T-Model Knows Better: an advice column by life coach/musician T-Model Ford (Arthur, May, 2004)

Originally published in Arthur No. 10 (May 2004)…


T-Model Ford says a lot. He says he’s 79 years old. He says he’s “the Boss of the Blues! TheTaildragger! From Greenvillllllllle….Mississippi.“ He says he doesn’t need his cane anymore. And he says he can help us. So, every two months, Arthur calls up T-Model and asks him for some advice. T-Model gives his sage answers, then we transcribe the conversation with some interpreting help from Bruce Watson at Fat Possum, the Oxford, Mississippi record label that releases T-Model’s original badass records (more info at fatpossum.com). We love T-Model ‘round here: his last album, the Jim Dickinson-produced Bad Man, is still on the office Arthur turntable, 18 months after its release. But whatever. If you’ve got some non-math questions for T-Model, and we know that you do, email ‘em to editor@arthurmag.com and we’ll pass ‘em along if they’re any good.

Arthur: One of our readers asks, “How come an older man can go with a younger woman, but you never see an older woman going with a younger man?” Is that true, T-Model?

T-Model: Yep. Well, the main one problem with the young womens, and then their problem is with the older women. They want a little harder piece of candy. That’s the difference in it. 

You see that happening in your life ever?

Oh yeah, man. It’s happening right now. [laughs]

Here’s another question. One of our readers asks, “T-Model, are you a voting man? Who are you planning to vote for president this November?”

I ain’t even interested in it. I ain’t never voted in my life. Anything they do is alright with me. If they do good, it’s alright, and if they do bad, it’s alright. If they do bad, it’s alright, and if they do good, it’s alright. See, when you vote for somebody, it’s like a woman… You see a woman yonder, you get on your head, you want her whether or not. Then when you get her, it ain’t what you thought. And that’s the same thing with you voting for somebody. You vote for a person, he’ll talk sweet to you ‘til you get in, then when you get in, you get SOUR. You ain’t doin’ nothing what you say you gon’ do. That’s the way it happens. I ain’t done bad ever who be the president, and I ain’t done too good ever who be the president. It don’t matter. I ain’t never voted! 

Do you want your kids to vote?

That’s left up to them–they grown. [laughs] You know what? My part, I don’t worry ‘bout nothin’. I don’t even worry about a woman. If they do, it’s alright, and if they don’t, it’s alright. Then I won’t have to be thinking about it, worrying about it, grieving about it, can’t half eat, can’t do nothing good, so just don’t let that get in your head. You know what give a man a hard blues? When the bottom wear off his last pair of shoes. He can’t walk on no briars, he can’t walk on the gravel hardly, and he sure can’t walk on no coals on fire if he ain’t got no shoes on. If he do, I want to see him! [laughs]

One more question, T-Model: What wood makes the best walking stick? You ever use a stick when you’re walking around?

Oak ain’t too good. Hickory is the best. You can’t bend an oak like you can hickory. Go with the hickory. That’s what I got in my hand right now! 

Reviews by C and D (Arthur No. 10/May 2004)

Originally published in Arthur No. 10 (May 2004)


Eagles of Death Metal
Peace Love Death Metal
(Rekords Rekords/AntAcidAudio)
C: [singing along to “Kiss the Devil”]: “Who’ll love the devil?/Who’ll love his song?/I will love the devil and his song!”
D: Ha! This is party-starting rock n roll music! They should’ve called it, “There’s Beer in the Fridge.
C: No doubt. Doubtless. No doubt about it. Doubt-free. [sings along:] “I will kiss the devil on his tongue!”
D: He is the male Peaches!
C: The singer-guitar player Jesse ‘the Devil’ Hughes has the best moustache going in rock, and he knows it. I can hear him now: “C & D, you’ve been rocked by The Moustache.” Have you seen his cape?
D: This cannot be. What year is this? It’s like Mick wearing the Omega at Altamont. Totally Rolling Stones.
C: Jesse is Jumpin’ Jack Flash and Josh Homme—he’s the guy from Kyuss and Queens of the Stone Age—is just here to do Beat Number Three on every song and help shift some units. They say it’s “Canned Heat vocals with stripper beats” and you can’t beat that description so let’s not even gonna try. It’s a pretty raw recording, sounds like a rehearsal tape with all the talking.
D: We will have to subtract points for that.
C: Yeah, all that between-song tech talk is the rock equivalent of skits on hip-hop albums. Funny the first time, maybe, but after that?
D: Eagles of Death Metal, you were rocking the party, and then you’re talking amongst yourselves about when to come in on the beat?!? Thanks for fucking it up!
C: “Speaking in Tongues” is the coolest song. Can you hear that sound?
D: Is that a car honking?
C: It’s the CD! They mixed it in! Totally brilliant! [singing along] “Toot scoot! Boots! Scoot scoot!” I have no idea what he’s saying but I like it, I like it. I said, I like it.

Pink Grease
This Is for Real
C: Okay, let’s get this party started again…
D: It is the Cramps. Wait, it can’t be the Cramps. Is this that “Fire in the disco” band?
C: Not it’s not Electric Six, it’s Pink Grease. Which sounds like a nightmare lubricant. Really good name for this band…
D: [hearing the riff kick in o “Fever”:] Whoa! They’re the house band for a creepy kind of party.
C: This is music for the wasters, and their married friends who are tying one on again, just this once.
D: In the right circumstances, this could finish somebody off. This is music for that kind of party where you do something you regret for weeks. [musing] Possibly even for the rest of your life…
C: They’ve got a cool thing going on—garage rockin’, good drums, new touches when you don’t see it coming: saxophone, a good chorus, some slide guitar, an out-there keyboard solo. [dreamily] They should tour with the Dirtbombs and Eagles of Death Metal and Peaches and Ween…
D: Could someone tell me why there are so many good-rockin’ dance bands right now?

John Wilkes Booze
Five Pillars of Soul
(Kill Rock Stars)
C: Then again, there’s this.
D: “John Wilkes Booze”? Terrible name.
C: I know. I gave it some time on the hi-fi cuz of the booklet. I mean, how bad can a band that salutes, in text, at length, Albert Ayler, Marc Bolan, Yoko Ono and Citizen Tania be?
D: Very, very bad, from the sound of it!
C: Is this a Make-Up and Jon Spencer parody band? Talk about putting the high back in high-conceptualism.
D: ‘Five pillars of soul”?!? Fake soul is the worst!!!
C: I’m embarrassed for these people—they have some cool inspirations and ideas about what they want to do but they don’t have the chops or the instincts to pull it off yet. Maybe they’ll get better…
D: They’re from Indiana? HA HA HA HA HA !
C: I’d like to see them try this in New Orleans.

The Thermals
Fuckin’ A
(Sub Pop)
D: [Definitively:] Guided by Voices. But harder, with more of that old piledriver beat.
C: It’s actually a whole different band, a trio called the Thermals. I like ‘em. It’s urgent. Reminds me of Lee Renaldo from Sonic Youth, bashing away in his garage with the neighborhood teenagers cutting school. Oops, dude just knocked over the ten-speed.
D: [shaking head furiously] I just spilled my beer!
C: This guy’s got one of those voices where you don’t care if he doesn’t really sing. 12 songs, 28 minutes. No solos, but it’s not hardcore or screaming emoters. Just cool. He’s determined, he’s holding on.
D: These are high-energy super-tight anthems! Where’s the towel?
C: [singing along] “Anything you break, you can probably mend/Anything you can feel, you can feel again/Hold tight, remember today.” Shit, those are words to live by.
D: Wisdom from a man called Hutch Harris. Thank you, Thermals! Yo don’t have a moustache but you have rocked C & D!

Mission of Burma
C & D: [stunned silence]
C: How can it… How did they…
D: How can it be this good?
C: They haven’t made a record in 22 years… Some of the people in this issue of Arthur were born and grew into adults in the time between Mission of Burma albums.
D: They sound hungry and creative. [singing along] “Now I live inside the circle!”
C: Inside the circle, but still outside the box. How to describe the pleasures of Burma for the people…hmmm.. well, it IS guitar rock, it has melodies and punch and strange flair, and again, like that Thermals record, there’s a sense of no wasted breath, no gloss, no glamour, just direct intention-into-thought.
D: It’s like a greatest-hits record from the last 22 years, except not only were these songs not hits, they weren’t even released!

The Icarus Line
Penance Soiree
C: I saw these guys last year. Their singer reminded me of Richard Ashcroft in the vintage Verve days, when they were at their most cosmic and loose and desolate and swaggering… 1995… Skinny dude with cheekbones, just GONE, going for it—
D: [hears guitar break in on “Up Against the Wall”] YES!
C: —amidst the maelstrom. This one is called “Spit On It.“ Okay, this is what you call RIGHTEOUS SQUALL. Mixed by Alan Moulder, who did stuff with My Bloody Valentine, so there you go…
D: [laughing] Alan Moulder spat on it! That’s holy spit. The old Moulder grease…
C: [listening to “Spike Island”] See, and just when you think it’s all shaped noise, here comes a song with a solid, almost disco rhythm and a guitar refrain—something to pull you, something to grasp onto.
D: They’re an L.A. band. There’s a little Jane’s Addiction in them, isn’t there? Especially in the vocals!
C: That’s true. But Perry always had something interesting to say, I don’t know about these guys, I can’t understand a single word he’s singing.
D: He’s hiding behind the Wall of Squall.
C: Then again… [listening to the beginning of the 9:07-long “Getting Bright at Night”] Well, here we go.
D: They bring it down to earth so they can go back into space!
C: I just want to tell the people that at 6:15 in this song, this simple thing happens that makes you love rock n roll turned up to overwhelming. I know we were talking about finishing people off earlier, but maybe this is the real Finisher right here.
D: Right now, my ears love me.
C: Searched, destroyed. Now let’s see if they can write a song on an acoustic guitar.

