Letter from Ian Nagoski


Hi, folks.

It’s been a while. I’m lousy at being in touch.I try to put myself out there on the Social Nutworking, but it only goes so far. Sometimes you have to write a 1999-style mass email. Think of it as an Easter letter.

The big news is that I’m developing, along with two producers at WYPR, Lawrence Lanahan and Bruce Wallace, a radio show called Fonotopia.


The format is me talking and playing 78rpm-era records. Each show is themed—an era, a location or a general concept. We have four episodes finished (I think the fourth, titled “A Short Life of Trouble,” will be posted Friday April 2). We have serious hopes that it will be picked up by our local National Public Radio affiliate and by other radio stations. It’s new terrain.

My imprint, Canary Records (manufactured and distributed by Mississippi Records in Portland, OR) got two records out in the second half of last year, and they did as well as we hoped. There are three more releases currently being mastered and designed. They are:

Marika Papagika – The Further the Flame, The Worse It Burns Me: Greek
Folk Music in New York 1919-28
(that one will be out within the next eight weeks; as you may know, I’ve been working on it steadily for three years now. The notes will be a chapbook – some 4000 words.)

v/a – To What Strange Place: Armenians & Syrians in America, 1912-27

and its companion

v/a – The Luminous Interval: Greeks in America, 1916-32

which together with the Marika disc finally bring together my work on the Ottoman diaspora in the U.S.

And soon to follow, further LPs of rural Balkan performances, Javanese and Sundanese classical music and Indian classical vocal masterpieces are “in the works.” And there are negotiations on some ace Turkish stuff. Just you wait!

As all of this has been happening, I have been neglecting to leave the house for days on end and my social life is rapidly approaching nil. I hope to rectify this by doing some live shows. In that department, I’ll be giving at talk at a Sound Art festival here in Balto in mid-May on the cheery subject of “recordings of vocal music responses to grief.”

And then, in early July I’ll celebrate the release of the Ottoman-American LPs on Canary with a show at 2640.

And I’m hoping to make it out to the SF/Portland/Seattle area in the Summer. If you know anyone who wants to book an enthusiastic music nut at their venue or festival… I’ve already asked a lot, haven’t I?

More good news: Black Mirror is supposed to be coming out of vinyl later this year, says Lance at Dust-to-Digital, and it continues to get nice plugs including this one on BoingBoing.net last week (which resulted in the Papagika video being watched seven thousand times in 24 hours!):

be well.
keep on truckin,

THIS SAT., Feb. 13, Philly: A Record Release Party and Memorial Concert for JACK ROSE


Jack Rose passed away suddenly at home in Philadelphia on December 5, 2009. He was widely regarded as the most profound exponent of acoustic guitar playing of his generation. Jack grew to be loved and admired by a great many people through his live performances, electric personality, [serious] cooking skills and a general mastery in the art of friendship. This concert is a release party for his new album Luck In The Valley and an occasion to celebrate and remember the good Dr. Ragtime. The artists performing were all dear friends of Jack’s and admired by him musically.

Saturday, February 13, 2010 – 7:00 PM
Latvian Society of Philadelphia – 531 N. 7th Street

Tickets: $18
Available now: http://www.ticketfly.com/purchase/event/4067

D. Charles Speer & The Helix
Thurston Moore | Paul Flaherty | Chris Corsano
Michael Chapman
The Black Twig Pickers
Glenn Jones
Byron Coley
Meg Baird | Chris Forsyth
Megajam Booze Band
DJ Ian Nagoski
Video clips curated by Tara Young

Newspaper articles previewing this event:

“Blues for Jack Rose: Friends and fans pay tribute to Philadelphia’s lost guitar genius” by A.D. Amorosi (Philadelphia City Paper, Feb 9, 2010)

Remembering an acoustic artist: Philly guitarist Jack Rose seemed poised to reach a new stage in his career before a fatal heart attack in December. Two concerts this weekend will pay tribute to him.” by Joel Rose (no relation) (Philadelphia Inquirer, Feb 9, 2010)

