New Riders' Marmaduke, RIP

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New Riders of the Purple Sage, live at Fillmore East, April 29, 1971. Click here for the setlist, or to download the whole thing as MP3s


Dilettantes dabbling in the genre of country music have always had a hard time, from hippies like Gram Parsons to his modern day alt-country hipster inheritors. There’s almost always an inevitable anxiety over class privileges and the fetishization of working class experience by cultural elites. That combines with the classic rural versus urban divide and adds up to an awkward night sitting in a bar in Silver Lake listening to delicate, good-looking dudes in fancy vintage Western shirts singing about CB radios and old pickup trucks. It’s airless tribute at best, unaware cowboy drag at worst.

John “Marmaduke” Dawson was the lead singer and main songwriter for The New Riders of the Purple Sage, the best of the hippie country bands that emerged from the West Coast psychedelic rock and rustic folk scenes, and one of the only bands — along with Commander Cody, Doug Sahm and Asleep At The Wheel [thanks for reminding me, Michael!] — that managed to merge roper with doper without apologies to either camp. He died on Tuesday in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, where he’d been teaching English as part of the city’s established community of American expatriates. He was 64, and stomach cancer was the culprit.

Travel to Mexico is the subject of one of the New Riders best-known songs, “Henry.” Marmaduke often dedicated live performances of the song to anyone in the audience who “smuggles dope for a living,” and given that most of the New Riders best shows were during the early ’70s opening for the Grateful Dead, there were no doubt plenty of audience members who appreciated such recognition.

“Henry” is about the titular drug runner on his way down to Acapulco to find out why all the marijuana has stopped flowing to the United States. After navigating a series of twisty mountain roads, he finds his supplier’s farm and proceeds to get thoroughly obliterated on freshly trimmed crops. The song is about the drive back, as told from the perspective of an unnamed passenger, who is continually beseeching the seriously faded Henry to keep the brakes on as they careen through the mountain passes.

It’s a song that, like so many New Riders tunes, conveys a distinctly hippie experience using the language of country music. The band was an outgrowth of Jerry Garcia’s pre-Dead unit, the wacky bluegrass band Mother McCree’s Uptown Jug Champions. The Dead did plenty of country-leaning material, but Garcia still wanted an outlet for his pedal steel licks, and thus the New Riders of the Purple Sage came to be.

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Dance Floor Drones: Black Meteoric Star

Russom debuts Black Meteoric Star tracks with Assume Vivid Astro Focus at Paris’ Super Festival in April, 2008 (part 2 below)


Former Arthur cover co-star Gavin Russom has new music coming out next week on DFA. He’s recording as Black Meteoric Star, and while the tunes are still rife with droning synthesizers — a la his essential Days of Mars work with Delia Gonzalez — he’s going for more of a dance floor vibe this time. Specifically, BMS is his exploration into acid house. He expands on that a bit in this 2008 interview with the UK’s Fact magazine:

“Later I became very interested in the thematic elements of early Detroit and Chicago electronic music and the cultural environments that surrounded the Warehouse. Of particular interest was the way that a piece of music technology (specifically the Roland TB-303) generated an entire musical aesthetic because of its characteristics and its limitations. The post-apocalyptic vision of a new society, armed with electronic technology, emerging from the post industrial wasteland resonated with my own political ideals, my experiences growing up in Providence and my interest in the post-WWI European avant-garde who had similar ideas.

“Of course I always come back to the fact that it’s simply interesting and powerful psychedelic music.”

The self-titled album’s out on June 9, but you can get a preview via Tim Sweeney’s “Beats In Space” radio broadcast from back in April. Russom opens with 30 minutes of BMS material, before going into a lovely DJ set including plenty of drones plus crusty voodoo folk-rock from Exuma and Archie Shepp’s “Monkey Blues.” Download the whole 90 minute podcast over at Beats In Space.

• More info on DFA’s MySpace page: http://www.myspace.com/dfarecords

• Trinie Dalton interviewed Delia & Gavin for Arthur 21/March 2006, copies of which are still available in the Arthur Store. Click here to commence browsing.

• Assume Vivid Astro Focus made a sweet video for Delia & Gavin’s “Relevee”, which we posted back in April of 2008. Check it out by clicking here.

Uncle Skullfucker’s Band: Daniel Chamberlin explains the discreet charm of the Grateful Dead

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Daniel Chamberlin explains the discreet charm of the Grateful Dead. Illustrations by D.C. Berman.

