way of mastering CDs these days - compress the sound and squash the dynamics.

One of my favorite Precoda moments was one in which he did NOT play. During "When You Smile", as he was about to lurch into his solo, his amp went out. Precoda went ballistic - I guess he was primed for a good one - and immediately set about physically attacking the amp. A roadie, or friend, or whatever had to restrain him for a second. It was rad; he was a full-on animal on the guitar.

Anonymous said...

Jay,

Completely off topic, but I can't let this slip by. Canyon Country is in the Santa Clarita Valley--not even close to the Inland Empire which is nominally a good 50 miles to the East. But yeah, CC is a bastion of "good ol boys" and not far from meth lab central in Palmdale and Lancaster.

And yeah, this is a great LP. I hope Steve Wynn has gotten over his defensiveness when asked about the VU influences....

Scott Soriano said...

I had Days of Wine... sent to me as a promo oh so many years ago and it stands as one of the four best promos I ever got blindsided by (Savage Republic's Tragic Figures, 100 Flowers LP, & Sonic Youth's Kill Yr Idols 12" were the other three). Despite all the "legit" music critics dismissing it as a Lou Reed rip off (like Marsh, Christgau and all those assholes were right about anything), I immediately took to it. It remains one of my favorite records. I was lucky enough to see them live once and they were devestating.

Anonymous said...

I've tried to get into this album for 20 years, and it's just never done it for me. Maybe I needed to see the live show? It just sounds tame to me and the songs aren't anything special. I've always heard that they were more of a live deal....

-trickknee

Anonymous said...

I think Karl Precoda is at Virginia Tech maybe at the time of the tragedy.