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Bargain Bin Babylon: Chavin: Jet Lag

Bargain Bin Babylon: Chavin: Jet Lag

Would you believe this guy went on to advertising?

If you have a favorite record store, you probably also have a favorite dollar bin. Certain records, many of them by Boz Scaggs, turn up regularly in these heavily discounted crates, some of them million-sellers from decades past. It’s a cheap way to build your REO Speedwagon collection, for those so inclined. But the best dollar bins sometimes cough up obscure treasures: forgotten hair bands, foreign pop records that you have no context for, private-press gospel records. They also cough up records that are obscure for a reason. In this column, Spectrum Culture’s dusty-fingered crate diggers will share some of the more unusual records we’ve bought for a dollar.

Chavin’s Jet Lag seems to fall into the forgotten hair band category. Released on the private Jet Lag label in 1978, the record boasts at least one rock ‘n’ roll bona fide: a cover portrait by Mick Rock, the legendary British photographer who shot album covers like Lou Reed’s Transformer and the Stooges’ Raw Power. Those albums are both reference points for Chavin, posing as a rock ‘n’ roll god grabbing the ankle of a long-legged groupie. But he looks oddly uncomfortable staring at the camera, as if caught in a mask of half-hearted glam accoutrements.

The music is second-rate New York Dolls, Chavin’s vocal Johansenisms supported by a competent rock pastiche that often references other, better records and time-worn ideas. Opener “Mechanical Man” takes on the familiar rock rant of anti-conformity, ironic in an album that is clearly aping its superiors. Lines like “I’m a mechanical man/ I am what I am/ I make robot love” seem to channel Johansen through Popeye, and with closing track “Jet Lag” likewise inspired by the New York Dolls’ “Jet Boy,” the result is a derivative sandwich filled with yesterday’s rock ‘n’ roll meat. Or is it?

“Forty-Nine Dollar Divorce” features a background singer melody straight from David Bowie’s “Young Americans,” but Chavin replaces its R&B inspiration with dollar bin boogie rock (if our staff can stomach it, Molly Hatchet may well be the subject of a future column). Chavin’s songs, most of them co-written with guitarist Johnny Erokan, may be borrowed, but they’re catchy enough, and surprisingly, their strong point is the ballad. The album’s slow dances grow increasingly more melodic and thoughtful. “Justine” is a tender change of pace, while lament “Ain’t No Mommy and Daddy No More” is an orphan’s introduction to rock ‘n’ roll alienation that might have been a highlight on a better rocker’s album.

“Hard Love” is a concept so obvious that you wonder why it hasn’t been used more often, but read the lyrics (helpfully spelled out in the gatefold) and there’s some self-awareness at work. “Bad Guy” sounds like another throwaway title, but a closer reading of the snarled lyrics reveals something about where Chavin really comes from: “Fit real snug in a rock ‘n’ roll type/ Then massage the media with money an’ hype.” The song goes on to populate its rock misogyny with a very specific character, a “Madison Avenue mistress-at-arms.”

Would you believe this guy went on to advertising?

Chavin’s secondhand ideas are buoyed by good production values and a solid band that helps put his sensitive ballads across. But dig a little further and you find the real story. His lyrics aren’t subtle, but his parody is. Yes, this is apparently a joke. Nick Chavin, under the name Chinga Chavin, had previously released the 1976 album Country Porn, available only by mail order from Penthouse. He reportedly sold 100,000 copies of his X-rated parody, with titles like “Cum Stains on the Pillow” and “Asshole from El Paso” (later covered by Kinky Friedman). But how much of a joke is this album?

Jet Lag‘s strongest cut, “Mirage,” is its most sincere, a Dylanesque ballad that also doubles as a manifesto for the illusions that Chavin went on to peddle in his day job for the firm Chavin Lambert Advertising. “Mirage, it never comes to you/ Dreams are only fun until they come true.” It’s not a great album—I’m not even sure it’s a good album. It’s somebody’s costly rock ‘n’ roll dream (or rock ‘n’ roll joke), and it only cost me a dollar, but the story behind it is worth a few bucks more.

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