AH, MAN: A career-spanning conversation with JACK ROSE by Brian Rademaekers (from Arthur No. 33)

As published in Arthur No. 33 (Jan 2013)

AH, MAN
A career-spanning conversation with JACK ROSE, American musician, recorded just a few months before he died in 2009
By Brian Rademaekers

When I started covering music in Philadelphia in 2007, my beat—the city’s crumbling post-industrial river wards—felt like a veritable nexus of weird folk and psychedelic experimentation. The Espers clan and their compound, Fern Knight, Fursaxa, and heavy-hitters like Bardo Pond were all there, churning out a storm of beautiful, strange music that seemed in part a product of the ancient, twisted alleyways of Fishtown and Kensington.

Here, Jack Rose was the benevolent, unassuming King—a master set apart from his peers by a massive presence and an indomitable, mystical talent that elevated him from mere musician to magician. He was a dark alchemist, transforming calloused flesh, polished wood and taut steel into the intoxicating, intricate worlds of sound that were his music. Not that Jack — Jack the giant, hulking Virginian — would ever presume to wear a crown; it was just something that he brought into the room with him, disarming all with a humble warmth offset by a blunt, caustic confidence that he wielded like a knife at just the right moments. These days, most of the musicians from that scene are gone from the neighborhood, though none as gone as Jack.

When I first heard Jack’s 2005 album Kensington Blues, I was thunderstruck, lost in awe that such a masterpiece not only existed, but that it was made in my time, by a man whose elbows polished the same bar counters as mine. Listening to Jack’s recordings was great [see sidebar for a complete discography] but best of all was seeing Jack live, spreading his gospel in church halls or little clubs or living rooms and, finally, along the banks of the Delaware River for a summer concert series shortly before he died.

Watching him amble up to his chair with guitar in hand signaled the start of near-religious experience. He would hunch over the instrument, cock his head to the side and, with closed eyes, unleash wild syncopated layers of rhythms, leaving listeners rapt in a sort of devastated trance. Here was this giant bearded man suddenly becoming seamlessly enmeshed in his guitar to create these idiosyncratic spells that were at once as delicate as flowers and as forceful as hurricanes. Seeing that miracle in the flesh, there was nothing else like it in the world. For me, it was like being a jazz freak in the ’40s and living down the street from Charlie Parker.

So began a years-long obsession. I felt compelled to document this genius quietly living in our midst. And Jack obliged. It never seemed to bother him that some reporter from a little local paper was always pestering him, asking for details about a show or politely begging for an advance copy of a record. In that way, Jack betrayed the appearance of a dominating, cocksure master and revealed a man with a very big heart.

My pretext for interviewing Jack in the summer of 2009 was his forthcoming long-player on Thrill Jockey, Luck in the Valley. Jack was elated. He and his wife, Laurie, had just bought a tidy little brick rowhouse a few blocks from the city’s blasted Port Richmond waterfront. He bragged about his new car, a Honda that he loved for its efficiency in carrying his guitars from gig to gig. He raved about a pizza joint he’d found down the street, about how quiet his block was. To him, the Thrill Jockey release was the milestone he’d been awaiting, a culmination of years of hard work and mastery that meant he could finally say he was making good bread on the merit of his music.

For three hours, he let me follow him around the house, tape recorder in tow, as he smoked and poured tea and pulled LPs from his wall of records. He was a man satisfied, a musician reveling in the feeling that his art was finally about to find the place in the world that it deserved.

When Jack died a few months later, I groped through the shock, looking for some way to respond to the ugly, gaping hole that had so suddenly appeared, and decided on transcribing the whole of our conversation from that summer day on Ontario Street. That tape is presented here, and captures Jack in a bright mood at the peak of his career, ruminating on everything from his first lessons to his labor on “Kensington Blues” to the joy of landing the Thrill Jockey deal.
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Arthur No. 35 … still available! $5 cheap! Safe for adults!

Cover by Kevin Hooyman

ARTHUR NO. 35 is still available for $5 from stores and direct from us. Or, read selected articles online, for free…

Contents:

ON THE TRAIL OF THE LONESOME SNOCK
Wily folkplayer MICHAEL HURLEY (aka Elwood Snock) has charmed hip audiences for over fifty years now with his timeless surrealist tunes and sweetly weird comics, all the while maintaining a certain ornery, outsider mystique. Longtime Snockhead/Arthur Senior Writer BYRON COLEY investigates this Wild American treasure in an enormous 11,000-word, 8-PAGE feature replete with rare photos, artwork, comics… and a giant color portrait by Liz Devine. Snock attack!

