Thursday, May 31, 2007

Words' worth?

have recently put in a few of the busy work weeks, but at least there's something to show for it. i'm sure you've read everyone and their mother hyping Battles but they're worth it and here is how i expressed that in Time Out, with help from the band.

i love Pissed Jeans. they fucking kick ass, as i expressed a smidge more eloquently here.

and also i am proud to be contributing to the new entertainment wing of the Huffington Post blog. please mosey on over there and check out my inaugural entry, which chronicles the joys and frustrations of attending Lightning Bolt shows over the years. i'm worried that i came off all crotchety on this one, but it's meant as a personal reflection, not a diatribe.

Monday, May 28, 2007


long weekend, fo' sho'.

want to express gratitude again to the good people of WKCR for the Sam Rivers fest. the broadcast may be over but the aftereffects linger; still opting for disc three of the Rivers Mosaic box and the excellent Waves more often than not.

trio concert on Friday was quite excellent. really great to see Altschul back on the scene. does anyone have a sense of why he's been so scarce on records, etc. over the past few decades? he sounded great, as did Holland, who took a couple of utterly monster solos, like just hugely physical and lyrical playing--tough, tough bass, i tell you. during his first solo there was a sense of uncaging or some such; maybe i'm playing up the relative inside-ness of his current groups, but i certainly got the sense of a player who hadn't played free in a long time and was just sort of giddy at the wide-openness of it all.

so yeah, there were two sets of total improv. everything was very comfortable and sort of episodic. there was some searching free-time stuff, some uptempo bop, some funky vamps. by the second set there was the slightest sense of the band sort of retreading ground it had covered in the first set, but overall it was a really warm, fun set of music. Sam gave a few effusive speeches and seemed genuinely touched by the experience, which is understandable. there was, as they say, a lot of love in that room.

Rivers sounded awesome. slightly diminished in terms of power, but he can just play and play. he's such a natural improviser, just goes and reacts so sensitively to his colleagues; he really gave them the floor in a sense, really listening when they solo-ed and occasionally punctuating their playing with an encouraging "whoo!" tenor sax dominated and Rivers sounded like his hard-edged usual self on that horn; there was some really nice flute stuff where he was vocalizing along with the playing; would've liked to have heard a tad more soprano, but ah well; and i almost forgot, there was some heartstopping piano: gorgeous, moody, impressionistic rubato stuff--even his bandmates seemed moved by the depth of it. (you know what would rule? a Rivers solo piano disc. anybody?) this was true multi-instrumentalism, with the ideas just spilling over from one ax to the next.

hot stuff, just a perfect cap to a really classy tribute. long live WKCR. word up.

Friday, May 25, 2007

"A" game // Metascam // A crack at Graham // A case of Joni

Rivers. Holland. Altschul. tomorrow. Miller Theatre. Rumble in the jungle, baby. (i just had a horrific yet inspiring image of Dick Vitale play-by-playing the show...)


ok, so let's say you're headed Morningside Heights-ward for the gig and you're looking for a classy bite beforehand: this French-Caribbean restaurant "A" on Columbus Ave between 106th and 107th kills it, for real. Laal called it and we went last night and though it was not perfect, the best stuff ruled.

get the grilled pear appetizer, definitely. it has bleu cheese and that perfect sweet + tangy thing that seems to be such a point of pride at nuevo fusiony restaurants. but the reason for that is it's really good and unusual. as for the other appetizer we got, pheasant pate was pretty solid but maybe a bit overgreasy. it's served casserole-style with a whole bunch of cheese and it's tasty but you kinda keep thinking of cheap mac and cheese.

the jerk chicken was the winner. i don't think i've ever had chicken presented this classily. i'm one of those prissy assholes who really hates picking chicken off the bone and this place just hurdles that issue altogether by serving chix in these thinly sliced medallions. then you get a little mound of cous-cous and this perfectly sweet and tangy orange jerk sauce. it's just goddamn delectable, like plate-licking and the whole bit. the chicken pieces are so thin and elegant and perfectly eatable. no fuss, just taste rush. that dish is goddamn stellar.

we had a seitan (say "Satan"--you know you want to) meatloaf or somesuch and that was kinda interesting in the way that fake meat always is. but it was kinda soggy. and the apple torte for dessert kinda tastes store-bought, so i wouldn't get that.

but go and do the pear for starters and the jerk for a main and you'll be really, really happy. it's byob; i recommend a bottle of Brooklyn Brown. it's also tiny, with the kitchen right in the same room, like no back area or nothin'. owned by a couple--Marc Solomon and Blue Grant, both of whom were there last night; awww how cute--and real intimate and stuff. do the jerk. do it! it's not like other jerk chicken, all messy and sloppy; that gritty stuff has its charms, but dig this too.


thanks to Time Out music honcho Mike Wolf for spinning my head around with a photocopy of this article--from this month's Atlantic Monthly; looks like you can't read the whole thing online--on anti-spam con artistry, i.e., folks who actually respond to those "I'm the widow of a Nigerian businessman and I will transfer $7 billion into yr account if you just give me the number" spams and then lead the spammers on absurd wild goose chases, wherein they might be asked to hand-copy pages out of Harry Potter, photograph themselves holding signs that say "I'm a retard" or--and this is severe--carve a replica of a Commodore 64 keyboard out of wood. you gotta dig into this...


besides the Sam Rivers fest, i'm listening to a lot of Graham Nash. he's maybe the second shadowy-est of the Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young crew, or maybe the third, depending on yr knowledge of Crosby. (or maybe just the most British...)