Originally published in the July 2004 issue of Arthur, which is currently available for purchase in our online store. Click here to check it out.

I’M NOT ALLOWED TO WEAR TIE-DYED CLOTHING. My girlfriend and those friends of mine who truly have my best interests at heart forbid it. For most people this is an obvious and easy style rule to adhere to. But during certain times of the year I am overwhelmed by the Grateful Dead. I listen to nothing but live recordings of Dead concerts while immersing myself in books detailing the minutiae of their 30-year career. I search through David Dodd’s “Annotated Grateful Dead Lyric Archive,” reading up on the roots of “Fennario,” a made-up world of timber forests and treacherous marshland mentioned in two of my favorite songs, “Dire Wolf” and “Peggy-O.” Judging from the number of Dead recordings in my collection one can draw an easy conclusion that I am a certifiable Deadhead.

This is a problem because alongside New Age or contemporary country, “Grateful Dead” is a genre of music with acknowledged questionable merits. This has something to do with the schizophrenic quality of said music: the May 14, 1974 “Dark Star” performed in Missoula, Montana sounds like “In A Silent Way” as interpreted by Sonic Youth but nearly every performance of “Lazy Lightnin’” sounds like coke-snorting yuppies getting funky in tie-dyed Izods. The Dead toured with both Love and Waylon Jennings in the ‘70s but were collaborating with Bruce Hornsby and Joan Osborne by the ‘90s. I hear their influence on classic Meat Puppets and latter-day Boredoms albums, but their official inheritors are cornball bands like The String Cheese Incident and Phish. They count among their fans legions of Hell’s Angels as well as Tipper and Al Gore. There are a lot of ways to listen to the Grateful Dead. As legendary concert promoter and longtime Dead booster Bill Graham once put it, “They’re not the best at what they do, they’re the only ones that do what they do.”

Mostly though, the Dead’s bad reputation is due to their fans. My latent Deadheadism causes my girlfriend to worry that at a certain point of saturation, she’ll come home from work to find me reeking of patchouli oil, clad in vibrant pajama bottoms and a tank top decorated with capering bears, my dilated pupils being the only reason I haven’t yet found something to juggle. “Fukengrüven, sister!” I’ll say as she comes through the door.

My most recent Grateful Dead binge kicked off when Islamic militants decapitated Nicholas Berg on the Internet. Oh yeah. No more NPR for me. Instead, a free-falling relapse into this December 26, 1969 Dead show at Southern Methodist University. Drummer Bill Kreutzmann is late getting to the venue, so Jerry Garcia and Bob Weir lay down this sublime acoustic set of murder ballads and old Christian folk songs that they refer to as “sacred numbers.” It’s the only known recording of their version of “Gathering Flowers for the Master’s Bouquet,” which is really something to be excited about for a closet Deadhead like me. The show provides a wonderful escape—the Dead always seem so detached from reality and that’s exactly what I’m looking for.

I was looking for a similar kind of escape in 1991 while en route to my first Grateful Dead show. I wanted to see if the Deadheads might offer a more organic, hedonistic alternative to the existentialist discomfort of my central Indiana high school experience.

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How to Get Into the Grateful Dead (originally pub’d in Arthur No. 18/Sept 2005)

LISTEN TO THE DEAD

Originally published in Arthur No. 18 (Sept 2005)

Dear Arthur,
Okay, so a lot of people in Arthur have been coming out of the Deadhead closet lately [cf. “Uncle Skullfucker’s Band”, Arthur No. 11]. Someone, maybe Bastet, maybe someone else, should put out a mix CD or two of some of the Dead’s material that might be most likely to impress the contemporary drone/noise/psych/improv and/or free(k) folk scene(s). I have enjoyed a very small percentage of the G.D. that I have heard, and have been unwilling to delve through the catalog in search of the gems. I am willing to give them the benefit of the doubt, and would like to hear a carefully selected mix made by discerning ears. Example: Garcia solo piece on Zabriskie Point soundtrack.
Rick Swan
via email

Dear Rick,
There are over 2,800 Grateful Dead shows available for free download at archive.org, and depending on who you talk to at least a half-dozen studio albums worth checking out. That’s a lot of music to sort through, even if you can get your hands on most of it without laying down any cash. We convened a conclave of reconstructed Deadheads in order to help you and any other greenhorn seekers of the Dead find your way around. The Knights present for this meeting were:

Geologist, a member of Animal Collective, that incredible international post-hippie string band.
N. Shineywater, of Alabama’s creamiest slow-folk practitioners, Brightblack Morning Light. It is worth nothing that Brightblack’s cover of “Brokedown Palace” with Will Oldham on vocals makes us weep.
Ethan Miller, of the mighty Comets on Fire.
Daniel Chamberlin, a contributing editor at Arthur, and the author of “Uncle Skullfucker’s Band” (Arthur No. 11) about life as a closet Deadhead.
Denise DiVitto & Brant Bjork: Owner-operators of Duna Records, which releases records by Mr. Bjork (co-founder of Kyuss) and other worthy artists. Two mellow souls who hang in the desert.
Erik Davis, Arthur contributor, native Californian and the author of Techgnosis: Myth, Magic and Mysticism in the Age of Information.
Barry Smolin, the host of the essential “The Music Never Stops” Dead showcase on Los Angeles’s KPFK, 90.7 FM.
Michael Simmons, a contributing editor to Arthur.
The Seth Man, a/k/a The Seth Man, editor of FUZ and author of “The Book of Seth” on Julian Cope’s website.

PART ONE

GEOLOGIST (Animal Collective)
The birth of my father was a mistake; an unplanned pregnancy in the 1950s. As a result, his brothers, and my cousins, are much older. During the ’80s, my cousin Adam was my idol. I was in grade school, he was in high school and later went to college in Athens, GA. The guy was all about “rock & roll.” He had Live…Like A Suicide by Guns N’ Roses on vinyl in 1986. He predicted the worldwide stardom of REM and the B-52’s as far back as I can remember. But his first musical love was, and as far as I know, still is The Grateful Dead. By the end of the ’80s he had been to over 100 shows.

As I got older and began to hunger for more music than what was being fed to me on MTV, I of course turned to him. Like any true Deadhead, my cousin immediately pushed me towards their live material. His Dead collection was just a box of tapes with dates written on them; I don’t really remember seeing any albums. It is to this aspect of the Dead’s output that I would direct any new fan. I listen to the ’66-’74 era, pretty much exclusively. An easy place to start is the live albums released during this period, specifically Live/Dead (from ’69) and Europe ’72. The former has my all-time favorite Dead jam, “Dark Star” into “St. Stephen,” and the latter contains my second favorite, “China Cat Sunflower” into “I Know You Rider” (affectionately known to Dead fans as “China Rider”). In addition, there is a killer CD release of a Fillmore East show from 2/11/69, which has some of the same tunes. And for 1974, the Winterland shows from February of that year totally rule, even though you have to endure the awful background singing of Donna Godchaux.

I certainly don’t mean to discount the worth of their studio albums, because there is no denying the greatness of Anthem Of The Sun, Aoxomoxoa and American Beauty. I love them all and listen to them frequently, but I still lean towards the live stuff. The reason for this is simply “good times.” I recently got into an argument at a bar about whether or not you can give credit to someone for nothing more than “good times.” I say you totally can. Why not? Isn’t that pretty much what most of us want on a day-to-day basis? I was fortunate enough to see the Dead on one of their last tours in 1994. I was 15 years old, and had moved from Philly to Baltimore, where I was in the early stages of becoming best friends with the dudes I still consider my closest friends in the world. At the time, however, I dearly missed my old friends from middle school. They managed to get tickets to the Dead show at the Philly Spectrum, and my parents, being the wonderful folks they are, let me skip school for three days and hop on the train to catch the show. Jerry may have been old and forgotten some lyrics here and there, but man, good times were had by all. I’ve never since been in an environment as positive as that concert. As people who are passionate about music, especially music that is outside of the mainstream, we sometimes get caught up in our own brand of snobbery. But when I catch myself acting like a dick, I try and think back to that night wandering around the burrito stands and hacky-sack circles in that parking lot. If people continue to care about the music we make and continue to come see us play, I really hope our parking lots will look and feel like that one day. Good times.

N. SHINEYWATER (Brightblack Morning Light)
Early-era Dead songs resonate with me, so I would maybe dig a collection of songs featuring Pig Pen. The first recording I heard by Grateful Dead also served as a successful backdrop to a good time. It involved my native Alabama woods, an old Jeep chasing another old Jeep through the mud, and the constant doobie. The friend of mine who was driving the jeep let The Dead’s American Beauty repeat over and over … Somehow a very long early-version of the song “Dark Star” appeared on the homemade cassette, and when this came on we had just taken a doobie break. One friendly sister starting throwing mud at me so I threw mud back at her and the next thing I saw was this dancing grey mud flying and hitting smiling bodies of friends.