CHEW THE LEAVES, GET IN THE TANK
Inside Baltimore’s T HILL, new kinds of experiments with salvia divinorum are going on. Journalist/photographer Rjyan Kidwell visits Twig Harper, Carly Ptak…and the Wild Shepherdess.

BURIED ALIVE BY THE SUFIS
Swap-O-Rama Rama founder and author WENDY TREMAYNE (The Good Life Lab: Radical Experiments in Hands-On Living) wanted to understand what motivated her life-long anti-consumerism. She found the answer underground. Illustration by Kira Mardikes

GASH, CRASH, ASH
Nobody rides for free. DAVE REEVES on the price motorcyclists pay for being better than you. Illustration by Lale Westvind.

THE BIOPHONIC MAN
Guitarist, composer and analog synthesizer pioneer BERNIE KRAUSE left the recording studio to find that really wild sound. What he discovered was far more profound. Interview by Jay Babcock. Illustrations by Kevin Hooyman.

GIANT STEPS FOR MANKIND
Stewart Voegtlin on JOHN COLTRANE’s startling 1960s ascension from space bebop to universe symphonies. Dual astral/material plane illustration by Beaver.

FLOWERS, LEAVES, ANARCHISM
Matthew Erickson on the J.L. Hudson Ethnobotanical Catalog of Seeds

Plus…

* Arthur’s new regular column “Come On In My Garden” debuts. This issue, Camilla Padgitt-Coles visits Enumclaw’s Norm Fetter at his family’s Pennsylvania mushroom farm. They’re medicinal!

* The Center for Tactical Magic on demons and drones

* New full-page full-color comics: “Forgiveness” by Julia Gfrörer and Part 2 of Will Sweeney’s “Inspector Homunculus” serial.

* And, of course, the “Bull Tongue” exhaustive survey of underground cultural output by your intrepid guides Byron Coley and Thurston Moore…

The last two issues of Arthur are sold out from us. Don’t blow it, bucko. Click here to order this issue now at the Arthur Store. $5 cheap!

BULL TONGUE review column by Byron Coley and Thurston Moore (Arthur 33/Jan 2013)

Originally published in Arthur No. 33 (Jan 2013)


BULL TONGUE
by Byron Coley & Thurston Moore

- Exploring the voids of all known undergrounds since 2002 -

1 CLAUDE PELIEU It has been ten years since the French-born artist, writer, and translator Claude Pelieu died at his home in upstate New York. His memory has been well served this past year, by the publication of at least three books that should be of extreme interest to anyone with a true hankering for the avant garde. The first is Kali Yug Express (Bottle of Smoke Press, bospress.net), a fantastic cut-up novel originally published in France in 1974. Translated by Pelieu’s late widow and long-time partner-in-crime, Mary Beach, it’s great to finally have a chance to read this book in a language we completely understand. As with some of his other work, Pelieu’s cut-ups do not always flow with the same dream-logic that guides Burroughs’ hand when he’s navigating similar waters, but it reads quite well. And Bill Roberts’ production standards are as high as ever. Second up is Un Amour de Beatnik (Non Lieu, editionsnonlieu.fr), a collection of letters and poems sent to Pelieu’s first wife (Lula Nash) in 1963-64, along with examples of his visual work from the early ‘60s. Although it’s all in French, the book is written in a relatively straightforward way, so you can parse it out even if yr French is as rusty as ours. Fully annotated, with period photos, a good chronology and whatnot, it’s a very solid read (and Claude’s early Leger-influenced paintings are quite a revelation). Third is Pelieu Mix/Etat des Lieux (la Notonecte, 15 bis rue Noel du Fail, Rennes, 35000, France), assembled by Benoit Delaune. Pelieu Mix is mostly a facsimile edition of some of Pelieu’s notebooks from the late ‘90s, filled with various texts, collages. It’s a great, beautiful jumble of stuff, presented spiral-bound, and now that we’re examining it more closely we realize it may have come out a while ago. But we just got it, so fuck you. More info on Pelieu and his art (as well as Mary Beach’s) can be had at beachpelieuart.com. Worth whatever eye strain it takes.

