“Way to Go, Ohio”: An exclusive Q&A with THE PRETENDERS’ Chrissie Hynde and James Walbourne, by Oliver Hall (Arthur, 2008)

Originally published in Arthur No. 32 (December 2008)

Chrissie and James (photography by Lauren Bilanko)

For the Pretenders’ Chrissie Hynde, Akron, Ohio has always been a hometown in permanent decline, a place she fled for England. Now America’s greatest ex-pat rock ‘n’ roller sees the future in her past: a reborn urban core where counter-culture businesses, including her own new restaurant (vegan, of course), are helping restore progressive community to a downtown trashed by short-sighted greed. That sense of small-is-better renewal runs through her band’s new album, which features the playing of James Walbourne, an acclaimed young rockabilly guitarist who joins Hynde here for an exclusive conversation with Arthur’s Oliver Hall.

Photography by Lauren Bilanko.

Chrissie Hynde is in Hollywood on a short promotional tour of the United States to promote the new Pretenders album, Break Up the Concrete, which comes with a piece of seed paper that will grow flowers. Hynde likes to joke that the paper contains high-quality cannabis seeds, but my feverish experiments have yielded naught, perhaps because the “soil” in my neighborhood is plaster sand and the “water” is pure chlorine bleach. Just the sort of ungreen conditions of city life that Hynde wants to break up. Accompanying her on this trip is the Pretenders’ brilliant new guitarist, James Walbourne, fresh off of stints playing with The Pogues and Jerry Lee Lewis. Walbourne, a contagiously excited Brit in his late 20s, is about to join us here in their hotel room, and Hynde wants to make sure I’m going to bring him into the conversation when he arrives. “This magazine is different, so you don’t have to do the Chrissie Hynde Story,” she says.

For this tour Hynde and Walbourne have been playing mostly acoustic sets in radio stations and record stores. In L. A., they played at Amoeba Music and made an unannounced appearance at the McCabe’s Guitar Shop 50th anniversary show at UCLA. They briefly shook up the sleepy programming at KCRW, and I met them shortly after they’d performed on Sex Pistol Steve Jones’s local radio show, Jonesy’s Jukebox. At Amoeba, Hynde took the stage and declared “I’m a wreck” before undoing the top button of her jeans. The Amoeba show and the KCRW appearance were delivered from a fiery fuck-you-it’s-live point of view. The shows were a thrill, since Hynde’s voice sounds gorgeous as ever, and because if she occasionally got lost trying to remember one of her lyrics—which is not hard to do when your lyrics have as many non sequiturs as a Beckett play—Walbourne would improvise their way back to the song.

Chrissie Hynde’s voice as a writer and a singer is a hell of a thing. You could talk about the dramatic range of a voice that can sneer “You’re gonna make some plastic surgeon a rich man” and break your heart with “Kid” on the same album, or you could talk about her expert control of tone and pitch and the effect of her voice on an audience, or you could talk about her vocal tremolo, which immediately distinguishes her from other rock singers—you could talk about all these things, and I hope that you will, but the cold fact remains: your band will never, ever be able to pull off “Tattooed Love Boys.” For my part, I suspect that Hynde’s performances are so emotionally affecting because she has never given up on the hard work of trying to imagine a public domain in which she and her art and her bandmates and her audience might more perfectly coexist. On their 1984 recording of Hynde’s song “My City Was Gone,” the Pretenders depict what it feels like to return home and find yourself in an urban-renewalized ghost town, where all local distinguishing marks have been erased or paved over, and everyone works at the same shopping mall. I imagine that if the late, great radical environmentalist Edward Abbey were still above ground, he would be merrily whistling the new Pretenders song “Break up the Concrete” while jackhammering up great chunks of the interstate and throwing beer cans heedlessly over his shoulder.

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EXORCISE DAILY! (Arthur, 2008)

Vanishing Act
by the Center for Tactical Magic

from the “Applied Magic(k)” column in Arthur No. 32 (Dec 2008)

One of the oldest themes in magic(k) is that of death and resurrection. Recurring in the origin stories of numerous religions, death and resurrection also played an important role in the initiation ceremonies of early shamans across the globe. By first descending into the depths of sickness, disease, and even death itself a Siberian shaman would make allegiances with spirit allies who could be called upon to help the living. But in order to do so, the shaman would have to survive the ordeal and return to life before s/he could act as an intermediary.

Anthropologists have observed similar tendencies in shamanic initiation throughout geographically divergent cultures. Although the story of Jesus Christ is perhaps our society’s most familiar example, scholars of world religion are quick to point out that many aspects of the Christ story are reflected in earlier religious beliefs surrounding such deities as Osiris, Dionysus, and Mithras to name but a few of the more notable, regional examples. However, the list of dying-and-rising gods numbers well into the dozens and extends across the world map to include the likes of Quetzalcoatl (Aztec), Odin (Norse), Ishtar (Mesopotamia), Julunggul (Aboriginal Australian), and Travolta (Hollywood).

