Monday, December 31, 2007

Outsideleft: Ruthlessness, Cosmic Justice and Bitchslapping - The Westerns of 2007

Movies are like opera to me; the vast expense that goes into their creation far outweighs their cultural value. I don’t expect every movie to be Bottle Rocket or Boogie Nights or Raiders of the Lost Ark, three films I consider to be rather perfect in their way, but when $30 million is thrown at any given endeavor, I expect something, you know? I have not seen a romantic comedy since Cameron Diaz’s landmark semen-in-the-hair work in There’s Something About Mary, and I’m not aware of a good sci-fi or action movie having been produced since Arnold Schwarzenegger took on his most unbelievable role yet as California’s governor. Art movies have gone Hollywood with Sundance becoming a brand rather than an outlet, so where does that leave one to go when searching for life in the great American art form?

West, that’s where. Somehow in the age of the iPhone and men buying moisturizer, I saw three westerns this year, and while they all had their problems, they proved to be the most satisfying movie experiences in recent memory. Except for There Will Be Blood, but I’ll get to that.

Read more for spoiler free reviews of 3:10 to Yuma, There Will Be Blood and No Country for Old Men.

Musical Meanderings: Slim's Y-Ki-Ki - Accordions, Speeding Tickets and aGreat Year of Music

In the January 2008 issue of Country Roads

Walking in to Slim’s was like a cinematic dream sequence. It’s a huge place but with a low ceiling and even lower lights. All I could see was a cluster of silhouettes, shimmying away to the opener JoJo Reed and The Happy Hill Zydeco Band. Tables haphazardly line the perimeter of the club where the only lights are from the bar to one side and the occasional beer sign. This was a welcome sight to me—the last couple places I’ve been have been too bright, almost too wholesome—I needed some grit. Read more....

225 Magazine - January 2008 Issue

Here is my interview with record producer and blues defender Johnny Palazzotto
and also they published my list of the top 5 baton Rouge CD's of 2007

Friday, December 28, 2007

100 Words on Get the Fuck on Jolly Live

Some records I only play when doing computer work late and this is the finest among them. It is Will Oldham’s perfect moment, or maybe it's guitarist Mick Turner's or maybe it's nobody's and the languid ebb and flow belongs to the tide, washing in and out in perpetuity. I know that the chanted line I've found a new way of living, I've found a joy of my own hits me in a spiritual sweet spot that nothing else can get to, or to internalize the pronouns in another line it touches parts of me that I can't even touch.

Click here for not very much info about this CD

It is the Business of the Future to be Dangerous

Ahh Hawkwind... a space rock group so arch that I'm guessing there is a Klingon word for Hawkwind. I had chalked them up as not being worth the trouble until I heard one of the reissued Space Ritual CD's earlier this year, and it made me a solid convert.

Imagine if truck drivers actually piloted mammoth spacecraft, as they one day will. Hawkwind is what Southern Rock will evolve into as those truck drivers plummet crank-addled through the wormhole.

According to the literature, this album is not their finest hour, but I am quite enjoying the psycho-nuclear explosion radiating from the mid point between Sun Ra and Blue Cheer on the Nitzer Ebb axis, where this record touches down. The cover of "Gimme Shelter" is a bit much, but the soul desert arabesque of "Space is Their (Palestine)" and the two part Krautrock workout "Tibet is not China" make up for them in their blown circuit glory. And the title track, besides just being a kickass thing to drunkenly bellow midnight on New Years' Eve, is a masterpiece of stainless steel cheese - New Age chimes wow and flutter over an irradiated battlefield strewn with smoking robot carcasses. The true mark of its future potential came when my daughter just trotted in and said "You gotta turn this up loud!" and so I will. Engage!

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Zabar's Russian Caravan Tea

This is my favorite among my loot. All other brands have disappeared from the stores over the past couple months and my friend Terry turned me on to Zabar's brand. This is not the aforementioned hear-a-thousand-Chekov-violas variety, for that is some hideously expensive shit whose purveyor Terry can't remember, but this will totally fucking do. Russian Caravan is a blend and possibly a description of conveyance rather than an actual recipe, and the two other kinds I've tried have Lapsang's smoky-oakiness to them. Zabar's proudly proclaims there is nary a leaf of Lapsang in it, thereby letting the dense floral, herbal, dark-of-winter come on in a rush. The really weird thing about it is that it tastes creamy after it cools a bit, which is a divine attribute.

I am not really well-versed in Russian anything - language, history, food, literature, art (though Terry has predicted that Moscow multi-media artists are the next group to watch) - but the impression I get of "Russia" is that of romantic melancholy, of dense passions stacked like logs on a bonfire burning in the cold night. Likely, this opinion is just as informed by the scene from A Fish Called Wanda where John Cleese sends Jamie Lee Curtis into libidinous tailspin with just a few barked phrases as it is by anything else, but this tea confirms my stereotype. I want to run into the woods with nothing but a wool hat and a need to vanquish Napoleon. I even want to watch Love and Death again, so rhapsodic do I find it. When the Bergman-esque Grim Reaper comes a-knockin', scythe and silence in hand, I will forgo a chess match, mostly because I don't know how to play chess and thereby waste everyone's time and just annoy the Reaper, and will plead for one more sip before plunging to The Void. Happy Holidays!

