Monthly Archives

August 2014

Arts and Entertainment, Existential Stuff, History, Music, Opinion

I tell The Turtlenauts of Zond 5 about the Replacements, Joe Ely, Phil Ochs, the Mekons, and the lack of a true self

August 29, 2014


Although tortoises are not mammals, humankind should remain in awe of the achievement of Bek and Lek, two tortoises who circled the moon on September 18, 1968.

This is not fantasy: In 1968, the Soviets Russians were frantically attempting to beat the Americans and the Apollo space program to the moon.  They launched the Zond 5, with Turtlenauts Bek and Lek on board, to see if living creatures could survive a trip to the moon and back.  They did, and our two shell-back friends became the first living creatures ever to reach the moon.   The Soviet’s plan to follow up Lek and Bek’s pioneering adventure with a manned flight was abandoned when it turned out the Apollo program was much further ahead of schedule than the Soviets had imagined.

Yes, I said Turtlenauts.

Recently, I asked myself the following question:  What if Bek and Lek returned from space as fully sentient creatures, but Soviet secrecy and the equally obfuscating bureaucracy of the post-Soviet Russian governments prevented them from leaving the grim lab in the Urals where they had been ensconced for 45 years?  When finally exposed to the daylight of the modern world (having been freed by a quirk of the very same bureaucracy that had imprisoned and forgotten them), what kind of questions would Bek and Lek have that I, a noted pop-culture and music authority, could answer?

Bek & Lek:  Tell us about the fabled American Beauty, the Mayim Bialik.
Tim Sommer:  She inspires great men to stirring deeds. In this sense, she is like Zipporah, the wife of Moses, or Jolene Brand, the wife of Laugh-In producer George Schlatter.
B & L:  I know of this show Laugh In!  “Sock it to me,” and suchlike hijinks.
TS:  Yes.
B & L:  Tell us a little about this band, The Replacements.
TS:  Every musician must recall that at any given show, perhaps 80 or 90 percent of the audience is seeing them for the first and likely only time.  Whether they are playing in front of 8 or 8,000 people, a performer needs to treat their audience as the only audience they will ever play in front of, the best audience they will play in front of.  Therefore, an artist must never throw away a show, and no band, not even the freaking Beatles, is better than the worst show they play. Personally, I saw the Replacements play five times; I guess I saw five “off” nights.  If they were a truly great band, and I understand a lot of people feel that way, the band simply didn’t feel that every audience was important enough to know that, and that’s just horrible.  Also, the alternative music fanbase in the 1980s was largely made up of geeks and the bullied (myself amongst them); I think the Replacements fulfilled a certain need we may have had to believe there was a Van Halen-esque licentiousness and devil-may-care attitude within each of us, when really, we were just people excited about finding out-of-print Lyres 45s and over-paying for Echo & The Bunnymen import 12-inch singles because they had non-album b-sides.  The Replacements are also romanticized for a few over-sensitive ballads, but I can show you a dozen artists from that period who did that sort of thing far better, or at least as well, and they did it without despising their audience and abusing the extraordinary privilege of being able to play original music in front of people for money.  I mean, start with Chris Bailey and the Saints, listen to their fucking ballads.

(Two Sentient Soviet Turtles now know The Saints are infinitely superior to the Replacements)

B & L:  Tell us about Joe Ely.
TS:  Excellent question. Joe Ely, Joe Strummer, and Bruce Sprinsgteen are all essentially the same artist, and that’s a beautiful thing.  Each has attempted to channel Woody Guthrie via Sun-era Elvis; each wants to tell the story of the American experience via the character of a muscular guitar-slinger, sensitive but with sand in their teeth.  Each wanted to simultaneous wear Dylan’s wise-ass bookishness and Marlon Brando’s muscle-tees, each wanted to feel the world through the boots of the workingman yet see the world through the owlish-eyes of Ginsberg.
B & L:  That’s a very impressive description.
TS:  Yes, I thought so too, thank you.  If you want to turn that trio into a quintet, add Patti Smith and Paul Sanchez, each of whom have a very similar worldview and ability to translate that vision into extraordinary art.  Patti adds some shady, shadowy art to the mix, Paul adds some hot sauce.
B & L:  Speaking of “devil may care,” Is there a God?
TS:  You are sentient, talking turtles that have been to the moon.  Shouldn’t I be asking you that question?
B & L:  No.
TS:  Well, there is Abba, and there is Nick Lowe’s production on his Jesus of Cool album — these may be a sign of some higher power.
B & L:  Who are the quintessential American artists?
TS:  I’d have to go with Louis Armstrong and Phil Ochs.  Each told the story of rich, troubled century, spotted with joy and tragedy.  Each spoke in an essentially and exclusively American vocabulary, discarding the frippery of England or San Francisco. Here, you should listen to the Ochs’ song “When In Rome.”  It tells the story of America, a place of hope and disappointment, through the eyes of one deeply troubled troubadour, a once optimistic man that experience has turned cynical.

B & L:  But it’s 13 minutes long.  Are you going to make us listen to that whole thing?
TS:  You watched eight straight episodes of American Horror Story Coven last night, I think you can spare 13 minutes.
B & L:  We’re not sure.
TS:  Tell you what:  just listen, at your leisure, to Ochs’ Rehearsals For Retirement album.  It tells the story of the death of idealism in America.
B & L:  Gee, that sounds like fun.
TS:  If you want fun, listen to Slade or BTO. By the way, “Hey You” by BTO is an extremely satisfying song, plus it is essentially the template for all Nirvana and Pixies songs.
B & L:  If we only have time to listen to one song right now, what should it be?
TS:  “Where Were You” by the Mekons. It reduces rock’n’roll to its absolute essence:  two chords and thwarted desire.

