richard meltzer's review of radio ethiopia

[from “A Certified Good ’un, Y’Know?”, by Richard Meltzer, Creem, January 1977]

Back in July or August of nineteen hunnert sevendee Ronnie Finkelstein of Circus Mag told me there was this dynamite broad working at Scribner’s Bookstore in NYC who was givin people free books all the time and takin outa the cash register and one of the books she was givin was my harder’n-hell-to-read (never read it myself) rockbook which she was even reading. Told me she looked like Keith Richards so I couldn’t miss her. Had this dentist around the corner from the joint so one cavity drilling afternoon I paid the honey a visit (she stole me Ball Four and Only the Ball Was White and showed me the cover on some New Directions paperback by Blaise Cendrars--long cigarette ash danglin down--who I later appropriated as a pseudonym) and we hit it off so good she wrote the date down in her notebook and we useta celebrate the anniversary (can’t remember the date myself cause I’m only good at years and seasons) by having bloody marys at the El Quijote next door to the Chelsea. Never slipped her the pork--just friends!--but she once gave me a pubic hair that I still got mounted somewhere.

Got to hear all these great stories that she ain’t tellin anymore like how the rats ate her birth certificate on the bad side of the tracks in Chicago and how her aunt so-and-so once spent a hot nite with Hank Williams in Chattanooga where she was then claimin she (Patti) was born and how her real father was a Philadelphia gangster and how her mother had an affair with racetrack announcer Fred Caposella and how her father-father told her the fax-o-life by sayin “The erect male penis is put into the female vagina and you only do that when you’re in love” so when the first guy offered it to her she told him she didn’t love him so he axed her if he if he could eat her so she said she’d hafta ask daddy who told her “Forget it” and how her brother (now a butcher) who looked like Paul Newman useta be a transvestite. Dylan never told Nat Hentoff a better batcha tall tales & true. Anyway so time marches on and the annivs stopped getting celebrated and now (’76) she don’t even return my calls anymore and last time I talked to her in the flesh she was already turnin her attention somewhere else before I was halfway thru my second sentence but that’s cool cause she’s a star so she’s entitled (really mean that--no foolin--only hurts the littlest littlebit).

Anyway so there really ain’t no way I’m gonna be anything but thrilled to my shorthairs by a Patti LP and this one’s no exception. Altho the last one was a bit less grave cause y’know her live show (still--when it’s on--the best by a cunny since Billie Holiday and best by either gonad group since James Morrison’s prime) has its moments of excruciating gravity but it’s also got her laffing it up and spitting on the stage. Like the title cut’s great and tense and all that but it could’ve extracted a wee bit more from the lesson of the Fugs’ “Virgin Forest” (y’know like even the first experiment in self-conscious homogeneous length hadda yield to the inevitability of self-parody and stuff like that) cause like you can’t do “Goin’ Home”-“Sister Ray”-“The End” forever cause after a while it just kinda bristles with more than a morsel of, uh, datedness per se. Less Velvets in evidence than last time tho but in its stead you got Patti paying abundant vocal homage to currently faddish punkdom (wake of the Velvets anyway) which is okay for the band to indulge in but why waste your pipes straining for functionless punk poses that make you force your notes thru all sortsa dumb strainers like George Foreman tryin to punch in a straight line? Like this sweety was already vocally past punk forever by ’74 (Buffalo State concert that spring she was down on her knees wailing the neo-blues--as only she’s been able to wail em--for Patti Hearst and hitting the lost chords of a note without breakin into a sweat) and by the winter of ’75 she was so far ahead of all other femmesingers in the orchestration-of-it-all that almost anything with an intense easy-croon feel for any kinda cosmos sounded like it could very well’ve been somethin Pat just dashed off (first 12 or so times I heard “Rhiannon” I thought it was her--FM stations in LA usually don’t burden you with data like who did it). Singing on side one of this one sounds like too much needless struggle.

But that’s mostly just nitpickin cause “Ain’t It Strange” is an improvement on “Miracles” at its own game (great Chicken Hirsch drummin!) and “Pissing in a River” now gives her two entire weewee songs (“Piss Factory” on the Mer label was the other) altho maybe she oughta try ending her orgasm with urination some time cause so far it’s only been the beginning and “Pumping” is as rewardingly hot & desperate as trash pulp sex circa ’58 and “Distant Fingers” is “Third Stone from the Sun” as told by the stone (as well as a nifty play on Pearlman-Roeser’s “ETI”--Allen Lanier’s co-authorship presumably supplying the topical incestuous excess) so it’s really a bonafide certified good’un, y’know?

Copyright © Richard Meltzer 1977

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