Originally published in Arthur No. 29 (May 2008)
“21 Recently Discovered Delights”
by Elisa Ambrogio
A Tragic Honesty: The Life and Work of Richard Yates by Blake Bailey (Picador, 2004)
The Bailey came out this past year or so, but I would recommend first reading Yates’ easiest-to-find novel, Revolutionary Road, before it goes out of print again. Eros, pathos, flop sweat, it’s all there; a man outside and inside his own time. Highs and lows as a writer, but at his best it does not get better; more of a grown man than Salinger and less of a prick than Updike: the comic and horrible desperation of the 1950s middle class white guy. I can’t get enough! The biography is filled with his drinking, mother, teaching, TB, women, self-defeat, madness, work, beard-growing and sadness.
Alex Nielson & Richard Youngs Electric Lotus LP (vhf, 2004)
Two guys make glue-sniffing rock and roll cast in the crucible of the entire recorded history of time and act really nonchalant about it.
Giant Skyflower Band show at the Hemlock
Closing out the show under swirling lights, Jason stumped out deep crazy timpani, Glenn sawed away at melodies and chords like a old-timy German cobbler channeling Dave Kusworth and Shayde “Mushmouth” Sartin slunk out basslines like a somnambulant Greg Lake. It was a night to remember. They’ve got a cd on Soft Abuse called Blood of the Sunworm, and name notwithstanding, it is effen rad.
The Evolution of a Cro-magnon by John Joseph (Punk House, 2007)
Finally. But don’t take my word for it, Adam Yauch has this to say:“So if you want to remember what NYC was like in the ’70s and ’80s, if you are interested in selling fake acid at Madison Square Garden, or dressing up like Santa Claus in a wheelchair to hustle money for the Hari Krishnas…put a read on this.” Also available in…audio book form, AH! Now, anyone who is anyone knows that this year John Bloodclot is also coming out with his own nutrition and fitness guide. Here is what he had to say in his press release: “I’m sick of people, who are either ignorant of the facts, or even worse, have hidden agendas, dissing vegetarians because we care about animals and the environment. What do you want to live in a barren wasteland dick wad?” Amen.
Joshua Burkett Where’s My Hat (Time-Lag, 2008)
The album long awaited by those who played holes into Gold Cosmos so many years ago is finally here. Joshua Burkett is known for co-owning Mystery Train—the best record store in Western Massachusetts—and for being a bit of a mystery train himself. Though a master musical craftsman, he rarely plays live and takes years to release records. Where’s My Hat starts with a bold electric bagpipe somewhere between an emergency siren and a diseased fog. Josh’s guitar braids mental rugs and smoothes down the rough edges. Though I think of Simon Finn at his gentlest, or Pip Proud or Skip Spence, it is not like anything else. And if you think there is you are wrong. There are efforts that wish they were this but they are not. You can hear the difference. Attempts at peace and a knawing ill-ease permeate the record, but it is above all a work of intricate idiosyncratic beauty.
Moving to San Francisco
I can’t believe this place. Lousy with people with the right ideas, jamming, playing good records and eating salmon tacos on the edge of green cliffs over the ocean.
Spectre Folk The Blackest Medicine (Woodsist, 2008)
Here drum-dilweed extraordinaire Pete Nolan takes on new dimensions of low fidelity radness through the Woodsist imprint, the infamous label in charge of releasing other super-jammers such as Axolotl, Loosers and Blues Control. So many good songs, I don’t know where to start; it’s like Gene Clark in a manhole with Von LMO in Bushwick. This is another artist criminally unappreciated for his solo work, most probably due to his surly manner. Just ‘cause the man don’t hold doors for people doesn’t mean he doesn’t know how to build castle bridges of strangeness into the void. LISTEN.
Twenty-eight Artists and Two Saints: Essays by Joan Acocella (Vintage, 2007)
Since she works the dance circuit for The New Yorker, this is a little heavy on the choreographer/ballet dancers for my plebian tastes, but has been one of the books I come back to again and again. As a warning, despite her beautiful prose, do not look up Bob Fosse clips on youtube. You will probably not be as moved by the musical Damn Yankees in this cultural context as Acocella was, and you will feel funny if anyone sees you. This compilation of biographical essays that all focus on what makes people get work accomplished as artists is stellar, with essays about Italo Svevo, Penelope Fitzgerald and Stefan Zweig.