The Secret Machines
Now Here Is Nowhere
C: Well, they’ve got a good drum sound, that’s certain. But…um… Is he going to do that same tempo for 9 minutes?
D: Sounds like it. I think I’ll be needing to smoke some more of those special cocktails for this one. [Leaves room, returns happier.] Ah, now it’s changing. This is good. They’re originally from Texas, this really takes me there, out to the nudist lakes, drinking some Shiners, laying back in the sun with your girl, nobody around, music coming up over the sand from the box, lookin’ up and just tripping out to the great big… big I don’t know..
D: The big Big.
C: Yep…
C: [repeating lyrics to “Road Leads Where It’s Led” ] “We communicate by semaphore/No language/We’ve got flags of our own.” I like that.
D: They’re so laidback, they’re almost out of the pocket. A big cinematic sound with lots of air between the different sounds…
C: They’ve been watching Zabriskie Point, I‘m guessing.
D: They’ve definitely been visiting the dark side of the moon. Especially on this song [“Pharaoh’s Daughter”].
C: You know it. “Breathe, breathe in the air.” [listening to the concluding/title track] There’s the Neu/Can/Kraftwerk motorik rhythm, done right–this is like Flaming Lips used to sound sometimes, back when they’d let it out a little more when Ronald was in the band… [listening to the song explode around 7:00] Yes!
D: Big but not pompous, psychedelic but not goofy. Yes! I nominate these guys to do a co-headline tour with The Icarus Line.
C: Good stuff from secret machines and special humans. Thank you again, Texas.

The Veils
The Runaway Found
(Rough Trade)
D: Echo & the Bunnymen?
C: Ha! He DOES have a bit of the Ian McCulloch in him. This is a 20-year-old fella from Australia. There’s some real beauts on here, D… [clicks ahead to “The Leavers Dance”]
D: Radiohead. Starsailor.
C: Yeah, I guess… But listen to those strings come in… it’s so gorgeous. I think sometimes people like us get too caught up in “spot the influence.” It’s one thing when you’re hearing straight, passionless, contrived mimicry—plagiarism—but it’s another when folks’ voices are just…similar. What are they supposed to do? Not sing at all cuz that voice is taken already?
D: [thoughtful, agreeing] To paraphrase Gertrude Stein: “A good song is a good song is a good song.”
C: Anyways, I think it’s beautiful stuff. There’s some vintage Britpop rave-ups, there’s ringing guitars. There’s some middling tempo numbers, which are hard to do, when you think about it… And there’s these autumnal, oceanside ballads. [listening to “Vicious Traditions”:] You can see how it could get all histrionic and spittle-flying, but he reins it in just right.
D: [quietly] So young, and so anguished already…

White Magic
Through the Sun Door EP
(Drag City)
D: At last, a female voice!
C: [listening to opening track “One-Note“] This is one of favorite songs of the spring.
D: Charging piano!
C: It’s serious, but not Tori Amos melodrama. “Some-thing is a-bide-ing!” Hmm…
D: “White Magic.”
C: Best name since Comets On Fire. Lotsa witchy stuff going on right now, eh? [Listening to “The Gypsies Came Marching After”] Wow here’s another stormer. This is probably referencing Fairport Convention or Incredible String Band or Pentangle but I just don’t know that stuff well enough… I guess you’d call it folk-rock—it does swing, you can move to it—and they use traditional acoustic and electric instruments and so on.
D: I like her voice. Strong, feminine, with hints of tenderness and loss.
C: This song [“Apocalypse,” the EP’s final track] is a sorta blues groove—it’s like Heart, if they were amazing.
D [musing]: PJ Harvey, with flowers and beads in her hair.

(Locust Music)
C: More really lovely, absolutely spellbinding boots-over-pants modern two girls-one boy psychedelic chamber folk-rock for you…
D: [eyes closed, rapt] My, my, my.
C: Reminds me of Damon & Naomi and Ghost. Very, very pretty, and not at all dippy or precious, which is the way these things can so easily go. [listening to “Meadow”] See, cuz they can write actual songs, they’re not just inhabiting a texture or a form…
D: It cannot be possible. What woods are all these people coming from?
C: They come from the Shire, sire. Actually they come from Philadelphia.
D: [listening to “Voices”] There’s no drums, there’s no backbeat, but, [quietly, seriously] I can dig it anyway. Listen to me when I say this: This is music that lifts the veil.

Acid Mothers Temple and the Melting Paraiso U.F.O.
Mantra of Love
C: Speaking of lifting the veil: here’s the new Acid Mothers Temple studio album, two very long tracks. The first is a traditional vocal, with Miss Cotton Casino singing, that goes…
D: [6:25 in] There it goes now, off into the universe… Happy trails everywhere.
C: For those out there who don’t know, the Acid Mothers are a Japanese psych outfit known to the acid cognoscenti for volume, trance and hair frizz. They’re on a serious far-out trip and they’re gonna do it, sometimes on the turn of the dime, whether or not anyone else is interested. I’ve seen them play a 100-person room like they were playing for the galaxy…
D: This is the best-recorded AMT album I’ve ever heard!
C: You can actually hear the bass beneath all the Hawkwind psych-bleeptronics and Acid Mothers “super guru” Kawabata Makoto’s super-guru-guitar guru-ifying all over the place. A proper mix, finally. [listening] Aaaaand then back down to the central melody. This is humanity at its finest: dignified—cooperative—transcendent.
D: So good! I must nominate the Acid Mothers as this planet’s ambassadors to the Galactic Council!

Last of Analog Sessions 3-CD box set
(Important Records)
D: Ack! What the???? Something’s wrong with the needle!
C: Oh, D. So easily confused. This is Japanese noise artist Merzbow, that’s what the stuff sounds like…at first. Then you get into it. You have to listen closely.
D: I will NEVER get into this!
C: Well, that’s your problem. For the non-philistines out there in Arthurworld, I want to say that his packages three Merzbow albums—Catapillar, Medamaya and Springharp—recorded from ‘97-99 by Masami Akita, in his final analog tantrums before he went digital. As it says on the back of this beautiful silver-on-black package, “Akita plays Self-built junk—”
D: Yeah this is junk alright—
C: “—with contact mics, various filters and ring modulators, various effects pedals, EMS Synthi A synthesizer, EMS VCS3 Synthesizer, Moog Synthesizer, GR-500 Guitar Synthesizer, Tapes, EXD, Drum Machine and Oscillators.” It’s good stuff, although a little of this goes a long way and I couldn’t tell you what my favorite track is. You’ve got to be in a very certain and very open mindset to listen to this stuff, but it’s worth it. Shit is meditational, bro!
D: Listen, I get this when the DVD isn’t connected right to the stereo, and that’s free of charge.

Loren Connors
The Departing of a Dream Vol. III: Juliet
(Family Vineyard)
D: Much better. Lonesome guitars sounding occasional hopeful notes in the desert.
C: It occupies its own unique space. Not quite ominous, but not settled either. Restless, haunting. Just one man doing “guitars, tapes, sounds.”
D: This is what that Daniel Lanois guy wishes he could sound like.
C: It’s only 30 minutes, but I swear it feels like six hours. This will slow you right down, just like yoga or a good bath or chopping vegetables… Wow.
D: [asleep]

Thee Silver Mountain Reveries
Pretty Little Lighting Paw
C: Four tracks, thirty minutes. “More Action! Less Tears!” is a great title: it’s like Godspeed You! Black Emperor gone early Spiritualized, with a sense of humor. [Listening to “Microphones in the Trees”]: Now we’re getting down to the REAL anguish of the evening. Guitarist-vocalist Efrim is Wayne Coyne realizing all hope IS lost, actually and death is no comfort. But there’s this ease at the end of the song, a moment of brightness. Epiphany? Or maybe it’s just the street lights buzzing on, like in Antonioni’s L’Eclipse…
D: [stirring deep into the 10-minute “Pretty Little Lightning Paw”]: What is this…? A choir from the dark stars…

Craig Taborn
Junk Magic
(Thirsty Ear)
C: Future jazz from nowtime. Reminds me a bit of Carl Craig’s Innerzone project from a few years ago. Whatever happened with that, anyhow? Jazz and digital electronics: a treacherous and therefore unexploited frontier? Tonight at 10!
D [drifting]: …Cinematic Orchestra….
C: This is heavier, swings a bit more, and goes further out, leaving the drums behind altogether. A little more intense. These are compositions, not jams, you have to follow it along. It’s cool in a tough situation.

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“Leminiscences”: James Parker on the autobiography of Mr. Kilmister (Arthur, 2004)

Originally published in Arthur No. 10 (May 2004)

James Parker on the autobiography of Mr. Kilmister

White Line Fever
by Lemmy Kilmister with Janiss Garza
(Citadel Trade)
320 pages, $14.95

When I was at an English boarding school in the Seventies, a sweatless boy among sweatless boys, all of us with scuffed shins and hard little minds, there was a brief craze for fainting. It swept through the school like some hot new type of dance. Chapel was the place for it: eight o’clock in the morning, leaky grey light, prayers humming their moth-wings, and the pale unbreakfasted boys would sigh and slump from their pews, one after another, in mild reversals of boy-energy. Low blood sugar had something to do with it—we were scandalously, I would say almost criminally underfed—but you couldn’t doubt the narcotic properties of the prayers themselves. There was this Marian chant from the 15th century which we would do from time to time: the Litany Of Loreto. A real trance-inducer. “Mystical rose!…PRAY for us…Tower of David!… PRAY for us… Tower of Ivory!… PRAY for us”—and so on, repeating and building in pounding, swaying dactyls until the brain cuts out. Years later I heard this rhythm again, in the same call-and-response measure, on a re-release of Hawkwind’s live album Space Ritual—“Time we left… (This world today!)… Brain police… (Not far behind!)… Trying to make you… (Lose your mind!)” Bastards! I smelled again stale pieties of incense, and felt a draught upon my knees as if I were in short trousers.

But this is all by the by, and only slenderly related to my theme, which is the new book White Line Fever, by Lemmy with Janiss Garza. Lemmy was of course in Hawkwind, playing his bass, and for a while he was the best thing about them—Space Ritual is dark hippy wreckage anyway, a huge crude monomanic bummer with drums dolefuly thrashing and vocals following sax following guitar following bass through riff after drug-blind riff. Quite impressive, in other words, but one wearies of the mindfuck. One wearies of Bob Calvert sneering “Sonic attack—in your dist-rict!” through metallic sinuses, the seedy psychedelic warlordism of it. Only the steady, earthy rumble of Lemmy’s bass keeps you listening. I love his sound on this record—surging, human, refusing the pull of outer space and the gnawings of paranoia. It’s not the definitive Lemmy sound, not the tremendous slobbering chordal attack he perfected in Motorhead, but it’s full of personality. In the midst of the Hawkzone, it’s comforting. Lemmy is very funny about Hawkwind in White Line Fever, about DikMik’s fit-inducing sound machines and Dave Brock’s regular delusion that he’d bitten his own tongue off, or his habit of leaning out of his car to shout “Spank! Spank! Spank!” at passing schoolgirls; “Hello girls! Spanky-spanky!” About Nik Turner—“one of those moral, self-righteous assholes, as only Virgos can be”—Lemmy is candidly bitchy, which is even better. Only prolonged night-after-night exposure to Turner’s farmyard sax-playing, his bleats and clucks and moos, could have distilled this weary disenchantment: “He was holding the saxophone and capering–he was a great caperer, Nikky.” Or (my favorite line in the whole book) “He’d get drunk as a cunt on wine.”