anyway, i like CSN&Y a shitload--can't find my damn copy of their s/t record--but i really connect w/ the Nash solo stuff even more. his 1971 album Songs for Beginners hits me hard; hadn't listened to it in years, but i dug it back out recently (ok, i freakin' downloaded it) and i'm there, i'm really back there.

where "there" is is my junior year of college. i went to Columbia and i lived in a dorm up on 116th between Broadway and Riverside. i made this very ill-fated attempt at trying to jog in Riverside Park every so often. i was going through kind of a shitty, depressed time and everyone's like, "You need to exercise," so i made myself miserable with that for a while before realizing that i despised the activity.

so i'd run in Riverside and i had this one tape i'd listen to over and over while jogging. it's a tape i'd made myself from two of my parents' records that i'd stolen: on one side was the Band's s/t "brown" album (which, as anyone who knows me well will tell you, became one of my absolute all-time favorites) and on the other was Songs for Beginners.

i honestly don't think i could have made it through even my brief jogging phase without Graham and his songs. simply put, this is what singer-songwriter music was always supposed to be. some of this stuff sounds hopelessly cheesy, but that's a precarious area, b/c one minute you're thinking something's cheesy and the next you're sobbing. i cried when i saw "Beaches," but this isn't that bottom of the barrel.

Nash is a sick songwriter. some of these tracks are pure jangly period folk-pop, like "Military Madness," but there are these few that really inspire me. Nash is no poet, but his sentiments hit me hard sometimes. "I Used to Be a King" especially. i remember getting to really tough parts of my runs and literally screaming along to this song, a few lines in particular: "Someone is gonna take my heart / No one is gonna break my heart again" and "It's alright / I'm ok / How are you?" (which is later retooled to read "It's alright / I'm ok / I wanna know how you are").

there's something about that sentiment ("I'm ok / How are you?"), just that turnaround that really gets me. when he's singing the song, Nash keeps coming to that, like he's been in therapy for some trauma and has to keep reminding himself that it's important to acknowledge others' feelings, to get out of your own head every once in a while and simply, genuinely ask someone else how they're doing. maybe you don't buy this, but i think you'll dig the song anyway...

I Used to Be a King

the other song that i really love is "There's Only One." this has this great journeying feeling, as if you're wandering into the song in medias res. just this ambling piano line, sort of a soul-ballad feel, a lot of "We"s in the lyrics. the verses chug along ("Can we say 'It's cool' from a heated pool?"), building up to this almost gospelish climax that kind of reminds me a little bit of Floyd's "Brain Damage," when it sort of opens up and the back-up singers come in ("If the dam breaks open many years too soon..."). i fucking hate that song (love Floyd, hate Dark Side), but Nash's tune does this right. you feel inspired when that chorus hits. it's a real catharsis. "When we all begin / To see the skin we're in / It's just the same / There's only one..." i just realized that this may be a civil-rights number. that's cool. it doesn't really matter b/c it's just a clear uplift.

There's Only One


i guess i've been consumed w/ boomer icons, but Joni. let's talk about Joni for just a sec, dip a toe. i'm scared to do this. i've been putting it off for awhile. a while back on the Paul Simon hagiography, i was talking about what "singer-songwriter" (or was it just "songwriter"?) meant to me. i'm talking about serious pop compositional chops. timeless stuff that you remember and that you don't feel stupid for doing so, i.e., stuff that deserves the unwieldy amount of space it takes up in yr head and heart. Joni is so so so that.

Blue i love; it's a great album. you probably know it well, so i'll spare ya. Court and Spark (1974) is the other biggie in the popular mind. i'm not sure it's better than Blue, maybe a little uneven. but these first two songs are slaying me, like real bad.

when i first heard "Help Me," i knew i'd heard it elsewhere and i just realized where. my bandmate, Tony, became weirdly obsessed with the Wynonna Judd version of this song a little while back, somehow convincing himself that it was a prog-rock track in disguise.

what it is, in Joni's version, is just the goddamn epitome of '70s-style singer-songwriter rock. breezy and jazzy, but so goddamn literate and virtuoso. just insanely pro, in the playing, the arrangement, the composition. i just get a feeling of a lot of people pushing themselves really hard when i hear this song, like songwriting and producing as manual labor or something. it's just such a pristine end product.

Mitchell's cadence is weightless, remarkable--just listen to the first verse how her voice flits over "when i get that crazy feeling..." and then slows down for an effortless superprecise triplet on "sweet-talkin' ladies man." each verse has its own idiosyncrasies like this marvel.

the sentiment is one of "i know i shouldn't but i am." a lot of Joni's songs are like this. as she portrays herself in her songs, she's a worryer sort of, but also a creature of impulse, afraid to venture out but just as afraid not to, or something. this is a deep song though, b/c both parties "love [their] freedom" equally; there's a lot of uncertainty. it's basically a game: two players sizing each other up. very '70s, very been-around-the-block, kind of a classy sleaziness. in the immortal words of Rick Astley, "We know the game and we're gonna play it." here it is...

Help Me

and the title track. whew. that's just super deep modern composition. is there anyone now who is writing songs like this now? could Joanna Newsom do something like this if she set her mind to it? i really, really don't know. it's so arty, but so compact. unlike Nash, Mitchell's melodic gift is matched by a true, chasm-deep poetic ability. these lyrics are just hugely intense.

"Love came to my door
With a sleeping roll
And a madman's soul
He thought for sure I'd seen him
Dancing up a river in the dark
Looking for a woman
To court and spark..."

again, there's this distrust of the shady male figure. but the piano on this one--whew. the performance has the poetry of jazz. i just can't believe how precise her vocals are, how reined in the technique is, but how unhinged it feels. the best Joni is like a laser. listen to how this one ends in this crazy open-ended way; extremely potent and unsettling.

