1. Been a while. We realize that, and there are various excuses we could proffer, but we won’t bother. Suffice to say, we’re sorry. But time flies. Been receiving much good stuff. Have even written some of it up here and there, but in truth, there’s a book that came out a while back which we wanted to review. But it was such a long, horrible slog to get through the thing, we were totally thrown off our game. It took actual physical months to read the bastard, and we were so fucking upset by the very idea of evaluating it when we were done, we considered giving up reading FOREVER. Since reading and writing are linked at the hip ‘n nip, well…you get the idea. That book is Through the Eyes of Magic (Proper Books) by John “Drumbo” French.
On one hand, the book has an insane amount of new detail about the machinations and evolution of almost everyone involved with Capt. Beefheart & the Magic Band, and that’s good. French was in many of the group’s line-ups, and he interviewed pretty much everybody, except Jeff Cotton and Don himself, neither of whom speak to him.
Beginning long before the Magic Band came into existence, the book tells the saga of the early ’60s high desert rock scene, then goes into the saga of Beefheart-proper in staggering detail—pretty much gig-by-gig and session-by-session (excepting the years French was out of the band in the early ‘70s). The legends surrounding Beefheart’s creative process have already been pretty well debunked by now. Indeed, the privations the band endured were common knowledge by the time Trout Mask Replica turned 25 in 1994. French, however, has the inside track. And that’s fine. But it’s clear his publisher decided at some point to exercise absolutely no editorial oversight, all but destroying the book’s worth to anyone excepting the most fact-crazed Beefheart fan. And that’s bad. The book is full of digressions, pointless personal anecdotes, whiny chest-thumping, repetitions, Christian bullshit, and is organized in a discursive format we found maddening. At one point, French comments, “I don’t think that will make it past the editor,” and we can only groan and wish someone had seen fit to liberally red-line this unwieldy 864 page opus. With a complete re-write, Eyes could have been a fine book at a third of its current length. As it is, it’s a mess, albeit a perversely compelling one. The facts and photographs add substantially to our working knowledge of the Magic Band’s history, but man, getting through this monster was about as much fun as french-kissing a duck. And to cap it all off (SPOILER ALERT), French gets himself exorcised at the end of the book, loudly barfing Beefheart’s evil mojo straight out his mouth. What the fuck was Kris Needs smoking when he blurbed this book so positively? Kris?
2. Not too long ago, we made the drive down to Maxwell’s in Hoboken to see When Giants Walked the Earth, a brilliant one-man show put together by Andy Shernoff. Although he was very mean to rock writers in the course of the evening, it was still funny as hell. Shernoff’s personal history is pretty rich. He went to grade school with Johnny Thunders, hit high school with the Fleshtones, ran the legendary Teenage Wasteland Gazette fanzine when he was in college, and founded the Dictators in ’73. The Dictators were a band whose aesthetic (cars, girls, surfing, beer) was immediately embraced by Sandy Pearlman and Richard Meltzer (among others). The band was signed to Epic before they’d played a singe live gig and uh…well, you should listen to Shernoff tell the rest. Andy has done lotsa stuff, from producing Joey Ramone’s solo LP, to touring the UK with the Stranglers at the height of the Gobbing Era, and even opening for Rush in Atlanta—which is not the least incongruous of the Dics’ early live pairings. He told excellent stories and interspersed them with acoustic versions of his songs. From “Master Race Rock” (whose opening lines—“Hippies are squares with long hair/And they don’t wear no underwear”—sounds exquisite in this format) to “Baby Let’s Twist,” the tunes smoked.
Shernoff’s gonna be back working with his current band, The Master Plan, for the next few months, but he promises more of these solo shows ‘fore long, and you would be a goddamn square to miss an opportunity to glom the wit and wisdom of the man who wrote so many immortal tunes.
