CAETANO VELOSO on Brazil, 1968: Tanks, street protests, music, witchcraft cults…and a strange hallucinogenic drink from the Amazon (Arthur, 2003)

Originally published in Arthur No. 2 (January, 2003)


DIVINE, MARVELOUS

Tropicalista Caetano Veloso remembers authoritarian Brazil, 1968: tanks, hallucinogens, music, street protests, literacy campaigns, witchcraft cults and TV variety shows

Caetano Veloso, now 60 years old, is widely recognized as one of the most important and innovative pop musicians of the 20th century. As a young musician coming of age in the right-wing military dictatorship that was Brazil of the late 1960s, Veloso co-founded the Tropicalia movement, a collective of Bahian artists, poets and performers that included the musicians Os Mutantes, Gal Costa, Tom Ze and Veloso’s closest friend, the musician Gilberto Gil. The Tropicalistas, as they called themselves, were dedicated to making a fundamentally new and rule-less music out of traditional Brazilian pop and the radical new rock n roll arriving from England and America. In this excerpt from Tropical Truth: A Story Of Music and Revolution In Brazil, his new memoir of the period, Veloso details how the cultural movement was overtaken by the political developments of the day—and how a strange hallucinogenic drink from the Amazon opened personal artistic and intellectual vistas for him and other Tropicalistas…


Carlos Marques, a young Carioca journalist who had gone to the Amazon region to report a story, brought back for Gil [Gilberto Gil] a bottle of something he said was an indigenous sacred drink that produced dazzling visions and heightened states of consciousness. Gil took some on the same day that he was supposed to fly to Rio to pick up Nara, his two-year-old daughter, and bring her back to São Paulo. He says that when he arrived at the Santos Dumont airport, he came upon a group of military officers who were there to inaugurate some exhibition connected with the air force. The changes in perception caused by the drug were just starting to take effect, and he arrived back in São Paulo saying that he’d become aware of extraordinary things in the presence of those officers. It was as though he had understood in that moment the true meaning of our destiny as a people under authoritarian oppression, and at the same time he could see himself as an individual, alone, carefully carrying his small daughter, but also able to feel—beyond his fears and political inclinations—a love for the world in all its manifestations, including the military oppressors.

The 1964 coup—which the military dates to March 31 but which really happened on April 1, the day of fools—had caught me precisely at the moment when I felt ready for a politically responsible and socially useful action.

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A tribute to sci-fi author Jeff Lint (“the burst sofa of Pulp”) by Steve Aylett (Arthur, 2002)

Jeff Lint: The Burst Sofa of Pulp 

by Steve Aylett 

Originally published in Arthur No. 2 (December, 2002)


Pulp sci-fi author Jeff Lint has loomed large as an influence on my own work since I found a scarred copy of I Blame Ferns in a Charing Cross basement, an apparently baffled chef staring from the cover. After that I hunted down all the Lint stuff I could find and became a connoisseur of the subtly varying blank stares of booksellers throughout the world. 

Born in Chicago in 1929, Jeff (or Jack) Lint submitted his first story to the pulps during a childhood spent in Santa Fe. His first published effort appeared in a wartime edition of Amazing Stories because Lint submitted it under the name “Isaac Asimov.” “And Your Point Is?” tells the story of an unpopularly calm tramp who is pelted every day with rocks, from which he slowly builds a fine house. The story already reflected the notion of ‘effortless incitement’ which Lint would practice as an adult. “Jack was fantastic,” says friend Tony Fleece. “Went around blessing people – knew it was the most annoying thing he could do. A dozen times, strangers just beat the hell out of him.” Lint perfected the technique when he stumbled upon the notion of praying for people. 

Lint’s first novel was published by Dean Rodence’s Never company in New York. The relationship between Rodence and Lint was one of complete mistrust, rage and bloody violence. When submitting work in person, Lint insisted on appearing dressed as some kind of majorette. “He was a large man and clearly wasn’t happy at having to do this,” explains Fleece. “He blamed Rodence, was resentful. I still don’t know where he got the idea he had to dress that way when handing his stuff in.” 