While Tarantino’s resurrection of Travolta might not qualify him as a “god” worthy of the aforementioned pantheon, themes of death and resurrection have long played out on the stages of popular culture and entertainment. Early performers in Native America and in ancient Egypt would amaze audiences by bringing animals back to life. While in India, fakirs performing the famed “basket trick” would stuff a child into a woven container before perforating the basket (and presumably the child) with multiple swords, only to reveal a short moment later that the child was still alive and well. More recently, magicians P.T. Selbit and Horace Goldin might not have the popular name recognition today that they once shared in the 1920’s; however, one would be hard-pressed to find someone who doesn’t recognize their famed (and misogynistic) illusion: sawing a woman in half.

A resurrection routine in theatrical magic often takes one of several forms: a transposition (in which the assistant disappears from one place and reappears somewhere else), a transformation (in which the assistant appears to change into something or someone else), or a restoration (in which the assistant is returned to normal after first being subjected to some sort of ghoulish sadism). A vanish on the other hand (in which the assistant simply disappears) is seldom used for a resurrection act because the audience is left ill-at-ease wondering what happened to the body after the magician stabbed, shot, burned, or cut it.

More commonly, vanishes are employed as a metaphorical reminder for the ephemeral and illusory nature of life. Coin vanishes are among the more familiar tricks in a conjurer’s repertoire, and audiences seem to have no trouble relating to the disappearance of money even when it happens inexplicably before their very eyes. Thurston, the great Vaudeville magician and master Mason, took the vanishing act a step further by introducing the “the vanishing Arabian steed” followed a few years later by “the vanishing automobile” along with its passengers. More than simply illustrating the technological trajectory of transportation, Thurston’s vanishes demonstrated to his audience that coins, cars, or other symbols of material wealth possess a value that is not lasting. Later magicians failed to recognize the potential for multiple levels of symbolic relevance and focused only on scale as a determining factor for their illusions by vanishing elephants and water buffalo.

However, the same cannot be said for David Copperfield’s famed vanishing of the Statue of Liberty. With 1984 looming and Ronald Reagan busy conjuring his own “voodoo economics” the disappearance of Lady Liberty probably should have spooked audiences more than it did. Clearly more prophetic than Thurston’s vanishing horse, Copperfield’s vanishing Liberty should have been regarded not as prime time entertainment but as a dire warning of politics to come. If treated as an omen, we can at least take comfort in the fact that Copperfield’s illusion is ultimately a restoration and not simply a vanish. If so, and the mystical vision holds true, we can expect the return of our civil liberties, cell phone privacy, and perhaps even the freeing of those who have been disappeared by government contracted “extraordinary rendition” aircraft and in the CIA-operated secret prisons abroad.

In stage magic, vanishes may rely on a range of methods to achieve the desired effect. The use of mirrors, trap doors, secret compartments, and doubles might be used to restore an assistant to a healthy state. While politics also utilizes no short supply of ruses, deceptions, and misdirections, it takes much more to return to a healthy state. Although we witnessed the vanishing of George Bush from the White House in January of 1993, we were left dumbstruck when a second George Bush reappeared in the Oval Office in 2001. Unlike the shamanic ascension from the underworld that affords mysterious new powers for helping treat the ailments of others, this hellish return was accompanied by two wars, an exploding national debt, a devastating economic crash, and mysterious new powers for government surveillance and the executive branch.

Thankfully the curtain call has come for that sad act. The stage has been reset and we are now eagerly awaiting the next Bush vanishing act from the halls of government. Hopefully this time it’s a permanent disappearance. And perhaps when the curtain goes up on this next act we’ll witness the resurrection of the long-dead spirit of democracy that has recently begun haunting our hopes and dreams again.

Undoubtedly, politicians and governments will continue to perform much as they have in the past. Yet, the mass mobilization around the Obama campaign has given the audience new clues in determining the outcome of the show. The close of the Obama/McCain election represented a political shift in more ways than one. For the first time in eight years (if not longer), people poured into the streets not to protest an act of government but to celebrate one. The jubilation went far beyond party politics because the triumph went not only to the Democrats. People could feel their own political power. Whether or not Obama lives up to his campaign promises and our highest expectations remains to be seen; yet, the real victory here is the empowerment of the grassroots to accomplish a major political mission. Hopefully, the next eight years brings the political utopian equivalent of unicorns and demons sharing the last slice of birthday cake under a shimmering rainbow. But if it doesn’t, we now have a road map for organizing that doesn’t just look like another weekend march with placards and puppets in the financial district of a major metropolis. On the contrary, the mobilization around Obama was widespread, sustained, contextual, and media-savvy. It utilized multiple outreach strategies, creative tactics, and a model of fundraising that accumulated millions of small donations into a mega-fund for manifesting a collective vision. And now that we see what we can accomplish, there’s no reason why we should stop there. The show must go on – locally, nationally, globally. Or else we may find ourselves sitting once again in a dark theater awaiting the resurrection of our political nightmares.