2 SPECTRE FOLK Spectre Folk is Pete Nolan’s long-running non-Magik Markers combo. And their new album, The Ancient Storm (Vampire Blues, vampireblues.net), is a quartet scene, with Pete joined by Aaron Mullan, Steve Shelley and Peter Meehan. Dreamier, poppier and ghostlier than previous efforts, it is tempting to call this the best record with a world class foodie (Meehan) since Robert Sietsema’s last recording with Blinding Headache. The longer tracks have a splendid psych droopiness and the whole thing just flows like butter. Meanwhile, Nolan’s label, Arbitrary Signs (arbitrarysigns.blogspot.com, has continued to flower slowly. Most recent drop was Your First Ever River by United Waters. UW is the new solo (or solo-esque) project by Brian Sullivan from Mouthus. The guy’s a brutal arm-wrestler (take our word!), but he also shows an incredible deftness with deeply murky pop constructions on River. Even more than with Brian’s other project, Eskimo King, the sounds here are bizarre but assembled with a precision recalling some of the best efforts of the long-gone Bobby J label. It’s a record that rewards heavy, smoked listening. Don’t think we ever mentioned the last record on Arbitrary Signs either, which was Four Corners Bounce by Devin, Gary & Ross. The surnames invovled are Flynn, Panter & Goldstein, so you can be assured this project is also a riot of screwed-up ‘60s pop readymades, interspersed with doper madness and actual songs that will twist yr mind like taffy. Don’t not check it out.

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“LOU REED, 71″ by Byron Coley

LOU REED, 71

the easiest heroes are consistent
but the ones who really shape us
are random maniacs
whose work we stumble across
at times in our lives
we desperately need misdirection

and so it was i met the music of lou reed
through a guy named buzz
who’d bought the first velvets album
but didn’t like it
just the way he hadn’t liked the first mothers album
a month earlier
which meant i got each for a buck

there is literally no way to describe
the way that record hit me
i was a ten year old seventh grader
and the first time i played the album
i was transformed into someone else
someone who knew more than my contemporaries
even if i couldn’t quite shake it all out

lou and john and sterling and moe
gave me much more info
than i could understand
but they did it in a way
i loved so intuitively
with music exploding in such amazing directions
it made sense on a molecular level

and through the years i followed lou
good scenes, bad scenes, he put us through it all
but we kinda paid attention
because, after all
this motherfucker
this lou reed

this electroshocked cocksucking bastard
who put out many more lousy records than good
was the father of everyone i’ve ever known
and i never thought he’d die
and i really miss him

more than i ever thought i would

— Byron Coley

OUT, NOW, EVERYWHERE

a35cvrstore

ARTHUR NO. 35

Click here to order this issue now at the Arthur Store

Cover by Kevin Hooyman

Contents:

ON THE TRAIL OF THE LONESOME SNOCK
Wily folkplayer MICHAEL HURLEY (aka Elwood Snock) has charmed hip audiences for over fifty years now with his timeless surrealist tunes and sweetly weird comics, all the while maintaining a certain ornery, outsider mystique. Longtime Snockhead/Arthur Senior Writer BYRON COLEY investigates this Wild American treasure in an enormous 11,000-word, 8-PAGE feature replete with rare photos, artwork, comics… and a giant color portrait by Liz Devine. Snock attack!

CHEW THE LEAVES, GET IN THE TANK
Inside Baltimore’s T HILL, new kinds of experiments with salvia divinorum are going on. Journalist/photographer Rjyan Kidwell visits Twig Harper, Carly Ptak…and the Wild Shepherdess.

BURIED ALIVE BY THE SUFIS
Swap-O-Rama Rama founder and author WENDY TREMAYNE (The Good Life Lab: Radical Experiments in Hands-On Living) wanted to understand what motivated her life-long anti-consumerism. She found the answer underground. Illustration by Kira Mardikes

GASH, CRASH, ASH
Nobody rides for free. DAVE REEVES on the price motorcyclists pay for being better than you. Illustration by Lale Westvind.

THE BIOPHONIC MAN
Guitarist, composer and analog synthesizer pioneer BERNIE KRAUSE left the recording studio to find that really wild sound. What he discovered was far more profound. Interview by Jay Babcock. Illustrations by Kevin Hooyman.

GIANT STEPS FOR MANKIND
Stewart Voegtlin on JOHN COLTRANE’s startling 1960s ascension from space bebop to universe symphonies. Dual astral/material plane illustration by Beaver.

FLOWERS, LEAVES, ANARCHISM
Matthew Erickson on the J.L. Hudson Ethnobotanical Catalog of Seeds

Plus…

* Arthur’s new regular column “Come On In My Garden” debuts. This issue, Camilla Padgitt-Coles visits Enumclaw’s Norm Fetter at his family’s Pennsylvania mushroom farm. They’re medicinal!

* The Center for Tactical Magic on demons and drones…

* New full-page full-color comics: “Forgiveness” by Julia Gfrörer and Part 2 of Will Sweeney’s “Inspector Homunculus” serial.

* And, of course, the “Bull Tongue” exhaustive survey of underground cultural output by your intrepid guides Byron Coley and Thurston Moore…

The last two issues of Arthur are sold out from us. Don’t blow it, bucko. Click here to order this issue now at the Arthur Store!