The first novel with Never was One Less Person Lying, in which Billy Stem must tell the truth or be transformed into the average man. Rodence persuaded Lint to change the title word ‘Person’ to ‘Bastard.’ On a night of pre-press jitters, Rodence then partially re-wrote the final sections of the book so that Stem puts on a spacesuit and goes berserk, killing an innocent stranger with a large rock. The book was published as simply One Less Bastard. In the 25 years of their association Lint never forgave Rodence for the incident, and often alluded to it by repeated use of the word “bastard” when speaking to him. 

Around the time of his second published novel Cheerful When Blamed, Lint met his first wife Madeline, who was attracted to him by a knife scar which led from below his left eye to his mouth. This was in fact a sleep crease and Lint managed to maintain the mistake by napping through most of the marriage. But after five months a bout of insomnia put paid to the relationship and left Lint with nothing to occupy his time but his writing–luckily for the world of literature, as he produced some of his best work at this time, including Jelly Result, Nose Furnace, Slogan Love and I Eat Fog, all of which appeared on Rodence’s new Furtive Labors imprint. Turn Me Into a Parrot took issue with the fundamentalist notion that the world was only a few thousand years old and that dinosaur bones had been planted by god to test man¹s faith. Lint asserted that the world was only sixty years old and that the mischievous god had buried sewers, unexploded bombs and billions of people. In my own book Shamanspace I make it clear that humanity arrived eons ago but, like a man standing in front of an open fridge, has forgotten why. 

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"The Turntables Might Wobble But They Won’t Fall Down: A Jam Master Jay Fan Remembers" by Peter “Piper” Relic (Arthur No. 2/December 2002)

Originally published in Arthur No. 2 (December 2002)

The Turntables Might Wobble But They Won’t Fall Down: A Jam Master Jay Fan Remembers
by Peter “Piper” Relic

A few minutes before four o’clock on Halloween afternoon 2002, I realized I’d better do the crosstown hustle in grandma’s Nissan if I was gonna bumrush rush hour to Beachwood Place Mall. Cooped up in the lab all day, I ran outside—foliage in full flame and wind whipcracking off Lake Erie—Cleveland represent!—and drove east past the granite gryphons lording over Carnegie-Lorain Bridge.

Fiddling the radio dial of the broken cassette deck, I struck immediate jackpot as the “blazin’ hip hop and R&B” station spun Missy Elliot’s new single, giving me my fix of elephant trunk calls, backmask raps, and well, that chubby cheeked happy feeling Missy’s voice always gives me. Thing is, my favorite bit in “Work It” is the part at the end when Missy shouts out “to muh lay-deez!” and Timbaland’s track flips into the beat from Run DMC’s “Peter Piper.” Woomp! Damn if radio plays anything anymore that hits as hard as Jam Master Jay’s cuts—you know that sound, like carpet needles cutting through a bituminous bite plate? Of course, that sheer fierceness may be the reason the ending is usually chopped and faded by some dumbo-eared radio bungler to make way for a Liberty Ford commercial.

Eff ‘em. Hearing that snatch of “Peter Piper” got me hyped. I snapped off the radio and busted the verse embedded in a shell-toed part of my memory bank:

“Doctor Seuss and Mother Goose both did their thing
but Jam Master’s getting loose and DMC’s the King,
Adult entertainer, child educator,
Jam Master Jay king of the cross fader,
He’s the better of the best
Best believe he’s the baddest
Perfect timing when I’m climbing on my rhyming apparatus
When he cuts girls move their butts
His name is Jay, here to play, he must be nuts
On the mix real quick and I’d like to say
He’s not last but he’s fast and his name is Jay!”