Court and Spark

the Joni track that did it to me initially was "Coyote," but not the one from the Hejira album, but the Last Waltz version with, who else?, the freakin' Band.

they don't matter on this track though (or maybe they do... more on their role later). it's all about Joni. it's another song about a sort of doomed affair. here's the first verse...

No regrets Coyote
We just come from such different sets of circumstance
I'm up all night in the studios
And you're up early on your ranch
You'll be brushing out a brood mare's tail
While the sun is ascending
And I'll just be getting home with my reel to reel...
There's no comprehending...

can you imagine breaking up w/ someone b/c of lifestyle-incompatibility issues ("i'm a musician and i work at night and you're a rancher and you work during the day") and having your ex express that incompatibility in such a deftly poetic way? the whole song is basically like "this can't work for a hundred reasons; sorry, dude."

but Mitchell wants to give the improbability its due. she talks about the good times. in the second verse, the couple are in their salad days. they drive past a "tragedy," a farmhouse burning down; instead of stopping to help, they decide to go dancing at a roadhouse. "He's got a woman at home / He's got another woman down the hall / He seems to want me anyway..." -- so this guy's another one of Mitchell's "rambler and a gambler and sweet-talking ladies man" types. at the end of the verse, she slips into his voice: "Why'd you have to get so drunk and--lead me on that way?" and then she slides in a little chuckle. is she laughing at him? or is the Coyote the one laughing?

the song is a freeform chug. the Band (not really sounding like themselves at all) gives it this synthy miasma. listen to Garth's almost fruity keyboard tone. and there's this conga drums and such. it's just a very breezy, "pro"-sounding arrangement, not raggedy and Band-like at all, not in the least bit swampy. Robbie does some nice prickly, cheesily yearning Robbie-ish leads.

more portraiture re: this Coyote fella:

Coyote's in the coffee shop
He's staring a hole in his scrambled eggs
He picks up my scent on his fingers
While he's watching the waitresses' legs

(re: that last line, i think of the sleazeballs in the coffee shop in Short Cuts, checking out Lily Tomlin's ass.)

and in the previous verse, check this "p" alliteration:

Privately probing the public rooms
And peeking thru keyholes in numbered doors
Where the players lick their wounds
And take their temporary lovers
And their pills and powders to get them thru this passion play

so, so few could pull this off without sounding pretentious. Joni sounds steely; she's just like, "i'm superliterate and this is how i express myself; deal with it." this song is a fricking universe, an enigma, a magnum opus, a lexicon of relationships. i think this is really the best version:

Coyote (Joni Mitchell and the Band)

for an, in my opinion, far less rad, but still quite interesting version, check out this one which features not only Pat Metheny and Jaco Pastorius, but also some horrendously literal b-roll of an actual coyote. groan. anyway, compare these two versions: has there ever been a clearer contrast between the kind of virtuosity that serves a singer and a song (the Band, duh) and the kind that serves only itself, constantly grabbing at the spotlight? i'm sorry but the little jazzbo gimmick chords that Pastorius keeps throwing in are so intrusive; i'm sure Joni was down with this meddling, but it's just so damn smug. anyway, again, compare w/ the Band's Spartan reading:

god, i really must shut up and go to bed now. you probably think i'm going all soft with the Graham and the Joni and you're absolutely right. maybe more Paul soon? "Hearts and Bones"--it's a goddamn killer...

Wednesday, May 23, 2007


WKCR's Sam Rivers fest rolls on and continues to amaze. listen as much as you can here. high points for me thus far have been a scorching Rivers/Rashied Ali duo, the formidable Streams session, and a candid and funny George Lewis interview (plus a chance to listen to the awesome Contrasts album on ECM that teams Lewis w/ the regular Rivers trio of the '70s).

maybe my favorite thing so far though was the Jason Moran interview yesterday--he's a really smart and gracious guy. i loved revisiting Black Stars, his album from '01 that featured Rivers--beautiful stuff that i'd never really reckoned with before. an awesome aside Moran made at one point was that Jaki Byard was his musical father, while Andrew Hill and Sam Rivers were like his uncles. i guess he was taught by the first two and then collaborated w/ Rivers obviously. anyway, there's been a lot of talk during this fest about Byard, since he and Sam were in Boston together for a time--also Byard rules on Rivers's debut, Fuchsia Swing Song. made me realize that i'd never really seen footage of Byard, and lo, what did i uncover...

this is some very, very deep trio stuff from '65, almost like a suite. check out the insane tempo he sets at the beginning and the number of distinct moods he conjures. i feel like w/ Jaki, you listen more closely to the straightforwardly groovin' stuff b/c you know that he could subvert that mood at any moment. wondrous stuff.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

More Longstreth: Mass Projection

this is my 101st post--um, yay!

thanks mucho to John for alerting me to the availability of newly minted Dirty Projectors tunes, recorded live for the Daytrotter Sessions thingie. caught this lineup in March and it splattered me into pixels (as reported here).

dig "New New Attitude" in particular. the drummer will have to pardon me--i've met him but cannot remember his name. nevertheless i've said before and will say again that having only seen him play twice, he is one of my favorite active drummers. total metal brutality and bombast aligned with ass-owning four-on-the-floor thump.

as for the overall sound, it's telling that these mp3s segued right into Don Caballero's American Don on my iTunes and it made perfect sense. guitars like sparkly stars + drums like sandbags heaved at your chest = the future.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Formative Angel

easily the best YouTube tidbit i've seen recently...

a video of a Morbid Angel rehearsal from 1990! really strange setup--pretty much looks like they're inhabiting a storage facility or somesuch. guitarists are all outdoors and then they've got drummer Pete Sandoval indoors in the dark. pretty incredible.

check out at 3:30 or so when the song (it's "Immortal Rites," the classic lead track from "Altars of Madness") breaks down and David Vincent (bass) is like, "Pete, what are you doin, man?" apparently Sandoval speeds up when he's not supposed to. then Vincent says to Trey (Azagthoth, guitar), "If he wants to play fast, let's see how fast he can play." some diabolical interband politics right there, i tell you.

anyway, imagine it: Tampa, 1990. that right there is the fucking cradle of civilization for death metal!

