Tuesday, March 3, 2015

To see her naked body: Leonard Cohen's film I AM A HOTEL

The '70s-'80s music of Leonard Cohen can be a bitter taste if you are not accustomed to it.  That art comes off as dated, louche, a one-note baroque internal symphony performed by the orchestra that is the gazing male ego. Yet, it is classic and, to me, irresistible. This 1983 film for Canadian television, I AM A HOTEL, is Cohen manifest.

It takes a painfully '80s ballet leap through five of Cohen's songs, most notably "Memories," a tune from Death of a Ladies' Man, an album Cohen himself can't take. The album started as a collaboration with Phil Spector that was wrested by the latter (it is reported that a gun was involved, go figure) to become a lush, arrogant monstrosity. Each chorus swells up like a tropical storm only to reveal its goal in the momentary calm - "To see her naked body." It's as honest as a rock song gets. It is really good. Old pond frog Cohen even wails "herrrr nakkkked bodddyyyy!" at the end.

Tablet published a beautiful tribute to that album.

The "Memories" scene has Cohen as a mannequin/1950s ballroom singer (maybe a Roy Orbison shadow) perched on a balcony stage as the chambermaid and bellhop lunge at each other. It's notable that Cohen opens the door to the ballroom for these two and then sings as they cavort. That seems to be the deal with Leonard Cohen; he opens doors you know you shouldn't. He is the last ladies' man so you don't have to be.

Otherwise, Cohen sits in his room singing to women only in memories. I'm reminded of one of the greatest Cohen tunes, "Tower of Song" (not included in the film) where he sees himself stuck in a flophouse of artist tradition.

I said to Hank Williams: how lonely does it get? 
Hank Williams hasn't answered yet 
But I hear him coughing all night long 
A hundred floors above me 
In the Tower of Song 
(from here)

The film doesn't really go many places Cohen isn't already headed in song, but then, he is the celebrated dark rider in folk music's cloistered sexuality, and he is always motioning for you to jump in the saddle with him.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Push forward! The Ten Vinyl Albums of My 2014

I like to think I'm not a nostalgic person - push forward! - but my year defined by a growing vinyl habit says otherwise.

Here are the ten vinyl albums that defined my phonographic habit this year. Mostly 70s, overwhelmingly white and male - I know what ground I need to make up in 2015.

1. Drive-By Truckers - ENGLISH OCEANS

particularly the song "Hanging On" on side 2. It is a simple tune by DBT standards but it chokes me up a little with its frailty. 

2. Hot Tuna - HOT TUNA

One in a massive pile purchased from Dylan Bell, mostly for the back cover, but it jangles a note in every corner of the room.


Drew me dangerously into eBay. The congenial jangle and the laughing idiots on the motorcycle on the cover make me think of those I've had fortune to play music with this year, esp Lance Porter, Lewis Roussel, Leon LeJeune, Jamye St Romain, Anna Byars and Ben Bell.

4. Funkadelic - MAGGOT BRAIN

Back ages ago I realized the vast majority of the music I listened to was by white people and sought out this album to help correct it. Fortunately, Tess Brunet up at Lagniappe Records had it in stock when the condition returned.


Seduced by the elaborate package, it was one of the first times I listened to Elton John on my own volition rather than it just being on. He's pretty good, Elton is.

6, Bob Dylan- PLANET WAVES

In high school, I found myself defending Bob Dylan to my dad, who said, "Elton John, now there's a good singer." F Elton John, I thought. I tried to sell my daughter on Bob Dylan and I forget what she said about him, but it was funny. This album and NEW MORNING are my Dylan.


So simple. Talking about almost nothing. Piano tinkling. Tablas in a hypnotic telegraph from the universe. It's the best thing I listened to all year, the very year where Ashley left us.

8. Lyres - LYRES

Tremolo, scream, drum break, everything.