Maybe those aren’t the letter-perfect lyrics, but hey. I also doubt that my Run DMC experience was wildly different than that of many other kids lucky enough to tune in during the salad days of Hollis, Queens finest, but here goes:

It was the fall of 1985. I was a freshman at a suburban Connecticut public high school. Out of nowhere one day a way-beyond-me junior girl came up to my locker and without saying anything just handed me a tape. It was not Huey Lewis & the News. This 60 minute Memorex piece of black plastic included Beastie Boys’ “She’s On It,” Original Concept’s “Knowledge Me,” Skinny Boys’ “Jock Box” and Run DMC’s “Sucka MCs”—all songs that crunched. I listened to it on my Walkman while delivering the New Britain Herald (pumped me up to break my fastest time record on my route), on a D-battery powered Tandy tape recorder while playing driveway hockey against my brother (it made my slapshot nastier). I listened to it endlessly, and when Run DMC Raising Hell came out the following year, I bought the cassette at Strawberry’s. It took me forever to get through the entire album because I kept rewinding “It’s Tricky” and “My Adidas.” (I remember the look on my mom’s face when I told her “You be illin’.” The first time was the last.) But finally I made it to the awesome closing track, “Proud To Be Black.” Jam Master Jay’s slashing stab-scratches cut like brass tacks through a whitewashed history text as Run proclaimed “George Washington Carver made the peanut great, showed any man with a mind could create!” I loved peanut butter and I loved funky beats, just like Run DMC! They became the first heroes I ever had who weren’t pro athletes.

Thinking about it now, Jam Master Jay’s beats and cuts were essential for Run DMC to get their message across. Heck, Run and DMC knew it—they shouted Jay out all the time. Run DMC and Jam Master Jay exemplified synergy, syzygy and symbiosis—like Public Enemy and the Bomb Squad, their music hit as hard as their lyrics. It had to. I doubt today’s average teenage hip hop fan can appreciate how awesome Run DMC were, because I don’t hear anything that comes close to their power on commercial rap radio. I mean maybe I’m an ageist kook, but damn…

Back to Halloween ’02. As I pulled into the mall parking lot, an announcement came on the radio: “We will now have 60 seconds of silence for Jam Master Jay who was shot and killed this morning.” The words hit like a brick to the head. I parked and walked dumbstruck into Dillard’s. The first two brothers about my age I saw I went up to and said, “I just heard…Jay Master Jay….” One fellow lowered his eyes while his buddy shook his head slowly and whispered, “I know.” I drifted over to a 70% off reject rack and found a black t-shirt that said I’VE GONE TO FIND MYSELF—IF I GET BACK BEFORE I RETURN KEEP ME HERE.

At the video store, I did what I’d come to do: buy Donnie Darko on DVD. I asked the girl ringing it up, “Are you a hip hop fan?” She looked at me. I went on: “Can you believe…Jam Master Jay?” She gave me a sorrowful, sympathetic smile and said, “He brought a lot to the game.”

He brought a lot to the game.

I drove home, flipped the stereo on and got into the shower. The Chronic 2001 disc I’d left in the player started up and I heard Dr. Dre’s voice: “I moved out of the hood for good, you blame me? Niggas can’t hit niggas they can’t see, I’m out of they sight now I’m out of they dang reach. How would you feel if niggas wanted you killed? You’d probably move to a new house on a new hill and choose a new spot if niggas wanted you shot…I ain’t a thug—how much Tupac in ya you got?”

That’s when I cried. Bad meaning bad not bad meaning good. Jam Master Jay, not being a gangsta, must have felt safe staying in the hood with his wife and kids. When Tupac and Biggie died, it wasn’t a shock like this, and didn’t hurt the same. I guess because with Jam Master Jay, it hurt the fourteen year old inside me. And that 14 year old who fell in love with hip hop (and the girl who gave me that tape; thanks Mary) is still fundamentally me. I feel Run DMC’s records like I feel my younger self: dated but never played out.

Watching Donnie Darko that night, I noticed that at one point in the movie Donnie—a suburban kid living in the mid ‘80s—is rocking shell toes. I can only assume Donnie also agrees with the on-record unison appraisal of Jam Master Jay by Run and DMC: “Goddamn that DJ made my day!”

For my friend Jeff Seifert. Rest In Peace.

