Hotter than the Sun

Pretty Penny


Dee Dee Penny is hotter than lava and she deserves your full attention. She is the leader of the American band Dum Dum Girls, and with her husband, Brandon Welchez of Crocodiles, she is also one furiously beating half of their side project, Haunted Hearts.

Dum Dum Girls started in 2008 in Los Angeles as a solo bedroom project of recorded music. Less than six years later, Dum Dum Girls is a full band, playing in the studio and touring live, with material from three LPs and four EPs.

Dee Dee is almost magical. She can flash more raw might and seduction at you with the barest swish of her pinky than most pop stars can muster with the full and concentrated force of their whole beings. This is a great example of how Dee Dee can parlay softness and vulnerability into the kind of power that few possess:

Under These Hands by Dum Dum Girls, from Too True, (2014 Sub Pop).

Chrissie Hynde & Joan Jett in 1980


In a very short amount of time Dee Dee has gained a deserved place in the rock and roll pantheon, and her throne should be situated close to those of PJ Harvey and Debbie Harry, and perhaps directly between Chrissie Hynde and Joan Jett; ALL of whom, like Dee Dee, have been known to handle a guitar like, “the last machine gun in the universe.”

Effortless and luminous Dee Dee.


Approachable on the surface, but challenging to figure out at depth, Dee Dee’s Dum Dum Girls songs comfortably blend her diverse influences. Not to oversimplify, but I think these can be identified in three or four classes. Here are some songs from other artists with a Dum Dum Girls ‘analogue’ song for comparison:

–First, the pop sensibility of girl groups ranging from The Ronettes or The Crystals to Madonna and beyond.

He Hit Me (And It Felt Like A Kiss) by The Crystals, from the 7” single, (1962 Philles Records – b/w No One Ever Tells You).

Lord Knows by Dum Dum Girls, from the EP End of Daze, (2012 Sub Pop).

–Next, there are prevalent dark and goth-y layers on much of the work, ala Siouxsie and the Cure.

Spellbound by Siouxsie and the Banshees, from the LP Juju, (1981 Polydor).

Johnny Jupiter by Haunted Hearts, from their new album Initiation, (2014 Zoo Music).

Haunted Hearts



–Then, there is the high attitude rock and roll vocal delivery: the lip curling, knowing, and smiling sneer of The King.

That’s All Right by Elvis Presley, from the 7” single (1954 Sun Records – b/w Blue Moon of Kentucky).

Little Minx


Little Minx by Dee Dee Penny from the Dum Dum Girls’ LP Too True (2014 Sub Pop).



Supr Fan with a love note: Last Machine Gun in the Universe.


–Finally, the fun, charisma-spewing, and seemingly effortless ability to rock out.

Message of Love by The Pretenders, from Pretenders II, (1981 Sire).

Dress by PJ Harvey, from Dry (1992 Too Pure).

He Gets Me High by Dum Dum Girls, from the EP He Gets Me High, (2011 Sub Pop).


Few acts can claim the successful synthesis of musical and personal styles created by Dum Dum Girls. They wed great, introspective pop songs with a cultivated and sincerely detached, great, dark collective image. They are wrapping up a massive tour of the United States and Europe. I absolutely loved this New Yorker magazine notice for the band that mentioned Dee Dee’s, “impeccable craftsmanship and vixenish allure.” 

From The New Yorker

FROM The New Yorker.

She is a huge talent who is having a big and busy year. In fewer than six months, and in addition to releasing two albums and supporting one of them with a tour, she also: starred in an esoteric short film that was written by Bret Easton Ellis, and was made for the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art; released at least six song videos; and has been featured by Vogue and AllSaints. Please don’t come around Dee Dee with your wax wings, Icarus, because she is hotter than the sun.

Dee Dee for AllSaints



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Pso Psyched

I love psychedelic music. It is versatile. And it’s fascinating the way it weaves its way organically into so many different genres. It is a vibrant part of rock, folk, soul, funk, and electronic dance music. So it is easy to understand why the recent release Sun Structures by England’s Temples (Heavenly Recordings 2014) is satisfying and fun. These lads are not really pretending to break any new ground, and have generously acknowledged their many influences, (some of which are featured farther below in my investigative sampling.)



