Monday, March 31, 2008

Perfect Sound Forever- April/May 08 issue

I only get to do this six times a year (much like my bathing schedule) so what the hey... I gotta new issue of Perfect Sound Forever out now including articles on:

Interview- fairground adventures

Alice Cooper's original guitarist

A very uncool country act

artist/musician/Kangeroo fan

Fun days w/Doug Sahm

Sun City Girls tribute

Different kind o' power trio

Art-rock not new-wave

Christian girls rock

Jazz/rap percusssion

Turk/Swede jazz

Interview: Return of an L7

$60,000 turntable??

High art & drama

Plus: a special tribute to producer Teo Macero

That'll do it for the zine until our July issue. See you online (i.e. here) otherwise...

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Muxtape- DIY digital, no cassette required

Among the many places where you can not only share (or show off) your favorite songs and actually have people listen to them is Muxtape. You can browse through your MP3 collection and add 12 files/songs that are each less than 10MB and viola, instant digital mixtape of whatever you want now. I set one up here:

You can sign up for free and set up your own too. That is, until the site gets shut down... so enjoy it now.

Thanks to Tim Broun for hipping me to this.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Sonny Rollins meets Gary Giddins

What a treat it was to see one of the finest music journalists around interviewing a living legend. It happened last night at the CUNY Graduate Center when author/writer Giddins spoke with sax-man Rollins about his life and his career.

It was a packed house and it was nice to see a mix of men and women though a little sad to see that there weren't many young bucks in the house and the crowd was heavily imbalanced racially (mostly white).

Nevertheless, to be in the presence of and hear the thoughts of an amazing, tireless musician whose career spans over half a century and how has shared the stage and studio with the likes of Monk, Bird and Miles among many others was a great thing to witness.

Here's some highlights, culled from the notes I jotted down.


"My first idol was Fats Waller. I started out on piano and I eventually went to the saxophone and there, my idol was Louis Jordan. He was an entertainer and an instrumentalist. People usually remember him with his novelty songs but he was a great musician too. He had the heart and soul of R&B in him. Then I heard Coleman Hawkins' 'Body and Soul' and I was attracted to it because it was so intellectual- I wanted to be a learned person (like that).

I first started playing saxophone at age 7. I had an alto but I would put tenor reed on it. Eventually, I got to the tenor, around age 11. I bought it from Manny's Music Store in Times Square. Manny tried to get me to be more widely known- he was a big believer in me."


"Charlie Parker exemplified a big change for us but Hawkins was really as advanced as the music got. I followed Don Byas and bought his 78RPM for "How High the Moon." On the flip side was Parker's 'Koko'- it was kind of unusual to see another artist on a record like that. I had never heard him before and I thought it was kind of an extension of what Hawkins was doing.

In 1943, Billy Eckstine and his band came to New York. They were different rhythmically- they had a modern feel to them. When we heard this, it was obvious that a change was happening. But I still thought that Coleman's music led to what Dexter Gordon was doing then."


Giddins: "When you recorded with Bud Powell and Fats Navarro (1949), were you intimidated by them?"

Rollins: "No, I wasn't. I had a sense of destiny but I knew I was in heavy company... Bud was like Beethoven- a mad genius. When Fats and I were playing, I made a mistake and Bud looked over at me with one of his stares... Needless to say, I never made that mistake again! But Bud wanted me there so I must have been OK. That band could play in any tempo, in any key. I wasn't as good as they were but they wanted me (there)."


"He's been referred to as a high priest and he really was a spiritual guy. He told me that 'If it wasn't for music, the world would go down the tubes.' Monk was a great guy. We used to rehearse at his small apartment, all crammed in one room while his mother was in another room. So you had five guys crammed in one room and then later, he'd take me out to wine joints.

He was one of the honest people I ever met. I did some things... that I'm ashamed of but he was a really beautiful, honest person- different from what you heard about him being crazy. He liked me and gave me a chance to play with him and he had great insight into music."


Giddins: "In 1955, you went to Lexington, Kentucky..."

Rollins: "Yes, that was the Betty Ford clinic of that time. Writers, musicians who overindulged got medical care there. They had a four month program to ween you off drugs. I used to be really bad- people would see me coming and they would run away.

It was hard to get back into jazz after that and stay clean. I really struggled- my old friends were offering me stuff all the time. Then Max Roach and Clifford Brown needed a sax player so I joined in with them. That was a great period of my life. Brown was a beautiful individual and very nice. He didn't carouse- he had good manners and was very unassuming."