3. Steve Lowenthal first appeared on the scene in NYC as the editor of Swingset, which was a fairly boss fanzine. Unfortunately, Lowenthal-the-man sometimes reminded me of Terry Southern‘s great short story, “You’re Too Hip, Baby.” Lately, though, Steve has returned to school and he recently visited to do some interviews for his thesis work on John Fahey. He was a changed man, in our estimation, and he has also embarked on producing a very cool series of solo acoustic guitar records for the Vin Du Select Qualitee label. The first volume is by Joshua Emery Blatchey, a California-based dude who plays in Mountain Home with Greg Weeks and Marissa Nadler. On this LP Joshua plays very much in the American Primitive tradition, evoking Epstein-Barr-era Fahey as well as anyone this side of Terry Robb.
Volume Two is by Mark McGuire, the steroid-drunk baseball player who founded the band Emeralds soon after he left the major leagues. On this solo set, Mark’s playing has some of the same kosmiche moves as his work with Emeralds, but the tools are stripped down to guitar and pedals, so the smoke glows with a distinctly volky quality, a la certain periods of Ash Ra Temple, Popol Vuh and others. McGuire unpeels notes and lets them pile up in shimmering coils, awaiting trans-substantiation through listening. Nice trope. Volume Three documents work by the brilliant journeyman, Chris Brokaw.
Chris’s take on the project is the most song-like of the three. His pieces are shorter, generally more evolved melodically, but still simple, stark & lovely. They also take some unexpected stylistic turns (as on the percussive “Undrum”), and pleasure is the sweet result.
4. Not sure how we missed this for so long, but the From Tapes & Throats LP by Ludo Mich & Blood Stereo (Giant Tank) is a woggle-fest that won’t let you down. Mich is a Fluxus-related sound artist from the depths of the Low Country underground who has been active from the ’60s onward. Blood Stereo is this hideous coupling of Dylan Nyoukis and Karen Constance, and the racket the three create when gathered in a single lump is inelegant, malformed and harmful to aesthetic health. That said, the album is a gas. One side’s live, the other was recorded by Ludo at home, then sent to Brighton, where the Bloody Duo fucked with it until it squoke. The sonics are relatively sane (inside the given parameters) and this will flow past yr ears like a river of steaming tapioca. Also more recent than several diseases we could name is Nyoukis’s solo LP, Inside Wino Lodge (No Fun).
Again, this is less gibberous than you might expect, and is a nearly-beautiful melange of brillo’ed electronics and vocals, weeviling into occasional acoustic drones, and trying to surge underneath everything like blood clots. Something like the Three Stooges trying to take a serious whack at the Angus Maclise songbook with tuned shovels or something.
Also, very nice to have an easily available domestic issue of an LP by thee great insane couple of the sound-art field—Kommisar Hjuler and Mama Baer, Amerikanische Poesie und Alkoholismus (Feeding Tube).
One side is a demented collage of detourned concrete-poetry first collected by Jean-Francois Bory, the flip is Mama doing her craziest ode to hard-core drunkness. Quite a goddamn thing.
5. Lush haze harmonic choir noise gush is explored with deep night dream tone by Gitche-Anahmi-Bezheu on a couple of tapes. G-A-B is led by the fellow who runs the Rotifer cassette label out of Gainseville FLA. His Rotifer release Mahpiya Ska In: Guide To Nowhere Plateau is amazing long trail flow and the perfect soundtrack to hashish burning on a punk rock pin. As is his split cassette with the mighty Body Morph on the EXBX label.
6. There is something especially intoxicating about Scandinavian underground psych. The early ’70s in Sweden and elsewhere seem like a particularly interesting melting pot of elements, with free jazz, middle-eastern musics, mystical-folk, avant-rock and other strands wrapping themselves around each other like some kinda big dread ponytail or something. Anyway, one of the more legendary, well-known and long-collected labels of this scene is the Swedish Silence concern. Trad Gras & Stennar, Algarnas Tradgard, International Harvester, Samlas Mammas Manna, Turid, Philemon Arthur & the Dung, and many more smoky favorites recorded for the label in the day, and we’ve been tracking this shit for two decades now. But one piece that has always eluded capture is the sole album by Handgjort. Full of extended acoustic work-outs in the deep-hippie-visits-India tradition, the album had all individually hand-made sleeves, and the few copies that have appeared on lists over the years all seemed a tad overpriced. Anyway, the excellent news in that Silence (which is still going) joined forces with Psykofon to reissue the Handgjort album and then some.
