Originally published in Arthur No. 28 (March 2008)
1. Otto Hauser (musician) and Brandy Flower (visual artist)
Two really great men who’ve never met, but were my 2007 favorites for the same reasons: they are really talented and humble, and they both travel where they’re needed and just lay it down, making them pillars of their respective communities.
I was astonished to eat this thing for the first time… like a dessert bread… heard if you freeze them, it’s like ice cream.
3. Local media in Los Angeles
L.A. morning TV news, papers, and radio stations… I’ve really been enjoying tuning in to see what everybody’s watching and hearing.. never used to do that, but I like the immediacy of receiving something at the same time as millions of other people around you… I’d forgotten that feeling after spending so much time on more obscure books, news sources, music, and movies that you usually watch alone or with a couple of other people, tops… (Channel 9 News, News 980, LA Times, KPFK, KXLU, Dublab.com, Classical 91.5 fm, Latino96.3, Indie 103.1–Jones’s Jukebox and Rollins’s show).
I spent more time there this year than I ever have before, and really enjoyed it. Thanks to all my people over there for taking me under your wings, especially Miss Carol Sharks xox
See the world, get around, gather no moss, get oxygen.
6. Symphonic software
Nowadays you can get really decent sound programs that run on your computer and turn you into a one-person orchestra…I’ve waited years for this technology to develop to the point where quality sampled sounds are affordable and accessible to people everywhere …. Faster computers have really helped out, as have the people behind some good new products like MOTU ( Mark of the Unicorn) Symphonic, and M-Tron…
I spent more of 2007 in the night than the day. This kind of living has its downsides, but between the hours of 1am and 5am, I was way too happy to care. If you’re out on the town, there’s plenty of excitement; if you’re at home, there’s a beautiful stillness and quiet to the world, and sounds float more easily…
8. Marvin Gaye
There’s a live DVD that came out recently called Real Thing: In Performance 1964-1981…. the footage and music video for “What’s Goin On?” is really moving and heavy.
9. Skateboarding again
Last year started riding a big ’80s deck, big Shogo Kubo wheels, rolling around like they never invented the Ollie and having a great time… I’ve stopped worrying about finding good parking spaces… thanks to Eric Shea in SF for getting me started again…
10. Surfing on moving buses/subway trains
Don’t hold on to any handrails, bend the knees and roll with the bumps and sudden jerks.. Place one hand in the air to act as a vibe antenna… It’s a fun practice, and lifts you up….
Lots of big information flying around really fast between good friends is awesome.
12. Pynchon’s Against the Day
This 1,000+ page book could be a real chore sometimes, but filled with plenty of enjoyments for the Arthurian reader; it deals with some really fun concepts from the world of the late 1800s through the First World War. You get aeronauts and aether, Robber Barons, Icelandic Spar and a lot of Tesla, amongst many other things.
Spins a good thread based on your entered area of musical interest.
14. Anchovya the Cat
I’ve been very happy with this cat.
15. Left hand
Develop brains in both hands, try and switch even the most meaningless activities to the other hand… in my case, I want the left hand to be a good low-end piano player. Also switched mouse to left hand to avoid repetitive stress…
Good musical source of information.
17. J.J. Hat Company in NYC
A fine shop with really classic hats. Thanks to Otto Hauser (see #1)
A nearby faraway place you can still dream in, but staying aware when you’re there is a must….
19. Elliptical Machines
A good workout for the body without taxing any joints too badly or getting too ripped, muscle-wise.
20. Voice development
This life-changing practice involves producing sound via the different resonating chambers of your head and torso…. Really fun and rewarding, great at first in shower and car, then carries over into everyday social life, increasing energy and confidence, alleviating boredom, and boosting conversation skill… just start humming!
Getting on in years, more patience and tolerance, greater perspective… Also, inner depths become vaster, brighter/darker, and way more controlled/chaotic. I’ve really enjoyed marking these changes in myself, friends and relations…
Farmer Dave Scher resides in Highland Park, California, and feels pretty well lately.
Applied Magic(k) column by the Center for Tactical Magic
Illustration by M. Wartella
Originally published in Arthur No. 28 (March 2008)
Shorty don’t believe me?
Then come with me tonight
And I’ll show you magic
(What? What?) Magic (uh huh uh huh)
I got the magic stick
– 50 Cent
It doesn’t matter whether you survey stage magicians, witches, or a screaming horde of pre-pubescent Harry Potter fans, the magic wand is perhaps the most encompassing symbol of magic. Equally at home in the white glove of a dapper, tuxedo-wrapped conjuror or in the clenched fist of a cackling old crone, the magic wand immediately summons a magical mood. While such depictions are still commonplace in pop culture, most folks are of the opinion that magic wands are vestiges of a bygone era.