9. Sly & the Family Stone - THERE'S A RIOT GOIN' ON

Purchased and played on the day of the Ferguson verdict. Not on purpose, but it served one anyway. Sly became a gun-toting recluse, girded against The Man, during the recording of this, but didn't lose sight of the shared beauty of humanity that begat "Family Affair" - one of the world's greatest songs. You can be fearful and have a gun even. Just don't kill anyone.


I got to sing in a David Bowie tribute night and it pushed me forward in my singing. My daughter is baking herself in a Bowie-shaped pan pushing herself forward.  Push on in 2015. No cocaine necessary on that the 70s  took it all for us. Push forward!

Monday, December 8, 2014

three lovely records

Robert Ashley
In my quest to check out and listen to every cool LP in the LSU library before my contract dries up in May, I filled my brain with three lovely records from Lovely Music.

From their website:

Founded in 1978, Lovely Music is one of the longest-lived and most distinctive independent labels active in the recording and promotion of new American music. According to label founder Mimi Johnson, the label is “dedicated to releasing the best in avant-garde and experimental music, from electronics and computer music to new opera and extended vocal techniques.” Placing emphasis on the artist’s intent, Lovely Music recordings are always composer-supervised and produced.

  1. William Duckworth  - The Time Curve Preludes

    This is a powerhouse of minimalist piano (the repetitive kind), riffs and swells of notes that curl into the air like tulips taking their steps to the sun.

    The beauty of this work is that it has all the rigor and transcendence one wants  (if you are one that wants such things) but is also infused with humor. The above Prelude XXII has in it the DNA of "The Entertainer" as it does the connection tones of 1970s era phone trunk systems.

    Album at Lovely Music
  2. Alvin Lucier - Still and Moving Lines of Silence in Families of Hyperbolas

    Alvin Lucier is maybe the truest of the experimental composers - his pieces could be performed in a physics lab, yet in some like his landmark I Am Sitting in a Room (a repeated text run through recordings of recordings of itself, gaining reverb of the room each time, to eliminate Lucier's stutter) and Silver Streetcar For The Orchestra (a persistently tinged triangle) there is a humor, albeit desert dry.

    Performed by Nick Hennies of the super cool Austin band Weird Weeds.

    In Still and Moving Lines of Silence in Families of Hyperbolas, one may find merriment in the absurdist persistence of these works - largely about two tones extremely close in pitch - but more likely, annoyance that, if allowed, can transform into enlightenment. If you can swing that move, you have life covered.

    I once had an idea to write a book about phenomena as art, and emailed Alvin Lucier to ask to interview him for a chapter about his music. He responded:

    Dear Alex, I have lost interest in being interviewed for books and articles. It seems to me that you could study my work and write something more interesting that I could relay to you. You should do the work. I never say anything that seems complete and true. Cordially, Alvin Lucier

    Album at Lovely Music
  3. Robert Ashley - Private Parts (The Yard/The Backyard)

    This album is astounding. Robert Ashley's deal is about the spoken voice, almost informal music and the ordinary in our lives, and how when concentrated, they become something extraordinary. A friend of mine studied with him and said his music is "boring, but in a really good way" which has stuck with me forever.

    Robert Ashley, The Backyard

    Im on my third listen to this piece, with its guileless tablas, the digestive melodrama of the organ and ol' Robert droning on about how

    $14.28 is more attractive than fourteen dollars. It's just that way.

    Ashley's hypnotic voice feels magically profound. I want to walk around with those tablas going, narrating everything I see. Had Ashley lived, he could have made an app that just had simple music and his voice describing everything the phone camera sees. I might never turn such a thing off.

    Album at Lovely Music

Thursday, December 4, 2014

[Train whistle blows in the distance.]

One of Moebius' storyboards for Jodorowsky's proposed adaptation of Dune.