DOUGLAS RUSHKOFF takes tea and talks shop with GENESIS P-ORRIDGE (Arthur, 2003)

As originally published in Arthur No. 2 (Jan 2003), with accompanying photography by Shawn Mortensen…

‘The whole planet is the museum!’
Author-theorist Douglas Rushkoff takes tea and talks shop with veteran mindboggler/conceptualist/artist/visionary Genesis P-Orridge, best known for his work as co-founder of seminal industrial outfit Throbbing Gristle and leader of neo-primitive-shamanic ravists Psychic TV

I met Genesis in the early ’90s in the Bay Area. He needed a lift to Timothy Leary’s house in Beverly Hills, and I needed an interview for a book I was writing about viral media. We spent about six hours in the car together, trying to impress one another with our strangest thoughts while Gen’s two daughters fought in the back seat.

We’ve been friends ever since.

I guess it’s about ten years later, now. I’ve gotten married, become an author and university professor, while Gen has been kicked out of the UK forever, gotten divorced and married again, replaced his teeth with gold ones, and done some other stuff to his body that I’d be scared to. Still, in spite of our outward differences, we’re on the same path, and often use one another for guidance along the way.

See, if you’re going to be an artist or writer or magician, you’ve got to navigate through some treacherous zones. If you’re not traversing new territory (or at least forgotten territory) then why write instead of just reading? And many of these regions and be culturally, intellectually, physically, and psychically challenging. Disorientation can’t be avoided—it is the rule. Panic is the thing you have to watch out for.

So, Gen and I have these long talks every month or so. Sometimes they’re data dumps, and sometimes they’re progress reports. This one is probably a little more the latter, coming as it does on the release of Gen’s new book, Painful but Fabulous: The Lives & Art of Genesis P-Orridge (Soft Skull Shortwave). —Douglas Rushkoff

Dougas Rushkoff (DR): Your new book has served for me as an occasion to look back on the history of cut-and-paste, as well as its tremendous influence on art and culture every since. Cut-and-paste can even be understood as a first, rebellious step towards the attainment of genuine co-authorship. From a broad, historical perspective, it seems to me that we move through three stages. We begin by passively absorbing the information that’s fed to us—the datastream. Then, maybe with the Protestant Reformation and the printing press, we gained the ability to interpret this information for ourselves, to some extent. Then, with cut and paste, we achieve the ability to take what’s been presented to us and move it around a little bit. We can create new meanings through transpositions of what’s there, but that’s limited, in a sense, to a kind of satire or self-conscious juxtaposition. And now, finally, with computing and the internet, with the ability to actually author what for lack of a better word would be ‘original’ material, now we move into artistry. But a truly interesting moment was that first cut-and-paste moment, that first moment of, “Okay this is being fed to us, BUT we can do this with it, or to it, and get something else.” I’d be interested in hearing from you what was it like to be part of that moment.

Genesis P-Orridge (G P-O): Well… The preamble would be this: in the early ‘60s, somewhat parallel to my becoming aware of the beatniks, I started to discover Dada and Surrealism. The first time I’d heard of cut n paste, I think was Brion Gysin giving Raoul Hausman and one or two of the Dadaists the credit as one of his inspirations. He said they would cut up words from one of their poems, putting them in a hat, and then they’d draw words out of the hat, and make a new poem. What had happened was that more emotionally based artists, the ones who were actually involved in feeling human as well as just glorifying creativity, had become very disconnected from the concept of linearity, the concept of Reason, all the material concepts of the world. They had just experienced the first world war, which had led to this Armageddon, this hell on earth, and this was their reaction against what they saw as that war’s cause: the misplaced celebration of Reason, the control over information and culture in society, the harmful repression of irrationality, which has backfired.

That’s really where the first step came, that disconnection from, and obsession with, a finished, perfect result that was ‘owned’ by the artist that made it. One of Brion Gysin’s greatest poems, which I didn’t understand until very recently, was ‘Poets don’t own words.” He would do a permutation: “Poets don’t own words, words poets don’t own, own words poets don’t” and it was only recently that I actually experienced it in a visceral way, that that’s been the big change. This is what you’re talking about: that we are blessed, or gifted, or pushed, by various events to deal with the information that’s coming at us, and that society and culture are, if you like, a solidity that’s based on the inertia and linearity. This solidity is oppressive, and in order to even begin to be anything one might label ‘free’ or ‘liberated, you have to, as Burroughs used to put it, ‘First you have to short-circuit control.’ Because control is ultimately an oppressor. Control really does contain all the feedback loops of consumer culture that you’ve talked about so astutely.