(anyone heard any news on the new Morbid record? they're supposedly recording w/ Vincent for the first time since the mid-'90s, and i guess Erik Rutan of Hate Eternal is playing live w/ the band again? hope he shows up on the record. he wrote some of my favorite songs on Dominate. "Nothing But Fear," anyone?)

Sam-urai // 1000 Herz

my blogging caesurae have been pretty much inexcusable so i won't even start up w/ trying to justify them. i hope everyone is having a good monsoon season.

so what are the haps? two of the main ones are these happily concurrent festivals occurring in our fair city. you've got to know about the Sam Rivers festival. this is important stuff. get thee to WKCR immediately for nonstop Rivers till next Friday. the fest culminates in a performance by Rivers, Dave Holland and Barry Altschul, i.e. 3/4 of "Conference of the Birds," a helluva jazz record.

tuned in tonight as Laal and i were taking a long rainy drive up to Tarrytown for some housewarming activities. "Conference" was spun, as was--and this is pretty rad--all of the Rivers Blue Notes. much like the Andrew Hill Blue Notes or the Don Cherry Blue Notes, the Rivers ones are part of that incredible inside-outside strata of the label's output; that really fucking edgy and wired stuff that also has a mile-wide orderliness streak or somesuch. just beautifully arranged and pro-recorded as all hell. "Fuchsia Swing Song" is undoubtedly the one to get. surely one of the finest BNs of them all. "Contours" is very killing too; it's a more elaborate date and the writing is a bit more fleshed out, though one undoubtedly misses Tony Williams and Jaki Byard from the earlier sesh.

we also got "A New Conception," which is this incrediby upbeat and just life-loving session from '66 where Rivers does standards. when folks talk about inside-outside, this is kind of the epitome in a way, b/c it's familiar formally but it's just got this adventuresome, color-outside-the-lines spirit as well. Steve Ellington drums tremendously on this, as he does on the following sesh, "Dimensions and Extensions." that's even more lush than "Contours," a large band featuring the great James Spaulding on alto and Julian Priester on trombone.

wish those damn Mosaic sets didn't kick the bucket so quickly, but that Rivers set is indispensable. second only to the Hill box in most spun for me. so yeah, we got to dig those Blue Notes with a little typically great discourse by Phil Schaap (who w/ typically superhuman memory recalled the date of the recording of "Conference of the Birds" as a particularly rainy Monday. this was in '72 mind you...). gotta hand it to WKCR, man, for doing this festival when Rivers is still alive. those memorial broadcasts are the shit, but there is no time like the present to hand it to big Sam. please do tune in and i'll see you at the show Friday!


also being celebrated is the great documentary work of Werner Herzog. Film Forum is totally crashing the backboard on this one: an astounding range of shit; makes me wish i could camp out there for weeks. (it's like three weeks or something...) these damn fests stress me the hell out b/c i want to attend so much but w/ work and extracurriculars it's just so damn hard to make it to the movies any other time than a Saturday afternoon, and so many of them are one day only and aw man, it's a tough life... like the Altman fest at IFC a little while back, i've got the whole damn thing in my datebook and i'm gonna try to get there as often as possible.

like i've said on here before, i'm generally down for anything Herzog, but i much much much prefer his documentaries to his fiction dealios. to me it's much easier to admire a movie like Aguirre or Fitzcarraldo than to actually enjoy it. i'm kind of a documentary nut to begin w/ but there's something about Herzog's nonfiction that just sits right--it's just the right amount of entertaining and affecting. and his presence in the films--the wonderful stark sensitivity of the narration--is really welcome. you miss him in the features, you know?

and what about his subjects? man, there is absolutely no one on earth w/ a better nose for goddamn news than this guy. think about these unbelievable scenarios he unearths: Grizzly Man (duh!), The White Diamond (about a guy flying a home-built dirigible over the jungle), Wodaabe: Herdsmen of the Sun (about an unbelievably strange mating ritual among an African tribe)... hell, even My Best Fiend (which chronicles Herzog's perversely symbiotic relationship w/ Klaus Kinski). it seems like he hasn't made a doc about anything that isn't absolutely outlandish and/or incredible and/or just riveting.

once he finds these rather sensational premises though, he kinda lets things be, lets the events speak for themselves, lets the participants kinda work through what's gone on. that's something i really figured out today while watching the double feature of Little Dieter Needs to Fly and Wings of Hope: many of Herzog's docs are really a kind of therapy for their subjects and for the filmmaker.

like the dude in The White Diamond, who's returning to flying after one of his friends was killed in one of his homemade machines, and like Herzog himself in My Best Fiend, who revisits the sites of his most bitter rows w/ Kinski, the people in Little Dieter and Wings of Hope are returning to places of terrible trauma after many, many years. with Herzog filming, they're essentially re-enacting their ordeals, retracing their anguish.