I’d like to know precisely how White Line Fever was written, the mechanics of authorship as it were. Behind every book like this is a very interesting sub-book, which is the story of the hack and his or her subject, and how they got it together, how long it took, and how they suffered mutually, etc. White Line Fever smells of Lemmy in his quarters, his LA apartment with the curtains drawn against the late afternoon and the walls prickling with WW2 memorabilia, and the great man filling ashtrays and bullshitting away, forgetting names, remembering dates, swirling through anecdotal loops, mumbling and thinking and chuckling. Nine-tenths of it is unmistakably Lemmy’s speaking voice, the voice of a roughened but still elegant old-school raconteur: “But back to Robbo. I’d known him for years—we met under a table at Dingwalls.” Lemmy’s memories—his Lemmories or Leminiscences—have a patchy, refracted fog-and-strobe quality, which is just as it should be. It gives them depth; early in the book we get a prismatic flash of the Beatles at the Cavern, playing odd-shaped guitars, telling jokes and “eating cheese rolls while singing” and headbutting hecklers. They sound as violent as the Marx Brothers. “Hard men,” says Lemmy, and goes on to disparage the Rolling Stones: “Fair enough, the Stones made great records, but they were always shit on stage, whereas the Beatles were the gear.” The gear! Later on we are granted a piercing glimpse of Sid Vicious, “this fucking bundle of pipe cleaners in a pair of tennis shoes,” taking on a huge Maltese bouncer. Now and again the prose turns professional, breaking into jauntily anonymous as-told-to-ese—“We only had a fortnight to record Overkill, our second album and first for Bronze. Considering our checkered recording history, however, it was a world of time for us”—but that’s just Ms. Garza doing her job, getting the facts in. By and large the Lemmy ramble flows phlegmy and untainted. “I did die once—well the band thought I had, at least. But I hadn’t. The whole thing started when we were going home from a gig in the van. This guy, John the Bog, was our driver—actually, he died, about two years after this incident, come to think of it…”

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“So Righteous to Love”: Devendra Banhart, interviewed by Trinie Dalton (Arthur, 2004)

Originally published in Arthur No. 10 (May 2004)

So Righteous to Love
Devendra Banhart is here and he plays folk music. Trinie Dalton finds out where he’s coming from.
Photographs by Melanie Pullen.

A few months ago I hiked high on mushrooms in the Redwoods, and Devendra Banhart’s first album served as my bridge between fantasy and reality. His music isn’t about tripping out on drugs—I’m not belittling it that way—but its soothing quality makes one feel peaceful in any state of mind. As I interviewed him over the phone in late February about a myriad of topics, Devendra often returned to talking about folk music’s universality, about how one of its most noble purposes is to make listeners feel comfortable.

Hearing 23-year-old Devendra talk like this reminded me of how closely related late-1960s psychedelic rock bands were, in spirit and sense of idealism, to the folk singers Devendra loves so much from the same period: their considerations for listening to and hearing music were at the forefront of their playing. But Devendra’s tastes extend into the present, and there appears to be just as many neo-psychedelic musicians playing today as there are neo-folk rockers. Is it due to the current abominable political state? I don’t know. I didn’t care to discuss politics with Devendra because I was more fascinated by his reverence for nature—by his belief that music can bring one closer to not only self-understanding but also learning about one’s place in the environment, whether it be forested or urban.

Devendra’s new album Rejoicing in the Hands cultivates this respect for life under the auspices of yet another new hybrid-Banhart sound, this time combining old-time blues with the troubadour-ish balladry, psychedelic rock and acoustic guitar traditions of folk. The sound of this record is both familiar and absolutely unique, although Banhart’s singing does gets compared in the press to Marc Bolan’s and Billie Holiday’s to an unfortunate, almost annoying degree. Rejoicing in the Hands is perhaps his best work—it’s hard to say that, cuz they’re all so great—in that the guitar playing achieves more complexity, at times becoming as strong a force as the vocals. Not that his first two releases, 2002’s Oh Me Oh My album (Young God), and 2003’s The Black Babies EP (Young God), didn’t feature some fantastic guitar sounds, but until Rejoicing, I’d heard Devendra’s guitar as more a complement to his vocals than having its own individual drive.

I figured this increased guitar-playing skill must mean his shows are getting better and better, so I started our talk by asking him about performing live. His speaking voice became more melodic and animated when he talked of things he felt passionately about. When he began to talk about his favorite types of venues to play, things got interesting…

Arthur: You prefer to play galleries and churches…
Trinie Dalton: I try…I don’t entirely like playing rock clubs and bars because it doesn’t lend itself too well to the kind of music we’re playing. When I play a church, the acoustics are so wonderful. You have to play an environment that suits what you’re doing, and churches are built to have incredible acoustics. Some Aztec churches, the acoustics are built so wildly, they’re so psychedelically manipulative, that if you clap into a certain passageway, it responds like the sound of a sacred bird that the Aztecs worshipped. They really thought about it. It makes sense for people who play non-electric music, or quieter music to play in a place that augments that instead of in a place that drowns it completely out. Those people that are used to dealing with 8000 amps and four drum sets, the whole building [a rock club] is built to suck in the sound.

It gives your music a richer sound, or has a more spiritual atmosphere or something…or there’s more than just sound going on, with the other senses too.
There’s a vibe.

I think of your music as a mixture of folk and psychedelic. I read up on your big influences, but you didn’t mention psychedelic bands, more of the folky psychedelic rock, like Incredible String Band, Fairport Convention. Do you listen to that kind of music?
I really do. “Psychedelic,” to me, just means a sharp awareness of your surroundings, and a heightened aesthetic sense, and a sensitivity…it’s like this ultra-sensual state. Psychedelic words bring out that state in objects that might be considered mundane. Usually they’re in nature, because usually you’re not going to find psychedelic qualities in a stapler, you know? But a tree, you feel it. It’s like a magic spell, or alchemy, using certain words to bring out the psychedelic life and energy, the core, god’s vein, the blood of the gods.

Back to the music, I’m so easily influenced and affected by music. I love Incredible String Band. But I’m not as big a fan of them as I am Clive Palmer, the guy who started them. He played on the first record. The real song to me, on that one, is Clive’s song… “You know my ____ friends/ Singing baby…” [starts singing it] I like Robin Williamson’s solo records, they’re incredible, and I like Mike Heron’s solo records. It’s unbelievable to think that they’re both fucking Scientologists now. Some of these records are just getting re-released, so they won’t just be available on bootleg anymore. Like Clive’s Original Band, and Clive’s Famous Jug Band. As far as British psychedelic stuff, Fairport Convention has never been too psychedelic, they’re more like rock-folk. Then there’s Trader Horne…Currently, I’ve been getting into more current psychedelic stuff, via my friend, Steve Krakow, who goes by the name Plastic Crimewave. He has a magazine devoted to all things psychedelic, that he hand draws and hand writes, called Galactic Zoo Dossier. He also has a band called Plastic Crimewave…he’s a scholar of the psychedelic ways, he’s an incredible person. It’s a good road to go down. A band that I recently saw that was the awesomest epitome of bar psychedelia, is Comets on Fire, they get everybody grooving.

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“The Outsiders” by Paul Cullum (Arthur, 2004)

Originally published in Arthur No. 10 (May 2004)

The Outsiders
A “Camera Obscura” column by Paul Cullum

CAMERA OBSCURA is a regular column examining the world and its lesser trafficked tributaries, recesses and psychic fallout through the filters of film, video and DVD.

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Works discussed in this column:
Nashville (1975), directed by Robert Altman, written by Joan Tewkesbury (Paramount Home Video)
Tanner ’88 (1988), directed by Robert Altman, written by Garry Trudeau (HBO Home Video)
Tanner “Fireside Chats” (2004), (The Sundance Channel)
Secret Honor (1984), directed by Robert Altman, written by Donald Freed and Arthur Stone (Vestron Video)
The Nashville Chronicles, by Jan Stuart (Limelight Editions; http://www.limelighteditions.com)

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“Listen, you fuckers, you screwheads. Here is a man who would not take it anymore. A man who stood up against the scum, the cunts, the dogs, the filth, the shit. Here is a man who stood up.”
—Travis Bickle, Taxi Driver

“New rule: You can’t be an outsider if you’re already president.”
—Bill Maher

Was it Richard Nixon who invented the outsider in American politics? Nixon, the festering Quaker, who so resented the Kennedys, the liberal Harvard elite, the charismatic cabal of ineluctable privilege, that he made his presidency an armed encampment, and codified his enemies into the world’s most exclusive guest list?

Before him, the century’s presidents were patricians and gentleman intellectuals, academics and company men, generals and crooks and tentacled leviathans rising from the Senate. Aprés Nixon and his designated stand-in Ford, we got Carter, the peanut farmer-nuclear physicist; Reagan, the rancher-statesman, and his stand-in Bush; Clinton, the wonk-lothario-honorary black president; and now Bush Redux, the Jim-Bowie-at-the-Alamo president. Trailing behind them was a comical retinue of apron-clad inepts and third-party spoilers—H. Ross Perot, the Weenie King from Preston Sturges’ Palm Beach Story; Ralph Nader, the stooping Jimmy Stewart from Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. Their only thing in common was that they were somehow outside the institutional cesspit of D.C. power–“in,” but no longer “of.”