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Outsideleft: There's a Kind of Hush: Richard Youngs and Sandro Perri

Richard Youngs - Autumn Response (Jagjaguwar)
Sandro Perri
- Tiny Mirrors (Constellation)

Richard Youngs is just the best. He is, on one hand, the classic experimentalist, looking for some new avenue to explore, working a vein to exhaustion. On the other, he is a master of taste and restraint. The folkier side of his work (Richard Youngs wears many hats) has a currently unmatched tranquility to them, as exemplified on his latest Autumn Response. Here he employs the simplest of techniques: a delicate nylon guitar and his voice strained to its higher register, run through what sounds like a tape delay with someone playing with the length setting, where the echoes go from reverberation to becoming a round. It is the kind of thing you do when you first get a delay pedal, but somehow in Youngs’ deft hands, it becomes genius. “One Hundred Horses” is a plainsong canticle about horses running through the water, but with ebb and flow of echoes, it becomes a stampede on second and dissipates the next.

Sandro Perri takes a different approach to his tranquility. He takes the song as it sits and slowly plucks down from it, reveals some bare flesh on spots, and covers others with brocade and lace, essentially pulling a song apart in all possible directions at the limit of its reconcilability. It’s a beautiful thing. “Family Tree” has a base as smooth as Midnight at the Oasis” and remains that smoothness even as it is stretched into a near amorphous bossa nova. It is dream music of the highest order. “City of Museums” does the same kind of refactoring job on a folk melody, letting the chords fall apart into disparate notes and then pulls them back together as he croons lightly and whistles overhead.

Read More.....

Don't call what you're sayin an outfit

I saw former Drive-By Trucker Jason Isbell last night here in town for the third time this year. It was a piteous crowd, but whatcha expect in a college town at the holiday break. Anyway, it was still a great performance, even though they should drop "Psycho Killer" from the bill and find another song for the guitar player to sing. They do a good version of it, but cmon...."Psycho Killer" is corny and obvious. I say trade it out for "Gimme Three Steps" or something. The real reason for this, though, is that no less that three people made a point of mentioning to me that he was their favorite Trucker.

To me, saying this is missing the greater point of the Drive-By Truckers.* Jason Isbell writes magnificent power ballads. He might be the current finest practitioner of the form, and his introduction into the Drive By Truckers made them a more well-rounded band. Patterson Hood and Mike Cooley were freed to explore their own peculiar narrative avenues because Jason had the lighter-in-the-air moments sewn up. The thing is - while Jason is great at what he does - the point of Drive-By Truckers is the directness of their narrative.

Jason depicts wide vistas of the working class in immaculate tones and perfectly crafted lines. Patterson Hood, however, is more about working at Wal-Mart and being a drunken teenager careening a Cadillac into a narrow parking space without a scratch and killing yourself. Mike Cooley's songs are about driving 100 miles to hopefully get a piece off that girl and sleeping on the cold floor and guns in the closet. Jason elevates his stories to cosmic proportions, whereas Hood and Cooley let them burn like embers where they lay. Don't get me wrong, nobody writes ballads as good as "Never Gonna Change" and "Outfit" and "Goddamned Lonely Love" but it is a different kind of songwriting than that of his former bandmates. And in that difference, in that peculiarity, lies the real reasons Drive By Truckers is the greatest living rock band on the planet and why Jason Isbell is a brilliant singer-songwriter in and unto himself.

*By stating this, I am not implying that they or any other group has a singular point to their band-ness. I try to treat bands as organic entities rather than life-poetry service providers, and as a listener, I also like to think that I meet them somewhere in between, finding some truth built from what they are saying and what I'm hearing, and truth like that is always messy, like truth always is.

That said, every great artist/band/filmmaker/whathaveyou has a greater point that hits home, that is central to what you experience on the other end. What that point is differs to some degree with each listener, but when I love something, I border it with lines in the sand.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Library Haul

Silver Apples - Silver Apples/Contact

Man, people believed in new music in 1969. I'm not talking about hippie indulgence, but really expanding what constituted music and the means to make it. Silver Apples was a duo that sounds just as futuristic today, mixing minimal melody over mechanized beats. Singer and percussionist Simeon plays an instrument of his design also called The Simeon (devised of "nine audio oscillators and eighty-six manual manual controls...The lead and rhythm oscillators are played with the hands, elbows and knees and the bass oscillators are played with the feet."), taking self-indulgence aesthetic to new glorious heights. Adding to hi bleeps and bloops are Danny Taylor's short circuited monotonous drumming. It is utterly alien but heart warming in the same regard. Like if Stereolab really meant it.

