Beat Happening

Beat Happening

Music To Climb The Apple Tree By


So now that we’re in the heady midst of the latest iteration of the whole “hey unconventional band lineups are a good thing!” and “strip it down!” and “bass players are obsolete!” thing, and White Stripes-mania and all that jazz/jizz, I kinda figured that someone at this point would have donned a Beat Happening shirt or like, name checked them a bunch in interviews or dug them out of a pile of beautiful seven-inches to use as a totem of (rightful) musical purity, but no, no, not a peep. And yet, surely if anyone was deserving of the accolades, it would be Beat Happening, perhaps one of the most influential American independent bands — and surely one of the best — of the last twenty years. So while we’re waiting for everyone to catch up, we’ll just have to settle for that bad ass box set that made the rounds recently, and this lil’ platter, a roundup of singles and rare tracks and other choice gems from the box all crammed onto one disc.

One more introductory note — fuck the backstory and the sociological implications and the (admittedly inspiring) historical context, Beat Happening were really all about the shining golden sun and the pitch black night, the extremes of dark razor-slit swamp rock and sickly sweet innocent beauty. The scarred face and the beautiful eyes, at first it jars, the fragile ringing chords, Heather’s angel-plush voice and Calvin Johnson’s dark syrup growl. But after about thirty seconds, you start wondering why every other band doesn’t sound this way.

“Angel Gone” is an example of that wide-eyed naivete, with a touch of the trouble shadow that makes it all the more endearing. It’s classic pop with Calvin and Heather harmonizing in that sweet, awkward way and those ace Velvet Underground gentle chord washes, and the most simple of drum beats. This was always the essence of Beat Happening for me. And this is why they’ll still be essential as air for me when I’m fucking eighty and only able to drool approvingly while these beautiful songs usher me on to a better place.

“Nancy Sin” is endemic of the other side of Beat Happening, the one that’s never talked about in pleasant company. That trashy, barbed-wire rockabilly that swings on the Cramps’ bad side of town, and shoves thorns up fingernails — Calvin’s voice is all about danger, violence and teenage tragedy. And Heather could do it too, see. “Sea Babies” is a fucking noisy rave-up, she hollers and bellows over a mess of distorted geetar. Scary stuff; drugged-out garage rock that’s all classic like the Mary Chain. Or like the midpoint between Samhain and the Shaggs.

The rest of the songs then, either fall on the good side of town or the wrong side of the tracks. “Sea Hunt” is almost impossibly sweet and yearning, simple lyrics about a beach trip sway dreamily in a glittering ocean of guitar and strings. “Look Around” is the perfect soundtrack for Cartoon Network’s Ed, Edd and Eddy. “Not A Care In The World” is a Heather solo turn, with this simple repetive Sterling Morrison riff repeated over and over again, while she sings like she’s pretty fucking bored, way hypnotic. Ditto for “Foggy Eyes.” “Secret Picnic Spot” is a crazy tone poem intoned by Calvin, with rambling acoustic guitar and drums. “Zombie Limbo Time” is the kind of fucking awesome sweaty bayou monster song that Beat Happening delved into with Cramps-ish fervor (like “Pinebox Derby”) — disorienting percussion, Heather muttering “zombie, zombie, zombie,” undead howls and a careening riff. I love this shit!

And, oh my god, “Knock On Every Door”, is just a monolith of mysterious sadness. Lee Hazlewood and Johnny Cash are the only stylistic antecedents for this sort of deep-dark vocalizin’ that unearths all manner of unspecified pain and loneliness, alongside tasteful Cavern Club drums and quicksilver thick, ringing guitars that sound like Frankie Avalon would die for their company. And they dared to dismiss this as mere indie?

Calvin’s love songs were never “quite” right. But then, love shouldn’t ever be right or then it’s just too fucking lame and boring. Which it is in the first place. Except in Beat Happening songs. Then I’m all about the fucking hand-holding and picnics and trips to the playground — they make it seem like you really don’t have to be along. That’s pretty fucking cool.

With Beat Happening, motherfucker man, could we dance! Let’s start again.

K Records:

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked with *

Recently on Ink 19...

  • The Lyons
    The Lyons

    A man on his deathbed is surrounded by bickering family members, many of which you would strangle him given the chance. In other words: a brilliant comedy!

  • The Reading Room
    The Reading Room

    Today’s episode features author Anna-Marie O’Brien talking about her book Adventures of a Metalhead Librarian: A Rock N’ Roll Memoir with Ink 19’s Rose Petralia.

  • Bush Tetras
    Bush Tetras

    Rhythm and Paranoia (Wharf Cat). Review by Scott Adams.

  • Tom Tom Club
    Tom Tom Club

    The Good The Bad and the Funky (Nacional). Review by Julius C. Lacking.

  • Barnes & Barnes
    Barnes & Barnes

    Pancake Dream (Demented Punk Records). Review by Carl F. Gauze.

  • Jeremiah Lockwood
    Jeremiah Lockwood

    A Great Miracle: Jeremiah Lockwood’s Guitar Soli Chanukah Album (Reboot). Review by Bob Pomeroy.

  • Metallica: The $24.95 Book
    Metallica: The $24.95 Book

    From an underground band that pioneered the thrash metal sound, to arguably the biggest rock act in the new millennium, Metallica has had a long and tumultuous history. Ben Apatoff scours a myriad of sources to catalog this history in his new book.

  • Araceli Lemos
    Araceli Lemos

    Shortly after AFI Fest 2021 wrapped, Generoso spoke at length with director, Araceli Lemos about her award-winning and potent feature debut, Holy Emy. Lemos’s film uses elements of body horror in her story about the exoticization of two Filipina sisters living in Greece and how that exploitation creates a distance between them.

  • Southern Accents 55
    Southern Accents 55

    A woofin’ good time with cuts from Hank Williams, Muddy Waters, Delta Moon and more from KMRD 96.9, Madrid, New Mexico!

  • Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead
    Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead

    Absurdism with a healthy dose of air conditioning.

From the Archives