B & L:  I count four chords.
TS:  I am not counting those passing chords between the verses and I don’t think you should, either.
B & L:  We have to go to lunch, and then someone is going to show us how to set up a Kindle account and explain to us the cultural context of the British “Carry On” film series.
TS:  Don’t bother buying Ulysses by James Joyce just because you think you should.  You’ll never read it, or much of it, anyway, and if you want to feel smart yet still be entertained, you are far better off reading Rushdie or William Gaddis.
B & L: — Before we go, Tim, do you have any final words of advice?
TS:  Whenever even the most cursory examination is applied, one finds that the self is made up entirely of non-self elements.  Seriously.  Remove the word “I” from any idea, or dialogue — especially a self-dialogue — and very remarkable things happen.  That’s because there is no “I.”  There is no homunculus sitting somewhere in our brain consistently infusing some consistent or permanent idea of self into all our actions and decisions.  There are just an infinite number of ever-moving, ever-changing parts adding up to the constant reality of dependence arising.  As Chandrakirti said, “Afflictions and faults arise from the false view of a transitory collection.  Having understood that the object of this is self, negate self.”
B & L:  Homo-what-culus?

From the Web


The Struggle Bus: Episode 2

August 28, 2014

Listen To Episode 2

Subscribe On iTunes

In this episode Kate and Sally talk about some of their struggles this month, and answer a listener question about finances and friendship. Plus, what not to do when you see a table full of women at a restaurant. And a new theme song by Marty Scanlon!

Music Credits:

Theme Song by Marty Scanlon

“I Love It” by Icona Pop

Source: The Struggle Bus

From the Web


Opinion: Reclining Your Airline Seat Puts You in League with Satan

August 27, 2014

This week a United Airlines flight from Denver to Newark was diverted to Chicago after two passengers got into an altercation over the use of a device that prevents riders from reclining their seats.

Reports say that a male passenger used a product called Knee Defender to guard himself against the threat of a full-reclining troll. His fear became all too real when the female passenger in front of him attempted to recline – an argument ensued resulting in water being thrown on the male customer and the flight being re-routed to Chicago.

Ladies and gentlemen – THERE IS NEVER A REASON TO FULL RECLINE. Don’t even try to defend the practice. An airline flight is already painful enough without having to deal with a self-entitled sociopath who thinks it’s their G-d given right to slam into another person’s knees. JUST…DON’T…DO …IT.

Of course, since there’s no real news to report on, many outlets are debating this issue. Behold Josh Barro’s logic in the New York Times:

I wrote an article to that effect in 2011, noting that airline seats are an excellent case study for the Coase Theorem. This is an economic theory holding that it doesn’t matter very much who is initially given a property right; so long as you clearly define it and transaction costs are low, people will trade the right so that it ends up in the hands of whoever values it most. That is, I own the right to recline, and if my reclining bothers you, you can pay me to stop. We could (but don’t) have an alternative system in which the passenger sitting behind me owns the reclining rights. In that circumstance, if I really care about being allowed to recline, I could pay him to let me.

Dan Kois of Slate wrote about this issue (and talked about it above):

The problem isn’t with passengers, though the evidence demonstrates that many passengers are little better than sociopaths acting only for their own good. The problem is with the plane. In a closed system in which just one recliner out of 200 passengers can ruin it for dozens of people, it is too much to expect that everyone will act in the interest of the common good. People recline their seats because their seats recline. But why on earth do seats recline? Wouldn’t it be better for everyone if seats simply didn’t?

Some European airlines are already banning reclining seats and recent surveys claim that 90% of travelers say they hate reclining seats. So for that 10% who enjoy and feel entitled to the full recline… we’ll see you in Hell!

From the Web

Arts and Entertainment, Brooklyn Bugle, Existential Stuff, Music, Opinion

R.E.M. Were the Band of Our Time

August 27, 2014

This past Sunday was the 32nd anniversary of the release of Chronic Town by R.E.M.

I tried writing about this event with some objectivity, wit, or erudition, but failed.

That’s because

R.E.M. were the band of our time.

However, here’s what I did come up with:

R.E.M. were the band of our time.  They weren’t necessarily the best band, or the one we loved most or longest, but they were ours, ours, ours, ours.

If the college rock revolution had a July 4, 1776, it was August 24, 1982.
(And like all revolutions it featured many strangely hot girls who owned Big Star records and didn’t shave under their arms)

My generation were the little brothers of punk rock.  We were four, five, six, seven, eight years younger than David Byrne, Pete Shelley, Tom Verlaine, David Thomas, Colin Newman, Andy Partridge, and all the 89.1 heroes whose vinyl filled our lives; even the (slightly) more recent objects of our alt-passions (like Julian Cope, Ian Curtis, or Ian McCulloch) were still notably older than us.  This left us prone to seduction by the inferior tribes of ska and hardcore simply because they were closer to our age.   As we sluiced even further into the 1980s

(like we were riding a subway car full of pink and gray neon posterboard-people trampling on the bluefiush-blue down jackets of the ‘70s, accompanied by the bleat of Ed Koch’s bloated boasts and the confusing wobble of 45’s warped by the flaking bone-colored radiators of our first post-dorm apartments)

We were eager, terribly and beautifully eager, for a user-friendly form of college artrock we could call our own, one that felt like it was made by us and for us, but had the potential to exist on a far greater stage.

When R.E.M. entered our lives between 1981 and 1984, we immediately sensed

they were us, they were ours;

right away, we recognized them from our time spent standing in front of the mirror miming to Velvet Underground records, tossing our hair like Lance Loud, and dancing like Vanessa from Pylon. The discovery of R.E.M. was our Ed Sullivan moment (whenever that moment came, whether it be the indie release of “Radio Free Europe” or their masterpiece, the mushroom-laced kudzu gothic of Fables of the Reconstruction, or the deep, melancholy sweetness of Murmur or Reckoning); much as an entire generation wanted to grow their hair moppishly and pick up guitars after seeing the Beatles on TV in February 1964, when we

First heard R.E.M

we sensed that our time had come and the art of our heart’s desire, formed by cliquish devotion to dBs and Byrds and Big Star and Love and Beach Boys and Kinks and Move and Patti and Brautigan and Groovies, had suddenly found aggressive, physical, charming, and public voice; someone had formed the band we wanted to hear, someone had beaten us to it, and we couldn’t have been happier.  We had found the band we had theorized but perhaps never believed could be realized, the band that blended art and tradition better than any band of our time.

In those years (specifically ’82 through ’85), to us (those of us who were 18 to 25 at that time), R.E.M. became the friend at whose house every party started, that party where we would talk with abandon fueled by coffee and Heineken about all our favorite books and films and records and poets, and where we would meet every girl or boy we would instantly fall for (for at least eight days).  R.E.M. were us, in a way no other band had ever been us

(Us: shifty, sassy outsiders born in the years of JFK and LBJ, now entering the heartbeat of our 20s and shaking off the idea that we were a footnote to someone else’s past.)