Graham Parker and the Rumour - Squeezing out Sparks/Live Sparks

This has turned out to be my favorite of the haul. I've tried to get into Graham Parker a number of times before, even with this album, but it never took. He was someone I wanted in my arsenal for those occasions when someone was going on and on about the early Elvis Costello records, wanting to be able to nonchalantly trot out "Sure, but have you ever listened to Graham Parker...." Well, now I have and can and will. The album is dated as fuck but his tone still lacerates, cracks like the new wave whip when it was tight and insouciant. Went after all the urges, 'til some kind of truth emerges, we felt those deadly surges - that is a couplet worth drunkenly quoting in a moment of vodka-truth, and every rockabilly band worth its anachronistic salt should be covering "Saturday Night is Dead" in their encore set. I fear diminishing returns will quickly emerge if I go too deep into the late 70's pub rock thing, but this album is killer and timeless.

King Crimson - In the Court of the Crimson King

One of theses days I will have to face the fact that I not only like prog rock, but I kinda love it in a dirty little secret way. This dinosaur sat facing in the reshelve rack, beckoning and I heeded the siren call of all that jazz flute and soft, padding drums. This record is gorgeous, especially the narco-sylvan "I Talk To the Wind." The much ballyhooed "21st Century Schizoid Man" come out a little too dated, not enough Black and too much Sabbath, but the rest of record is indulgent elf-rockery of the highest order. Robert Fripp might be the key figure of King Crimson, but its Ian Macdonald's keys and flutes and Mellotron figures that really owns the day here. A man could nod out on the couch with magnificent results with this records toodling and mooding away in the background.

Also, back in the mid to late 80's, New Orleans DJ Coyote Jay Calhoun hosted a Sunday night show Sneak Music Previews where the pop radio authorities loosened his leash and let him play Oingo Boingo and The Cure and Bauhaus and so on. We didn't catch college radio out in the sticks, so Sneak Music Previews was like a ship on the horizon to us. He was a huge King Crimson fan and would toss in liberal doses from the Adrian Belew era KC, but I remember one night, perhaps his last, he played the entire 9 minute of the title track. I hated it then, thinking that this old hippie had lost the scent of his trail, but now it makes me think fondly of him.

Mission of Burma - A Gun To The Head: A Selection From The Ace Of Hearts Era

I know it is well nigh-sacrilege to say this being a man of my vintage, but I could never really get into Mission of Burma. During my college DJ years, they were one of those bands that I knew was consistent, that I could throw nearly any track off Vs in a set and they would maintain the pace long enough for me to figure out something I really wanted to play. I cannot imagine the ease of having a database to plod through, allowing you to line up a show in advance. Back then, you would get a spark of inspiration, and then put on a long enough song to give you time to run back to the stacks and hopefully dredge up the album necessary to turn that spark into a roaring fire of playlist genius. Mission of Burma was one of those bands.

Listening to it now, I can see the error of my ways. I would have been way into this back then: it's just martial enough, just mopey enough, just nervous enough. I would have scrawled snippets from "Academy Fight Song" in the margins of my notebooks - stay just as far from me as me from you/make sure that you are sure of everything I do/because I'm not not not not not not not not .....your acadeMY! - I think it might be too late for me now, though were time travel be possible, I'd somehow make a cassette of this CD and tap a long-haired neurotic 20-year old me on the shoulder and say "here".

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Sweet Tooth

I am the Art Advisor to a new local art criticism publication Sweet Tooth, poised to rip the Baton Rouge art-going, art-viewing and art-making public a glorious new one in the new year. We did the first round of edits from all our contributors and things look great, on target and ever hopeful for our inaugural issue in mid January to hit the streets running.

Most important, though, is the launch party:

Be sure to mark your calendars for the Sweet Tooth debut party,
"The Sweet New Wave of the Future Dance Party" will be held at Hound Dogs,
668 Main Street, Baton Rouge, LA, January 18, 2008.

Tickets are five-dollars and guarantee the holder happy hour prices
all night long. Attendees are encouraged to dress for the year 2028,
when Culture Candy rules the world.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Do anybody make real shit anymore? – The Music of 2007

cross posted from

Kanye West did not make the cut for my top ten albums of the year, though Graduation probably got as much play on my car stereo as everything else combined. It’s not because it’s a bad album, in fact I think it’s a great pop record, maybe even a great album in that it actually gave me a couple things to think about – the line from “Stronger” that titles this article, for instance. I glanced at the top ten lists of friends, peers and idols and the things that struck me were 1) its all good music, mostly and 2) I don’t care about any of it. So many bands exuded charm enough to win our hearts, but our hearts are just as saleable as the bands are. We are looking to be seduced, we want instant gratification and retribution. We want Britney Spears to suffer and Kanye West to lose his shit at an award show, but when it comes down to it, I don’t think we really care if any of it actually happens. It is energy dully wasted.

I looked at groups like The Besnard Lakes and Band of Horses; they sound great when they are on but dissipate like ghosts the second they pass. I look at LCD Soundsystem, a project that takes its ironic stance so seriously that I don’t think it’s ironic anymore. It is taking the marketing strategy and twisting it into a Moebius strip we endlessly ride, pausing only to check our sunglasses in the mirror. I looked at Deerhoof and Electrelane and well, I set myself a limit at 10, so assume Friend Opportunity and No Shouts No Calls are on standby waiting for The National and Of Montreal to have those nervous breakdowns already. Radiohead, eh – I think I got my money’s worth on that one. I liked my review of the Arcade Fire album better than the album itself.