I’m know I’m going in a weird loop here, but basically the point is that during the middle of the last century, the idea of having to be an Artist who owned each thing fell apart. The Dadaists did live events. They did collaborations. They did The Exquisite Corpse, where they would do a drawing, fold it, next person would draw some more, fold it, and then the result was the art. And of course no one could say with any of these activities, ‘I did that.’ They all did it, but it also made itself. That process intrigued the more interesting artists from then on.

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“Our Dead Bodies are Like Honey to the Flies”: Gabe Soria meets Devendra Banhart (from Arthur, 2003)

Originally published in Arthur No. 2 (Jan 2003)…

Our Dead Bodies are Like Honey to the Flies
Gabe Soria meets 21-year-old Devendra Banhart. Photography by Shawn Mortensen. 

It’s a cold and gray afternoon in Brooklyn. I’m sitting in Devendra Banhart’s fourth floor walk-up apartment and we’re both slightly hungover. The furniture in the apartment is old and scrounged looking, full of ramshackle character. Devendra asks me if I want to hear a new song, something he wrote the evening before. Keep in mind that I’ve known the guy for a grand total of five minutes, and in those five minutes, we’ve already been witnesses to the aftermath of a car accident on a nearby street. It’s a good, we’re-unemployed-so-what-the-hell feeling, and there’s nothing to do but roll with it.

Of course, I say.

He begins to play me a lilting, sexy lullaby, something that sounds as if it could have been written in 1910. It’s gorgeous. Later I’ll learn it was partially inspired by a new girlfriend. But now, once he finishes playing, a little wobbly (there’s that hangover again) but unaffectedly so, Devendra announces that he “sucks” this morning. I assure him that that’s not the case, but he’s unconvinced.

A week later I will see him play for his record release party, and the song formerly known as “Sucks” will be polished to a rough sheen, so beautiful that the air at the show is almost palpable with the audience’s need to shed an appreciative tear. No one needs to be told that they’re witnessing something special. Everybody sips their drinks quietly and the room is hushed. Even the bartender looks sheepish when she has to go through a particularly noisy drink preparation. It’s not an affected pose though, this silence. It’s not the silence of pretentious jazz fans, or avant-garde indie kids who aren’t aware that their emperors of silent cool wear no clothes. This is the silence of a group of people in smiling awe of a genuinely talented and wonderfully strange kid, a young man whose charm is almost effortless, whose skill is obvious and whose soul is on his sleeve.

But that show is still a week in the future. Right now, we’re still slightly fuzzy from our respective previous evenings and are both in need of coffee. “Do you mind if I take a shower before we go? I stink real bad,” Devendra says.

Go right on ahead, I say.

He hops off to his bathroom, and I sit there in his apartment, staring at the walls. Everything I know about Devendra Banhart so far is from listening to his peculiar and beautiful debut record, Oh Me, Oh My The Way The Day Goes By The Sun is Setting Dogs Are Dreaming Lovesongs of the Christmas Spirit (on Michael Gira’s Young God Records). At first glance, he seems like a prime candidate to be dismissed as yet another in the long line of “weird white folkies” that cynical rock critics have been setting their watches by from Dylan to Oldham. He fits the racial profile: a kid with a patchy beard who’s studied his blues ‘n country licks. And there have been so many who reek of artifice and calculation. But when the real thing comes along…wow. It’s nutsy bananas. Devendra Banhart and Oh Me Oh My… are, without trying to sound like a super-happy hype machine, the real thing. His is the sound of a skeleton playing his blues on the front porch of a haunted house, banging out curiously hopeful cemetery songs with a celebratory, surreal zeal, singing out with a high, quavering voice that is at once bizarre, unearthly and old, yet completely inviting and totally ingratiating.

And he’s twenty-one, I think as I wait for him to finish getting ready. This kid’s got his entire creative career ahead of him. Jesus.

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