One time this same Jeep-friend has to drive across the country in a new Ford van. He happened to know he was going to be using reefer along the way. The van had only one sticker, plain in style, that read, “GOOD OL” really large, followed very small by “GRATEFUL DEAD.” It wasn’t the kind with little orange bears; it was red, white and blue. He chose this plain sticker to avoid attracting the Man. Yet he knew that he wanted to share his love of Grateful Dead music. It was a risk he didn’t mind taking.

Later in life he led a Greenpeace effort to successfully lower himself and a few others over the side of the Mitsubishi building in Oregon with banners that read, “BOYCOTT MITSUBISHI, MITSUBISHI DESTROYS RAINFORESTS.” The last I heard of him he became a river guide.

ETHAN MILLER (Comets On Fire)
First off, I also loved that article by Daniel Chamberlin in the July 2004 Arthur also and found it very inspiring to try and track down the more extreme avant-garde Dead stuff that the author of that piece talks about being fooled that it was Dead C. or Sonic Youth or whatever.
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THE SODFATHER: Californian compost wizard TIM DUNDON

The Sodfather
Californian compost wizard TIM DUNDON talks shit with Daniel Chamberlin.

Photography by Eden Batki

Originally published in Arthur No. 27 (Dec 2007) – available for $5.

Original design by Molly Frances and Mark Frohman.

Find bonus Sodfather photos by Chamberlin at Into The Green.

Alchemists are often characterized in modern times as bumbling would-be wizards at best, greedy charlatans at worst. They’re portrayed as fumbling hopelessly in cluttered laboratories, unenlightened madmen trying to turn lead into gold. The reality is more complex, of course.

Alchemists were up to plenty of things, many of them having to do with relating to the natural world—and understanding its processes of transformation and transmutation—in philosophical and spiritual dimensions that transcended traditional religious thinking, both Christian and pagan, and preceded modern scientific thought. The whole “lead into gold” thing was but the most lucrative of the alchemical —or hermetic—practices in the eyes of the monarchs and rulers. Alchemy’s material prima as Peter Lamborn Wilson writes in the recent collection Green Hermeticism: Alchemy and Ecology, “can be found ‘on any dung hill.’ Hermeticism changes shit into gold.” It’s an image memorably realized in Alejandro Jodorowsky’s 1973 film The Holy Mountain wherein the thief character takes a dump in a fancy bucket, and Jodorowsky, playing an alchemist, distills those fresh turds into a hefty chunk of golden bling.

Such fantastical processes are well known to dirt-worshipping gardening sage Tim Dundon, the beneficent caretaker of California’s most famous compost pile and the kindly warden of the tropical forest that has fruited from its rich humus. It’s here that Dundon, a scientist-poet in the truest hermetic sense, finds hope and salvation in the transformation of death into life—of rotting organic matter into nutrient-rich soil—that takes place daily in the fecund jungle he maintains on his one-acre yard.

The botanical odyssey of Dundon, the self-proclaimed “guru of doo-doo” and the man whose mammoth compost pile once covered a football-field-sized lot, begins in 1967 with a marijuana shortage. Like any good gardening story, it encompasses Hollywood producers, fires, suicide, PCP injection, a nude Quaker iconoclast, standoffs with city officials and a violent pet coyote.

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New Arthur CD: "Transmissions From Sinai," curated by AL CISNEROS (Om, Sleep) with artwork by ARIK ROPER – NOW AVAILABLE

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“TRANSMISSIONS FROM SINAI”
(Arthur 0005)
curated by AL CISNEROS (Om, Sleep)
cover artwork by ARIK ROPER

Track listing:

1. Lichens – “Kopernik Trip Note” (previously unreleased)
2. Linval Thompson – “Wicked Babylon”
3. Grouper – “Everyone in Turn”
4. Current 93 – “Mockingbird”
5. Quixotic – “The Breeze”
6. Scott Kelly – “The Ladder In My Blood”
7. Hush Arbors – “The Valley”
8. Mia Doi Todd – “Night of a Thousand Kisses”
9. Six Organs of Admittance – “Bar-Nasha” (previously unreleased)
10. Holy Sons – “Drifter’s Sympathy”
11. Pantaleimon – “At Dawn”
12. Grails – “Acid Rain”
13. Sir Richard Bishop – “Almeria” (previously unreleased)
14. J. Mascis – “War” (previously unreleased)
15. Wino – “Silver Lining”
16. Alpha & Omega – “David and Goliath”

All proceeds go to supporting Arthur Magazine’s mission. Edition of 1,000. Now available from the Arthur Store.