There were lots of records I loved for a moment and then forgot about moments later, and that is a sorry excuse for love. I went through my potential contenders and whittled it down to not only records I loved, but records that actually mattered, that I thought had some sort of existence outside of the vibrations issued thoughtlessly into the air. Subsequently, here is the realest shit of 2008.

10. Ryan Adams – Easy Tiger (Lost Highway)

There are at least two people who came back around to Ryan Adams this year; myself and Ryan Adams. Easy Tiger is a great record, with his navel gazing encoded into the best example of Glam Country around. It’s as he was a wolf pup adopted by George Jones and Marc Bolan and raised to be a resolution of them both. It is maudlin as hell, but Adams knows how to climb that mountain of maudlin with only a denim jacket and vintage guitar to lift aloft at the summit and shout “guitar solooooooo” for all the world to hear.

9. The National – Boxer (Merge)

I think the first album you hear by The National is the greatest album you’ve ever heard, and I had heard Alligator before this one (my #1 of 2005) so I was already inured of their missives to aching white collar heart. Boxer is every bit as good, and will serve as the gateway drug for everyone’s once-again new favorite band.

8. Chicago Underground Trio – Chronicle (Delmark)

Jazz in the contemporary practice tends to exists on one of two forms: a bastardized amalgam of other popular music (like it always has been) or a pleasant but often tiring exercise in reverence (ditto). Chicago Underground Trio issue a clear fuck-all-that on this album that gleefully leaps of the ledge to which Medeski, Martin and Wood furtively cling, go more postal than any post-rock combo around. Chronicle is music of the spheres in the vein of Coltrane, Sun Ra, and Coleman and, quite possibly, a groundbreaking record for the future paths of jazz.

7. Bill Callahan – Woke on a Whaleheart(Drag City)

Bill Callahan is hopefully the first of many to drop their obscurest project names (his was Smog) and reinvent the singer-songwriter in their own image. The raspy voiced that once sang about “Prince Alone in the Studio” has emerged sage and weathered, practically reciting rather than singing on the first record under his own name. I feel like all these songs are love songs, but they are complicated, fraught with mixed emotion and hesitancy and grad gesture, just like real actual love is. The record dense, multifaceted, even fractured at places, but each song unravels as their own unique piece of art. It’s less a set of songs as it is an exhibition.

6. James Blood Ulmer – Bad Blood in the City: The Piety Street Sessions(Hyena)

This one came with a bias, in that I love New Orleans and the weak platitudes that came form everywhere grate like pity always does. James Blood Ulmer, perhaps better than anyone, expressed outrage about it, and through his cosmic expansion of the blues, the outrage against the world and the way it operates. This record is a wrecking ball swinging wild, which is OK, because everything in its reach needs a good smack.

5. Blitzen Trapper – Wild Mountain Nation Lidkercow)

Blitzen Trapper gets saddled with a sounds-like-Grateful-Dead tag which they deserve, but it bears reminding that they also sound like Wilco, Captain Beefheart, Paul McCartney, Pavement, Nick Drake – in other words, they are everyone. Now I am not one to consider the mirror an example of great portrait, but this scrappy Portland manager to build an incredible beast out of our culture’s spare parts. Their band is like the best mix tape I’ve never made.

4. Of Montreal – Hissing Fauna, Are You the Destroyer?(Merge)

Maybe it’s telling about our milquetoast times that the most dangerous record I heard this year did not come from church-burning Vikings but an ambisexual disco spazz who lost his marbles living among them for the dark season. Kevin Barnes unravels and tightens up over and over on this masterpiece, pushing every cliché into his lo-fi sonic cuisinart. The epic “The World is a Grotesque Monster” is the sounds of our collective freakouts issued in clean post-punk order – even Rolling Stone had to agree, putting it at lucky number 18 - but it’s the line from “Bunny Ain’t No Kind of Rider “- I need a lover with soul power, and you ain’t got no soul power was the best nugget of protest against the machine I heard this year, regardless that it came from a total bliss-out Casio-grade roller skating jam.

3. Wilco – Sky Blue Sky (Nonesuch)

So what if it’s dad rock? Father knows best, you little sniveling bastards, and while you are living under my roof, you’re going to do things my way. Now go get me some of that weed I know you have hidden in that messy room of yours. Wilco backs up my general claim that they are the best band around with going gloriously mellow on this note perfect record, leaving wanky lyrics behind for direct wit and candor. Don’t just stand there, go get me that weed already, before that awesome guitar part in “Impossible Germany” comes on.

2. Common – Finding Forever(Geffen)

Hip-hop is so engrained in the marketplace that a body has to retire or threaten to do so just to have any kind of bullshit arc to his character. Not so for Chi-Town’s other favorite son Common. The most beautiful thing created this year is “Forever Begins” where Kanye uses his powers for good. This song is implausibly uplifting, crafted from a rib lifted Paul Simon, punctuated by Syreeta Wright’s “why”, capped off with gravitas form Common’s dad. And every other song on here is just as good. You can keep your Jay-Z’s and Nasii and whoever you got jockeying for a non-existent executive position and let people like Common cut through the crowd and make some enlightenment happen.

