Sunday, March 19, 2017


(Found this post from almost a year ago just sitting in my drafts folder, and I don't see why I didn't publish it at the time. So, better late than never...)

A new Pumice album has come down the pike on the Soft Abuse label. It's called Puddles and it was released in late 2015. This makes quite a few Pumice albums now, and I certainly haven't heard 'em all, but judging from this one, damned if the guy isn't at the top of his game right now. And it's very much his game, too... I mean sure you can classify it with your other crumbling home-taper free-folk New Zealand type stuff, but there's something about this particular combination of dream-piano, forlorn foghorn vocals, subtly edgy guitar, and carefully applied never-overbearing industrial noise, that is his and his alone. He is Stefan Neville, and he lives and works in Auckland. This is the most I've listened to one of his albums since Yeahnahvienna, which was released (CD only!) in 2006 (!), also by Soft Abuse; now I'm celebrating its 10-year anniversary by playing Puddles over and over.

Starting to dig more into various private press Xtian infamy via YouTube and, the more of it I hear, the more I think that my introduction, Dave Bixby's Ode to Queztalcoatl, is still the best. Maybe it's just because I'm more a loner folk guy than a heartland prog guy. Anyone remember when Bixby reappeared and went on a mini-tour a couple years ago? Seems like ancient ignored music news in today's internet hype cycle. I just looked it up; it was in December 2013. He only played three shows, all in his home-state Michigan. I guess I didn't really know the back story of the LP until now, but as a young counterculturally-inclined man in late-1960s Grand Rapids, Bixby burned out on LSD and, despondent and susceptible, fell in with a charismatic and somewhat sketchy cult leader, a dramatically goateed fellow by the name of Don DeGraaf. He eventually split the scene, but not before DeGraaf had bankrolled Ode to Quetzalcoatl, which was used as a recruitment tool. The story is engagingly depicted in this Far Off Sounds short doc on his reappearance tour, intercut with performances from all three cities (back where it all began in Grand Rapids, as well as Ann Arbor and Detroit). Highly recommended. See also: a video of his full Detroit set, at that crucial Trinosophes spot. As an astute YouTube commenter says, "The man still has it."

One more recommendation: this Loner Folk Playlist on YouTube. Maybe he's just too obvious of a choice, and the compiler wanted to focus on even lesser known artists, but Bixby is not included, even though his music is as lonely as it gets. As he says to the audience at the Trinosophes, after opening his set with the still heart-stopping "Drug Song": "I see it now as a piece of art. As a tragedy."


My take on #tripmetal and #psychojazz is that both are completely real, have been around forever, especially since regional/national/global electrification, and all of the following are both: Alice and JohnCybotron and PhutureBad Brains and Slayer"Maggot Brain" and The Process of Weeding Out. I mean those are just some of the most obvious; there's several hundred more, maybe even a couple thousand.

The Maximum Rocknroll Archive and Database Fundraiser is officially over, but it doesn't matter, you can donate to them year-round. They need it because their archive and database project is huge. Read interviews about it and more at FvckTheMedia and at Terminal Boredom, with head archivist Shivaun Watchorn and magazine coordinator (that's what they call the editor-in-chief) Grace Ambrose. The mag has had a great run of coordinators and I've particularly dug the tenures of Ms. Ambrose and Layla Gibbon, going back what might be 10 years to the mid-00s. The design has been cool as hell and the critical voice as sharp as ever, and not coincidentally punk in the 2010's has a more inclusive and therefore expansive multitude of voices screaming and scorching it out than ever.

Had this my-life-in-Chicago thing happen to me yesterday (Friday, June 10th, 2016) when I read a feature in this week's Reader about how Blues Fest is starting today (Saturday, June 11th, 2016) (first time I've heard about it this year), including a nice David Whiteis write-up on Lazy Lester (first time I've heard of him ever) and how in the 1960s he developed what was regionally popular in the Gulf Coast as "swamp-rock," recording for the Excello label. Whiteis adds that "he also worked as a sideman for other Excello artists, contributing guitar, harmonica, and percussion (including drums, wood blocks, cardboard boxes, folded-up newspapers, and even the studio walls)," which is funky, and as it turns out his tracks under his own name are too, so of course I want to see him, even if (especially if?) he's now 82 years old. He's playing at 3PM on Saturday, and wouldn't you know it, the great Irma Thomas (age 75) herself is playing at 6:30, but then I think how I have to take my 13-year-old son to a doctor's appointment scheduled weeks ago at 2:30, so I'll totally miss Lazy Lester, and then I've got to get him to a Magic the Gathering tournament by 5PM. so maybe I could drop him off there, then go all the way downtown for Irma Thomas and then head back home in time to pick him up around 9PM, but my 10-year-old daughter and I aren't gonna feel like riding the bus for an hour there and an hour back when we could just be chilling at home... which is just what we did, and it was made all the sweeter by this Lazy Lester Excello Singles YouTube playlist....

