The Slackers formed in a dingy Manhattan basement in 1991(pre-Giuliani, natch!), one near the seedy and gloriously nicotine-rank bars that've bred so many sweet music scenes and heroes over the years. Led by Vic Ruggiero, the combo bonded over love of ska, reggae, soul, garage rock, and jazz, and are as comfortable playing a smooth jazz lounge as a spit 'n' sawdust punk den. Last year's self-titled album was the band's 14th (!) studio effort, and it continued their recent trend of using crowdfunding to finance new releases, in the face of an ever-declining music industry that rewards consumers not creators. They play The Flycatcher this week, so we spoke to the hilariously effusive Ruggiero about the five albums that changed his life. Glad we did.
With Santa Pachita and The Endless Pursuit, Sunday, April 30 at 8 p.m., The Flycatcher, 340 E. 6th St., $15-$17. 21+.
1. Os Mutantes—Os Mutantes: Brazil psych from 1969, this was life changing. Sweet Samba melodies and crazy noises. I speak no word of Portuguese but I'm singing along. Suddenly I understand how Hungarian speakers might enjoy The Slackers. It's The Beatles, and the Mamas & the Papas through an Amazonian-Ayahuasca haze. It's kooky rich kids from South America getting their brothers to make FX pedals. Expelled by the government for being subversives. What does "Bat Macumba" mean? I have never been the same nor sane again since its reissue in 1995. Who cares about the Velvet Underground?
2. The Velvet Underground—The Velvet Underground: The third album. It starts, "Candy says, I've come to hate my body," then come harmonies like the Beach Boys on heroin. I get it! The 1960s was not all flowers and dayglo. This was icky, but without leaving the whip marks and STDs we got from the banana record. It was sweet and sad. "Pale Blue Eyes," and what is Lou Reed singing the song "Jesus" for? Oh I get it, he's desperate: "Help me in my weakness cuz I've fallen out of place." Moe Tucker is out of tune and "The Murder Mystery" has an overlapping vocals-nonsense montage to end it. I try to make this record, every time.
3. Charles Mingus—Mingus Ah Um: Though I'm tempted to say the jazz poem "The Clown" changed my life, it is only one song, heard on a radio show that made me miss class, introduced me to Mingus and maybe even beat poetry. But Ah Um is the record that says, "jazz is blues! It's gospel! ... punk!" Jazz is as danceable as hip hop. It screams and shouts as it grooves. It calls out Nazi southern racist KKK politicians by name. Jazz makes funny joke songs about chicken. It's not music to rub your chin to. Jazz is gonna make the mushroom cloud first before they drop that atom bomb on me. Music doesn't have to make sense or be pretty to be the most beautiful girl you ever got in bed. Big, angry, fat, yelling, crazy Charles Mingus!
4. The Rolling Stones—Get Yer Ya-Ya's Out!: The Rolling Stones in Concert. The first album I bought. Sexy, dirty, bluesy. "Don'cha think there's a place for you/in between the sheets?" From "Live With Me" to Chuck Berry's "Carol" to "Midnight Rambler" (that shows you how to go from swing to straight to swing and solo on three notes), to Robert Johnson's "Love in Vain"—at 14 I didn't know what any of it meant. I do now.
5. The Specials—The Specials: Could you call it a covers album? No. It's amalgamation. The thing music does—folk, reggae, blues. They took a hook, a riff, part of a song, and threw what was happening at the time (punk) in the mix. Showing my 16-year-old punk self that I dance. It gave me Prince Buster, Toots & the Maytals, politics, and the record cover even taught me how to dress.