Temples join a number of great bands, including Australians Tame Impala and Americans MGMT and TV on the Radio, in proving that psychedelic rock remains fertile creative ground. I think it is a naturally robust genre because it’s renewable, and psychedelia has the power to enhance so many distinct forms. It can take you back in time but interesting new wrinkles arise to keep it sounding fresh and new.

Temples’ consistently successful new iteration of the tradition of psychedelic rock music sounds to me like creatively joyful homage. They are big and getting bigger, and you can check them out here:

Colours to Life by Temples, from Sun Structures (Heavenly Recordings 2014).

You will think of your own examples, and my list is by no means comprehensive, but I wanted to take a shot at finding a dozen or so good songs from a variety of genres, and also cover a number of years. (I left out a decade and a half of the 1970s/early 1980s.) Let’s get started with a tune from four shaggy Liverpudlians you may have heard of.

—-This is like a shot of adrenaline – the juxtaposed airiness of the manipulated effects and strings with Ringo Starr’s powerful drumming make this a magical three minutes. Rock on:

Tomorrow Never Knows by The Beatles, from Revolver (Parlophone/Capitol 1966).

—-The Byrds used psychedelia effectively in rock and even country. Here, David Crosby taps into psych-folk:

Everybody’s Been Burned by The Byrds, from Younger Than Yesterday (Columbia 1967).

—-The organ, the bluesy/jazzy guitar, and the Latino rhythms are all combined by Santana to “psych” up this number by Tito Puente:

Oye Como Va by Santana, from Abraxas (CBS 1970).

T. Rex

T. Rex

—-Marc Bolan and Tony Visconti present us with a screaming wonder of glam-psych:

Rip Off by T. Rex, from Electric Warrior (Warner Brothers Records 1971).

Dukes of Stratosphear

Dukes of Stratosphear

—-More psych homage. XTC, a band so badly underappreciated, created fun individual aliases (Lord Cornelius Plum!) for their alias ‘pside’ project, Dukes of Strotosphear. The result is a blast. They channeled the Beach Boys, Beatles, Kinks, Pink Floyd

and others with great results:

Little Lighthouse by Dukes of Strotosphear, from Chips from the Chocolate Fireball, (Virgin Records 1987).

—-Danceable madness from Scotland – this is ecstatic:

Passing Away by The Shamen, from their album Drop, (Moksha 1987).

—-So weird and so funky, the prolific master, Prince, infused psych into many of the different musical genres he’s laid down. The cat can dance – check him out:

Gett Off by Prince and The New Power Generation, from Diamonds and Pearls (Paisley Park/Warner Brothers Records 1991).

Hey buddy, how about something from this century?

—-A heavy dose from Sweden, saturated with strings and kettle drums:

Satt Att Se by Dungen, from 4 (Kemado 2008).

More recent examples:

—-Lucifer Sam from 2011. Check out MGMT, (with a little help from Deerhunter’s Bradford Cox sporting his mad, black leather cape,) in this wonderful and strange live cover of Pink Floyd:  [The song originally appeared on The Piper at the Gates of Dawn by Pink Floyd (EMI Columbia/Tower 1967).]

—-Endors toi by Tame Impala, from Lonerism (Modular 2012).

TV on the Radio

TV on the Radio

—-Million Miles by TV on the Radio, B-Side from 12” Mercy/Million Miles (Federal Prism 2013).

9 may 2014

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Morrissey has been much on my mind. (This piece is a continuation of its preceding post, called Flight.)

Cool cats.

Cool cats.

He’s re-booked Lincoln’s beautiful Rococo Theatre and I am happy to report that we have a table and seats reserved for the upcoming May show. While anticipating the concert and having just finished his book, I decided to share a few thoughts in review.

