T-Model Knows Better: an advice column by life coach/musician T-Model Ford (Arthur, November 2003)

Originally published in Arthur No. 7 (Nov. 2003)

T-Model Ford says a lot. He says he’s 79 years old. He says he’s “the Boss of the Blues! The Taildragger! From Greenvillllllllle….Mississippi!“ He says he doesn’t need his cane anymore. And he says he can help us. So, every two months, an Arthur staffer calls T-Model and asks him about certain topics of the day. T-Model gives his answers over the phone, then we transcribe the conversation, with some help from Bruce Watson at Fat Possum, the Oxford, Mississippi record label that releases T-Model’s amazing albums. If you have any non-math questions for T-Model, and we suspect that you do, email them to editorial@arthurmag.com

Public school or private school? What about home schooling? Are the schools good enough for the kids these days?

Well, regular schools is good enough for ‘em. I wouldn’t put ’em in no private school. Nuh unh. It cause a whole lot of problems. But just regular school, that’d be the best, cuz it give ‘em a whole chance to meet one another and get trained with one another, get used to one another. You put ‘em in a private school, then when they get up a little higher, they don’t wanna act right. 

You take me, I never been to school a day in my life. I ain’t never been to school. I had a mean daddy, he didn’t let me go to school. He started me to plowin’ a mule when I got to six years old. And I worked all of my life since then up until say somewhere about 10 years ago. I fell and hurt myself, knocked my hip out of place on a job I was workin’ for Greenville Head & Block… I didn’t tell nobody and I just kept on workin’. Finally though it overtook me. 

You wanted to go to school?

He wouldn’t let me go to school. I had to do what he said to do or else get a beating. After he was so tough and mean to me, I just forgot about going to school. I didn’t think I’d ever learn anything, not in school. But he did learn me how to work and provide for myself. He learnt me that! But as far as readin’ and writin’, I can’t do it. 

You’ve done pretty good for someone who didn’t go to school, don’t you think?

I don’t know. I can’t tell that cuz I never had a chance to read or be in nothin’ in the schools, or be around children going to school, so… I don’t know what I lost. But I lost something. So far, as far as I done, as old as I done got, I know a heap but I just can’t read and write. 

Why wouldn’t you put a child in a private school?

Well when you get where you wouldn’t be around to carry them to private school, or for them to be in school…? I just think, really, the public school—he can go with anybody. He can visit anybody. With that private school, he can’t be with everybody cuz he don’t know if his parents are gonna have a ride for him to go, or if he’ll be where he can catch the bus to go. And he gon’ miss some. And he ain’t gonna get all what he needs to get. 

What about these people who want to teach reading and writing themselves? Teach their kids at home?

Welllllll… I was at home but I didn’t have anybody teach me nothin’! So, it’s pretty hard for me to say about that, cuz’n I don’t know.

Okay. Here’s the other question. A lot of our readers are pretty unhappy with living in the United States. They don’t like the politics. The economy is bad. It’s hard to find a job. Some of them are thinking about leaving. Where should they go? If you had to live somewhere besides the United States, where would you live?

Well, I would like Switzerland. And I would like France. Over there it look like the people are more friendly to one another than they do here. They’re not friendly [here]. It’s done got really rough. Peoples live here, they’re not friendly with one another. I don’t know what’s the causin’ of it, but they really ain’t friendly. All they know is go to somebody’s house and talk about somebody, low-rate somebody, mis-use people’s who try to help you. You don’t want that! They wanna do’s it… You helping them, they wanna be against you, do you wrong and all like that. You’ve got to have a heart to stand up to all to that kind of mess. Now I’ve got a heart to stand up and…. They do me like they wanna! And I still try to help ‘em. I’m in a situation right now, I help the woman I’ve been with six years, and it’s the other way now. They’s stealing from one another… It’s rough. 

But it seems different in Switzerland and France, they treat each other different?

There, everybody’s happy. As far as I can see, they friendly, they stick together. But here they don’t. Yeah, if I was gonna go somewhere to stay as long as I live, I’d go to either one of them places…or I would go to Sweden. 

MAKING GHOSTS WALK IN PUBLIC: the role of Brion Gysin’s Dream Machine in the consciousness exploration of the ’60s, by John Geiger (Arthur, 2003)

Making Ghosts Walk In Public

Explained: the role of the legendary stroboscopic Dream Machine in the consciousness exploration of the ‘60s. 

by John Geiger

Excerpted from: Chapel of Extreme Experience: A Short History of Stroboscopic Light, Flicker and the Dream Machine. Copyright © 2003 John Geiger. Published by Soft Skull Press. Reproduced by arrangement with the publisher. All rights reserved.  This excerpt published in Arthur No. 7 (Nov., 2003)

On December 21, 1958 Brion Gysin, a painter and writer, and at the time a resident of Beat Hotel in Paris, momentarily and unexpectedly entered the place where, in Aldous Huxley’s words, “the visual merges with the visionary.” 

Gysin was traveling by bus from Paris to an artists’ colony on the Mediterranean. As the bus passed through a long avenue of trees Gysin, closing his eyes against the setting sun, encountered “a transcendental storm of color visions.” He recorded the experience in his journal: “An overwhelming flood of intensely bright patterns in supernatural colors exploded behind my eyelids: a multi-dimensional kaleidoscope whirling out through space. I was swept out of time.” The phenomenon ended abruptly as the bus left the trees. “Was that a vision? What happened to me?” asked Gysin. The flicker experience recalled the first films he had seen as a child in Alberta in the 1920s, films using the often explosive silver halide base which gave a “magic light to the film, a flickering shimmer cut stroboscopically by the frames of each image.” Gysin immediately wrote William S. Burroughs, a close artistic collaborator, with an account of his fall out of rational space. Burroughs replied portentiously: “We must storm the citadels of enlightenment. The means are at hand.” The means, Gysin determined, would be to develop a machine to harness the visionary potential of flicker, a device that would make illusory experience available at the flick of a switch: a Dream Machine.

Once he understood the scientific explanation for his random encounter with flicker (an explanation provided in physiologist W. Grey Walter’s 1953 book The Living Brain), Gysin determined to find a way to mechanically reproduce the effect in a manner that could be mass produced. He saw in flicker the potential for human advancement. Gysin discussed it with Ian Sommerville, a mathematics student at Cambridge University and young boyhood friend of Burroughs’. Somerville had a genius for electrical improvisation, and indeed had a unique relationship with the electrical current: his thin blonde hair often stood up as if a charge ran through it, he was not fond of water and found rain oddly menacing. Gysin wanted to find a way, he said, to “make the ghosts walk in public.” 