Nixon was certainly the unsung inspiration for ’70s cinema, the flailing windmill against which the disaffected tilted. It’s not just that the ’70s were the ’60s on film, the natural bridle of adolescence against authority. The decade is a bell-shaped descent converging on the vortex of Watergate and Nixon’s flight from power in 1974. A Shakespearean figure who screened Patton repeatedly the weekend before he ordered the bombing of Cambodia, Nixon was the role model for Michael Corleone in the Godfather Trilogy, the dissembling mayor in Jaws and the Emperor in Star Wars, and the literal heavy of Hearts and Minds, Medium Cool, Shampoo (staged on the day of his reelection) and All the President’s Men. His tenure directly inspired the agitprop of M*A*S*H, Catch-22, Coming Home and Apocalypse Now; the political paranoia of Taxi Driver, The Parallax View, Three Days of the Condor and Marathon Man; and the institutional corruption of Serpico, Chinatown, The Conversation, Sugarland Express, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Night Moves and Network. But no more political allegory survives the decade than Robert Altman’s Nashville—conceived during the Watergate hearings, filmed during Nixon’s resignation and released in time for the Bicentennial.

In honor of the election year, Altman’s six-hour miniseries Tanner ’88, originally made for HBO with Doonesbury satirist Garry Trudeau during the 1988 election, is currently being rebroadcast on the Sundance Channel, complete with recently-filmed one-minute “Fireside Chats” with the original cast to accompany each episode (which hopefully will show up on the rumored Criterion DVD due this fall). But Nashville, available in widescreen format with plenty of extras from Paramount Home Video, is where the director first explored the nexus of politics and celebrity. Altman’s putative masterpiece is contractually the story of the country music capital of America, although like Taxi Driver, it is revealed in its final moments to be a pathography of political assassination. In Jan Stuart’s The Nashville Chronicles (Limelight Editions Books), an artfully researched volume of behind-the-scenes anecdotes and historical context, Altman calls the film his “Grand Motel.”

Coming off of Thieves Like Us in Northern Mississippi, Altman sent writer Joan Tewkesbury to nearby Nashville to sop up the city and keep a rigorous journal. Working from instinct, Tewkesbury charted two dozen characters on a grid and compiled a 175-page script, which despite numerous memorable lines (Ned Beatty’s Delbert, the local fixer, tells Michael Murphy’s John Triplette, the oil-slick California advance man, “Well, I admire your optimism, I was just wondering if it was regional.”), Altman tossed in the air, hoping through improvisation to hew closer to an America they all felt was about to redline.

“It was set up like a rug,” remembers Tewkesbury, “like you were weaving a rug. And when he told the actors to throw away the script and forget the dialogue, there were actors who did every stitch of dialogue as it had been written, and then there were others who had this magnificent other stuff. What you find out is that the words are nice and dialogue is great in plays and on television, but what these kinds of films really are about is tone and behavior. And so the words, in a funny way, are like clues. But you cast for behavior and cast for tone, or against it, to bring it to life.” (Tewkesbury is currently a consulting producer on CBS’s The Guardian, which is doing some interesting stuff under the radar.)

The finished film follows Tewkesbury’s script scene for scene, beat for beat, and she constantly worked with the actors to keep their improvs on point. Altman, who had hired real Vietnam draft dodgers living in Vancouver to populate the mining camp in McCabe and Mrs. Miller, and who would use ex-addict Synanon members as casino gamblers in California Split, packed real country-music fans into every frame, and added session players like fiddle phenomenon Vassar Clements for, in Tewkesbury’s elegant phrase, “unencumbered authenticity.” And politics, which hung like an ominous cloudbank, seemed to infuse everything. Tewkesbury patterned Triplette after John Dean and other Watergate witnesses, which Murphy expanded to include a college acquaintance who became a ratfucker, one of Nixon’s dirty tricks team. Music City patriarch Haven Hamilton (initially written for Robert Duvall), based on country-music titans like Hank Snow, Conway Twitty and Tex Ritter, was played by Henry Gibson based on Henry Kissinger, for the power, and Bob Hope, for the longevity. It was Gibson who, wounded in the final assassination scene, improvised the line “We’re not Dallas.” (Murphy starred in Tanner ’88, and both actors showed up in Paul Thomas Anderson’s Magnolia as an Altman homage.)

Looking for a way to unify the film’s emerging politics, Altman added third-party candidate Hal Phillip Walker, whose radical platform is voiced via a loudspeaker mounted atop a campaign van that segues between scenes. To handle the rhetoric, narration and logistics of the campaign, Altman approached Thomas Hal Phillips, a novelist who had been invaluable on Thieves Like Us as the head of the Mississippi Film Commission, and whose family was heavily involved in state politics. Phillips identified himself as an FDR Democrat, but had run his brother Rubel’s campaign for governor of in 1963, which virtually invented the Mississippi Republican Party. Once on set, his family’s political connections proved invaluable: He pulled strings so the British Chaplin could get her work visa, got permission to close down Interstate 65 to film the opening traffic jam and recruited extras for the political smoker and striptease (and confirmed that such things occurred when cast and crew were horrified by the reaction). With Denver political operative Ron Hecht, acting on Altman’s instructions to “invade my movie,” he set up an actual campaign office and strategy in the midst of the primary election for Tennessee governor.

With a voice like warm syrup, in the manner Shelby Foote or David McCulloch (the Ken Burns/Seabiscuit guy), Phillips recorded his voiceover in a single 18-minute speech–which, in some sort of karmic transfer, is the exact length of the missing portion of the Watergate tapes. Full of folksy palliatives and Old Testament constructions like “It is the very nature of government to strain at a gnat and swallow a camel,” his declarations were considered extremely prescient when Jimmy Carter mounted a similar down-home populism to win the Presidency a year later. Consequently, many interpreted it at the time as Altman’s cynical jab at soft-headed demagoguery. Yet, viewed three decades later, in once again newly politicized times, Walker’s platform seems to push Howard Dean or Dennis Kucinich-style progressivism toward a new militancy, in a way that is less modest proposal than common sense. His call to ban lawyers from Congress may be a legislative stretch. (“A lawyer is trained for two things and two things only: To clarify, that’s one; and to confuse, that’s the other. He does whichever is to his client’s advantage. You ever ask a lawyer the time of day? He told you how to make a watch, didn’t he?… Congress is composed of 535 individuals; 288 are lawyers.”) And replacing the National Anthem with Woody Guthrie’s “This Land Is Your Land” might border on the comical. But taxing the churches’ “vast holdings of land and corporate investments” or abolishing the Electoral College is long overdue.

Those parts of the speech excised or indecipherable in the film itself, but included in the full text available in Tewkesbury’s published script, make the point all the more:

“With proper leadership and effort, we can wipe out crime as surely as this country wiped out polio or smallpox… Today in America, with its unmatched resources, it is exceedingly ridiculous, a total absurdity, that any citizen with any ailment, mental or physical, should go medically unattended… Can it possibly make sense to regiment farms and farmers when people are ill-fed, if not downright hungry?… To tax the salaries of people on poverty-level incomes, then turn around and give back in food stamps twice the amount of the tax?… Every community needs special programs for the mentally ill, the aged, the retarded, the handicapped. To fall short in these areas is to bring disgrace on all our houses.”

Tracked down at his rural home in Corinth, Mississippi, Phillips, now 80, claims he was totally sincere.

“I more or less believe what I wrote,” he says. “I don’t know where they got that, because I had my whole heart in it. It was different, but we were running a different race. The things that I believe in, a Republican or a Democrat could both say them. Carter hadn’t come on the scene yet, but that was what I was thinking of. And I really took it seriously, that any candidate that would come out and say some of those things would get a lot of attention.”

At Altman’s behest, Phillips revived the Walker character once more in 1987’s O.C, and Stiggs, but by then he had slipped into parody, more Wally George-style Orange County wrestler-Republican than aging idealist. Walker just published his first novel in two decades, Red Midnight, and claims he’s a Hillary Clinton supporter in 2008.

And Altman and Nixon’s paths crossed once more, in Secret Honor, a one-man play starring Philip Baker Hall as a paranoid, suicidal Richard Nixon with raccoon eyes and Eddie Munster hair who looks like Robert Blake in Lost Highway. Nixon’s “secret” is that he faked the Watergate tapes “to lead Congress to the tip of the wrong iceberg,” hiding the fact that his superiors planned to keep him in the White House for eight more years and the war going indefinitely, ensuring a steady flow of heroin to the Mob and kickbacks of U.S. aid from Saigon into CREEP, the Committee to Re-Elect the President.

These days, they just give the money back in tax cuts and cut out the middleman.

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DVDs/videos courtesy of Cinefile, the official video store of Arthur. Contact Cinefile at (310) 312-8836 or http://www.cinefilevideo.com.

THE SADDEST FILMMAKER IN THE WORLD: Guy Maddin, interviewed by Kristina McKenna (Arthur, 2004)

The Saddest Filmmaker in the World
Director Guy Maddin is highly resentful, terribly romantic and prone to melancholy. He also makes wondrous, utterly unique films. Kristine McKenna asks him how he does it.

Originally published in Arthur No. 10 (May 2004)

Guy Maddin was born in Winnipeg, Manitoba in 1956. He’s of Icelandic descent, and his father was a prominent hockey coach who lost an eye as an infant when his mother pulled him to her breast and pierced his eye with the pin from an unfastened broach. Maddin’s mother ran Lil’s Beauty Shop, a salon she named after her beloved sister. As a child, Maddin received a piggy-back ride from Bing Crosby. When he was seven years old his teenage brother committed suicide; when he was 14, his father died. These losses can be seen resonating in the films he’s subsequently made.

After earning a degree in economics at the University of Winnipeg, Maddin became increasingly obsessed with film while working a series of crummy jobs that included house painting and bank telling. When he was 29 he played a character named Concerned Citizen Stan on the cable access television show, Survival!, and the following year he completed his first film, the 26-minute short, The Dead Father. A moving portrait of a young man whose dead father haunts him in daydreams and nightmares, the film contains all the seeds that would later blossom into Maddin’s mature style.

Maddin has described digital effects as “grotesque artifacts of the present” and his predominantly black-and-white films operate on one level as an homage to the silent cinema of the ‘20s. Artificially aged through the incorporation of jarring edits that suggest old, broken reels of film clumsily spliced back together, soundtracks riddled with cracks and pops, and the mannered, melodramatic performing style he coaxes from his actors, Maddin’s films seem to call out from a remote, murky past. At the same time, however, they’re clearly the work of a late-20th century man well acquainted with the astonishing trauma of that bedeviled century. Fraught with anxiety and dread that often erupts into black humor, his films invariably circle back to a thematic point you’ll never find in an old silent film: the inevitable loss of that which we hold most dear.