in the beginning of Little Dieter, Herzog talks about this whole idea that there are people out there living "normal" lives who have survived some intense trauma and how he's fascinated w/ how they cope. it's amazing how both the subjects of these movies, Dieter Dengler (that's him above), who survived horrible tortures in a Laotian prison camp during Vietnam, and Julianne Koepke, who lived through a two-mile fall after she was thrown from a crashing plane and wandered through the jungle for over a week before she was rescued, come across as incredibly well-adjusted.

in revisiting their trauma, there's no fear. in fact there's a lot of humor. Koepke is all smiles as she imitates the weird wheezing of a jungle bird, a sound which she remembers hearing during her ordeal and which helped her navigate. and Dengler is just an amazingly vigorous man, almost weirdly positive. he seems to have no darkness in him whatsoever. just seeing the house where he lived in San Francisco after retiring from the service: it's such an open, airy place, with this amazing kitchen and tons of light. he's an infectious guy. the look on his face in the photos from right after he was rescued is one of the purest expressions of joy that i've ever seen.

you've got to wonder what Herzog's getting out of all this too. he's drawn to these survivor types. he seems to feed off this trauma. like remember in Grizzly Man how he sits there onscreen and actually listens to the tape recording of Tim Treadwell being eaten by the bear? he says to Treadwell's girlfriend something like "You must never listen to this." but you know that he could've never stopped himself. there's something perverse about that trait, and thus all of Herzog's docs have kind of a voyeuristic thing going on.

but he's also all about finding the beauty, the abstraction in these tales. i loved how in Wings of Hope he took frequent detours to discuss Koepke's career as a biologist, or how in Little Dieter there were these awesome shots of Dengler strolling through the village where he was born during Christmastime. it's these moments that show you what respect Herzog has for his subjects; no tabloid portrait of these sorts of events would ever bother to show you the person behind the freak accident. he's interested not just in these people's misfortunes, but in how these experiences have shaped them as people, and in the case of Dengler and Koepke, how these people have moved on. i think he just loves the idea of human resilience, of the juxtaposition of the most extreme moments of life with the most mundane and how people cope with that static.

these movies obviously reminded me a lot of of Keep the River on Your Right, which i discussed here, along with My Best Fiend. Keep the River... is another movie about coming back to a past life you thought you'd left behind. it's a formulaic thing, but it's always going to be poignant, that idea of reckoning, of confronting your ghosts. most people get this stuff out on the couch, but Herzog's subjects exorcise on film.


ah yes, free music... thought i'd give you a tidbit apiece from two of my favorite '07 albums: Mirrored, by Battles; and Hope for Men, by Pissed Jeans. the latter ain't out yet, and i ain't sayin' much on either b/c i just ain't yet (be patient), but these tracks speak for themselves. totally diverse and totally awesome.

Battles - Rainbow (talk about your incredibly journey...)

Pissed Jeans - Secret Admirer (fuck. yes.)


thanks to Laal, i saw Kindergarten Cop for the first time too today. man, Richard Tyson sure is a terrible actor. i'm the world's biggest Three O' Clock High fan, but he's not called upon to be anything other than a stone-faced bully there; here, his portrayal of "Crisp" is laughable from note one. Arnie's expressions of anguish during the first day in the classroom are pretty hilarious as is the following line, my fave of all the cute-kid-isms that riddle the film: Arnie brings his pet ferret into the classroom and one kid goes, "Whoa, what happened to your dog?!?" loved that.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Chronic Dylan // Visit to Beirut // Patty cake

harder and harder to find time to write on here, i'm sorry to say. that inertia thing can be deadly. but here i am and i hope you are still here too...

certain artists are like poles of gravity for me. after i add someone to my pantheon, they're sort of always there, like i'll get really, really into them for a short period and just binge and then maybe abandon them for awhile, but i know i'll be back. you can't exhaust folks like John Fahey, Andrew Hill, Booker Little.

i don't really know how i ended up back on my 8000th or so Bob Dylan kick. i think it had something to do with the Paul Simon kick, which got me thinking about the real all-time-greats who transcended genre and reached millions. this led to a brief detour into Electric Miles land (a place i have to visit every so often to remind myself what the future sounds like) and a visit with Joni Mitchell (checked out "Court and Spark," which i'd never really reckoned with, and found it to rule completely).

i started digging into "Time Out of Mind," which i'd had in my collection forever, but which had never really made too much sense to me. this time it hit me right; i love the atmosphere, the stylized brooding that Lanois helped him achieve. i've noticed that the Dylan stuff over the past few years contains a shit ton of throwaway lyrics (i always laugh when i hear him croak, "The air burns" on "I Can't Wait"), but i really admire the songwriting. it's funny how even though Dylan seems to have basically lost the ability to sing melodically, his songs seem more tuneful and lushly melodic than ever. i'm thinking of something like "Not Dark Yet," which is just a gorgeous tune any way you slice it and should become a modern standard in my opinion.

so i was listening to that and then i started noticing Dylan's "Chronicles" memoir on my shelf. Laal and i had finished "Franny and Zooey" (a tiny miracle of a book) and were going to move on to E.L. Doctorow's "The Book of Daniel" (which i'd had forever and feel i should check out), but the Dylan kept calling on me. sorry if this is too much info, but whenever it came time to select bathroom reading, i'd always pick up "Chronicles," and whenever i had a free moment to read, i'd always yearn for that even though i was supposed to be on the Doctorow trail.

but after like a day, i knew i wasn't going to be able to hold off, so i asked Laal if she'd be cool trading up, and she was. so now i'm back into "Chronicles," and i'm thinking to myself that yeah, maybe this is one of my favorite books ever, and perhaps very easily my favorite music book.

