Tuesday, January 03, 2006


God bless Tonio K. He eventually became a Christian, but he was a lot funnier and a lot angrier as a non-Christian. I miss that.

now i know it's not unusual
it's nothing so unique
there's probably hundreds of wonderful love affairs
that go bad in this town every week
but all of them others
them sad-hearted lovers
could cry in their beer, what the hey
it didn't concern me
was none of my business
i never had nothin' to say
but suddenly darlin'
the table has turned
you have left me for somebody new
and now it's hard to express
the resentment i feel
for the years that i've wasted on you
but let me put this another way, ok?

i'm full of h-a-t-r-e-d
i'm bitter and malign
you've got me
p-i-s-s-e-d off
i'm angry most of the time
why don't you
g-o t-o h-e-double"l"
you tramp
you philandering bitch
i'm going to
k-i-l-l one of us baby
give me time and i'll decide on which

and i know i'm acting immature
i'm acting like a child
i should display some self-control
instead of going wild like this
and i do wish i could accept all this
as simply "life" which includes pain
and act upon the actual fact
that nobody's to blame
yes i wish i was as mellow
as for instance jackson browne
but "fountain of sorrow" my ass, mother fucker
i hope you wind up in the ground

i'm so full of h-a-t-r-e-d
i'm bitter and malign
you've got me
p-i-s-s-e-d off
i'm angry most of the time
why don't you
g-o t-o h-e-double"l"
you tramp
you philandering bitch
i'm going to
k-i-l-l one of us baby
when i'm sober i'll decide on which
(but then again, maybe with the proper counseling, we can work this out)
-- Tonio K., "H-A-T-R-E-D"

Things are fine at home. Why do you ask? No, really, they are.


Andy Whitman said...

And here is the 5-star review from Greil Marcus that appeared in a 1978 issue of Rolling Stone Magazine. You need this album. Every family does.


Life in the Foodchain
Tonio K.
Electra Records
5 Stars

Who among us would open his first album with an engrossing meditation on the disintegration of the human species, only to follow it with an irresistible, "Do the Swim"-style name-of-the-dance number about the fall of western civilization (which itself concludes with a monologue by Joan of Arc, a woman not without experience in such matters)? Clearly, it would have to be a son of a Central Valley farming family who cut his teeth as a guitarist for the post-Buddy Holly Crickets and took his pseudonym from Thomas Mann's story "Tonio Kroger " -- because if anyone else could have made a record like Tonio K's Life in the Foodchain (Full Moon/Epic), presumably he would already have done so.

Tonio K. apparently operates out of a Los Angeles music-biz milieu, but it's not quite the Malibu scene. Agent Irving Alzoff is credited on the Foodchain sleeve, but so is Dick Dale, the original surf guitar legend. Furthermore, T.K.'s sound has little in common with the music the town has been turning out for the last few hundred years. His music is mostly very hard-nosed rock, and not quite straightforward. Song after song jumps with touches (the rich mid-sixties horns on "The Funky Western Civilization." Garth Hudson's bagpipelike accordion on "Better Late Than Never," the Fillmore freakout that closes "A Lover's Plea") that are a little more funny, surprising or cutting than you'd expect. In fact, the unchained intelligence --- and the generalized disrespect -- that courses all through the music reveals just how predictable rock 'n' roll. good and bad, has become.

In "Behind Blue Eyes." the Who's song about a psycho, Pete Townshend set up the arrangement so that gentle, sensitive music accompanied the madman's avowal of his fears and regrets; hard rock takes over to orchestrate his fury. The idea works, but it's obvious: You can see it coming. Tonio K. begins "H~A-T-R-E-D," a song of unrequited love, as a singer-songwriter's meal ticket: Acoustic guitar bleeds quietly in the background as Tonio bemoans his lover's infidelity. The execution is slightly off -- the lyrics betray excessive imagination. and Tonio's voice is simply too all-accepting -- but you're suckered anyway, right to the end of the first verse. Tonio then pulls the tune inside out, takes it from the top. shoves in a band whose members sound as if they've been drunk for days, and proceeds to sing out of the top of his head:

I'm full of
[add huge chorus] H-A- T-R-E-D
I'm bitter and malign
You've got me
P-I-S-S-E-D off

This is just the beginning. Like any honest seventies person, Tonio is soon re-examining his feelings (and at the same time making what may be the first use of internal quotation marks in the history of the rock lyric). The music, however, continues its quest for pure anarchy.

