Sunday, April 10, 2016

Dark Carnival (feat. Niagara) – "Bang" (1997)

Look what he did
He bled on the carpet

Sorry about your carpet, hon.  But YOU JUST SHOT YOUR BOYFRIEND IN THE HEAD!  You’re going to end up with a blood-stained carpet purt near every time you do that.

The last 2 or 3 lines featured “Nobody Knows,” by Destroy All Monsters – the 1000th song to be featured on my wildly popular little blog – and included an interview with DAM’s femme fatale lead singer, Niagara.  

You can click here if you missed that post, which I shared with Niagara prior to its publication.  She gave it a ringing endorsement, and closed with a warm, heartfelt invitation to keep in touch:

I finally forced myself to read this.  You're a much better writer than was expected.  You are a dedicated vintage musicologist. . . . Thank you for sending.  Write anytime.  Almost.

Niagara is many things, including (but not limited to) punk-rock pinup and frontwoman, successful artist, and fashion designer.  (Cameron Diaz is a big fan of the panties Niagara did for the Japanese punk couture designer, Hysteric Glamour.)

Niagara’s paintings are usually categorized as pop art – think Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein.  She  says that Warhol and Lichtenstein influenced her art, but has pointed out some fundamental differences between their work and hers:

It's funny that people have said that I'm like Warhol, because he didn't paint. . . . I think that's kind of a stretch, that's a whole different genre.  Lichtenstein reproduced comics.  I saw shows with him and they had the comics there, and it was fascinating.  He only used red, yellow and blue so I feel sorry for him.  I'm deep into colors.  Colors can hypnotize you when combined and layered in different ways.  So, anyway, I did like Lichtenstein.  I didn't like a lot of his interiors, but I grew up with him and Warhol, that's for sure.

While Lichtenstein was inspired by comic books, Niagara is inspired by the movies of the thirties and forties.

Movies play a big part in inspiring me.  They keep getting better because everything in life keeps getting worse.  I watch movies a lot when I paint, especially from the thirties, and I've been reading tons of books about the thirties and forties and much earlier.  It's so nice to go backwards.  They couldn't make movies anymore that look like they did then, such perfectionism.  Of course, glamour isn't what it used to be.

I’ve included a number of Niagara’s paintings in this post.  They often feature an alluring but hard-to-handle woman who looks like she walked out of a forties film noir:

If you’re a man who falls under the spell of a sexy but dangerous Niagara heroine, things aren’t going to end well for you:

And be prepared to have more than just your feelings hurt – you might end up like the poor slob in today’s featured song, who got a bullet in the head because he had the temerity to say “Get me a beer, bitch.”

Click here if you'd like to see the paintings and prints that Niagara is offering for sale.

Destroy All Monsters started out as a performance art project cum rock ’n’ roll band.  When a couple of the original DAM members left Detroit to go to art school in California, they were replaced by former Stooges guitarist Ron Asheton and former MC5 bass player Michael Davis.  

Suddenly DAM was a punk music phenomenon, performing live at iconic venues like Max’s Kansas City and CBGB’s and attracting the attention of rock critics like Lester Bangs.

Niagara at Max's Kansas City in 1978
About the time Destroy All Monsters broke up, Niagara met a Detroit music promoter who called himself Colonel Galaxy.  The Colonel persuaded members of a number of Detroit punk bands to participate in a sort of supergroup he named Dark Carnival.

Niagara and Ron Asheton signed up for the new project, as did Ron’s brother Scott Asheton, the original drummer for the Stooges.  

Niagara performing in Australia in 2008
Sadly, Ron Asheton passed away in 2009 and Scott died in 2014.  Niagara wrote about the Ashetons in Detroit Rock ’n’ Roll Magazine shortly after Scott’s death:

The summer of 1977, Ron Asheton returned from L.A. . . . In the next few weeks, he became lead guitar for my band, Destroy All Monsters. DAM had been, up till then, a basement art/noise unit.  DAM with Ron Asheton promised to be eccentric & somewhat dazzling to an expectant local music landscape.

Ron brought me to live at [his mother’s] house. . . . Scott lived there too. . . . Once, at a bar, he flattened a patron for getting a little sloppy with me.  It may have been his sense of loyalty.  It may have been his sense of recreation. . . . Your regular barroom guy (and also persons with any sense) would keep at a safe distance from Scotty. . . .

Niagara with Ron Asheton
We'd sleep till late afternoon, and then went to our respective band practices.  After practice . . . we'd head for some club. . . . The bands would want to meet us.

They would especially like to tell Ron that his guitar playing was their Holy Grail. It was said by EVERY band's guitarist. The braver ones were also excited to meet Scott. . . .

Ron and Scott were masters at turning nothing into a good time. . . . Ron really knew how to tell a story.  Scott was more the one-liner type.

They seemed so different, almost opposite.  But their humor was interwoven.  There was shorthand there, key words and verbal signals that were unexpected and unique only to them . . . and hilarious. . . .

Niagara's portrait of Ron Asheton
Meanwhile, just the rumor of a band called Destroy All Monsters with Ron Asheton playing guitar had everyone buzzing. Our first show sealed the deal. We became press darlings.  We traveled, played wild gigs, toured England.  Ron and I soon moved out of the Asheton house.

[Later] I moved from Ann Arbor to front Detroit's Dark Carnival.  Ron joined soon after.  Scott became the drummer. . . .

I can never go back to those days. But sometimes, they come back to me.  

Last night I dreamed that I was standing in front of the Asheton house.  And light was shining from its windows.

“Bang” was released on Dark Carnival’s 1997 album, The Last Great Ride, which John Holmstrom of Punk magazine called “one of the best CDs of the nineties”:

Ron [Asheton’s] best guitar playing is on there and Niagara's best singing is there.  It's where everybody found themselves.  It's one of the sad facts of rock 'n' roll that, contrary to being an artist, it's what you do early in your career that people pay attention to.  It's very rare that anyone past 30 is recognized for doing anything in this music form, which is a shame because it's when people are learning how to play.  It's when they're getting better.

Here’s “Bang”:

Here's a little bonus for you – a 1995 video of Dark Carnival performing "I Wanna Be Your Dog" live, featuring original Stooges guitarist Ron Asheton, original Stooges drummer Scott Asheton, and Niagara, the ne plus ultra of punk-rock frontwomen.  (Tell the truth – did anyone ever make skintight spandex and too much eye shadow look so good?)

Click below to buy “Bang”from Amazon:

Note: All the images of Niagara’s paintings featured in this post are used with the permission of the artist.  All rights reserved, NiagaraDetroit ©2013.

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