Originally published in Arthur No. 15 (March, 2005)
T-MODEL KNOWS BETTER
T-Model Ford is the 84-year-old self-proclaimed “Boss of the Blues,” also known as The Taildragger. Every two months, Arthur calls up T-Model at his home in Greenville, Mississippi and asks some questions about things we have on our mind. T-Model gives his sage answers, then we transcribe the conversation with some interpreting help from the fellas at Fat Possum Records, the Mississippi label that releases T-Model’s all-bets-are-off blues albums (more info at fatpossum.com). If you’ve got questions for T-Model, and we suspect that you do, email ‘em to email@example.com
You make a New Year’s Resolution?How’s your health? A lot of people decide to go get a check-up as a New Year’s resolution.
You live longer if you don’t go to the doctor too much. It’s alright if you have a little hurtin or something, not too serious or nothin’… Every time you got something you wanting to be done, you runnin’ to the doctor, runnin’ to the doctor. And they don’t know all the time what they doctorin’ on! So, I just go every now and then. I’m too old to let ‘em cut on me.
What kind of blade do you carry?
It’s a Case, the best knife I believe they made. A man’s got to carry something. Someone told me years ago back, me and him was running together, and I know he had to see somebody do somebody that away, and he told me, he said, Look T-Model, even if it ain’t nothing but a pin, or a nail, carry something in your pocket. A folk can run up on you and make you do anything they want you to do and you aint’ got nothin’. But if you got a nail or pin in your pocket…! And that’s true! I just love to carry something in my pocket. I wanted to carry a gun, but I don’t need to carry it, ‘cause folk can make you angry. And they done made me so mad, where I’m livin’. I’m trying to govern it down.
What’s a good way to get rid of ants?
Get some diesel oil, burnin’ in a tractor or somethin’, find where the bed is at–don’t dig it up!–and just pour it down in the little hole there. It’ll get shed of them quick.
What do you think of the women’s basketball league?
I don’t like ‘em too well. I’m particular about me. I don’t like to see women hanging around too much together–there’s a dead cat down the line, somewhere.
I heard you have women on the police force in Greenville.
I don’t like that. That ain’t no woman’s job! That’s a man’s job. A woman’ll arrest a man all for nothin’. They already want to do something to a man, and so if they get a chance, they stick it to a man. About a year or two ago, a black woman arrested me right here, sittin’ by my car. I had to pay a $144 for the fine what she give me and I wasn’t even sayin’ nothing. The other guy was doin’ all the cussing and talking. I’m just sitting there, listenin’. She said, One more word out of you and I’ll send you down. I said, Yes ma’am. I was trying to honor her. But she didn’t appreciate it. She came on out there and unbuttoned the handcuffs and locked me and they carried me down. We down there [at the police station] and the white lady says, What you got handcuffs put on you for? I says, I don’t know. But when I had to pay that there fine, I told the sheriff, Don’t send that black woman at me never no more. Send a man at me, not no woman. I says, things might happen sure ‘nuff if you send her back to arrest me.
Originally published in Arthur No. 15 (March, 2005)
It’s nice to know that the meticulous and charming nature of Brendan Benson’s songwriting carries over to his kitchen as well. Thanks to the track “Tea” on his debut album, letters from die-hard Japanese fans are usually coupled with a bag or two for Benson’s boiling. His latest album, Alternative to Love, is out March 22 on V2. Here’s how to make the perfect cup of tea, as told to Ben Cass.
What you’ll need
Water: This is the most important ingredient. It should be clean, but not loaded with chlorine or other such additives. I take it from the tap, but I’m fortunate to live in a city which boasts a premium grade drinking water. Others may not be so lucky and therefore should substitute using bottled water (just remember: no Coke or Pepsi products, as they undergo a heavy treatment process and are stripped of all character. I recommend Evian or Volvic). Water has flavor, however subtle it may be, and a little of that “regional essence” in the water is a good thing when making tea. If you dislike the taste of your tap water, you might try letting it stand or “mellow” in a clean glass for an hour prior to boiling, thereby allowing the detergents to evaporate and the particles to settle. Pour the water into your kettle, taking care to not disturb the sediment.
A kettle: I have the electric variety which I like very much. You may also use the stovetop variety. I don’t recommend using a cooking pot as it only provides for a poor aesthetic. Attention to such detail is critical in the tea-making process.
Tea bag: I’ve chosen to use the tea bag over the teapot for our purposes. Although the teapot method is more desirable, the tea bag will do just fine as long as it is of the highest quality. Twinnings, Red Rose and Lipton, contrary to popular belief, are not teas suitable for drinking at any time by any man. Avoid these brands at all costs. Ideally your tea should be purchased somewhere in the UK from an ordinary grocery store. Brands such as PG Tips and Tetley are good. Barry’s is a wonderful tea but not as common. If it’s not convenient for you to travel abroad to buy tea then I suggest you search the Internet. I’m sure there is a service from which you can order tea from the UK. Yet another option is to buy Tetley “British Blend” bags if you can find them. Nothing else will do.
Milk and Sugar: Your tea must contain milk in order for it to be deemed proper. Milk neutralizes the tannic acid found naturally in tea. Cream should never be used. Organic, 2% milkfat is ideal; whole milk may be used, but often eclipses the delicate flavor of the tea. Skimmed milk should be avoided. If you are lactose intolerant perhaps you might try an herbal tea (which I personally despise) instead, but under no circumstances should lemon be used as a substitute. Sugar, on the other hand, is an option which you may choose to forgo. I take a little sugar to excel and enhance the effects of the tea.
What to do
Bring water to a rolling boil and let stand for 30 seconds. Swish a little in your cup to warm it and pour it out. Drop the tea bag in and pour the water gently over the bag. Let steep, undisturbed for exactly four minutes. Do not stir. Use a small spoon to remove the tea bag, letting the water drain from the bag. Do not squeeze the bag and do not let the spoon remain in the cup, as it conducts precious heat and will prematurely cool the tea. Add sugar if you’d like, then milk. Stir and enjoy.
Some thoughts about tea: Tea has been enjoyed for centuries throughout the world by the elite and affluent as well as pauper and common man alike. For this reason, I believe its reputation should be upheld, its tradition maintained and the very ceremonious and calming properties, for which it is so loved, preserved.