It’s certainly true that magic wands have been around for a long, long time. Some of the earliest known examples belong to Egyptian magicians and priests from the 2nd Century B.C.—more than four thousand years ago.But for anyone who’s sat around a campfire and raised the glowing tip of a fire-kissed stick into the night sky, it’s not hard to imagine that our ancestors have been waving magic wands through the air for a good many millennia.
Over the years, wands have played a variety of roles: instruments for measurement, props for illusions, scepters for governance, and, as 50 Cent can attest, as phallic symbols noted for their procreative ability. As tools for healing we see their continued use in the hands of Reiki practitioners; however, the connection to the healing arts goes way back. The ancient Greeks, for example, used the rod of Asclepius (featuring a snake coiled around a stick) to represent medicine; a tradition still carried on by today’s medical professionals. Ironically, the rod of Asclepius is often substituted with Mercury’s wand (two snakes forming a double helix around a winged staff), which traditionally represented both commerce and thievery, two traits often associated with the contemporary medical establishment.
Performing magicians have employed wands in their performances for at least the last few hundred years. Waved over top hats and ornamented boxes, wands have frequently added an air of mysterious theatrics while assisting the magician in feats of misdirection. Similarly, wands in the form of scepters have also appeared in the hands of governing leaders. In this case, they can be seen either as symbols of constituent power or as fancy, but ultimately useless baubles that will never yield the positive results one hopes for. And the same could be said of the scepters.
With Fantômas, Louis Feuillade announced himself as Paris’ most celebrated director. But it was his 1916 ten-part serial Les Vampires—a silent ‘documentary’ of the notorious Vampire crime gang—that would cement his legend.
With episodes entitled “The Severed Head” and “The Poison Ring,” Les Vampires mimics many of the violent plot devices and suspenseful ornamentations of Fantômas. But rather than the solitary villain of Fantômas, Les Vampires features a murderous criminal syndicate led by Le Grand Vampire (Jean Aymé) and his black-clad femme fatale, Irma Vep (played by the famous cabaret singer Musidora). Hot on the Vampires’ heels are reporters Philippe Guerande (Edouard Mathé) and Oscar Mazamette (Marcel Levesque) as well as rival crime boss Juan-José Moréno (Fernand Herrmann), all determined to find the Vampires before they loot and kill again. Murder, robbery, capture and escape follow as the cat-and-mouse game leads Guerande deeper into the Vampires’ dastardly web and into the hands of the underworld demigod known as Satanus.
Much has been made of Feuillade’s improvisational style of direction and seemingly arbitrary use of settings in Montmartre and Fontainebleau. The truth is that Les Vampires was shot at the height of the World War I when many of Paris’ streets were abandoned. Surely Feuillade was aware that filming where he did would add to the strange tension and sense of dread that permeates these films; after all, he utilizes many more exterior tableaux than before. Whether purposeful or accidental, there is a feeling of miasma that infuses Les Vampires as it teeters from one violent sequence to the next, from desolate alleys to secret passageways, from hand-mirror reflections to living paintings.
So intent was Feuillade in fabricating a ‘natural’ exaggeration of the criminal world—where every corner and crevice promised dangerous secrets—that it would not be hyperbole to call Les Vampires an opera of hermeneutics; or, to borrow a term usually reserved for literature, an opus of magical realism. It makes sense that the serial is a favorite of Spanish Surrealist director Luis Bunuel and nouveau vague auteur Alain Resnais, who interpolated the malleable concept of reality with fantasy in much of their works. The French government temporarily banned Les Vampires for fear of it inciting copycat crimes and violent unrest throughout Paris. Rumors persisted that gangs of anarchists calling themselves the Vampires were looting and killing in the city’s poorer quarters. Much like the aftermath of Fantômas, the royalist director would suffer the regrettable success of these characters spilling from his own fantasies onto the very real and very violent corridors of Eastern Paris.
Feuillade would answer his moralist critics with the 1916 release of Judex, a serial that celebrated a master detective rather than criminal. But having found his most successful formula in the crime epic, he returned in 1918 with a Les Vampires sequel entitled Tih Minh, where the remaining Vampires have fled to Nice and are setting about avenging the deaths of their comrades. Though it was another financial success for Gaumont Studios and featured Feuillade’s brilliant visual efforts, Tih Minh could hardly recapture the anarchic magic of the original. By the mid-1920s, the cinema of Feuillade was all but forgotten by the general public, and most of his 700-plus films have since been lost.
Following its increased popularity with academic and countercultural cineastes in the late 1960s, Les Vampires eventually insinuated itself into pop culture legend, straddling the lines of haute art and midnight horror camp. Called “one of the supreme delights of film” by noted American critic Jonathan Rosenbaum and named one of the Village Voice’s “100 Best Films of the Century,” Feuillade’s greatest achievement continues to hypnotize horror and crime enthusiasts with its magical realism. It has also inspired any number of remakes and tributes, including Olivier Assayas’ 1996 film Irma Vep and a series of porno films by smut director James Avalon. A collection of the ten serials was made available on VHS with English subtitles in the mid-1990s but it was only with the 2005 Image Pictures 2 DVD set, which includes new tintings, intertitles and score, that Les Vampires has received the treatment it deserves. (Les Vampires is also available to view in its entirety on Google Video—thank you, Internet!)
