With R.E.M. as its most famous global export, the rootsy American “college rock” of the mid-80s, alternately derided or celebrated in stateside fanzines as “jangle” – but most commonly as college rock – was applauded and lauded very enthusiastically across the pond. I used to buy those Sounds, NMEs and Melody Makers almost weekly when they’d turn up in SF Bay Area record stores around 1983-85, and sometimes it was the only place to actually learn and get more than a cursory paragraph about bands like True West, Green on Red, Thin White Rope, Naked Prey and so forth.
I’ll admit I wasn’t a big fan, except for what I’d hear from the “paisley underground” bands from LA: Dream Syndicate, Green on Red (especially this EP) the Three O’Clock (I wouldn’t hear their earlier Salvation Army stuff for a few more years) and the Bangs/Bangles. I did not, and still do not, care much for the Rain Parade – but wow, the UK press talked about them like they were the second coming. Just after high school I saw a show in Santa Cruz with R.E.M. headlining, and True West and the Three O’Clock opening. This would have been absolute “peak UK mania” for Americana rock.
Unfortunately so much of that stuff got snapped up and corporatized by major labels pretty quickly, and I couldn’t really see that the UK press – and by that time, Spin and Rolling Stone – were making fine distinctions about what was truly interesting and mind-expanding, and what was just some lame rootsy retread. I’m thinking about bands like “Jason and The Scorchers” and The Del-Fuegos. No thanks. Bucketfull of Brains was a UK fanzine that did a little better, I guess, at pulling wheat from chaff, yet they were clearly all-in on anything with chiming guitars and a mythos, real or imagined, that circled around the desert, the west, California and so forth. Bands that wore cowboy boots on stage and played loud-ish guitars were right in the wheelhouse.
There’s a sense in reading Bucketfull of Brains, at least this particular issue, #13, that maybe punk never actually happened. Rocknroll progressed from The Byrds, Beatles and psychedelia to late 70s power pop and early 80s jangle, and there might have been this in-between period that’s perhaps better not spoken of. Certainly it’s an approach that few others were taking at the time, and it reads like a true fanzine, with somewhat primitive typesetting and clear, unadorned fandom taking the reins, as opposed to, say, an assignment from an editor.
So in this world, which would have been written right around the time I was gawking at that show in Santa Cruz, and which came out in October 1985, a record like the Hoodoo Gurus’ Mars Needs Guitars is a masterpiece. Thin White Rope are genius desert mystics (despite being from the college town of Davis, CA). And the aforementioned Del Fuegos “are probably the connecting link between garage rock and American ‘roots’ rock and roll”. Well, probably, right?
Nigel Cross was no longer the editor (his last at the helm was BoB #10), but he relates a tale of visiting Los Angeles and being driven (poorly) by Falling James Moreland, with Kendra Smith in the car to see the Dan Stuart (Green on Red) and Steve Wynn (Dream Syndicate) side project Danny & Dusty play a rare live gig. He’s magnanimous for the most part in describing his evening until summarizing, in the sweet English manner, “I’d somehow expected more than was delivered tonight”. I like that. I’d have liked to have seen Danny & Dusty too, as I very much enjoy that album of theirs, which was overpressed on a major label to the point where at this writing there are 79 copies for sale on Discogs, starting at $3.79.
Jon Storey was the editor at this time, and I’ll say with honesty that his version of the magazine got better in the years to come. I have a few of them, and frankly this one doesn’t quite capture a breadth of taste and enthusiasm across the spectrum of white rocknroll the way later issues do. There’s a piece on LA’s Wednesday Week and an interview with Husker Du, who’ve just jumped about to a major label and are very much happy to leave SST behind.
But the best is an overview of New Zealand’s underground by one Richard Langston, at the time the editor of Dunedin’s Garage fanzine, the issues of which just got a deluxe release in book form (!). It’s called “Legends of the Kiwi Beat”, and it introduces England to The Clean, The Chills, Sneaky Feelings, The Verlaines, Doublehappys, The Rip and Look Blue Go Purple, written in a “you won’t believe what’s going on down here since you can’t find these records, so let me tell you” style. Was this actually the first time this music was introduced to the UK? I can’t tell you – I was an American teenager.
But the piece is worth the price of admission for this issue and then some, and thankfully, Bucketfull of Brains mags are fairly easy to come by on eBay for not too much money if you’re so inclined. It was quite well-distributed; we even got them at Morninglory Music in my college town of Isla Vista, CA, where I’d turn my nose up at it with all the musical confidence and knowledge I’d thus far accumulated at age 18.
2 thoughts on “Bucketfull of Brains #13”
Thanks for the mention Jay. Todd Hozac told me about your site. Tons of great reading here.
Garage book landed yesterday, cannot wait to get into it.
Would have killed to come across the Langston article bitd.
‘Course I was only 10.