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TRIGGER HIPPIES AND TRIMMER GIRLS: Life on a Humboldt cannabis farm during harvest season

illustration by Arik Roper

What can I tell you about going to work on a weed farm that the Grower, The Trimmers and The Landowner won’t kill me for? Soft criminals are especially tense about getting put in cages by men with guns….


A very special edition of Dave Reeves’ “Do The Math” column in Arthur 32/December 2008. Illustration by Arik Roper. Photos by Daniel Chamberlin.


In 1996 Californians passed a Proposition called 215 that allowed a citizen to go to a doctor to get certified as demented enough that a federally banned vegetable substance known as a “Joint” is the only remedy. The Doctor gets a hundred dollars. The Citizen gets a number, a little patch, and if things go a certain way during the Bush Obama changeover, a free ride to a Special Federal Camp.

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WINNERS: John Adamian reviews Holy Modal Rounders doc dvd

Winners
Lunatic folk-poet pranksters The Holy Modal Rounders get their own documentary

Bound to Lose…The Holy Modal Rounders dvd
directed by Sam Wainwright Douglas and Paul C. Lovelace
boundtolose.com

Reviewed by John Adamian

originally published in Arthur No. 32 (Dec 2008)

It’s hard to imagine a music scene more in a need of subversive humor, half-crazed irreverence, and a swift attitudinal kick in the ass than New York’s folk scene in the early 1960s. The folkies in the Lower East Side circa 1963 called out desperately for jesters to deflate their over-serious pieties and do-good earnestness. But when Peter Stampfel and Steve Weber, a pair of hard-partying absurdist folk poet-pranksters, gave the scene just what it needed in the form of the first Holy Modal Rounders record, the effort was met with puzzlement or offended condescension by the established order. As music critic Robert Christgau says early on in Bound to Lose—a loving, engaging and sometimes painful documentary about the group —the Holy Modal Rounders were folk geniuses on the order of Bob Dylan, because they had internalized the founding documents of the movement, most notably Harry Smith’s Anthology of American Folk Music, and they’d approached the business of making folk music with the zeal and experimentation of the abstract expressionist painters and beat poets who partied at the same bars.

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AMERICAN BEAUTIES: Eddie Dean on the downhome country music festival photography of Leon Kagarise (Arthur, 2008)

From Arthur Magazine No. 32 (Dec 2008)…

American Beauties

Leon Kagarise was a teetotaling amateur photographer who captured the bucolic vibes of the now-forgotten country music festivals that flourished along the Mason-Dixon line in the ’50s and ’60s. Award-winning journalist Eddie Dean tells Leon’s story and shares some of his extraordinary photographs in this expanded excerpt from the new book, Pure Country

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Nance Klehm on Bacteria, Digestion and Old-Time Kitchen Folk Magic (Arthur, 2008)

“WEEDEATER” column
by Nance Klehm

illustration by Megan McGinley
from Arthur Magazine No. 32 (Dec 2008)

Breaking It Down: Bacteria, Digestion and Old-Time Kitchen Folk Magic

There are three fundamentals that guide this time of descent into northern-hemisphere darkness. The winter season is one of decline and decomposition, activity below ground and general shadowiness. The fundamentals that guide us are:

Everything comes into this world hungry.
Everything wants to be digested.
Everything flows towards soil.

Everything comes into this world hungry.
Bacteria are the living structure assisting all life forms including ourselves. They are the primary alchemists transforming structures of life into other structures. Bacteria shall from hereon be known as ‘beasties.’

All matter is constantly, biochemically altering as enzymes already present in an organism break down from within, and microorganisms, namely beasties (but sometimes fungi too) settle in to eat and excrete, transforming a pear on your counter, a pile of leaves on the sidewalk, or an animal corpse into a lovely pile of biological goo or soil on the spot where the pear/leaves/corpse formerly rested. It is the end of the line in one way, but the beginning of another too. In other words, the snake eats her own tail. It’s nature’s nature.