(Giddins played SR's version of "There's No Business Like Show Business" from 1955)

Rollins: "Listening to that was excrusiating to me- you always hear your mistakes."

Giddins: "I know that you decided not to release the recent Carnegie Hall show (Sept. 2007) that you did."

Rollins: "It was not quite what I wanted but there'll be more, I'm still alive! (applause). There'll be more and better."

Giddins: "You have a new project where Carl Smith is collecting your concerts and picking 1-2 songs from each show where you were happy with your playing."

Rollins: "Reasonably (happy)..."


Giddins: "1956, May 24, you did the Tenor Madness album where you made session with John Coltrane, who was then unknown at the time."

Rollins: "In those days, there much more of a sense of fellowship among musicians- guys were tighter than they are now. Even then, I knew he was quite a formidable person."


Giddins: "In 1958, you did a ground-breaking political statement Freedom Suite and then in 1959, you retired for two years."

Rollins: "Yes, I always get asked about this... I've always tried to be a guy who wanted to improved himself. My name was getting big then and I had a trio with Elvin Jones, getting bassists here and there and we got Jimmy Garrison eventually. When I was playing then, I was disappointed with my work and felt unworthy. I got my education at the Apollo (Theater)- if they weren't satisfied, the audience would holler at you.

I always felt that there was a contract between me and the audience and I wanted to live up to that. So I just said to myself 'Wait a minute, this isn't going to work.' I've always had an inner (critic)... 'I don't wanna do it anymore,' I thought. I want to practice and go into the woodshed. I would practice at the (Williamburg) bridge, having the time of my life. When I returned, my confidence was there again. I recorded with Jim Hall then, who's now in NYU hospital- please send your thoughts and prayers to him there."


"I head the avant garde but I did not consciously picked up on it- I was doing anything to keep myself on top."


"I've always felt a little restricted in the studio- when you could start overdubbing, I tried to do everything perfectly. I feel more at peace and more of myself in a live situation, especially if it's outdoors. Playing live... you can just forget everything. You can't think and play at the same time. The music is going by so fast, if you stop to think, the time has passed. I keep mind blank and just let the music play me... You just let the music come. I have to think to try to do that. I'm just playing stream of conscious."


Giddins: "I want to play something, I hope it won't be excrusiating..."

Rollins: "It will be!"

(Giddins plays a recording of Sonny live in Kansas City in 1985. As Giddins notes, the song "has no name--it was a completely spontaneous performance." The unaccompanied song is beautiful, funny, lyrical, lively, playful. It's a stunning display- there are bits of "The Marriage of Figaro," horse race music, "Pop Goes the Weasal," "A Tisket A Tasket," funeral marches plus choppy notes, honking and SR going up and down scale as he almost accompanies himself)

Rollins: "I can do better than that! I'm gonna do better than that!"


"I had known Don Cherry, before he came to NYC, when he was playing on the West Coast with Ornette. (Albert) Ayler was great-he had fire and dedication in his playing. He didn't get the recognition he should have. He was a nice guy.

I didn't want to do away with chord changes (like Ornette) but I don't feel that I've gotten to the point yet (where I can discount that). I still practice every day... (this) still may be a work in progress."

(At this point, Giddins turned the mike over to the audience for questions)

Q: What films influenced you and could you talk about doing the soundtrack for Alfie?

"Growing up, we only had motion pictures and radio. I saw Bing Crosby and Louis Armstrong in movies. I liked Jerome Kern's songs and the Swing Time movie with Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers.

I was playing in a London club and the producer from Alfie stopped by and said that he would like me to do the music for the film because my playing sounded like the main character. After I saw the character... I wondered if it was a compliment. The film was already shot and we just played music over it. I'd like to do that again but it shouldn't just be music accompanying films though- film should accompany music too. Like Bette Davis' The Letter. There's a fantastic movie and it couldn't be done without music."

Q: (for Giddins) How do you distinguish a musician as a genius?

Rollins: "I never called myself a genius so we'll take that off the table!"

Giddins: "I think it's having no precedent and a presenting a new way of thinking."

Q: What do you think of the idea of classicism?

Rollins: " I think that if they (musicians) have the dedication, then they should do it!"

Q: Talk about your parents and music and growing up in Harlem.

"Harlem in the 30's was a vibrant place. Harlem was a place everyone from downtown wanted to go to- it was a mecca. There was lots of music played in my house, like (Fat Waller's) "I'm Gonna Sit Right Down and Write Myself a Letter." I haven't been to Harlem in 10 years, sad to say.

Q: Is there anyone you'd like play with that you haven't already and are there any recent musicians that you admire?