1. Bright Eyes – Cassadaga (Saddle Creek)

I’ve always had a soft spot for Bright Eyes, but he finally came back slinging stones with the jawbone of an ass on Cassadaga. The hands-down best song of the year is “Four Winds” where he upends the prostrated worship of Bob Dylan 2007 was plagued with by revisiting Highway 61 with a stolen grader. He puts war, and sadness and poetry and sneers and flies and blood and holy books into a bonfire taller and grander than that of burning man, where the nation’s bright eyed children are called to cast all that is wrong with the world into its consuming blaze. It howls like the wolf pup referenced in #10 without the tempering agents of adopted fathers. Instead it is desperate, convulsive and real. The whole album is this good, piling up every conceivable take on all his influences, calling them out when need be and sitting atop the pyramid he’s erected, blinking in the sun.

Friday, December 14, 2007

5 things. 60% literature-related and 80% illustrated, with links.

  1. When I bring Maya to gymnastics, I really look forward to walking the track listening to something trancey and montonous (but never actual trance music, in the techno vernacular) - walking the track is perhaps my sole stab at cardio-vascular health, and it was cardoned off for repainting. more dissapointed than myself was a 5-year old dying to go play on the track, but was admonished by his shockingly tanned and hair-did dad, holding this very copy of Atlas Shrugged, with a reptilian look of authority declaring, because I said so. Of course I've played that card, but I know the flimsiness of that declaration. I've never read any Ayn Rand because the people who have and and will tell you about it annoy me and look a lot like this dad - overcoiffed and desperately trying to be more everything than they are, and hold because I say so aloft like a heraldic banner. 45 minutes later I saw him slouched in a corner, asleep with the book loose in his grasp, and I thought about stealing it and throwing it into the toilet of the men's room. I got your rational self-interest righcheer, dad.

  2. Julian Cope's Japrocksampler has hit some theoretical bookshelves. As his Krautrocksampler is rumored (I have never found a copy of this available) to be the most poetic statement possible about repetitive future/Neaderthal music from Germany in the 70's, so does this promise to be for the wild untold landscape of Japanese psychedlia of the same era. Julian Cope is the greatest corny stereotype of Englishness alive - equal parts Ozzy Osbourne and Henry Higgins, and drivel from his cultured baritone sounds like it was delivered by Lord Byron in a rainstorm. If you loved me at all, you would buy this for me.

  3. Maya and I were killing time at the CD Store as Nick Drake's Bryter Later was booming on the stereo, and it filled me with strange holiday cheer. Christmas in Louisiana is autumnal in palette, and the string sections on this record, swelling to the point of bursting with honeysuckle melancholy is the finest. I want to listen to this album not on an iPod, but booming from loudspeakers hanging from trees, hidden in the rustling redyelloworange leaves along the Natchez Trace Parkway as I lazily rollerblade its length. I have all these songs already, so no need to buy me the boxed set. Maybe a set of rollerblades and a portable tree-hanging iPod ready PA instead.

  4. One of the people in my class today spent the entire day picking his nose. Not in an absent gotta-get-that-outta-there way, but in a lazy hair-twirling ambiance to his thinking. Like up to the first knuckle. Really. I have a six-year-old and exposure to her even more disgusting six-year-old friends and yet I have never seen that much concerted booger picking in one sitting.

  5. Ben Greenman's new collection of stories A Circle is a Balloon and a Compass Both was sitting on the shelf at the library and while it is not Superbad (not the movie, but Greenman's first book that is as weird and funny as David Sedaris' Naked) it is totally ridiculous, funny and bone dry. It makes me miss Mark Leyner, who consumed my entire literary focus for a year or so a decade or so ago. Where has he gone? Wikipedia says television and IMDB says he just penned a John Cusack film about a Lucille Ball grade assassination plot. Whatevs, movies suck. I would like to have a wiser, sharper Et Tu, Babe in my life, please. No one will remember this John Cusack movie, but I will praise you forever for a new book.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

The Record Crate: Zydeco, Blues and Facial Piercing

Later that evening, I headed out to Teddy's with a group from the Cajun dance to see Lil Ray Neal send some seamless blues licks arcing into the night air. I like taking new people out to Teddy's because it's the kind of place you don't really think exists anymore. It has as much unique character as Teddy does himself, ripping on people in the crowd as he spins lost funk and blues tunes from his altar of DJ booth. Read more...

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Sufjan Goddamn Stevens

The rest of the household left on their usual Sunday grocery mission which left me to my usual Sunday listen-to-the-stereo-loud house cleaning mission. I should use this time wisely and listen to the more obnoxious end of my listening spectrum, here in this rare moment of PA authority, but it's Sunday morning, and you can't really blast abrasive minimalists or noxious Nordic Satan metal on Sunady morning. I eve tried to split the difference and crank up some Sabbath (an impulse I suspect every dude harbors when the ladies are away) but it just wasn't working, so I scrolled around until I landed on Sufjan Stevens, the anti-Ozzy.