Here is a new song from Jack Rose from Luck of the Valley, out next week, courtesy Thrill Jockey Records:

Stream: [audio:http://www.arthurmag.com/magpie/wp-content/uploads/2010/01/Jack_Rose-Woodpiles.mp3%5D

Download: Jack Rose — “Woodpiles on the Side of the Road” (mp3)

"Fire In My Bones" preview No. 2 of 3: "Don't Let Him Ride" by the Mississippi Nightingales (1971)


Stream: [audio:http://www.arthurmag.com/magpie/wp-content/uploads/2009/10/02-Dont-Let-Him-Ride.mp3%5D

Download: “Don’t Let Him Ride” – Mississippi Nightingales (1971) (mp3)

Here is the second of three songs we’re presenting this week from the forthcoming, eagerly awaited Fire In My Bones: Raw, Rare & Otherworldly African-American Gospel, 1944-2007, a stunning 80-song, triple-CD set compiled by Mike McGonigal of Yeti Magazine fame. Most of the songs on Fire are sourced from independent regional labels, and almost none have ever been widely available. These are some genuine lost treasures of American devotional music, folks. Mike has done some serious collecting, culling, and sequencing on this set, and we’re all the lucky beneficiaries.

The seriously Pops Staples-inflected “Don’t Let Him Ride,” adapted from the O.V. Wright composition, is from the set’s opening disk, “The Wicked Shall Cease from Troubling.” From the liner notes: “This song was released on a 45 on the Home Boy’s label, which might have the best logo artwork this side of Mingering Mike. H-B was one of a handful of labels featuring production by Bishop Bobby King Cole of Memphis, TN.”


Fire In My Bones: Raw, Rare & Otherworldly African-American Gospel, 1944-2007 is being released on October 27, 2009 by the good people of Tompkins Square Records of New York City. You can pre-order now from Amazon.

Previously: “How Long” by Sister Ola Mae Terrell (1948)

"Fire In My Bones" preview No. 1 of 3: "How Long" by Sister Ola Mae Terrell (1948)


Stream: [audio:http://www.arthurmag.com/magpie/wp-content/uploads/2009/10/01-How-Long.mp3%5D

Download: “How Long” – Sister Ola Mae Terrell (1948) (mp3)

Here is the first of three songs we’ll be presenting this week from the forthcoming, eagerly awaited Fire In My Bones: Raw, Rare & Otherworldly African-American Gospel, 1944-2007, a stunning 80-song, triple-CD set compiled by Mike McGonigal of Yeti Magazine fame. Most of the songs on Fire are sourced from independent regional labels, and almost none have ever been widely available. These are some genuine lost treasures of American devotional music, folks. Mike has done some serious collecting, culling, and sequencing on this set, and we’re all the lucky beneficiaries.

“How Long” is from the set’s opening disk, “The Wicked Shall Cease from Troubling.” From the liner notes: “Sister O.M. Terrell recorded one 78 for the Playboy label in 1948, then cut six songs for Columbia five years later. Like many working within the ‘sanctified blues’ tradition, she was an itinerant evangelical singer with holiness affiliations (hers being with the Fire Baptized Holiness Church of God).”

Sister Terrell died in 2006 at the age of 95.

Fire In My Bones: Raw, Rare & Otherworldly African-American Gospel, 1944-2007 is being released on October 27, 2009 by the good people of Tompkins Square Records of New York City. You can pre-order now from Amazon.