i devoured the thing when it first came out, but i have a really really bad memory for books. which can be kind of a cool thing b/c if i reread a book i love it's like i get the joy of rediscovering it. (extra points to DFSBP readers who caught the allusion to Journey's "Faithfully" in that last sentence.) but this one is a goddamn motherfucker, i tell you.

how can i express this... it's basically like this: Bob Dylan is obviously a fearsome literary talent. we all knew that. he's also famously charismatic, witty, cryptic, etc. in short, a fascinating legend/all time great with a huge command of how to use words effectively. but, and this is the real kicker for me with this book, did anyone ever think that he'd just come right out and reveal so much about himself and his process in such a gloriously straightforward (yet wonderfully eccentric) and accessible way?

if you've seen "Don't Look Back," you know that Dylan has 8 million ways of deflecting practical questions about his life and his process--not to mention basically ridiculing anyone unsavvy enough to ask. (and indeed in the opening section of "Chronicles," he tells about falsifying his life story when he's being interviewed for his label bio.) i guess the big question is why did he decide to come out and talk so plainly? the world owes his editor/publisher a huge, huge debt, b/c this is "portrait of the artist as a young man" memoir of the highest, most insightful order.

now i'm only 100 pages into this second encounter with the book, but i find it like murderously insightful. it's like being near a constantly humming electric current or something. as Dylan says at one point, it's a narrative of his "mind [being] on fire." sure it's a romantic and somewhat hackneyed story, him coming from the Midwest to NYC to become a star. but his drive is so insatiable and his process and perspective so unusual that it's as if this story has never been told before.

overall, you get this sense of intense research, like Dylan put himself on this merciless regimen of feeding his brain all this stuff which he'd draw upon later. there's a passage where he's just gushing over his friend's library, where he read Thucydides, Byron, Albertus Magnus, etc., and i'm not sure if i've ever read such a beautiful meditation on the joys of reading. Dylan confronts these texts head on. he's awed by many of them, but he's not afraid to discard ones he finds useless. of Magnus, he says, "[He] seemed like a guy who couldn't sleep, writing this stuff late at night, clothes stuck to his clammy body" (which could double as a pretty much spot-on description of my blogging).

there's also a really amazing and telling dis of "On the Road." he talks about how that book was basically his bible when he set out from home, but that now "that character Moriarty seemed out of place, purposeless--seemed like a character who inspired idiocy." damn, talk about changing of the guard (i'll get that later...). along those lines, he says of the advent of atonal music and abstract painting that "I would look at all this stuff for what it was worth and not one cent more."

this is just a wondrous portrayal of a discerning lust for knowledge. he learns a ton of folksongs, but he's also just about heading over to the public library to audidactify himself. he's obsessed with history, fixating especially on the Civil War; he insinuates that that period holds the key to unlocking how to be an American artist. here's a really great expression of this fascination with the past:

"The madly complicated modern world was something i took little interest in. It had no relevancy, no weight. I wasn't seduced by it. What was swinging, topical and up to date for me was stuff like the Titanic sinking, the Galveston flood, John Henry driving steel, John Hardy shooting a man on the West Virginia line. All this was current, played out and in the open. This was the news that I considered, followed and kept tabs on."

(isn't that use of "played out" above kind of weird? obviously he doesn't mean it in the sense of passe, but more like the opposite.)

but the upshot of all this is that Dylan portrays himself as a kind of information squirrel: "I crammed my head full of as much of this stuff as I could stand and locked it away in my mind out of sight, left it alone. Figured I could send a truck back for it later."

anyone who's ever heard "Desolation Row" knows that this is so not bullshit. He was drawing on a real trove when he wrote songs like that and this is a painstaking document of how he stocked it. Fucking invaluable to anyone who is serious about the process of constructing art.

that quote above re: how Dylan was more engaged with the past than w/ the present (not to mention the ones expressing wariness re: certain texts and movements) is evidence that a lot of this is a statement of staunch against-the-grain-ness. Dylan discusses his classic break with the folk movement and compares it to Miles Davis's break with jazz. if you've read Miles's memoir, it's impossible not to see the constant parallels with "Chronicles." basically in these two tomes, you're dealing with volumes one and two of what it means to be an American musician.

what i mean by this is folks who came out of a very particular idiom, learned its ins and outs, mastered it, revolutionized it and ultimately, transcended it completely and were vilified by the idiom even as they were embraced as citizens of the world. as is driven home by these tomes, Dylan and Davis's careers are remarkably parallel, right down to each's various artistic dead-ends and sound critical drubbings for "straying from the course."

anyway, "Chronicles" is essential. i challenge you to name another narrative on the production of art that's this lucid, insightful and truthfully, useful.

speaking of artistic dead-ends and critical drubbings, there's this huge long period of Dylan output (namely the '70s and '80s) that's basically dismissed, ridiculed and ignored. people always smirk and cite "the Christian years" and talk about how great "Blood on the Tracks" and the tune "Hurricane" are and then sort of move on. for some reason now he's back in critical favor and can do no wrong, though i find a lot of "Modern Times" to be pleasant and charming, but also kind of tedious and boring.

basically what i'm saying is that there a ton of Dylan albums *they* don't want you to know about. a lot of the stuff from these years is weird as hell (you "Big Lebowski" fans can attest to that; "The Man in Me," anyone?) and some of it is right crappy, but some of it can blow you away and can seem even more urgent than the classics. like this gem here, from "Street-Legal," released in 1978:

