Kid Congo Powers returns with “Some Kind of New Kick”

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The list of true guitar heroes, those six-string shredders who play solos with their teeth while their groins are busy looking good in leather, is short these days. And not just because Eddie Van Halen and BB King are both dead, and Eric Clapton’s reputation as a jerk eventually surpassed his reputation as the representative of God’s white blues on earth. Guitar music just doesn’t hold the cultural space it once did; being extremely good at playing the guitar is about as culturally relevant as being the world’s greatest landline phone installer.

An interesting aspect of this development is that as less attention is given to guitar heroes, it may help us redefine what it means to be one. If we let go of nostalgia and its grip and embrace an alternate timeline where Sonny Sharrock is as important as Jimmy Page, where Marissa Paternoster of the Screaming Females is the one on the Guitar Center posters, then the list is longer and more representative of the possibilities. of sound that a guitar can hold. And to that list you could add Kid Congo Powers, a “queer, Mexican-American, Chicano, self-taught, self-possessed weirdo” who calls his own acting “a drop of his expressionist.”

He’s the guitarist who gave The Cramps’ “New Kind of Kick” its psychedelic siren coda, who co-founded post-punk cult favorites The Gun Club and played on dark classics Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds. and grandiose of the late 80s.”tender prey” and “the good son.” The stories of these groups and many more are covered in his new memoir, “A new type of kick“, a whirlwind of discovery and debauchery that is so laden with iconic scenes and scenes that it might seem overplayed if its author did not treat his fellow monsters with the same unbridled affection he shows for his more notorious peers.

“I definitely have a very healthy ego, and at the time even more so,” Powers said in a recent interview. “But I also came from being a young fan, and I always understood that. That’s how I always felt, and I still am. Not young, but a young fan inside.

Born Brian Tristan in La Puente, California in 1959, Kid Congo is what most people would call a “musician’s musician.” While his work and personality are lesser known to the general public, he is a borderline legend for any artist who has ever tried to fit a teased mile of jet-black hair under a cowboy hat. Over the past four decades, the guitarist, as sideman and frontman of his own band, the Pink Monkey Birds, has gained notoriety as a stylish purveyor of dark, gritty bonhomie, and amassed an impressive circle of influences. (Nick Zinner of Yeah Yeah Yeahs and Jack White among them) based on his textually inventive but rarely indirect playing.

At 63, Powers still retains a youthful joie de vivre shadowed by the extreme sophistication that Cave describes as “a kind of sleazy sex appeal.” Regarding his playing style, Cave says, “Kid would land this slow, open chord on his guitar, playing it with a particular kind of languorous sleaze that was immediately identifiable.”

This style has evolved over the years into something all its own. It’s part garage/R&B house rockin’ traditionalism and two parts “absurdity that makes a lot of sense”, to use an expression attributed to one of Powers’ main influences, “no wave” guitarist Pat Place. This has allowed Powers to be a regular and welcome presence, like a Zelig with agency and riffs, in nearly every underground American rock scene of the past five decades, from ’70s glam rock, to the birth of punk and to the ascendancy of goth, to all that iteration of the seemingly eternal cycle of garage rock revivals we’re on in 2022.

“I was just someone who put myself in what I wanted to be,” Powers said, trying to sum up a journey that began with his entry into the music industry as a teenage founder of the Ramones Fan. Club in California.

Powers wrote “Some New Kind of Kick” on and off since 2006. Inspired and encouraged by his longtime friend, soulful DJ and counterculture impresario Jonathan Toubin, whom he remembers telling him, “Some people know you did the Cramps. Some people know you did the Gun Club. Some people know you made the Bad Seeds. But a lot of people don’t know you did it everything these things.”

Sharing some hallmarks of rock bios (notably in his journey from heroin addiction to something akin to serenity), Powers’ memoir – told in a conversational/conspiratorial breeze influenced, he says, by Cookie Mueller”Walk in the clear water of a swimming pool painted black– is less a typical coming-of-age story than a dream, where almost familiar names and faces arise and cross as if through Tarot.