Tonight (Sat) 7:30pm, Philly: Peter Stampfel and the Ether Frolic Mob (featuring John Cohen), Brother JT, and deejay Ian Nagoski

Saturday, June 27

Arthur presents…

A special summer twilight show at Frankford Gardens


featuring two sets by



Just added! BROTHER JT


IAN NAGOSKI spinning vintage 78rpm music

2037 Frankford Avenue (enter around back on Sepviva Street)
Philadelphia 19125

suggested donation $5 * bring your own ether and other whatists

foul weather moves show indoors to the music parlor


This will be the Philadelphia debut of New York City’s PETER STAMPFEL AND THE ETHER FROLIC MOB who, Stampfel promises, will “stick our hands up the ass of American music, grab it by the throat, and pull it inside-out. It’s 21st century 19th century American music played in a vast variety of 20th century styles.” We’d expect nothing less—Mr. Stampfel is a founding member of the Holy Modal Rounders and the Fugs, and Frolicker JOHN COHEN is a founding member of the New Lost City Ramblers. (That’s them in the photo above.) Two sets from the Mobsters, who, tonight, will be:

* Peter Stampfel/ vocals, banjo, fiddle, guitar, ‘juke (steel strung National Steel Ukulele tuned like a banjo), assorted percussion
* Jeannie Scofield/ vocals, percussion
* John Cohen/ vocals, guitar, banjo, mandolin
* Hubby Jenkens/ vocals, guitar, percussion, ‘juke, ukelele
* Eli Smith/ vocals, banjo, harmonica, fiddle, ukulele
* Jane Gilday/ vocals, banjo, harmonica, fiddle
* Walker Shepard/ vocals, banjo, guitar, fiddle, ‘juke
* Annabelle Lee/ vocals, guitar, percussion

Get a swig of the Mob via this live performance and interview from 2006 on the Down Home Radio Show


BROTHER JT (pictured above) will be playing a mix of psychedelic spirituals on acoustic guitar, accompanied by Steve Gigante (Dark Inside The Sun).

“For the past twenty years Brother JT has made records that exemplify the ‘freeness’ and dark-green/blood-red hazy warmth of true psychedelia. As a songwriter, he is so proficient that no one takes notice; as a guitar player, he subtly outshines any slinger around (besides the Cheaterslicks’ Dave Shannon) with riffs, leads and solos that are consistently bewildering; as a rock star…well, he was just born for the job, regardless if anyone ever figures it out. He writes one-liner bits of philosophy that are as memorable as those of Yogi Berra, H. L. Mencken, or Will Rogers. JT is, in short, the most hidden of greatest treasures.” —David Katznelson, Arthur No. 8 (available from Arthur store)

Baltimore’s IAN NAGOSKI (compiler of “Black Mirror: Reflections in Global Musics 1918-1954”) will play recordings from the 78 rpm era including pieces from his new collection of music from the first half of the 20th century, “A String of Pearls” (Canary/ Mississippi Records), including music from Constantinople, Milano, Bucharest, Uttar Pradesh, Armenia, Sunda, Thrace, Jamaica, Serbia, Cairo, Huilotita, Seville, Hue, Aleppo, Rajastan, the Carpathians, a Zuni reservation and much more.

Ian on Baltimore public radio, playing and discussing his 78rpm music finds from around world:

Ian blogs on Arthurmag.com:

Ian Nagoski surveys the immigrant music stores of Baltimore


Gilbert Akanno, president and CEO of Olympic International Food Market (photography by Rarah)

From the April 1, 2009 Baltimore City Paper:

Notes From Home
A short tour of non-English-language music for sale in Baltimore
by Ian Nagoski

Ask the man on the street how many music stores there are in Baltimore, and he may be able to name a few of the bigger places–Sound Garden, for example. A minority of passionate music-hunters might name funkier holes-in-the-wall selling mostly used stuff. But the truth is that there are dozens of places with new sounds on offer. The trick is that most of the music isn’t in English. The majority of these places locally are targeted to immigrant groups, people whose music is utterly underrepresented in the U.S. media, or even on the web.

The need for music from the motherland is something that has been consistent among each wave of immigrants to the United States for as long as the country has existed. The Prussian, Slavic, Anglo, and Scandinavian newcomers of the 18th and 19th centuries carried their songs with them in their memories and performed them for one another, often keeping traditions alive in the New World long after they’d faded away in their native lands. The African diaspora has retained essential aspects of the music of the lost homeland. And, as we all know, the styles commingled and transmogrified into “American” music–jazz, gospel, blues, country, rock, hip-hop.