“Here are sixteen reports, differing approaches that, through their own individualized methods, access the one ground. It’s a privilege and blessing to have known many of the musicians on this disc, to have shared in song with some, and stages with others. In all cases I have been the healed recipient of their craft sitting alone with my headphones… Here is their auditory journal.” —Al Cisneros February 2009

ALBUM OVERVIEW
by Daniel Chamberlin, Arthur contributing editor

For a while there was a lot of talk around Arthur HQ about the idea of “life metal”–as opposed to death metal–and how that applied to a lot of the bands we were listening to. These were artists making introspective, expansive metal that stood out as flashes of color in the unified spectrum of blackness that dominates the genre. Think about the sunshine Sabbath jams of Wino’s various incarnations, the core-cleansing live rituals of Sunn O))) and most of all, the contemplative rhythms of Om.

Om rose from the ashes of long-form drone-metal icons Sleep, and has since produced three albums of thoughtful, minimalist metal composed entirely of bass, drums and vocals. Transmissions From Sinai, the compilation curated by Om’s bassist/vocalist Al Cisneros plays like a companion piece to those albums; the band’s influences and fellow wanderers united by a deep narrative thread of rhythm, resistance and meditation.

Transmissions opens with Lichens’ “Kopernik Trip Note,” eight minutes of vocal tones flowing like liquid mercury through a haze of keyboard drones. The focus on rhythm is clarified with Linval Thompson’s “Wicked Babylon,” a rocksteady classic from the guy that, in addition to producing endlessly satisfying reggae albums of his own, was also responsible with lacing dub legend Scientist with some of his best rhythms.

Grouper’s “Everyone In Turn” is a cascade of vocal melodies underscored by a fog-shrouded piano. The cryptical envelopment continues with Current 93, David Tibet’s long-running Gnostic-apocalypse folk project, and is reinforced by acoustic work from former Neurosis guitarist Scott Kelly, the brushed marching drums of Quix*o*tic’s “The Breeze” and Hush Arbor’s mournful guitar dirge, “The Valley.”

Om tour-mate Mia Doi Todd marks the midpoint of the journey with the romantic bongo jam “Night Of A Thousand Kisses,” followed closely by Six Organs of Admittance’s shimmering “Bar Nasha,” one of several previously unreleased songs in this collection. This flows into the narcotic beats of Om drummer Emil Amos in his Holy Sons guise. A counterpoint follows with Pantaleimon’s gentle folk, all crisp guitar melodies and cool, clear whispered vocals.

From there it’s a downhill run through the blissed-out sunshine psychedelia of Grails’ “Acid Rain,” the intricate contortions of Sir Richard Bishop’s finger-picked raga “Almeria,” and a twin blast from two legendary guitar lifers: J. Mascis, performing the previously unreleased “War” and Wino with a churning anthem of hope, “Silver Lining.” Transmissions concludes with “David and Goliath,” a melodica-and-keyboard-drenched fable of resistance and survival from contemporary British reggae outfit Alpha & Omega.

Transmissions is a countercultural signpost: a diverse collection of music–from searing life metal through gauzy ambient piano ballads to the heaviest of dub –that serves as a soothing balm for whatever may ail you in these troubled times.

Now available from the Arthur Store.

The Way of The Riff: Contemplators Ben Chasny (Six Organs of Admittance) and Al Cisneros (Om) discuss roots, rock, rhythm and chess.

Originally published in Arthur No. 27 (Dec 2007).

Artwork by Arik Roper
Introduction by Daniel Chamberlin

My favorite story about Om, the bass and drum duo of Al Cisneros and Chris Hakius—the rhythm section of now defunct drone metal icons Sleep—takes place on the back patio of Los Angeles club The Echo. It’s a cool winter night in 2007 and we’re all gathered here—hippie goners, young punks, indie rock squares—to take in a few breaths of fresh air before the band takes to the stage inside. One group stands out from the crowd: two women and a guy who are having a whale of a time, gesticulating wildly and laughing like crazy. At one point the dude approaches a hipster who’s nervously dragging on a toothpick joint. Our man offers his flask to the young fellow and a confusing exchange takes place: I can tell that he’s looking to swap quaff for toke, but for some reason he’s having trouble communicating this. I catch on about the same time the stoner does, giving up the doobie to the guy and his gal pals: They’re deaf, this happy trio of Om heads. That’s how deep the band’s sensual, mantra-like music goes.

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