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Reviews by C and D (Arthur No. 7/Nov. 2003)

Originally published in Arthur No. 7 (Nov. 2003)


The Hidden Hand
Divine Propaganda
(Meteor City)
C: This is Wino’s new band…
D: From St. Vitus! And the mighty Spirit Caravan!
C: This is prime Wino. Very focused. Full-on Sabbath power trio. Political eco-stoner stuff. “I feel the sky cracking/I feel the ice melting/I feel the world dying.”
D: Track 8 is an unstoppable beast!
C: “The Hidden Hand [theme].” Yeah, this is solid shit. Kinda conspiracy-minded. I mean, just look at the name of the band—
D: As we said in the days of old, these guys can carpet a good chair!
C: He put a suggested reading list in the CD tray, you don‘t see that too often with metalish bands. Edmund O. Wilson, The Future of Life… Greg Palast, The Best Democracy Money Can Buy… Wait a sec. David Icke?!?
D: Who is this guy?
C: That’s the British dude who sez that the world’s political and economic leaders are not humans, they’re actually reptiles from outer space working in a conspiracy together. Very V. I think he’s saying that 9/11 and its consequences were predicted in the pages of Alice in Wonderland. Obviously he’s onto something.
D: ?
C: I’m joking. But I wonder if Wino is in on the Icke joke. Seems like he’s taking it seriously…?
D: Wino is the best. But he looks totally different with a beard. I don’t know if I approve.

The Raveonettes
Chain Gang of Love
D: Is this the new Jesus and Mary Chain album?
C: No, it’s this Swedish band called the Raveonettes.
D: Why don’t they just call themselves the Raveisionists?
C: Who do you think you would win in a rumble between these guys and the Black Rebel Motorcycle Club?
D: Agh! I hate those Black Rebel guys! So boring live.
C: Their second album is terrible. I think it could be the end of the road for them. But who cares. The Raveonettes have a six-foot chick singer, I think she could take them out.
D: Swedish precision! There’s a Spector back beat jangle here.
C: Melodies and distortion, it always sounds good. You gotta cop to it, there’s some good stuff on here.
D: Yes, this song [“That Great Love Sound”] is good. But it’s nothing that will make you spill your ice cream on the floor.
C: …?

D: Incredible. Who is this?
C: Ween.
D: Each song? No, it can’t be. They are all so different
C: Yes. That’s what they do! I’ve been trying to get you to listen to them for years—
D: Every song is a population of musical influences of the last 20 years. It all sounds familiar but beautifully deranged. You don’t know where the sound comes from, it’s written down in the backpages of your brain and heart but you can’t locate it.
C: This song “Zoloft” is fantastic.
D: Zoloft—that’s some good stuff there. The doctor’s medicine is working. I’m seeing different colors in a different way. Yellow even is starting to look good.
C: Listen to this one [“Transdermal Celebration”]: it’s like an Oasis song except it’s really good.
D: None of those Anglo-Saxons can rock like Americans! [Listening to “So Many People In the Nieghborhood”] These guys are like the Residents, some of this stuff. But it’s also very melancholic. This song [“Among His Tribe”] cuts straight to the bone.
C: This one “Captain” is my favorite. Very Pink Floyd. Listen to those drums. He’s stuck on a spaceship and they WON’T GO BACK!
D: “Tried and True”—this is middle American melancholy. Another weightless psychedelic Byrds song. Record store clerks rejoice. They’re the best. They’re too good for me. It’s like Ian Curtis said, I looked behind the doors of time, there was nothing there to see.
C: ???
D: [still listening to “Tried and True”] …Is that a sitar?!? No.
C: Yes it is.
D: It cannot be.
C: They’re putting the India in Indiana.
D: Ween are a jukebox. One way not to disappear up your own ass is to disappear up others’.
C: Right… I guess that’s one way of looking at it.

Terry Hall & Mushtaq
The Hour of Two Lights
C: This should be the soundtrack for that hookah place on Sunset’s sound system.
D: Yes! Exactly!
C: It’s the Specials guy. They sound like melancholy gypsies.
D: Dignified, beautiful.
C: Class, yeah? Two cultures, maybe three.
D: I like it! Let me look at the box.
C: It’s like a new kind of traditional music.
D: Yes… [thoughtful] Can we order some Indian food now?

Brant Bjork
Keep Your Cool
(Duna Records)
C: Brant Bjork from Kyuss and Fu Manchu and Mondo Generator’s new record.
D: Is that him singing?
C: [Nods ‘Yes.’] He’s playing all of the instruments too.
D: [Thumbs up.] Vintage ‘70s rock! And Thin Lizzy too! Wow. The reggae bass on “Searchin’”… scary. Reminds me of David Bowie. Or Blondie.
C: This is kinda Foghat, yeah? Plus the Cars… Here he is in falsetto… “Sister’s got the inside infoooooh!” He should do that more. Michael Jackson, almost. Very cool. This is really good, such a good feel, laidback. Compare this to that new Nebula album, ech. This is the good shit here.
D: I always liked him, Brant Bjork! Thanks for the Red Sun, Mr. Bjork.
C: Check this out: dude is putting the album out only on 12-inch vinyl. No CDs!

United We Doth
C: Bad Ween.
D: Sick.
C: I dunno, dude.
D: I love it. How did they get Snoop Dogg for this?
C: I think one of the PFFR guys is a South Park guy or something, that’s the word on the street. I don’t what street that is, but whatever, there you go. This sound like bad acid trip music. Very bad acid trip.
D: I love it.

The Rapture
D: I know this. This is the Moving Units.
C: No, this is the Rapture.
D: They do the same thing.
C: Yeah, well… The Rapture have been going for a while longer, but yep it’s the same influences… Gotta say this is kinda disappointing. That one single on here from two years ago [“House of Jealous Lovers”] is cool but after a while…
D: It’s good but COMPLETELY unoriginal. Birthday Party. Pop Group. Gang of Four. They love that music.

Erase Errata
At Crystal Palace
(Troubleman Unlimited)
D: Same thing! I’m already sick of this. All of these people love the Pop Group. They love this music to DEATH.
C: It does seem pretty little limited on record. But you gotta admit it’s well done. This reminds me a whole lot of that amazing band Lilliput, you remember them? From Switzerland. Some of this stuff seems almost directly ripped. Well maybe they’ll get more interesting on the next record…
D: Lilliput, call your Swiss lawyers!!!

Pretty Girls Make Graves
The New Romance
D: (sighs) More of this stuff? Everybody likes the Pop Group. They like them too much.
C: I dunno, I think this is pretty good. I’d be curious to hear the next record, to see where they go.
D: Whatever. Can we listen to the new Kraftwerk again?

High Llamas
Beet, Maize & Corn
(Drag City)
C: [singing] “Orange crate art/is where it starts.” Oh wait, wrong album. This is pretty shameless Brian Wilson/Van Dyke Parks, sheesh.
D: Take it off the CD player now.
C: All arrangement, no hooks… Beach Boys without harmonies or melodies–what’s the point? Nice wallpaper stuff, though. I think he could do good soundtrack music. Maybe with Alison Anders, this is her type of shit.
D: This guy should move to Nashville or go back in time to the Brill Building. ENOUGH! Turn it off NOW or I’m leaving.