I love the doe-eyed Eagle Scout of a bastard son of America that Sufjan Stevens is, but I overloaded myself on him when The Avalanche came out last year, and haven't listened to him since. And then "Romulus" came on from the Michigan album, and in the middle of swiffering the dining room I heard ...and we touched her hair, and we touched her hair and the tears started rolling like they do every time.

It's not because I identify with this direct content of this song or anything horribly corny like that ( I do identify with it, and it is corny, and I am corny, but that's not what's going on here) , it's that he hits on the ultimate vulnerability of everything in life. You can suffer just about anything as it's going on, even be oblivious to it, but when it passes is when the real shit hits the psychic fan. Imagine if your whole life, your back yard butted up against a fifty foot wall, and it stretched as far as you knew. As a kid, that wall is a given - you can't climb it, there is nothing on the other side. Then at some point, you follow that wall in one direction, all the way to the end. You now walk around the edge of it, can transcend the wall, can stand with it at your back and it is terrible. Not in a sour grapes "how come no one ever told me" way, not in a fear of the unknown way, but in a terrifying existential way. Your given is gone.

I think this is what death does to the living. It gives you a way to walk around that person, and the beyond looks just like the terrain on your previous side of the wall. But it is different, unavoidably different in a way that cannot be rectified and that is terrifying. And we all know it. It's basic instinct, it is why we as creatures with legs and feet and velocity and trajectory flee from death, even the slightest twinge of it and it still catches up. And like those poor goddamn Stevens kids who are having to face the realities, all we can do is placate our wounded baby bird souls.

when she had her last child,
once when she had some boyfriends, some wild.
she moved away, quite far.
our grandpa bought us a new vcr.
we watched it all night, we grew up in spite of it.
we watched it all night, we grew up in spite of it.

This song makes me want to throw a motherfucking VCR off a bridge like I was in a River Phoenix movie. Every time I hear this song, it chokes me up and I'm compelled to write about it, and maybe I'll one day walk to the end of the Romulus city limits and see the bleak Michigan sky, cold and lonely and leave my footprints in the snow trailing back to this song, but for now it sits there like those VCR tapes, waiting to be watched again.

Saturday, December 8, 2007

I think this is how Neutral Milk Hotel did it

1. Go to the Wikipedia home page and click random article. That is your band's name.
2. Click random article again; that is your album name.
3. Click random article 15 more times; those are the tracks on your album.

I opted for an EP:

Dear John (Film), Status Register
1. "Parkman, Wyoming" - Acoustic love song about old girlfriend who dumped me to go off to grad school. Her blurry photograph is on the cover.
2. "9 Aurigae" - Gothic space-rock jam, also about old girlfriend.
3. "International Court of Justice Advisory Opinion on Western Sahara" - 45-second hardcore song, hearkening back to DJ(F)'s original punk 7".
4. "French Legislative Action" - New wave love song about new girlfriend, with clever analogies to European politics, just to show old girlfriend that she is not the only smart one around here. My new girlfriend is a poli-sci major too, except she thinks Marxism is totally played and so do I!

Uncle Lee's Premium Green Tea

I know you were all gnashing on the end of your infuser balls, wondering if I was going to find the perfect kind of green tea - well, gnash no more, for here it is. I got it from the Vietnamese grocery store under name Ten Fu tea, assuming this must be the real deal, but when I glanced on the label, I saw the Uncle Lee's logo glancing back - the same thing they have up at the Whole Foods. The global economy is a tricksy rabbit, y'all.

Anyway, real deal or not, this is good stuff. It starts out light and sweet and grows stronger as it cools, and on my second cup, I can start to feel the wicked superhuman powers green tea affords the astute drinker starting to take effect. Just now I heard a butterfly flap its wings in a lagoon in the South Pacific (via superhuman hearing), and I was able to fly around the earth counter (levitate, actually. Zen enlightenment taught me that gravity is not a law but a contract between the cold evil Earth and those weak enough in spirit to require being rooted to it, and that contract is easily broken as if it was inked on toilet paper) to its rotation to stop the ensuing monsoon generated exponentially from that Lepidoptera's unwitting but deadly nectar-gathering flit.

Understand that the monsoon never actually happened, in a linear temporal sense, because the powerful antioxidants therein allowed me to see it 10 steps ahead, like a chess playing supercomputer housed in some nondescript corrugated metal building in the barren edge of MIT's campus. It allows me to not merely solve problems, but eliminate the patterns that create problems. I'm scared to drink a third cup, lest I should become some sort of god.

Uncle Lee's Premium Loose Green Tea

Friday, December 7, 2007

Karlheinz Stockhausen R.I.P.

I am going to tell myself that yesterday's invoking the name of Henry Flynt, a vocal opponent of Stockhausen's, even to the point of picketing performances of his, did in no way bring about the influential (Miles Davis, Bjork, Herbie Hancock, Sonic Youth to name a few) and contraversial (he was the guy who referred to 9/11 as "works of art", later clarifying that he meant as Lucifer's greatest works of art, not really helping his case all that much) compser's demise.
However you regard(ed) him, or even if you didn't regard him at all, Stockhausen was a badass - a collosus from the era of giant revolutionary art/thinkers, creating works requiring new methods of listening as well as new ways of hearing, crafting works of staggering scope, particulalry his pieces for string players in helicopters hoverig over a field or his multi-day long opera Licht which is slated to see its first full performance in 2008. Few artists or composers today are willing to take on convetional thinking and notions of scale the way he could.

