Let’s have a happy hurrah for Byron Coley, this publication’s longest-term continuous contributor, and as of right now its first and only Senior Writer. Coley earned this title the hard way, not just knocking out hundreds of column inches’ worth of learned music-art-poetry-film-comics-whatsit reviewage over the last ten years with Bull Tongue partner Thurston Moore on deadline for no pay, but also pinch-hitting on other stuff when ye young editor had yet again foolishly over-extended himself. (Plus there was that Yoko Ono feature that shoulda been a cover, back in 2007…) No one has flown the freak flag higher or for longer at Arthur than Byron…or done a better job of explaining why exactly that old flag was still worth checking out.
From what I can tell, Byron has always been like this. I first knew him by his editor/writer byline first, as co-prime mover with Jimmy Johnson of Forced Exposure, an irregularly published magazine that somehow covered almost all that was great and interesting in the ‘80s/’90s in a style/format that didn’t exist before and hasn’t existed since: a sweet combo of smart riffs, ribald japery, ecstatic poetics, subcultural scholarship and two bits of the old hairy shockola. The breadth of coverage, the depth of thought-feel about the subjects at hand, the high quality of the radar in choosing what was worthy of ink, the guts to run ridiculously long pieces regardless of overt commercial appeal, the relentlessly inventive wordspiel that flowed across page after black-and-white page…it all made each issue of FE a necessary acquisition. It was a lotta words to the wise from wise guides.
These are very different times than the ‘80s/’90s. No single independent entity today—certainly not this humble rag—could hope to cover the same cultural terrain as FE did with the same authority or insight, given the overwhelming glut of artistic production unleashed upon us all by our misguided computer nerd lords. You can’t keep tabs on it all. But what the hell. For the advocate journalist-scholar, there’s still the Basic Practice: find good stuff, tell other people about it. And don’t waste effort—try to be of positive use in times that aren’t so great. I know I’m embarrassing him into a startling new shade of pink-purple when I write this, but I’m hard-pressed to think of a more personally inspiring figure in America in this regard than Byron.
And there couldn’t be a much worthier, more overdue subject for an extended Arthur cover feature by Byron than Matt Valentine. In a way, I’m glad it’s taken ‘til 2013 to get round to covering MV, because now we get to view such a rich, extended life/art/career trajectory—that is, how his move from college to urban to rural locale has played out, and how a musician with such a singular vision, rooted in so many intriguing aesthetics, has found a way to persist, on his own terms, for so long, in such a trying period for working artists. In short: Matt’s cracked a lot of codes, and Byron has shared them with us with 202 footnotes that only he could write.
“Follow your bliss”… “Do what you love, the money will follow…” —probably the two worst pieces of counsel that can be given to a young person seeking career advice—unless the counsel-giver is a credit card company, in which case they stand to profit handsomely from young people going into debt while following their dream, expecting the money to flow right in.
Jack Rose, a working musician who died suddenly three years ago this month at the unfair age of 38, knew that this kind of life advice was utter horseshit. Nothing magically comes to you because you do what you love. It can be hard for solo practitioners to stand up for themselves, to merge commerciality and hustling with artistic creation and expression. But there’s no getting around it. Jack made sure he always got paid, and he was justifiably proud of it. Jack knew that you gotta get compensated for your work, or have another source of income that funds your labor of love, or else you go into debt.
I got Arthur into a lot of debt. Giving away the magazine for free from 2002-2008 while relying on revenue for the enterprise from advertisers didn’t work. There were never enough advertisers, and all too few of them paid on time. Arthur was always short on cash. Writers, photographers and artists labored for free. By the end of 2008, when Arthur ceased print publication, I’d worked my way into six-figure nightmare debt trying to keep Arthur going, becoming a constant walking bummer to close friends and family. When Wall Street brought the global economy to a halt in September 2008, it was impossible for Arthur to go on. We weren’t alone, of course—countless other folks saw their worlds collapse as the economy contracted that winter.
But Jack Rose’s world kept getting brighter. Not only had he found a rich artistic path to follow, one that so many of us were eager to listen to him tread, he’d figured out a way to pay the toll for the road. That said, Jack wasn’t ever just about himself. Quite the opposite: Jack’s tenacity at getting audience members to pay a pitiable cover charge for performing musicians at Philadelphia house parties was legendary. I found out later that this was not an activity limited to Philly.
