Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Animal Records (1982)

Animal Records, a sub-label of Chrysalis, was founded by Blondie's Chris Stein in 1982. This indulgence was probably granted on the basis of "Call Me"'s massive success, and credit is due to Stein for keeping the label firmly grounded in the changing Downtown scene. Along with James White (née James Siegfried, aka James Chance), the label also hosted Walter Steding, a Basquait pal and solo violinist, Iggy Pop, for his "Zombie Birdhouse" album, and Los Angeles expats Gun Club. Most awesomely, the label has a ton of cred in the hip-hop community for having released the groundbreaking soundtrack to Wild Style, a reminder of hip-hop's New York roots and early reception in the only half-gentrifying LES art scene.

Alas, the run of Animal Records was short lived--in 1984, Stein's illness forced him to shut down the label after only two years. It must have been a rough time for the guy--descriptions of his illness seem kind of weird, and it was around this time that he and Deb Harry ended a relationship that had started before Blondie had even formed. It probably didn't help that Blondie followed up "Call Me" with 1982's "The Hunter," took a nose dive critically and commercially, and subsequently split.

As far as James White and the Blacks are concerned, it was reported that "Sax Maniac" was very nearly a breakthrough album for what was ultimately a very weird, very cool band. But a proposed "Saturday Night Live" appearance never materialized and James White/Chance moved off to Paris and split the core group. The early 80s were probably even worse to White/Chance than to Chris Stein--"Sax Maniac" is dedicated to the memory of his long-time manager/girlfriend Anya Philips, a legendary scene-maker in the No Wave era, who succumbed to cancer in 1981. When White/Chance last appeared in Chicago, backed by Watchers and billed as James White and The New Contortions, his brother served as his hype-man and his parents stood in the front row. He didn't punch anyone in the face this time around, let alone any girls, but it was nice to see him back in the game.

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