Festival in the Desert
(World Village/Triban Union/Harmonia Mundi)
C: This is my favorite album out of the whole bunch.
D: This is Malian stuff, right?
C: Yes. This whole CD was recorded live at this festival in the desert, as you might’ve gathered from the title. Pretty amazing stuff.
D: [Listening to “Buri Baalal” by Afel Bocoum] So beautiful. Listen to how the women sing!
C: Yeah, see? This music has everything: melodies, chants…incredible rhythms… all those stringed instruments, I don’t even know what they are. Guitars, I guess.
D: Beautiful.
C: They’re doing a DVD of this, that should be amazing. Sand and candles and this music: what a setting. Tinariwen are on here, they’re amazing.
D: Those are the guys who sound like Junior Kimbrough right?
C: Exactly—the electric guitars are just like his, but I bet they never heard each other’s music. Makes you wonder how far back Junior’s music really goes… Ali Farke Toure’s on here too. And this Native American rock group Blackfire, they have this old guy singing all through it. The Robert Plant song is great.
D: [Listening to Tartit’s “Tihar Bayatin”] So hypnotic… This is the deep stuff, man. The deepest stuff. I’m serious.

House of Low Culture
Edward’s Lament
D: Dark night music.
C: Yeah, this is really good stuff. Desolate. Subtitled “An Account of Salvation and Redemption in 9 Movements.” So there you go.
D: No moon!
C: Just an electric hum.
D: And vampires!
C: It is pretty spooky. This first track reminds me a lot of Thomas Koner, in a bat sanctuary. The second reminds me of Begotten…
D: So good, so good.
C: This third, with the guitar? Very Gira. Also reminds me of that one vampire film, actually. The Addiction? The Abel Ferrara one. This whole album is soooo evocative. Dark, trippy, but not silly—there’s no stupid trance beats.
D: You better get the candles ready!
C: File next to Coil. I’m definitely gonna be spending some late winter nights listening to this…
D: Do you know that artist Ernst Ffolks? His sense of apocalypse I identified with totally. I have incredible books at my house.

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PERFECT SOUND FOREVER: Kevin Shields of My Bloody Valentine, interviewed by Hua Hsu (Arthur, 2003)

Originally published in Arthur No. 7 (Nov. 2003)

Perfect Sound Forever
My Bloody Valentine’s fluff-on-the-needle sound changed rock music forever. Then they disappeared. Ten years later, MBV’s Kevin Shields explains almost everything.
by Hua Hsu

The story is not uncommon: someone—too old to have done so accidentally, too young to have known any better—creates something truly great but panics at the burden of what that greatness means. As singer, guitarist and producer for My Bloody Valentine, Kevin Shields was instrumental in defining the sound of a generation. Breathy vocal washes clashed with brittle walls of noise on the band’s two classic albums, Isn’t Anything (1988) and Loveless (1991), and though MBV’s dense, otherworldly sound was described as “dreampop” or “shoegazer,” it was always meant to conjure up much more imaginative spaces. “When you hear something and you don’t know where it’s beginning or ending, suddenly your imagination is fifty percent of what’s happening,” Shields explains. “The person listening is playing a huge role in what they’re perceiving, cause they’re allowing that part of their mind to be open.”

Saddled with the enormous expectations that Loveless brought, the shy, nerdish Shields seemed to dissolve into thin air. Was he apprehended by his own legendary perfectionism, sitting alone behind a console of knobs and sounds, striving for something unimaginably pure and beautiful? Had he soured from music altogether, or were the rumors about his drum-n-bass obsession true? Or, had he lost himself in the logical end of his hyper-inward music and found retreat in his own mind? The rare moments he would appear as an onstage guest or as a remixer only added to his disheveled legend.

In 1997, Shields joined bratty Scottish rockers Primal Scream and though he still remained reclusive, he at least seemed alive and well. This year, Shields contributed several new tracks to the soundtrack of Sofia Coppola’s Lost in Translation and he’s in the midst of remastering and re-releasing two discs of My Bloody Valentine rarities. Disarmingly charming, Shields sat down with Arthur and a plate of fries to talk about all of it.

Arthur: Can you describe your childhood?
Kevin Shields: I was born in New York, in Queens. I grew up in Long Island (until I was ten) in this place called Commack, your typical suburb-y kind of whatever, and I went to this horrible school called Christ the King—an absolute nightmare, I’m still suffering the scars from that! Then we moved to Ireland—my parents were from there originally. They had immigrated when they were young, they were teenagers (and) they just wanted to come to America. Then they wound up with five kids in the early ’70s and they decided to go back to Ireland.

Were your folks pretty Americanized at that point?
My dad became an American citizen, he was quite Americanized because he’d spent thirteen years or something here. He spent his whole young adult life in America. I lived here ‘til I was ten, so I had the same upbringing as any American. You see the same TV shows and Godzilla movies and read Eerie and Creepy and worry about evil kids with B.B. guns.

Was there culture shock when you got to Ireland?
Mmm, yeah. That was in 1973 and America was truly about 20 years ahead of the rest of the world. In some ways, Europe had things that were more…like they had the glam rock movement. I remember that summer here (in America) it was Three Dog Night—they were the big popular bands with the kids…at school it was that or people were into Led Zeppelin or whatever. Then we got to England and it was Wizard and Slade and Sweet and all these guys in makeup. That was quite radical, that was a huge inspiration to me. In the first few weeks of being in the country, I was already obsessed with pop music. I was always into music—even in America we had our own little fake band, playing cushions and miming.

What inspired you about glam? The theatrics?
There was a whole style of producing that music that was really quite otherworldly at the time. They all used the double-tracking vocal effect and big slap-back on the drums and everything was slightly mutated-sounding. It was all very John Lennon-ized, nearly all the glam records had that double-tracked effect. Suzi Quatro had this song called “Cat on the Can” or something and there were bits where she was screaming with the double-tracked vocals and I remember as a kid believing that she was really doing that with her voice and just thinking, “These people are amazing!” and my brother going, “No it’s all studio trickery” and I was just going, “No it’s not, it’s all real they’re really doing it!”

And so you started playing music around this time?
I started playing guitar when I was 16. I was asked specifically to play guitar to be in this punk band. I hadn’t really thought about guitar so much; I was thinking of bass the summer before. I was basically told, “If you get a guitar you can join the band.” So I got a guitar for Christmas and joined the band. We did our first gig six months later doing Sex Pistols, Ramones, Motorhead…those kinds of songs. That band broke up by the end of that year and we were in this classic post-punky Joy Division-kind-of…actually quite like The Rapture. Weirdly enough, our ‘81 band was insanely similar [giggles] ‘cause that was the thing that was going on then, everyone playing sorta-funky bass, play the guitar with an echo unit—but use the echo unit in a percussive way—and you’ve got this singer who does this thing over the top… that was what was going on then. I spent all of that ‘81-‘82 period being in that world somewhere between Joy Division and…not Gang of Four, I wasn’t really that into them myself. And then from there we just went to doing this Birthday Party/Cramps thing in 1983. Einsturzende Neubauten were a big influence. I got a (Tascam) Portastudio and the first My Bloody Valentine was based around the Portastudio, making tapes at home and then playing them and then jamming over the top of them live.