Okay – a deep breath…

Criticism comes naturally to some. Probably because I am thin-skinned, it does not come to me so easily. I tend to think of myself this way: I am loyal. When I am IN, I am ALL IN. For example, I bristle at the lukewarm, “What have you done for me lately?” attitudes that people take about their once-revered entertainers and athletes. In fact, I despise that. But after only short reflection, I fear that in this regard I am as guilty as anyone else – regularly discarding my favored stars of music and film once I judge them to have overreached or to have become too popular.

This is a confession, and not an easy one. It is difficult because in these moments of painful recognition – when we realize that we are thinking and behaving in ways that we dislike – to paraphrase my old friend Brent, “we cast the darkest shadows on ourselves.” It is when we hate most intensely within ourselves those outward qualities that we have come to hate in other people.

Morrissey 's Autobiography

Morrissey ‘s Autobiography

Morrissey, Autobiography (New York: Penguin, 2013) 454 pages.

I love this artist, and I wanted to love his book, so writing anything even remotely negative about Morrissey’s long, dense, and poetic Autobiography feels a bit like betrayal. But here goes…

One of my idols is a man who, throughout his life, has come to feel so consistently let down and unsatisfied, (perceived as a “spectacle of misfortune,”) that his book was difficult to penetrate and somewhat harder to enjoy. I knew better than to expect a bright warm jaunt through the life of an international pop icon, but the clouds cannot always be greyest over Morrissey, can they? Sometimes the sun must shine, and I really had hoped for more joy and more good times.

Vain hope. The book is generally rather dull – it casts the pervasive unwelcoming and perturbed vibe of misanthropy. Besides the fact of being ALWAYS misunderstood, it seems there are only a few things about which he is certain. Among these are his perfect taste, strong opinions, and his vast talent. Everyone else mostly falls short.

About many people and situations he is sometimes merely bitchy:

“… Siouxsie [Sioux] is wearing reflective sunglasses so that her eyes are not visible to anyone, and instantly her demands are barked out with a voice of punished ferocity. Within eight seconds she seems to have alienated everyone in the room…”

Often he is completely savage. During a “life-giving” festival appearance by the Smiths, Morrissey writes of Factory Records founder and the festival’s organizer, Tony Wilson:

“…[Wilson] flutters and fumes backstage … and he spends the remainder of his life with a MorrisseySmiths wasting disease of the lower limbs, whilst oddly admitting that his big mistake in life was that he didn’t sign the Smiths to Factory…”

Adding to the book’s difficulty was the stylistic lack of clear breaks for chapters, stories, or themes. Other than some occasional double spacing, the episodes run into one another. The book’s only real pattern is chronology – so besides things being laid out more or less in order, we don’t have much in the way of signals about how to read, for instance, when has one bit stopped and another is about to begin.

Another stylistic source of annoyance, (and here, writes the wee blogging pot to the mega-star kettle,) the prose of Autobiography is mostly overwrought. It is well done in bits and pieces, but to read at any length, it is swampy:

“The post-volcanic black worn by the school nuns and their monastic sheepish priests shapes the subtle effects of oppression; they know their time has gone, and the spinster-faced have seen the door close for the last time.”

In many ways the contents of his book are put together like the lyrics of his songs – remarkably observed pieces of a life that make the ordinary seem extraordinary – partly because the observations are relatable. But in the assembly the contents run and mush together. I wonder what kind of book Morrissey may have come up with if he’d structured it differently. For instance, what if he’d broken it into manageable and defined episodes or chapters? He may have presented the world with a series of beautiful, cohesive, and coherent chapters – think of The Beatles’ songs Norwegian Wood flowing into You Won’t See Me on Rubber Soul; nearly perfect songs that one can relate to, and that are two or three minutes long. Instead we find Freebird running into Truck Drivin’ Man by Lynyrd Skynyrd (Skynyrd’s Innyrds) a couple of tortuous messes that clock at ten and five minutes respectively.


Good times for a change.

Good times for a change – Johnny & Morrissey.

