INDOOR THUNDER: Landscaping the future with Brian Eno
by Alan Moore
Remove ambiguities and covert to specifics.
The first half of the twentieth century saw all energies and the agenda that had driven Western culture from its outset reach their logical albeit startling conclusions in the various fires of Auschwitz, Dresden, Nagasaki, after which we all sat stunned amongst the smoking fragments of our worldviews, all our certainties of the utopias to come revealed as flimsy, wishful, painted sets, reduced to vivid splinters, sharp and painful. There was scorched earth, there was shellshock, there was no Plan B. Hiroshima rang through the traumatized and anxious mindset of the 1950s, through Jeff Nuttall’s Bomb Culture, its shuddering reverberation somewhere between funeral knell and warning seismic tremor. Our response to the bad news carved a division through society, between flat denial on the one hand, paralyzed hysteria upon the other; between those who doggedly refused the notion that tomorrow might be different from today, and those fixated by the mushroom clouds who scorned the notion that there might be a tomorrow. Both these attitudes, you’ll notice, have conveniently avoided any need to think creatively about the future, have dodged any obligation to consider the Long Now. Tomorrow is today with smaller radios or it’s strontium and ashes, and in either case there’s no need to prepare.
Throughout the 1950s there was very little ground between these two terminal visions, one complacent in its sense of stasis and the other in its sense of doom, but such ground as existed was staked out and cultivated by the era’s artists, by its avant-garde musicians, its Beat poets. By the middle ’60s they had turned the thin conceptual corridor between Eisenhower/Macmillan monotony and Oppenheimer Armageddon into thriving, fertile territory where the future tense could once more be employed with meaning, where future itself could once more be imagined, could take root. In England, grown up from the ferment and foment of the moment, an exuberantly progressive Art School scene together with a network of experimental and impromptu Arts Laboratories were the psychedelic backdrop that the next wave of creative talent would emerge from in the early 1970s, once all the counter-culture crackle of the previous ten years had run its course. The fairground ozone glitterfog of Glam Rock with its twilight sexuality and its somehow nostalgic futurism boiled up from the dayglo debris in bohemian basements, happened happenings, a rich mulch of dreams crashed and trampled and ploughed under. David Bowie and Steve Harley sprang from Arts Lab roots in Beckenham. Brian Eno spent the 1960s soaking up the influence of tutors such as the composer Cornelius Cardew or Tom Phillips, author of the treated masterpiece A Humument. At its deepest and most interesting subterranean extremes the hippy underground became the velvet goldmine.
The peculiar electricity that sparked back then amongst the leopard skins and sequins came from tensions that went further than the obvious sexual ambiguity of heterosexual bricklayers in lippy. There were also stress lines spanning past and future, the subculture caught between them like a lurex Janus, one face with its yearning Garbo gaze trained on a celluloid romance of yesterday, the other staring through its greasepaint thunderbolt into the alien dazzle up ahead, dynamic conflict that was evident in Bowie’s mismatched eyes, in the fraught brilliance of the period’s most emblematic pop group, Roxy Music. Here the sound was tug-of-war taut, stretched between the MGM lounge-lizardry of Bryan Ferry’s retro-fitted vision and the squelchy sci-fi shimmer that Brian Eno dressed it in, Noel Coward on the set of Logan’s Run. When the rope inevitably snapped, the synthesizer artist/non-musician, suddenly cut free from the opposing pull of any gravity, seemed to rise instantly to a conceptual stratosphere remote and previously unglimpsed, dragging the decade with him by its iridescent quiff.
It’s difficult to overestimate the manner in which Eno’s subsequent solo career has impacted with culture, in terms of both its complexity and the sheer breadth of its blast radius. Back in the first flush of the ‘70s his manifesto, yet to be unpacked, was nonetheless there to be read in “Baby’s On Fire”’s two-note minimalist flourish, in the cascading metal vistas of his work with Robert Fripp. It could be seen in the inventive pilfering from Chinese picture-story propaganda that engendered Taking Tiger Mountain…, in the thinking behind the ingenious, endlessly useful deck of creative prompts labeled Oblique Strategies that he and Peter Schmidt released in January 1975. It was even apparent in the mantelpiece clutter of Here Comes the Warm Jets’ picture sleeve, the pornographic playing card that referenced the album’s title, the sly and understated sense of humor. Rapidly transcending his considerable status as Glam icon Eno became instead the most coherent and most capable example of a cutting edge that pop culture had witnessed, became something new and without precedent, something refusing definition save in its own self-invented terms.
If there is anything that’s more authentically remarkable than Eno’s almost total single-handed transformation of the way we think about our entertainment culture, more striking than his casual invention of the sample or of ambient music, then it is the quietness and above all discretion with which he’s accomplished everything. It is the unobtrusiveness with which he carries out his dynamitings and his demolitions, the delicacy of his bulldozers that clear way the parlor walls while everybody’s having tea, and no one notices. We pass the sugar and try not to mention the roof’s gone. Many of his pop contemporaries, perhaps mindful of the fact that ultimately they have little that’s original to say and no expectation of effecting any noticeable change within society will compensate by flaunting ersatz dangerousness in their lyrics, their appearance or their lifestyle, whereas Nature tells us that the genuinely dangerous beasts lie low in the grass and do not choose to advertise their presence until it’s all far too late. Working at culture’s liminal extremes, deep in the social utlra-violet, he is taking Tiger Mountain by stealth. Implacably intelligent and utterly unsentimental, he got the job because he was so mean, while somehow appearing so kind.
His function, frequently, is catalytic, sparking a profound reaction in which only he himself will not be noticeably changed. Eno’s collaborations with his former Glam associate David Bowie later in the 1970’s, most notably on Low, were massively important to the shaping of the Punk and New Wave movements without ever being seen as part of those phenomena. His sampled TV news report of Dutch industrialist Hans Martin Schleyer’s death on R. A. F. provided House music with all its aural furniture by way on an anonymous charity shop donation. Even throwaway remarks such as his comment that while only a few hundred people ever listened to the Velvet Underground they all formed bands are endlessly recycled without any real awareness of their source, and yet his sphere of influence continues its expansion unabated. His ubiquity would seem to imply that while only a few hundred people ever paid attention to Brian Eno’s work, they all formed countries.
Propaganda for a state wholly of mind, his oeuvre acts upon the world around it like a beneficial virus, ideas that infect the host, transform it to a vector by which the infection may be further propagated. As with all successful viruses, there is a strategy by which the host’s immune defenses and resistance to the ideas can be circumvented, and in Eno’s case that strategy is one of simple beauty and necessity. His notions, packaged irresistibly within a haunting and transporting drift of notes and tones are simply too profoundly lovely, are too vital and too obviously true to foster any opposition, any barricades. Whether it’s the elegiac end-of-season seafronts of “Some Faraway Beach” or the mesmerizing glass-and-raindrop crawl of “Thursday Afternoon,” the final “It’s the stars…” refrain that ends his wonderfully cross-purposive collaboration with John Cale, Wrong Way Up, or The Shutov Assembly’s tingling, thrilling “Ikebukuro,” there is a sublime, uplifting presence that informs each piece and brooks no opposition, an enlightening eunoia, beauteous thought that changes people and their landscape from the inside out.