Les Vampires remains a bellwether of early French cinema, elevated beyond mere spectacle to art—a concept Surrealist/provocateur André Breton recognized when he called Feuillade’s second and last masterpiece, “the reality of this century. Beyond fashion. Beyond taste.”
The secret mark that French pulp villain Fantômas left on the Twentieth Century
By Erik Morse
Art direction by Mark Frohman and Molly Frances
Originally published in Arthur No. 28 (March, 2008)
Early in 1911 popular French publishing house Fayard released the first of 32 monthly serial novels of Marcel Allain and Pierre Souvestre’s Fantômas. Subtitled ‘A Shadow on the Guillotine,’ this ultra-violent pulp tale recounted the exploits of the eponymous master villain as he reined blood and magick upon the boulevards of Paris. Pursued by police inspector, Juve, and his journalist sidekick, Jerome Fandor, Fantômas slaughters members of French high-society indiscriminately before stealing away with their wealth and, often, their very identities—in his travels between the Dordogne and Paris, Fantômas dispatches the Marquise de Langrune, her steward Dollon, Lord Beltham, Princess Sonia Danidoff, the famed actor Valgrand and a passenger liner full of travelers en route to South America. When Fantômas, alias Etienne Rambert, alias Gurn, is apprehended by Juve at Lady Beltham’s villa, he is brought to trial at the Palais de Justice, found guilty of murder and condemned to the guillotine. However with the aid of his mistress, Fantômas steals away from his Santé prison cell and fills the vacancy with an unsuspecting look-a-like who is left to the blade. When Juve discovers the ruse, he proclaims, “Curses! Fantômas has escaped! Fantômas is free! He had an innocent man executed in his place! Fantômas! I tell you, Fantômas is alive.”
Within months of its February debut, the Fantômas serial became a pop smash with the reading public, profiting no doubt from the French public’s unquenchable thirst for violence, mayhem and pulp. At 65 centimes a copy, sales for each volume reached easily into the hundreds of thousands. American poet and Fantômas enthusiast John Ashbery contends that the real success of the serial was its transcendence of class, education and sex, from “Countesses and concierges: poets and proletarians; cubists, nascent Dadaists, soon-to-surrealists. Everyone who could read, and even those who could not, shivered at posters of a masked man in impeccable evening clothes, dagger in hand, looming over Paris like a somber Gulliver, contemplating hideous misdeeds from which no citizen was safe.” Such was the popular reaction to the Fayard publication, Marcel Allain would later recall, with some hyperbole, “The adventures of Fantômas have surpassed those of the Bible.”
Nearly a hundred years later, we can see the frightening metastasis of the master of crime’s “brand”—from his beginnings amongst the Right Bank sophisticates who released him upon the world, to the marauding gangs plundering and murdering in his name, to the sacrificial cults who would congregate at the witching hour to reenact his sins. His trangressions—bold, fiendish and inexplicable—were the narratives of nightmares. Fantômas captured the imagination of his admirers and extended his influence through the artistic genealogies of Europe, leaving a catechism of excess, debauchery and violence to a brood as varied as Pablo Picasso, Andre Breton, Jean Cocteau, Georges Bataille, Alain Robbe-Grillet, James Joyce, Guillaume Apollinaire, Robert Desnos, Jean Marais, Alain Resnais, René Magritte, Francois Truffaut; and the Mike Patton-Buzz Osbourne-Trevor Dunn-Dave Lombardo art-rock superband of the same name. In their major contributions to the century, the words and deeds of France’s supreme villain pullulate still more revolutionary achievements and still darker crimes.
Here, in this extended fait-diver, is the unedited, uncensored and untold history of the criminal of the century.
C & D: Two guys who will remain pseudonymous reason together about new records
C: [While rummaging through the teeming mail bin.] Hey, look at this. It must be from that new guy who’s always lurking around. What’s his dealio anyway? He’s what my gran would call a nosey nelly.
D: I think he’s here to like, streamline shit. [Reading aloud] To Whom It May Concern: “In my private meetings with Arthur staff and contributors, we have received many disturbing reports regarding the personal, professional and spiritual-energetic conduct of C & D, or as they fancy themselves, ‘The Arthur Music Potentate.’
“There is widespread unease amonst Arthur staff about C & D’s taste in mucic, which has been described to us as ‘bewildering,’ ‘psychedelic parochial,’ ‘arguably harmful,’ ‘contrary to the public’s interest,’ ‘more narrow than their trousers’ and ‘frankly vampiric.’ I don’t quite know what all that means but it’s interesting.