To be fair, there were some lovely, sunny pages in Autobiography. It was fun and familiar to read of his youthful thrall to poets, music, and musicians. He gives favorable impressions of other pop stars: he mostly worships New York Dolls; he vacillates in affection for but mainly respects the artistry of David Bowie and Bryan Ferry; he adores Chrissie Hynde and Nancy Sinatra. And there are heartbreaking losses, friendships, and artistic triumphs – for example there is genuine warmth and closeness that he sometimes felt with his Smiths co-founder, Johnny Marr. But the demeanor of Morrissey’s cloudy public persona, made for far more gloomy pages than bright ones.

Oscillate Wildly - Had they met, one wonders what the poet and the singer would have made of one another.

Oscillate Wildly – There is danger in learning too much about artists. Had they met, one wonders what the poet and the poet/singer would have made of one another.

I do love this artist – few have meant so much to me. It is a bad mistake sometimes to meet one’s idols – and often dangerous to learn too much about them. It’s a mistake I continue to make.

His book was a miss for me, but I can’t wait to see him perform again soon. By then I will have forgiven Morrissey.

His lyrical genius, wonderfully distinct voice, and peerless commitment to material have made Morrissey a huge international star, and one of my favorites for all-time. Ranging from early to recent, here are a few examples of his mastery: Headmaster Ritual by the Smiths, from Meat is Murder, (Rough Trade/Sire 1985). a Person by the Smiths, from Louder Than Bombs, (Rough Trade/Sire 1987).é by Morrissey, from Viva Hate (HMV/Sire 1988). Cloud by Morrissey, from Years of Refusal, (Polydor Records 2009).

I think his chart numbers are surprising:

– 25 april 2014

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Like anyone who ever has been young you probably shared with me the natural adolescent aches of isolation. Real or imagined, isolation could make us feel anxious, acutely misunderstood, and put upon. It’s damned confusing to grow up – one wants so much and sometimes so little seems available.

I knew that out there SOMEWHERE there were cool things, like, oh, maybe, shapely masked cat women dancing balanced on bottles.

I knew that out there SOMEWHERE there were cool things, like, oh, maybe, shapely masked cat women dancing balanced on bottles.

We knew that there were cool things out there somewhere, and we were busy learning the terrible lesson that we would not get to be in on all of those cool things.

Not all the time, but sometimes the psychic and emotional yearnings that accompany youth were compounded for me by what felt like actual isolation. Real or imagined, a gargantuan physical distance seemed to lay between me, being in the center of Nebraska, and those places where anything existed that was actually cool. The proximity itself was painful.

Fortunately I was paying attention when the gods sent me the clues to climb through a portal out. I was given access to a passageway that would lead from our desert of cultural blandness to a mind-nourishing oasis dripping with cool stuff.

The portal was Night Flight, a four-hour show that ran on the USA Network on Friday and Saturday nights from 1981-1988. I devoured it.

An oasis of cool.

An oasis of cool.

During high school and college this pop culture late-show was always eye opening. Most formative and memorable to me were the odd mixtures of film and music videos that were unavailable to me elsewhere. They overshadowed the forgettable comedy and topical commentary which acted as filler.

Each week would bring a movie to surprise and feed a hungry mind. Eras and genres were jumbled. Camp classics in the vein of Reefer Madness mixed it up with sci-fi or classic horror like The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari. Foreign films shared the screen from week to week with the cult features Breaking Glass; Rude Boy; and Ladies and Gentlemen, The Fabulous Stains. We were presented with art films of Paul Morrissey and Andy Warhol, such as the graphic Flesh for Frankenstein, alongside mind-expanding experiments like Haskell Wexler’s Medium Cool and David Lynch’s Eraserhead.

There was also a good chance that you could catch a music video that you wouldn’t see anywhere else. Along with MTV’s 120 Minutes, Night Flight was a treasured TV venue for hearing some great songs for the first time.

