Planet Clair

Humor, at least slacker Gen-X cynicism, is apparently dead in the wake of September 11, according to the Onion and some guy on Charlie Rose.

Picking up zines that were printed before that date is a good example of “the old us.” Reading on and on about how much corporate rock sucks (which, face it, was an old and tired argument in the last decade) seems extra whiny now; Steve Albini’s career as a sound bite may be over.

But something had to give. It’s as if the entire twentieth century were racing along and suddenly slammed into the ’90s wall, spewing splinter bits of music, style, and art that were piled into a recycled heap we called “retro.” Everything was built on allusions to other things. Which brings us to the Bay Area’s center for creative anachronism: garage rock. It was retro before retro was retro, which begs the question, was it ever retro? Or Re-tro? At any rate, garage rockers like to dress up like kitchen appliances or bottles of Nehi and get loose. The undisputed queen of the genre is the East Bay’s own Tina Lucchesi, though none of the bands she’s been involved with lately can be called “garage,” really. She just quit AC/DShe, but continues to be in the Bobbyteens, the Glamour Pussies, and her latest project, Tina & the Total Babes. Her house is a hipster altar devoted to ’60s Playboys, shag carpeting, ironic glassware, and tons of records. When asked to comment on the events of the past few weeks — nay, even the state of rock ‘n’ roll — Tina had one thing to say: “Is that new Cuts record out on vinyl yet?”

So, if she don’t care, Planet Clair don’t care. Which is good, because the Tina & the Total Babes record is Clair‘s favorite release this year, and it sounds like a mixture of Josie Cotton, Gary Glitter, and the Shangri-La’s. Yes, there is nothing new here. But if you remember the first time you heard the Donnas — sure, they were rehashing stuff, but dang, what a great job of rehashing — then you’ll appreciate the Total Babes’ She’s So Tuff. The principal songwriter of the group is Travis Ramin of Minneapolis’ Short Fuses, and they also do a cover of Holly & the Italians’ “Tell That Girl to Shut Up” and the Demons’ (not the Swedish band) “She’s So Tuff.” Compared to anything else Lucchesi has done, this album is the most produced, with layers of vocals and even a dagdern piano. The whole album has the energy of “Kids in America” by Kim Wilde. “Tragedy” is a total teen tear-jerker, à la the my-guy-died-by-getting-hit-by-a-train-while-he-was-clutching-my-school-ring school of music. But the best song is “That’s the Way I Want It,” a song full of sexual demands. In fact, the whole album is a testament to Tina’s libido. That is one horny beeaatch. “Well, what can I say,” she offers. “I like-a the lovin’.” Well, who among us doesn’t?

“This record was a departure from your usual brand of rock ‘n’ roll, Tina Lucchesi,” says Clair. “Is it safe to say that you are moving in another direction? And more importantly, what’s the strangest place you’ve ever made whoopee?”

“Hmm,” she replies, “to answer the latter question, I’d have to say in the vagina, Bob.”

“This new record of yours,” says Clair, “rings with Valley Girl II potential. Have you ever thought of acting?”

“Well, aside from a few productions of Our Town and a stint as Medea in London, for the most part I consider myself a musician, first and foremost.”

“And a woman — second? Third?”

“Gender comes after flea markets and Lancelot Link reruns.”

“And lastly,” adds Clair, “do you have any comments for our Arab-American readers in these trying times?”

“I’d like to say from the bottom of my heart,” Lucchesi concludes, “that I own all of the Sam the Sham and the Pharoahs’ records, and together we can all get through this.”

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