The Lonesome Wail of the Theremin
Corporate Rock Sucks preorder giveaway ends Oct. 16
In case you missed last week’s big news, my next book Corporate Rock Sucks: The Rise & Fall of SST Records, will be published in the spring of next year. The announcement was picked up by Punk News and Brooklyn Vegan and I spent an immensely gratifying 24 hours responding to people’s reactions about the news.
So much of what a writer does happens behind the scenes. Even though SST Records has been my main obsession for two-and-a-half years now, people I’ve known forever had no idea the book was in the works. That’s the writing life for you. What we do is secret and its rewards are few and far between. That’s why I believe it’s important to make the most of every milestone. I’ve got another to celebrate, but more on that in a bit.
For everyone who pre-ordered Corporate Rock Sucks, I thank you from the bottom of my Gen X heart. But…
It’s not too late to enter the preorder giveaway!
As I wrote last week, pre-orders matter—perhaps now more than ever. The response to the preorder giveaway has been great. I’m giving away five signed copies of Do What You Want, my book with Bad Religion, and five enamel Punk Van Gogh pins. So far I’ve received 20 entries, which means the odds of winning a prize stand right at a respectable 50%. Want to enter? Simply send a screenshot of your preorder of Corporate Rock Sucks to firstname.lastname@example.org by October 16.
About that milestone. This week I submitted the revised copyedited manuscript of Corporate Rock Sucks to the production team. What does that mean? Before the manuscript can be turned into something that resembles a book several things have to happen: the editor has to read it and provide feedback, and it has to go through a legal review to ensure the publishing company doesn’t get sued. After I made the requested changes the book was ready for the next step: the copyediting process.
The copyeditor provides the most rigorous review the manuscript will receive. What does a copyeditor do? All kinds of things. Eliminates typos, fixes grammar gaffes, creates a style sheet (see below), hunts down content errors, aligns the manuscript with the house style, makes suggestions that allow the writer (i.e. me) to seem so much smarter than they really are, and elevates the book to a professional level.
The process of going through the copyeditor’s suggestions, accepting and rejecting the changes, can take weeks. Why? Because it’s my last chance to make significant changes to the manuscript. The next time I’ll see Corporate Rock Sucks it will be typeset and looking like an actual book, which basically means the book is finally formally finished.
But before I turned in the manuscript something magical happened. Someone who heard about the book reached out to me with some very interesting information. Would I like to chat? Does Henry Rollins wear tiny shorts?
So at the eleventh hour I squeezed in one more interview and I was so glad I did because it was one of these discussions that sews up so many loose ends.
TLDR the book is done done and going to knock your Docs off so why not preorder the thing now?
PssSSST! (Theremin Edition)
Is Mike Vallely a good singer?
That’s the question that kept coming up while I listened to one of the last albums in the SST catalog: Good for You’s 2013 debut LP Life Is too Short to Not Hold a Grudge (SST 385). Pro skateboarder Mike V was infamously named the singer of Black Flag in early 2014, but he had been kicking around SST since 2003 when Black Flag reunited for its poorly received Benefit for Cats. During that misguided comeback, Vallely performed a few sets with the band, much to the confusion and consternation of Black Flag’s fans.
Many people believe Black Flag was goaded into reuniting a second time in 2013 after Keith, Chuck, and Dez formed FLAG with Bill Stevenson and Stephen Egerton of the Descendents and started ripping shit up.
But Jordan Schwartz, who moderates an SST page on Facebook, saw Good for You play in 2013 in front of a very small crowd and he believes that the underwhelming response to his new record Life Is too Short to Not Hold a Grudge was Ginn’s main motivation for getting Black Flag together again.
The problem with Vallely singing Black Flag is that sonically, physically, pretty much every category one can imagine, he comes across as a poor man’s Henry Rollins, a comparison that flatters neither party. But in Good for You, Vallely provides a better sense of what he can do, and I have to say I’m a fan. For one thing, he actually sings, which complements Ginn’s repetitive riffing on the record.
By this point, Ginn had released so many records by his various “bands,” which were essentially studio projects where Ginn played multiple instruments in a variety of styles none of which were hardcore punk, that the public had more or less tuned him out. But Ginn seemed to think he was on to something with Good for You, a name that can be read as a passive aggressive putdown and whose initials are GFY, i.e. go fuck yourself.
By 2013, SST was mostly putting out new releases in CD format, but Life Is too Short to Not Hold a Grudge came out on wax in two versions: black and white. I have the white vinyl and the type on the cover is embossed—a level of care that’s pretty remarkable considering that SST was just a shadow of its former self at this point.
But I haven’t addressed the elephant in the room. The thing that Good for You is best known for isn’t Vallely’s singing or Ginn’s guitar playing but the theremin.
Yes, Greg Ginn, the wizard of American hardcore, let the spooky-sounding wail of the theremin get its hooks into him.
In 2012, Ginn played a theremin-heavy set as The Royal We in a tent at Coachella and somehow managed to clear the room. From that point on Ginn was undaunted. It didn’t matter if he was playing as The Royal We, Good for You, or Black Flag, he was going to bust out his theremin.
The theremin was invented by a Russian scientist while conducting electromagnetic radiation research. He moved to New York and may or may not have been kidnapped by Russian spies and sent to a labor camp. The instrument never really caught on in the United States but was used to great effect in early science fiction films, such as Bernard Herrmann’s score for The Day the Earth Stood Still.
The theremin is featured on a number of songs on Life Is too Short to Not Hold a Grudge, especially on Side 2. On “It’s Just Business,” “Dreams,” and “Blaze of Glory” Ginn busts out the theremin in the spot where one might expect to hear a guitar solo. Overall, Life Is too Short to Not Hold a Grudge is mellower than many of Ginn’s “guitartechno” experiments and while I kinda like it the record ranks near the bottom of my SST collection.
I don’t have an issue with the theremin per se, but to my ears it all sounds the same. There’s only so much you can do with the instrument. Call me jaded, but if you want me to get excited about a theremin you have to set it on fire during a theremin duel accompanied by an enormous Tesla coil.
Thanks for reading, stay safe, and see you next week.