In 1988 Maddin teamed up with his longtime collaborator George Toles on the brilliant Tales From the Gimli Hospital, a wickedly funny study of male rivalry and romantic longing. Two years later he completed his second film, Archangel, after which he contracted an incurable neurological condition called myoclonus which causes him to feel as if he’s constantly being touched. He soldiered on, nonetheless, and in 1992 he completed Careful, the story of an alpine village whose residents must forever speak in hushed tones, lest they trigger an avalanche. Twilight of the Ice Nymphs was released in 1997, and four years later he directed the filmed ballet, Dracula: Pages from a Virgin’s Diary, which will be released on DVD in May by Zeitgeist Video.

Maddin’s sixth film, The Saddest Music in the World, is currently in theaters. Based on an original screenplay by Kazuo Ishiguro, it’s a Depression era melodrama set in Winnipeg, where a beer baroness (played by Isabella Rossellini) hosts a competition to determine which ethnicity produces the saddest music. Out this August will be Cowards Bend the Knee, a film installation Maddin premiered last year in Rotterdam that will be released as a single panel projection. Maddin has also completed 18 short films; they’re difficult to find and they’re all fantastic, so don’t miss them if they come to your town. I had the privilege of speaking to Maddin last month, and these are some of the things he said.

Arthur: What’s your earliest memory?
Guy Maddin: My mother showing me her naked breast and telling me that’s where milk came from. My mother is no naturist, so that’s a strong memory. I also remember being stuck to the floor of the beauty salon where I grew up because everything there was coated in layer upon layer of ancient hairspray. I’d play on the floor and crawl around the nyloned ankles of all the women sitting in a row under the hairdryers, and whenever someone spilled a tray of curlers I’d gather them up and build little castles out of them. I was pretty young to be glued to a beauty salon floor.

Do memories enhance or impede our ability to enjoy the present?
You couldn’t make anything of the present without memories, so they make our enjoyment of the present possible. We’re constantly building up our library of memories, but we’re constantly losing memories, too, because we haven’t revisited them enough and finally they fade away. It’s as if you’re building on a beach that’s constantly eroding, so memories don’t really provide much of a foundation.

To what degree do we unknowingly fictionalize our own past?
Most people have a small set of stories they tell repeatedly that take on the quality of tales told around a campfire by cavemen. Those stories do become more like cave paintings than an accurate recounting of something that happened, and they become more beautiful and useful as a result. I willfully fictionalize my own past as much as possible, but strangely enough, I find the more I attempt to mythologize my own past, the more raw and cathartically confessional I become. In Cowards Bend the Knee, the protagonist is a man named Guy Maddin who’s a triple-murderer, hairdressing, hockey player–none of which I’ve ever been. But in the way that fairy tales can be incredibly true, despite the fact that they involve talking wolves, the character feels like an authentic version of me.

Is it true that in directing The Saddest Music in the World you copied various descriptions of depression and synonyms for sadness onto index cards to create a deck of 52 cards, then had each actor draw a hand of cards every day and use the suggestions on them to shape their performance that day?
Yes. I’m willing to try anything because I’d be revealed as complete impostor if I tried directing my actors conventionally. So I had these beautiful little sentences from Burton’s Anatomy of Melancholy, and synonyms from Roget’s Thesaurus, and it was just a way of forcing the actors to channel their lines of dialogue and their gestures through the suggestions on the cards. It worked, too–I think it refreshed their approach every day.

What elements of Ishiguro’s original script remain in your adaptation?
I had a real free hand in adapting his screenplay. In his version there was a contest, as there is in mine, but his took place in London on the eve of Perestroika. I switched the place and time to Winnipeg on the eve of the dissolution of Prohibition. Ishiguro’s main concern, which he made sure I included in every draft of the script, was the heartbreaking irony of Third World countries who are already suffering under immense privation, but are still compelled to exaggerate their privations because the competition for world charity is so stiff. So you get this grotesque sight of a starving populace pretending to be even hungrier than they are so they can be the sexiest charity of the season. Ishiguro wrote his script in the early ‘80s when the Ethiopian drought sparked several all-star pop fundraisers, so his concerns were essentially political. I’ve never been a political filmmaker, though, and I wasn’t interested in making a political satire.

Is it possible to make a film free of politics?
If you succeed in being honest about your characters a political reading will always be possible, but I think you can have a story that’s more timelessly political and explores the way hegemonics invariably work out. Some countries have more power than others and it forces them into inevitable roles. That’s apparent in everything from Euripides to Archie Comics.

Archangel includes a scene where a shower of bunnies rains down on a group of people huddled in a barn. You’ve described the scene as being so delightful that it’s a portent of something bad, which suggests you feel that any high point of joy must inevitably be followed by a fall. Do you think that’s true?
Yeah, I guess it’s that feeling you get right after the first time you masturbate—everything is cute until you’re on the far side of the parabola. Those white, fluffy bunnies seemed to fit so niftily into a phrase like ‘the white fluffiness of forgetfulness.’ I wanted everything to look cozy because forgetfulness can be as comfy as getting tucked in beneath a giant, goose-down duvet. In Henry Green’s novel, Back, there’s a man who loses a leg after being shot by a sniper hiding in a rose bush. There’s not just a thorn in the rosebush, there’s a bullet too—it’s fun to combine things like that.

What’s the difference between nostalgia, melancholy and grief?
Nostalgia and melancholy are relatively benign, but grief is something I’m terrified of. There’ve been times in my life when grief was called for and I just didn’t have it—when my father, my brother, and my Aunt Lil died, for instance. Instead of grieving in one big payment, I think I grieve on the installment plan in my films and in my dreams, where I encounter all sorts of unfinished business. The bill collectors come around almost every night, and I engage in uninhibited grieving in my dreams, then I wake up refreshed.

What do you think happens after death?
I’m afraid it’s nothing. It’s funny, if you believed it was nothing it shouldn’t be frightening at all. But then, no one understands what “nothing” really is.

You’ve said, “I don’t need anything to happen to me anymore. I have plenty of sadness in reserve. I can lie down with a fine, vintage memory and sip it all night long.” This suggests that sadness is a source of comfort for you. Most people go to great lengths to avoid feeling sadness; how do you explain your ability to embrace it?
I avoid pain like a normal person, but I digest sad memories the way other people listen to CDs or watch movies. I don’t do it so much anymore, though, because I’m such a busy adult with this movie-making, and melancholy takes time. You need big, white expanses in your daybook to enjoy it properly, and I’ve been a bit too busy. My girlfriend, who I’ve been with for four years, has sort of trained me not to talk about it so much, too, but it’s always been a major pastime for George Toles and I. Don’t get me wrong—we’re not just sitting around reminiscing about funerals—but when we’re screenwriting we’re openly fabricating our past and transforming it into an exotic blend of melancholy and joy, much in the way people blend whiskey or tobacco. When a sad song strikes someone at a point of the compass that’s so completely personal and unique that they can’t even explain why it’s so deliciously sad, that song has been transformed into a fantastic commodity.

Name a song that always makes you cry.
This is really sick, but some songs actually make me cry tears of pride. It has to be a song that’s not too good, because a really good song is beyond envy. But if it seems so simple and clumsy that I almost could’ve done it myself, I find myself sliding into a temporary reverie that I was, in fact, the author of this work. That’s why I like basement bands, early rock, and any period of the Ramones. There are primitive films that affect me that way, too–Bunuel’s L’Age D’or, for instance, or Jean Vigo’s Zero For Conduct.’

What was the essence of Vigo’s genius?
Some people have taste and aspire to make things, but they don’t have the technical skill or the experience to do it, but Vigo’s voice coincided perfectly with his talent. He was a primitive and he knew exactly what to do with that primitivity. He was probably aware he only had enough command over his actors to get stylized, blocked out performances, but he knew how to use that style of performance. And he gave his gifted cameraman and editor the same careless, open, free-for-all he allowed his actors. Every aspect of his work is so consistently primitive and out of control that it takes on a quality of control. Jonathan Rosenbaum made the observation that when some lost scenes were restored to L’Atalante it didn’t make the movie any better or worse, and you do get the sense that you could remove or reorder the sequence of the scenes and it wouldn’t affect this great movie at all. I’m not great at talking things out with actors, so my approach has always been to use broad narrative strokes, then try to cover up with lots of baroque effects and film grain. So I’m always looking for people who work in analogous ways.

You once commented “sometimes it’s liberating to be self-destructive.” Could you elaborate?
I may’ve been referring to a foolish decision I made a few years ago to have my diaries [From the Atelier Tovar] published. I happened to have them with me on an occasion when I met a publisher, and it came up in conversation that I kept these diaries. He asked if I’d ever considered publishing them and I replied no, then he asked if he could take a look at them. I said “Sure, take them–you can publish them as far as I’m concerned.” I regretted that instantly because I knew as I handed them over that a lot of people would be mad at me—and they were. But it sort of cleared the air, and I found out who my friends were. I’m really not sure what’s in the diaries because I’ve actually never even read them. The sound of my own voice, even written on a page, bothers me, so I don’t like the sight of my own handwriting. I’m kind of phobic—I’m about two steps removed from late Howard Hughes right now.

You’ve also said “you do the darnest, broad stroke, crazy things when you’re in agony.” When was the last time you were in agony, and what crazy things did you do?
There’s nothing like mad love to force you into a surreal experience of your own life, and when I said that I was probably referring to the agony of unrequited love. The first time it happened to me I was about 20 and I didn’t know how to deal with it at all so I made a jackass of myself. One of my favorite scenes in L’ Age d’Or is when its star, Gaston Modot, responds to getting jilted. He wanders around in an apartment, he tears open a pair of pillows and puts a handful of feathers on a windowsill, he picks up a giant plow, then he throws a burning Christmas tree out the window. It’s pretty liberating being that irrational because you get to blast things to smithereens. The second time I got hit I was old enough to have some dignity, which I unfortunately didn’t have. I was once at a party where this girl I loved was ignoring me, so I responded by phoning up a taxi for each person at the party—and there were about 50 people at the party. I remember pointing at people and saying ‘this taxi is for you!’ I finally realized I was making a fool of myself and got into one of the taxis myself.

What’s the most destructive thing about romantic love?
There’s all sorts of damage done, but it doesn’t feel like damage at the time because it feels so good to surrender yourself to the other person. It feels like everything you’ve been waiting your whole life for, and you give up so much of yourself in those early days without any sort of negotiation. But you’ve actually just signed over huge parcels of land that you can never reclaim unless you want to start a war at a later date. And maybe it’s just an excuse to have a war, because they feel pretty good too. It’s no mystery why love can turn to hate because those two emotions are extremely close when the stakes are so high and two countries are sharing a border. I’m in love with romantic love, that’s for sure, but there’s always a price and you have to decide whether it’s worth it. I’ve considered the alternative, which is being without my girlfriend, and that’s not an idea I’m crazy about. It’s not that I’m afraid of being alone—I can be alone standing on my head for 14 years and I’ve done it in the past—but I’d miss her and always be thinking of her.