So you would jam over your own rhythm tracks?
Not drums….we would just have drone-y sounds, weird sounds. Colm [O’Ciosoig, who is still in the band] would drum and I’d play guitar and Dave [Conway, who is not] would sing.

In The Story of Creation, the video about Creation Records [see Endnote 1] that came about ten years ago, Alan McGee jokes about seeing My Bloody Valentine for the first time in the mid-1980s and describing you as a “crap anorak band”—is this the period he was referencing?
Oh, that came a bit later. That came in ‘86. We moved from the Cramps to…I discovered the Byrds and a lot of the British bands that were into that light sort of thing. But all of them, whenever they would play live, it was always quite tough. It wasn’t quite that Talulah Gosh…what do you call it?

“C-86”? [2]
Yes, it was like a real twee thing came out. But around ‘85 and early-‘86 in London…I went to see Primal Scream and they were in their very Byrds-y kind of…but really loud and very aggressive version of it. Not noisy, but hard. Not angry, but a fuck-you attitude. That was kind of cool. Then we went through our shit anorak/indie phase. All our lyrics and live gigs at the time were always quite intense. We had a concept—we used to pick very harsh frequencies on the guitar and make them really loud and people would be like “Oooh,” but we had these haircuts and sparkly tops. It was too conceptual, basically, which is why it was kinda not very good. It wasn’t until Dave left that we relaxed a bit and stopped being so conceptual. We were still crap for another six months but then we suddenly got good. We just dropped the concepts and did music in a more generalized way.

Do you remember the moment when you finally thought you were good? Did you suddenly just think, “Wow, we’re good!”
Yeah. Literally yeah! [Smiles] It was literally one moment to the next. We were touring and Alan McGee had seen us the year before and didn’t really like us and then he saw us again and was really surprised at how we’d changed. He was like, “Would you guys be interested in making a record?” He gave us four or five days studio time, we recorded five tracks, mixed them and just went “Shit. This is good, actually, for a change!” We realized something. It was good because we were letting ourselves be more Sonic Youth-y, more of our influences in a way. And somehow out of that came an original quality. And I think it was just the relaxing quality of it.

Which five songs were these?
You Made Me Realise (originally issued in 1988 on Creation). That was the EP we made after doing the gig with Biff Bang Pow! [3]

You once said “Johnny Ramone’s playing on ‘Leave Home’ is somewhere between stupid and genius. Johnny Ramone was the first guitarist who blew me away—he showed me that maybe I could do something with the guitar…After getting into the Ramones, my attitude became one of using that guitar as simply a noise generator. I didn’t have any ambition to learn the guitar; I just wanted to generate noise like he did.”
Oh that “stupid/genius” thing! I’m so embarrassed by that… But yeah, the Ramones for me were THE revelation. I was into punk but in Britain punk wasn’t such a huge leap…even though it was invented in New York it couldn’t be absorbed culturally in the ‘70s in America. Whereas in Britain—since we’d had all the glam rock bands, which in a way was kind of punky—the punk bands were immediately on TV. The Buzzcocks were always on TV, every band you would read about you would see on TV every week. Punk rock was a mainstream event from the very beginning. It wasn’t an underground thing, even though if you were a punk rock kid you would risk being beaten up, but as a musical thing it was quite mainstream…So I was into all that but then I saw a video for two Ramones songs. And suddenly I understood. This was in 1978. Suddenly I realized he wasn’t playing guitar—he was generating the sound. He was doing what he had to do to make that, but there was no “playing guitar” involved. My ultimate hated image was the ‘70s rock guy just whittling away [strikes pose of consternated guitarist tapping fingerboard] with his too-tight trousers.

So the noise generator—did it influence how you practiced?
I actually consciously didn’t want to learn how to play anything other than the two basic bar chords, so I just learned the two positions Johnny Ramone used and that was it. I absolutely didn’t want to become a guitarist in the traditional sense. In ‘81 this bass player came on the scene and he was basically playing funky, strange bass-lines…melodically it was impossible to play a chord with it. So suddenly I couldn’t play. So I would find a note and then another note and I played a very fractured style. And then I did these percussive things and I suppose that’s when I left that attitude of generating a noise, and I only really came back to it around the time of the Isn’t Anything period because the way I played the tremolo arm…it only sounds good if you have quite a clear track. If you have a lot of overdubs it actually doesn’t sound good, so you can only do it with one main, good sound, and it has to be really loud to hear properly. So I came back to that stage of cranking sound like this. [Pretends to strum while gripping the tremolo arm]. As opposed to playing guitar I was just cranking the sound. And that’s what happened—that’s the Ramones connection. What I did that was any good in the end came from the mentality that Johnny wasn’t playing guitar. Even though now I’ve learned that he was playing a lot more than I thought.

You also said something in that video where you describe My Bloody Valentine as having this “fluff on the needle” sound where things are a bit dulled rather than bright. You described it as music you had to look into, as opposed to coming out at you. [4]
Well yeah. In the ‘80s the production values got to the point where every record was basically: really loud snare drum with a lot of reverb on it, the guitars were clear and separated. It was kind of…it was…your imagination didn’t play a big role in what you were hearing. When you hear something and you don’t know where it’s beginning or ending, suddenly your imagination is 50 percent of what’s happening. So the person listening is playing a huge role in what they’re perceiving, cause they’re allowing that part of their mind to be open. But if you give something to somebody in a way that says this is where it begins and this is where it ends, people go, “Okay, now what?” Whereas, if you don’t say anything people start to think…it’s like if you were to see the brain in a brain scan, it’s moving differently. So by blurring the edges—or not trying to make them clear, cause people go through an awful lot of effort to make that really clear sound—basically it just made the person listening to the music half the experience. I think what the ‘80s were about was killing that. What we were doing was reintroducing it. I think that mentality was very popular in the ‘60s—Phil Spector’s approach, a lot of the Stones’ records were quite grungy, a lot of the Beatles stuff…all the best popular music of that era, there was a lot of depth to it. It just disappeared into this horrible flat…bass exists here, snare drum is here, bass drum is very clicky there. It was, I suppose, a really right-wing way of making music in a way. It was very, this is right and that is wrong.

Do you keep tabs on My Bloody Valentine’s legacy?
I think the main thing is, in Britain and Europe because of dance music, a lot of things we did got discovered by themselves. People in the dance world discovered the pitch wheel and learned how to use it. There’s millions of dance records that, if they came out in ‘92 or ‘93, people would say they just ripped us off. And now people know they’re not ripping us off, it’s just that people have discovered the pitch wheel and they’re experimenting with it. There’s this great hit by Royksopp and it’s all “byuuuu” [makes high-pitched drop sound], it’s all twisted and melted. But it’s not from us, you know? It’s just because it had to get discovered—that’s human nature to go, “What does this do?” and then do it to every possible thing.

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“Charles Bronson, Dark Buddha” by Joe Carducci (Arthur, 2003)

Originally published in Arthur No. 7 (November 2003). Adapted from the forthcoming book, Stone Male – Requiem for a Style.