Jack looked out for Arthur, too. In early 2009, not long after we put the magazine on hiatus, sweet Michael “Mountainhood” Hilde organized Arthurdesh, an impromptu benefit concert for the magazine in Brooklyn, produced by the wonderful Todd P. Jack was one of the first performers to donate his services. Jack not only played onstage that night—a set that, typically for Jack, shushed and awed and moved a crowd waiting for louder fare—but he also helped hustle stuff at the Arthur merch table, standing there next to fellow performer Peter Stampfel, perhaps the most effortlessly hip/soulful odd couple I’ve ever been lucky enough to gaze upon.
Four years later, we’re back in action. I like to think that Jack would be happy to see Arthur alive again, and happier that we are charging five dollars for it, so that contributors can get paid, and nobody goes into debt doing it. Lesson learned, Jack.
Thank you for supporting our efforts by paying for the rag you’re holding. It’s good to be alive again, doing something that we love.
This was the first, introductory post for Arthur Magazine’s little-seen (and now erased) blog on the Yahoo Music site. Kind of a statement of purpose for Arthur circa 2007. It is a bit self-righteous/snide/grandiose, but geez, look at the dumbness that was going on. Different era now but maybe it has some resonance? I dunno.This was written for a general-ish audience (that didn’t really exist, haha) and it’s deliberately provocative. And it’s dated. But whatever. There it is. I was often exasperated by dumb stuff in the mainstream media, had trouble just ignoring it.
Hidden in Plain Sight
by Jay Babcock
I was recently asked by a newspaper reporter to comment on artists licensing their music for use in commercials. For a certain generation of fan, or music journalist, I guess, there is still some vestigial outrage over a musician playing for his supper. For these folks, selling your music to soundtrack an iTunes or VW ad is a big sell-out, a violation of some unspoken, unsigned compact between artist and fan regarding the purposes to which art can be rightly put. Few of us are surprised anymore by this casual betrayal—there’s all sorts of justifications for it, of course, and we all know it’s gonna happen anyway—but still, it stings to be reminded, once again, that nothing is sacred, not even our holy texts (cf. the Doors’ “Break On Through,” Nick Drake’s “Pink Moon”). We hate to learn that even our monastics have a price.
Get over it, says everyone under 35. Raised on the Market Knows Best principles promulgated through hip-hop, sports, celebrities, government, public education and other wings of corporate capitalism (the real winner after the failed counterculture revolution of the Sixties), most of Gen X and Gen 9-11 don’t blink once at all the formerly taboo-on-their-face money-makin’ practices that have become commonplace in today’s music industry. (There’s that word, “industry”: whenever something stops being a Mode of Expression or Field of Endeavor and becomes an Industry, you can be sure a steep decline in quality is around the corner.) For most of us, there’s simply no issue here. An artist, if they’re not a fool or some weirdo on a self-denial trip, will of course sign a deal with a record label owned by a sleazy transnational corporation, perform on tours sponsored by other sleazy corporations and the US military recruitment machine, and participate in whatever crypto-payola scams are going on right now (radio station “charity” wintertime acoustic concerts being possibly the most egregious offenders in this category) in the hopes of getting some airplay, some screentime, some press, some publicity, some tour sponsorship, some ringtone deal, some movie soundtrack deal, some videogame deal, some slot in Starbucks in-store programming and yes of course, the grand slam, at least for a “new”/”fresh”/”buzz”/”breaking” band: a TV AD DEAL. Those who fail to do so are unlucky, or unworthy, market failures, yanked offstage by the proverbial cane—held, of course, by Adam Smith’s Invisible Hand.
But isn’t there a larger question here?
What if we turn it around a bit, and ask WHY IS IT that the only way a young musician can get across to the general public these days (to the degree that one exists anymore, having been successfully niche-ized, atomized and banalified in pursuit of corporate profits, but that’s a whole ‘nother blog post…) is as wallpaper for some other product? Why is it that we can’t hear new music on the radio, or see new music performed on television? In other words, why isn’t music on its own, given its own space in the still-powerful mass media? Isn’t music good enough? Or, could it be that it’s just not profitable enough? And if the latter is the case, shouldn’t we ask why the mass media system–and our planet’s airwaves, which belong to all of us–structured in such a way that our right to meaningful, rich, sensuous, full-of-life art is increasingly denied?