R.E.M., and the friends we made through their fandom, were us, sharing our influences, our literary and musical and artistic and social and political interests, our beliefs that music could be popular without apologies. R.E.M. was the first band we loved who were the best versions of us, the first band who we could look in the eye and just know they came from the same place as us, the first band who would know just what we meant when we made a sly reference to Kimberly Rew or Chris Bell or Robert Frank or Wim Wenders and who would agree that the redhead sitting over there who drank John Courage and loved the Wooster Group looked very good indeed.

Some of you will scoff at these strong, romantic, childish words; but I suspect there are many of you out there who will know exactly what I am talking about.  We have to recall that feeling, that love we felt for those rich enchanting arpeggios and those sexy, enigmatic mumbles, and not feel any shame; we were right, right, right. They were the first band of, for, and by generation college rock, and the first band of that generation to get it all right.

(Oh, and by the way, Layne, if you don’t own that first EP and the three albums that followed — once again, that’s Chronic Town, Murmur, Reckoning, and Fables of the Reconstruction — I have ZERO hesitation in stating that NOTHING you have to say or think about alternative music has any value, and I would be better off talking about Nick Drake or Tim Buckley with  Mayim Bialik or even Allison Mosier, the girl on the Cami Secret commercial.)

Eventually, we would recognize that we were not the youngest child, but the perennial middle child of the alt revolution — too young to be David Byrne, too old to be Kurt Cobain. But there was a little while when our age was perfect: for a shimmering time in the 1980s when we were drunk on youth’s true perfect years

(Youth’s True Perfect Years: the early/mid 20s, when a person is finally old enough to know how to have some genuine fun yet still too young to know better),

everything was right, and R.E.M. was our soundtrack, and R.E.M. told our story better than we could tell our own, and made us believe that our dreams that the words “art” and “commerce” were not necessarily oxymoronic could actually be true.

Thank you Peter, Mike, Michael, Bill, and Jefferson. Somewhere in my heart it is always August 24, 1982.

(And thanks to Glenn Boothe, a great friend and a legendary Triangle club booker, for reminding me of the date).

From the Web

Arts and Entertainment, Existential Stuff, Music, News, Opinion

All Hail Dada Sitcoms like Luxury Comedy

August 25, 2014

Bizarrely, live-action television has rarely been a particularly fertile venue for surrealism.

This is very odd indeed, for the very premise of most historical (and many contemporary) sitcoms could not be more surreal:  people pretend to act like a “real” family or “real” friends, except they do it in front of an audience in a three wall format, and everything is neatly sewn up in 22 minutes.  The standard sitcom modus operandi has, literally, zero to do with reality, and only its greatest masters (like Jackie Gleason and The Honeymooners) can eke any true realism out of such an impossibly unrealistic format.  Think, for a moment:  does a minute of any episode of I Love Lucy or The Brady Bunch actually resembles even a chalk-outline of real life?

So why not take it further? Why do sitcoms insist on building the same old imitation reality over and over again?  Why not try something genuinely different?

For generations, television comedy has been locked into two fairly unyielding formats:  the “domestic” or workplace sitcom where actors perform situational set-ups and jokes in three-walled setting, and the “review” format, where limited-time sketches are performed in the same three-wall setting (although Saturday Night Live has long boasted that there’s a big difference between them and the sketches of The Carol Burnett Show, it’s essentially all the same stuff, just with a few risqué concepts added).  Admittedly, there has been a little bit of healthy re-orientation in the last two decades, thanks to the introduction of the single-camera/no-live audience (or laugh-track) sitcoms pioneered by Ricky Gervais and Gary Shandling.

I am sure there are a few others, but only Green Acres stands out as a sitcom that utilized the absurdity inherent in the traditional sitcom format to explore completely non-realistic premises for comic effect (and, of course, I will note the insertion of the alien Mork into Happy Days, one of the world’s most unrealistic sitcoms).   I also think the often wonderful Scrubs got very close to finding a workable method for injecting surrealism into sitcoms (by the way, I am isolating the consistent use of absurd elements – like Green Acres’ sentient pig – from the bizarre trend in the ‘60s to take absurd premises and treat them as ordinary, like in The Flying Nun, My Mother The Car, Mr. Ed). 

All of this is to underline what a startling, original delight Noel Fielding’s Luxury Comedy is.  Luxury Comedy has recently started its’ second season on British television (it had a six-episode debut season in 2012; it would be largely pointless and almost certainly confusing to attempt to explain how the British model of television seasons and series renewals has virtually nothing to do with the American concept, so let’s just not go there, okay?).   One barely knows where to start in attempting to explain what Luxury Comedy is; it would be effective to say that what Fielding does in a live-action show is closer – far­ closer – to animated shows like Sponge Bob Square Pants, Superjail, or the marvelous Adventure Time.  There is a relatively steady “situation” – in series 2, it involves Fielding (using his real name) and his gang operating a coffee shop situated on the rim of a Hawaiian Volcano.  Oh, I should mention that Fielding’s cohorts include Andy Warhol, a human/anteater hybrid, and a mod, snarky German woman.  Other regular characters and visitors include a New York cop who drives a cardboard car and whose partner is embedded in his shoulder, a talking Hammerhead Shark who is an experienced recording engineer, Don Quixote, and Joey Ramone (who is just a silent, armless clay figure).

Fielding, of course, was one-half of The Mighty Boosh, the utterly brilliant comedy team whose television show (2004 – 2007) is quite literally one of the ten funniest television shows ever made. Luxury Comedy takes as a starting point the Boosh’s more psychedelic visual elements and more bizarre character factors; Fielding then spins these off into their own self-dependent world.  LuxCom is like an un-tethered balloon released by the Boosh, where the Dada/Dali/Duchamp Happy-Acid-Trip implied by much of the Boosh’s work is left to simmer into a surrealistic gumbo of nonsense that utterly refuses to walk the fine-line between the intellectual and the childish; rather, Fielding’s new show has one foot firmly in both, which is why watching even two minutes of LuxCom will make you think of Antonin Artaud, James Joyce, Thomas Pynchon, William Burroughs, and Samuel Beckett getting together to rewrite a four-year old’s story of the dinosaur living in their closet.  Seriously, it’s a lot like that. 