Changing of the Guard

dig the insistent beat and infectious, complex melody. there is a ton of heart in this one and a fair amount of acid. one thing that '70s Dylan can give you that the earlier stuff doesn't always have is this real intense, almost rueful bitterness. think of "Idiot Wind" or the version of "Baby Let Me Follow You Down" from "The Last Waltz." this one isn't as scathing as those, but it has a similar sense of sort of singing through the driving rain.

and this one from "Planet Waves"

Going, Going, Gone

well this is just a goddamn devastating ballad, would be very comfy on "Blood on the Tracks," methinks. another one that really should be a modern standard. he's playing with the Band here (hail), so look out for Robbie's blistering obbligato.


and thank you to Laal for taking me to see Beirut at Bowery on Monday. woulda never done that on my own (i'm stubbornly and pointlessly allergic to buzz bands) and i woulda been dumb, b/c this band is really something. poignant, moving and exuberant. the kind of music that can really transport you. i can't imagine anyone leaving that concert unhappy. Zach Condon's got a great voice and the songs are really beautiful, but what really makes the band is this remarkable mini-orchestra of talented young players he's got. they make a seriously joyful noise (like Nino Rota meets the Smiths or something?). i've seen a million bands step off the stage and play a few numbers amid the crowd, but when Beirut did it at the end of the show, it was like a revelation, like a serious "music's gonna make everything ok vibe." dunno if i'm that keen on hearing the record, but i'd recommend the live show to anyone w/ a pulse. some viddy of the Sunday night NYC show is here, and the lovefest vibe is definitely captured.

opening act Final Fantasy ripped rather hard too. just a dude w/ a violin, but he stacked up these crazy loops and so he was basically singing over a whole string orchestra. very virtuosic and impressive stuff, which reminded me how classically informed shredding is becoming more and more the norm in indie rock. (think of Joanna Newsom.)


also L and i have been continuing our "docs about crazy people doing fucked-up shit" viewing series and the consensus is that you must see "Guerilla: The Taking of Patty Hearst." it's incredibly fucked up and endlessly morally convoluted true-life tales like these that make me never want to waste time on a fiction film ever again. this movie features a goddamn brutal juxtaposition of Patty sort of walking away from the whole incident like some starlet, while her Symbionese Liberation Army brethren are left with lifelong scars, not to mention death or serious jail time. shocking, baffling and quintessentially American happenings, for sure. check out the part where she disses and ditches her fiance via satellite; can't think of a darker, colder scenario.

Friday, May 04, 2007

Zoo story // The Paul in the parka

Laal and i saw "Zoo" tonight. i went with some trepidation. i had heard about it in Time Out (whoa, a bestiality doc!) and of course that seed was planted: i was totally intrigued. as with serial killers, or any other perversely fascinating subject, i usually just keep digging until i get scared off.

but some Googling i did on the, uh, topic this movie deals with made me ill and uncomfortable for a good half a day recently, so i wasn't sure it'd be a good idea to check the thing out. i'm worried about that whole thing of images you can't shake, thresholds you can't uncross, etc.

anyway, was it a disturbing film? in some ways yes. the death at the center of the film--a Washington man died of internal bleeding after having sex with a horse--is extremely disturbing and sad. but it's harder to know what to feel about the actual zoophilia.

the movie has an extremely strange and at times frustrating style. basically its entire visual content is reenactments of events being narrated by various participants. you hear a lot from the ranch hand at the farm where all this stuff took place, from a few of the men who went to his zoophile gatherings there and from the "horse rescuer" who takes possession of the animals in the midst of all the uproar.

the film is overwhelmingly visual and abstract. if you're going into it looking for a clear narrative, a clear sequence of events, any sort of step-by-step logic, you'll be bummin'. the content of the narration wanders; it may skirt the issue for long periods or avoid it entirely, only to snap back into focus with a really startling comment about horses mounting people or somesuch.

i've never been a huge fan of Errol Morris and the film's superstylized reenactments and images really reminded me of him. but somehow i was able to get over that. the movie has an extremely intoxicating beauty. there are images that i won't be forgetting for awhile: men walking through a corridor of purple-flowered trees; figures huddled around a TV in a dark living room watching the moon landing; an illuminated digital clock seen on a car dashboard at night. it's just a lot of pictures, like visualized thoughts or something. the images can get too literal at times--like when one of characters says goodbye to his mother at the beginning--but other times, they're just perfect, like the aerial shots of the Seattle skyline and the rural land around where the incident happened.

it's a sad movie. it's weird, but you feel for the zoos who've been outed as such and have to abandon their lifestyle. i would read the movie not so much as being pro-zoophilia, but as being pro-tolerance. the horse rescuer comes across not as villainous, but as somewhat bitter and judgmental. the scene where one of the horses is castrated at the end is nauseating and deeply troubling. it seems to suggest that castrating a horse is far more inhumane than having sex with one.

god knows what i think about all this. i guess i'm just really curious how someone who didn't live on a farm or otherwise have consistent contact with animals would gravitate toward this lifestyle. one of the participants, who goes by the name Coyote and actually portrays himself in the reenactments, came to Washington from a small coal-mining town. apparently it was internet browsing that first gave him ideas. i suspect that's the way it was for a lot of these folks. there's a really poignant yet creepy scene where the ranch hand is talking about how he didn't know that what he did was called zoophilia, or that there were other people into this sort of thing, until he got on the internet in 2002. (he claims to have not been on since.)

as for what is shown and what isn't, i'll just say that the film is sporadically graphic. the images skirt the issue the same way the narrative does. there's all kinds of weird puzzle pieces to the case that don't quite fit. there's a lengthy interview with one of the policemen involved where he talks about confronting death in several sitations and nearly breaks down, but he barely mentions the case in question. and there's some really weird stuff about how the man who died apparently did some top-secret weapons-engineering work for Boeing.