Charles Bronson, Dark Buddha
by Joe Carducci

Charles Buchinsky was following his brothers and father down the coalmine when WWII drafted him out from under the company town of Ehrenfeld, Pennsylvania. After the war he drifted and found pickup work to avoid getting locked down into the life of his family, and to protect and pursue his interest in painting. A job painting sets for a theater led to acting and marriage to actress Harriet Tendler. By 1949 he’d done bit parts on New York stages, and they moved to L.A. where he trained at the Pasadena Playhouse, which led to his first bit part in a Gary Cooper film, You’re in the Navy Now (1951).

Buchinsky (often Buchinski), with his stocky ‘30s action-style body and toughguy face, was first just another uglyman character actor—not as mean as Neville Brand, not as nice as Ernest Borgnine. American film audiences after the war were no longer obsessed with pretty boy leads, but it was older actors who took advantage of this new appetite for realism—Robert Taylor, James Stewart, Gary Cooper, Henry Fonda—many of whom in fact had been those slim, unmarked romantic leads of twenty years earlier. Others who got the interesting B film leads were actors like Aldo Ray, Rod Steiger, Broderick Crawford; Buchinsky coveted these roles. He changed his name to Bronson in 1954 to sound less suspicious during the Hollywood red scare—his parents were both Lithuanian.

He was in the Hollywood system though not as a contract player with a studio. Still, he was soon getting third or fourth billed roles in westerns such as Apache (1954), Drum Beat (1954), Jubal (1956), and Run of the Arrow (1957). But he was ambitious and remained frustrated. He took lead roles in three great 1958 B-films, Showdown at Boot Hill, Machine Gun Kelly and Gang War, did dozens of television one-off roles from 1953 to 1967, and starred in a cheapjack series, Man with a Camera (1958-60). 1960s A-films for Bronson meant playing in the action ensembles of Never So Few (1959), The Magnificent Seven (1960), The Great Escape (1963), and The Dirty Dozen (1967). It was progress, a career, but he’d expected more. Bronson was the eleventh of 15 children of immigrants; his father was dead of black lung disease by the time Charles was 12. Several of his siblings died young. Once out of Ehrenfeld he’d been taken for an immigrant himself and he worked hard to leave his accent and naiveté behind. (Bronson used this accent for the character Velinski in The Great Escape.)

He bounced from agent to agent, divorced his wife, fell in love with his best friend’s wife and found himself ready for lightning to strike. Bronson turned down a script from Italy called “The Magnificent Stranger.” Richard Harrison, an American actor who had found work and fame in Europe, was busy and told Sergio Leone about Clint Eastwood. The idea was to have an American star in a German financed, Italian directed western based on a Japanese film (Yojimbo) inspired by a Budd Boetticher/Randolph Scott western (Buchanan Rides Alone); it would be shot in Spain. Eastwood was younger, and had less to lose; he was looking forward to the end of the TV series Rawhide wherein he’d played a character he’s referred to as ‘trail flunky.’ Eastwood simply threw out his character’s and most of the others’ dialogue and as luck had it Leone had an eye for the rest; the film became A Fistful of Dollars (1964). Bronson then rejected For a Few Dollars More (1965) and that part went to Lee Van Cleef, a marginal heavy in lots of westerns through the ‘50s. Van Cleef became an overseas star too; he looked great but never threw out enough of his dialogue. Bronson would have done The Good, the Bad and the Ugly because by then he’d seen Fistful, but he was committed to The Dirty Dozen (1967).

Meanwhile, Bronson was getting his own international action. He had married the English actress Jill Ireland after she’d divorced actor David McCallum. (It was apparently all very civilized and will someday make a nice little TV movie.) McCallum, who was quite a pop star due to his role in The Man from U.N.C.L.E., had turned his agent Paul Kohner onto Bronson, and Ireland pushed him to France to do Adieu L’Ami (a.k.a., Farewell Friend, or Honor Among Thieves, 1968) and Rider on the Rain (1970). These arty messes were huge hits throughout Europe and Asia but are most interesting for being the first to really frame and linger on Bronson’s potential for violence in its cool, calm potential phase. Following such stillness with his natural aptitude with guns and fists became his formula. Bronson made ten films in five years for European production companies. And Leone finally got Bronson for Once Upon a Time in the West (1969) where he played opposite Henry Fonda.

After five years dominating the overseas box office, Bronson returned to Hollywood, though by now the studios were mere distributors of the productions of smaller, hipper companies—companies who knew the value of Charles Bronson. Dino De Laurentiis Productions signed him for three pictures at a million dollars each. The third of these was Death Wish, a film that became the zeitgeist’s skyrocket in the summer of 1974. And so, as the ‘60s youth culture crested and curdled in 1974, a deeply scarred 52-year-old immigrant’s son found himself the number one box office attraction in America, and the world.

Producer-director Michael Winner who worked with Bronson in this period said, “He had a chance when he could have broken through, and I know the pictures he didn’t do and it’s a pity.” But when the personal and professional pressures finally let up on Bronson, film had become to him merely a professional means to personal ends. He always knew his lines and hit his marks on the set. More often in Hollywood, actors were contemptuous of their craft and so drank or whored or subverted characterizations as written with a kind of performance striptease often hinting at closeted homosexuality. Bronson instead respected the work, but from hereon he considered himself a family man first, a painter second, and only then an actor. Bronson, the Dark Buddha, had reached his personal-professional goal or dharma and it earned him the following or sangha that further freed him.

He loved Jill Ireland; they were a Beauty and the Beast couple. She loved children as he did; more so perhaps for enduring repeated miscarriages to have them. His and her children from both previous marriages as well as their daughter were often together in the rural Vermont Bronson household and after Death Wish’s success Bronson and Ireland made films together. He gladly forced her on producers, and snubbed Hollywood by working primarily with Brit directors (Michael Winner, J. Lee Thompson, Peter Hunt). The best of these films are Chato’s Land (1971), Stone Killer (1973), Death Wish (1974), Death Hunt (1981) and maybe even Murphy’s Law (1986).

Three fortunate exceptions to this Brit preference are among the best films of Bronson in his prime: Mr. Majestyk (1974) directed by Hollywood veteran Richard Fleischer from a script by Elmore Leonard, Breakout (1975) directed by Tom Gries, and Hard Times (1975), Walter Hill’s directorial debut. Telefon (1977), though directed by Don Siegel and written by Stirling Silliphant, is less than it ought to be (see Siegel’s chapter on the film in his autobiography for details).

Late Bronson deteriorates but remains interesting. The Death Wish series (five in all; the last direct-to-video), 10 to Midnight (1983), The Evil That Men Do (1984), and Kinjite: Forbidden Subjects (1989) are lurid collisions of an aging puritan-avenger Bronson with some of the sleaziest settings any box office champ ever got near. Here the sexual neuroses and Fleet Street cynicism of the Brits and Bronson’s professional detachment yielded strikingly perverse films. Bronson’s Beauty was dying of cancer through these years and when she succumbed in 1990 his career changed as well. He did one last great support role (fifth billed and without hairpiece) in Sean Penn’s The Indian Runner (1991) and then moved to network television where he did some good wholesome work that was likely closer to his true taste: Yes Virginia, There Is a Santa Claus (1991), The Sea Wolf (1993), Donato and Daughter (1993), and the three Family of Cops films (1995, 1997, 1999).