“Moving forward, I have been unable to confirm that C & D are receiving payola from 86 record companies and nineteen out of our fair nation’s top twenty coolmaking marketing firms, but verification of such nefarious activity is only a matter of time.
“I am also unable to confirm their membership in the ‘Brownie-Meinhaus gang.’
“However, in my own cross-examination sessions with C & D, in which, I am preparted to testify, we did not waterboard at all 😉 , I was able to determine that they have indeed ‘lost the keys’—their words—for two of Arthur humor/motorcycle advisor Peter Alberts’ Royal Enfield motorcycles; they have indeed borrowed Arthur contributor Paul Cullum’s all-region DVD player for an ‘increasingly indefinite period’; they confess to doing two cut-and-runs at Sugar Hair Salon in Silver Lake; plainly abused Mandy Kahn’s standing offer to drive them to and from various watering holes of ill repute; and, as you may have surmised, it was indeed they — or them? I can never remember ;-( — who affixed ‘Ex Libris C &/or D’ label-plates to all the reference books in the staff library.
“Furthermore, C & D have charged 38 parking tickets to the Arthur expense account since last June. Woe betide their decision to start chillaxing out in Malibu. “C & D have presumptuously intercepted others’ mail, especially advance vinyls from the Holy Mountain label. They play the Carbonas self-titled LP at bicuspid-crushing volume everyday before lunch. They crack each other up at staff meetings by prefacing every statement with ‘You must learn, we are the Gods of this magazine!’ They are always ordering curry. Plus they’ve used up all the paperclips, and not, I am saddened to report, in a fashion that paperclips were designed to be used.
“The Editor-in-chief, art directors and even the printer have complained that C & D are always late with their copy, which in turns holds up production of the magazine and inhibits crucial cashflow, all for something that, quoting the Editor, ‘nobody really reads or cares about anyway.’
“In my many years of optimal-sizing firms, I have been forced to make many difficult and even gut-wrenching decisions. This however is not one of them! ;-)- C & D should be shown the door, and the sooner the better. We will call it a suspension of enduring duration. Now would really be the time to pull the trigger on this. I know people who can do it.
“JUST SAY THE WORD.”
D: [gulps] Doh! C: I always told you we would are the men who knew too much. [puzzles] But how did they find out about the brownies? I told you to watch out for those new surveillance cams. D: I thought they were fake. And chicken tikka is not a curry. C: Ha! And neither is lamb biryani. Wait a second… Fake surveillance cams? That’s a GREAT idea. D: I know a guy! Just say the word! C: [cackling] Okay but first let’s get one more column in, shall we? “They” never read this so we can say whatever we like and they won’t know til it’s at the printer, hahaha! The funny thing is we REALLY ARE the potentate around here. But if our services are no longer required here, we’d like to say one thing: D: SAYONARA BITCHES!!! C: Because we are in control of the horizontal. We’re the last people that see this bad boy before it’s sent to the printer… D: Oh yeah! Heh heh. C: …which means whatever we type here gets printed. D: Which means…
The Carbonas The Carbonas (Goner) C: They come from Memphis, they sound like Wire and the Buzzcocks, nine songs in 22 minutes. You know what you have to do. D: Wire and the Buzzcocks? More like attach a wire to your bollocks! [helpfully] And they have a song called “Assvogel.” C: That’s not a song, it’s a movement. And I think you know what kinda movement I mean… D: Ahem. It is on the Goner record label. Which is what we are now. Goners. C: Memphis is the one place I’d be interested in moving to. Start the car, I’ll get my duffel. Here’s to life in exile after abdication! D: [brightens] I’ve been a goner since the beginning. C: Being a goner is a serious thing. Who do you think is the original goner? D: Robert Mitchum, no question. Yeah, that’s it, the Carbonas are the Robert Mitchum of rock!
Dead Meadow Old Growth (Matador) C: I’ve been into these guys since before everyone else! D: Except for me. I invented these guys. I put a bunch of purple pills in a blender along with a soiled Led Zep patch from my older sister’s jean jacket. Shazam! C: ‘Old Growth’ is on the shortlist for greatest album title ever, and it’s a pretty good description of the music. D: Here’s a better one: take a grandfather clock made of diamond-cut crystal, fill it with molasses and drop in on your head! C: I can’t believe they’re firing you, D. You just keep getting better. Woah, this song is some serious blues shufflage. It’s like a beer commercial for really stinky homebrew. D: There’s something about this guy’s voice that hits me like a arctic wind. Pass me my mittens. And the b-o-n-g. It’s been a bong time since I rock ‘n’ rolled!