"I haven't gotten out to listen to musicians recently. I don't go to bed thinking 'Gee, I'd like to play with...'"

Q: How did yoga and spirituality effect your music?

"I don't know how it might have effected my music- that's for other people to decide. It changed me as a person though and it gave me a more informed view of life. I wanted to be healthy and not be like Lester Young- I loved him but I was not into his habits that destroyed him physically.
I don't want to be destitute and have people do benefits for me."

At that point, I had to leave a little early so I missed the last two questions but hopefully, you got the gist of it and enjoyed some words of wisdom from a master.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Elliot Carter meets Phil Lesh

Counterstream Radio (in conjunction with American Music Center) now presents a wonderful, fascinating interview with Phil Lesh (formerly of the Grateful Dead) and composer Elliot Carter (gearing up for numerous 100th birthday celebrations), which was done last November. Lesh had studied classical music pre-Dead and has been a booster ever since then. Carter talks about, among other things, how jazz influenced his composing style. You can hear the program at this site.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Tellus resurfaces- good ol' industrial noise

History lesson: way back in the day before digital media, we had these little rectangle things called cassettes. They let us record from albums and make mixtapes long before CD's were around. Some enterprising labels (like ROIR) even made them the primary way that they put out new releases.

Like ROIR, Tellus was another cassette-based label in New York though they favored more arty fare. They had the interesting idea to put 'cassette magazines' aka compilations of artists based on certain themes. Since they intended it as a real mag, the cassettes were offered by subscription. From 1983 to 1993, they put out 27 issues, with issues ranging from guitars to visual art music to Chinese music.

Tellus #13 (1986) was their "power electronics" issue, featuring such luminaries as Merzbow, Rhys Chatham and Controlled Bleeding. Catchy, toe-tapping stuff it ain't but it is challenging, harsh and fascinating. Now thanks to the good people at UbuWeb (an excellent archive of art/experimental pieces), you can experience this onslaught of sound and noise which makes Ministry and NIN sound like the Carpenters.

If you're hungering for more (and you know you are...), the Continuo blog offers more Tellus compilations and related material too.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Alarm Will Sound: The Revolution Will Be Classicized

Like any young, impressionable Beatles fan, I grew up hating "Revolution #9" and I definitely wasn't alone. In a late '70's Village Voice poll, it was voted the worst Fabs song ever. Even stacked up with the boys' other experiments, it just seemed too bizarre to be taken seriously. Later when I heard Stockhausen, I began to at least appreciate what Lennon was trying to do but I never thought that I'd really 'like' the song.

That was until I heard genre-bending classical ensemble Alarm Will Sound do a version of it as part of their 1969 program at the Kitchen. Going Kronos Quartet one better, AWS dived further into the pop music world with a satisfying CD based on Aphex Twin songs. This time around, they were looking to engage "people, history and ideas," basing their latest collection of pieces on a 1966 meeting between Paul McCartney and composer Luciano Berio. The bassist attended a Berio lecture and heard the wonderfully mad, theatrical piece "Laborintus 2" and chatted up Berio afterwards. McCartney supposed bore down on making his own tape pieces after that while Berio re-arranged Lennon/McCartney songs into his own "Beatles Songs." AWS also noted a supposed NYC collaboration between the Beatles and Stockhausen which was arranged for early 1969 but never happened (thanks to a blizzard). During their intro for the show, they do display the Sgt. Pepper's cover with Stocky's dour visage circled, just to make the connection obvious. As such, if there's any ensemble that's going to coral the avant classical world into the realm of the Fabs without making it Boston Pops material, it's AWS.

They explained that they picked '69 because of its pivotal nature, being the year of the moon landing, Nixon's first inaugural address, the moon landing, the Czech invasion, the Cambodian bombing, the Manson murders, Woodstock, Altamount, important early works by Meredith Monk, Laurie Anderson and Phillip Glass done then, Walmart's opening, the Brady Bunch starting, Star Trek ending and other cultural milestones. They plan to fine tune the piece, add more multi-media and take out the explanations of the pieces but for now, they provided a satisfying rough draft.

Their program starts and finishes with excerpts from Stockhausen's Aus den sieben Tagen. They began with Part 4, "Meeting Point" where AWS slowly approaches the stage as their instructions flash on a screen.

Everyone plays the same tone

Lead the tone wherever your thoughts
lead you
Do not leave it, stay with it
Always return
to the same place

From there, AWS played Berio's "Beatles Songs." Here, "Ticket To Ride" is just too damn awkward- imaging a simmering beat song as an ornate ensemble piece is kind of ridiculous and the crowd did kind of snicker at the end. "Michelle" worked much better as it's a much easier bridge between McCartney's sweet, plaintive tune and Berio's small ensemble arrangement. Much more successful were Berio's "O King" (for Martin Luther King) and Leonard Bernstein's (another highbrow/lowbrow straddler) grandiose but moving "Epistle: The Word of the Lord," whose anti-war sentiment was investigated by the FBI.

After the intermission, AWS pianist premiered his "Chamber Symphony" piece, a swirling dissonant composition (also reminiscent of Berio's "Labornitus") that got a well deserved ovation. After another piece to honor MLK, Stravinsky's "Herr, was tragt der Boden hier," came the improbable cover of the least coverable Beatles tune. AWS horn player Matt Marks arrangement was stunning not just because it showed for certain how dynamic and lively "Revolution #9" really is but also how funny it is too and even melodic in places. Using bike horns, megaphones and horn mutes to recreate the sinister, strange music that makes up the piece, AWS also filled in the blanks with Marks and others recreating the taped voices, chants and cheers also heard in the song. "I am for peaceful revolution," a AWS member said quoting Lennon before the song was played and afterwards, they made you feel that he was, if not advocating for a sonic one that Stockhausen, Berio and others had already arrived at. Among these other composers, the song finally had its context and made sense. The crowd seemed to appreciate that too, awarding them with rousing applause.

To complete the cycle, AWS ended with part 10 of Aus den sieben Tagen, "Set Sail for the Sun" as the ensemble slowly drifted off the stage while following the screen instructions.

Play a tone for so long
until you hear its individual vibrations

Hold the tone
and listen to the tones of the others
- to all of them together, not to individual ones –
and slowly move your tone
until you arrive at complete harmony
and the whole sound turns to gold
to pure, gently shimmering fire

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Plastic People in Taiwan

Here's four videos of their tour of Taiwan. The psychedelic lights are a little much but the sound quality's good. Enjoy.

Monday, March 17, 2008

SXSW non-report '08

After getting back from SXSW, it's traditional to file a report of the tiny fraction of the bands that you got to see there. I did indulge in a few old favorites which were definitely worth it: Motorhead (where Lemmy announced "we play rock and f-ckin' roll"!), X (Billy Zoom is such a pleasure to watch with that huge psychotic grin), Waco Brothers (always great stage banter from Jon Langford), Chuck Prophet (whose last album is wonderful) and GZA (keeping the faith for the Wu).

Bo Pepper What's much more fun is seeing and finding bands that you didn't really know about before and discover for yourself. So here's some nice musical surprises I came across there (which went nicely along with some fine food and warm weather too).

  • Pretty and Nice- they're neither of those things- more like "Hyper and Shouting"- but any post-punk fan (like me) will enjoy this Boston band. Kind of like what I'd want Franz Ferdinand or the Futureheads' second album to sound like actually.
  • Bo Pepper- who cares if Perez Hilton likes them, this band is too catchy to be unsigned and "Singer" (as she calls herself) puts these poppy-rock songs across well.
  • Brother Kite- beautiful, effervescent power pop like you didn't think happened anymore. Jangling guitars, sweet harmonies, catchy tunes. What's not to dig?
  • Boys in a Band- this UK group likes to leap into the audience and play keyboard guitars ("keytar") and sound like they can't decide if glam is cooler than new wave but you can enjoy their confusion enough to appreciate the music. Soon to record their debut with Ken Thomas too.
  • Killa Kela- I was hoping for some good rhymes and wordplay from this UK rapper but his turntable imitations were incredible.
  • Teenage Bottlerocket- mall-punk is kind of an insulting name for a type of music but these guys do it so well that it's a compliment. Ramones fans who should appeal to anyone who thinks Green Day is getting a little full of themselves.
  • Tristan Perich- a fascinating composer who recently released a playable CD case. Here he performed some Reich-like piano phase shifting, Riley-like synthesizer meditations and his own funky drumming.
  • Beat Union- heavy cocky accents, punk attitude and ska tones make them sound like Clash wanna-be's but if you're a fan, you'll love the act. They've earned their slot on the Warped Tour for sure.
  • Cococoma- they're loud, sloppy and great at it. Quality garage music full of grease and blood.
  • Lykke Li- for Swedish pop, I'll take this singer over Robyn even if "Konichiwa Bitches" is my favorite single so far this year. LL's act has some folk in it with some violin and accordion and like Robyn, she likes to bang out some percussion too. Her "Little Bit" single is also a gorgeous piece of dance-pop.
  • Deadstring Brothers- some prime Southern rock with a female lead, which comes across fine on record and even better live. So when is Maxim gonna write a fake review of them?
  • Brimstone Howl- another really good, raucous garage band who love the Stooges without sounding like imitators. Great live show that comes across pretty well on record.
  • Wussy- out of the ashes of the Ass Ponies come probably the best album I've heard this year (their second one now). Roots rock that's sad and down but not out- singer/guitarist Lisa Walker actually makes it sound like a good place to be.
  • Nadja- Aidan Baker is master of modern ambient music. This is supposed to be his 'shoegaze' band (not to be confused with the goth act of the same name) but it's really isolationist (dark ambient) music and very good, absorbing stuff indeed. Do yourself a favor and check out his solo stuff too.
  • Cadence Weapon- if the idea of a smart, conversational rapper is your idea of a good time (think Del), then this Cannuck is for you, especially when he's teamed with DJ Weasel.
  • Descartes a Kant- a Mexican post-punk band that's even weirder than you think, and good for them. Led by a pair of women just like it was but in the good ol' UK days and like Clinic, they're dressed for hospital duty.
As for disappointments... NOFX did a stupid hateful show where they played half of songs and mostly told bad jokes (keep the funny stuff in your songs, boys), FM3 switched on and inaudibly played their little Buddha Machines (which are still great inventions regardless) and you can listen to the R.E.M. show for yourself and see what you think (zzzzzz).

Friday, March 14, 2008

Abopt TV- get your free(k) jazz on

Saturday Night Live isn't the only reason to stay in and veg out in front of the tv on the weekends. Manhattan Cable Network is one of those wonderfully weird local stations where anyone with video capability can sign up for a show and speak their peace for a half-hour. While you usually get all manner of religious nuts, geeks and esoteric stuff, you also finding winning programs like Abop TV.
With their mission of "Bringing the free-garde to your desktop commercial free since 2003!", they present assorted local jazz legends like Sabir Mateen, Roy Campbell and Daniel Carter (all Vision Festival regulars) alongside tributes to Miles, Ornette and blues legend Howlin' Wolf. It's not part of your standard cable package so be grateful that it's available on the web.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Dolly Parton- her back pages

After a slow ascent, under the auspices of Porter Wagoner, she hit an artistic peak in the early 70's followed by a commercial peak in the late 70's, which carried over to the 80's. In the few years, she's been rediscovering her roots and shunning pop crossovers, making a former hit maker into an artist. Quite a career for busty blonde who's no dummy.

What got me thinking about her again recently of course is her latest album Backwoods Barbie which she put out on her own label. It's a good album too, with her poking fun of herself in the title song, doing a good cover of the Miracles' "The Tracks of My Tears" (a natural for being a country weeper) and especially the no-bullshit-taking "Shinola."

I was also thinking of her back catalog but not "Islands in the Stream" or "Here You Come Again" (though "9 to 5" still sounds as much like a blue collar anthem as "Take This Job and Shove It"). Australia's Raven Records (who are also responsible for wonderful collections of Jerry Lee Lewis' country years on Mercury) put together a fantastic collection of her early '70's work called Mission Chapel Memories. When hardcore country fans moon about her, this is the stuff they point to as her peak- complex, moving tales like "Jolene," "Coat of Many Colors" and yes, the original and best version of "I Will Always Love You." Since her U.S. releases are full of misshapen compilations, this one's a relief to hear.

But it gets worse for Dolly and her back catalog. Not only are there dozens of collections that have her well-known 70's/80's hits unlovingly crunched together but there is absolutely no good collection whatsoever in print right now of her 60's material. For that, you'll have to dig through E-Bay or a used CD bin to find out-of-print compilations like 1993 double-CD The RCA Years 1967-1986 (with the butt-kickin' "Muleskinner Blues," the unsentimental "In the Good Old Days (When Times Were Bad)" and the feminist statement "Just Because I'm A Woman") and Just As I Am (also on RCA, featuring the heartbreaking, psychotic title track and the sweet reminiscing of "Gypsy, Joe and Me"). This is great material and maybe it's not as sophisticated or ground-breaking as some of her early 70's stuff but it deserves to be heard again instead of wasting away on dusty shelves.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Madonna meets the Stooges

You gotta hand it to Madge. When she was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, she decided that instead of performing herself, she would let fellow Midwest legends the Stooges do the honor. Pretty cool move, eh? The Detroit Free Press has the scoop on how this came to be and how she intended it as a righteous protest about a band who also deserves to be inducted (if the Velvets are there, why not Iggy and the Ashetons?).

Though that performance isn't online yet (is it?), there's this sound-free clip of a reception afterwards with Iggy, M and Justin Timberlake (who introduced her at the ceremony). If you missed the show last night on VH1, fear not- they're airing it again on March 22nd EST (check yr local listings of course...).

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Lesser- MP3/CDR before its time

His official website only says "I don't give a fuck what's on your iPod" along with his e-mail address and a link to his blog, which he only briefly ran last year to document leg surgery following a fall. Otherwise, it's hard to track exactly what sound manipulator/experimental artist Lesser has been up to for the last 4-5 years. When I contacted him about this, he added:

I made a couple albums for Matador ("released" in Europe only- Gearhound, Suppressive Acts: I-X)... I toured with the Matmos' a lot and put out a cd/dvd with my wife and friends under the name Sagan... i also got married and (last november) moved to providence RI... other than that, worryingly little :)

Good for him, right? I had wondered what happened to him as I was digging through an ol' pile of CD's when I came across something he put out on Tigerbeat called LS-MP3CD-R_1990-2000 (catchy title, eh?). It's your typical odds and ends collection with unreleased tracks, remixes (which he did for other artists), compilation cuts, cuts from split CD's he did with other artists (Kid 606, Rob Crow) and such.

Other than the mind-bending sounds and noises (static, beats, samples) he comes up with, what's most notable about the release is how it was put together. There's 150 tunes to consume. How do fit all that on a normal CD in the space of less than 80 minutes unless every song is less than 2 minutes (some tracks are less than a minute while another is 43 minutes long)? Simple. You put it out as a CD-R instead of a pre-recorded mass produced CD.

Coming out in 2001, the packaging warns the consumer "this release requires the use of an MP3 enabled CD player or computer." That's a laugh today but back then, not so. Instead of listing songs on the back, the sleeve lists the folders on the disc where the songs are grouped into. And yes, the tunes themselves are all in MP3 format, at 128kbps which ain't exactly high fi but it's sufficient for most of us who don't have a $10,000 stereo (and play the stuff over our computer speakers anyway). Adding to the lo-fi DIY idea, the CD face has the title hand written out in magic marker. You gotta hand it to Lesser and Tigerbeat-they keep to the concept well.

What I want to know though is that if this is so simple, why isn't this done more often? Instead of a measly 10-15 tracks, fans can gorge out on dozens of them. Of course, more isn't always better for many artists but the possibilities are worth it for the ones who do deserve extra space and time. Somehow I don't think the RIAA and its corporate masters are working on this idea though...

Friday, March 07, 2008

Post-modern top 10

Writer/columnist Tim Riley wrote and asked me to think of a list of 10 favorite post-modern moments. Here's what I came up with.

1. Bugs Bunny "Rabbit Rampage" (Warner Bros, June 11, 1955)
One of Chuck Jones' many classic cartoons with that rascally wabbit, this is also the baby of one of his long-time partners, Michael Maltese. Here, Maltese's background as a story board artist comes into play as most of the action in this cartoon involves Bugs battling with an unseen artist's paintbrush. The rabbit frequently dashed off witty asides to the audience, letting them in on the joke with a sly nod and a wink but never before had Jones' cartoons made us feel that this was something above and beyond the usual pratfalls. Reality's constantly yanked from Bugs as he loses his trademark rabbit hole, gets disfigured, gets disgraced and gets turned into a grasshopper and a horse. Bugs takes the only way out he can, grabbing a sign saying THE END. The camera pulls back and we see the punch line: Elmer Fudd's finally gotten his revenge on his ol' nemesis. Runner-up: 1946's "Hair Raising Hare" where Bugs scares off an orange sneaker-wearing monster at the end by showing him the people in the audience watching the cartoon.

2. The Monkees "Dance Monkees Dance" (NBC, December 12, 1966)
From their first season, America's TV version of the Beatles (with an English singer though) has the boys tangled up with a crooked dance studio that tries to bilk them- this episode also featured their hit "I'm A Believer" (courtesy of Neil Diamond). While they scratch their heads, figuring how to weasel out of the con, Mickey Dolenz decides they need a "brilliant idea." To get it, he walks off of the set to find the show's writers. The camera follows him as he walks through the studio, brashly trashing TV's fourth wall. He comes into a small room full of old, long-haired Mandarin men to plead his case. They type up an answer on white paper but when he gets handed it, it's turned to yellow. Dolenz reads their answer as he returns to the set and decides it's garbage and tosses it away. The real writer was James Frawley, who would go on to direct episodes of Ally McBeal.

3. Thomas Jefferson Slave Apartments "Turn it Up" from Bait and Switch (Onion/American, 1995)
Recorded for master producer Rick Rubin's label (which also put out Johnny Cash's last albums), this Ohio band was head by former Great Plains singer Ron House, a boozy literary-minded smart-ass- you wouldn't always know it though with him howling (not singing) in front of rambling, noisy indie-rock bands. He once told me that he was "trying to find cerebral ideas about inebriation." The narrator of this song might just be the song itself, literally- "he" was born at the start of the tune after all. He keeps yelling the song's (his?) title at the listener again and again, as if to say "I'm alive!" (for now at least). Whoever's voice it is, they keep promising to reveal their killer but the end comes before that happens. House claims that he failed ultimately, having run out of space but I like to think that he (the narrator) is gone at the end because the song ends so he's dead, over and out. Country great Tom T. Hall, who was so obsessed about songcraft that he once called an album (and a tune) "In Search of A Song," would appreciate the idea (hopefully).

4. Luigi Pirandello Six Characters in Search of An Author (1921)
Now a staple of 20th century theater, like many pieces ahead of their time, this play got a mixed reaction when it premiered in Italy with the author supposed running out of the reception to avoid a pummeling. What Characters gleefully did was not just poke fun at the medium's conventions but to also tear them into pieces with only one of its characters sporting an actual name. The rest were just labelled "Father," "Mother," "Boy," etc. as each of them pleaded to be made into a memorable part of the action. And yes, Pirandello had a cosy relationship with Mussolini but if we've generally forgiven the anti-Semitic Wagner, isn't LP worthy of rehabilitation also? Pomo that's decades ahead of its time.

5. John Jesurun "Deep Sleep" (presented at La Mama, February 1986)
As part of his media triology, Jesurun's seventy-minute Obie-winning play had the audience surrounded by two large screens on either side of them and actors perched in between. All kinds of bizarre interactions would take place with one boy seemingly trapped within the video screen and at other times, video characters arguing with the live actors and ordering them around. Eventually, the stage actors are sucked into the video itself (shades of David Cronenberg's Videodrone). A few years later, when the Internet started to permeate the lives of millions of people, sucking them into a cyberworld, Jesurun's bizarre world seemed eerily prophetic. See the New York Times review here.

6. Bob Dylan "Bob Dylan's 115th Dream" from Bringing It All Back Home (Columbia, March 22, 1965)
The first side of this classic album (one of his finest achievements) ends with a goofy story of madcap, slapstick antics. Maybe it's fitting that the song begins with a false start that's actually included on the record (and even funnier than the dream he had on his second album). Dylan jumps in, barely spitting out the first two lines before he breaks down into laughter as the band misses their cue. Someone else cracks up (producer Tom Wilson?), telling Dylan to start again, then cracks up some more and then orders "OK... take two," all of which takes up about the first 30 seconds of the song. Next Dylan tries it again, this time with the band blasting alongside him now for a final take. Most any artist would have otherwise cut out this bit but Dylan and Wilson decided the behind-the-scenes gaff belonged there. Wonder what the Columbia heads thought when they heard this...

7. Vladimir Nabokov Palefire (G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1962)
Literary criticism as literature, where a 999-line is poem is transformed and disfigured by its interpreter's insane fantasies into a 300-plus page sci-fi world. A comment on commentary? A poke at literary estate executors (i.e. the evil, tight-fisted Stephen Joyce)?

8. Alan Resnais Last Year At Marienbad (Argos Films, June 25, 1961)
Like Pirandello's play, the characters here have no real names, only letters of the alphabet. Most of the "action" of the film is a man named "X" trying to convince a woman named "A" that they know each other, even though she insists that they don't. So who do we believe? Is either of them a reliable source? Is it all a dream? A comment on the emptiness of the privileged class? Does it matter, especially when the scenes are so beautifully filmed at such an elegant estate? Does it also not matter because the figures are vacuous? A piece of art that presents all questions and no answers and can madden you until you realize that. Woody Allen's The Purple Rose of Cairo might be a more obvious pomo statement but Resnais' film feels more like a satisfying artistic statement even if it's ultimately a huge engrossing puzzle. Also, if a supreme jackass like Michael Medved hates it so much, isn't that another reason to admire the film?