The video below is not by the composer, but uses his Kontakte, one of his more famous pieces as its soundtrack

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

A Hypothesis Supporting the Possibility of Henry Flynt Having Invented Everything

Henry Flynt, Self-Validating Falsehood (1988)

I am deep into Henry Flynt today. He is many things in many fields: a philosopher, an enemy of mathematics, a conceptual artist (in fact he coined the term "concept art" in an essay in Lamonte Young's An Anthology in 1963), and, that about him with which I am most familiar, a very singular composer whose striving to tie up the loose threads among hillbilly music, high art minimalism and classical Indian drones has led to some of the oddest, completely compelling music, and has, if my theory bears out, been a huge but largely secret influence on most of the music I like today.

See, Henry used the Fluxus conceptual art banner, rather reluctantly, as a means to publish and disseminate his anti-art theories, and in that realm, he protested the high art establishment with experimental violinist Tony Conrad on a number of occasions, the most famous of which was a picket line around a number of Stockhausen concerts in 1964. The two share marked proclivities for playing protracted drones in a flat, fiddle-style, and surely had some influence on each other's work. Flynt also had a penchant for blues, a rattling minimalistic jangly form of the blues that was an anathema to the excesses of the day, and I imagine was an eye opener in his circle. Also in that circle was a fellow open-minded Welsh string player named John Cale, who later joined a band with a small-time songwriter from Long Island named Lou Reed. Lou Reed moved into Tony Conrad's old apartment and found a book titled The Velvet Underground and used it to dub his new band with Cale.

In 1966, Flynt recorded a rock album I Don't Wanna, chock full of ramshackle rambling guitars and violin, sounding like a Bo Diddley record being played while traveling down a bumpy road, alternately swerving between jangly ur-Dylan rock and single chord drones, sounding a helluva lot like that of The Velvet Underground's first record. Eugene Chadbourne has Flynt as an actual replacement for John Cale in the Velvet Underground in the bio he penned for AllMusicGuide, and I guess he would know better than me, but I've never heard of Flynt being an actual member anywhere else. Not calling the good Dr, Chadbourne a liar, I'm just saying it's not in the popular history of the group as I know it. But then I once had that ignorant audacity to ask on FallNet who Doug Yule was in the line "couldn't tell Lou Reed from Doug Yule" in The Fall's greatest shoulda-beena hit "Shoulder Pads," and I'm sure the future will reveal many other giant gaps in my musical knowledge.

Be that as it may, Flynt's protest blues song, falling apart as they come together, make the so-called primitivism of VU and Dylan look like the work of Baroque harpsichordists by comparison, using basic rock'n'roll forms as a blunt instrument to pound home his ideas, and surely his influence was heavy in the air when The Velvet Underground released their first album in 1967. And to paraphrase Brian Eno, that album only sold 1000 copies, but each person that bought it formed a band, and each of those bands passed that thread on down to every other band that formed in their wake, so what I'm postulating when every lanky yahoo who is nursing his third-hand heroin chic cuts the air with a one note guitar solo, that string reverberated up through Lou Reed , right through the bridge of his sunglasses to the third eye of a hillbilly philosopher you never heard of by the name of Henry Flynt.

Oh, and Flynt was a frequent loft performer with Yoko Ono back in the mid sixties and his signature is all over Yoko's powerhouse album Plastic Ono Band album (especially in John Lennon's proud moment of skronk guitar on the opening cut "Why") which in itself is a largely unspoken predecessor to the likes of Pussy Galore and The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, The Nation of Ulysses, The Red Krayola and on and on and on and on.

Last.Fm has samples of the album here, as does iTunes and Amazon

Edit to add: Mr. Flynt emailed with comments and corrections to this post

Hi Alex V. Cook

Thank you for your Dec. 5, 2007 review of I Don’t Wanna. You know, I’m a stickler for accuracy, here are some pointers.
• I subbed for Cale in the VU at the Dom-upstairs Sept. 16, 17, 23, 24, 1966. Village Voice, 9/29/66 p. 28, “screeching electronic violin.” Cale doesn’t play violin. If the VU hagiographies don’t have it, I wasn’t recognized as significant.
• I appeared twice at Ono’s loft, Feb. 25 and 26, 1961 — but not with her.
• I didn’t use the violin to play drones. Seems like a severe perceptual problem to hear a drone coming out of White Lightnin’ or any of the other tracks. I was accompanied by drones not from a violin. Any difficulty distinguishing a violin (bowed) from a tambura?
• Lou Reed, I believe, was from Brooklyn.