There’s a whole second LP of live jams from a Swedish festival, a great booklet detailing the entire band saga, and the 2LP version even has a handmade cover of its own. There’s also a CD version for those who prefer convenience to aesthetics, but either way, the sounds are top notch acoustic raga-hunch aktion from the frozen north. Pull on yr blonde wig, pack a bowl and roll…
7. A recent show that blew all attending asses out of the water was a short gig by a Cambridge UK duo known as The Doozer.
The Doozer actually seems to be one guy, and his playing partner is called Ben, but never you mind. Anyway, they have a new LP out on Siltbreeze called Great Explorers (the CD is on the UK Pickled Egg label) and it is a gas and a pleasure of great dimensions. The lazy man’s way to review it to call it a bridge between Syd B and Chris Knox, carrying all the weird damage and superb left field pop motion that implies. The earlier single, “Conversations/Stone Houses” (Doozer Industries) carried whiffs that are fully explored hereon. There is also an earlier LP on Pickled Egg, Sheet Music. We can’t lie and claim we’ve heard it, but there’s no way it’s not a stunner as well.
Another recent set of stone-killer proportions was performed by the trio Rangda. This supergroup, comprised of Rick Bishop, Ben Chasny and Chris Corsano played a gargantuan set at Easthampton’s Flywheel, and a few of the punkers there who couldn’t quite figure it out are obviously too young to recall the masterful meeting of Carlos Santana and John McLaughlin called Love, Devotion, Surrender (Columbia).
Corsano played in a semi-contained free-rock mode, laying groundwork across which Bishop and Chasny could lay big shards of guitar. The set was very similar to their brilliant debut LP, False Flag (Drag City) (of which we got a test press but no actual LP. WTF?), and sent us shimmering into the moist night air. So weird to have another record that feels as though it references Love, etc. in the recent past. The first, of course, was Bill Orcutt‘s amazing A New Way to Pay Old Debts ((Palilalia), which actually pinched that alb’s front cover photo for its artwork. Anyway, it also seems there’s a repress available of Bill’s fantastic one-sided tour LP, Way Down South (Palialia) available. It’s another stunner, so grab it fast. Good work, Bill! And Rangda, too!
8. We’ve been getting a real dearth of jazz-oriented vinyl lately, but a few highly notable releases have landed, and it would be punk-ass to not-mention them. Joshua Abrams‘ Natural Information LP (Eremite) is an unexpected pleasure. The little we knew of Abrams (founding member of the Roots, currently in Town & Country) was not mouth-watering, but the album has an extremely boss vibe.
Abrams plays a three stringed African instrument in a way that makes us think of that Jali Nyama LP on FMP and also the collected work of all the Swedes (& world music kin) who devolved from Don Cherry’s workshops during his Swedish expatriation. Very cool shit.
McPhee is one of the first free jazz guys we seriously collected, and he is always a pleasure to listen to. There are few players who can hold a torch to his power in a pure solo setting and his set this evening (recorded in ’09) is potent. Especially nice this the long take of “Old Eyes”, his tribute to the mystical powers of Ornette.
Paul Flaherty is another monster of the solo horn, and his Aria Nativa (Family Vineyard) is a brilliant document of his solo efforts (a format he actually only started to pursue actively in the very recent past). Paul rips holes in the fabric of reality with his playing, and it is possible to sink into this session as though it were a superbly-feathered hole. Bill Dixon recently left the planet, and he split on what is one of the high points of his recording career, Weight/Counterweight (Broken Research). Recorded in trio with Ben Hall and Aaron Siegel, the two percussionists provide gorgeous interaction for Dixon’s processed trumpet tones, and the 2LP set slides into a very deep zone. Dixon was always a perfectionist, and he rarely played with such grace. So long, sir.
