"Blurred + Spacey": Brightblack Morning Light's Nabob Shineywater on SANDY BULL (Oct. 2006)

Originally published in Arthur No. 25 (October 2006)

Blurred and Spacey
By Nabob Shineywater

Sandy Bull
Still Valentine’s Day 1969: Live at the Matrix, San Francisco
(Water)

When I was living in Point Reyes, my closest friends became people in their sixties. They would share stories with me as I managed the community print shop. One day I was listening to Sandy Bull, and a visiting Vietnam vet shared a great story with me. One day back in the late ’60s he was riding his bicycle through Mill Valley when he heard very, very loud music. He was able to locate the house it was coming from, and sat on the porch and listened for about three hours. Then the music stopped and he knocked on the door to thank the artist. Two very tall African women opened the door, traditionally dressed and very gorgeous. Then Sandy appeared, and was friendly, but also severely spacey. The house was empty with white walls and carpet. My friend was already familiar with Sandy’s music, and had attended some of the shows in San Francisco that Sandy was doing. He rode away on his bicycle, surprised and happy.

Sandy lived in Berkeley, Mill Valley and Fairfax in the ’60s and his best friend was Hamza El Din, the oudist from Egypt. What a special time these men had together. Hamza had arrived in the United States after opening for the Grateful Dead at the Pyramids. He is best known for his ’70s release Escalay (translated as “The Water Wheel”), which features Sandy playing an ancient beat on an ancient drum. In Escalay, Hamza wanted to translate the feelings of the folks whose role it was to haul water to and from the well. It’s the best cinematic folk music I’ve heard—when you listen to it alone you actually arrive at his homeland. The oud is the most gut-pounding stringed instrument I’ve heard: it sends out depthful waves, resonations that have bass where you wouldn’t expect it.

Still Valentine’s Day 1969: Live at the Matrix, San Francisco is a live album from 1969, and the result of Sandy pushing the limits by using an electric oud through about four different Fender amps, all with heavy reverb and vibrato. I really enjoy the entire collection of songs, and have spent some high times with them lately. The songs feel a little more blurry and druggy than on E Pluribus Unum, the 1968 studio album where a lot of them first appeared. Which I appreciate: I am getting stoned a lot, so I am currently looking for items to reflect that, that I respect. Yet I know he was into the junkier side of drug experimentations. I feel if the tapes were mixed track-by track, that it could expose some more low-end that might be now missing. Sandy had a degree in classical bass; he was highly skilled, and his bass lines are sometimes just as interesting as his oud.

Sandy’s shows are another discussion, but briefly, he wouldn’t play with anyone. So he recorded all the instrumentation on analog tape, and then figured a way to synch up each tape machine. He would then haul this to a gig, press play on everything, then rotate between electric oud and pedal steel. Sandy bootlegs are amazing and even funny, as he was so interesting—Sandy had a great style and it is rumored that William Burroughs saw Sandy and immediately copied his fashion; the Beatles song “Come Together” is actually about Sandy; etc. Anyway, Sandy told obscure funny stories between songs. This release has a small dialogue about the live sound engineer ; the un-mastered version I have actually has a huge wallop of stage feedback due to the lack of understanding by the evening’s sound engineer of just what Sandy was attempting in relation to amplified reverb. The feedback is a painful-sounding slash across the speakers, not interesting at all, and isn’t approved of by Sandy. The same thing regularly happens today in live performance—this realm has not progressed much, and the truth of it is that it’s the fault of people’s stagnant exchange with audio psychedelia. There’s been a lack of progression or maybe a lack of respect for the trade of sound engineering folk.

If you get to know the songs you can actually feel Sandy become elated with tonality as he plays here. Some may think his jams are light, or even beatnik. I think his jams are of the heaviest order, and I believe him to be Northern California’s greatest artist ever because he wasn’t a contrived enterprise. This music is a reflection of what was the norm in NorCal back then. People were learning about the strength of folk culture around the world, and using that knowledge to justify dropping out … and to drop out in colorful, musical ways.

How to Get Into the Grateful Dead (Arthur, 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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FACE OF LIGHT (Berk Snow RIP)

“The man here I remember & have seen on occasion at protests & rallies to save ancient forests.

“In absent moments I have actually remembered his face, to bring me hope & peace.”

– N. Shineywater (Brightblack Morning Light)

. . .

A Celebration of the life of Berk Snow will take place on Sunday, July 8th at the Community Park, Sprowel Creek Road, Garberville.

Berk was known and loved by many as a member of the KMUD family, an environmentalist and a humanitarian of the highest order. The gathering will start at 3 pm, with ceremonies and tributes to begin just after 4 pm. Please bring a pot luck dish for a dinner at 6:30 pm, followed by live music into the evening. Feel free to wear rainbow colors and tye die in his honor. All are welcome. Berk’s family asks that donations in his name be made to KMUD, EPIC, and the Mateel Community Center.

Volunteers are needed. For more information, call 223-3788.

Photo of Berk Snow surrounded by bougainvilleas by Will Emerson.


Without roofs, without lightbulbs…

from Nabob Shineywater of Brightblack Morning Light:

MARCH 12th 2007

“Well in Santa Cruz somehow BRIGHTBLACK MORNING LIGHT’s show aligned with an art opening for the artist who did Neil Young’s ZUMA cover, with our Warm Inventions friend, Colm O’Coesig churning treble for that live BRIGHTBLACK MORNING LIGHT, but before that in Davis we were allowed to do our own sound in a sweet, small rasta-ital cafe….called Delta of Venus.

We’re not living in a tent right now, but you should know our Matador Records long play debut was written/recorded entirely sleeping under the sky without walls or roofs. We were already living in tents so it wasn’t a deliberate act. How did we end up in a tent? Well, we didn’t have anywhere else to go, Alabama was far away & Northern California is pricey…. We had read that most folks live over half their lives underneath lightbulbs, so we wondered if that would be our legacy…. always underneath a lightbulb. We appreciate light and want to know more about it. How does artificial light shape your daily mood? How does natural light make you feel? Living in a tent by a stream, we listened to endangered coho salmon swimming upstream when dozing off. A reclamation of what you react to helps to shape your life. If you live in a city, you will react to the design of that city. If you live rurally you are still reacting to some human designs, but they are limited. If you roll a doobie, then you react to a doobie….”