Trademark Of Quality

(Excitable Press)

 

www.excitablepress.com

 

BY FRED MILLS

 

Once upon a time, back when the Internet was just a
lascivious gleam in Al Gore’s eye, and the term “blog” was probably some
square’s mispronouncing the name of B-movie director Charles Russell’s
ridiculously overblown 1988 remake of the ‘50s sci-fi classic The Blob, journalists actually had to
work at their so-called “craft” without the benefit of online cheat sheets like
Wikipedia, AllMusic.com or IMDB.com. Granted, we rock critics all stole
brazenly from one another like we were some kind of Geek Mafia, and we were
also shamelessly influenced by an elite cadre of writerly dons who either got
to the table first or who had such outsized talents, and in some instances egos
to go with the talent, that they essentially forged the templates – among them,
Lester Bangs, R. Meltzer, Dave Marsh, Paul Williams, Greg Shaw and Rick
Johnson. Regardless, our cause was righteous.

 

Rev. Keith A. Gordon, a regular BLURT contributor and the
feisty lead critical voice at About.com Blues,
was among those whippersnappers who came up through the ranks suckling hungrily
at the crit-teat, getting his start in this torn ‘n’ tarnished bizness we call
rock ‘n’ roll journalism around 1973 and going on, as he outlines in the
introduction to his new book Trademark Of
Quality
(Excitable Press), to receive crucial mentoring from Rick Johnson
himself, a mainstay back in the day at the mighty CREEM magazine. And over the years Gordon has made it his personal
mandate not to squander the implicit trust Johnson built into the pact, which
in a very real sense can be distilled down to one simple little phrase that
carries a huge umbrella of implication:

 

If it don’t rock, you
can stuff it in a sock!

 

Okay, metaphorical musings on musical metaphysics aside,
what we have here is 332 opinion-crammed pages of Rev. Gordon’s verbiage,
culled from his blog of the same name, Trademark
Of Quality
, which ran from 2007-2010. The good Reverend’s mission at the
time, as he describes it in his intro, was to revive the long-form album review
format that had been so important during rock criticism’s formative years but
which had largely been consigned to the dustbin of history by 2007: “While the
bird-cage liner that was Blender magazine stuck the first knife in the corpse, it was the music site Pitchfork, with its snarky and
all-too-brief album reviews, that smashed the long form review over the head
with a shovel and subsequently buried it in an abandoned factory somewhere
south of Chicago. Much music criticism these days is written by
marginally-literate debutantes in search of free music and their name on the
guest list, one and two-paragraph reviews tapped out on the keyboard with no
sense of rock ‘n’ roll history, and no critical faculty beyond sarcasm.”

 

To that end, the boy dove right in. Appropriating his moniker
from the legendary Trademark Of Quality bootleg record label that operated with
near-impunity during the seventies (and cheekily borrowing the label’s
leering-pig logo as well), Gordon launched his blob, er, blog, which produced
hundreds of reviews and commentaries during its run, at its peak getting 40,000
unique visitors (from over 100 countries) per month. Those ain’t Pitchfork numbers, but it’s a reasonable
bet that the Rev’s readership was eminently more loyal – not to mention vastly
more entertained, and informed – than the frequenters of your garden-variety
hipster blog.

 

Two-fisted, yet frequently voluptuous, evidence of the TMOQ entertainment/informational factor runs
amuck in the pages of the book, which is divided into sections devoted to CD
reviews, DVD reviews, Book reviews and Miscellaneous, of which the latter’s
swing from a eulogy for Jolt Cola (at the time, this legal brand of liquid
crack has recently been discontinued, leaving jittery college students and
musicians in a state of agitated withdrawal) to an in-depth appreciation of
British folk-prog kings The Strawbs is clearly an outward expression of Gordon’s
early literary weaning-via-CREEM. The
only thing more fun than reading about the Strawbs right after Jolt, one
imagines, would be reading about the Strawbs while ON Jolt… I digress… Speaking
of weaning: Gordon also pays tribute to his old mentor Johnson with a heartfelt
review of Rick Johnson Reader: Tin Cans,
Squeems and Thudpies
, edited by Bill Knight and published in 2007. “Buy or
die, buckaroos!” Gordon succinctly summarizes, at the end of his commentary.
(This brings up my only complaint about the book: the lack of an exact date for
the essays. I’ve got the Johnson anthology so I knew it came out in 2007, which
meant Gordon most likely wrote his review in 2007. But it would’ve been nice to
include that original month/year publication info with each piece.)