Avoiding all classification and restriction by defining himself doggedly in terms of what he’s not, the non-musician has been able to ignore all boundaries, can access areas where musicians are not usually encouraged: futurology and film and fashion. Perfume. Politics. He is tomorrow’s perfect occupant, the model for what humans can achieve when unencumbered by the luggage or the language of the self-set limitations of our prison past, and better yet he makes it all look like such fun. Upon the one occasion when I had the privilege of meeting him, at the recording of an interview for Radio Four’s Chain Reaction series, he turned up wearing the clothes he’d worn the previous day after his daily consultation of the Oblique Strategies pack had admonished him severely to “Change nothing.” Having buffed my shoes up to a fine sheen in an effort to impress him even if the toying with my hair and simpering failed, I was surprised when he insisted upon polishing his own shoes just before we went on air. I pointed out that this was wireless and that nobody would notice, to which he replied by asking if I didn’t think that an impression of one’s dusty shoes could somehow be transmitted over radio? I was transfixed, and honestly had no response to this spontaneous Zen koan. What’s the sound of one shoe gathering dust?
Brian Eno is one of our modern culture’s brightest lights, never more radiant than in that culture’s most obscure and interesting corners, someone we should all be grateful we’re alive at the same time as. He’s the ambient motor hum, the alpha wave harmonic barely audible behind civilization. We should all sit quietly and listen.
Alan Moore recently retired from mainstream comics writing, and will soon be marrying his longtime girlfriend and collaborator, artist Melinda Gebbie. He will be presenting a piece about William Burroughs at this year’s Patti Smith-curated Meltdown festival in London.
C: We meet again. D: Indeed. [goes to fridge, returns with chilled brownie] C: Okay? We are ready to begin. D, I wish you clarity. D: Yes. Focus pocus.
Kool Keith Global Enlightenment Part 1 DVD (MVD) C: I thought this was gonna be Keith being oh-so-weird but actually it’s him being clever… He’s talking philosophy. D: He’s talking seltzer water. C: He’s talking about theft, it’s a favorite subject of his. And this is about how he dealt with that: by doing something that is unstealable. Listen to what he’s saying… Kool Keith on screen, talking about what he keeps in his refrigerator: “I learnt that people like to steal your sodas. Seltzer water, people don’t like it. You could send a big jug of seltzer water around, and nobody would touch it… But people taking my Hawaiian Punches, people drinking all my Tropicana. That happened for weeks, and months. I really learned that seltzer water keeps people away. It’s like a twist: I really don’t like it myself, but I like it because people don’t like it. You have to do it that way. But you have to learn how to like it, like it’s so good to you: it’s SO GOOD to have a glass of seltzer water.” C: That’s the way I’ve felt about Keith’s last, uh, five records. They’re hard to like! But now I gotta listen to them again, because they were hard to like on purpose! D [musing]: Hmm. I have to admit I did not even hear those records. C: Keith is brilliant even when he’s talking about being weird as a conceptual survival strategy. This is funny: watching Keith on Tour. It’s a sustained critique of status-obsessed modern hip-hop. So, he’s supposed to be showing how large he’s living, that’s what hip-hop stars do on their DVDs. But here he’s living in a hotel, he’s eating at Popeye’s. He’s got no hot women on his wing so he follows one around buys her some shorts. He hangs out with music stars friends, that is, the streetbusking guitarist. He has trouble finding liquor. The whole thing is done straight…. D: Even straighter than the Turbonegro film. C: Which is saying a lot, when you think about it. Kool Keith on screen, walking through Manhattan’s streets: “I’m always touring, even when I’m walking…. Am I above the streets? I am above the streets at my mentality level. Everybody now raps behind the microphone and a couple of bodyguards and they say they’re the streets. You see a lot of rappers, they walk around with a lot of people with ‘em, with headsets? Their reality is not even reality. It’s a fantasy. I don’t sit in an SUV, doing my documentary, ride around and talk about ‘I was in the streets, I live the street, I am the streets.’ You mean you ride through the streets. Ha. You know what I’m saying?” C: He’s goofing like Sun Ra. Everything has at least two and a half meanings. D: Thirty-five minutes of new stoner comedy-philosophy.
Little Freddie King You Don’t Know What I Know (Fat Possum) D: [looking at cover, reading the album title] “You don’t know what I know?” I have a feeling he knows the same thing Kool Keith knows. Which it is I do not but I am trying to know. C: It’s obviously a Fat Possum production. D: Which means it’s thick enough to eat with a fork. C: Raw John Lee Hooker feel, without sheen or Clapton cameos. D: John Lee Hooker would never have a song called “Crack Head Joe.” C: It’s about time someone paid tribute to a crackhead.
Blowfly Fahrenheit 69 (Alternative Tentacles) C: Blowfly is an old R & B songwriter dude who’s been running the crude parody game for 75 years. Wears a cape and mask to protect his secret identity. Totally classic if you’re in a certain mood. D: We have to give him some major credit to the cover picture, which is a takeoff on the Bad Brains’ first album cover, only Blowfly is doing a urine lighting strike on the Capitol building. C: Blowfly has to be experienced live, he’s a comedian provocateur goofball. (You can see why he’s on Jello Biafra’s label now.) I saw him opening for the Pixies and Soul Asylum once at a half-empty Universal Amphitheatre, and I know this is damning by faint praise Blowfly blewflied them off the stage. And get this: his ENTIRE band was wearing GIANT…RAINBOW….AFROS!!!! D: [looks at sleeve picture of Blowfly with his middle fingers extended] I like his fingernails more than his new record. C: To update George Clinton: Smell my fingernail.
A Band of Bees Free the Bees (Astralwerks) C: There are songs on here that are as good as the originals they’re styled after– whether it’s the Zombies, or the ballads, the Afrobeat stuff. The writing is great, the spirit is there, the production is definitely there, but… Could it be that they are the men who know too much? With the internet and Mojo every phase of Western pop music is now available to kids, and it’s all presented with this sexy, dramatic gosh-wow. What does that mean for young smart musicians? Are they perhaps over-educated in music history? D: Maybe you are an over-educated listener! C: Could be true. I’m sure if I was 12, I’d listen to this one record all summer. But back then, you did listen to only one record all summer because that’s the most that you could get your hands on. You had just enough money saved up to buy a new record. Do kids even do that anymore, listen to one record for a whole summer? This one record, with all its styles and the sheer rich quality of the writing and playing, would keep me going. But now… D: Now you are becoming an old man. Which is sad for you, because for me this is wonderful stuff. It’s not just vintage décor, the innards are top-notch too. And as my good friend Gertrude Stein said, A good song is a good song is a good song.