We got a DVD player for the first time in ages and here is what I watched:
  1. Jodorowski's Dune (2013)

    The infamous cinematic madman behind The Holy Mountain (trailer) and El Topo (full movie) comes off as the greatest liberal arts teacher mentor you never had, talking at length about a science fiction epic that never got made based on a book he never read.

    A friend told him the gist of Frank Herbert's Dune and he concocted a better Jesus myth rooted in the mysterious spice melange that turns a desert planet and a desert rat humanity into flowers of enlightenment.

    It made me want to go check out Dune from the library, not read it, and do something profound with my life.
  2. Mystery Train (1983)

    I openly admit to falling asleep to this movie every time I try to watch it, and I don't mean that as a dig. I fall asleep at movies. It's me, not you. But there is something about this film that drifts into my consciousness, how it strands my thoughts in the deadbeat crypto-Memphis of Jim Jarmusch's creation.

    I had the subtitles on and it seemed like every time I nodded back into it I saw

                    [Train whistle blows in the distance.]

    on the screen. I'd watch (and fall asleep to) a movie that just had a black screen with that written on it. If I were as brave or wild as Jodorowsky, I'd make that film.
  3. This is Spinal Tap (1984)

    The is Spinal Tap is one of those movies embedded in my cultural DNA that I think I may never have seen first-hand. I did the responsible thing and watched it with my daughter who made it half way through. The next morning she asked me if the drummer died. The whole experience went to eleven.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Introducing Andy Pratt, Whose Records are Like Life.

Andy Pratt, from AllMusic

If you know Andy Pratt at all, it is likely for this blistering, gender-switch, pop orchestra number "Avenging Annie," a near hit for the songwriter and later covered by Roger Daltrey.

I didn't know about him before a chance meeting via the YouTube recommendation engine, which led me down the forest path to his 1969 album Records are Like Life. 

A large number of Pratt's albums are available for streaming (and embedding) on his site http://www.itsaboutmusic.com/andypratt.html. If the embed does not work, here is the album on YouTube.

Records are Like Life is a prime example of 70s cusp sylvan wildness, where a guitar summons the spirits of mystery from the wood as on "Wet Daddy" or a piano/organ mix crafts a palace of staggering melancholy like "Oliver." Much of Pratt's first album is like this, grandeur that is tinged with a marked innocence. "Shiny Susie" is an upscale orchestrator's take on T. Rex/Donovan sexuality that would come to flower in his next album.

Pratt comes into the fullness of his powers on  Andy Pratt (above or on YouTube) See particularly the hit "Avenging Annie" as well as the Zappa-influenced "It's all Behind You" with its deep-spoken soliloquies and sitar-interludes and sleaze-soul come-ons. "Summer, Summer" is like light rock Rolling Stones, if that's a possible thing.  I could imagine a Parade-era Prince performing the "All the King's Weight." The schizo-twang of "Who Am I Talking To" might be the thematic track on the album - for Pratt seems to be asking that to the panoply of musicians in his head.

With Resolution's release in 1976, Steven Holden said in Rolling Stone of Pratt, "By reviving the dream of rock as an art and then reinventing it, Pratt has forever changed the face of rock." Praise no artist should have to uphold, the album is powerhouse, gelling his myriad talents into a concentrated vision. The title track finds his Jagger-esque sneer transmogrifying into a sinewey croon, surrounding his grand melody like ivy.

"Treasure that Canary" takes more than a little from the Stones' Beggars Banquet, but he does wonders with the leftovers. I particularly like the AM gold jet to the stratosphere at the end.

Somewhere after this, Pratt entered into every grand artists' search for a hit as well as an embrace of Christianity that loses much of its edge for this listener, though he finds a career in that world. Fast forward to the informally crafted albums he releases through is website to land upon 2011's Life and Death, in which a beleaguered Pratt emerges from some artistic wilderness, sounding is he is clinging to just that.

