Monday, March 09, 2015

Ron Nagle - FRESH BAD RICE! And listen to the BERBELANG

Yes, after 45 years, "Bad Rice" has been issued on CD. With bonus tracks including the perverse "Berbelang." So far it might be the best thing that's happened in 2015.

Back in 1970 Warren Zevon was nowhere close to writing "Werewolves of London." Randy Newman hadn't gone completely overboard with "Half a Man," about a horrific role reversal that began "This big old queen was standing on the corner of the street. He waved his hanky at me..."

But Ron Nagle was on the edge of weirdness. He wrote and sang about a blue-haired drag queen with an infra-red suntan and whooping cough. Though possessing a razor blade and a mirror for some high grade cocaine, this creature was a self-proclaimed disaster. Chorus: "No one could have worse luck than mine, 'cept someone bitten by the Berbelang."

Did people listening to the radio ask themselves WHAT is a Berbelang? No. Because Warner Bros. didn't release the song. After all, Warners hadn't had success with the songs on the one album they did release. Many were as bizarre as "Berbelang," too.

Many of Nagle's songs are checklists of depravity and dysfunction. The stanzas are more like Exhibit A, Exhibit B, and Exhibit C, with a chorus or two. The "Bad Rice" album included "Marijuana Hell," a set of case histories on pot smokers gone wrong. "Frank's Store" described a pathetic bodega ("warmest beer in cans, day old meat and toys made in Japan") that burns down, taking with it the dreams of a prideful simpleton with nothing else in his life. "Family Style" lists the singer's insidious uncle, the brother who stepped on a parakeet, and mom, "who picked dollars off the table" via her vaginal lips, ala the legendary Billie Holiday when she was working and being cheap. If there's not enough psychotic behavior in a character's life, the main obsession is simply repeated a few times, like homicidal Chuckie (of "61 Clay") kicking his mother's head again and again. Or the serio-comic Dad who just keeps repeating "the stork is coming one more time," as his house fills up with kids, and he obsessively dreams of the inane alternative of samba beats, and the garish joys of "mangos and gin, and pink tapioca."

Despite Ry Cooder guesting on a few cuts, production from legendary Jack Nietzche, and sticking "Family Style" on a "loss leader" sampler album, Warner Bros. was dismayed with the poor sales for the critically acclaimed "Bad Rice." So there would be no follow-up album, or a 45 rpm for "Berbelang." Oh. A berbelang is a mythical vampire legend in Malaysia.

Some of what went wrong, and right for Ron Nagle before and after "Bad Rice" is covered in the copious notes in the CD booklet for this re-issue. There's an extra CD of demo material from the era. Added to the CD with the complete "Bad Rice" are a few alternate takes (you'll hear Ron "cry cry cry" a long, long, long time on the alternate of "Frank's Store").

There's also "Berbelang" and what would've been the B-side, "Francine" (a song about S&M way before Grey). Let me add that these latter two items, though available for quite a while as "KSAN demos" and even available through the archive org site of stuff that is and isn't public domain, are PRISTINE on the CD. On the authorized version, you can really hear what sounds like a teeming bat-load of vampires roaring out of a cave. Or is it the sound of a drag queen's teeth becoming fangs and then crackling to pieces as they gnash together?

Your download below is the KSAN version of "Berbelang." It should be enough to give you some idea of Ron Nagle's brand of rocking raw nerve nutsiness...the kind of thing that perhaps influenced the direction Mr. Zevon would take, and what could be covered by one-time label mate Randy Newman.

Cooders (a variation on kudos) to the tiny company with the huge name (Omnivore) for the re-issue. Years ago, I had recommended a re-issue of "Bad Rice" to some execs at a few of the usual suspects in the re-issue field. The main problem was usually, "We can't deal with Warners. They want too much money." This, despite Nagle winning a Billboard poll that asked who their readers most wanted on CD. Also credit Omnivore with retaining the art work which helped doom the record, specifically the back-cover of gruesome "Chuckie" (complete with missing tooth) that some horrified disc jockeys assumed was Nagle.

At this point, with CDs on their way out, and nobody caring about liner notes, fans of Nagle at least have a lot to listen to. Aside from this 2 CD set, there exists a collection of material from Ron's days with the pioneering San Francisco group "The Mystery Trend," the "Taj Mantis" instrumental album, and a re-issue (with bonus tracks) of The Durocs.Through Ron's own you can order several solo albums he released independently, and learn more about his career with killer kiln work (he's a well-respected ceramic artist). The website also mentions his dabblings in movie soundtracks, and in mainstream music (songs on a Barbra Streisand album). If you reach the music part of his site and know that the picture of an open door leading to death via river drowning is from a Charlie Chan film, you ARE Ron's kind of fan!

Let's add that Ron Nagle also co-wrote what is probably the best song The Tubes ever recorded, "Don't Touch Me There." And if you'd like something visual, go over to YouTube and punch in "It Hurts To Be In Love" by The Durocs. In a music video that had to have frightened the vee-jays and va-jay-jays at MTV, they give a whole new spin on Gene Pitney's classic. The sleazefest features an oily pedophile, a hideous greasy spoon diner, and a nightmare of geeks and freaks trying to connect or avoid each other. Now on CD, it's not quite so easy to avoid "Bad Rice." If you've got the stomach for the posts here at this blog, buy a copy ASAP (and stay absolutely pathological).

Ron Nagle Berbelang, KSAN demo version. The real deal is on the new CD.


gene sculatti said...

Happy to meet another believer. You've been bitten, I see.

Ill Folks said...

Ha. For a long, time. I only wish the CD booklet had the lyrics on Berbelang and Francine. I may be imagining a few different words. Not that anyone should revoke a listener's poetic license.