Graveyard Graveyard (Tee Pee) D: Graveyard, eh. Must be a Goth band. C: Actually they’re not Goth. They’re not even American! D: [listening to first track, ‘Evil ways’] Right away you know that no matter what happens, you’re gonna at least hear good tone guitar. This is far too good to be American. C: You are correct sir. They are in fact Swedish. D: The world’s greatest mimcs. The arch-inhabitors. C: He pitches his vocal a bit Danzig, a little bit Bobby from Pentgaram. A little bit Jim Morrison. A little bit of the mighty John Garcia. D: And it must be admitted, a little Cornell. C: A little bit’ll do ya. This is Ween-quality mimicry here! Reminds me of that band Witchcraft in that they’re going further out. [listening to “Lost In Confusion”] That’s basically the Doors, right there. D: It is like Witchcraft, but this singer has more hair on his chest. C: … So, what do you think of that drumming? D: Kinda…jazzy. C: Well you know, all those old rock drummers used to play jazz drums too: Ginger, Graham… D: Keith, Charlie… C: I listened to this album several times without realizing it. Just kept coming back. I keep coming back to the Graveyard, D. D: That’s where you’re gonna end up. Might as well get there early and check it out.
Harmonia Live 1974 (Water) C: Vintage live recording from krautrock greats Harmonia, never-before-released! D: How is this possible? Harmonia are some of the original electronic goners. C: If you turn it up loud enough you can hear people talking— D: I can’t hear anything except analog electronic perfection. C: Frankly I am perplexed by the liners which talk that like this Harmonia are barely known, even to konfirmed krautrock fans. Says here, these guys exist somewhere out beyond the “how to buy Krautrock section in your local record shop.” Is this guy insane??? D: There is no local record shop! C: No, I mean I don’t think I’ve ever seen a Krautrock section at a record store that DIDN’T include Harmonia. And there is a local record shop, actually. It’s not final for vinyl just yet, my friend.
THE WOMAN WHO KNOWS TOO MUCH A conversation with pianist-vocalist Diamanda Galas: Avenging queen of the damned, obvious musical genius and the only person alive who’s a fan of Doris Day and Vlad the Impaler
By John Payne Photography by Susanna Howe Make-up and styling by Kristofer Buckle
Originally published in Arthur No. 28 (March 2008)
“Get up off your knees, you weak bastard, and fight!” —Katzanzakis
Diamanda Galas made her solo recording debut in 1982 with The Litanies of Satan, a bloodcurdling blast of screaming, sighing, sneering, spitting sonority based on texts by the poet Charles Baudelaire. Recorded in a freezing cold basement studio in London after she’d been awake for 24 hours, Litanies is a glossolalic galaxy further perverted by insane floods of reverb, spatial delay, complex signal processing and overdubbing. Twenty-six years later, it remains quite terrifying in effect.
That initial recorded outpouring established Galas as a troubling and troublesome singer of the avant-garde and beyond, one who boasted a multi-multi-octave voice of unparalleled power and technical command along with a contemporary-classical/new-thing piano style the equal to and great leap forward past the storied prowess of your baddest dudes of the modern jazzbo scene. But all that’s just the mechanics of it; her performances have combined these vocal acrobatics with electronics and triple- and quadruple-mike techniques that’d fling the voice around in horrific battles between the Devil, God and all us poor victims – sometimes with her back to the crowd. Her topics? AIDS, rape, torture, genocide.
Galas was born in San Diego in 1955, daughter of a Turkish-Armenian father and an Armenian-Syrian mother. She grew up in a very strict and isolated kind of environment – no TV, no radio, no nothing like that. She wasn’t allowed to wear a two-piece bathing suit, couldn’t go on any dates, not until she left the house at the age of 19. So she and her brother Philip-Dimitri, a future renowned playwright, got real good at creating their own very individual worlds holed up at home, where, interestingly, they both dug the dark stuff from early on: Marquis de Sade, Friedrich Nietzsche, Antonin Artaud, and Edgar Allan Poe, especially. Diamanda’s father pushed her into piano lessons at a young age, but he forbid her to sing, ‘cause he thought singing was basically for idiots. He’d been a lounge band leader and had conducted gospel choirs, which by age 12 Diamanda had begun to accompany on piano or listened to from the top of the stairs. “Then when people would leave I would sing the music by myself, because I loved this music so much.” By age 14, she was playing with the San Diego Symphonic Orchestra.
Galas was a premed and then biochemistry student at Revelle College at UCSD. Though she became involved in the neurochemistry department at the UCSD medical school, she became aware during this time that what she really wanted to do was to use herself as a guinea pig.
“That was not an unpopular concept in the ‘70s,” she says, “and so that is what I did. This led to a complete destruction of my previous ideals and put me in the perfect place for vocal research later, although at the time I was exposed to Pasolini, Lilly, B.F. Skinner, Janov, Nietzsche and so on. But I had the uncomfortable feeling that I had no idea how to combine research with music-making until the vocal experimentation work was begun six years later.