Nina Simone Baltimore (CTI/Legacy/Epic/Sony) D: [to tape recorder] Hello. We are back! C: [very formally] It is time to exchange views once again, after our brief vacation from these pages. A vacation, I might add, that was not entirely voluntary— D: But we will speak of that some other time. C: Everything was going well until they caught you putting the potato in that Hummer’s exhaust pipe in front of the military recruitment center. D: I told them I was removing the potato that I had just witnessed some crazy anarchist put there. I was actually de-vandalizing their truck— C: But, strangely, they were not convinced. Especially after they found the grater in your jacket. D: Yes, well… C: [Yawns.] Please remind me to forget to call you next time something is going down, because I can’t afford any more of these “vacations.” D: Soooo, Nina Simone’s 1974 album Baltimore has been reissued. C: Apparently she didn’t want to make this record. She didn’t like making the record. She didn’t like the finished record. And it’s such a good record! D: The title track is the greatest Randy Newman cover of all time. I mean, Randy Newman done in a loping funk mode? If you’ve ridden the Amtrak through Baltimore, the route it takes gives you an unobstructed view of a horribly blighted ghetto, and her voice here really captures that sadness. C: I’m guessing she thought the more pop-orientated /songs were beneath her, that it was somehow undignified for her to sing Hall & Oates’ “Rich Girl,” and maybe she was right on that count. But this is really a unique Nina Simone album, and frequently magnificent.
Antony and the Johnsons I Am a Bird Now (Secretly Canadian) D: Give me that. [looks at sleeve] I was happier when I didn’t know what he looks like. C: Hey man, everyone looks like something. D: It’s like if you heard Pavarotti singing and then turned out he looks like Pee-Wee Herman! C: Well, how hard is it to just listen to the music? My goodness. D: I’m just saying. C: This guy’s voice is known to have moved Lou Reed to tears. I might be wrong, but I don’t think Lou Reed cries very often. The tracks of Lou’s tears… D: …could not extinguish torch songs this strong. So very beautiful. [towards end of album] Yet here we have instance number eighty-seven-thousand-four-hundred-and-two of a greaseball, cheeseball Saturday Night Live style saxophone solo ruining another otherwise faultless song. C: Clarence Clemmons, so much to answer for.
The Kills No Wow (Rough Trade) D: They still don’t have a drummer? Another incomplete band… C: That means that each get an entire half of the proverbial pie! Great opening salvo, it’s the drum beat equivalent of a strobe light in the face. They have a song about asking if you got the real good cigarettes from the store like I asked. D: A frequently posed question around my house. C: There’s that chugalug thing they do so well, on the chorus of “I Hate the Way You Love.” You can ride that into the sunset. By taking instruments away, rock’n’roll has reminded us that at it’s core it’s dance music. Fewer instruments means the sound has room to breathe. And breath plus beat equals boogie. Even if the beat is that of a machine. See? Drum machines do have soul. D: I am more enamored with their human qualities. Speaking of which, I’d like to give a hearty salute to VV for being that rarest of regional species: the untanned Floridian. D: [end of “Rodeo Town”] That is so Velvets! She is fearsome yet vulnerable, a potent combination. C: The fella in the group goes by the nom de rock Hotel. I think Motel would be more appropriate. Someplace where rooms can be rented by the hour. D: [Listening to the three note piano riff on “Ticket Man”] They should use piano on more songs. And they should use more of the piano, period. I think there’s 85 more keys to be precise. It’s like the music has been shaved to an inch of its life. C: I’ve always said there’s two types of people: the shaves and the shave-nots. D: Not as catchy as the first album, but The Kills aren’t dead yet.
M. Ward Transistor Radio (Merge) D: [listening to “One Life Away”] He actually says, “I’m visiting my fraulein”! An inspired approach to breaking into the hofbrau circuit. How sweet is this…you could whistle or hum along to this entire album without feeling stupid once. C: This guy seems unassuming. I’d like to hang out with him in an Airsteam trailer crossing the country. Easygoing, but clever. He’s making lyrical origami out of the sad history of rock on “Fuel For Fire”: “I’ve dug beneath the wall of sound/the song is always the same/I’ve got lonesome fuel for fire/And so my heart is always on the line.” This album is genius. For fans of Dylan, Red House Painters/Sun Kill Moon, even Chris Isaak aficianados feeling frisky. D: I have seen M. Ward. He has curly hair. And if the hair is curly outside your head, it means there is something curly going on inside too. C: This song “Big Boat” is the dis track of the year! All about how this guy who says he’s got a big boat really only has a tiny dinghy! HAHA! D: “I’ll Be Yr Bird” – a bird reference, just like Antony. The whole lot are ornithology-crazed. C: What do you think the M in M. Ward stands for? D: Megamensch. Obviously.
Fiery Furnaces EP (Rough Trade) D: Ween covering Kraftwerk? C: It’s like they’re playing the zaniest parts possible. Zappa plus Sandy Shaw plus Miami bass plus Peter Frampton talkbox plus “Da Funk”-era Daft Punk. [as song builds] You can hear why this band has such a good live rep. And there’s the Disneyland Electrical Parade. Geniuses, pushing it forward: a band mashing itself up. And dig those fistfulls of piano notes! D: Eleanor and Matthew Friedberger, I salute you. Or I would, except I am sitting on my hands in an effort to behave. C: Somewhere, Neil Hagerty doesn’t feel so lonesome anymore. D: Todd Rundgren looks up, with interest. C: Friedberger & Frampton has a certain ring to it. The law firm that rocks! D: That’s very similar to an Echo & Bunnymen song, “Killing Moon.” [tries singing along] C: You can’t sing along with this record. How you going to do “fireman Frank friendly fed fee-free/daznk dusty doughnuts den da dribble drank”? Can you imagine Fiery Furnaces karaoke? D: Only after multiple pitchers of margaritas. C: Pace yourself, please. D: You may call me Margarita Friedbergerhead from now on. C: I may not.
Louis XIV Illegal Tender EP (Pineapple/Atlantic) C: More complex melodic pop, lotsa cool elements. One song goes into a violin and horn shuffle! Uptempo, Fall-Stones swagger. D: “Are you ready Steve?” C: Especially the garage-glam stomp here. I love the theatricality of these guys. Brian May type clipped, melodic, strutting guitar. What a tone. D: You know, it cannot be coincidence that Brian May and Louis XIV, I mean the historical figure Louis XIV, have the exact same hairdo. C: There may be something to your curly hair theory after all.
This feature was originally published in Arthur No. 15 (March, 2005).
Where Will It End? From his home in an English suburb, controversial novelist J. G. Ballard wonders if there is something fundamentally flawed about the American take on reality. Interview by V. Vale, with an introduction by Michael Moorcock.
Born in 1930, J.G.Ballard spent his formative years in a Shanghai civilian prison camp, experiences which form the basis of his autobiographical novel Empire of the Sun, filmed by Steven Spielberg. In England he abandoned his medicine degree at Cambridge to become a technical journalist. His first stories in New Worlds, Science Fantasy and Science Fictions Adventure from 1956 including “The Voices of Time,” “Vermilion Sands” and “Chronopolis” are in The Complete Short Stories of J.G.Ballard (2002). Three novels, The Drowned World (predicting climate change), The Crystal World and The Drought increasingly reflected his interest in surrealist painting. The Terminal Beach in Science Fantasy (1964) marked a new phase, dispensing altogether with the conventions of science fiction.
