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.
Continue reading

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!

A TRIP INSIDE BALTIMORE’S SALVIA PALACE by Rjyan Kidwell (from Arthur No. 35)

Originally published, with additional photos, in Arthur No. 35, available now in stores and direct from us

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CHEW THE LEAVES, GET IN THE TANK
Inside Baltimore’s T Hill, new kinds of experiments with Salvia divinorum are going on.
Text and photography by Rjyan Kidwell

SO I went to the west side to meet the wild shepherdess, the strong female power. I was able to meet her in the house called T Hill, formerly known as Tarantula Hill, now officially going full-time by the nickname locals have been using for years. It’s a bit of a legendary place, and not just around Baltimore. In Providence, Chicago, Denver, and beyond there’s reverent talk of this place. It started as a run-down three-story warehouse in a far-beyond-food-desert part of Baltimore, and in 2001 purchased and then rebuilt (twice) by Twig Harper & Carly Ptak, a couple who comprised Nautical Almanac, one of the most influential noise bands during that scene’s nascent period, but who, in recent years, have attracted an interesting community of more spiritually-inclined experimentalists around their home. Besides the occasional carefully-curated concert, its Esoteric Library [see Endnote 1] (which anyone was free to borrow books from) and the handmade sauna on the roof, T Hill is also known for being nearly destroyed in a 2006 fire and, utterly undeterred, rising again within months.

twigcan

A few years ago, at a show in a different warehouse, I saw Twig [pictured above] in the kitchen with a jar of some kind of dark powder. It turned out to be something called yopo and he was inviting people to try it. Two at a time excited volunteers would sit down beside each other on a couch and inhale the powder. Then, for about five minutes or so, they would be enter some kind of pre-verbal (post-verbal?) state, utterly unresponsive to any attempt by others to communicate with them, interacting with something else none of us could see, but without leaving their seat. Moreover, these reactions seemed unique to each volunteer. I saw two of my friends sit down together—one of them, who I often refer to behind his back as Lord Byron, writhed and contorted as if he were riding an rusty rollercoaster after downing a liter of worms. The other guy barely moved at all, but giggled and smirked adorably, watching something that seemed to be hovering at eye level a few feet in front of him. I’d never seen either of them behave in a way anything like those naked exaggerations of their core personalities. I was impressed. Twig observed everything that happened in an amused but careful way and listened as everybody explained their perspective of the experience afterwards. His genuine curiosity about each person’s trip was clear. Personally, I was way too scared of what strange secret I might myself betray in that strange five minutes, so I didn’t step up to the couch. I’ve always regretted that decision.

When word on the street went out that Twig was doing something similar at T Hill with Salvia divinorum—as of right now, a totally legal, unregulated Mexican mint—I contrived a way to check it out, under the pretense of writing an article for Arthur. As you can probably guess, the plan worked like a charm. Continue reading

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!