Small parks are set up along the Upcountry road that leads to Kanaio, commemorating the Chinese workers who settled on these higher slopes as the lower lands got bought up by Westerners. Many of the similarly pushed-to-the-edge Hawaiian communities took up the Chinese iconography, feeling a kinship to its mix of the hard and beautiful.
Closest to the Edge: Life in a squatters’ village on the wild side of Maui By Paul Smart Photography by Fawn Potash
Maui, the state of Hawaii’s second largest island, is shaped like a small-headed figure eight laid on its side, a lopsided infinity symbol. Giant volcanoes, both dormant, center each half of its configuration; the middle is a verdant swath of massive pineapple farms and suburb-like housing tracts, malls and a busy airport. On the left, West Maui is ringed with increasingly expensive and exclusive resorts catering to someone’s golf and condo dreams. At center is a verdant ring of cloud-draped mountains. On the right, the massive volcanic national park of Haleakala splits the terrain between bone dry and rain forest wetness. A small sliver of the northern coast is home to the world’s leading surfing waves, while the southern coast is said to be Hawaii’s sunniest spot.
“Upcountry” is what Maui natives, and guide books, refer to the long western slope of Haleakala, once a center for the island’s great beef cattle industry. Today it’s a land of Northern California-like communities nestled under imported eucalyptus trees and intensive flower farms shipping their goods world wide. Less touristed than the rest of Maui, Upcountry gets its own tourist brochures, touting the area’s long vistas and cowboy heritage, its cooler temperatures and more mellowed lifestyle. There aren’t many attractions up here besides a few restaurants and b&b-like lodgings. People tend to come for day trips to the National Park, or en route to the Eastern, rainforest side of Maui where Hana lies, a three-hour drive from the airport. Otherwise, it’s a land of upscale bedroom communities, like the Bay Area’s Mill Valley, the Berkeley Hills, the Peninsula.
The views are magnificent, and give a sense of what it must feel like to live on Maui year-round. There’s little traffic. It feels laidback.
Yet all the maps of Maui, tourist-oriented or not, mark a quiet Upcountry border, including little boxes past the site of the Tedeschi Winery warning that rental cars are not allowed past a certain point. And the long, 50-mile Southern Coast of the island gets no references in guide books, or even in Maui’s various newspapers.
That’s Kanaio. That’s where this story takes place.
We will come into Kanaio at its darkest. Late December and the firmament alive with a hundred constellations mirroring the tourist constellations created by the mega-resorts of Kihei and Wailea far below by the ocean’s edge. I’m in a rented jeep climbing higher than anything I’m used to, feeling the altitude muddy my attitude, sweeping up the jet lag and flight fatigue into a maelstrom of mental mist, a long way from home. My wife’s in the truck up ahead with her brother Brad. We spin out from the airport to Home Depot, then upcountry on back roads that channel through endless cane fields. There are fewer American flags flying in this part of the nation than we’ve grown accustomed to in recent years.
The humid smell of fertilizer rises up. I feel my pores soaking it all in, as if I’ve stepped from autumn crispness into a greenhouse. After a Y turn, I sense pineapples in the fields, even though all I can see are the jury-rigged tail lights on Brad’s Ford pickup and red earth berms on either of the narrow roadway. We pass through a suburban tract of ranch-style homes festooned with giant swanlike shrubbery. Christmas lights on palm trees. A vinyl picket fence.
Brad turns onto a higher-grade two lane roadway and I follow him several miles until he signals left. We climb a steep incline past a siren tower and more houses, less ritzy now. We pass a strange, octagonal wood church that’s all steeple and pull into an open-door concrete market for snacks. No one needs to watch the bags this far out of the tourist areas. Everyone knows each other up here, greeting each other with thumb/pinkie shaka waves, low and super-cool.
A native steps up: “Brother dude, how goes it?”
“Meet my sister, my brother-in-law, man,” Brad says.
“You new to Upcountry, good people?”
“New to Maui,” Brad tells him. “Coming from the airport.”
“Heavy. Take’em to Kanaio, my man. They learn what it is now.”
Brad buys New Zealand ale and Beck’s, throws in a few packs of generic ciggies. We get some homemade macadamia nut cookie drops and basic supplies: pasta and tuna, canned corned beef, Spam. Back in convoy, we drive through a landscape of long vistas broken by gnarled trees, their purple blossoms littering the asphalt. Cows stare out from behind barbed wire fences, munching nonchalantly. We stop and down brews at Sun Yat Sen Park, eyeing the even-bigger vista at 3800 feet. A plane moves slowly across the horizon at eye level. There’s nothing it can hit, no fears of it falling from the sky. Only an hour to go to Kanaio, Brad says, swigging on a Beck’s.
Rock walls give everything the look of a lopsided Ireland. I’m filled with memories of Brittany and the Amalfi coast, of Quebec’s Charlevoix district high above the St. Lawrence. But this is warmer. Softer, it seems.
I’m getting used to the firmament’s subtle lighting. There’s a hypnotic allure to the distant shimmer of resorts against an endless sea. I’m downing a beer now, too, although I know about Kanaio’s reputation as an outlaw haven where drinking’s no different than breathing.
We’re here because my wife hasn’t seen Brad in over a decade. He was a troubled boy, taken to drinking and fighting, going in and out of reform schools, even the Army, until he up and flew to Honolulu when he was barely 20. Since then he’s been in touch only intermittently.
One time he’d gone home to the Midwest with his dog, who then got hit by a police car. Brad got into a scuffle with the cop. The dog died. Brad tried to give it a Kanaio-style burial, complete with bonfire. Only it was the Midwest. The cops came again. Now he isn’t allowed back on the mainland.
Up more winding roads and we pass through a cluster of ranch buildings nestled into a copse of eucalyptus. A cinderblock church, St. John the Less, is surrounded by sweet-smelling honeysuckle and wild tobacco in a half-state of construction. I follow the battered truck off the paved road and up a long incline. We seem to pass through jungle. When the views return, they’re darker. No more vistas of tourist hotels and convenience store lights. Instead kudzu shapes loom stretched out supine on the starlit sea.
After several miles we stop. Brad comes back to make sure the Jeep I’ve rented is in four-wheel drive. He’s shirtless, dirty jeans slung around narrow hips. Flip-flops on dirt-encrusted feet. A disheveled mop of hair over an equally disheveled beard. He moves with the loping gait of a contractor, his main means of employment. He carries a beer in his thick hand.
Back in our vehicles we chug ever-so-slowly and carefully through increasing numbers of junk cars and tortured lava rock walls and cliffs. A cow looms in the road, lit red in Brad’s sole running light.
We turn into what seems to be a gully. Plywood shacks brightly lit for the holidays come into view. We slow to a crawl, taking what feels like every possible wrong turn.