Appearing in New Worlds, which by then I was editing, “The Assassination Weapon” (1966) was the first of Ballard’s “condensed novels” where iconographic personalities and events became the basis of narrative. Other stories included “The Atrocity Exhibition Weapon,” “You: Coma: Marilyn Monroe” and “Plan For The Assassination of Jacqueline Kennedy” in New Worlds and, increasingly, in literary magazines such as Ambit and Transatlantic Review. His work encountered considerable hostility in the United States, where its irony went largely undetected. Doubleday, the publisher of The Atrocity Exhibition, ordered all copies pulped after it was printed. It eventually appeared from Grove Press in 1970. Meanwhile, “Why I Want to Fuck Ronald Reagan” became the basis of a UK court case, while his “Assassination of John Fitzgerald Kennedy Considered as a Downhill Motor Race,” “lost” by his U. S. agent, eventually appeared in New Worlds and Evergreen Review.
He remains a seminally controversial writer hugely admired by the likes of Martin Amis, Salman Rushdie, Fay Weldon, Angela Carter, Iain Sinclair and most of the best science fiction writers. Described as pornographic and psychotic when first reviewed, Crash (1973) was filmed by David Cronenberg starring James Spader in 1996. Concrete Island (1974) and High Rise (1975) continued similar themes of our psychological and sexual relationship with contemporary phenomena and iconography. The Unlimited Dream Company (1979) and Hello America (1981) are enjoyable satires; his autobiographical The Kindness of Women (1991) was a sequel to Empire of the Sun. Recent novels like Cocaine Nights (1996), Super-Cannes (2000) and Millennium People (2003) continue to develop techniques describing his unique experience and his notion that contemporary bourgeousie have become the new slave class. Today he lives in the same London suburb where he settled some 45 years ago and, as a widower, raised three children, eschewing electronics and still working at his typewriter. Combining the creative insight and originality of a modern William Blake, Ballard is our greatest living visionary writer. —Michael Moocock
The following is an excerpt from an interview conducted by V. Vale by telephone following the Nov. 2, 2004 United States elections. The interview appeared in J. G. Ballard Interviews, available from http://www.researchpubs.com. J. G. Ballard Quotations is also available from the same excellent publisher.
V. Vale: I wanted to get your “take” on the neo-cons and Bush, and your perspective on what happened with this election in November, 2004. J. G. Ballard: I’m sure you and your readers have had an absolute Niagara of comment on the subject, so I don’t want to give anything but one European’s perspective on it. But there’s no doubt that most people over here on this side of the Atlantic were hoping for a Kerry victory. There’s something very frightening about Bush and the neo-con group. Donald Rumsfeld is quite a scary figure—putting it mildly.
One feels that Bush and his closest advisers are entirely driven by emotions. They’re no longer driven by a reasoned analysis of where the world is going, and what the U.S. response should be. They’re driven by this visceral need to express their anger—you know, their anger and, really, rage at the world. One feels, listening to people like Rumsfeld, Bush himself, and one or two of the others like Richard Perle, that the world is seen as an extremely hostile place. And moreover, they want it to be a hostile place. They need enemies who can be challenged and then destroyed. This is a kind of psychology that people in Europe are very familiar with, going back to the psychology of people like Hitler and his henchman, and then to Stalin and the whole paranoid stance that both the Nazi and the Soviet regimes had towards their enemies. If they didn’t have enemies, they would soon invent enemies. Because they’re absolutely hung up—and I suspect Bush and the neo-cons, to a surprising extent, in a great democracy like the U.S., are hung up on this need to hate and this need to destroy. And of course it’s frightening, because where will it end? Today Iraq, tomorrow Iran, and the day after, hmmm… maybe France, you know, because given their mindset, there will be no shortage of enemies.
I think there’s nothing particularly extreme about saying this. I think it’s what people over here perceive of as part of the dangers of this situation. Nobody thinks there is a connection between the 9/11 attack and Saddam Hussein. There’s no connection at all—it’s quite the opposite. Hussein was running a secular regime. Bush and Rumsfeld have created a kind of unstable regime dominated by religious fanatics in Iraq, of the Khadafi kind they thought they were getting rid of!
So it is unnerving. It leads us to question many other areas of the American world view. Is there something fundamentally flawed about the American take on reality? I say that as a lifelong admirer of the U.S., by the way. But it does seem to me that a lot of the formulas that govern American life—in particular its entertainment culture—have leaked out of, say, the Hollywood films and into political reality. That’s frightening.
A Conversation With the Secret Service Was I being investigated as a threat to the president—or as a potential hire for a sinister job?
By Ian Svenonius
I have a suspicion that the current president might be assassinated. How do I know? I was interviewed for it.
About a year and a half ago, I took a call from people who identified themselves as the Secret Service. They expressed an urgent desire to see me, which in their highly considered psycho-babble, was made to sound like a choiceless inevitability.
On the demand for an explanation, the agent, a woman, told me that they had intercepted an email which seemed to implicate me in a plot to harm the POTUS: that is, the President Of The United States.
I immediately surmised that her concern was related to a mass mailing I’d written in beat-prose to attract attendees to a night of record playing at a local club, called “Spilt Milk.” Thinking that my audience would enjoy the same amusements as myself, I had perhaps contained some reference to a dispatched leader of the free world.
The Secret Service’s responsibility was to check out every instance of a threat, no matter how far-fetched.
“We need you to come down to the office. It’s extremely important,” the woman insisted.
To get the initial sale, through, they used a female agent, knowing via a psychological assessment based on telephone and computer surveillance, that this would seem less threatening to me. Like a talented telemarketer, she was gentle but firmly coercive. In fact, the two professions are related, as the FBI and CIA’s inquisition techniques are lifted straight from Nelson Rockefeller’s bible for salesmen, How to Win Friends and Influence People, and feature the exact same mind control tricks. Of course, telemarketers don’t have the weight of state security at their disposal.
“I can’t come down, I’m really busy,” I told her, though my inbred instinct was to obey.
“We’ll come to your house, then,” she insisted, another offer I evaded.
After much back and forth, I agreed to meet “them,” the Secret Service agents, at a French bistro not far from my house. It seemed less likely that they’d kill or abduct me in a public setting. Before I left my home, I alerted a few people as to the nature of my rendezvous and they agreed to witness the interrogation from afar, unannounced.
When I arrived, the officers were sitting in the outside cafe section under a sun umbrella which said “CHIMAY.” One was the woman I had spoken with on the telephone and she was accompanied by a man in a lowslung baseball cap with some rugged facial growth.
They looked drab and angry, respectively.
As the woman agent clasped the evidence and sat businesslike, her partner assumed the “bad cop” persona, searching me like a berserker and then scowling fiercely through the duration of the meeting. The implication was clear; if he were let off his chain, he would make quick work of me for god and country.