Among the tent pegs of the book are: the ongoing trauma induced by the murder of a beloved cousin; a spiritual awakening sparked by a Powers tween encountering a gang of proto-goth girls waiting in the same line to see the New York Dolls perform on “The Midnight Special”; to be feted as a teenage tastemaker by major-label publicists hoping to elevate the Ramones to the next rung of fame; and, at one point, waveless innovator Lydia Lunch bullying the memoirist into picking up a guitar for the first time and telling him to pretend he’s playing a Kiss song.

“She was just like, ‘Do this s— at present. Do not even think about it. Just do it at present”,” Powers said. “I say she was yelling at me, but that’s just her way of speaking.”

Finally, Powers recounts how he was asked to join the Bad Seeds, arguably the best known of his affiliations. Powers describes his run with the Bad Seeds as largely positive, but also as a time when he pressured himself to conform to what he perceived to be a hyper-straight and masculine atmosphere within the group.

“Being gay…all your friends knew that,” Powers said. “Everyone in your personal life was well aware. And public life was more of a game, or something, to see if people could guess,” he added, explaining how the average 1980s music fan may have had no idea his sexuality (or other independent luminaries). “There was a strict taboo against any label beside ‘punk rocker’ or whatever. Part wanting to be mysterious, part being in the closet, part not being labeled as gay, so you could “pass”, I guess that’s the word. But also not to deny it in what you present to the public.

When asked if he remembered, in any way, that Powers might have seemed like an outsider at the time, Cave wrote: ‘I would say that personally I was so engrossed in the chaos general of my own life and its attendant appetites, not to mention an exaggerated regard for my own genius, that Kid’s sexuality was probably the last thing on my mind. Maybe I didn’t know he was gay. I do not know. I’m not sure that matters. I was drawn to him because he was cheerful and funny and had a humility towards things that was rare in Bad Seeds at that time.

Leaving aside how much Cave’s 1987 knowledge of Powers’ sexuality may or may not matter, calling the guitarist “locked up,” in the traditional sense, is an oversimplification.

“I mean…look at me in the Cramps,” Powers said, referencing the stylistic choices he made while performing songs like “Faster Pussycat” on albums such as the one titled “female smell.” “Let’s go. Come on nnnnn.”

Powers is open about how his politics have evolved in the wake of the AIDS epidemic. This sense of duty, as a Latino and homosexual man, is according to him one of the reasons why he wrote his memoirs. The other reason for the memoir is to correct a somewhat less universal injustice.

The final chapter of “Some Kind of Kick” depicts a visit by Jeffrey Lee Pierce, the troubled leader of the Gun Club, from the astral plane to Powers’ dream kitchen.

“This book is a lot about my relationship with Jeffrey,” Powers said, of his nearly 20-year collaboration with the punk blues savant who died at age 37 in 1996. “There are a lot of stories about Jeffery,” continued the guitarist. “And 99.9% relate to how difficult this man was. Volume? I had a friendship. He wasn’t a thing. He was my brother.”

It was Lunch who first put a guitar in his hands, and it was Lux Interior of the Cramps who gave him his nickname, but it was Pierce, and his insistence that Powers learn to play so that ‘they can create a group together, which Powers credits for almost everything else. “The person in front of me looked nothing like a typical punk. … I thought, who is this completely strange creature? Powers writes about his first impression of Pierce, spotting him online to see Ohio proto-post-punk powerhouse Pere Ubu. Before the night was over, the two men had assembled a group. Towards the end of the book, Powers wonders if, if the two had never met, would Powers ever have learned the guitar? Have you ever played music? Or would he have stayed in college and led a completely different life? “The only thing that matters, that I can even be sure of, is that I met Jeffery,” he concludes.

What also emerges from the book, as in a conversation with him, is that Powers remains expansive and humble in the extent of his gratitude.

“I’m not a household name, but I make records, and I go around the world and express myself the way I want to express myself,” he said. “These leaders of these bands are personalities that inspire me to do my own thing. They’ve worked very, very, very hard and come up against a lot of opposition to make it work, and hold it tight… without bend to outside forces.

“That’s still my credo,” Powers said. “And that’s how I wrote a book.”

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