At a wall of weather-beaten plywood boards, a grizzled Hawaiian emerges and talks to Brad. He comes back and gives me a shaka sign, says I’m welcome here. A bit further on we pass a group of kids standing amidst fencing and kudzu. One’s got a small dog in his arms. They stare at me and my rent-a-Jeep. No one waves.
Through piles of spent, windowless Nissans and Toyotas, Harvesters and Broncos, an A frame shines higher up. Above that, the stars. We’re off the map. This is the side of Maui tourist agencies and car rental companies denote with a broken line. They don’t want you to know about this side of it all, where what’s left of the native Hawaiians have been given special squatters’ rights… but no water or electrical service. No roads. Where the cheap labor that builds endless resorts and cleans them hunkers down with a view of their old holy island, Kahoolawe, now emptied after serving for years as a U.S. military bombing practice site.
We pull into trees and junk, a motor here, wires and old doors there. A dog barks. Brad gets out of the truck and asks me to keep the lights on as he fires the generator. Welcome to Kanaio, he announces with rough exuberance. We hear are the hum of generators, the rustle of strong wind, the distant love cries of drunken couples or their progeny, multiracial and tough as nails. We’re on the far side of Paradise, the deep recess of America, the mirror image of all things consumer.
BULL TONGUE Exploring the Voids of All Known Undergrounds by Byron Coley and Thurston Moore
It takes a lot for us to actually look at a CD but when we recently got a letter which began, “Dear Bull Tongue, Do you want to hear about my vagina?” we had to blow the dust off the laser and hear just what the hell this could be about. We were immediately stuck to our seats stunned and smiling as Jessica Delfino engaged us in tune after tune referencing her, and others’, vagina(s). Jessica grew up in Maine, took acid once in a while, but states she never became a hippie. In fact, she states this quite a few times, not in defense or in repulsion to hippies but…just so you know: she is not a hippie. But she is funny. And smart. And she lives in NYC doing stand-up comedy here and there, is an activist thrown out of 9-11 meetings (we know all this reading her blog). She also has songs, some of ‘em are great, particularly “Rock n Roll Pussy” which we’d throw on an Arthur comp any day, especially if that day ever comes (we’re working on it).
Way back in the early ‘80s when we first went to Germany looking for records we were led by a young German lad named Jochen Schwartz to a small store on a tiny street in Hamburg called Walter Ullbricht Schallplatten. The proprietor was a dark and serious man with a slight and somewhat sinister sense of humor named Uli. His store was a goldmine of weird European industrial noise and, with our limited funds, we were able to only grab a few sides of sick noise slabs like the infamous Desperately Seeking Suicide comp and the initial offerings of Japan’s Merzbow. Uli was one of those guys who saw that we had an appreciation for the deeper troughs of sound skum and generously heaped freebies on us. Some of these were sides from his own label such as Throbbing Gristle, Laibach and Werkbund. Through the subsequent years we’ve kept track of Walter Ulbricht Schallplatten (now Schallfolien, which translates to Sound Foils as opposed to just Records), particularly through the record label and distribution service of our young guide Jochen called Die Stadt.
Die Stadt has been releasing a steady stream of sound block aether by the luminaries Organum, Hafler Trio, Asmus Tietchen, Mirror and others. It was to our knee-jerk surprise that we saw he was offering copies of a new Walter Ulbricht label release and we snatched it and it’s excellent. It’s by a mysterious entity named Dietrich von Euler-Donnersperg. The LP is called Der Kleine Fritz in Klopstockland and the cover shows an anteater and a tiger both on hind feet grappling, with the tiger maybe getting the best of the anteater by chomping on his rather extended proboscis. This LP fits into a longstanding series of music and art releases that Uli refers to as Neu Konservatiw, a socio-political statement of regard towards order with a sly wink to inevitable carnage and human chaos. Anyway fuck all that, the music on this baby kills. Nice hard shards of shredding spike noise and found sound concrete blat. If that’s your schnitzel then this, truly, is your spatzle.
Marci Denesiuk read at the infamous Ecstatic Yod Montreal gathering a couple of years ago and really scorched the room with a story both savage and sensitive. We’ve been waiting for a real live book of hers to dig into and New West Press has answered the call. It’s a collection of stories called The Far Away Home and they all deal with the lives of women experiencing and processing daily violation and profound worlds of thought/feeling. Marci writes tough with a conscientious center and knows how to move a storyline. Recommended.
Coupla nice split LPs from Indiana’s Friends and Relatives label. The one by Impractical Cockpit and Nuclear Family rubs together two distinct, sap-soaked sticks ripped from the trunk of the American Noise Log (so called). IC are from New Orleans and produce a very namby kinda post-core glitch-rock that stutters like a room filled with gargling dentists. And they do it with virtually non-non-standard punk instrumentation and even songwriting. Which is a trick, and a good one. Nuclear Family are more like some sorta kids’ organization tinkling around in a high school music studio. The ganged vocals can make you feel like you’re praying. The little electro blips sound less like cellos than the actual cellos do, but there isn’t that much electronic stuff, so it’s not too confusing. The instruments and songs will make you imagine some lost early Teenbeat session. How cool is that? The split by Justin Clifford Rhody (of the great Mt. Gigantic) and Little Wings is hip, too, in a more overtly camp-volk bag. Justin’s side sounds like it was lathe cut onto rough leather by mice who work after hours in a cartoon shoe store. Which makes the Little Wings side sound relatively hi-fi (even the fake commercials, which remind me of when my friend Jeff got a tape recorder when we were in fourth grade). But you’ll still feel like you’re hearing the whole thing from inside a big pile of leaves. Which will either comfort you or not.
Sindre Berga has been running his label Gold Soundz way the fuck up there in Norway for a few years now and has dropped some very hep sides on us since. Last year we reviewed a series of 7”s which included delicate explorations of improv guitar/vocal sweetness by Christina Carter and the stoned camel slather of Volcano The Bear. Now there’s a new series of lathe cut 7”s which continue this fine curatorial goodness. Wooden Wand & Satya Sai Baba, which is basically Wooden Wand and one of its members, namely…Satya playing “Moray Elk Themes” live to tape in an arresting murk-o-phonic style. All the Wooden Wand releases will someday have to be collected in a fig-scented box as they tend to be scattered on every disparate label out there these days and each one is fairly incredible. If you see the name WWVV (Wooden Wand and the Vanishing Voice) anywhere just grab it, it will grab you back, and you will totally dig it, guaranteed. The other 7” is My Cat Is An Alien playing “Everything Is Here” in their now identifiable Italiano improvo manner. Patience and spirit-sense are the earmark of this brother duo and this offering, along with their “From the Earth to the Spheres” series of art LPs, is choice. The third lathe is a mystery—can’t decipher the text on the sleeve and there’s no other info. The Gold Soundz site has nothing there about it, hmmm… let me email Sindre and see what the fuuuhhhk is up. Until I hear from the Nordic brother let me tell you about his non-lathe actual vinyl 7” he released, a split from Crank Sturgeon and Gastric Female Reflex. This is a lot of goddamned record with Crank Sturgeon pot-busting sonik spazzola in all directions. Crank is from the netherland of Maine and has been slowly developing into one of USA noise’s great collage champions. His work has only continued to majesterially kick ass since we first heard him banging around the RRRecords bins years back. Gastric Female Reflex are a psyche/concrete sound unit from Toronto that has a few CDRs (mostly on Gold Soundz) and have been bending the ears and brains of anyone lucky enough to get near them. We look forward to hearing more and hopefully seeing these North Americans as their side of this 7” is enough to make you pee. Hot and free. Oh cool, Sindre has emailed this about that third lathe: “[It’s] Uton, a one man psych-army out of Finland. He has released plenty of CDRs of different labels (Jewelled Antler, Pseudoarcana, Gold Soundz etc). I think there’s a double retrospective CD coming out on last visible dog.” Izzat clear? Clear as mud, baby.