The purpose of this choreographed psycho-ballet is of course to draw the detainee into the maternal arms of the good cop so as to escape the paternal bad cop figure’s wrath. This psy-op cliche was immediately transparent, but it still worked; psychological reflex is at least as dependable as the blood-and-guts kind.
Meanwhile, my own spy witnesses had taken their anonymous positions, taking snapshots innocuously in case I were later dangled from a helicopter by these freak thugs.
When the waiter came by, I ordered a latte.
The mama character drew the offending email from a folder dramatically, like it was a bad report card. She read it aloud, slowly and haltingly as if translating from hieroglyphs.
BULL TONGUE Exploring the Voids of All Known Undergrounds by Byron Coley and Thurston Moore
80 Goddamn Good Things Of 2004
1/ ALBERT AYLER Holy Ghost box set (Revenant) As Sun Ra so aptly put it, “It’s a motherfucker, don’t ya know?” Seems quite unlikely that there will be another release with such gushing importance and pleasure, mixed so sweetly, in our lifetime or the next.
2/ Here comes BLOOD STEREO cdr (Absurd) Local Brighton UK housecleaners Dylan Nyoukis and Karen Constance (has anyone there reading this ever hired these guys? curious…) continue to amaze after years of startling da-da dropdead music as Prick Decay and Decaer Pinga. Now they are Blood Stereo and are even more deadly.
3/ MARCIA BASSETT Assembling box Because I never actually sent her my piece I’ve never seen the finished thing, but Marcia’s tribute to Flux collectivism and correspondence art sounded like the Project of the Year to me, and I bet it’s fucking boss.
4/ JOHN OLSON’s stapled skull Minneapolis summer slice. Seen a lot of fucked shit happen on stage these last few decades but seeing Olson whipping a knight’s mace over his head in sick noise frenzy only to have it shave a bit of cranio-meat and, hence, blood spoo all upon his tronix box and then keep on rockin for 40 more minutes was heavy.
5/ THURSTON MOORE nice war (flower + cream press) Political shit box rattlers in non-prose form by a puissant who swigs where most swag. What’s not to like?
6/ BILL KNOTT The Unsubsciber (Farrar, Straus & Giroux) Out-of-nowhere mainstream publication of work by the poet both Richard Hell and Tom Verlaine pointed to as an aesthetic signifier to their own vision spiel back in the early ‘70s. Knott has been making and issuing self-published staple books for years, all great, and this is an easy way to cach his drift—a remarkable humorist/tragedist balance.
7/ GARY PANTER Light Show with Joshua White at Anthology Film Archives & Jimbo in Purgatory (Fantagraphics) The new Jimbo book is totally maxed-out, something like a core dump of everything Panter’s head has consumed for a while. A better Dante I don’t expect to read any time soon. And the lightshow collaboration with Fillmore veteran White (plus a variety of musicians) was a shotgun blast to every brain that saw it. Sweet!
8/ JOSHUA Life Less Lost cd (Spirit Of Orr) Joshua Burkett at one time was a dragon slayer of noise insanity with the late great Vermonster but the last few years has him journeying thru wonderful folk/acoustic passages. This latest CD is killer.
9/ JULIE DOUCET Journal (l’Association) Hilarious new novel-length, illustrated diary by this always amazing artist. Supposedly an English translation will be coming along soon, but this is a great read even if your French is perfunctory.
10/ DEVILLOCK/CHARLIE DRAHEIM 2xcs (Tone Filth) The Minneapolis/Detroit nexus of suburban gore drone gets fully realized here with Minnieapple’s own Devillock (headed by Tone Filth label honcho Justin Meyers) and Michigan street rat Draheim. Cities on flame!
11/ SAVAGE PENCIL Trip or Squeak in The Wire It has been a long time since the classic Rock & Roll Zoo strip, but Sav’s ferocious new comic strip has just been gathering strength and weirdness as it rolls along. For my money, it’s the best work he has ever done. Total crack fantasia.
12/ VALERIE WEBB & PAUL LaBRECQUE Trees, Chants & Hollers cdr This fucker is sold out and we can’t sem to get a copy even tho these two kids live next town over. Having heard these two as The Other Method as well as their participation in Sunburned Hand of The Man we know how awesome they are. this CDR must be the shit as it’s just them—anyone got one? All reports is that it is “amazing”..damn…
13/ JOHN FAHEY The Great Santa Barbara Oil Slick cd (Water) Incredibly swank live Fahey sets from the Matrix in ’68 & ’69 with superb Glenn Jones liner notes and lovely packaging.
14/ BILL DWIGHT radio grapple Waking up every school morning to Bill Dwight’s almost free radio show made 2004 that much easier to bear—but he was too good and they got someone who maybe tows the line more or something.—whatever—Air America wants him—here’s hoping he returns…somewhere.
Last summer Ben Chasny told me about his plans for the next record he would be making under his Six Organs of Admittance monniker. The upcoming album would be a turning point for him: it’d be the first Six Organs recordings done in a studio and his first album for his new label (Chicago indie perennial Drag City), sure, but he also wanted the record to be a creative step forward. “I told them I want to go in there and have some folky stuff, but I also want to attempt something more freaked-out and free,” he said.
School of the Flower, recorded during those August 2004 sessions with drummer Chris Corsano and released last month, is more freaked out and free than previous Six Organs albums. It’s a front-to-end lovely, beguiling work that alternates simple, emotionally reassuring campfire folk songs with expansive, occasionally ominous instrumental tracks: long, quickly fingerpicked acoustic guitar lines repeat and interlink into infinity, electric guitars toll and squall, drums skitter and bubble underneath. The record is like an owl—it sees and knows all, but is willing to communicate to others only some of what it knows. We are lucky—privileged, really–to hear its voice at all.
The following conversation was constructed from a long phone interview in early January and some follow-up elaboratory emails. Chasny and I had been in touch off and on for the previous year or so by email, mostly hipping each other to recent discoveries: books, records, films. To be honest, Chasny was doing most of the hipping, and I was struck by both his strong passion for other artists’ work and ideas, and the degree of erudition in his reading. His impulse may be towards hermithood and withdrawal, to living alone in the woods, but the reality of his life was more complex: he’s a part of a web of consciousness very much of his own making, one that stretches around the globe and involves many of the planet’s most idiosyncratic, hermetic artists. I soon realized that, just as Timothy Leary had instructed, Chasny had gone and found the others—the Japanese psych-folk group Ghost, the bizarre English goth-folk of Current 93’s David Tibet, the utterly indescribable Sun City Girls, and many more I’d never heard of. And then, in the past whirlwind year, he’d actually toured or recorded with many of them, while, at the same time, continuing to be a full-fledged member of Bay Area combo Comets On Fire, whose 2004 album Blue Cathedral was some kind of acid rock knockout masterpiece.
Here’s how it all happened, in Ben Chasny’s own voice.