the music is chiming, at times oppressive--really, really melancholy and piano heavy. there's just this feeling of haziness and sadness and solemn weight that pervades the movie and you sense that for the filmmaker, Robinson Devor, it has to do with the ending of this idyllic scenario the zoos have created, like their Eden is crumbling or something. i can definitely see why some folks have been accusing him of sympathizing overly with these folk. they come across as creepy but sane. there's a lot of talk about "why does doing this make me a bad person?" and all this. it's interesting, b/c there are plenty of horrific acts that would immediately classify someone who had performed them as an unequivocally bad person, but the film really asks you to ponder whether bestiality is one of them.

without getting too graphic, Rush Limbaugh actually carries the day with his quote about how it's ludicrous to say that the animals hadn't consented when they were the ones who were mounting the men, not the other way around. i guess for some people, that would seem like a completely inconsequential detail, but it seems relevant somehow. anyway, i'd recommend this; the movie may not give you the clear narrative of this peculiar tragedy that you're looking for, but it will make you think and feel for sure.


i'm sorry to Paul Simon for discussing him in the same post as zoophilia, but speaking of thinking and feeling, try this clip of him singing "American Tune":

this completely kils me. i keep coming back to the idea that Paul Simon is my favorite songwriter. "songwriter" is a weird term. when i use it i'm referring to a specific thing; it sounds stupid, but it has to be someone who takes him/herself seriously as such, who knows about sophisticated chords, who studies the practice as a science, who cares about poetry and who cares, most of all, about reaching a lot of people. i guess you're not a songwriter till you're an international superstar. sounds dumb, but in my parlance, it's kinda true.

i love Paul Simon for a million reasons. "American Tune" gets at maybe the thing i love most about him, which is that he is very, very honest about malaise. it's maybe even his most pressing theme. he talks about people who are fucked up and in some cases psychotic, who are confronting really ugly truths about themselves. people don't think of him this way; he's thought of as some fey '60s troubadour ("Feelin' Groovy," anyone?), but he's one of the deepest poets of alienation i know.

i love the line "i don't have a friend who feels at ease," in "American Tune." it seems to be about some sort of generational malaise, much in the spirit of the Elvis Costello line "Some of my friends sit around every evening and they worry about the times ahead..." (from "Radio Radio"). i just love this idea of a society of weighty consciences, of worry, of stirred-up thoughts. or rather, i don't love it, but i feel it to be true.

"Still Crazy After All These Years," an absolutely stunning song. a scary song. an elliptical song. "I met my old lover on the street last night...": so far, so nostalgic, but what about the guy at the end who "fear[s] [he'll] do some damage one fine day"? it seems to be about someone burning out, not living up to his potential or the wild dreams he once had, but what if it's an implication of insanity, of him actually being a harmful person?

and the bridge, talk about scary, ominous, true, sad: "Four in the morning / Crapped out, yawning / Longing my life away / I'll never worry / Why should I? / It's all gonna fade." i'm sorry but that's devastating.

my favorite Paul Simon album is the self-titled one from '72, which will henceforth be referred to as "the parka album" for obvious reasons. it's his first solo record and these days, it's overshadowed by a great many things: Simon and Garfunkel will always be the prevailing impression people have of Simon, unless they're younger and it's Graceland. those are the bookends with him and everything else is just details seemingly.

and if people know this album at all, they know it for the singles, "Mother and Child Reunion" and "Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard." they're great songs, no doubt, but somewhat unsubtle when compared to the quiet, devastating sophistication of the rest of the album.

"Duncan" is a beautiful, somewhat surreal and eerie ballad that everyone should hear. "Run that Body Down," about--surprise!--an unidentified feeling of malaise, is somewhat feverish and woozy, much like its subject. "Armistice Day" is intricate, quizzical, complex, oddly exuberant. "Hobo's Blues" is gemlike, with an aw-shucks blue-collar-poetry feel ("Detroit, Detroit / They got a hell of a hockey team / They got a left-handed way of makin' a man / Sign up on that automotive dream), but maybe my favorite is "Peace Like a River."

this is a song of deep. ambiguous longing. it has a quality of something wondered at and mourned simultaneously. "You can beat us with wires / You can beat us with chains / You can run out your roles but you know you can't outrun the history train / I seen a glorious day...." i cannot do this justice, but please listen:

Peace Like a River

this next one, "Everything Put Together Falls Apart," is also a favorite. it's got this sort of meandering structure, linear rather than cyclical, that Simon seems fond of. "American Tune" has this to: no real chorus, just steady momentum. this is kind of a preachy (anti-drug) song in a sense but listen to the way it accrues momentum, starting out like a wisp of smoke and then eventually taking on this weird, uneasy ramble:

Everything Put Together Falls Apart

i can't recommend this album highly enough. i have called like 80 different albums my favorite of all time, but i'd have to say i think it's between this, Craw's "Lost Nation Road," Andrew Hill's "Point of Departure" and maybe the Band's s/t album. for a long while, i didn't like the last track on the Simon, "Congratulations," but one day it struck me that i just didn't get it. i realized that i loved it and that the album was a perfect one.

a lot of people seem to be coming back to Paul Simon (i remember John had a cool roundup of Graceland accolades a while back), and they should be doing so. do not be afraid of him. he is one of the most straight-talking music makers there ever has been. if you just know "Mother and Child" and "Me and Julio," you do NOT know the "parka" album! please check out all of the parka album!