Siphon Your Way to Financial Freedom by Dave Reeves
1. Pick your siphon Get a clear hose, six feet long and at least an inch in diameter. Make sure you get a thick-walled hose because you are going to have to push it all the way down the gasshole of an SUV. Hardware stores sell them for about a buck a foot. Get a five-gallon gas can while you are at it.
2. Find a target SUVs’ 40-gallon tanks are the most profitable vehicles from which to liberate gas. The sense of panic the SUV driver feels when his behemoth gets less than the normal ten miles to the gallon is an added benefit.
Try to pick a full one and don’t be deterred by silly gas tank locks which are merely cosmetic and can be turned with almost any key.
Donut shops provide great gas hunting because it’s like a law that police cars have to be all the way full all the time.
3. Sightlines Getting caught siphoning is not cool. So pull your vehicle next to the target and open up the doors to make a little room where you can do the deed unobserved. Put your gas can on the ground in between the doors. If someone eyeballs you pretend like you are changing clothes.
4. Hose pushing Push the hose down into the target tank till you think you hit the gas.
5. Start sucking Start sucking on the hose and get the gas going. If you were smart and got the clear hose you’ll see the copper-colored nectar coming and be able to get the hose out of your mouth and channel the flow into the intended receptacle. If you sleep on this step your breath will smell like west Texas for no less than three days.
6. Drain the pain away Once the siphon gets going it will flow steady and strong into your gas can.
The “Siphon Effect” can be explained with all sorts of scientifical facts about how “atmospheric pressure” maintains the vacuum you created when you sucked gas from the higher “gravitational potential energy” up in the vehicle which seeks to stabilize itself by flowing into the can on the ground, but all that bullshit obscures the fact that the “Siphon Effect” is actually just magic.
I can get five gallons in four minutes flat. That’s three bucks a minute, and you can’t make that at Walmart.
BEFORE AND AFTER SILENCE On the eve of the release of his first album of vocals songs in decades, pioneering musician-artist-thinker BRIAN ENO speaks with Kristine McKenna in a conversation as wide-ranging and profound as his singular career.
I’ve met lots of charming people in my life and Brian Eno may well be the most charming person I’ve ever met. What’s the secret of his devastating charm? It comes down to a few things. He has impeccable manners. He gives you his full, undivided attention when he speaks with you. He’s interested in everything under the sun. He has a wonderful sense of humor. Finally, and most importantly, he has an incredibly light touch. What I mean by that is that he can discuss just about anything and be genuinely involved without getting hot and bothered. Eno so relishes the process of examining things from various angles that he can’t be bothered to take it personally if you don’t agree with him. He’s fun.
Born in Suffolk, England in 1948, Eno was in art school in the early‘70s when he became a founding member of pioneering glam band, Roxy Music. He left the group in 1973 and embarked on a solo career that quickly expanded in several directions at once. Regarded as the inventor of ambient music—atmospheric washes of sound that settle in like weather and eschew the linear structure central to most music—Eno helped pioneer the use of sampling and computers in the recording studio, has contributed to more than 150 albums as producer, composer or performer, and has overseen the making of critically acclaimed records by David Bowie, U2 and Talking Heads. A visiting professor at London’s Royal College of Art since 1995, Eno has created audiovisual art installations at sites around the world since the early ’80s, and in 1983 he was a co-founder, with Anthea Norman-Taylor, of Opal Records. Five years later the co-founders married and settled in London, where they’re raising two teenage daughters. (Eno also has a 30-year-old daughter, Hannah, from a previous marriage).
One thing Eno hasn’t done for quite a while is sing, so the release of Another Day on Earth—his first record of songs in more than two decades—is something of an occasion. This was the ostensible reason we recently hooked up to chat, but as is always the case with Eno, our conversation roamed far and wide. Herewith, a few of the high points.
Arthur: What seemed desperately important to you as a young man that no longer seems quite so pressing?
Brian Eno: I’ve somewhat lost faith in art and the cultural world because I think it has no faith in itself. Culture is the most important thing we do, but it seems to me that we don’t take it seriously, and the visual arts in particular are in very dire straits at the moment. I don’t think any of it makes much difference, although there are some painters working now that I like very much. Lari Pittman, for instance, makes beautiful paintings that absolutely blow me away.
If you could own any artwork, what would you want?
There’s a room at the Museum of Modern Art that has a beautiful Rothko, two de Koonings, and a huge Monet Water Lilies. I’d be happy to have that room.
What aspect of middle-age weren’t you prepared for?
That women would find me more attractive. I’ve never thought that highly of myself so this came as a bit of a surprise. Perhaps it’s just that as you get older women are more inclined to tell you how they feel. When people are young they tend to beat around the bush a lot of the time.
How many times have you been in love?
Maybe half a dozen times.
What do you know about romantic love today that you didn’t know ten years ago?
That women are much more romantic than they care to let on—the old clichés are much truer than people care to admit. I would add, however, that notions of romance seem to become more potent for men as they age, too, and it starts to seem like more of the reason that you’d want to do it. You get into the joy of the process more as you get older and care less about the cum shot.
Why does love die?
It often happens that you love someone because they reflect you particularly well, and you basically like the person because they like you. This is a rather slender basis for building a relationship but it’s a trick people use to intrigue you—they look very interested so you think gosh, what a clever person! They’re really interested in me!
How do you explain the aversion to aging that’s an intrinsic part of western culture? Is it simply a fear of death?
I don’t think it’s fear of death so much as fear of the loss of one’s powers. For instance, I notice it in my eyesight. I hate the fact that I can’t see as well as I used to, I’m aware that I’m not seeing the detail I used to see, and I miss that visual side of my life everyday. It’s interesting that as you get older your vision treats your contemporaries better. You look at people your own age and think O.K., she looks nice, then you put your glasses on and think, good lord, do I look like that?
What’s the greatest privilege of youth?