What’s your definition of a bad decision?
Something that looks ludicrously irrational from the outside. But the thing about wild gestures and ill-conceived battle plans that cause massive collateral damage is that when the smoke clears, the desired result is often still attained somehow. Maybe the desired result was all the collateral damage, or to make a huge, imperialistic claim for your romantic self. There are many lessons to be learned from nature, so we’re well advised to remember those marshland mating rituals, with giant animals making bizarre noises while opening themselves up to their natural enemy.

Jung says we’re all archetypes playing out ancient, eternal fables. Freud says we’re simply animals enslaved by biological drives. Which sounds more accurate to you?
I’ve never been a very good student of either of them, but I have groped out a murky, working theory for myself that embraces aspects of both those positions. I believe there are stories painted on the insides of our stony heads, there for reading and re-reading and palimpsesting ourselves. But I also can’t help but see us as selfish alimentary canals sort of bumping into one another.

How selfish? Are people incapable of truly putting the interests of someone else above our own?
Probably, but that’s too reductive. If you love other people and are even willing to sacrifice your life for them, yet that somehow satisfies some need in you, are you selfish? I suppose you could call that selfish, but you’d be doing a disservice to the extremely complicated and inscrutable transistor-sized wiring of what’s really going on in our heads. But human nature certainly feels selfish enough of the time without it having to be selfish 100% of the time.

Is evil contagious?
It can certainly spread like wildfire, and it probably has a very short incubation period. Unfortunately, its symptoms usually aren’t so apparent to the host organism, even when they’re fully infected.

Your collaborator George Toles has described the impulses that swim up from the unconscious as “deliciously unsavory, unsightly and extreme.” Is the unconscious basically a fetid swamp?
Yes. It’s a bog filled with sperm and eggshells and old teabags and discarded statuary. There are lyrical things down there too, and every now and then, through an act of will and imagination, you can make something beautiful from those raw materials. But mostly it’s a roiling, furious, unforgiving and stinking realm.

You’ve commented, “Most filmmakers don’t have the nerve to be really cruel to their characters, to give them what they deserve and what the audience secretly wants, even of they don’t know it.” Do people enjoy witnessing the suffering of others?
Yes. A lot of it is just glee that it’s not them, and a chance to vicariously wonder what it would be like if it was them. That’s why people slow down around car wrecks. When I was a teenager I had this Lord of the Flies fantasy and I used to wander around the beach naked throwing stones at birds. In time I developed a really strong throwing arm, and one day I actually hit a sea bird in the head. It was surrounded by its flock, and all these birds cried as this bird floated off. There was an off-shore breeze that day, and the birds cried for hours as this bird slowly floated away. I’ve never thrown a stone since.

You’ve said that when you saw Eraserhead you thought “Wow, this is my biography. How did someone read my mind and project it onto the screen?” What aspects of that film resonated with you?
The general state of delirium Henry Spencer films himself in. I’d been a father of an unplanned pregnancy—I assume David Lynch had as well—and I remember feeling plucked from a state of quasi-virginal youth and stuck into this domestic situation with me as the completely impotent paper mache patriarch of a family. The tenor of my life during that period coincided exactly with the tenor of Eraserhead, which evokes those middle-of-the-night trips to the washroom where you don’t quite have your balance and you’re staggering and you have to brace yourself against a wall and you’re scared you’re not even peeing into the toilet. Then all of a sudden one of life’s truths comes swinging out of the darkness at you and says, “You’re 20 and you’re married and you have a child and your father’s dead and you’ll never see him again.” During waking hours when the sun is high all sorts of misty veils pile up and envelop you in a sort of amnesia, and your troubles seem somehow abstract or fictionalized. But in the middle of the night there are moments when there’s an unavoidable, painful truth right at the center of everything, and that’s what Eraserhead felt like to me.

How did you go about surfacing from that very deep lake?
I wasn’t aware that I had to because I kind of embraced it in a way. Parenthood has tremendous rewards and I loved it, just as Henry does. Every now and then he gives a little admiring look down at the baby–although mostly, of course, he just stares into his radiator. When you have a child you love that child more than anything you will ever love, and my daughter is a wonderful person. She’s a designer and someday I’d love for her to design a picture with me.

The actor Ross McMillan has said “In every scene George Toles writes there’s someone doing something to someone else.” How would you describe Toles’ sensibility, and what makes him an appropriate co-writer for you?
George is always doing something to someone else, and he’s never happier than when he’s manipulating a situation to create conflict. He treats every room like a stage in which a short scene must be played out, and he’s perfectly willing to fabricate misinformation or involve wives and lovers to get things going. George treats human beings like piñatas, and once you understand that about him it can be fun to be part of his ongoing theater improv involving real human stakes. I thought we would’ve broken up long ago, but we’ve only had one little bump in the road, and we both mourned each other’s absence so much that we decided to repress what we found annoying in each other. It hurt too much to be alienated from each other

Toles has described your third film, Careful, as “a pro-incest movie” ; do you see it that way?
I don’t think it converted many people to incest, but we did try to work under the banner of making a pro-incest movie. It’s hard to control an ideology, even if you’re a skilled propagandist, which I am not, and I think it ended up being a pro-repression movie that offers a patent lesson in what awaits you if you let yourself slip and do what you want to do. Everyone in the film ends up getting punished for letting slip.

A central theme in your films is male rivalry which you describe as a situation that’s homosexual without the sexuality; what sort of territory does this theme open up for you?
I’m just trying to make sense of male rivalry. I know that when I’ve been intensely competitive with someone they become a point of principle for me, and I actually come to my rival’s defense if someone else attacks them. There’s a certain jailhouse logic operating there, and it’s not much of a stretch to find some kind of sexual analog in it.

You’ve described yourself as highly resentful and competitive; who are you competing with now?
Right now I’m competing against the clock. I had a very elderly uncle, my Uncle Ron, who’s been in most of my movies, and he recently passed away at the age of 95. He tricked the system because everything went right for him—he lived a great life and died painlessly. But somehow, his death finally brought it home to me that you die. I can’t count on living to 95, so while I still have my health I’d like to make one masterpiece. That’s my dream.

What are the qualities a work must have in order to be a masterpiece?
It must have the quality of something that was always there, but was waiting to be expressed, and now it has finally been said. It carries an element of surprise with it because it’s obviously so right that it’s startling its gone unexpressed for so long. It doesn’t have to be big–in fact, my favorite writer, Bruno Schultz, is considered a minor writer because he didn’t leave a huge body of work. His complete body of work is, nonetheless, a masterpiece.

Which of your films is most fully realized in your opinion?
With Archangel I thought I was on my way to saying everything there was to say about how we love, but I was kidding myself and I confused myself and my viewers a lot in its execution. I was pretty happy with [2000 short] The Heart of the World, but it’s not trying to do as much as some of my longer films. I’m really proud of The Saddest Music in the World because there are moments in the montage sequences where the music works the way music is supposed to–as a mnemonic device that drags up all sorts of cargo. And there are things I really like about my hugely autobiographical film, Cowards Bend the Knee, which is a very primitive, low-budget movie.

What historical period is most compelling to you?
Although it’s true that all my films seem to exist in the past, I’ve never been much of a historian because I hate doing research. Every once in a while some historical episode does engage me, though, and at the moment I’m trying to learn everything there is to know about the Borgias. I’m drawn to them because they were bad and charismatic, they had cool, sexy names, and there were no small gestures in that family. There was fratricide and incest and it was all true–not that that should matter at all, because nothing’s really true anyway. I’m always amazed when a film boasts “based on a true story!” Who cares? Whether it happened or not, it’s how a story is told that’s important.

You lost many of your ancestors to an 1876 Pox epidemic in a Canadian town called Gimli, and you now maintain a Winnipeg scrapbook of newspaper clippings that include stories of mad dogs dragging off children, hockey stick bludgeonings, and a father shooting his children during a fight over a snowmobile. This brings to mind Michael Lesy’s book, Wisconsin Death Trip, which in turn is evocative of the Bunuel film, Land Without Bread, the Brecht/Weill opera, ‘Mahagonney,’ and your second film, Archangel, which is set in a region of Russia that experienced a collective amnesia following World War I. All these works deal with places that seem to have fallen under a sort of dreadful bewitching; do you think there are places that are cursed?
Yes, and they’re there for anyone who chooses to see them. There are invisible cities piled up all over the place, and if you occupy those spaces with just the right focal length on your spectacles you’ll see the skyline in all its, horrific, lugubrious, glowering splendor. And all it takes is a population of humans to create one of these places. Artists have been trying to pinpoint our humanness for a long time, and we seem to be inexhaustibly cruel and compassionate by turns, but nobody’s ever figured out why.

“The Dispassion of the Christ” by Daniel Pinchbeck (Arthur, 2004)

Originally published in Arthur No. 10 (May 2004)

“Here and Now” column by Daniel Pinchbeck

“The Dispassion of the Christ”

Like Fast Food Nation, Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ may have converted some of its audience to vegetarianism. The film was like watching a slab of wounded roast beef stagger through an elaborate literalization of the New Testament’s nasty bits. Calling to mind the Smiths’ anthemic “Meat Is Murder,” The Passion was long on flayed flesh and short on fun. Apparently, Gibson escaped cocaine addiction by connecting with his Higher Power, and the film could be seen as a metaphorical enactment of Mel’s ordeal as the stages of the 12 Steps.

Fundamentalists in the US—the core audience for The Passion, and supporters of the Bush agenda—maintain a self-serving and atavistic understanding of the Bible. Since Fundamentalists consider themselves automatically among the “Saved,” they believe they have the right to ignore the most basic Biblical commandments. These still-fresh ideas include “Love Your Enemy as Yourself,” and “Thou Shall Not Kill.” The Fundamentalist attitude seems to be that as long as you are “saved,” you can support a government that kicks global ass, toxifies the biosphere, gobbles the Earth’s resources and converts “developing nations” into cheap labor camps.