She enjoyed her biochemistry studies in college, she wasn’t just killing time. “But I ended up spending too much time in the practice room playing the piano and singing and doing things like going into anechoic [silence] chambers and taking LSD and then trying everything with my voice, and getting into a lot of thinking that dealt with sensory deprivation, and that went with using your body as an instrument for your research, how the voice, word came out of it. If I couldn’t hear the reverberation inside, then nobody could hear me outside, and that was the most important thing to me. I didn’t want anyone to know what I was doing. I wanted to be completely free to do what I was doing. That was just an instinct.”
While Galas’ training in biochemistry enabled her to form solid views on medicine, and on music as well (“It trains you in seeing things as paradigms, seeing large situations; it influences the way you perceive things, how things work”), her experiences in school with a sado-masochistic boyfriend held equal fascination, and led to her channeling the discipline’s extremist views into her art. Early performances of her vocal experimental works were done in mental hospitals, fittingly.
“I was asked by some guys in the Living Theater, they said that was what they were going to do and I should do it, too. At that time, I was just standing with my back to an audience and I would not make a sound for maybe 10 minutes, until I felt it was kind of kicked out of me. Then I would do this for 15-20 minutes. And when I did, there were some very interesting responses. The strongest were from women, who really liked the freedom of that, the freedom of inappropriate behavior.” She laughs.
During her school years Galas had played and sang in a weird variety of bands, such as a circa-’74 combo in Pomona that included jazz critic Stanley Crouch along with Butch Morris, David Murray, Mark Dresser and several other heavies of the new-jazz thing. She also served time as an organist at a Holiday Inn lounge, doing Carpenters covers in a band with avant guitarist Henry Kaiser. Though she’d had extensive formal training on piano, Galas’ vocal techniques were from the start purely instinctual. And at some point a few years into it, she decided that it was important to develop maximum vocal power so that she could sustain long phrases, and sing without harming her vocal cords. In 1979, while Galas was still pursuing a postgrad degree in neurochemisty, Yugoslavian composer Vinko Globokar offered her the lead role as a Turkish torture victim in his opera Un Jour Comme Un Autre. In order to meet the harsh vocal demands of Globokar’s piece, she trained like a boxer, and set her goal of becoming the world heavyweight champ of the voice. Her 1980 work in Paris on the late Greek composer Ianis Xenakis’ extraordinarily complex microtonal pieces quickly sealed her reputation as perhaps the only singer physically capable of performing these works’ devilish difficulties.
The Litanies of Satan and its accompanying piece, Wild Women With Steak Knives, were deliberately titled to provoke, and when they appeared in 1982 they did generate a lot of early controversy about Galas. Wild Women was inspired by the Greek tradition in which women preside over the funerals by carrying large knives. Although Galas calls it a ritual of female empowerment, meant to inspire revenge for the dead, its use for a staged performance resulted in Galas’ interesting early notoriety as both a radical feminist and misogynist.
It was a reputation the bad bitch of new music seemed to relish. As if to further provoke reaction from both sides of the cultural divide, she begin composing her crucial Plague Mass, an eventual trilogy of late-‘80s works including Masque of the Red Death, in which she explored the AIDS epidemic by linking it to texts from Psalms and the Book of Leviticus. Today she calls Plague Mass a documentation of “the process of slow death in a hostile environment” in confrontation with “those who’ve twisted Christ’s teaching into socially sanctioned condemnation of sexual difference.” Her brother Philip died of AIDS in 1986, the year she began the work; she dedicated the trilogy to him and her friend Tom Hopkins, another close friend and AIDS victim.
Galas soldiered on with a series of confrontational and musically groundbreaking performances akin to a new Greek tragedy in defense of the displaced and diseased, whose timeless reversals of fortune were decried with the instinctive bloodlust of a frothing mad dog and the doom of a thousand dark angels. Her late-’80s work included vocal contributions to the score of Derek Jarman’s film The Last of England, which also deals with the AIDS epidemic. She also released the third installment of Plague Mass, entitled You Must Be Certain of the Devil, wherein she rails against bogus piety and homophobia.
Galas’ fame as a virtuosic performer grew of course in large part because of her reputation as a cultural/political agitator. In 1989, she was arrested while participating in a “die-in” at St. Patrick’s Catholic Cathedral in New York City, objecting to what she calls a “war against people with AIDS” by Cardinal O’Connor, who was trying to stop safe sex campaigns. Galás charged the Cardinal with complicity in the plague. In 1990 Galás performed the entire Plague Mass at the Episcopalian Cathedral of Saint John the Divine in New York City, where she doused her naked torso with blood while performing at the altar. In 1994 she performed The Masque of the Red Death in Italy, whose Christian Democratic Party formally accused her of blasphemy at the recitation in Italian of a section of Masque’s text. In the USA, Christian television shows put her alongside Ozzy Osbourne on their official lists of Satanic celebrities to be purged or blocked from the airwaves.