Arthur: People often wonder if you’re a practicing Buddhist, because of your band’s name.
Ben Chasny: When I did the first record, I wrote “Six Organs of Admittance” on it because I had just read Road to Heaven by Bill Porter. He goes and explores a mountain range in China, encountering for Buddhist and Taoist hermits. One hermit was such a damn hermit that during the conversation with the author, he stopped and asked, Who’s this Chairman Mao you keep referring to? That’s amazing. And in that book I came across the “six organs” phrase—the five senses and the soul make up the six organs of admittance—and it struck me. I thought it’d look really good on the record cover. I put it out, without saying who was on the record or anything. Later, when I decided to put out more records, I figured I’d just take that name.
Talk a little about where you grew up.
I was born in L.A. My dad was sick of the city, so he moved us way up in the middle of nowhere with redwood trees and chickens and bunnies. It was me, my mom and my sister. I grew up in Elk River Valley, a little south of McKinleyville. My dad was always playing shit on the stereo, pretty good popular stuff from the ‘60s. A lot of good folk too, Nick Drake and stuff, and even some weird experimental records like Tonto’s Expanding Head Band. That was how I lived until I was 13 or 14. Then we moved into the city—well, Eureka’s not really a city, it’s just a little dirty town, or a dirty old town, to give it a Pogues description. After school, there was only ever one other kid around, and I had to hike over a hill and go find him to make tree forts. That’s probably why I’m interested in hermits, because I lived that way for a while. Hermits seem to appear in a lot of the literature that I read; when I come across them, it really sticks out in my head. Like Gaston Bachelard says: “The Hermit’s hut is a theme that needs no variation, for at the slightest mention of it, phenomenological reverberations obliterate all mediocre resonance.”
You talk a lot about writers, quoting them on CD sleeves and such. I know you dig the writing of Peter Lamborn Wilson, aka Hakim Bey.
Yeah. His ideas are not 100% original, but he makes such a beautiful synthesis out of anarchism, surrealism, chaos theory, Sufism and such. He has this essay about how in certain societies, musicians are the scum of the earth. They’re there to serve a purpose, to do music, to give that, sure, but they’re not elevated like stars. And when you think about it, in that situation, only somebody who really believes in the art itself–not about becoming cool or popular or making money–will actually want to make music. So he talks about the importance of art as art, not as buying, not as putting into museums—not that art can’t be sold, but that art in itself is very, very important, just on the basis of giving to somebody else as a gift. It’s not about selling your paintings for $300 at the coffeeshop: it’s for creating this subversive community – that is the way to start looking at this stuff, as subversion.
What did you study in college?
I didn’t go to college. I’m not really that well read or learned—certain books just really grab me, and I become obsessed with certain authors. I have a few people who I like to read who inform my world. And almost everything I listen to or read translates into music in some way, or a reason to not do music. When I play music, that’s just what comes out: it’s the shit of all the books that are the food.
So you’ve been playing acoustic guitar for a long time, since the mid-‘90s. Why not electric guitar? How did you get started down this acid-folk path?
The first three notes of the first Nick Drake record hit pretty heavy, and made me think I should really think about acoustic guitar and put down the electric bass guitar I’d been playing. That opened me up to Leo Kottke, and later, John Fahey. The music just meant more than getting up there and being silly. At the same time I started to get into Fushitusha and Rudolph Grey and KK Null: really noisy electric guitar bands.
Who’s Rudolph Grey?
Rudolph Grey developed action guitar, which is pure extreme playing. It’s not free jazz. I mean, he’s played with free jazz drummers before, and jazz musicians, but I think his music is more accurately described as action guitar. It stems from no-wave and free jazz. HE is the guy who blew my mind. I got this Rudolph Grey record called Mask of Light and I’m thinking I know stuff about music, I’ve heard experimental music, whatever, and I put that on and he just CLEANED the slate. Anything’s possible. It cleared my mind of everything. Then I could listen to folk music, NEW. Any kind of music. Suddenly, Keiji Haino made sense to me. And Leo Kottke as well. Rudolph Grey: no note is more important than any other note. It has a correlation with a lot of kinds of music, but it’s ACTION GUITAR. Now, Keiji Haino is one of my favorite musicans of all time. Pure sound. Pure emotion. Kan Mikami is an absolute hero of mine: he once said that the only true musician is the musician who has been forsaken by God.
Anyways, I didn’t really know how to put together the rock n roll aspect I liked with folk music. So I started listening to acid folk music, which melts the two together: Ghost were a really huge inspiration to me to start playing folk music, and there’s that one Amon Duul record that’s heavily acoustic. Through the Forced Exposure catalog, I found out that PSF [a Japanese record label] had these compilations called Tokyo Flashback, and on the third one, there’s a picture of the guy sitting in what I guessed were the PSF offices, and there’s records stacked to the ceiling, a total mess, with this box in the front that’s labelled “acid folk.” I remember thinking, I don’t know what’s in that box, and I don’t exactly know what it would sound like, but whatever it is, it’s probably really great. I want to make music that you could put in that box.
So I just made what I was looking for. I’m trying to shed it lately, though, trying to go for the folk thing, a more natural song thing. There’s too many traps in trying to do ‘acid folk.’
So it’s more about songwriting at this point?
Kind of. But I’m not even that good of a songwriter. I figure that I’m kind of good at a bunch of stuff. I’m not really that amazing at one thing. I’m kind of good. That’s enough for me. The first step in overcoming one’s mediocrity is to be aware of it. Hopefully at some point I can overcome it. Artists like Tomokawa Kazuki and Kan Mikami play folk music like it is a beautiful knife (and not coincidentally were part of their own political resistance!). I always return to those two when I am in doubt about music. They are fire and a thousand hurricanes and the beautiful mist and the blooming garden. Folk is not some trend for them, but then again, their brand of folk is more volatile than any rock band I can think of. That is something to aspire to: to find the dirt in a melody and a flower in the chaos. I think I am about a million miles away from that. But I hope I can get closer, everyday, to be that strong.
Judging from your facility with the acoustic guitar, I assume you practice a lot…
Not anymore. Ten years ago, when I started getting into acoustic guitar, I was really studying the guitar, learning things about it. I was only working two days a week. That went on for like three years. Then I realized if I studied any more, this is gonna be bullshit. I’m going to make music that’s not interesting to anybody but guitarists. That’s when I realized I better start working on actually communicating—writing songs and all that. At that time I was playing with this violinist who’d been playing since she was four. We’d duet, that’s where I learned a lot of finger picking techniques. (Finger picking is using your right hand to play the strings and usually using your thumb to play the bass strings in different patterns.) But after that, it wasn’t very interesting to me at all. There are other people out there who are really good guitarists and are doing really good things with guitar, pushing it out. But it just doesn’t interest me. I’d rather become good at playing rocks. I’d like to be a fucking virtuoso of stone playing; knowing the right stones that resonate, how big, where to play them, things like that. That’s much more interesting than guitar. I don’t respect the guitar the way guitarists do. You can ask Ethan. [laughs] Even my new acoustic that I just bought now has a big crack in it from me putting my fist into it.