9. Thinking of Dixon, there have been a lot of recent departures. Too many. The great Tuli Kupferberg— founder of the Fugs, author of so many crazily fantastic books—succumbed to forces beyond his control and we will miss him more than is easily imagined. Same is true for Tony Dale who ran the Camera Obscura label and was one of the inventors of the Terrastock Nation concept. Tony was based in Australia, but was such a bright light that his aura was always easily visible from where we sit. Torbjorn Abelli, the bassist in the brilliant eternal-Swedish-psych flame Trad Gras och Stennar, is another long-term great who fell. As is Pip Proud, the Australian genius who invented his own version of madcappery and still remains largely obscure to people who would freak if they heard him. And there are so many more. People who have done much to inform our way-of-thinking and to make this life the most bearable form of life there is. Smooth sailing to all of you. We are truly grateful you were here.
10. To finish, we should admit there have actually been a few other books around that’ve attempted to prove that reading is not totally kaput as a concept and/or hobby. Admittedly, we read them before the John French tome smeared our brains across the pavement, but what the heck? Very notable is the complete Touch & Go fanzine anthology (Bazillion Points), edited by Steve Miller.
This thick, lovely slab of words takes the cruel brilliance of Tesco Vee and Dave Stimson and makes it available to more than the few hundred people who ever glommed the original ‘zine. Extant between 1979 and 1983, T&G was one of the most insane, influential punk ‘zines ever. It documented the birth of the American hardcore scene better than anyone, and also included all sorts of mean jokes and crude comments about bands as wildly variant as Venom and the Virgin Prunes. The record reviews are still hilarious and illuminating, and the format—full, exact reprints of each issue, with a few introductory essays—sets a standard that everyone should ape if they decide to approach a similar project. Scabrous and mind-bending, it is easily the bathroom book of the year, and you should pencil it onto your Xmas list pronto. In somewhat the same vein is Tony Rettman‘s Why Be Something That You’re Not (Revelation Records Publishing).
Although Steve Shelley was recently beefing to us about the scant space granted L-Seven (and other artier Midwest punk projects, like Strange Fruit), we have a whole lot less invested in the scene, so we were able to just dig the book for what it is—a super-enjoyable oral history of the key hardcore moments of the Detroit scene (and those of fellow travelers from Northern Ohio). Very fine interviews and fliers and fanzine reprints and pretty much everything you’d want. Unless you’re Steve Shelley. And yeah, for our taste, it coulda been bigger and longer, but how realistic is that? We’re just glad it exists in the format it does, instead of squiggled across a series of blogs or something. We still miss Rettman’s crucial fanzine, 200 Pound Underground, but this book is a good stopgap ’til the next issue. Right Tony?
Mike was the lead singer of the legendary Cleveland band, the Pagans. He is also—and has long been—a writer of great skill and verve. This book is a memoir of Mike’s history inside and outside of the Cleveland punk scene (which the Pagans more or less invented, in a certain way, the Dead Boys notwithstanding) and all the weirdness that followed as the band collapsed, their reputation grew, people died, things happened, and Mike drank a lot of goddamn vodka. The book is fantastic, both for trainspotters (who’ll learn a lot of minutiae) and for proles (who can read it as a high-velocity cautionary tale). Great fucking book.
As is—in a completely different vein—Dear Sandy, Hello (Coffee House Press) by Ted Berrigan. We had long heard there was weirdness involved in union of Ted and Sandy Berrigan, but the details were obscure. That is no longer the case. This book is an explicit document of what happened.
Sandy and Ted got married in a fever. Her wealthy, conservative parents flipped and had her committed. Which was what rich conservative parents did in 1962 when their daughters hooked up with wild poets. But Ted and Sandy wrote each other tons of letters while her dad attempted to have the marriage annulled, and they are here in all their glory. Which gives us day-by-day information on the development of the Lower East Side poetry scene of 1962, plus a lot of beautiful writing about love and longing and much else. There’s also a great visual section, reprinting some original scrapbook assemblages. All in all a lovely package, rich in language, idea and emotional content.
And with that, we leave you. But not for long, we hope.
Material gratefully accepted (two copies please) at:
PO Box 627
Northampton MA 01061