VizUSA is the new psychedelic simple, hard: the rock and roll of Buddy Holly bare bones with the doors of perception jimmyin’and repetitous riff milkin’ of Les Rallizes Denudes. The first time I came into contact with these dudes, Caitlin was wearing tight neon pink spandex pants and a white furry coat; she was surrounded by a bunch of scuzz-duh dudes in Paris, talking real French to French folks. Calder looked like he just dropped out of Alice in Chains and had his hair in a big momma hippie braid down his back. They were the nicest people I talked to all tour. They were playing with Excepter then; most recently I saw them with Richard and John from Sightings with Blues Control in New York, which was an amazing show. Look for the epic full length out on NNBB imprint The Serth, ASAP.
Though best known for his work with the Skygreen Leopards, Quinn has been culling his private weird recordings since he lived in a rotting trailer in the suburban sprawl of Walnut Creek, California. Due to popular insistence, the man has finally gone solo. Quinn is a Marlboro man mystic channeled through Francois Hardy just woken from a nap: frowsy, susurrant and surly. He curls out chords like Duane Eddy on ‘ludes, strumming on some ether plane of American guitar groupmind. It warms my heart that perhaps people will hear Donovan and be able to discern a true contender from the hollow trees out there. Spring finds old Donovan releasing a 45 with regional hits “Sister Alchemy” and “Rabbit Tracks,” to be followed for the full length LP on Soft Abuse. I might as well mention two other criminally under-jammed records, which are the Jehovah Surrender EP by the Skygreen Leopards and the self-titled Flying Canyon LP, respectively found on Jagjaguar and Soft Abuse.
Kill All Your Darlings: Pieces, 1990-2005 by Luc Sante (Yeti/Verse Chorus Press)
Using New York City as shorthand for America, Sante writes in a dry, elegiac prose style and lived in Alphabet City when it was scary. He captures a very specific time in New York and bridges this with more current essays on Giuliani, 9/11 etc. Sometimes he can sound a little arch, like when he’s talking about the low ‘genius’ quotient among the Nuggets garage rockers, but his essay on the plastic injection mold alone is worth the price of the book. “There remained the lingering aura of the Wobblies, of the miners’ strikes and auto workers’ strikes of the 1930s, as well as a cascade of images from the Paris Commune and the October Revolution and the Long March. We imagined basking in the radiance of that aura when we wore our blue chambray shirts and listened to the MC5, not suspecting that within a decade or two most of Americans would be exported or terminated. Then the remnants of the working class would either be handed neckties and told they were middle-class, or forced into fast-food uniforms and told they didn’t exist.”
The artwork of Mick Turner
Despite being prolific and beautiful enough in his work as a solo musician and with such rad dudes as Venom P. Stinger and the Dirty Three, Mick Turner has got the nerve to paint perfect pictures. Walking through a thick bright landscape of women, kangaroos, the sea, alligators, fences and open sky Mick paints like the best dreams: lucid, precise in emotion, and juxtaposing disparate images and ideas into perfect sense. Paintings like his were already there, just no one ever bothered to get them down on canvas.
Colossal Yes/Jack Rose at 21 Grand, Colossal Yes at the Make Out Room, Colossal Yes at the Rite Spot before Christmas. Drinking something kind of like alcoholic coffee lotion, Utrillo played the piano with his back to the audience and his radness on full display. Like Goffin/King if it was just one dude in a Hawaiian shirt, his songs are beautiful narratives, melodically perfect and lyrical bitchs. Never obvious, he hides his brutal snapshots of human nature and ideals under rubrics of sweet piano in the greatest tradition of American songwriting. He makes me wish my ears heard better, because every time I listen, I find something new. At the Rite Spot show, Utrillo, Adam, Charlie and Ben played acoustic jams and brought down the house, then a spontaneous conga line broke out. I think Acopulco Roughs was one of the most underated albums of 2006, but luckily, Kushner has another album in the works as we speak that kicks its ass. Slog your way through the Beirut promos on the Ba Da Bing site to see when it comes out.
Mick Barr (Ocrilim)
This guy is a mindblowing guitar player, and yet he infuses all of his technical, joint destroying dexterity with some kind of heavy spirit and meaning. I guess they call it phrasing, but I think it might be mojo, which Barr has got in spades. The first seven-inch record I ever bought was by a Connecticut band called Thinner, which, it turns out, Mick used to play in. Not only is this guy an axe-master, but he was really nice to me when I was 16 talking at length about the lyrics to “New York Crew.”
Coffee Plant Demos
Cam Archer sent this my way, and I have been listening to it. Skip Cathouse Blues, the song about the Goldfish and Garbo. The rest: PURE gold. Especially hearing Lindsey Buckingham’s twerpy self-introduction at the start of a set—”And now! Buckingham Nicks!”