The fact that nobody wants anything from you, you’re free to do anything and you’ve got every avenue open to you. When you’re young you have this capacity to roam, which just disappears. When you’re older either you’re not successful, and many avenues have consequently closed to you, or you are successful and there’s a huge pressure to do more of what you’ve done before. I know so many musicians who’ve told me that when they were young words just flew out of them—sometimes they didn’t even know where they came from—because when nobody cares, you don’t have all these voices in your head saying “that’s immature, you’ve been there before, we’ve heard so-and-so do that.” Because there are no critical voices in your mind it just throws out stuff. I’ve lost that freedom as far as lyric writing goes.
Your new record has a very wistful quality; were you feeling that way when you made it?
Yes, it is something of a getting older record. The other thing I hope it conveys is the idea that each day will pass as all the others have, and it will be just as amazing and disappointing as all the others have been.
The feeling you just described has to do with the fleeting and ephemeral nature of existence, and yet the work you do with the Long Now Foundation is predicated on notions of permanence and longevity.
Yes, Long Now is about thinking long term and was conceived to pose the question; if you really believed there would be people on earth 10,000 years from now, how would that affect how you live today? Most of us live as if there isn’t going to be a future, and few of us are conscious of how heavily we tread on the earth and what we leave behind. These are hard questions to ask ourselves, of course, because essentially they ask you to unpick your life. We’re born into intensely constructed lives that involve high energy consumption, the eating of expensive food—all the things I do along with everybody else I know.
We all live in varying states of denial of the fact that there are a number of converging crisis bearing down on us right now. One of them is the increasing prevalence of really nasty diseases spread by air travel—I have a theory about air travel, by the way. I think we’ve reached the peak of air travel and that it will go into decline for three reasons. One is that it will become associated with the spread of diseases — people will be unwilling to expose themselves to just to go on holiday. People will either drive somewhere or they’ll stay home. Two, there will be a few more spectacular terrorist incidents, and we all remember the effect that had on air travel last time. Three, sooner or later governments are going to have to tackle the fact that air travel is the hugest producer of pollutants we have. There’s been a big debate going on in England about a wind farm they’re thinking of building in the north of the country, and the argument for it is that it would prevent 250,000 tons of pollutants going into the air per year. That sounds good until you realize that one plane doing a London to Miami route for a year releases half a million tons of pollutants into the atmosphere per year. I’d be quite happy if there was a credible world movement against travel because communities would begin to return and people would start to rediscover where they are now. And needless to say, the romance of travel is diminished dramatically by the fact that no matter where you go there will be a Gap store.
Who makes you feel starstruck?
No stars do—it’s funny but I’ve never been impressed by those kind of celebrities. The closest I’ve come to being star struck is by the biologist Richard Dawkins. I’m so impressed by the work he’s done that when I met him I found myself wondering what I could say that would possibly be of interest to him.
What do you long for?
Discipline and some kind of routine. There always seem to be so many things going on in my life and I’m never quite prepared for any of them. Take a simple thing like collecting cuttings out of the newspaper—you’d think that would be a pretty easy thing to organize. I’m always cutting things out, and there are little stacks of clippings all around my studio, but there’s never any time to create a filing system and actually file them. In my imagined life of discipline and routine there would be 20 minutes each morning to file clippings, then half an hour for a swim, which is something I actually do manage to do most days. I just wish there was more of that structure.
What’s your idea of an important achievement?
Years ago my assistant bought a chair for a thousand pounds at a fishing lake owned by 300 fishermen, and nearly every weekend he goes there and basically meditates with a fishing rod in his hand—that’s what people are really doing when they fish. This strikes me as a great thing to achieve, probably because it speaks to my hankering for simplicity and routine. I also admire people who say ‘fuck this’ to the lot they’ve been dealt in life and demand something more for themselves. I have a nephew who has Lowe’s Syndrome and he’s got very poor eyesight and several other little things wrong with him, but this kid is so full of life, partly because my sister—his mother—told him ‘don’t accept your lot.’ She could’ve taken the attitude, ‘oh he’s disabled, he can’t do much,’ but she just sort of threw him into life. So, to make maximum use of what you’ve got is an important achievement. Take Lou Reed as a guitar player. The early records by the Velvet Underground have some of the most inspiring guitar playing I’ve ever heard, but I don’t think anyone would say Lou Reed is a great guitar player. He just knows how to use the gift he has to maximum effect.
Which song is in your mind when you think of Reed’s playing with the Velvet Underground?
“What Goes On.” I almost included a cover of the Velvet Underground song “I’m Set Free” on this record. I did rather a good version of it, too, and I will release it, but I didn’t want to make a record that was too long because I hate long records and think people don’t listen to them. I remember working on Laurie Anderson’s album Bright Red and there was a song on there that was just gorgeous, but she made it track 13 and I’ve never met anyone who’s heard it. By the time people get to track 13 they’re off somewhere else.
What’s your favorite song today?
I can never give one answer to any question, so I have a few. I spent the day digging a fish pond so I was listening to my Ipod, and I’d programmed a song into it by a Turkish singer named Belkis Akkale who has the most erotic voice I’ve ever heard. It absolutely drives me mad and my hear leaps with joy when she sings. Funnily enough, there’s a song I did with Bowie on the record Outside called “We Prick You,” which is amazing. When I heard it today I thought to myself, how on earth did we get that? I rarely listen to my old records and I must say, I was impressed. I’ve also been listening to an inspiring song by Me’Shell N’dege’Ocello called “Loyalty” that’s on a beautiful album she made called Bitter.
What was the last thing you learned?
I’m reading a fabulous book at the moment called Seeing Like a State: How Certain Schemes to Improve the Human Condition Have Failed, by a guy called James Scott. The first section of the book deals with city planning, the science of forestry, the invention of surnames, and weights and measures, and it made me realize that everything in society is built on fundamental infra-structural divisions. They’re so deeply embedded in the way we live that we’re often unaware that they’re at the core of many of the problems we wrestle with. That’s why the attempt to export free market capitalism to what was formerly the communist world hasn’t gone smoothly; there’s an intricate infrastructure of social agreements that must be in place for such things to work.
The first time I interviewed you was 25 years ago, and thinking back to that time it seems the world was a much safer and slower place. Is it simply a trick of the mind that we tend to recall the past as somehow simpler, or is the world actually picking up ever greater speed and complexity?
I don’t think it’s a trick of the mind. A few years ago the U.N. published a graph that charted various indicators of human well-being like security, equality, freedom, employment, access to clean water—all sorts of things. It was interesting to me that there is objective evidence for the incremental changes people feel, and the rather alarming conclusion they drew was that Western civilization peaked in 1976. I think it’s true that up until the early ‘80s people felt they were on an upward curve, at least in our culture. This isn’t true for every culture, but here in the West I think people believed things were getting better and globalization was a good idea. Today, most people seem to feel that the threats outnumber the promises and the dangers outnumber the freedoms.
So what are the long-term implications of this U.N. graph? That man’s on the road to extinguishing himself?