In its ability to channel surrealism via live action and its’ attempt (only sometime successful, but always riveting) to make live-action comedy that is completely detached from reality (even as it makes a bare effort to adhere to a consistent premise), Noel Fielding’s Luxury Comedy is the successor to The Goon Show, the British radio show which literally invented modern British humor.  The Goons, who were on the air from 1951 to 1960, abandoned traditional storytelling and replaced it with illogical absurdity that took advantage of the idea that in one-dimensional radio-land, nonsense made as much sense as bad imitations of reality; the Goons also pretty much invented the idea that a non-sequitur could replace a punchline.  I’ll write about the Goons at greater depth in the near future (they are one of the most important cultural forces of the 20th Century), but very, very rarely has their innovations been utilized in setting-based live action comedy, which is what makes Luxury Comedy so very, very exciting.

Recently, drama on television has taken enormous leaps; following the pioneering lead of Six Feet Under, shows like House of Cards, Hannibal, Breaking Bad, American Horror Story, and many others are, for the very first time, consistently bringing cinema-quality events into the living rooms of America.  It’s now time for live-action comedy to play catch-up, to move on from the done-to-death innovations of Office-type mock-docs and realize the rather stunning potential the medium has for capturing, exploring, and exploiting entertaining surrealism. Go ahead; stop putting a bunch of people in an apartment or an office and writing jokes about their relationships and their jobs and what’s in their refrigerator.  Instead, I challenge you to go all Duchamp and do the equivalent of sticking a urinal on the wall (or as Luxury Comedy does, have a regular character who Wikipedia, in it’s best dry fashion, describes as “an anthropomorphic chocolate finger biscuit who works as a PE teacher and once served in the army. He suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder and often talks about how depressed he is because his wife passed away”).  I hope Luxury Comedy is a harbinger of the future; in the meantime, it’s just a gorgeous, original, psychedelic delight, a brave attempt to bring the beautiful non-logic of animation to the world of live-action.


From the Web


Taking the Tim Sommer Challenge: Here’s My Top Ten Song List

August 23, 2014

A few weeks ago Tim Sommer, whose Noise, the Column graces the Brooklyn Bugle, responded to his friend Tim Broun, publisher of the blog Stupefaction, by publishing a playlist of his top ten songs on the Bugle. He concluded the title of his post with, “Now It’s Your Turn.”

Here’s mine. If Tim should read this, he will likely be disappointed by most of my choices being what he calls “‘songs’ that conform to the verse-chorus-verse-chorus-bridge-chorus virus.” My descent into old fart-dom has long been underway, and ingrained habits die hard. Still, I’d like to think I’m not beyond having my notion of how music ought to sound stretched a bit. Thanks to Tim, I’ll spend more time listening to the likes of Neu! and Liquid Liquid, though Scott Walker + Sunn O))) is, for me, a difficult stretch (I just listened to “Soused” a second time; it’s starting to grow on me). I will even look back and reconsider Van Halen.

1. Neil Young and Crazy Horse, Like a Hurricane. If someone told me I had ten minutes to live, and could choose one piece of music to hear, I’d have a hard few seconds deciding between this and the first movement of Beethoven’s “Archduke” Trio.

2. Chuck Berry, Promised Land. I never knew, until I just looked it up, that the tune is based on one of my favorite old-time country songs, Wabash Cannonball. Berry wrote the song in prison in the mid sixties, when L.A. was still the Promised Land. It was also a time when to be young, poor, black, and “stranded in downtown Birmingham” was a scary proposition, but Berry didn’t need to dwell on that; he just got his protagonist outta there, pronto.

3. The Astronauts, Baja. A surf guitar band from Colorado–yes, Colorado–got the sound just right.

4. Mahavishnu Orchestra, Open Country Joy. John McLaughlin and company start softly, building into a lovely opening theme that ends abruptly, followed by a ten second silence, then by a frenetic, sometimes dissonant variation that finally resolves itself into a triumphant restatement of the opening theme.

5. The Ramones, Rockaway Beach. Someone once wrote that the Ramones were New York’s answer to the Beach Boys. Was “Gabba gabba hey!” our “cowabunga”?

6. The Royal Teens, Believe Me. In 1959 I was thirteen and lovesick when I heard this song, announced as a “pick hit of the week” on WDAE in Tampa. I never heard it again on radio, nor did I find it on my occasional searches through bins of 45s in record stores, but every “ooh-wah-ooh,” every tinkling piano note, was indelibly engraved in my memory. Cut to the cusp of the ’70s-’80s. I’m in one of those West Village used vinyl emporia and come across a Royal Teens anthology LP. I bought it and dashed home to my then digs on East 11th to play the song I hadn’t heard in twenty or so years. The tinkling piano is by Bob Gaudio, who later joined Frankie Valli and the other Jersey Boys in the Four Seasons, and wrote several of their hits. According to this excellent bio by Bruce Eder, Al Kooper played guitar with the group in ’59, so may be on this cut.

7. Lou Reed, Coney Island Baby. From doo-wop to an homage to doo-wop. “The glory of love might see you through.” Yeah.

8. Eartha Kitt, Uska Dara. One afternoon when I was seven, and my parents and I were living in half of a thatched roof cottage in rural Hertfordshire, my mom had the radio tuned to BBC and the announcer said, “Now, here’s some Turkish music.” What followed was so hooky that, like “Believe Me” six years later, it got burned onto my mental hard drive–well, not perfectly; the tune I remembered, but not the spoken bridge, nor the sung words, except for the end of the chorus, which sounded to me like “nebrezary on a shoe.” Cut to the Bells of Hell, circa 1978. It’s four on a Saturday or Sunday morning, the place is closing, and Mike McGovern–if you’re a fan of Kinky Friedman’s novels, that McGovern–invites the few serious drinkers left, myself included, to his place for a morning-cap. As we sipped Jameson Mike put on an Eartha Kitt LP and there it was, that song I hadn’t heard since I was seven. I got my own copy soon after.

9. Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes, Take It Inside. The album Hearts of Stone is on my top ten rock albums list; it’s the only one I’ve downloaded wholesale to my iPod. I chose this track for its showing of the group’s versatility, from the Beatle-esque opening phrase, “Try to understand,” leading into Johnny singing over a basic rock backing ensemble, then the entrance of the horns on the chorus. I also love it for its controlled but still white-hot passion.

So far, things were pretty easy. Tim suffered for his list; mine was a breeze. Then it got down to choosing that last number. I had two songs in mind. Both come from the British–one English, the other Scottish–folk-rock tradition. Well, I thought, it’s possible to have a tie for ten. So, I’ve numbered the next two songs “10.”

10. Mike Heron, Warm Heart Pastry.  Mike Heron was a founder of the Scottish acid-folk group Incredible String Band, which I saw in its death throes at the Bottom Line in the mid ’70s, on a tour in which they had expanded to about twenty members, mostly by picking up musicians in every place they performed, including my native city. In 1971 Heron made a solo album, Smiling Men With Bad Reputations. “Warm Heart Pastry” is the one straight-ahead rocker on the album, with a hot backing band credited as “Tommy and the Bijoux.” I later heard or read somewhere that they were The Who, playing under a pseudonym to avoid contractual problems. That proved to be partially true: they were The Who minus Roger Daltrey, but plus John Cale, who also appears on several other cuts on the album.

10. Richard and Linda Thompson, Wall of Death.  She was pregnant, and they were on the verge of marital breakup, when they recorded Shoot Out the Lights, one of the most emotionally harrowing rock albums ever. Richard was previously a guitarist and singer with Fairport Convention. The song has been described as “joyous,” but the underlying tension seems obvious to me.

Source: Self-Absorbed Boomer

From the Web

Arts and Entertainment, Existential Stuff, Music, News

Rock’n’Roll is Dead, Long Live Rock’n’Roll! (Of course, this is about Scott Walker)

August 22, 2014

Reeves Gabrels plays guitar like a scientist getting ready to torch his lab for the insurance money.  He is an alchemist who ignores all genre boundaries and summons the spirit of Sun Ra saddling up Steve Vai for a ride to see Mick Ronson jamming with the Sex Pistols playing Jefferson Airplane’s “Embryonic Journey.”

But anyway.

About 25 years ago, while briefly working at a particularly dysfunctional record label, I made Mr. Gabrel’s acquaintance.  Reeves and I talked of many things (he was, and is, a dear, sweet man), but together we plotted a rather masterful project that never came to fruition:  we wanted to team up his friend and collaborator, David Bowie, with an occasional musical associate of mine, the avant-noise composer Glenn Branca.  We imagined that Bowie’s keening, artful skills would brilliantly compliment Branca’s city-block wide slabs of spark-shooting metal, metal so feral as to defy chords or song-friendly length.  Even though this project never even achieved the earliest stages of realization, I can still hear it in my head as it could have/should have been, and that sound is actually visual to me:  I see a cool man in an ivory-colored camel hair coat riding the shoulders of a metal Golem, the Golem in turn dragging giant, thick sheets of iron down the empty dawn streets of lower Manhattan, the din echoing through, between, and around the canyons of Bowling Green and the bottom of Broadway.  Huh.

I mention all this because we now have a 90-second long preview of a project that is, to my mind, the next best thing to the Branca/Bowie project that never was:  the Scott Walker + Sunn O))) album, to be released on October 20th.

This preview – presumably of a song called “Soused” – is everything I would have imagined: the brutal, beautiful low-end metalscapes of Sun O))), the sound of Sabbath reduced to its’ logical black-hole 16 RPM monk-chant conclusion, accompanied by the begging, wailing, crooning, desperate, deeply personal vocals of the amazing Scott Walker, vocals that don’t so much defy rhythm and melody as much as dare the listener to re-assess your definition of it.  In these 90 seconds, I hear the sound of cities falling back into the sea, the sound of the Caves of Lascaux filled with subways, and I hear the groaning of the Seven Trumpets that herald the biblical apocalypse.  To be frank, the FIRST thing that occurred to me after I heard the short preview was this:  “The first angel blew his trumpet, and there came hail and fire, mixed with blood, and they were hurled to the earth; and a third of the earth was burned up, and a third of the trees were burned up, and all green grass was burned up…”(Revelation, 8/7).  But to be honest, Scott Walker’s records for the last 20 years have always conjured up these sorts of visions for me.

Certainly, it’s difficult to assess the quality – or the potential legacy – of an entire album based on one short preview, but Scott Walker’s recent (i.e., post ’95/Tilt work) have always hinted that he was seeking to be the first “mainstream” melody-based vocalist to find a lyrical, melodic, and textural vocabulary that matched the startling and attractive dissonance of Xenakis, Penderecki, Branca, Stockhausen, early Swans, etcetera; to match his ambitions with a group that have also been attempting to find a new (and entirely logical) avenue for metal and post-metal that achieves the same kind of power and originality is an extraordinary notion, and based on this preview, the results may live up to the startling promise implied by the concept.

Very few artists have so fearlessly and fearsomely renounced their past as Scott Walker has.  From the Spector/Wilson-esque high-drama high-pop of his early hits with the Walker Brothers, to the Weill/Brecht and Brel psycho-cabaret of his middle years, to groaning, pulsing, pounding, hissing, whirring, gristle-y, grisly, glassy, and ghastly music he’s made since Tilt, literally no mainstream artist has so challenged himself and his followers, and there seems to be such a terribly, essentially logical “rightness” to the idea of Scott collaborating with Sunn O))).

And I hope it opens the doors for many more suchlike ideas and collaborations.  The potential always existed for rock’n’roll to find a new but entirely logical setting for the power that existed in the frantic hollers of Little Richard and Huey Piano Smith, the train-racing sprints of the Sonics or the Bad Brains, the God Machine pump of the Ramones or Bo Diddley.  The time has come to encourage a breaking away from the Brill Building/Beatles habit of insisting that rock’n’roll is synonymous with “songs” that conform to the verse-chorus-verse-chorus-bridge-chorus virus.  West German rock’n’roll artists arrived at this conclusion 45 years ago (Neu!, Can, Astra Tempel, Tangerine Dream and many others), and it’s time for the Anglos to catch up.  GOD, just IMAGINE what Kurt Cobain, Jimi Hendrix, or Neil Young could have achieved if someone had told them that they didn’t have to make music that conformed to the same rules that Stephen Foster had invented over a 150 years ago!