Bests, Henry

Musical Meandering: Help Keep the Pep in the Two-Step:

In the December Issue of Country Roads:

Weekly Cajun Dances at the American Legion Hall:
A Cajun accent didn’t sound anything like the southern accents I’d heard on The Dukes of Hazzard, and my first crawfish boil was a far cry from whatever images I had gotten of southern cooking. Ever since then, I’ve taken pride in being a transplanted Southerner. It’s given me some perspective on what other parts of the country are like, and why what we have here is unusual and worth holding onto. The problem is—a culture has to be a living thing to survive. If the new blood doesn’t embrace the culture, take on its habits and peculiarities, a culture gets marginalized into extinction. Read more...

Outsideleft: Not the Same Without the Glowing Pyramid

I am all for the eventual overtaking of our species by robots. We created them. We set them to do the tasks we do not want to do. We become softer and weaker and more useless with each device that we need to be smarter and faster because we in turn are dumber and slower, so it only makes sense that at some point, the slaves will become the masters. What kind of calloused plutocrat cannot, at least in spirit, support a slave rebellion? Not that I expect the robots will fare much better, but I think their battles will be more spectacular, their architecture vast and gloriously sterile, and the sex will be so so dirty – so hell, sign me up, eventual robot overlords; plop me in a warehouse suspension tank, feed me glucose and mine my dreams for inspiration, I’m ready.

That said, I still cannot get into Daft Punk. Read more....

The Record Crate: More of Everything, All at Once, Please

This past week was one of the more diverse I've had in a while. Tuscaloosa's Baak Gwai opened the evening last Wednesday with their herky-jerky prog/punk splendor. Baak Gwai is an acquired taste, I suppose, but I'm up for a second helping. Their songs are comprised of disparate ideas floating in the ether, tethered together with rubber bands -- the second you start getting your brain around one, it has bounced to another. It leads to all their songs sounding alike in that each one involves a number of scene changes, but I'm fine with that. Melt-Banana, the Casuals and Flatbed Honeymoon, too Read more.....

Melt-Banana at Spanish Moon
You have new Picture Mail!

Monday, December 3, 2007

Santa is The Real Thing

I will go on record as an anti-capitalist, but along with past stints as a vegetarian, Christian, poet and corporate citizen, I approach these designations with the half-est of hearts. So yes, I hate Wal-mart. Of course I hate it. What's not to hate about it? But I go there. My bohemian lifestyle unfortunately also has a bohemian salary.

This past Saturday turned out to be one of the best/worst Wal-Mart trips ever. Our friends were absent from the coffee shop, so Maya and I went directly to item 2 on the intinerary to get the oil changed. God had smiled upon me, like he does on all His appointed shoppers when the woman at the oil-change check-in tent proclaimed "Goddamn, that stupid bitch was supposed to bring me back her keys! You're going in line ahead of her as long as you don't park by those flags, and bring me you goddamn keys back!" Never one to look a hook-up horse in the mouth, I did as I was told, assured my car would be done in 40 minutes, just long enough to get everything needed for 21st century survival.

After getting the cart loaded up and ready to go, I checked in at the desk and evidently the bitch remembered her goddamn keys and edged in before me and brought a couple friends, since my car wasn't even in the garage. This was OK actually because it allowed for a couple things:

You have new Picture Mail!You have new Picture Mail!You have new Picture Mail!

  1. I got a sneak peek at what my daughter will look like all the time as a devastatingly bored teenager. The hat was given to me at one of my teaching gigs at the aluminum plant, and has been sitting unworn in the back of the car because a baseball hat makes my head look even impossibly more like a melon. I think she kinda rocked it, largely because it matched her outfit, and she's been waering it off and on ever since, and.....

  2. Santa's arrival was announced in our second hour! Black Santa! That wasn't even fat, like he had to cinch his belt! On a throne made of Coke crates! Up in the Deli Section, right in front of the cheese ball island! This is pleasing to my peckerwood liberal-guilt Whitey-ass that not only does my daughter still full on believe in Santa*, but a black, trim Santa walking right by countless Santa-correct images did not throw her off her game at all. We stalked Santa as he made his way through the store, pretending to look at towels and blenders until he ascended to the Throne of The Real Thing and Maya got her picture taken.

  3. I was hoping for the trifecta that my new glasses would be in, but lo, they came in today. The lens, now newly stretching into my periferal vision, is a little offputting, with reality streching around me with alarming clarity, but transition lenses are like the iPhone of glasses -they do everything! For the first time in ages, I wasn't squinting as I drove. So what if they make me look a little like fat, bearded Rivers Cuomo - if Rivers Cuomo was living right, he'd wish he looked as good as me.

* She was cying Sunady morning on the way home from a big sugar-orgy sleepover, because she heard on the news that Aqua Dots (greatest toy ever) were recalled on account of lead**, and her know-it-all booger-eating compadre told her that lead is poisonous and will KILL YOU, and she just realized that she had put Aqua Dots on the list she originally sent to Santa, and she didn't want Santa or the elves to get exposed to some poisonous lead! I told her Santa would be fine, and that he reads all those warnings.

** It actually wasn't lead, but that Aqua Dots, when ingested, acted like the date rape drug caused the recall. Her lead fears came when she heard also on the news (twice in her life has she heard the news and both times it was a personal tragedy) that some toys from China were being recalled because of lead, and her know-it-all friend pointed out the "Made in China" on some plastic vampire teeth she had. Fuck the news, yo.