Galas remained brutally outspoken, calculatingly callous. In 1991’s influential Re/Search: Angry Women anthology of interviews, she ripped a few memorable zingers: “I believe childbirth is obscene. I consider it very alien . . . The myth I always aspired to was that of Artemis or Diana, the goddess of the hunt. She was a warrior and a fighter who had nothing to do with procreation”; “You’re either part of the Resistance or you’re a collaborator” [on AIDS activism]; “I pity weak men: They should be dragged out into the middle of the street, beaten, humiliated, degraded and sodomized by my friends and me just for sport. I love seeing weak men cry—my heart races.”
In all of her pieces, the vocal sound is more than simple beautiful sound, it’s an articulation of suffering – an idea that played a part in Artaud’s theatre of cruelty. The chilling 1993 Vena Cava album of solo vocal and electronic processing effects involved up to four microphones and a tape delay system; lyrics come from a text written by her late brother while enduring the mental and physical degradations of AIDS. Schrei X (1996) is a densely technique-packed 35-minute piece for solo voice, ring modulators and other electronic treatment, performed in quadraphonic sound and total darkness; it deals in sensory deprivation, rape and violence with no escape.
At times Galas seems to be seeking her fate by enacting and fulfilling her own modern Greek tragedy. Her beliefs are in part a byproduct of hearing her father tell her stories of growing up barely second-class in his own country, or worse, his friends hunted down by the Turks, literally pushed into the sea. She has a burning need to set the record straight on our shared history of atrocity. That is the material essence of recent works such as Defixiones, Will and Testament: Orders From the Dead, a solo voice and piano work based on texts related to the Armenian and Anatolian Greek massacres of 1915 and 1922. A grandly ambitious work involving extended passages from the Armenian liturgy, recitations of poetry such as Adonis’ The Desert and various other settings of Middle Eastern poets as well as Galas’ own “Birds of Death” and the gospel traditional “See That My Grave Is Kept Clean,” Defixiones is a harrowing maelstrom of Eastern vocal modes and volcanic piano explosions, as Galas intones “the world is going up in flames.”
If only to prevent devolving into a caricature of her wicked self, or perhaps to take a kind of breather (who could blame her?), by the early ‘90s Galas had begun developing the art of the “homicidal love song” in a series of song cycles, which she’s continued to write or interpret in recent years, beginning in ’94, when she and Led Zeppelin bassist John Paul Jones collaborated on The Sporting Life album (Mute), a very bent and very, very heavy set of “rock” tunes taken to epically bizarre extremes, and funny extremes as well, Galas soul-wailing with abandon while pumping a mean whorehouse piano. The song cycles include The Singer in 1992, Malediction and Prayer (1998 Asphodel) and the live La Serpenta Canta (2003 UK Mute STUMM), which scaled back from the epic proportions of her previous decade’s work to explore equally disturbing nuance in blues and gospel standards such as “I Put a Spell on You,” “Balm in Gilead/Swing Low Sweet Chariot” and “See That My Grave Is Kept Clean.” The latest in the series is the live Guilty Guilty Guilty (out in March on Mute UK).
Today, Diamanda Galas is having toast and tea in the back booth of a restaurant in breezy, sunny San Diego, not far from the waterfront. She’s a tall woman, dressed in black, as you’d expect – heavy black coat, blackest long snaky hair, blacker still eyes that don’t drill holes in my forehead but rather dart and flicker about the room, leaving singe marks across the naughahyde counter stools. She wants to go deep inside her music, to make the how of it understood, so she’s talking and talking, gesturing widely with long spindly arms, then talking some more, there’s so much to say.
Galas expresses herself in forceful and earthy and beautifully direct ways, in a melodious, cackling rasp … While she’s onstage—and probably in most of her daily interactions with people—she is quite an actress, of high, high drama and blackest, gruesomest comedy. Camp is valuable for how it speaks truths obviously, in black and white. But Diamanda’s Morticia-like character tends to stomp on mere camp. She knows too much. She is all the while shockingly human; she sips her tea, and tattoed on the fingers of her hand I see: “We are all HIV-positive.”
ARTHUR: First, tell me a little bit about what set you off on your own musical path. You must have had reasons why you needed to break all the rules.