In the crudest pop critic algebra, this album is

(Chris Bell + ELO + Steve Earle) / lonely

"No yer not/gonna break me down" sounds as unconvincing as a growl from a defeated yard dog, but in that raggedness comes Pratt's glowing humanity. "I'm a long time loser. You're not gonna break me down." "Rapture" proclaims it is "a long, long way to Valhalla' over a congenial rumble rock that reminds me of Roky Erickson's post-13th Floor Elevator's glory on The Evil One. Pratt may seem to have lost it a little - trading his recording studio Boston for a storage-unit Tom Petty -  but in that losing, has found something.

"My Complaint" feels more of a true resolution than Resolution - he's tired of everything - "My complaint must be a hundred miles long." He starts answering his own complaints with a cranky "What?" It feels like as true a rock song as man can sing.

Check out and buy more of his work on his website http://www.itsaboutmusic.com/andypratt.html.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Just as my Nick Cave infatuation was starting to fade

Nick Cave and the bad seeds live @ Paladozza (11174862314)
  1. I finally watched 20,000 Days on Earth.

  2. I saw Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds this summer in New Orleans and it was the most transformative concert I've seen in a decade. Cathartic, climatic, catastrophic, loud as a gun, precise as a scalpel. Just as my Nick Cave infatuation was starting to fade, someone mentioned

    and it pulled me right back into it. I came up with the first three verses of a blatant Nick Cave ripoff tune called "Demon! Demon! Demon!" while walking the dog this morning.
  3. I'm in love with his studio. A while back,  New York Magazine ran a discussion between Sufjan Stevens and Stephin Merritt on the comparative values each puts on pop music, and the question of fame came up:

    Do you crave massive fame and popularity?
    STEVENS: No. [Laughs.] I wouldn’t mind being popular in other ways, but not with music.
    MERRITT: I don’t care if I’m famous. I want to be rich. I want to be able to do what I’m doing on a bigger scale, and if I feel like having an orchestra, I’d like to be able to snap my fingers and have it happen that day. I don’t particularly like orchestral music, so it’s not much of a constraint for me. But it is a constraint not to have an enormous apartment with reverb chambers and an empty swimming pool where I can record the drums if I want to.
    STEVENS: You want an empty swimming pool?
    MERRITT: Yeah. I want the facilities that Abba had. I may not use them like Abba, but I want to have the creative freedom to do what only a lot of money would allow me to do. So I don’t really care about fame, but I do care about money.

  4. In the world of this movie, Nick Cave has some Abba-grade digs. Pianos all over the place, fancy rugs, lots of light. he and Warren Ellis loll around intoning into microphones with engineers floating in the dust motes to catch some genius.

  5. The resources of the studio are Nick Cave's amanuensis, a word-of-the-day from 2011 that has stuck with me.
    • amanuensis
    • audio pronunciation
    • \uh-man-yuh-WEN-sis\
    : one employed to write from dictation or to copy manuscript
    Marco worked as an amanuensis for a judge who needed to compose his opinions orally while recovering from cataract surgery.

    "As early as the 1840s and 1850s, the Ohio Cultivator published women's columns that spoke vividly for women's rights and honed the talents of two important abolitionist feminists, Hanna Maria Tracy Cutler and Frances Dana Gage, who is now best remembered as the amanuensis for Sojourner Truth's 'Ain't I a Woman' speech." -- From Frances W. Kaye's 2011 book Goodlands: A Meditation and History on the Great Plains
  6. The recurring themes of Nick Cave's creative life is transformation and memory, which he taps into quite well. I'd like to have some financial advice - for a guy who hasn't exactly been a huge pop star he's doing quite well in houses and cars and studios. Plus, that would be a hilarious investment advice show.

    But the whole thing is about transformation, his whole gig maybe. Maybe it is the human gig. Anyway, he makes it seem graceful and terrific and you should see this film even if Nick Cave is kind of a clown to you. Baton Rougeans, 20,000 Days on Earth is playing at the Manship Theatre on Nov. 29. (Facebook event)