You know, I was talking with Stephen O’Malley [guitarist in SUNNO))) and Khanate] a few months ago about how there was a time when the acoustic guitar was an instrument of resistance. I don’t mean in the naive ‘60s, when to most people resistance meant putting up a picture of a Hindu god, smoking some grass and singing about getting it together. That wasn’t the real musical resistance of the ‘60s (though the folks singing about getting it together really were resistant to a fucked war. I’m talking about a resistance of culture rather than a resistance of political stupidity and death). The resistance was in feedback and a wall of destruction from rock ‘n’ roll, the very simulacrum of resistance today. But sometime in the late ‘90s, for me anyway, the acoustic guitar was a part of the culture of resistance, even against a resistant culture. Tomokawa Kazuki, Kan Mikami, and Ghost were right up there as my heroes. At the time, everyone was making noise records and noise from Masonna, Solmania, Hijokaidan ruled the underground. A lot of them were great, like the aforementioned and Michael Morley and Rudolph Grey and A.N.P. But like any trend, there became more and more derivative versions of it all. And so even though I loved Bob Banister and the Noggin records, I didn’t want to join the pack, and I knew that my version would just be a derivative of a copy of a notion of wanting acceptance. To resist, I picked up the acoustic guitar. And that’s it! That’s the origin of it all. Now, years later, everything is flowing the other way. It makes me want to make that noise guitar record I always wanted to make, and I will.
And that’s what I love about John Fahey. He was a man of resistance, even against himself. I could give a fuck about his finger picking or melody. I love his writing more than his playing. If you can’t understand that his world was one of absolute hurt and resistance you will never understand any part of how beautiful his music was. He would burn it all, in his memory, again and again. That is a personal resistance.
You seem simultaneously attracted to these resistant individuals, who are almost like modern hermits, and also to the idea of a community, which necessarily involves others.
I’d like to have a place to live where I lived all by myself somewhere, but…I’ve realized I need friends. Hanging out, community, is really good. I don’t think I couldn’t live all by myself, I’d get pretty depressed. All we have is our friends, and giving, and making things as our hope. I may be making records for a few people to listen to, but you better know that there are things going on that are much more important. Like dinners and gatherings against all the bullshit of the world. Like a letter for one. If it doesn’t hold a trace of possibility, it is worthless. That is how I judge what is made, whether for the public or private. Because it is all worthless when it comes down to it. There is only inspiration—which is our analogue for the WANT TO LIVE in Eastern thinking—and there is Nothing, which we will all be faced with at some point. So hold on to your friends and laughter and family and hope. Nothing else exists.
You’ve told me before that you considered your records to be dark records but that you always tried to put a hint of light in there. The new record, though, doesn’t seem as dark to me, overall.
The new one isn’t dark in that way, and that’s why—I think—I was able to explore musical ideas on School of the Flower that I wasn’t able to explore before. Because before I was dealing with emotional ideas and emotions, trying to wrestle with this or that. When I did Dark Noontide, I was really inspired by Current 93. I was listening to Thunder Perfect Mind pretty religiously for a while. They’re always pegged as gothic, especially cuz [Current 93’s] David Tibet’s earlier life is influenced by Crowley, which he has totally renounced since then… Thunder Perfect Mind is the record where he started talking about more personal things. When I first heard it, I was really disappointed. His delivery was a little too dramatic for me at the time. I didn’t get into it for a full year. Then I went through a super bad space where I quit my job, because I really couldn’t communicate, I had this really bad bout of depression, and Thunder Perfect Mind was pretty much the only kind of music I could listen to for some reason…I kind of just suddenly got it. It was as if his vocals where a veil to keep the listener away, and once the veil was lifted, his vocals became AMAZING to me. To me, it’s not about magic or the gothic side or anything that a lot of people peg him as, but like, inside of all of that, inside of the darkest time, he’s always looking for some little fraction of light. So when I started listening to it I felt pretty close to that.
About the same time I started getting into Current 93, I made the pinnacle of the crazy, emotional records that I’ve done is Nightly Trembling. It’s called that because that’s what was happening. Originally it came out in an edition of 33, just on lathe cut. (It was recently reissued on Time-Lag Records. We only did 500 of them. Eventually it’ll be available.) The reasoning was… You know how when you have to take a piss really bad while driving a car, your consciousness focuses on one point, and you’re not aware of much else? It’s the same thing when you’re depressed: your consciousness focuses on one point and it becomes a feedback loop, and it’s really hard to get out of that. Which is really similar to what Bruce Kapferer talks about in Feast of the Sorcerer, which is about Sri Lankan Buddhist sorcery and anti-sorcery. When you’re under a sorcery attack, you get this feedback loop that you can’t get out of. So, they have these anti-sorcery rites that allow people to break out in certain ways. The ritual is called a Suniyama and it encompasses theater and music as well as the destruction and exhaustion of wealth, much like a potlatch. I thought that was what I needed to do. So I made this record. It was based on that book, and also on Marcel Mauss’ The Gift, which is about potlatches: you know how certain cultures in the South Pacific islands, instead of warring, they give gifts! That idea—the power of the gift—and Hakim Bey is always talking about that—this project was totally based on all that. I made 33 of these records and I handpainted all of them. I got this beautiful paper from China. Every one had handwritten liner notes. The same liner notes, but on a whole page. Wrote out all the liner notes, painted them, and then just gave every single one of them away to different points that I knew where people were: one in Australia, Germany, London, New Zealand. If I had had friends at the poles I would have sent them there! The idea was to set up this web of consciousness around the world in order to reverse my own consciousness loop. And that’s a kind of reverse—well, Anthony Braxton talks about creating webs of consciousness around the world. For good, not for your own personal bullshit like I was doing. He talks about doing particular concerts at particular places to create a web of consciousness. So I did sort of a reverse Anthony Braxton-style thing. But what happened was, it helped!
There’s a certain person that kind of triggered all of this. I wasn’t talking to them at the time—now we’re best friends—but years later, they told me that they’d figured out that at that exact same time that record was released, they’d actually suffered a pretty bad, pretty weird breakdown: they’d started suffering from all the same things I was suffering from—couldn’t go out of the house, couldn’t talk to anybody, bed-ridden, they had to go into therapy for a while. Maybe that’s coincidence, I don’t know. [laughs] It was pretty weird shit. I’m never gonna do that again. That’s one of the reasons I reissued it was to make those records a lot less powerful – reverse a lot of the power. That project was definitely the pinnacle of the depression.
But I’ve been feeling really good lately. Between that and going into a studio, I was able to do stuff that I’ve always wanted to do on the new album. Like that long song.