At the same time, “spirituality” is increasingly trendy among the wealthy elites of the modern-day West. This “spirituality” generally has an Eastern caste, avoiding Christ and the Bible altogether. Models and their stockbroker boyfriends spend thousands of dollars to attend yoga and raw food retreats, where they practice asanas and mantras in tropical locales. Corporate executives and their trophy wives decorate their country homes with Hindu statues and Tibetan thangkas. Architects incorporate a bit of feng shui into their designs. Nightclubs are called Karma and Spirit, while bands are Nirvana and Spiritualized. Millions meditate and chant, seeking relief from anxiety and some undefined feeling of “unity” with the cosmos.

Words can turn into their opposite. They can be emptied of meaning altogether. This seems to be the case with the common usage of “Spirituality,” which is amputated from the processes of life. Devoid of meaning, the term is banalized into a new system of commodifiable life-experiences, a way of making a pampered and guilt-ridden class feel better about themselves. Although it is crude and perversely violent, The Passion of the Christ does imprint the idea that pursuit of meaningful “spirituality” might require some form of tangible sacrifice that goes beyond vegetarianism or om-chanting.

Over the last few centuries, Christianity’s ambience of guilt and repression and its denial of the flesh increasingly repelled the modern mind—and rightly so. The Christian religion remains a destructive element in world affairs. Yet as Westerners, we can reclaim our own tradition. This requires careful thinking about this tradition, to reach a deeper level of understanding. As the Sufi philosopher Frithof Schuon writes: “The sufficient reason for the existence of the human creature is the capacity to think; not to think just anything, but to think about what matters, and finally, about what alone matters.” Thinking should be part of a spiritual path. Dedication to truth is a spiritual discipline.

Perhaps our separation from the Biblical and Gnostic Christ is a necessary part of the process of return. We needed to be cut off from this tradition so we could recognize it as if it were new and original. The significance of the events relayed in the Gospels can only be revealed to each individual through his or her own process of introspection. You must come to it in your own time, and in your own mind. What follows is my personal interpretation, a thought experiment I have made, borrowing ideas from Rudolf Steiner, Carl Jung, and others.

From my psychedelic experiences, I think of consciousness as a kind of vibration or frequency. There might be an infinite number of possible vibrations of consciousness, of levels of soul-development, at various planes of intensity. In this sense, the purpose of Christ’s “mission” was to bring a more intensified form of consciousness to the Earth.

Christ’s incarnation not only fulfilled the prophetic traditions leading up to his arrival but pointed the way to the future. The vibrational frequency of consciousness that Christ brought to the Earth was too much for humanity at that time—save for a few—and up until the present day. Of course, “descending” as he did from a more intensified phase of Being, Christ knew this would be the case. That is why he said he did not come to bring peace, but a sword—not to unite, but to divide. And indeed, the legacy of Christ’s coming has been two millenia of incessant bloodbaths and primitive horrors.

World avatars are frequency transducers who step up the voltage of Mind. Christ’s parables are not just “mythologemes” but devices to store and transmit higher energies. The receptivity of his audience to his impacted fables and statements was in itself miraculous—as much a miracle as any of his suspensions or transmutations of seeming physical laws. There is an almost cybernetic quality to much of Christ’s discourse. His parables break open ordinary logic to introduce a “supramental” element or higher-level logic that can only be conveyed through symbolic speech. His disciples listened in wonder, but understood only in part. Their amazement becomes apparent through reading a stripped-down version of the Gospel of Thomas, which dates from the same period as the canonical texts.

In the Gospel of Thomas, Christ proclaims the necessity of achieving direct knowledge—gnosis—of the Divine: “Open the door for yourself, so you will know what is.” He also declares: “If you bring forth what is within you, what you bring forth will save you. If you do not bring forth what is within you, what you do not bring forth will destroy you.” The essence of Christ’s “doctrine” can be summed up as: “No more bullshit.” There is no hierarchy, no priest caste, and no mediation.

To trasmit, a receiver is required. Without reception, there can be no meaningful transmission. The Gospel of Thomas, along with other gnostic texts, was found in a jar in the Nag Hammadi desert of Egypt, in 1945. I suspect that these lost scriptures were intended for our time. Throughout Thomas, Christ reiterates: “Those who have two ears better listen!” We are the subjects with the capacity to understand, and it is to the advanced present-day consciousness that Christ directs his statements.

We develop “ears to hear” by reconciling modern empirical cognition, which accepts the quantum paradoxes of spacetime discovered by physics, with a new understanding of myth. Myth is not antithetical to science. A new attitude to myth is described by William Irwin Thompson in his books Imaginary Landscapes and Coming Into Being. Thompson proposes we make a shift “from a postmodernist sensibility in which myth is regarded as an absolute and authoritarian system of discourse to a planetary culture in which myth is regarded as isomorphic, but not identical, to scientific narratives.”

One can understand the meaning of the “Christ event” from several different angles. From one perspective, Christ’s incarnation initiated the descent of the Logos into humanity. This process continues—realizes itself, I suspect—in our own time. Realization of the Logos illuminates the human soul from within. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God,” so begins the Gospel of John. The Logos is the light that came into the world, “and the darkness comprehendeth it not.” Through awareness of the Logos, consciousness realizes its self-identity with the Divine.

God is not a conscious being. God is the Logos, who, as William Blake wrote, “only acts, and is, in existing beings and men.” Immanent rather than transcendent, God, the Logos, comes to consciousness in humanity. Man is a Logos-being. Reality is syntax.

Only in stages of intensification that naturally appear in the physical realm as the destructive shocks of a historical process can consciousness be brought to realization of the Logos, and achieve awareness of its direct participation in the creative process. Christ says, “The Kingdom of God is within you.” No external temple or mountaintop contains the Sacred. The Sacred is everywhere. As Black Elk realized: “Every place is the center of the world.” The fact that religions today squabble and make war over particular spots on the Earth only reveals their deficient and outdated mentality.

From the Jungian perspective, Christ’s arrival humanizes the God-image. The tyrannical and patriarchal God-image presiding over the Old Testament represents phases in a dialectic. Humanity looks up to see itself in the mirror of the God-image, the God-image beholds Himself reflected in humanity. Both are shocked by what they find, and evolve as a result. Conflict creates consciousness. As human consciousness develops more sensitivity, the previously barbaric God-image becomes sensitized and compassionate.

In “God’s Answer to Job,” Carl Jung suggests that humanity’s moral and intellectual progress forced God to incarnate in suffering humanity. This is His mercy. First, He “descends” as a special and singular being, the Christ, thereby introducing the new vibrational level of consciousness. Eventually, God incarnates—seeks to know Himself—within the larger body of prosaic humanity. History is this story of the “descent” or incarnation of the Logos into humanity. At the same time, in fulfillment of His wrath, He prepares the Apocalypse. Edward Edinger, in Archetypes of the Apocalypse, describes the Apocalypse as “the momentous event of the coming of the Self into conscious realization.” Like the human psyche, the God-image unifies opposites: Creation and destruction, male and female, being and nonbeing are fused in Him, as in us.

Theorists have proposed that consciousness was not fully individualized in the pre-Christian Era. It may be that consciousness was first experienced as an extrinsic voice or presence—as Julian Jaynes outlined in The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind. For Rudolf Steiner, before Christ’s incarnation, a person identified him or herself with their “group soul” or ancestral line. When the Bible says that Abraham or another patriarch lived for many hundreds of years, it signifies that the descendants of Abraham had an awareness of themselves that was not clearly distinct from their originator, hence the descendants also considered themselves to be “Abraham.” Christ instilled the “I AM” in the human soul. He said, “You have to leave your father and mother to follow me.” In other words, people had to break from any diffuse connection with their lineage or tribe, and awaken to their own individuality. Once the process of individuation is complete, the Ego can be consciously sacrificed.

According to Steiner, the materialization of the Earth and the Ego increased the powers of demonic or Ahrimanic forces, seeking to drag humanity down into the mineral world, the inorganic and the death-trap of technology. Without the spark or seed-impulse provided by the Christ, impelling consciousness and feeling to a new vibratory level, humanity would have surrendered completely to materialism. The separation of human souls into discrete individualities necessitated the new commandment that Christ brought to Earth: “Love one another as you are loved.”

In the modern age, Colonialism on the one hand accelerated the materialist urge in its most destructive aspects. On the other hand, Colonialism spread the “word of Christ” across the planet, although this was done through the most brutal means. This process is, again, dialectical. Despite the genocide and cultural annihilation inflicted upon them by the colonialist powers, indigenous people understood and accepted the doctrine of Christ, incorporating it into older traditions. In this dialectic, the intensifying of consciousness first manifests naturally as destruction and capitulation.

These days, certain movies seem to be noospheric events—a means for the collective unconscious of humanity to speak to itself. This was the case with The Lord of the Rings. I would say that the “ring of power” represents the Ego, with its delusionary temptations of power. The ring has to be carried until all the psychic dark matter is revealed, then tossed away. As Jung wrote, “One does not become enlightened by imagining figures of light, but by making the darkness conscious.” This is one element of the collective process taking place in our time.

It is only as a fully self-reflective individual consciousness that one can make the choice, out of free will, to reconcile with the Divine, the Logos, through sacrifice, or supercession, of the Ego. As Christ says: “He that loveth his life shall lose it; and he that hateth his life in this world shall keep it unto life eternal.”

In his words, his actions, and his inner being, Christ exemplified such a sacrifice. Unfortunately, Christ did not “save our souls” through the crucifixion. Instead, he showed us the path—a model for selfless action that can be internalized, and followed, if we make the free choice to evolve. Christ is only a “savior” when we follow his lead. We still have to save our own souls. Alas, this is no easy task. But without real sacrifice, there is no spiritual progress.

ARTHUR'S ASTROLOGY by Ian Svenonius (Arthur 10/May 2004)

by Ian Svenonius

first published in Arthur No. 10 (May 2004)

Once, Man looked on the natural world for his metaphors and archetypes… your people were dubbed ‘the ram’ for that animal’s stubborn ferocity. Today the Ram is nearly extinct, an abstraction to the modern techno-child. People are alienated from “nature”; most couldn’t tell you what a ram was, let alone its characteristics. Because astrology, like all other things, must change with the times, you are now Aries—“The Ram”—but named after the pick-up truck by Dodge, hailed by its adherents as “Ram Tough.” This means your astrological qualities now include:
1) Whopping big four-way disc brakes for much better stopping power
2) A frame with hydroformed parts for less vibration
3) A more friendly interior, with more storage space and facilities for child seats and extra passengers
4) Four new grilles, one for each body style, the most muscular going with the Sport model
5) Another 40 horsepower in the base V6 as a result of the swap from the 318-based 3.9 liter to the much more modern 4.7-based 3.7 liter engine. Congratulations!