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Ian Nagoski on American labels and blogs who are finding and sharing good music from all over the world (Arthur, 2008)

PEARL DIVING
Notes on a Few Americans Finding Musical Jewels in International Waters

by Ian Nagoski

from Arthur Magazine No. 32 (Dec 2008)

Record players are altars. The listener first goes through a repertoire of ritual gestures, removing the black spiral-inscribed disc from the sleeve, holding it by the edge and label and placing its center through the spindle before lifting the tone arm and placing it at the edge of the spinning disc. The air in the room begins to move, and the memory held by the disc of a performance by some living, breathing person is reiterated, separated from its image and corporeality in an angelically invisible space. Some part of the listener enters into that space and goes into communion with the unseen force of the sound.

It is magical and mysterious stuff, this impulse for sound-play that is universal among human beings through all times and places on earth.

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“SLOW DOWN”: Erik Davis’s “The Analog Life” column (Arthur, 2008)

Originally published in Arthur Magazine No. 32 (Dec 2008)

“The Analog Life”
by Erik Davis

Illustration by P.D. Hidalgo


SLOW DOWN


Is it really so horrible to imagine the planet down-shifting for once?

You can hardly blame anyone for feeling the fear and panic that helped drive October’s near financial meltdown. Scanning the headlines or the newsfeeds, our eyes greeted a steady pulse of bummer lingo. “Global Recession.” “Great Depression.” “Financial Collapse.” Serious words for serious times. But there was another phrase I kept stumbling across, less apocalyptic certainly but still delivered with a grim fatalism, that struck me differently. The economy, we were warned, was showing signs of a significant slowdown.

Slowdown? I don’t know about you, but I could use a bit of a slowdown right about now. Take things easy, not run around so much, maybe poke around the garden and restring that guitar. Hold a neighborhood potluck, learn emergency response, can some tomatoes. I haven’t finished rebuilding the office, and haven’t even cracked The Man Without Qualities.

OK, I am being a little facetious. After all, “slowdown” describes the debilitating stuttering of capitalism’s endless Big Bang-like expansion, an enormously powerful wave of transformation that in some manner or another floats almost all of our boats. If this immense flow of nested feedback loops, production networks, and capital flows starts to slow, then things don’t just mellow out. They start to fall apart, like a Chinese acrobat—scratch that, American acrobat—whose spinning plates lose their momentum and inevitably fall to the floor even as the poor fellow keeps his balance. That means families get pushed into poverty, small businesses close, poor folks grow desperate and rich folks even more selfish and mean.

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Byron Coley and Thurston Moore's "Bull Tongue" column from Arthur No. 32 (Dec 08)

BULL TONGUE
by Byron Coley and Thurston Moore
from Arthur No. 32 (Dec 2008)

Of all the fucked up, nasty ass, deliriously damaged rock bands in the recent history of the American underground wonderland (particularly Texas), none come close to the squirm and hellacious sqwunk of Rusted Shut. From the incinerated skum of Houston weirdness improv outfit Grinding Teeth arose Rusted Shut in 1986. Their shows were a notorious mess, drunken and fueled by cheap-jack acid. After years of slovenly survival they’ve been somewhat rescued from universal distaste by the current noise legions. The Emperor Jones label released the Rehab CD in 2003 and AA Records did a sick lathe (“Bring Out Your Dead”) last year and their notorious “Fuckin’” track off the 2006 End Times Festival live comp is still the only loop that matters (check their myspace page for that one). It was with some apprehension of being held up by knife point that we unzipped their new Hot Sex EP (Dull Knife). But goddamn if this is not a great goddamned beast of a record. The core duo of Don Walsh and Sybil Chance (the original still alive members of Grinding Teeth) and Domokos (on drums and ‘earthscreamer’) just lay it out in an unctious smear of rawk n roll decimating any obvious pretence of hardcore, black metal, death metal, sludge, punk, avant improv goop etc.—shit is the REAL amerika full on. Salute and die.

Nigel Cross’s British label, Shagrat, only releases extraordinary material. He doesn’t bother with anything else. That means it’s always a label to watch and their newsy release, the Mariachi Riff Live and Free Music LP by Formerly Fat Harry, is a case in point. FFH were an ostensible Country Joe offshoot band, based in England, who recorded a lone laid-back, country-fried album for UK Harvest. It never struck us as wildly interesting, but Brits who saw the band live were always blowing spit-bubbles about how psychedelic they were. Some of that material finally surfaced on the Hux CD, Goodbye for Good, but this LP has the essential jewel—a 25-minute West Coast jam pinnacle that can match any ballroom band for sheer acid flash. An amazing record! The flip has two free-form pieces the band recorded earlier and they too are mind-blowers. If this material had surfaced while the band was still extant, they’d be legendary. As it was, they were so arcane only a few true believers like Pete Frame, Colin Hill (who wrote the fantastic liner notes) and Nigel had any idea that there even was a grail to seek. Easily the best archival find of the year, and an incredible record by any standard.

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