I know I'm acting IMMATURE
I'm acting like a CHILD
I should display some self-control
Instead of going wild like this
And I do wish I could accept all this
As simply "life" WHICH INCLUDES PAIN

The man is obviously at the breaking point -- whistles, cheers and catcalls erupt from the band -- but it's a great breaking point:

Yes I wish I was as mellow
As for instance Jackson Browne
But "Fountain of Sorrow" my ass motherfucker
I hope you wind up in the ground

TAKING THE RADIO as reality for a moment, what does the rest of the rock world have to say? Bob Dylan is live from Japan, introducing "The Times They Are A-Changin" with the memorable lines: "Here's a song that means a lot to me; I know it means a lot to you." Rod Stewart, failing to make soul music out of the Four Tops' "Standing in the Shadows of Love," is making porn out of it instead ("Didn't I screw you right, now didn't I?" he whispers -- it's the big moment of the performance). Worst of all, the Blues Brothers are continuing their domination of beth AM and FM, and never let it be said that because an audience is enthusiastic it isn't passive. Incessant airplay has long since drained the Blues Brothers' humor of its dubious charms, and turned their music into an oppressive, moneyed parody of the parody they started out with. The result is the same old American black-face minstrel show. When I saw Bo Diddley recently, his best lick was greeted with the cry, "Play it, Elwood!" Way back when, we would have called such a response racist, but we're all beyond that now.

In this context, Tonio K. is an enormous relief: He sounds like an unregenerate human being, not someone's concept, and he sounds smart. A lot of his vocals remind you of the inspired craziness of Dylan songs like "Talking World War III Blues" or Frank Zappa singing over a good beat; they might be called lackadaisically unhinged. Some of Tonio's strongest effects come when the band plays as if it's both feeding off his manic energy and trying to keep its distance in case whatever he's got is catching. But then up pops something like "Better Late Than Never," a cracked ballad of a broken affair that's so passionate and pretty it ought to be followed by Graham Parker's "Fools Gold." And then comes "A Lover's Plea": "Baby/Don't leave me here alone/Think of the children/I know we haven't got no kids/But..."

If I'm making Tonio K. sound like a clown, let me say directly that he isn't. He's got something of the clown in him, as does Bruce Springsteen or any expansive rocker: he also shares chaotic fantasies with Randy Newman and hilarious irony with Johnny Rotten. But there's no coyness, no smugness, and none of the patent musical stupidity that has sunk hard-rock bands from Aerosmith to Ted Nugent to Bad Company. It may be that the line Tonio K. is walking is that of taking the world, but not himself, seriously. When I first heard Life in the Foodchain, I thought it was only a joke; after a bit it seemed more doom-struck: no ecology manifesto, certainly, but at the least a dream of how humanity might fall from its place at the top of the food chain to, say, somewhere below the ants. "It's kind of like mowing the lawn," Tonio muses. What?

At the moment, Tonio K. is putting a touring band together, but has mapped out gigs only in the northeastern U-S., where his album has taken off. This is a scandal: If the man is going to be heard anywhere, it ought to be in his home state. Tonio is asking questions; they deserve answers. As he sings in 'The Funky Western Civilization":

There's a baby every minute
Bein' born without a chance
Now don't that make you want to
Jump right up and dance?

Martin said...

I dunno what brought this on, Andy, but thanks. Tonio is still angry, but in a nicer way, and co-wrote most of the new Burt Bacharach record. But don't play it on your computer, or Sony/BMG will sell your CD listening habits to President Bush without a warrant.

More about Tonio than you wanted to know at http://go.to/toniok

Andy Whitman said...

Hi, Martin. I check your Tonio K. site on a fairly regular basis. Thanks for that.

I'm thinking about writing about him for an upcoming Listening to Old Voices column in Paste Magazine. But my fear is that he may be too obscure. Which is too bad. If any songwriter deserved to be better known, it's Tonio K. So maybe I'll go ahead and do my little part to spread the word.

Martin said...

Andy, if you wanna get in touch with Tonio K., just let me know. I owe him a telephone call anyway. I would be thrilled to see him in Paste.

He's still working as a lyricist, of course -- hasn't entirely left the stage.

Word verification string for this comment: aeqlcixh (Andy's eternal question: Lawn chair, iPod, Xbox, home?)

Martin said...

I should add that Tonio wouldn't agree with your comment about his being angrier and funnier as a non-Christian, because he doesn't think the BC/AD bifurcation in his life is as neat and tidy as people would like to make it...