The process of holding on to the songs of the Old World changed when recording came along in the first decades of the 20th century. Starting in the 1910s and ’20s, records were marketed to all of the major immigrant groups: German, Irish, Italian, Bulgarian, Serb, Pole, Arab, Jew, Armenian, Greek, Japanese, Philippine, you name it, the record companies were already going after a share of their earnings by selling immigrants something irresistible–a song from home. For a variety of reasons, including the restructuring of the record business caused by the Depression, the advent of radio, the intermarriage of ethnic groups, and the desire to become capital-A American, by the mid-20th century much of that wave’s imported music remained niche “ethnic” material, kept alive in enclaves or simply abandoned by the immigrants’ descendants.

Over the past 50 years, waves of immigrants from Asia, South and Central America, and Africa have traveled a path to cultural citizenship cleared by earlier immigrants consisting of long hours of work, demands from the predominant culture to adapt linguistically, and marginal representation in the main cultural venues. Latinos may produce hip-hop (Beatnuts) and Armenians may play rock (System of a Down), but they conform to the existing standards of the style, otherwise they remain marginal and “ethnic.” Mainstream America might patronize a Vietnamese restaurant for a taste of the exotic, but no American radio station plays Vietnamese music.

There’s really no reason it should be this way, though. Among every cultural subgroup in the United States, there are beloved sad songs; there are amazing peacock-like displays of virtuosity; there are nostalgic stories about the Old Days; there are special songs for important days of the year or moments in life. These are consistencies among us all, despite any differences in language or sound. Why should it be hard to ask the next guy, “What is this song? What does it say? Who is this singing?” The answers could lead to interesting places–maybe to your new favorite music.

Listening to the music of our neighbors is how many of our greatest cultural achievements have been made. Immigrants do it all the time, and if the descendants of immigrants did it half as much, the country would be richer for it. One place to start is immigrants’ shops.


Baltimore Underground Hippie Paper Imagery, pt 1

From Ian Nagoski:

Here’s the first of a gaggle of posts we’ll be doing of images from newsprint hippie publications from Baltimore, 1968-71.

These are from Harry, which to quote Joe Vaccarino’s Baltimore Sounds: An Illustrated Encyclopedia of Baltimore Area Pop Musicians, Bands & Recordings 1950-1980, “was founded in 1969 by Michael Carliner… After a rocky start, when the original staff revolted and walked out on the eve of the first issue’s press run, Harry became the choice alternative free [sic] paper of the Baltimore political and musical communities. Early contributors included Art Levine, P.J. O’Rourke, Tom D’Antoni, Alan Rose and Jack Heyrman. Harry survived many raids, takeovers and other traumatic events to provide alternative and community news at the height of the Vietnam, hippie, yippie era.”

<img src="http://www.arthurmag.com/magpie/wp-content/uploads/2009/03/p3070498-211×300.jpg&quot; alt=""
<img src="http://www.arthurmag.com/magpie/wp-content/uploads/2009/03/p3070505-300×233.jpg&quot; alt=""
<img src="http://www.arthurmag.com/magpie/wp-content/uploads/2009/03/p3070525-300×225.jpg&quot; alt=""

Ottoman Empirical Evidence: the Beginning of Recording in the Years of Decline


From Ian Nagoski:

From the beginning of the 14th century through the following five hundred years, the Ottoman Empire spread from Anatolia north through the Balkans, east through Persia, south through Arabia and west across nearly the entire North Coast of Africa, expanding across just slightly less land than the Roman Empire at its peak. After collapsing slowly through the 19th century and early 20th century, the Treaty of Lausanne in 1923 dissolved the last of the Empire and formalized the successor state of Turkey. The cultural and political fallout of five centuries of Turkish administrative and cultural domination over the Eastern Mediterranean lands will continue through generations still to come.