Today, Bronson’s catalog has drifted off of the shelves of videostores with the phasing out of videotape, and interest hasn’t yet demanded restocking in the DVD format. A failed career then, one might say, but surely a successful life—a complete kalpa. In Hollywood the reverse is more often true, though it’s generally work from failed careers that endures. A Buchinsky autobiography is to be published.

Margin quotes:

“The star, to me, is not an actor. He doesn’t do a scene. An actor in that kind of role just wanders through the action. He doesn’t impose himself on the action.” —Bronson to Curtis Lee Hanson, Cinema, Vol. 3, No. 1, December 1965

“The most frustrating element is to try to protect the performance you know you gave, to get it up on the screen. This is the most difficult thing when you are a supporting actor, because the leading credits get all of the consideration…. You’ve got to work, you’ve got to live. I’m in a supporting category right now. The only solution is to get the hell out of this category, and prove that you can draw the box office as well as anybody else.” —Bronson to Curtis Lee Hanson, Cinema, Vol. 3, No. 1, December 1965

“Brando’s walking around dressed like a bum and telling how tough life is. How does he know? It was never tough for him. And it wasn’t tough for most of those ‘angry’ guys. What have any of them got to be ‘angry’ about?” —Bronson!, W.A. Harbinson, Pinnacle Books, New York

“It was the biggest ‘plug’ show in the history of television. The sponsor was a manufacturer of cameras and photography products. I was the hero, a news cameraman, but the director had to keep stopping the action to make sure the label on the equipment was visible. By the tenth week I realized I was playing second banana to a flashbulb. In the twentieth week, our flashbulb became obsolete when another company marketed one that could be used over and over again. So we got canceled after the twenty-sixth week.”—Bronson!, W.A. Harbinson, Pinnacle Books, New York

“Blacks Off Earth Now!” by Paul Cullum (Arthur, 2003)

Originally published in Arthur No. 7 (Nov. 2003)

Blacks Off Earth Now!
A “Camera Obscura” column by Paul Cullum

CAMERA OBSCURA is a regular column examining the world and its lesser trafficked tributaries, recesses and psychic fallout through the filters of film, video and DVD.

* * *

“A rat done bit my sister Nell with Whitey on the moon.
Her face and arms began to swell and Whitey’s on the moon.
I can’t pay no doctor bills, but Whitey’s on the moon.
Ten years from now I’ll be paying still, while Whitey’s on the moon.”
—Gil Scott-Heron

When William S. Burroughs completed his paranoid masterwork Naked Lunch in 1959, not even his closest friends—Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, Gregory Corso; born cheerleaders all, and no slouches in intuiting the teleology of social control—would have labeled it out-and-out prophecy. And yet a mere half-century later, we’re confronted with a totalitarian state that insatiably advances its influence and exports its dissatisfaction; a quisling media reduced to advocating these imperial ambitions; religious zealots as the new carnival barkers; a police apparatus bent on self-perpetuation; universal surveillance; lawless outlands designated as zones of amoral commerce; and addiction masked as consumer need. Not to mention a far-right party (which Burroughs labeled the “Liquefactionists”) dedicated to liquidating everyone but themselves.

Visionaries, it would seem, often turn out in retrospect to be mere stenographers who have become somehow temporally misfiled.

The same may well prove true of free jazz pioneer and denizen of Saturn Sun Ra, whose legendary 1974 cult film Space Is the Place has just been lovingly restored by Plexifilm in a special 30th anniversary edition. This chronicle of interplanetary black colonization, NASA conspiracy and an epic Manichean poker match for the fate of the world-kind of a quasi-documentary Buckaroo Banzai filmed in the middle of proto-revolutionary, Cointelpro Oakland-contains 20 minutes of newly restored footage (mostly interracial sex scenes), interviews with the director and producer (middle-aged white men) and home movies of Sun Ra and his Intergalactic Myth-Science Solar Arkestra goofing and playing in front of the Pyramids in Luxor, Egypt in 1972 (at roughly the same time that Kenneth Anger, equally besotted with Egyptian imagery, was shooting scenes for Lucifer Rising with Donald Cammell and Marianne Faithfull at the same location).

In 1971, Sun Ra and his band had traveled west from Philadelphia at the invitation of Bobby Seale of the Black Panther Party to Oakland, California, where they lived in a Panther house and Sun Ra taught at Berkeley. By 1974, amid increasing factionalism, no less than Eldridge Cleaver had kicked them out, and they were headed back to “the City of Brotherly Shove.” But not before producer Jim Newman and director John Coney lured him into a prospective half-hour concert for the local PBS affiliate, which somehow mutated into one of the oddest documents ever committed to celluloid.

The film opens amid a welter of space jazz, on what looks like a yellow Sony Playstation controller drifting through space-actually Sun Ra’s spaceship, captured in pre-digital blue-screen on 16mm film. As the mothership lands on a lush tropical planet (in reality Golden Gate Park), Sun Ra and his entourage stroll through an enchanted garden the equal of the fantasy sequences in Heavenly Creatures-with floating bubbles and hovering trilobites topped with red orbs encased in glass and exotic flowers bearing fruit of orange hands and wine glasses. Draped in flowing robes and an Egyptian headdress topped with a large sun dial, Sun Ra (who wrote all his own dialogue) proclaims, “We’ll set up a colony for black people here-see what they can do on a planet all their own, without any white people there… Another place in the universe, up under different stars.” Then as he conjectures relocating them via “isotope teleportation,” “transmolecularization” or simply teleporting the entire planet through music, we see Sun Ra suddenly spinning clockwise away from us into deepest space, like the lifeless Gary Lockwood, Jr. in 2001. All this before the opening credits.

Suddenly it’s 1943, in a Chicago nightclub, where a local gangster (the Overseer, played as a kind of satanic pimp by Ray Johnson, one of the bank robbers in Dirty Harry) demands that Sun Ra-then a piano player known as Sonny Ray-be ejected for his discordant style. Sonny’s jazz arpeggios quickly escalate into overpowering chord inversions, as glass shatters, smoke billows from the piano, the dancers are blown out of their tops and the crowd riots and stampedes toward the exits. Just as quickly, Sun Ra and the Overseer are faced off against each other across a red velvet table in the middle of a vast desert, where they compete in an arcane card game using a modified ghetto-fabulous Tarot deck (featuring Cadillac Eldorados and nude sirens) for the fate of the earth.

From there, Sun Ra wanders through contemporary Oakland as the contest plays out-convincing the locals he’s a galactic emissary, opening a storefront “Outer Space Employment agency,” and generally using music to cure the addicted, raise the drunken, reform the exploitive and search out the enlightened.

“Are there any whiteys up there?” asks a skeptical youth at a neighborhood rec hall.

“They’re walking up there now,” says Sun Ra, with his implacable hipster academic delivery. “They take frequent trips to the moon. But I notice none of you have been invited.”