9. Frank Lloyd Wright- Guggenheim Museum, New York (1959)
A decade and a half's work (which the great architect wouldn't live to see completed) on the ultimate art object- a museum itself. After all the bickering with the museum overseers and the city, this rotunda became one of the most recognizable and unique buildings not just in Gotham itself but also the entire art world, though it was later shown up by its Spanish namesake. Credit is also due to artist Nam June Paik who transformed the long, continual spiral ramp and huge hollow center into yet another massive work of art for his 2000 exhibition.

10. A Tribe Called Quest "Scenario" (directed by Jim Swaffield, 1992) and De La Soul "Ego Trippin' (Pt. 2)" (directed by Frank Sacremento, 1993)

Two of the funniest, canniest rap videos, both intent on turning the whole genre on its head. In the Quest video (incorrectly credited to Spike Lee many times), cartoon GUI video controls are shown as if Swaffield is surreally mixing the images on the spot- backgrounds change with a click as do clothing and hairdos. Sacremento's video for DLS (who have a cameo in the Tribe video) is a pie in the face to all the gangsta rap cliches about consumer culture gone wild- showing off curvy women, gold chains, flashy cars, etc.. Here, when we see a fly ride, the caption is "it's a rental." When one of the singers gets a hot girl in bed, "in your dreams buddy" flashes on the screen. At the end, a close up of another singer reveals that he's a "stock boy at K-mart." Bertolt Brecht would have been proud.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Gnarls Barkley- get your strobe on

Just in case you thought they were a weird fluke, the new single ("Run") by Gnarls Barkley is a winner (even if Cee-Lo sounds like he's singing at whippets), which makes me all the more anxious to hear the new record. Also, you gotta love Justin Timberlake's cameo at the start and finish.

Unfortunately, they're getting shelved by MTV 'cause there's strobes in the video, which they say may cause seizures. GB had this comment to go along with their video:

"Damnit, MTV banned this video because of something that doesn't seem to affect most of the commenters...who gives a shit though, they don't play videos anyways."

Saturday, March 01, 2008

Achingly Beautiful- a list

On a music mailing list, someone started a thread about songs that are so achingly beautiful, you're almost hesitant to play them. It's a wonderful way to eat up time but I couldn't help but thing of a few favorites and dig through my vinyl, CD's and MP3 files to find a few favorites. Here's what I came up with:

Mississippi John Hurt "Shortnin' Bread"
Arcade Fire "Rebellion (Lies)," "No Cars Go"
Flamingos "I Only Have Eyes for You"
Tom Waits "Time"
John Fahey "The Approaching of the Disco Void"
Lars Frederiksen & The Bastards "The Viking"
Minutemen "History Lesson Part 2"
Billie Holiday "Strange Fruit"
Neil Young "Borrowed Tune," "Oh Lonesome Me"
Evan Lurie "The Spinster's Waltz"
Steely Dan "Any Major Dude Will Tell You," "Doctor Wu"
Grifters "Pretty Notes"
Jandek "Didn't Ask Why"
U2 "Bad"
Love "You Set the Scene"
Archers of Loaf "Chuming the Ocean"
Beach Boys "In My Room"
Yo La Tengo "Don't Have To Be So Sad"
Green Day "Good Riddance"
Lil Wayne "I Feel Like Dying"
Elmore James "It Hurts Me Too"
Flying Burrito Brothers "Dark End of the Street"
Dolly Parton "Just Because I'm A Woman"
Captain Beefheart "Her Eyes are A Blue Million Miles"
Miles Davis "I Love You Porgy"
Joe Jackson "Breaking Us In Two"
Magnetic Fields "I Don't Believe You"
Kinks "Waterloo Sunset," "Shangri-La"
Elvis Costello "Walking on Thin Ice," "Alison"
Go-Betweens "Cattle and Cane"
Peter Stampfel "Believe Me If All These Endearing Young Charms"
My Bloody Valentine "To Here Knows When"
The Platters "Smoke Gets In Your Eyes"
Al Green "Funny How Time Seems To Slip Away"
Ice Cube "Dead Homiez"
Husker Du "Too Far Down"
Pixies "Havalina"
Bob Dylan "Don't Think Twice, It's Alright," "Shelter From the Storm"
Lucinda Williams "Lonely Girls," "World Without Tears"
Chet Baker "My Funny Valentine"
Michael Hurley "Sweedeedee"
R.E.M. "Everybody Hurts"

Whew... Hope that's a few of your favorites too or maybe at least that it inspires you to see a few of these out. If you have Napster, you can go to this link, sign in and hear most of these songs in full (streamed).

And what's on your list of achingly beautiful tunes...?