And it makes me recognize that Reeves and I sorely missed an opportunity back in 1990, when we took the first steps towards making that Branca/Bowie record.

By the way, Reeves has a new album out, in collaboration with the amazing Bill Nelson, titled Fantastic Guitars.  I will speak more about that shortly.

Finally, I’ve had many years to consider this, but I simply don’t approve of interleague play in Major League Baseball.  It doesn’t feel right, and it severely mutes the noisy singularity of the World Series.   Yesterday, I heard someone on the radio give the score to the Yankees – Astros game, and I thought to myself, “What kind of fuckery is this?”

UPDATE:  I’ve just been informed that the Astros, are, in fact, NOW in the American League (a detail I now recall from the dusty, gloam-hued attic of my much assaulted memory, teased by time and the distortion of half-a-centuries fantasies and optimism; I now remember that at some point they “traded” leagues with the Milwaukee Brewers).  But my reaction remains:  THE ASTROS IN THE AMERICAN LEAGUE?!?  What kind of CULTURAL SODOMY IS THIS?!?  In 1963, it was found that the Astros original home, Colt Stadium, was built ON TOP of a burial ground for  the esteemed Karankawa Tribe; surely, the ALREADY DISTURBED SPIRITS of these brave elders will be further COMPROMISED, and indeed their hallowed bones will be REVOLVING MIGHTILY  at the THOUGHT of the Astros competing in the American League.



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August 21, 2014

Linda Rizzo is a DJ and photographer whose efforts do great honor to the ghosts of the Kingdom of the Outsiders: her visual work is alive with peeling window sills,  brash bodegas, and  shadowed skyscrapers. Behind the turntables she respects the disparate din of New York, sounds danceable and punkable and trashbilly-rilly-sock’em-rockable.

Linda – under her DJ persona, DJ La La Linda – is DJ’ing tonight at The West End, 955 West End Avenue at 107th Street. The theme of the night is Party Like It’s 1979, and Linda promises to spin the music you would have heard in the clubs at that extraordinary time.

This got me thinking…1979 was my first year as a full-time resident in that grim and glittering, peculiar, perfect, slanting, shitty, shadowy, spectacular land that was New York, New York 1979.

In 1979, even if it was a chilly November of the Soul on the outside, the inner spirit smiled brilliant and full of bright pretension. The Soho Streets were still gold-dark and full of aqua-green stairways to paradise and art, the East Village was still gutted and hazy with the smoke from eight dozen garbage can fires, and the Upper West Side was still Needle-Park shabby and chilly with wind-tossed garbage; and there were a half-dozen clubs or more, dim cellars like TR3 or mirror-brite discos like Hurrah, where we watched bands and heard new records and cheered local heroes and conquering Britishers, 4/5/6 nights a week.

Inspired by Linda’s event, I considered the following question, and considered it quite gravely: when I walked into those clubs at age 17/18, WHAT SONGS WERE BEING PLAYED? What music – and I mean specifically DJ music, not the live music on stage – accompany the memories of my evenings in the music clubs of NYC during that extraordinary time?

So I tried to bring myself back to that time, tried to sense

those rooms (smelling of cigarette smoke and sweat and fruity alcoholic drinks and the odd rusty odor of tip-change piled on the bar),

and I tried to focus only on the DJ music, and not on

the bands (thin-legged and spiky-topped and clad in black or metallic blue),

nor the treasured trips to and from the clubs (cold walks down Canal Street, wide cruel and bright, and long 3:38 AM waits in briny and empty Columbus Circle Subway stations),

nor the company I kept on these visits (friends wide-eyed and NYU snarky like me, or kohl-black-eyed girls in long-white shirts and fishnets);

and I asked myself, which is to say I asked memory, that unreliable and ecstatic witness, to recall the DJ music filling the room. Oh, and I expanded the parameter through 1980 (and a wee bit of ’81 may have even limbo’d under memories’ shaky bar). So here’s what I came up with — not an attempt to reflect my favorite songs or favorite bands — but what I recall as the DJ soundtrack of those evenings:


I still cannot hear this extraordinary track without thinking of emerging from the gray landing at the top of Hurrah’s stairs onto the candy-lit, mirror’d dancefloor/bandroom. Perhaps this was playing the first time I ever walked into that historic room (I think – though I am not certain – to see the Yachts). The tic-tock signal indicator beat, the pronounced and well defined highs and lows, and the sinewy kitschy/sexy “Peter Gunn” riff makes this perfect for club play. As an aural-sensualists aside, the moment at 1:15 when the LOW bass comes in under the riff is one of the top 25 goose-bump moments in pop music.


This beautiful, strange foreign artifact of punk/noise/screech/Kinks-riff via Wire/big beat anticipates about half a dozen different major movements in music; it’s a terrific 45, and a reminder that there were some brave discos where you could play this kind of muffle-drag garage holler right alongside the Chic songs.


The swooping, skipping bass – sounding like Wobble with a hot thumb up his ass – made this perfect for the big club sound systems, and the chop-chop-ska-cha-cha and whiney post-punk vocals made this just right for NME-reading trendsters eager to slap the slabby bottoms of their creepers onto the dance floor. I will also note this: the very first time I heard this song it was played at the wrong speed – at 33, instead of 45 – and I thought it was a very amazingly fucked up PIL song.


Just a gorgeous, emotive, evocative song, it moves and flies and gums up the memory apparatus, with a cinematic spread tailor-made for club P.A.s. From the time when us college-rock geek types made no real distinction between synth/drum machine driven music and the latest punk rock, post-punk, neo-soul, or ska song.


See, a lot of these songs have GODDAMN BIG BASS on them, because that’s what sounded GREAT over the club sound systems, especially the well-tuned-for-dance ones at Hurrah And Danceteria. Once PIL and Joy Division opened the door for songs that retained a relic of punk’s attitude but were centered around bass and drums (and used guitar for color, not attack), a lot of intense and riveting music followed. Despite the clear PIL antecedent (for, indeed, Public Image Limited were the Ramones of space’n’bass post punk), this was, is, and always will be a very rare and compelling track.