Sometime early in 1985, (probably between mid-February and mid-March,) Night Flight aired a music video that would shake me roughly awake. I was 19. The video featured dizzying, bleak shots of a cityscape – smokestacks pumping polluted black clouds into a grimy sky; panoramic shots of anonymous looking buildings and of towering, arched train bridges. There were mysterious, dark, nighttime shots of a very plain, very pretty girl dancing wildly in a spotlight against the background of a plain, stone wall – she wore a red sweater and a her delightfully insistent blonde bob refused to be contained in her red tam-o’shanter. Most jarring were the few jittery frames of a thin, handsome young man contorting his angular dancing body, and who spouted poetry in his hypnotic song, asking, “How soon is now?”.


They would not only change my taste in music, they would influence my whole life.

They would not only change my taste in music, they would influence my whole life.

My eyes flew open wide and my blood quickened. Here was flight. The brilliantly manipulated guitar music that this band conjured floated and swelled and made me want to soar, while the hypnotic, driving drumbeat created its own gravitational pulsations, forcing me to stay back on earth. My obsession with the Smiths commenced, and I embarked on an obsessive crush of fascination with Morrissey, the band’s singer.

Apparently, the Smiths were mortified by this music video that their label (Rough Trade) made as a promotion and without their consent. It is still mesmerizing:

My Smiths/Morrissey obsession has waxed and waned – temporally bookended by that late winter of 1985 and now, the spring of 2014. Closing in on 30 years, I strongly suppose that it will continue as I breathe on into the ever-expanding present.

Symptoms of obsession:

I removed the dust jacket while I read the book so I wouldn't muss the edges.

I removed the dust jacket while I read the book so I wouldn’t muss the edges.

  • Even now, at the age of 48, I recently removed the dust jacket from Morrissey’s Autobiography so that the photo on the cover would not be damaged from over-handling while I read the book. (Yes, I did.)
  • A couple of years ago, with my wife Judy saving my place early one morning, anticipating a long line of fans, I waited in front of the Rococo Theatre in our hometown to buy tickets to see him sing. (Yes, we did. And in the age of online ticket sales the physical line that summer morning consisted of just her and me together.)
  • Morrissey would postpone that concert twice, and finally would cancel his third intention to perform in our town. Even though each of his reasons was valid and true, obsessed, I would take each brutal postponement and the cancellation quite personally.
  • When last we saw him perform in May 2007, Morrissey took the Orpheum’s stage in Omaha. Here was a man. Once wiry and athletic his body had grown unapologetically thick and his hair a bit thinner. The fluid and willowy young rock god had blossomed into regal and fuller-figured middle age. While he was still graceful and elegant, Morrissey displayed the purposeful, decisive grace of a whale and no longer the playful, agile grace of a dolphin. Wearing what appeared to be an expensive, tailored, handmade red silk shirt, at an orgiastic moment of the song (perhaps it was the gorgeous and aching I Am Hated For Loving,) just like the old days, Morrissey bared his torso, ripping open the front of the beautiful shirt, buttons sent flying. Craziness. He mopped his glistening white chest and tossed the shirt into the adoring hands of the audience. Judy’s eyes widened, her eyebrows rose immediately and so far that they nearly left her forehead. She began to laugh in disbelief.
    Graduate of the Tom Jones School for Boys.

    Graduate of the Tom Jones School for Boys.

    “Who,” her laughter and eyes seemed to say, “rips off a shirt looking like that?” Obsessed and overprotective, I met Judy’s laughter with an unforgiving scowl of disapproval. “Who,” my serious look to her asked back, “chuckles at the thrilling decision of a DIETY, when he chooses to remove his shirt?”

    My generation’s Oscar Wilde, our Frank Sinatra and our Elvis Presley, has re-booked the Rococo Theatre, and Morrissey will be playing Lincoln next month. Without waiting in any lines, (real or imagined,) we have a table and seats reserved. Between anticipating the upcoming concert and having just finished his book, this giant of modern entertainment and provocation has been much on my mind. Next time, I am going to share a few thoughts on his book.

    This video, compiled from live performances, can give you an idea of the kind of worship that this artist inspires:  “Will Never Marry” by Morrissey, from the compilation album Bona Drag (1990 HMV/ re-released 2010 EMI).

    His voice is underappreciated:  “I Am Hated for Loving” by Morrissey, from Vauxhall And I (Parlophone Records 1994).

    11 April 2014

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NEW and Delicious

My unsentimental wife recently had some encouragement for me. She thought I ought to consider not posting anything about family for this installment. Instead, she said I should get a few thoughts down about some of the terrific new music that has been filling up our house. There is much to be excited about in this still young year. Here are a quartet of high-quality releases from January and February.

St. Vincent by St. Vincent (2014 Loma Vista)

If I wished for a younger sister, it'd be Annie.

If I wished for a younger sister, it’d be Annie.

Is anyone else challenging the ideas and limits of rock music as successfully as Annie Clark? The new persona is a trope. Like David Bowie’s creations Aladdin Sane and Ziggy Stardust, she’s playing a far out, (and, one supposes, a temporary,) character. Aside from her current incarnation as the transfixing silver-haired, vinyl-clad high priestess of white spirits, there is her jarring music.

She is a fearless and often brilliant experimenter, and has always zigged when one expected that she’d zag: unexpectedly slowing things down a beat, going a half note sharp here or there, blasting trumpets when you expect a gentle flute. There is so much to be impressed by – in what seems on the surface to be over-the-top there is an agonizing restraint.

Huey Newton by St. Vincent:


Too True by Dum Dum Girls (2014 Sub Pop Records)

Dee Dee Penny is the beautiful face and the main songwriter of the Dum Dum Girls. She is the genuine article. Really, she’s radiant and should be a huge star. I want her and her band to be successful, too. I hope they are selling tons of records and selling out their shows. I also temper my kind wishes with the thought that they are just about successful enough. I love everything they have released, and sometimes when the bell of great fame rings, (the ring that cannot be unrung,) it is the undoing of my romance with a band.

Luminous - Dum Dum Girls

Luminous – Dum Dum Girls

Few acts can claim the successful synthesis of musical and personal styles created by Dum Dum Girls. They wed great, introspective pop songs with a cultivated and sincerely detached, great, dark collective image that is reminiscent of the (truly) indie early 1980s. The vibe of the band is consistently darker (think of Siouxsie Sioux) than the actually music. The music often has more in common with the straightforward, skilled and cool rock and roll of the Pretenders than any goth-y post punk. (Especially on records preceding Too True, Dee Dee sometimes sounds hauntingly like Chrissie Hynde.) Dee Dee’s delivery is always right on, and combined with her searching lyrics, she often brings to mind a range of singers from the girl groups of the 60s.

Dum Dum Girls never disappoint, and this record with its short, to-the-point songs and driving pop rock will be one of my favorites of the year.

Lost Boys and Girls Club by Dum Dum Girls:


Cursing the Sea by September Girls (2014 Fortuna POP!) 

Irish Imports - September Girls

Irish Imports – September Girls

Taking their name from a Big Star song September Girls is a Dublin band. They have made a really wonderful and noisy debut album that is drenched in reverb and distortion effects. They claim inspiration from The Cure, The Jesus and Mary Chain, My Bloody Valentine, and The Velvet Underground. Among the fantastic layers there is also a beating heart of pop sensibility that owes a debt to 60s girl groups. In a rich rock style, most of the songs are torn through in less than three minutes.

Heartbeats by September Girls:


Warpaint by Warpaint (2014 Rough Trade Records)

Let's have a beer together.

Let’s have a beer together.

This record will reward you if you like the kind of dark, expansive, and patient music of Massive Attack, or the soundtracks for films of David Lynch. Radiohead influences are very apparent, too; Warpaint was mixed by Nigel Godrich.

It is atmospheric and composed and is more of a grower than their previous record The Fool, which was so immediately likeable. The music here is spacious and mature. Warpaint delivers the same commitment and energy as ever and they come together powerfully.

Biggy by Warpaint: cover

5 march 2014


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