What I’m saying is: artists have not failed their obligation to their art by selling out to the system. Instead, the system itself has failed the artists, and by extension, the listening public. But even as music-as-itself has been deemed insufficiently profitable, people still want to hear it…and so our nation’s finest corporate super-brains have diligently supplied us with the most efficient, state-of-the-art music industry schemes available: Fox’s “American Idol”—a quasi-industrial training film disguised as a TV game show/soap opera, an idea borrowed from the Brits—and CBS’s corporate reality show “Rock Star,” which, in its initial season, featured actual humans competing on camera to replace the dead guy in INXS, the whole affair breathlessly chronicled by the co-hosting team of Brooke Burke and Dave Navarro.
Dave Navarro: now there’s a name to conjure with. Is there any other musician in recent memory who has so thoroughly–and publicly–squandered and betrayed all of his promise, talent, credibitlity and integrity? The man who who played guitar in Jane’s Addiction–a radical, somewhat-misunderstood band unfortunately overshadowed by the Lollapalooza colossus that its singer spawned–now spends his short time on the planet doing play-by-play for a fake band of rock careerists and hosting oh-so-dangerous-by-the-numbers premiere parties for insipid “torture porn” feature films. Dave has just launched “Spread Entertainment,” which is all about his deep desire to “to use the Internet to support artists and see things that are out there that other corporate structures aren’t allowing us to see. It seems with satellite TV, the Internet, magazines—there’s almost so many options, and we’re only seeing the same five things.” A rather breathtaking statement, asking us to somehow ignore Dave’s active participation in all the aforementioned craptaculars, as well as his “work” on the execrable Camp Freddy Radio program, broadcast Saturday nights in Los Angeles.
Which rather conveniently brings us back to where we started: one of the reasons musicians, especially young ones, license their music to all comers on the TV ad front, is because they can’t get substantial radio airtime anywhere, not even self-styled “indie”/”we can play whatever we want” shows like “Camp Freddy.” And so, everyone loses.
Case in point: on Saturday night, March 3, driving downtown to see Marnie Stern play at The Smell in her first-ever L.A. gig, my radio-scanning ended, naturally, when I heard Van Halen. Happiness! Until, at the song’s conclusion, it became apparent that I’d accidentally tuned in to the dread Camp Freddy. Now, this was in the week just after Eddie had announced that, unlike Amy Winehouse, he would go back to rehab, which in turn meant the summer’s Van Halen reunion tour with Diamond Dave Lee Roth and Eddie’s 15-year-old son Wolfgang on bass, was off—suckage!—which got non-Diamond Dave, that is Dave Navarro, talking about how Eddie’s signature fingertapping guitar style, once widely imitated, was now obsolete. Which was pretty laughable, given that within a half-hour of his making that comment, Marnie Stern was finger-tapping our faces off at the Smell. (Don’t believe me? Watch her and the equally remarkable free rock drummer Zach Hill in duo performance here.)
Now, if ever there was an artist worthy of mass media coverage, of being granted access to the airwaves, of being let through the gates to those of us who, in spite of everything, still have curious, engaged ears, it’s a once-in-a-decade (or more?) talent like Marnie Stern. You want finger tapping? Well, here you go! But she doesn’t even register with Navarro and the other gatekeepers, because they’ve all been paid off. Or are lazy. Or willfully ignorant. Or compliant. Doing what they’re told, letting in what the robots tell them to: drones for hire, de facto censors of consciousness. Bow down to the new kommisars: for-hire ad agencies and marketing firms, like Deutsch LA, whose boss told the Los Angeles Times last week that “Everyone has a cool friend that exposes them to new things—the idea is that a brand can become that kind of channel.” Word to the wise: a corporation doesn’t want to be your friend. It wants your money.