I think there’s a very good chance of that, actually, and having young children I find it absolutely alarming to contemplate what kind of world they’ll be living in when they’re my age. There have been various points in human history when people felt the end really was near, but the difference now is that we’re more powerful than we’ve ever been. Any one of us as individuals is almost as powerful as whole nations were in the past, in terms what we can handle, damage and effect. Of course, we can do good things too, but those things are less easy to achieve single-handedly. Good projects require co-operation, but you can create quite a lot of damage all by yourself.
An unfortunate shift in America’s political landscape is the fact that the will of the people no longer seems to mean much; our government does what it damn well pleases regardless of public response to their decisions.
I think that’s true. In the ‘60s people perhaps naively thought that democracy meant what it’s supposed to mean, but today, with Fox News and professional liars in politics, we’ve come to realize that democracy doesn’t mean anything really. As was evidenced in the recent U.K. elections, things aren’t quite so dire yet in England. Yes, Tony Blair was re-elected, but he won with a much reduced majority and a strong message from the people which was this: don’t fuck about with us. It became increasingly obvious to the British people that Blair had deceived them, and that the story of why we were going to war was untrue, and his re-election was essentially a vote of confidence for the Labor Party which has been a quite successful government in many ways—except for its alignment with Bush. England is basically a center-left country and I don’t think any members of the Labor Party approve of Bushism as a style. Bush is a very charismatic man, though, and I think Blair is a bit of a groupie. Obviously, Bush is an ignorant bully but he’s a confident man, and lots of people really go for that.
What’s the first thing you’d do if you were running the world?
I’m a patron of this thing called the Global Ideas Factory that was founded 15 years ago, and it’s an organization that collects ideas about how to make the world a better place. These ideas range from what to do with dog pooh to how to solve the global energy crisis, and some of these ideas are totally amazing. The first thing I’d do would be to set up an international body to examine the feasibility of some of these ideas. We simply waste the wisdom of our great thinkers—it’s amazing how little we use of human intelligence—and creating an internationally funded global ideas bank committed to actually doing something would be a way of putting a world changing culture in place.
To what degree do we inadvertently fictionalize our own past?
I’ve often thought that children should be taught how to watch television, read papers and listen to the radio, because most of our experience now is lived through media in one way or another. That’s particularly true in America where many people get most of their information about the world from television, which fictionalizes the past to a dramatic degree. That’s part of their raison d’etre, to tell us stories about the past.
Towards what end? How does it serve us to fictionalize the past?
It doesn’t serve us at all. Occasionally, for the sake of family coherence, you might tell a story that you know is a rather rosy version of events, but generally it’s imperative to maintain as accurate a grip on the past as one can manage. Very few people seem to appreciate the effort the Germans have made to not fictionalize their past, and it really pisses me off when that idiot Rumsfeld talks about old Europe as if to imply, “what do they know?” Germany has made a huge effort to face its past and come to terms with the fact that it acted absolutely abominably, and this is something America never has done and never will do. America will never ever say the Viet Nam War was a terrible mistake and what happened to the Vietnamese people was a disgrace, but young Germans talk about World War II with genuine passion and honesty.
There’s been quite an uproar about Downfall, the recent film about Hitler; many people have objected to the film on the grounds that it’s dangerous to humanize Hitler. Do you find any merit in those objections?
No, I think this is an important aspect of not fictionalizing the past. It’s a dangerous fiction to regard Hitler as a one-of-a-kind monster. I read an interesting book last year called Defying Hitler by a German historian named Sebastian Haffner, who was born in 1906 and grew up in Berlin where he watched the growth of the Nazi phenomenon. What becomes terrifyingly obvious in reading his book is how easy it is for a society to slip into barbarism. It starts very gently with all the intellectuals and clever people saying ‘bloody Hitler, what an idiot, he’s not going to last.’ All the things we’ve been saying about Bush, who was regarded as just a joke when he first appeared on the political scene. Things get worse and people start saying ‘shocking, disgraceful, we must get rid of this guy, but I’m busy right now writing a book—when it gets bad we’ll all pull together.’ But by the time it reaches that point it’s too late and there is no easy exit.
This is why I’ve started to get political in the last few years—I think we’re at the beginning of a new kind of technocratic tyranny. The manipulation of public opinion is so easy now; for evidence of that look no further than the fact that in a matter of months it was possible to convince most Americans that Saddam Hussein was responsible for the Twin Towers. It was just incredible. A key strategy in the manipulation of public opinion is to get the public excited about moral issues that don’t really matter like abortion and gay marriage. In England the issue is immigration, which is a minor problem but is something everyone feels they must have an opinion about. Governments love those issues because while everybody’s arguing about them, they’re left alone to pursue the business of world domination.
How did having children change you?
It certainly anchored me much more. I don’t like to be away from my children for too long because I hate the thought that I might miss some little part of their story. It also made me think about the future a lot more, and made me realize I had the capacity to feel absolutely unqualified love. One day a situation came up where there was some danger and I realized that without question I would’ve sacrificed my own life without even thinking about it. This came as a surprise to me because I’ve never considered myself a generous or altruistic person, and I don’t regard myself as brave in any way at all.
Do you believe in destiny?
No, but I believe that if you believe in destiny it will make a difference in what happens to you. Some people think ‘I am chosen and I’m a favored person,’ and that gives them a confidence that has the effect of making them chosen. The reverse happens as well. Some people consider themselves cursed and believe nothing will ever go right for them, and of course, nothing does.
What role does faith play in your life?
Last year I went to see Archbishop Desmond Tutu speak, and I was struck by the fact that on several occasions he made the observation, ‘you have no idea what goodness there is in people.’ This really impressed me, given that this was a guy who’d really seen some of the worst that people are capable of. He was talking about the Truth and Reconciliation Council and the great surprise of that endeavor was the incredible generosity of feeling people had, and their ability to forgive really awful things. So, I agree with Desmond Tutu’s comment, for the simple reason that I have faith in human intelligence.
Kristine McKenna is a Los Angeles-based writer. She recently co-curated Semina Culture: Wallace Berman & his Circle, a historical survey of West Coast Beat culture that opens in September at the Santa Monica Museum, accompanied by a catalogue published by D.A.P. She is presently co-producing a documentary film about the Ferus Gallery.
First, singer-guitarist-songwriter-producer-artist-pottery collector-Southern California desert denizen Chris Goss a true three-stripes vet of rock and part-time Master of Reality and Queen of the Stone Age, takes a weirder than usual deep-career turn with his involvement in the pan-prog Soft Machine-Hawkwind-and-Yes-burn-one trio with Hella drummer Zach Hill and ex-M. Manson bassist Twiggy Ramirez called Goon Moon, whose inexplicably wonderful debut EP release, “I Got a Brand New Egg Layin’ Machine,” has recently been released through the Suicide Squeeze label. Now, for this month’s “Come On in My Kitchen” column, Goss gives us a recipe for an Italian-American pasta sauce that has no garlic. It figures. Watch out for this guy on the freeway, he’ll signal a change to a lane you didn’t know existed…
by Chris Goss
1988: Newly arrived in Los Angeles, it becomes obvious within a few months: I am not going to find the style of Italian-American cooking that is so easy to find in my former stomping grounds of Upstate New York, or for that matter, all of the Italian American communities that stretch from the Jersey Shore to Chicago. With further investigation, I find this had been a favorite L.A.-gripe topic among displanted New Yorkers since the Rat Pack days. Every so often, a new tip: “There’s a place in Brentwood.” “There’s a place in Silver Lake.” Mythical stories of truckloads of New Jersey water brought in for bread and pizza dough. Lots of added-up little reasons and harebrained schemes…this is our world. But today, it’s the pork sauce. And the theory: It’s the economy, ‘Stupidon’! And the weather. And the soil.