Stephen O'Malley made a huge Mix for Fact Magazine, and of course that soundhound came up with all kinds of things I'd never heard of before. Along with a lot more "much more" than usual, we get recordings from early 1900s Iran, Italian horror prog by Jacula and Antonius Rex, a scorching 2012 track by Fushitsusha, and stunning early 1990s Morton Feldman-esque soundtrack work by some guy named Francois-Bernard Mache. Check it out:

I was thinking about the video for that seriously heavy jam "Eminence Front," footage of The Who playing live at some sort of sound-stage rehearsal, and it got me thinking of that great 1980s tradition of 'band showing up for rehearsal/filming/recording/etc.' videos... but the only other one I could place was Deep Purple's "Perfect Strangers"! (Also a seriously heavy 80s jam, incidentally.) Maybe "Do They Know It's Christmas," but that song's gotten more than enough ink, wouldn't you say? Van Halen's "Pretty Woman" video was kind of an extended absurdist theatrical riff on the 'band showing up' idea, but it was all costume fantasy; my ideal 'band showing up' video is strictly cinema verite. In other words, the artists must play themselves. Anyway, if you think of more, PLEASE let me know.

#HeavySaturdayShuffle brings us "The Night Watch" by King Crimson (is this in contention for Fripp's greatest guitar solo?), followed by all-time classic "Christbait Rising" by Godflesh ("Don't hold me back/This is my own hell" is some basic heavy personal problems shit, pre-emo), followed by Neil's amazing "Hold Back The Tears" outtake, which would've been on the unreleased Chrome Dreams, a song that was recorded later for American Stars'n'Bars in a more mundane traditional country style with Ronstadt/Larson backing vox. I don't know who did the backing vox on the Chrome Dreams version, but they reach a pitch that is otherworldly even by Neil's standards (actually I think it's Neil overdubbing himself)... and finally, "Free Me (Version)" by Drum Bago & The Rebels. Drum Bago, also known as Drumbago, is the performing name of one Arkland Parks of Jamaica. (Check out this article including great virtual clippings from Jamaica's Daily Gleaner newspaper; typos remain omnipresent.) He was around since well before reggae developed, and in fact one of the key drummers to develop the ska beat, taking it right on into rocksteady. If I'm reading Solid Foundation right, he played on "Easy Snappin" by Theophilus Beckford in 1956, and was still active in 1966 when rocksteady took over. He passed away in 1969, before rocksteady had fully evolved into the reggae and roots that dominated the 1970s. Which makes this 45 kinda strange, because it was released in 1975, and "Free Me" is a very heavy roots/dub instrumental, the B-side to a heavy roots vocal A-side called "Set Me Free," sung by one L. Crosdale. Did Studio One posthumously use a Drumbago track that was laying around since 1969? Plausible, but was Drumbago already getting this heavy on a roots tip in 1969? That I find harder to believe, and my somewhat educated guess is that Coxsone just thought Drumbago was a cool-ass name in 1975 and stole it, or paid tribute to it, or something, changing it slightly to read "Drum Bago" just to hint that something was up.

After going to New Orleans a year ago and hearing all the random second line parades all over the streets, getting back to Chicago with a newly purchased 79rs Gang LP and playing those rhythms over and over for several feverish nights, and soon after reading in Bill Kreutzmann's memoir Deal that his mother was from New Orleans and he grew up listening to her Fats Domino 45s over and over, I now hear so much New Orleans in Kreutzmann's general push and kick-and-snare patterns every time I listen to his band. I mean, he's Ed Blackwell worthy. Here's my crazy opinion: after Garcia, Kreutzmann is the main reason we still talk about the Grateful Dead, the reason we forgive their many varied trespasses, the reason that the original members still draw huge dancing stadium crowds, even/especially with John Mayer as Jerry. It's all because of Kreutzmann, man, and the crazy rhythms are still there; watch/listen to this show they played just last week:

Like you, I was hesitant to enter the Mayer Zone, fearing it would be too full of Mayernaise, but went ahead with it after reading Jesse Jarnow's great review of the aforementioned show on Pitchfork. (Teaser quote: "It's hard to think of another tour this summer that's as friendly to families as it is to psychedelic users. Besides national parks, there aren't many institutions that serve both. But unlike members of the Grateful Dead, national parks don't go on tour.") I would warn you that the above YouTubes are better to listen to than to watch; Mayer's outfit and general visual vibe is very distracting, but his guitar playing is fine and sometimes top-notch. The "Bird Song" for example. As usual with the Dead in any year, any incarnation, you've gotta take the bad with the good; Bob Weir seems off all night long, to where I'm worried the poor guy might still be having health troubles, but then in classic Weir fashion he stands tall and absolutely kills "Days Between" in the encore, singing it with even more gravity than Jerry ever did, bringing certain Robert Hunter lyrics ("phantom ships with phantom sails") and phrases ("a springtime wet with sighs") to sudden haunting life. It's a really heavy song, the perfect sad sequel to that line in "Stella Blue" that goes "All the years combine/they melt into a dream."

Speaking of Jesse Jarnow, I'm also reading his new book Heads: A Biography of Psychedelic America right now... just 30 pages in, but all day at work I found myself itching to get back to it. Tons could/should be said about it, but right now I'll just say he's the most understanding writer on the Dead I can think of since Blair Jackson. (Although John Olson's short takes in Life Is A Ripoff are must-reads as well.) It really is one of the great Grateful Dead books; as its subtitle says, the book is much more than a biography of the band, but it's impossible to have a biography of psychedelic America without them being extremely central to the story.

ON CINEMA, I think a film that goes to credits with me bawling right along with its main character is probably a pretty damn good film, in this case La Strada (1954, d. Federico Fellini). A strong man doesn't know what to do when he falls into a relationship with a strong woman. Completely atypical strong woman, mind you, which makes the siutation even more emotionally complex. There's all kinds of haunting neorealist and proto-Felliniesque aspects of the film you can get lost in too, but above all it's an extremely rich character study. Quinn's Zampano is a typical brute that Fellini develops atypically. Richard Basehart's Fool is a volatile mix of good looks, great talent, and an endlessly sharp tongue. One of the great charming and tragic assholes in cinema history. And of course Giuleta, who everyone loves, taking what starts as a tribute to Chaplin into rare depths of character, especially when played off of Quinn. Throughout the film, she gets the sympathy, but Fellini has a twist ending up his sleeve, and improbably demands that our sympathy go to the strongman instead. Postscript: Interesting to hear Scorsese say in the Criterion extras that he and DeNiro never spoke about Quinn's Zampano, when Jake LaMotta punching the wall at the end of Raging Bull is probably the 2nd most Zampanonian film ending in cinema history.... Been reflecting hard on similarities between La Strada and two films that both came out a year earlier in 1953, Summer With Monika (d. Ingmar Bergman), and Tokyo Story (d. Yasujiro Uzo). All three films could be called neorealist, and all of them use what are called, in Ozu's films, "interstitials," also apparently known as "pillow shots" (I prefer the former term). Were any of them directly inspired by another? It all seems too concurrent. Or is it just that all of these filmmakers were inspired directly by Rossellini? Is he the true one-man neo-realist atomic bomb? Or did his style grow out of clear antecedents? Did Rossellini use interstitials too? These are the questions a lonely cinema geek must ponder. Speaking OF CINEMA, thanks to my son, I finally sat down and watched Good Burger (1997, d. Brian Robbins) and I'll be damned if Kel Thompson's characterization as "Ed" isn't one of the more aggressively weird comic performances I've ever seen... meanwhile, in a 1971 interview Jean-Pierre Melville said, "My guess is that the final disappearance of cinemas will take place around the year 2020, so in fifty years' time there will be nothing but television." Hello, Stranger Things!

LA STRADA (1954, d. Federico Fellini)

SUMMER WITH MONIKA (1953, d. Ingmar Bergman)

TOKYO STORY (1953, d. Yasujiro Ozu)

GOOD BURGER (1997, d. Brian Robbins)

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