Tuesday, October 24, 2006

From This Machinery Hums Come

fIREHOSE - Another Theory Shot To Shit

After singer and guitarist d.Boon had broken his neck spilling out the back of a van in Tucson, Arizona, his best friend and bandmate in seminal eighties West Coast punk/funk group the Minutemen, Mike Watt, had pretty much given up on music - until twenty-two year old singer/guitarist Ed Crawford found his number in the phonebook and the band fIREHOSE was born. Watt chose the name after watching D.A. Pennebaker’s film for Dylan’s ‘Subterranean Homesick Blues’, “I thought that it was funny when he held up the card that said ‘firehose’”

Teaming up with Minutemen drummer George Hurley, fIREHOSE released their first album in the spring of 1986, the incredible ‘Ragin’ Full On’; a soup of sharp, funked up, punked out pop songs full of witty, intelligent lyrics. It’s a joyful sound, as if they were celebrating d.Boon’s life rather than wallowing in his tragic death. Watt’s bass farts and belches over Crawford’s spiky guitar and Hurley’s propellant drums drive the whole thing to near exhaustible energy levels. I wasn’t sure which track to choose; whether it should be the powerhouse pop of ‘Brave Captain or ‘Choose Any Memory’, the spastic jerk of ‘Under the Influence of the Meat Puppets’ or ‘Relatin’ Dudes to Jazz’ or the acoustic flamenco-flavoured ‘The Candle and the Flame’.

I went for this one because it paints so many pictures for me, reminds me of places I’ve never been and things I’ve never seen. I’ve been listening to this album for nearly twenty years and this song comes to me when I least expect it. Walking through a dappled park in Pennsylvania one autumn afternoon in the early nineties or laying on my bed at my parents’ house with a crippling hangover. You know that line from the Velvet Underground’s ‘Black Angel’s Death Song’- “The cosy brown snow of the East”? That always had a similar effect. It recalls images and dredges up memories of places and events that I experienced long before it was even written; the gentle harmonics that chime through the middle section take me back to my, now long dead, Grandmother’s house in Swinton, Manchester one snowy, seventies Christmas.

‘Another Theory Shot to Shit’ begins like an electromofied version of Bob Dylan’s ‘Talkin’ World War III Blues’ then drops down into a reflective guitar figure and “From the hand of the Government man, came these signs, came these good things” before taking off again. I think it’s concerned with subsidies, grants, factory/mill closures, things that, for someone of my generation, resonate with a depressing veracity. The lyrics read as poetry, simple, clean lines -

“from this machinery hums come
oiled and whirling
fast, strong
tightness, meshing
meshing forever
(pert near)
steel gear inside gear
and smoothness
engaging, releasing
lapping and plunging”

I always thought that it was “Meshing forever Birdmere”; I thought Birdmere was a place or a person, so evocative. Then all the machinery slows, the last workers trudge home clutching their last pay packets, heading towards a future as uncertain as it is inevitable, to do what? Vote? Here the narrator laughs with a pained sarcasm, "Vote", he sighs at the end. What good does it do? How does one re-engage after being jettisoned into an afterlife of silence and penury?

Vote? Thanks but no thanks.

Buy fIREHOSE albums from Amazon
Mike Watt's website
Full fIREHOSE discography
fIREHOSE at allmusic

Domino Jones.