Coincident with the waning years of the Ottoman Empire was the birth of the sound recording industry, and thousands of recordings were made of the music of the Turks and the ethnic minorities that they governed within the Ottoman territories. Two juicy websites offer substantial collections of the sounds of the musical art of the Turks and Arabs before the radical cultural shifts of the early and mid-20th century (and two decades before the invention of the microphone!), all gratis.

Twenty-two stunning recordings made in Constantinople and Cairo ca. 1906-07 are available for download here:
Archeophone.org Collection of Turkish and Arabic Zonophone Discs
And twenty-one cylinder recordings made ca. 1900 (!) of Turkish and Arabic music are available here:
University of California, Santa Barbara Collection of Middle-Eastern Cyliders

To top it all off, there is plenty of the great master Cemil Bey to be had on the internet, but this flabbergasting fiddle performance from the 10s on YouTube is absolutely not to be missed. (I have no explaination for the groaning, atonal, gestural passages which bear stunning resemblance to “radical” developments in mid- and late-20th century jazz and Western classical music, although I’d be grateful for any information on this piece that anyone can offer.)
Tanburi Cemil Bey – Janik Nini

Adrianna Amari's Prayer for the Morning Headlines and the Uses of Grief


From Ian Nagoski:

“The strong emotions and social disruption engendered by death have always given grief a potential for politicization, whether it finds its voice in the laments of village women, the gay poet’s elegy, or the war memorial.”
-Gail Holst-Warhaft, The Cue for Passion: Grief and Its Political Uses (Harvard, 2000)

During the 90s Adrianna Amari was photographing statuary in Baltimore cemeteries, where she discovered images of foundational human experiences – sorrow, loss, myth, memory, the need for tradition and ritual, and the interconnection of sky, earth and weather with man-made craft. Her empathic photos waited through a series of personal meetings with mortality in her own life until meeting Father Daniel Berrigan, the poet, peace activist and Catholic priest who famously napalmed draft files outside of a draftboard near Baltimore in 1968. Amari suggested to Berrigan the publication of a volume of his selected poetry in juxtaposition with her images. When he agreed, she writes that she noticed that she “had unknowingly been taking pictures for his poems all along.”

The result was published in 2007 by the student-run Apprentice Press (also in Baltimore) as Prayer for the Moring Headlines: On the Sanctity of Life and Death. It’s an extraordinary collection melding the most deeply personal, immediate, overwhelming and little-talked-about feelings of grief with a broad view of which acknowledges the value of all of that seemingly chaotic intensity in justifying and reordering the world – in art, politics, social change and the day-to-day interpersonal action. Howard Zinn describes the subject of it in his introduction to the book as, “life and death, the prayer that comes with commitment, the hope that comes with resistance, the visions of a world where peace and justice prevail.” Inspirational and core stuff to find in a graveyard.

Berrigan’s “You Finish It: I Can’t”

The world is somewhere visibly round,
perfectly lighted, firm, free in space,

but why we die like kings or
sick animals, why tears stand
in living faces, why one forgets

the color of the eyes of the dead–

Serpent Power on A Journey Round My Skull



Philadelphian Will Schofield’s monumentally great A Journey Round My Skull blog (named for the first-person Hungarian account of early 20th century brain surgery) of “Unhealthy Book Fetishism” has long relished in the intensity of the gaze, a combination of fascination and repugnance which is almost psychedelic in its insistence.

His most recent posts have artfully combined lustfully sought-after images with utterly maniacal texts, so that the image here is given with with a longer section of this text called “The Process of Slow Digestion” by Mileton Barba.

“Dr. Spasmodeus Smugglington shrank back, his skin shriveled and every hair on his body bristled, his nerves contracted, his guts drew taut, when he saw the little red eyes, brilliant as rubies, and the shiny, bifurcated tongue, its movements accelerated by excitement, darting, zig-zagging wildly in a bold, vertiginous arc”

Dig through the archives and be jealous, amazed, confused and sickened in turns or simultaneously by Schofield’s research. But watch for whatever he does next.