“The Bull.” You’ve ruled the roost for a while now, epitomizing toughness, rutting pompously about and snorting at those who defy you. Unfortunately, due to newly perfected cloning techniques, you’ve been rendered redundant—there is no need for the bull anymore. Your sperm is irrelevant; they’ve got Elsa’s uber-bovine DNA in the lab. Soon, there will be no Taurus astrological column, because there will be no bull. You will be a picture on the Sierra Club’s wall, toasted by donors at environmentalist fund raisers, your name accompanied by tremulous piano plonking. As everyone relates their stories, praising your noble character, only I will have the guts to say you were an asshole.

They say that twins often dress the same, act the same and even can use telepathy to communicate with each other. Can you please use that special power to tell what’s-his-face to shut the hell up?

As a Cancer, you have a deeply poetic sense which is integrated with a mild form of Tourette’s: You always say something brilliant, yet offensive in public. This leaves a tangled web of wounds and shaken pride in your wake. You are usually oblivious to the carnage, focusing instead on the tiniest problem of your own. This works out fine though, as you surround yourself with masochists who await your next acrid pronouncement with barely disguised glee. Your tiny problems are enshrined by these followers and tended in a garden as their own. These maladies never need disappear, therefore, but can be revisited during assigned “periods of nostalgia.”

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The time you spend on the toilet is legendary. Here is a ballad written around this epic rite: “The time you spend on the toilet seat is certainly no mean feat if you had a bed in there I’d think it’s where you sleep. When I pass the door I hear the moans and innutterable sounds of a soul left hanging before god as his best work drowns.”

If Libra were a car, it would be a classy little number, not vulgar but with an engine that meant business. If Libra were a film, it would be foreign, but with a sense of humor—not inscrutable. If Libra were a food, it would be a pasta primavera or something else elegant but suitable for a cafe and with a touch of freshness. Unfortunately, Libra is a person and they are absolutely insufferable.

Some of your subjects seem to suddenly realize they are without what you might call “complete autonomy.” They realize their actions have been guided as from enormous strings from on high, and that you hold the strings. Only, there are no strings. Just a series of mnemonic symbols and repetition-induced brain control as learned via an operative from the CIA. Soothe their fears. Tell them that they’re on a “secret operation,” that brainwashing is just “another kind of cleaning.” People wash their hands—don’t they?

The great Sagittarian martyrs, Jimi, Jim and Janis, all died from wretched excess. They are admired for their art, but imitated for their bachannalian imbibements; every night young acolytes strive to ingest as much as they did, in deferent homage. The poseurs! They think it’s a matter of choice. They don’t understand that it’s a kind of a curse to be Saggittarius, “the patron saint of consumerism.” It gets tiresome embodying the culture’s endless pursuit of youth, sensation and desire, living as the market’s role model. There can be no rest for you though, this is your destiny. Show these tourists how to “super size” their order!

You are toughest, when it comes down to it. Your resolve always trumps everyone else’s fancy plans. When things get tough, remember the Capricorn Stalin against the Nazis; he could not be defeated! The Capricorn Mao against the imperialist running dogs—“sometimes a retreat can ultimately be an advance”! These are the examples of dogged resistance in the face of almost absolute negative odds you must recall when things seem hopeless. Just don’t think about the Capricorn Nixon, who got set up by his own party with “Watergate.” Ouch! Or Howard Hughes who flopped with that “Spruce Goose” and then became a weird recluse and CIA asset. Wotta loser. Or Bautista…his whole army beaten by twelve guys in the jungle. Don’t think about those Capricorns though; focus on the winners!

You are a spoiled sultan splayed out in the sun, eating “dolmas” or grape leaves. You’ve handpicked the eunuchs and the harem and you’re ready to ravage the latter but you, being “Aquarius,” want to be evenhanded. You will spread your sensual generosity evenly among your sexual slaves without regard to their gender or lack thereof. Bravo! Eunuchs need love too.

You are the fish. Few people realize that we are living through the “fish holocaust” right now. That, because of people’s faddish proclivity for sushi and fish in general, combined with the terrifying efficiency of modern fishing trawlers, your kind don’t stand a sporting chance anymore in the wild. To combat your complete eradication in fact, you must enlist the help of the sleeping Leviathan which lies nesting on the floor of the Atlantic. This thing is a monstrous creature, it’s exact size can’t be speculated, but it is quite beyond imagination. The KGB and the NSA are aware of its existence but no one dare speak its name, because a slight tumult on its part would send tidal waves crashing absolute ruin onto “civilization.” Your mission must be to awaken the beast and destroy mankind. The problem is simple logistics. As it is, fish are stratified by level; this is not unlike humanity with their class system, but with fish it is quite literal. Different fish at different levels rarely communicate with one another or even see each other. The lowest fish, the ancient sturgeon and prehistoric glowing fish must be your messenger. The problem is: they don’t understand the gravity of the situation, being so far away, near the bottom and removed from the slaughter of their brethren. Therefore, you must show them this astrology column! Subscribe them to ARTHUR. I will be your messenger!

Ian Svenonius is vocalist for Weird War, whose latest album is If You Can’t Beat Em, Bite Em.


Oliver Hall raps with radical traditionalists Faun Fables.

Originally published in Arthur No. 10 (May 2004)

The airwaves are so saturated with false memories of childhood you can’t walk around without a helmet or you’ll become a legal idiot—I mean the playground loves of heartstruck emo people, the barely fetal fancies of Radiohead stillborn colder than forceps, the general irresistible reflex contractions against dilation of the idios kosmos, not to speak of Michael Jackson, Jon Benet Ramsey and her twin that lived, Britney Spears.

The urge towards the nubile has expressed itself nowhere more strongly than in folk music. Once a deeply weird idiom devoted to the mysteries of hardship, tradition, games, abundance and death, questionable politics have transformed folk music on the one hand into dead pledges of allegiance to corpses of the Stalinist left, on the other into personal confessional songwriting so banal as to make you yearn wholly and bodily for a gruesome fatal mining disaster. But there are a few musicians who have the brains and guts to struggle with the old questions, the old answers; in other words one thing you can do on a Friday night is witness the miraculous music of the Bay Area’s Faun Fables.

Mainly you should do this because Dawn McCarthy, the Faun of Faun Fables, can totally, cruelly possess an audience like no other performer I’ve ever seen except maybe Clevelanders David Thomas and Robert Kidney. Most recently I saw her do this at Spaceland in Los Angeles on Valentine’s Day, but I’d seen her do it—participated in the thrill even—seven or eight times before, in all kinds of situations. In bars throbbing with the old procreant urge, I’ve heard Dawn raise her voice to a pitch and volume no one could ignore, shutting up the whole meat market; at Faun Fables’ recent concert at downtown L. A. rockhole the Smell, she began the show walking through the audience yodeling, winning hearts and minds one by one with voice and presence. (Dawn: “If you talk about yodeling to people they laugh about it, and they go ‘Oh God, yodeling, that’s so corny and weird,’ but you just do yodeling and it does something to people. Must be a code in the DNA…”) Dawn and her collaborator Nils Frykdahl, of the heavy, funny, scary bands Idiot Flesh and Sleepytime Gorilla Museum, tour the country playing avant rock clubs, churches, high schools.

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GLITTER AND GLEAM: Trinie Dalton meets COCOROSIE (Arthur, 2004)

Originally published, with photography by Melanie Pullen and page layout by W.T. Nelson, in Arthur No. 10 (May 2004)…

Glitter and Gleam
The two sisters who are CocoRosie have made an astonishing, haunting debut album. Trinie Dalton finds out how they did it.

CocoRosie’s debut La Maison de Mon Rêve capitalizes on its sexy feminine allure to seduce the listener into a dream state, one that’s half bliss, half nightmare. CocoRosie’s two singers and sole band members, Bianca and Sierra Casady, could be compared to sirens if their wailing was deeper instead of high-pitched and tweaky like Billie Holiday’s on 45rpm. Listening to La Maison gives you an opiated sense of well-being; here are two beautiful young ladies singing sweet harmonies together, their lyrics about Skittles and diamond rings and other things being disturbed by an undertow of discontent. CocoRosie songs put old folk tunes into new perspective; take the sardonic lyrics that critique Christianity in their cover of “Jesus Loves Me”: “Jesus loves me/but not my wife/not my nigger friends/or their nigger lives/but Jesus loves me/that’s for sure/‘cause the Bible tells me so.” The last song on the album, “Lyla,” is about a child prostitute sold into slavery who “ate McDonalds all day/ and never had a chance to play.” Toys, penny whistles, Casios, and thrift store drum machines keep the beats: they’re reminders of sinister deeds. The magic of childhood is built up then trashed like a sandcastle.

The acts of reminiscing, relishing and examining childhood were a natural place to start for two sisters who hadn’t seen each other in years. Bianca was living in the U.S. while Sierra studied music in Paris. Once Bianca decided to move to France, they found their interests finally overlapping, as Bianca had just begun to write songs…

Q: Sierra studied gospel and opera. Did you study music too?

A: Not at all. I didn’t even start singing really until over a year ago. I used to read poetry out a lot but there was something unsatisfying about it. Then I wrote a small series of songs that weren’t very typical, they didn’t have choruses or anything, and I did a show where I sang them a capella. I felt really good singing. That was right before I went to Paris. I had never sung in front of an audience.

Q:Was it scary when you first started performing?

A: Yes, it was. It was scary but it was a wonderful high simultaneously. I got sort of addicted to it. It was way more intense. I think that my writing is more accessible through music, or more enjoyable. Sierra has been singing most of her life. She always sang. In junior high she was in a choir, she got really into choral music, had a special teacher who encouraged her. Immediately her teachers saw that she had an operatic soprano voice and pushed her into that. She just went for it. So she spent the last five years in music school. She did really well, got many accolades, won awards…she was told that she should go for it. But it takes 100%. Not just of your time, but you can’t want anything else. It’s a thing that’s so hard to succeed in, that you can’t even lie to yourself, you have to want it all, and she didn’t. It was creatively stifling. They didn’t encourage her to compose, or try other types of music. It’s as if that’s your only job in life.

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