DIAMANDA GALAS: It was the middle of the ‘70s, and I had come up as both a jazz and a classical pianist at the same time. Doing improvisation without reading first, then reading music. And then after playing classical music for a while, and classical concertos, including Cesar Franck, wonderful, wonderful, and Beethoven, and doing Fats Waller, and then doing things with some guys who had been influenced by Ornette and Ayler and stuff. I just decided that the fact is that the voice is the leader of the band, but I don’t want to be in the jazz ghetto, I don’t want to be in the new-music ghetto, I don’t want to be in any ghetto; I think I’ll just use my own name, and that’s the ghetto I’ll settle for. In the ‘70s, if you decided that you were gonna do jazz, then that meant that it had to be about music that had this swing, and I’m like, buddy, sometimes I want the music to swing, sometimes I don’t want the music to fuckin’ swing. Like, what the fuck do I care if the music swings?
Originally published in Arthur No. 28 (March 2008)
GUERRILLA WARFARE Five years ago, London’s gig-goers experienced a cultural upheaval the effects of which are still being felt today. Paul Moody takes up the story.
It seems so long ago now. But just under five years ago, London’s nightlife found itself at the center of a seismic cultural explosion that still reverberates around the U.K indie-verse today. As with the psychedelic scene based around the UFO Club in Tottenham Court Road and the punk movement’s Soho HQs The Roxy and The Vortex, it involved a small group of movers ’n’ shakers taking control of the pop apparatus to create something new, exciting and—whisper it—revolutionary.
For a short while the fat cats of the British music business—a dismal alliance of promoters (tell me, have you ever seen a skinny one?), lazy managers and idea-free labels—were on the back foot, and oh, what pleasure it was to be alive to see it and be involved in it. In its place? A new form of night-time activity, where gigs could take place on a bus, a subway train or even, at one memorable soiree in Regents Park, up a tree, and the old ways—not least the capitalist chicanery of (yawn) advance credit card bookings—could go swing.
Ever since The Stone Roses had attempted to subvert the medium with their gig at Spike Island in 1990—deemed a failure by anyone who hadn’t actually been there—promoters in the U.K had ensured that any free expression amongst bands was brutally clamped down upon. At many venues—not least the once-prestigious The Rock Garden in Covent Garden—young bands were even forced to endure a “pay to play” policy which meant they had to cough up £50 before they could even get on a stage. Worse, it was an unspoken rule that if any band dared go beyond these preset boundaries, there would be hell to pay.
I’d had firsthand experience of it myself.
As a member of London art rock band Regular Fries, in the late ’90s, I’d found any means of creative expression conducted outside the studio frowned upon. Our determination to play gigs involving film projections, banks of TVs and an array of props brought despairing looks from our own management, so you can imagine what promoters made of it when we walked through the doors of venues clutching six-feet high “Fries” letters. The idea of playing gigs outside the established circuit—a well-trod path involving The Barfly, The Garage and The Astoria—was treated like heresy. Why couldn’t we just play by the rules like everyone else?
Promoters actively discouraged us from playing at venues no one else had with lame talk of “bad acoustics.” “Why do you think no one else plays there?” was an asinine excuse we’d regularly be subjected to.
This came to a head when, due to a fire, a headline gig at London University (ULU) was cancelled at the eleventh hour. Hastily, we printed up flyers to paste over the front of the building telling our fans to head to a nearby venue in Camden where another promoter—sensing a windfall—had hastily juggled his bill so we could play last.
Within minutes, our well-intentioned belief that “the show must go on” had all but turned into an international incident. The promoters at ULU threatened violence for advertising another chain of venues on their doorstep. Our own promoter blew a fuse at our temerity in organizing an alternative ourselves. And our manager even warned us darkly that if we played the gig, our agent would never book us a tour again. All because we wanted to play a gig at short notice.
It was in this climate that the concept of the “guerrilla gig”—which peaked in June 2004 with a “happening” at Buckingham Palace, headed by Pete Doherty—took root.
Do the Math: CITIZEN HEAR ME OUT! THIS COULD HAPPEN TO YOU! by Dave Reeves
There were Laws, but they were not feared. There were rules but they were not worshiped like laws and rules and cops and informants are feared and worshiped today. –Hunter S. Thompson, “Fear and Loathing in Elko”
If you are reading this magazine then there is a pretty good chance that you break some stupid ass law every other day. Be it dabbling in tax evasion, watering your lawn on Thursdays, smoking weed, walking your dog without a leash, or drinking two and half beers before driving home, you are overdue to beg for the non-existent mercy of some unlaid grinch posing as a judge (you know who you are, Kirkland Nyby). I’m here to tell you that being a white non-violent person with all your teeth will not be enough to save you from doing hard time for minor infractions anymore.
America has slid far past the point where a well-regulated militia would be able to relieve us of our vicious tyrants. The myriad weapons and tactics perfected over the course of our many stupid foreign wars are easily turned against the American civilian population. We are cowed behind the magic of infrared radar helicopters, electronic ball breakers, automatic weapons and a skein of surveillance cameras: the American population rendered naked to the aggression of a police state gone corporate.
I have seen the future and it is California. That which is not illegal is mandatory. If you find yourself in California, here’s what you should do: