Claim to Fame

The depth and diversity of the current Chicago rock scene make it easy to forget how fallow things were around here in the 80s, when great bands–Eleventh Dream Day, Big Black, Naked Raygun–could be counted on one hand. Worse yet, that underdeveloped scene was crippled by a divisiveness that some bitter vets have never managed to shrug off. Vic Bondi, front man for Articles of Faith, one of Chicago’s earliest hardcore bands, is still bitching about that bygone era. “The Effigies and the old Evanston crew still plodded around in their steel-toed boots pretending they were British,” he gripes in the liner notes to the AoF retrospective recently released on two separate discs by Jello Biafra’s Alternative Tentacles label. “AoF and the hardcore kids were building a national scene in the city.”

It’s too bad Bondi comes off as such a humorless blowhard on paper, because the music on Complete Vol. 1 1981-1983 doesn’t need nostalgic self-congratulation to justify its rerelease. The disc, which contains the group’s first and best album, Give Thanks (recorded by Bob Mould and released on his Reflex label in 1984), a couple of early singles, and an unreleased live track, documents the formation of the band’s sound, which combined early thrash, the pile-driver chug of Motorhead, and even a hint of CCR-style roots rock. Bondi is right–AoF did help establish a distinctly American hardcore, one with more affinity for flannel than black leather. The band also managed to be political without being too preachy–the anticonsumerist manifesto “What We Want Is Free” sounds more relevant now than ever. Complete Vol. 2 1983-1985, on the other hand, serves as a reminder of the band’s inability to develop: as AoF attempted to expand their sound with bland acoustic strumming and faux funk, the lyrics grew heavy-handed and Bondi tried to croon, revealing the limitations of his voice.

Where in the World Are We?

Last month I visited Essen, Germany, to attend Womex, a music conference that brought together more than 1,800 artists, booking agents, concert promoters, record label reps, and other members of the music biz. The event is structured like American music conferences such as South by Southwest and the CMJ convention, offering panel discussions, evening showcases, and plenty of opportunities to schmooze, but it focuses exclusively on world music, and it was very much a European event. There were only 106 Americans present–France has almost that many world-music labels. Although interest in international music continues to grow in the U.S., the stuff remains more deeply ingrained in European culture.

We should pay closer attention–the gap between our music and the rest of the world’s is shrinking. International artists are concocting various hybrids of traditional and Western styles, and much of today’s most exciting pop music is created outside the U.S. But with non-Anglo artists virtually excluded from the radio and ghettoized in chain record stores, it’s hard as hell to follow developments in international pop.

World 2002 (Narada World) is a good place to start remedying that situation. Although I’m generally no fan of the sort of multiculti mishmashes Starbucks and Putumayo put out, this two-disc compilation smartly showcases an emerging aesthetic in which ancient traditions mix with Western pop ideas while retaining their native identities. Compiled by influential BBC DJ Charlie Gillett, the collection features 37 acts from 24 countries, and the styles represented include fado (Portugal’s Mariza), brass-laden Gypsy folk (Mostar Sevdah Reunion), pentatonic Ethiopian funk (Gigi), flamenco (Spain’s Estrella Morente), and Tuvan electronica (Sainkho Namtchylak).

While 80s world beat found traditional musicians tacking Western pop rhythms to their songs, the new breed integrates musical styles from various cultures on its own terms. The touch of Joni Mitchell in Algerian singer Souad Massi’s voice and the mix of jacked-up beats and ecstatic qawwali by Temple of Sound & Rizwan Muazzam Qawwali come off as careful aesthetic choices, not concessions to Western taste. Some of the selections embody the worst characteristics of “world music” as a genre–Kristi Stassinopoulou’s mystical Greek fluff, Mamani Keita & Marc Minelli’s bland Malian house–but as a whole the compilation captures the spirit of artistic risk taking that I witnessed in Essen at packed showcases by acts like Morocco’s Najat Aatabou and Turkey’s DJ Mercan Dede.

Wyman v. Wyman

For a brief period in 1992, music writer Bill Wyman mistakenly received small royalty checks for reruns of TV appearances the Rolling Stones had made years ago–checks intended for former Stones bassist Bill Wyman. He returned the checks and cleared up the confusion. But then a couple of weeks ago the former Reader music critic, currently a staff writer and editor at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, received a letter from Wyman the Stone’s New York attorney, Howard Siegel, demanding that he discontinue his use of the name Bill Wyman.

In an AJC piece last week Wyman wrote, “Mr. Siegel magnanimously allowed I could continue to use my own name if I could prove that I had come by it legally, and if I added a disclaimer to everything I wrote in the future, ‘clearly indicating that [you are] not the same Bill Wyman who was a member of the Rolling Stones.'” Wyman then pointed out that the bassist’s real name is William George Perks; he started calling himself Bill Wyman in 1963 and made the change legal the following year. Wyman the writer was given his name at birth, in 1961.

Why was Wyman busted after all these years? It turns out that George Varga, a writer in San Diego, interviewed the bassist last month and thought it would be funny to show him an article about some recent Stones reissues written by someone named Bill Wyman. Wyman the writer received a copy of the interview transcript last week; according to him, “[the musician] goes off into a little thing about people who used his name in the past. There was some beer company that called itself Wyman Beer and their logo kind of looked like one of his album covers. He started talking about violations of his trademark, and he asked for a copy of the article.” The newspaper responded to Siegel’s letter by sending a copy of Wyman’s piece.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photos/Gail Butensky, William Berry.