Still, some things stay the same for Six Organs, live: you always play solo acoustic guitar…
That’s going to change. The new record has more elecric guitar. Live, I want to loop the acoustic guitar and then pick up the electric guitar.
And you’ve always sat down.
That might change too! Cuz my girlfriend just got me a strap for my acoustic guitar…
Next thing you’ll have a harmonica set-up like Dylan…
The strap and the acoustic guitar is a tricky thing, because you could end up looking like Ani di Franco—or you could end up looking like Neil Young. It’s tricky. I usually prefer to sit so people can’t see me at all.
Live it seems like you’re on a tightrope… I can never tell what you’re going to do next.
I rarely go up with a setlist. I just don’t want it to get boring. I come up with setlists if I know there’s going to be a lot of people out there, and I want a safety net, you know? But I think things are gonna change a little bit. I want it to be interesting for me, too—I’ve always been looking at performance from an improvisor’s point of view. It could fail, but when it’s great, it’s amazing—you really break through something, you really feel something you wouldn’t’ve done if you knew exactly what was happening. Mark Twain, when he had to go out on the lecture circuit, he just hated it. He only did it to make money. He was still great, just because his natural stuff was good, but he wasn’t trying to improvise, to search inside of himself. The time for that was sitting at the table, writing something. I don’t know. I’m not the most emotionally stable person, so I can get really bummed out onstage. Somewhere down South I just broke down and had this attack. That was my most shameful show, ever. Sometimes weird things happen when I play. I stopped playing and I told the audience that what they’d heard was NOTHING, it was NO GOOD. Just preaching nihilism and death. It was just horrible. Sometimes things get ahold of me. This year I’ve realized that there are shadows. Sometimes the shadows are really intense, they can take up a lot of space. Sometimes I’m fighting shadows… Sometimes the room is filled with shadows. I can’t describe it, really. Once when I played in L.A., I don’t mean to be all hocus pocus, but really, I was playing and there was only a few people there and I swear to God there were weird shadow entities, non-friendly shadows there, and I started to get super-freaked out.
Are you able to meditate at all?
I don’t meditate — I drink. [laughs] But, by the time I was playing in San Francisco, on that tour last year with Ghost, I wasn’t agitated at all. Everything was so peaceful and quiet. I wasn’t stomping. Ghost have this internal peace within them. I would talk to Batoh after shows and he would ask me why I was so agitated on stage [laughs], he’d tell me that I should try and calm down. He taught me a lot about being peaceful onstage. Then of course a week after that I played with Sun City Girls and they just destroyed all of that. I’d see them just TAKE it. It was THEIR stage. You’re gonna have a good time, and if not, man, you’re gonna get fucked with. They taught me that it’s war on stage. Which I knew it was. [laughs] Once Ghost left the country, I felt like my parents had gone and I could party it up. But of course Sun City Girls have a kind of self-confidence that I’m lacking.
How’s it going playing with Comets On Fire? That allows you to do something different.
It’s hard to divide my time between Six Organs and Comets. If I had my way I’d just tour with both of them, non-stop. We’re all strong personalities, we don’t write a whole lot of music. We’d rather jam out bar band songs and drink beers.
You were working on a free-noise thing with Noel Harmonson thing the other day.
It’s fun to do that. It’s really important. It’s important to be aware of sound as music, rather than music as a nominal and deterministic exercise or science. For me anyway. All things must be possible, at all times. Otherwise, what magic could music even hold? If I want a bunch of laws and rules, I’ll go stand in line at the Oakland DMV! But…I think we should have some sort of disclaimer here to let the folks know that I don’t think anything I say has really much of an importance to anyone. It’s just bullshit. But at least I recognize that. During the day I like to listen to Sun Ra, drink coffee and read about chaos linguistics. And at night I get drunk, and start raging and getting pissed off. And listen to Tomokawa Kazuki or Townes Van Zandt. For the last couple of years, Townes Van Zandt, he’s just my buddy. He feels like my brother. I don’t have a brother, but… I mean, he got really depressed. You listen to his studio records—they’re super-happy! But he was dealing with a lot of stuff. On a music level I like him because, even today, I’ve listened to this one song for years, and just today I figured out these two lines and how fucking brilliant they were “mother was a golden girl, slit her throat just to get her pearls, cast myself into a world, before a bunch of swine” from “Dollar Bill Blues”—and they’d just passed me by because he speaks this language that isn’t flowery. He’s speaking everyday language but then a couple years later, you go, Holy fuck I get it, I can’t believe he put those two words together. He’s absolutely brilliant—anyone can listen to him and get more and more into him. Anytime I hear any music, I’m thinking about it in terms of, Oh that’s a good idea, that’s a bad idea, how does this relate to anything I do. Townes is the only person where I never, ever do that. He’s the only musician I just listen to.
Originally published in Arthur No. 15 (March 2005)
Artwork by John Coulthart
KILLING THE MADMAN What does meditation have to do with activism? Plenty, says poet Michael Brownstein
I’ve been a Buddhist for many years, and I am also an activist, committed to overturning the profit-driven monoculture which is destroying our health, our Earth, and our soul. How are these two forms of awareness—awareness of what’s taking place in the outside world, and awareness of our internal processes—related? Can each aid the other in creating a sane, sustainable and just world?
Let’s look at activism in terms of the negative emotions generated—indignation and rage, but also frustration, sorrow, resignation. These are negative emotions because of the effect they have on us, the people who experience them. Not on the object of our emotions, whether it be the World Trade Organization, Monsanto, or George Bush. Negative emotions are reactive. Their only impact is on us. What difference does it make to Monsanto that you’re seething with indignation at something it has done or said? What difference does it make to the Pacific Lumber Company when you come upon a clear-cut old-growth forest in California and feel devastated?
Staying present with our emotions—anger, for example—means remaining aware of what we’re experiencing without becoming lost in reactivity. It means liberating the energy generated by anger from the object that calls it forth. In other words, it is a form of meditation. Then, the possibility exists to work with the situation from a place of clarity, rather than be submerged in confusion.
So, the first revolutionary act—or fact—about meditation is that it puts you in touch with what you’re feeling and thinking at this very moment. It puts you in touch with presence. Then you realize that you are the source of your emotions—not Monsanto or McDonald’s. This does not imply that we shouldn’t have these responses, but that we have to use them rather than be used by them. And the only way to do that is to become aware of their nature.