Tony Rettman’s Detroit Hardcore article in Swindle No. 12
Finally. Dedicated to Larissa Strickland, Tony talks first person to the people who you idolize: this from Steve Miller of The Fix on the D.C. scene and straightedge: “[A]ll those kids in those hardcore bands were throwing out their Aerosmith and AC/DC records. It all seemed fishy to me.” This, Barry Hensler, Ian Mackaye, Dave Stimpson, Tesco Vee, and John Brannon chatting like they’re at a sleepover. Tony’s gift as a writer
is not what he knows, which borders on the obsessive, but his ear for the language and music he loves, and his gift for capturing rhetorical pratfalls. This is his head and his heart. The best music writing in a periodical since before I was born. Now will someone please pay him to write about Abba and/or Roger Nichols?
Jason Wambsgans’ “Seagulls Attack!” piece for the Chicago Tribune
Jason is a photojournalist for the Tribune and the sounds and the photos of suburban Illinois here are Jason’s, as is the sense of mystery and narrative in the photos. This series deals with that every-17-year-blight, cicadas, the bugs that Basho slung into epic haiku history: “soon to die/yet no sign of it:/a cicada’s cry.” Here in these black and white photos the bugs are set in opposition and parallel to the busy residents of a carefully tended Illinois suburb, overwhelmed by the sudden force of nature disturbing their controlled environment. The world of glossy geometric lawns and two-car garages he captures is vulnerable and temporary, both the humans and the bugs, soon to die yet no sign of it. He combines empathy with his subjects with a sense of human absurdity that he is complicit in. I encourage you to write him and demand a showing of his back catalogue.
Reading Rock and the Pop Narcotic kinda changed my brain, and I even saw where he was coming from on Springsteen. This year Mike Wolf gave me his copy of Enter Naomi: SST, L.A. and All That. Carducci on the bands Naomi shot: “When the German or Japanese reissues, or the wireless ring-tone file-sharing eco-system, or the film documentaries, or Archaeology itself allows their rediscovery by some future kid dropping out of their over-produced, over-sold pop hell, they will find this music as clean and pure as field recordings. It’s the last music recorded in our world before noise-gates and digital delay replaced space and air with a virtual reality that promised a lie better than truth.” Fucking A. Carducci writes like a fan dances, and it can be maddening what he leaves out or obscures, but what he puts in lifts from the page to become bass relief illustrations in your mind to explain much bigger and more complex things. Reading about SST always reminds me of how important work and discipline is, and reminds me to pony up and stop being a pussy. “Get it happening, this ain’t Van Halen!” Just don’t think about the money, lawyer, life-long feuds, stuff that happened later. As a companion to the times from an entirely other mind, I recommend Saint Joe by Joe Cole.
Up north near Eureka, California, there is a redwood forest that used to be a logging town and mill. Covered in new trees and old stumps, there is a trail that gets wilder the deeper you get into the woods and will take you all the way to Fortuna. You can walk inside a stump of a redwood that a logger used to live in, and there are a couple of signs that there were humans there once but mostly it is a forest. Awesome to know how quickly elaborate mechanations of humans can be totally invisible to the naked eye in only a few generations.
The house Mick renovated in Leeds is clean, filled with light and stellar, like his dopest jams but less psych. Seeing Mick play live is insane. He is so precise and attentive to detail but then flies into other time and space and in his precision gets buck-ass-wild. Solo, with the Vibracathedral Orchestra and in all incarnations Mick taps into a genetic memory of sound. With Chris Corsano this year, Textile Records released The Radiant Mirror, one of the best records of, 2007, and I will bet 2008 too. I hope one day shitty Customs lets him back into the U.S.
Playing with Six Organs of Admittance in Europe
Besides getting to play music with Ben, and making fun of the way Fitz talked, this tour was also awesome because it included running into Spencer Clarke wearing a lei in Den Haag and having dinner at Helbaard, seeing wet naked Finnish people running from the cops, jamming in a Swedish cave, and sleeping under a cafeteria table on an overnight ferry.
Some stellar books to check out: Ordeal by Hunger: The Story of the Donner Party by George Stewart; Skeletons of the Zahara by Dean King; The New Science by Giambattista Vico; The Gnostic Gospels by Elaine Pagels; Anarchy and Alchemy: The Films of Alejandro Jodorowsky by Ben Cobb.
Elisa Ambrogio lives in San Francisco and plays music in Magik Markers.