Meanwhile, two field agents from NASA (including Morgan Upton from comedy troupe the Committee) sit in cramped, smoke-filled rooms hunched over reel-to-reel tape recorders, combing through his every word for some sign of conspiracy. After an attempted tryst with a couple of the Overseer’s call girls-where, pointedly, they can’t get it up-the NASA gumshoes kidnap Ra and hold him hostage in an abandoned warehouse. “Come on, Ra,” one of them says, “how do you convert your harmonic progressions to energy? There’s a black space program, isn’t there?” As a specialized form of torture, they leave him trussed up and trapped in headphones that play an endless brass band rendition of “Dixie.” But Ra escapes, the chosen are beamed out of their settings as economically and decisively as the luckless beauties in Mars Needs Women and all are led aboard the spacecraft, in what seems very much a template for the last scene in Close Encounters of the Third Kind three years later. (In fact, the five-tone melody used for alien contact was lifted from the intervals in Sun Ra’s “Lights on a Satellite,” recorded in 1960. “Did you ever see Star Wars?” he once asked an interviewer. “It was very accurate.”) As Sun Ra’s spaceship seeks the new black world, the earth supernovas behind him.

Threaded throughout the narrative are live performances of the Arkestra, which were actually filmed at a soundstage on the Embarcadero owned by the Mitchell Brothers, who were just then in pre-production on their breakthrough feature Behind the Green Door. In fact, the two projects shared production costs, a platform built for the band was used to mount a sex contraption in the porn film, and Space Is the Place cast member Johnnie Keys appears as one of two black studs who pleasure Marilyn Chambers using an elaborate pulley system in the latter.

Director Coney, in the accompanying interview included on the DVD, claims the film was “an homage to cheesy science-fiction films of the ’50s and ’60s” like Rocketship X-M (1950) and Cat Women of the Moon (1953). Traces of Jodorowsky’s Holy Mountain, LeRoi Jones’ (later Amiri Baraka’s) play The Black Mass and Black Muslim theology can be detected-notably the concept of the Mothership, in which Black Scientists were to return to earth to mark the end of the 25,000-year reign of the white mongrel race, and which was in turn appropriated wholesale by George Clinton and Parliament/Funkadelic. Clinton name-checks Sun Ra in the liner notes to the 1974 LP Standin’ on the Verge of Getting’ It On; other noted acolytes include Pink Floyd, the MC5, the Grateful Dead and, perhaps oddest, Bobby Beausoleil—star of Kenneth Anger’s Invocation of My Demon Brother, inspiration (through his nickname, Cupid) for Arthur Lee’s band Love and confederate of Charles Manson (and convicted murderer)—who toured California throughout the mid-’60s in a copycat group called the Orkustra.

The Overseer can be one of the Celestial Overseers from The Urantia Book—inspiration to Stockhausen, Elvis and Gene Roddenberry in his creation of Star Trek, which Sun Ra reportedly was reading from daily. The robed, hooded, mirror-faced being accompanying him in the opening scene seems taken from Maya Deren’s Meshes of an Afternoon, shot in 1946 but unavailable until much later (although with the extent of Sun Ra’s readings in arcane and secret texts, who knows?). Or the cosmology could just as likely have come from outer space itself. Biographer John Szwed, author of the exhaustive Space Is the Place: The Lives and Times of Sun Ra, puts him, in his East Village days, in the same company as Moondog and Joe Gould—legendary eccentrics who walked the streets to the delight of an uncomprehending public. One of Sun Ra’s favorite stories, commemorated in the song “Advice for Medics,” was that when he played a mental hospital in Chicago in the ’50s, a woman reputed not to have moved or spoken for years walked slowly to the piano and screamed at him, “Do you call that music?”

Sun Ra rarely slept, lived on vitamins, fruits and food supplements, and ardently believed he had been abducted by aliens at an early age, through a process he termed “transmolecularization.” He considered music a physical, celestial force capable of transforming governments, enlightening races, curing disease (Norman Mailer once claimed a Sun Ra performance cured his cold) and, yes, propelling spaceships, for which he and his band were merely the collective antennae. Gibberish? Pseudo-science? Mumbo-jumbo? Exactly what they said of Burroughs and his Mayan scholarship, South American miracle drugs and language-as-a-virus theories around the time Space Is the Place was first gestating. And yet, just this week, no less than NASA has detected a pressure wave traveling through space from a black hole in the Perseus Galaxy Cluster 250 million light years away—a sound wave 57 octaves below middle C on the piano, with a frequency of once every 10 billion years. According to scientists, it is a B-flat.

“It is possible,” says Andy Fabian of the Institute of Astronomy in Cambridge, England, “that other galactic clusters are singing in other tones.”

Nothing to do now but wait.

DVDs/videos courtesy of Cinefile, the official video store of Arthur. Contact Cinefile at (310) 312-8836 or http://www.cinefilevideo.com.

ARTHUR’S ASTROLOGY by Ian Svenonius (Arthur, Nov. 2003)

first published in Arthur No. 7 (Nov. 2003)

by Ian Svenonius

Predestination; a concept older than free will and borne out by recent scientific elucidations on historical dialectics, genetics and chemical psychology. Each of us is caught in a tangled labyrinth of circumstance and cosmic programming, acting out our grotesque fate in an awful, ignorant manner. The restless contractions of the astral bodies affect us in a profound way; each offhand movement of a planet can have enormous repercussions for humanity and our various client species, via magnetic fields, space dust and thoughtless lunar alignment. The moon can likewise be an irresponsible entity, tumbling through the sky carelessly, without regard to the tidal waves it may or may not cause. A correlation could be drawn to our own unthinking rearrangement of ant life or microscopic organism culture. This column is a transmission then, not only to the Arthur readers (who have star signs), but to the stars as well, an attempt to get them to understand that even their nonchalant actions have repercussions…

You are armed with scales in the one hand, and a sword of justice in the other. Also, you’re blindfolded. Everyone you meet is weighed and then sliced accordingly. You often slice the wrong portion because of this strange voluntary eye impairment. As with many handicapped people though, your other senses have become hyper-attuned. This means that, while justice is blind, it can smell and hear very well. According to Marshall McLuhan, this puts you at odds with society because, since the introduction of the Guttenberg press, people are much more sight-reliant now than in previous historical epochs. Due to your alienation from the hegemonic eye-based world, you enact harsher sentences than you normally would. But that’s okay; they deserve it. Keep on slicin’!

You’re proud of your designation as the cosmological fornicator; and you are good…maybe too good. People are starting to resent you. Didn’t you know that God hates sex? This month take a self-imposed dry spell; go to your pal the Dalai Lama’s house and mow the lawn or read a book. You’re starting to smell the place up.

You like to give people rides on your stout equestrian torso. Recently though you’ve been fined for defecating on the sidewalk. The double standard is clear; while the mounted police are allowed to spread feces everywhere, you and your beast man brethren are fined and flogged. Though this oppression is maddening, remember that these modern day chevaliers are mere jealous pretenders while you, Sagittarius, are the real thing. They attempt animal fusion through fancy gear but at the end of the day (in the words of Conway Twitty) “it’s only make believe.” Otherwise they would understand the difficulty of straddling a toilet with an ungainly horse bottom.