 

But per the “mission” mentioned above, it’s the CD reviews comprising
the bulk of TMOQ that are guaranteed
to wax your moustache and make your credit card cower in fear. Look no further
than a left-field entry early in the discussion of Anthology by Nordic black metal gods Burzum, infamous due in no
small part for their twisted frontman Count Grishnacht, who was jailed for the
murder of a former bandmember and also was suspected of torching several
churches in Norway.
Rather than dwell at length upon the sensational elements of the Burzum
backstory, Gordon summarizes the basic details then delves directly into what,
to many, are undoubtedly heretofore un-pondered subtleties of the Burzum aural
experience. Writes Gordon, without a trace of a snarkster’s ironic distance,
“It’s seldom that you get a chance to find something as fresh and relatively
unknown as Burzum in this day-and-age of cloned bands and media overkill.”
Where a lesser reviewer would feel the irresistible tug of
over-contextualization (say, to ponder how Burzum stacks up against Jay-Z or
the Kings of Leon), in Gordon’s hands, there’s no judgment being passed here on
anything but the music itself.

 

And that straightforward approach to reviewing is the whole
point of the book. Gordon knows a well-turned phrase or two, and he’s not
afraid to wield ‘em; but he always circles back to the musical merits of the
material. This means that reviews of, um, hipster-approved artists such as the
Waco Brothers, Nick Lowe and the Detroit Cobras rub shoulders with the
resolutely uncool likes of Blue Oyster Cult, the Moody Blues and, God help us,
Piper, which was Billy “The Stroke” Squier’s early, poofy-haired hard pop
combo, and for whom Gordon perfectly summarizes their lingering, though brief,
brilliance thusly: “The band’s 1976 debut draws… from a power-pop tradition
shared by contemporaries like Cleveland’s Raspberries or Detroit’s Romantics,
drawn in a straight line from like-minded fellow travelers the Hollies and Big
Star.” Let the Piper revival start here now,
kids. And for all you fetishists-of-the-obscure, Gordon’s got plenty here for
you to chew on. My personal fave is a retrospective look at ‘80s SST hard
rockers Das Damen’s classic album from 1988, Triskadekaphobe, an essay Gordon apparently posted to his blog on a
Friday the 13th, appropriately enough. Comparing the band one minute
to MC5 (in their loud riff-rock), the next to Sonic Youth (“inspired guitar
squonk”), and the next to R.E.M. (their melodic underpinning), he makes a
convincing case for Das Damen being one of the great unsung heroes of the era –
and, like Piper, ripe for rediscovery.

 

So get the book, for cryin’ out loud. I’ll just add that I
was immensely flattered that day when, a couple of years ago, Gordon got in
touch and queried whether I might be able to use him as a writer for BLURT.
Gee, Rev., does the Pope swig Romilar? Folks like Gordon continue to carry the
torch and fight the good fight knowing that our chosen profession pays peanuts
– even less nowadays than it did 5, 10, 20 years ago – and that our ability to
have an influence on the public that is actually measurable (i.e., in boosted
record sales) has been vastly and probably permanently marginalized by the
Internet and the rise of citizen journalism.

 

Ironically, though, it’s that same technological marvel that
provides us with the freedom to say exactly what we want to, and at whatever
length we deem necessary to make our points. In that regard, Gordon and the
rest of us who came up in the same era and were terminally warped as
impressionable young kids by the CREEMs, Crawdaddys, Fusions, BAMs, Phonograph Record Magazines and, yes,
even the Rolling Stones of the
rock-write world, have come full circle, essentially writing only because we
love the music with all our hearts and feel some strange innate compulsion to
spread the word.

 

Accept nothing less. It will serve as your own trademark of
quality.

 

 

Gordon has kindly made
a free, downloadable PDF edition of his book available at his Mondo Gordo
website.
As always, of course, we suggest you support independent artists, so
check out some of his scribbling then order the real deal. Buy or die,
buckaroos!

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