What a band was Godflesh. In the person of Justin Broadrick, with his combat boots, and his black clothes, and his electrode-ready shaved head, and his searing, clattering guitar tone, and his militant drum machine, and the traumatic circular lurching and nodding thing he would do onstage (which recalled to me unavoidably the movements of a cage-maddened polar bear I once saw in London’s Regents Park Zoo), a particular strand of post-punk disgust seemed to have fused—at very high pressure—with a severe religious impulse: here, one sensed, was a real ascetic, a world-class world-rejector. Of course, there was a lot of it about at the time —Eighties, early Nineties. Plenty of bands were disgusted, there were plenty of bleak and black-clad zealots with guitars for whom flesh was pain, existence gaol and society nothing but a species of sausage-grinder, but with Broadrick all that grimness and refusal was sublimed into something beautiful. Like a proper heretic, like a martyr in an El Greco painting, he had his eyes on the beyond; he was going down to rise above; even in Godflesh’s sickest, most imploded moments you could still hear that rage for transcendence. Slavestate… mindfuck… circle of shit etc (this was the tenor of Godflesh lyrics). Vivisection… the void… blah. But there was always beauty, somewhere about. On a chemical trace of melody Broadrick could compose an anthem.
Almost in passing, wrestling with machines, he invented industrial metal, Fear Factory and I don’t know who else, but Godflesh was never so much about ‘musical development’ as it was about the steady excavation and elaboration of a mindset, the dogged unburying of psychic material. The final album, Hymns, was the masterpiece—higher and heavier than ever. Ted Parsons (Swans, Prong) played drums, and that was beautiful—instead of the pedantic tang! tang! of the artificial ride we had the knelling cymbal-strokes of Ted, making his powerful human difference. He’s playing again in Jesu, Broadrick’s new thing, now here with a self-titled album. In Jesu all the high-low dualisms of Godflesh are magnified—decelerated, chilled down and magnified. The music moves with a dolorous processional slowness, at times hitting Swans-speed – that castigating trudge—but layered over the top is all manner of loveliness. Guitars prickle and expire over glacial, grinding bass-phrases. Keyboards float, entranced, above gulfs of noise. You need your ears for this one; there are exquisite and almost-painful things going on in the upper frequencies. (Swans-meets-My Bloody Valentine? I’m no good with the rockcrit formulae.) Broadrick sings for the most part in a prayer-like murmur, with reverb bouncing his prayers back at him—“I know the stones I’ve thrown/ They come back twice as strong”—and refrigerated puffs of ambience sailing by. (Swans-meets-My Bloody Valentine-meets-Boards Of Canada? On Ketamine? Still no good.) Passages of Jesu are crushingly beautiful—really. I almost cried.
The press release from Holy Mountain pluckily hails the new Om CD (their first) as “the triumphant return of two-thirds of Sleep!” Might have been a good name for the record, that—Two Thirds of Sleep. Better, perhaps, than Variations On a Theme which is its actual title. Anyway, two-thirds of Sleep is what we have here: drummer Chris Hakius and bassist/vocalist Al Cisneros, who earned their place in history as Matt Pike’s partners on the monumental Jerusalem, 52 minutes of bloody-fingered bong-metal mastery. In the great fission of Sleep Pike went flaming off with the high end and the songs, leaving Hakius and Cisneros to rumble along the drone-continuum in 20-minute guitar-free groove orgies. A vast monotony presides over the Om project, from the affectless ‘zen’ singing to the unsmiling, weed-inflated lyrics—“latitudinal ground elliptic motion sets Unveil” (alright!)—but Cisneros and Hakius do make a lovely racket together, a fluid, inventive Sabbath-esque churn, and besides, monotony is clearly the point: chamber upon chamber of nullity: I mean, how high are you, anyway? Because Om are ready for you, they’ll go there, they LIVE there, they’ll play through these rocking sludge-cycles until Time peels back and the imp Infinity tips his tiny red hat.
Blessed Black Wings, High On Fire’s third album, is produced by Steve Albini. What a pleasure that was to type. I’ll do it again. Blessed Black Wings, High On Fire’s third album, is produced by Steve Albini. It’s a metalhead’s wet dream: HOF’s mad-dog pummelling preserved for us with the crushing exactness, the awesome pedantry of the recorder Albini, every ‘i’ dotted and ‘t’ crossed. HOF is of course the baby of Matt Pike, the other third of Sleep, and Blessed Black Wings is everything we’d hoped it might be. “Devilution,” the opener, is fantasyland—Des Kensel’s warrior-charge toms fading thunderously in, a riff that sounds like Hell clearing its throat and then Pike hits us with the screaming heavy metal prophecy: “MAN’S DONE! BABYLON! EAT THE FRUIT DIVINE!” You won’t hear anything more thrilling this year. The chorus could be Discharge. Conspicuous lack of interest in tunes has never been an obstacle to heaviness; Pike’s warthog shriek regularly falls to pieces and his solos have a kind of sealed autistic fury to them, but this is the glory of HOF—their bestial limitedness. Did I say bestial? I meant beastious, as in “Stepping on the curse/Inflicting its beastious wounds” (“Cometh Down Hessian”). The point is, HOF keep it narrow. They keep it bloody. They keep it orc-like. Which is smart; there are a couple of “interludes” on Blessed Black Wings, moments of quasi-lyricism when Pike dips the volume, climbs off the effects pedal and twanks a few melodically-organised notes, and it sounds like he’s playing with mittens on.
A couple of things have changed. Theres’s a new bassist here: Joe Preston. And while one regrets the passing of George Rice, with his excellently un-metal name, from the ranks of HOF, Preston (ex-Melvins, Thrones, Earth) clearly has the pedigree for the job. Also, on Blessed Black Wings HOF have rediscovered forward motion, with that “Ace Of Spades”-style oompah! oompah! that no one really does anymore. It suits them, to a degree—they can flail along. Me, I liked it when their music just STUCK, roiling and roaring in circles and vortices, impaled on a single point of intensity (see “Hung Drawn and Quartered” from the last album.) But what the fuck, this is an amazing record. It kills. It’s totally beastious.
I’m sure DC’s Dead Meadow have had quite enough of being called a comedown band, but really, the new record Feathers is such a nice place to regather your shredded faculties. Gently lumbering drums, body-temperature bass, Jason Simon’s trailing, gaseous tenor and incense-laden guitar, now and then the leviathanic stirring of a riff—the brain’s root gets a solid, loving massage. Anton “Send the waitress up here RIGHT NOW!” Newcombe, from the Brian Jonestown Massacre, has produced them (not this album) which makes sense; Dead Meadow have BJM’s shimmering near-vapidity, the airy jingle-jangle, but there’s muscle in here too, some proper dead-eyed Om-Style groove commitment, boring backwards through hard rock into a gaping psychedelic sprawl. Fairies wear boots, as Ozzy observed. I don’t have the lyrics in front of me, but I’m told that they are fantasy-encrusted, steeped in Tolkienry etc. Sounds fine—you can never have too many elves—although in the general drifting-off of Simon’s vocals one hears not legends or narratives but fugues, suspensions—self-doubting orcs, doped-out dwarves looking muzzily at their dropped tools. It’s gorgeous, utterly. The ground shifts, the music raves and sways. Watch the princes shed their armor. Come on down!