Recently you’ve taken time off from fondling your impeccable record collection and turned your gaze outward. Like fellow sea goats Nixon, Stalin and Mao, you’re compelled to commit mass murder in the name of some political theory. The same idealism unites the two seemingly disparate urges of course; perfectionism can be a harsh taskmaster. Remember: just as you should allow that late-era Fleetwood Mac album to sit in your bin without fear of a purge, so you must forgive humankind of their foibles and let them live.

You’re angry and rightly so. What’s the use of being the water bearer when everyone has their own personal bottles of the substance these days? In fact, aspersions have been cast as to the quality of your particular stock. Apparently it’s not from a “reputable enough” source. Don’t worry though, this poseur shit will die and you’ll be there with the water when no one else has it anymore. And they won’t miss you til that well runs dry. But in the meantime it seems important to expand your repertoire. Perhaps it’s time to bear something else for awhile, like pizza or insulin.

You are a fish or a pair of fish swimming toward one another. The fish bowl is a drag for the likes of you, the fishbowl inhabitant. The redundancy of the route and the ammonia levels in the water are getting you down. Plus the fact that you eat those flakes made of ground-up fish entrails and worse. That’s pretty degrading. In the old days, before fish food, people just fed their fish leftovers, such as the crust of a peanut butter sandwich or an old lasagna. Due to the bogus animal food industry though, you have this sicko soilent green food factory crap. You’ve gotta break out of that bowl and go get a fish filet.

You’ve sliced through the enemy shield wall and you’re covered with their chopped up arms and legs. Now it’s time to burn the church and take all the precious items back home to your cold and brutal kingdom. But you’re tired of this life of conflict. You want to settle down and maybe colonize this burned up battleground. Do it! Follow that dream! These people can be your new subjects. But don’t betray Odin to the Christian gods or he’ll turn his wrath on you.

You’re feeling smug. As though you’d figured it all out. But as usual you’ve turned a blind eye to the exploitation which has befallen your archetype/namesake. Did you know that in thousands of cowboy bars across America the bull’s backside’s likeness has been reproduced in mechanical form for riding in a latently erotic display? That grinning, self satisfied cow people are using your facsimile as an enormous crypto-vibrator? Isn’t that disgusting?

This month, strangle your twin in his sleep. she/he’s holding you back! You’re the real star and they’re not pulling their weight. Aren’t you sick of dragging that idiot around with you, while every good deed turns to naught due to their constant nagging and naysaying? Their doubt has wreaked enough havoc on your life! At least have him /her clean out their desk and leave the premises. And don’t listen to the tears; it hurts you as much as it hurts them.

Your big claw isn’t very good for doing fine tuned tasks such as drawing or splinter removal. Meanwhile your small claw isn’t good for scaring away predators. You’ve got a bad case of dyslexia and you keep getting confused with which claw to use. Also, people think you’re coy since you inadvertently walk sideways when they approach you.

You’re interested in changing your title. King/Queen of the jungle doesn’t speak to you, jungle inhabitants don’t pay taxes and besides, you’ve never even seen a jungle! Maybe you should rule a tony stretch of Manhattan or a monied subdivision in Maclean. You could be: “Queen of Central Park West” or “God of Fondlewood Court.”

You’re treating your inborn repression as a license to work with some unsavory elements like Opus Dei, The Vatican Bank and CIA-mafia types. If you don’t get with it, Jesus won’t give you a golden cookie when you die.


Above: the cover to Arthur No. 7 (Nov 2003)—artwork by John Coulthart, design by W.T. Nelson

Dark Funk, Gardenfolk and the Almighty Zaps
This summer, underground psych bands SUNBURNED HAND OF THE MAN, COMETS ON FIRE and SIX ORGANS OF ADMITTANCE ventured across the continent in a traveling caravan of mindblowers. Tony Rettman reports live from the scene.

Originally published in Arthur No. 7 (November 2003)

“Jazz doesn’t have to swing and rock doesn’t have to rock and religion has next to nothing to do with God.” —Richard Meltzer

Yes. Meltzer’s testimonial riff is the kind that can really get you going going gone. Strip music of any elements that seem banal, pretentious or overly cerebral. Twist the sound into something of your own. Create a primal celebration of boundary-less independence. Join the others who’ve walked through the door marked “Free”—and emerge with a blown mind full of free jazz, psychedelia, proto-metal, oddball folk, prog rock, blues, English country rock, funk, mind-numbing drones, electronic music, non-genre improvisation.

In the past few years, a seemingly ever-growing number of underground American artists have been making that trek Beyond, collecting elements from these sounds and shooting them through a post-punk perspective, laying the results down on self-pressed vinyl and home-burned CD-Rs, sold through homegrown distribution networks like Brooklyn’s Fusetron, Arizona’s Eclipse Records, and Massachusetts’ Forced Exposure and Ecstatic Yod.

But a funny thing is happening. Through next to no effort of their own, these freaks are now attracting the attention of curious folk from outside the esoteric, near-hermetic circles that their music was necessarily born from and sustained by. Indeed, the very definition of this genre-obscuring cult movin’ on up happened this July when three of the finest units out of this quote scene unquote descended on Pianos in NYC to strut their stuff: San Francisco’s’ loud-as-hell psychedelic four-piece Comets On Fire, Boston’s 15-member sound collective The Sunburned Hand of the Man and the author of the new chapter of gypsy folk meanings from Santa Cruz, Six Organs of Admittance. This show—the conclusion of a three-week tour—brought together three groups who are aesthetically linked in approach, intensity and a loosely limbed philosophy: Here’s how the whole enchilada—the show, the tour, the bands themselves—came together and got down to getting Free.

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Ben Chasny is Six Organs of Admittance–he is the sole soul responsible for the unearthly and solemn sounds created under this moniker, with others occasionally sitting in on recordings and live sets. Tonight at Pianos in he first and he plays alone, acoustic guitar in his lap, head down and hair in face, with only his black jackbooted heel to keep the beat. “Transcendent” is the bang-on word to describe what Chasny lays out. His music conjures up foggy, half-remembered memories of drunken nights in overlit fluorescent rooms that pulse. Strange feelings that mix danger with joy. And then he busts out with a cover of Neil Young’s “A Man Needs a Maid.”

Visiting with Chasny later in the evening over a beer at the bar, I get some background. Chasny grew up in the woods bordering the northern California town of Eureka, 300 miles north of San Francisco. His musical upbringing was positive hardcore punk, until one day when his hippie father laid dark folk troubadour Nick Drake’s Fruit Tree box set on him. In it laid all the keys needed to open Chasny’s doors wide open. A second turning point came when a friend returned from a journey to San Francisco with a copy of the underground psych magazine Forced Exposure in hand. “That magazine was filled with exactly what I knew was out there but couldn’t find,” says Chasny. “I went crazy and started absorbing all the new sounds they were championing.”

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