When this first came over the speakers in the fall of 1980, you immediately sensed that something very remarkable was going on: the bass – once again, bass, bass, bass, bass, bass – was all PIL (in fact, the bass part itself is virtually identical to “Public Image” by PIL, and that’s most certainly NOT an accident); but there was a skip to the guitars that recalled the Skids, a precision and poise to the vocals that bought to mind Ultravox’s Midge Ure (and like Ure, was completely removed from any of the grunt, groan, or hoarseness of punk), and a sheen to Steve Lillywhite’s production that seemed to have more in common with classic rock than the more brittle and close-mic’d work of popular punk/post-punk producers like Martin Rushent or Craig Leon. Which is to say, that this track really announced itself – it was not a desperate or overt plea for success, more like a charismatic appeal for timelessness — and made you very, very curious about what was to come.


I’m not sure a better true punk rock dance song was ever recorded; the hugely adept rhythm section is clearly rooted in rocksteady skip and are thinking they are making a dance song, but the vocalist and guitarist know this is a punk rock anthem (though the guitarists right-palm string-mute also alludes to UFO and Judas Priest). Wrap four stunning, sincere musicians in a ball, bounce ‘em down a staircase which starts in a punk rock pub but ends up in a disco, and add a stirring reminder that Ferguson, Missouri and all the Ferguson, Missouri’s are just a day away, and you’ve got a monster track.


Like the Kleenex song discussed above, this was just one of those very fucked-up, metal-bucket-kicked-down-the-train-track songs that gorgeously passed for dance music at the dusk of the 1970s. Listening to it now, on one hand it sounds about thirty years ahead of its’ time, and on the other hand it sounds like the progenitor of every aspect of R.E.M.’s sound that wasn’t borrowed from the dB’s.


When this herk-jerk hop-an’-bang big bag o’ rhythm came over the PA, you were happy and freaked out; there seems to be some allusion to Pere Ubu and the random snaps, clacks, honks, chugs, chimes, and thumps of New York City’s streets, but beyond that, this was all fucking new, and Liquid Liquid remain one of the most original bands NYC ever produced, and a delightful reminder of the amazing, random goldshit that was played in dance clubs back then.


Again, with one-third of a century past, it’s hard to visualize this as a popular song on the dance floor; but the beat, at least in the verses, is 100% neo-disco (even if the drums goes all flubby-wubby rock’n’roll in the chorus), the whole rhythm track shimmying over and under a rotating-motor of a riff that reinterprets the traditional James Brown funka-wunka over a Hawkwind chukka-chukka with a little bit of Steve Jones Pistolian slug-sound folded in (read that last sentence again, it’s really worth it, and I swear it makes sense). By the way, if you take this song plus “Babylon’s Burning,” you have a forecast for the future of heavy metal, but one that didn’t really come into fruition until well into the ‘90s.

Thanks for going down memory alley with me. P.S., isn’t Vaginal Ultrasound a pretty good name for a band?

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The New York Times is Idiotic, AGAIN, and It Gives Me an Excuse to Rave About Echo & The Bunnymen

August 20, 2014

Dear New York Times:

Once upon a time, when we wore Adidas, watched Melba Tolliver, were confused by the suicide of Peter Duel and sang sweet songs about Beautiful Mount Airy Lodge, the New York Times was known as The Paper of Record. As a young man, I would scan your pages, fingers becoming ashen with The Ink of Wisdom, knowing that what I was reading was reliable and true.

You, New York Times, were my friend. You did not tell lies.

This weekend, New York Times, I read the following in your pages:

“Echo & the Bunnymen (Saturday and Sunday) Long before Garbage, Echo and the Bunnymen were only happy when it was raining. These British goths pioneered echoing, foreboding effects in their gloomy post-punk, and spurred on many future rock malcontents, especially with their hit single “The Cutter.” Still clad in black, literally and sonically, they released the album “Meteorites” this spring. Saturday at 8 p.m…”

In the words of Ralph Nader, “One hardly knows where to begin.”

First of all, Stacey Anderson (for she is the writer of the seemingly random assemblage of irrelevant words and adjectives quoted above) appears to have scribbled this brief and woefully inaccurate assessment of Echo & the Bunnymen solely based on the fact that they may have once been pictured dressed in black and have a song called “The Cutter.” Let’s address these things:

After R.E.M., Echo & the Bunnymen are the second greatest elegiac guitar-based alt band of the 1980s. Yes, seriously. The Bunnymen channeled the Doors, the Beatles, the Beach Boys, Love, and the bittersweet melancholia of 1960s high-style Britpop (Small Faces, Pet Clark, PJ Proby, Chris Farlowe, even Gene Pitney) into an absolutely original mofungo of majesty, grace, power, and drama. First of all, Ms. Anderson (if I may now address you more specifically), they were not a “gloomy” band, a la Bauhaus or the Cure; the Bunnymen were a band of many remarkable hues, were constantly joyous and life-affirming, and honestly, they had more in common with the Beatles than Bauhaus. Secondly, you may be the FIRST person to you use the word “Goths” when talking about the Bunnymen; for some reason, you have lumped them in with the aforementioned Curehaus (apparently you saw a picture of them wearing black), and to be absolutely honest, that’s just a ridiculous error, no less glaring than calling (and I am being totally serious) Matchbox 20 a grunge band (they used guitars, too! They were around in the ‘90s too!). You could even make a better (better, but still not correct) case for the Smiths being a Goth band, because at least the Smiths, unlike the Bunnymen, sang regularly of things like comas and child murderers.

Which brings us to the most egregiously moronic thing in Ms. Anderson’s blurb, an error so outlandish as to be actually, well, beautiful: Ms. Anderson’s conclusion that the Bunnymen must be goth and spur on “malcontents” because they have a song called “The Cutter.” It is true that the lyrics to “The Cutter” do, in fact, seem to deal with the consideration of suicide. Well, another Liverpool band called The Beatles had a song called “Run For Your Life” which included the lyrics “Id rather see you dead little girl/Then be with another man…catch you with another man/that’s the end, little girl” — SO I GUESS THE BEATLES SPURRED ON MANY STALKERS AND DATE RAPISTS, CORRECT?!? The Bunnymen, like the Beatles, had songs about a lot of other things, too, and very, very little of ANYTHING ELSE about their music, their lyrics, or their overall gestalt conform to this idea of goth/suicide/darkness, EXCEPT FOR THE TITLE AND SUBJECT OF ONE FUCKING SONG (and the music to the song itself is actually quite glorious and upbeat).

