Friday, December 07, 2007

Snakefinger - There's No Justice In Life

This single was released on July 1, 1987, ironically the same day that Phillip "Snakefinger" Lithman dropped dead of a heart attack. Lithman was barely past his 38th birthday. No justice in life indeed.

Snakefinger is, of course, most closely associated with the music of the Residents. Lithman was involved in some of the Residents' earliest musical experiments, then went on to found legendary British pub rockers Chilli Willi and the Red Hot Peppers. When that band broke up, he moved to LA to establish a career in mainstream pop music, then returned to San Francisco to help create the music that forms the core of the Resident's musical legacy. Lithman also released a handful of excellent, but largely overlooked, solo albums that tone down the avant weirdness of the Residents just enough to sound something like pop music.

As Ted Mills notes at All Music Guide, Snakefinger's solo work wasn't weird enough to capture the full attention of the Resident's cult audience, nor was it "normal enough for chart success or critical recognition." This is particularly true of his later solo albums, which were made mostly apart from the Residents, though still released through their label, Ralph Records.

These two tracks were also featured on Snakefinger's final studio album, Night of Desirable Objects, cut with his backing band the Vestal Virgins. On "There's No Justice In Life" it never sounds like he's complaining or bitter, just offering a very matter-of-fact observation on life's inherent unfairness. The b-side, a cover of the jazz standard "Move" (made famous by Miles Davis during the Birth Of The Cool sessions), is a revelation. Snakefinger was more than competent as bop-jazz guitarist. His famous manual dexterity is balanced by good taste and a strong instinct for group interaction.

There are precious few artists who can move so effortlessly between avant-garde strangeness, pub-rock, pop and jazz. Unfortunately, commercial success rarely comes to those committed to this kind of musical diversity (some might call it schizophrenia), no matter how talented they are. But then who ever said there was any justice in life?

1 comment:

Peter Hennig said...

Interesting track...the more things change, the more things stay the same.