1920: Shiploads of poor Southern Italian immigrants like Mr. and Mrs. Anthony and Rose Modafferi hit Ellis Island and spin off to any Northeastern industrial city that may have a brother, a cousin, or best yet, a cherished factory job waiting for them. In most cases, the poorer they are, the less West, or South they travel. To this day I wonder, “Jesus, Tony! Why did you stop at Syracuse?” It turns out, food aesthetic-wise, I’m really glad he did.
1950: Plain and simple. The men’s asses having been worked off holding down two shifts at the iron foundry or whatever factory, for the first time in their lives they can afford to buy meat. From the beloved family butcher to the dinner table in their own two-story duplex in the Italian part of town with a new flock of grandchildren and expanded family living upstairs. Oh yeah, and just enough room for a backyard garden with the Eastern clay soil and sticky, humid summers that tomatoes seem to love. (You can smell a sweet Jersey/NY/PA tomato in August from 20 feet away. Serious.) So the nonas have a ball with their expanded food budgets, gardens and neighborhood import delis. Don’t get me wrong. Remember, they had just survived TWO world wars, a depression, and a disease-ridden trip across the ocean with a few dollars on hand. Death and starvation spawn amazing cooks. Holds true for ALL of the world’s cultures. My nona and her friends were foragers in the summertime. Wild dandelions, rhubarb, onions from the empty lots down the street wrapped in their aprons. Trading homegrown tomatoes for backyard pears or handmade pasta. Always making do for a large family with very little and wasting nothing. The thought of their strength and perseverance still gives me hope for this world. “Get together, one more time” – Jim Morrison
1965: Everyday at 5p.m. in my newly built Upstate suburban neighborhood, the air smells like sausage and peppers frying. Tomato and basil simmering. Eggplant and zucchini baking. Every family’s sauce is slightly different from the next. The Modafferi meat sauce didn’t have garlic in it, so the myriad of possible side courses—meatballs, braciolla (stuffed steak rolls usually included on Sunday) and sauteed greens that had lots of garlic included really stood out against the sweet sauce. Store-bought, canned tomatoes are allowed, sometimes even admired, for their sweetness and convenience when the home canned tomatoes ran out in springtime. Every nona (now in their 70s) thinks she is the best cook around. And actually they ALL are the best cooks around. Unbelievably good food. Pass it on.
2005: Here is a simplified, reasonable facsimile of Rose’s rich, meat and fat laden sauce. Give yourself a full day’s time to do this properly. It needs constant tending. Your kitchen will most likely end up being a greasy, tomato splattered mess. If you live in Southern California like me, keep in mind the brutally cold East Coast winters can almost stretch to six months long, and it’s hard to eat like this as often in the consistently warm climate of the Southwest. The same holds true for the Northern European cuisine that my German dad cooked so well. But HA, that’s another page, in another issue, of this wonderful rag: Arthur.
You’ll only need:
1.5 pound of whatever pork meat is on sale this week. (cheap chops, ribs, neckbones. Or no bone necessary. Some fat with meat attached.)
1.5 pound Italian pork sausage (most store brands are acceptable. Look for clues; if you can see fennel seeds and red pepper flakes, that’s good)
2 chopped med. onions
1/4 cup olive oil
2- 28 oz. cans tomato puree (save the empty cans, I’ll explain)
2- 6 oz. cans tomato paste
20 oz. of water (2/3 full of the empty can that you will later use for skimmed fat. The other for your spoon rest.)
1/2 cup (7-8 leafs) fresh, torn basil (or, if you have to use dried,1 tbsp)
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp black pepper
1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
1 tbs sugar (none admit it, but most nonas use it)
In a heavy, large saucepan that you know won’t burn easily,(at least 10 qt. to give you lots of room for stirring and meat) thoroughly brown the pork meat and sausage on medium heat. Remove the cooked meat and sausage. Set aside. Leave the fat and browned renderings on the bottom of the pot.
Add chopped onions and olive oil. This process will deglaze the bottom of the pot and turn the onions brown quickly. Saute’ until onions soften and go transparent.
Add tomato paste and a few tablespoons of water. This mixture of paste, onions, fat and renderings needs to be constantly stirred. It will spit and glop like lava. It’s alive. Don’t let it stick. In about 10 minutes the paste will seem to change from its original dark red color to a lighter orange. Apparently, this is a sign from St. Anthony (patron saint of big eaters) that the sugar and acidity levels in the tomato paste have reached their perfect balance. When Mario Batali mentioned the color change a few years ago on Molto Mario, that’s the moment I knew he was for real. This is secret knowledge of the Southern Italian Ragu Illuminati. (Now formerly secret knowledge.) This is food alchemy.
Now add the two large cans of tomato puree and 2/3 can of water. Stir in thoroughly. Lower heat to a very low simmer. Cover. Take a breath. The grease and paste splattering battle of the last hour has calmed. Clean up the stove and kitchen a few minutes. Keep an eye on the sauce. “Feel” the bottom with your spoon to always make sure no sticking is happening.
Add pork meat and sausage back to sauce.
Add basil, salt, peppers, sugar.
Play your fave CDs, put Leave it to Beaver on TVLand in the background. Gently stir and feel every 10 minutes and cook covered at a very low simmer boil for about five hours. During all of this period lots of the water will start to evaporate. Fat will rise to the top. The sauce will thicken.
Start to skim. We wanted all of the fat to start with, but now we don’t want it too greasy. The once-empty can will now be about a third full of skimmed fat.
By now, the pork meat and sausage will be almost tenderly falling apart and infiltrated with the sweet tomato sauce. Boil your pasta water.
Lordy. Cook your favorite pasta shape.
This was served on Thursday and Sunday at nona’s house. The men usually liked the heavier Rigatoni, Rotelle (‘springs’) and homemade Gnocchi shapes. And always a platter of spaghetti too. Always topped with grated Locatelli romano. (Available at the Monte Carlo/Pinnochio Italian Deli in Burbank on Magnolia. Go there.)
Eat. Have a heart attack. Enjoy.
Note: I had promised Jay Babcock a meatball recipe and the world’s best pineapple upside-down cake recipe. But alas, I’m going back to sleep now. Hope I’m invited back. Bye.