(Damn, Curehaus is a good band name!)

Now as for your comments about their “sound,” apparently, Miss Wellonmellon, I mean Ms. Anderson, you can’t tell the difference between a musical palette that is creative, sonically investigative, and elegiac and one that is “foreboding.” You use this crappy and simplistic word to dismiss the entire range of (guitarist) Will Sergeant’s skills; Will Sergeant is a fucking painter, Ms. Anderson, he is influenced by Phil Manzanera and Bill Nelson and Michael Rother and Vini Reilly and other great custodians of The Land Beyond Bar Chords; he is an artist, and to dismiss him as some fucking goth with an effects pedal, is, well, moronic.

Listen, Ms. Anderson: I was there. I knew Jack Bunnymen, and Bauhaus, Sir, were no Jack Bunnymen. Wait, where was I? Oh, okay…Listen, Ms. Anderson: I was there. Echo & the Bunnymen, with their indescribably rich, layered template of electric and orchestral sounds, punk-sired power and middle eastern flavors, all tethered to a constant and rewarding quest to mix the sugary with the epic, were one of the very, very best alt bands of their era, and deserve far, far better than the be dismissed as just another gang of Goths clad in black churning out music for the gloomy masses. Not only that, but the Bunnymen were a deeply powerful, spontaneous, whipping, soaring, sexy live band, full of rolling rhythms and lissome, serpentine poise; they were the ONLY band of their era who could come close to matching the drunk-angel poetry-party joy of ’82 – ’84 R.E.M. Sadly, although the Bunnymen made PHENOMENAL singles, like “The Cutter,” “The Killing Moon,” and “Lips Like Sugar” (their incredible run of majestic, crafted, whip-smart and whip-sharp singles, rife with towering venetian-glass pop glory, were actually NOTABLY superior to any similar span in the career of R.E.M. and the Smiths), they never quite brought it together for one epic start-to-finish album, as Smiths and R.E.M. did (or even The Cure – my god, when’s the last time you listened to Faith? WHY, oh why don’t more people talk about what a singular achievement that album is?!? But that’s another story, isn’t it?). But regardless of this flaw, the Bunnymen deserve far, far, far,

far, far, far, far

far better than to be the subject of such ignorance in the Newspaper of Fucking Record.

Oh, by the way, I guess Bob Dylan was a British invasion artist because he had a song called “Like A Rolling Stone.” Seriously, Ms. Anderson, that’s the level you’re operating on here, which is terribly, terribly sad, because, THIS ATROCITY, this erroneous and ludicrous dismissal of a great and important and popular band, occurred not on some annoying blog site run by Fieldston grads peeing into sinks in Bushwick, but


See, dear New York Fucking Times, YOU ARE THE NEW YORK FUCKING TIMES. Once upon a time your pages RANG with the rich, pointed, erudite, learned and descriptive words of Tim Page, John Rockwell, Karen Schoemer, even Jon Pareles, people who knew about music, who never would have made an error like this, who wouldn’t have made an erroneous, generalized assessment of a once (very) popular band JUST BECAUSE THERE WAS A PICTURE OF THEM DRESSED IN BLACK AND BECAUSE THEY HAD A SONG CALLED ‘THE CUTTER.” I guarantee, Ms. Anderson, that there are many, many young writers out there, perky alumni of Barnard or Reed or Emerson Hamilton or NYU or god forbid even Fordham, who could JUST AS EASILY ERRONEOUSLY SUM UP AND DISMISS AN ENTIRE BAND’S CAREER SOLELY ON THE BASIS OF A PICTURE AND A SONG TITLE. See, even I can do it! “Nirvana, who appeal to followers of Cream and the Police because they are a power trio, are much loved by fans of classic sitcoms due to their song ‘Floyd the Barber’.”

Ms. Anderson, I am sure you are a perfectly nice person, but this is important: re-read that last quip about Nirvana. See, that’s exactly what you did, and that’s why I am so angry. You wrote something that dumb. You may be a nice person, you may be a good writer, when you were at Oberlin you may have impressed a member of the Strokes by making a reference to the Lemonheads, but you just made a really offensive mistake, the kind that indicates that either a) your shouldn’t be writing for the New York Times, or b) that the New York Times standards have plunged lower than the neckline on a slutty cockroach (see, the NECKLINE ITSELF is low, because the cockroach is a SLUT, and BECAUSE it’s a cockroach, it’s particularly LOW to the ground; SEE WHY THAT WORKS?).

Actually, cockroaches reproduce facing away from each other, so I am not entirely sure a plunging neckline would enhance the seduction proceedings, which is to say that a well-displayed décolletage would not necessarily denote that a cockroach is slutty; and I suppose if the cockroach was on a bed or a lamp or a windowsill, it wouldn’t even be particularly low; so really, I should rethink that whole metaphor. Tell you what: if this piece makes it to the anthology, I’ll re-address the end of that whole last paragraph, okay?

Finally, Ms. Anderson, you’re probably the type of person who listens to a lot of Radiohead. Some advice: if you’re listening to anything except for The Bends (a thrilling and remarkable true rock record of almost Who-like depth and power), you are wasting precious time, nodding your head sagely while wearing headphones, scanning all those pauses and anti-melodies for deepness. Stop wasting your time and listen to Porcupine Tree, who are the real thing.

Oh, and consider taking the LSATS.

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Tell the Bartender Episode 41: LIVE with Jamie Kilstein and Chris Gethard!

August 18, 2014

Listen to Episode 41: LIVE with Jamie Kilstein and Chris Gethard!

Download From iTunes Here

In this Episode:

The Bartender is joined by Jamie Kilstein and Chris Gethard for another wonderful live show. PLUS a listener shout out, and we play Craigslist Ad or Casting Notice with Shawn T. Andrew! Recorded at Union Hall in Brooklyn, NY.

Photos taken by the amazing Tom Scola:






Music Credits:

“Setting Sun” by Chris Powers

“Bottled in Cork” by Ted Leo & The Pharmacists

Source: Tell The Bartender

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