Opening up the gates, or rather, ignoring them altogether, is what Arthur—the print magazine, the website, the label, the festivals, and now this Yahoo!Music blog—is all about. Arthur isn’t for hire. (Arthur’s not even for sale—the magazine is free.) Arthur is a labor of love for those of us working here—it’s not a marketing initiative, not a quest for lucre. (Some things really are more important than money.) And so, when we’re given the opportunity to do what we want, we do what we love: we champion the musicians, the artists, the thinkers out there who are doing extraordinary work, who you might dig if only somebody hipped you to them—somebody who hasn’t been paid to do the job, somebody you could trust. That’s been our aim since we started Arthur in 2002: to be a learned, enthusiastic guide to the bustling, effervescent, mindblowing, and endlessly re-generating underground–the loamy place where everything good comes from. The place that denies entry to no one.
The new issue of Wilder Quarterly features a piece by me and my partner, Stephanie Smith, on our “off the pavement but on the grid” life out here in Joshua Tree: wilderness stewardship, structure rehab, edenification, permaculture, mutual aid, climate change mitigation, urban outreach, stargazing, tortoise-beholding, etc. Here’s an image of the first two (of six) pages, with photography for Wilder by Elizabeth Weinberg…
Originally published in Arthur No. 34 (April 2013)….
DIAGRAMMING THE DIVINE SPARK Is there a way to examine the nature of existence at its very foundation? Esoteric mapmaker DAVID CHAIM SMITH say yes—but there’s a price. by Jay Babcock
I first encountered David Chaim Smith’s remarkable, bewildering work through Pam Grossman’s Phantasmaphile newsletter, a daily email bulletin spotlighting a contemporary or historic personage up to something witchy and beautiful, usually in the visual arts. Smith’s work was particularly striking in its unusual combination of diagrammatic composition, simple media (pencil!?!) and unapologetically rarefied Kabbalistic-Gnostic content. Generally that would be more than enough to warrant further investigation, but it was the work’s difficult-to-grok provenance that intrigued me the most: these pieces looked like plates that could have been included in Alexander Roob’s Taschen compendium of dazzling Medieval alchemical artwork, The Hermetic Museum (alternative title, courtesy of Adam Egypt Mortimer: The Original Face Melter Times A Thousand). They seemed like the kind of work that’s usually brought to light by accident, decades after the a recluse’s death or disappearance (or committal to a mental ward): strange, highly charged devotional work rescued from a trashbin, the details of its artist’s life and practice gone to dust, Iain Sinclair on the case.
And yet, the author of these stupefying drawings is alive and well—David Chaim Smith [above] is a contemporary New York artist with an MFA, a publisher and (until recently) a gallery. Despite living a semi-monastic life, Smith seems eager to engage with a curious public. He has a website. He’s on Facebook. Dig a little and you’ll find a few occultist-oriented podcast interviews and accounts of public talks he’s given in the last few years around the publication of his two books—2010’s esoteric exegesis The Kabbalistic Mirror of Genesis: Commentary on Genesis 1-3 (Daat Press) and 2012’s massive art/text collection The Sacrificial Universe (Fulgur)—and a 2010 gallery show. And now, here he is on the other end of the telephone line in late January, just days after completing his new book, Blazing Dew of Stars, set for publication this springOctober 23, 2013 by Fulgur. A surprisingly garrulous fellow, Smith spoke frankly about who he is, where he comes from and how his day-to-day life and spiritual practice generates such artwork. What follows is a condensed version of our conversation.
THE BIOPHONIC MAN Guitarist, composer and analog synthesizer pioneer BERNIE KRAUSE left the recording studio to find that really wild sound. What he discovered was far more profound. by Jay Babcock Illustrations by Kevin Hooyman
“…The entity’s life will be tempered with song, music, those things having to do with nature.” — Edgar Cayce, the 20th-century American psychic, from a ‘life reading’ given when Bernie Krause was six weeks old, as reported in Krause’s Notes From the Wild (Ellipsis Arts, 1996)
Has any single person—any entity—ever been better situated to explore music’s Biggest Questions—that is: what is it, what’s it for, why do we like it, where did it come from, why does it sound the way it does—than Bernie Krause?
Check the biography. Born in 1938, Krause grew up a violin-playing prodigy with poor eyesight in post-World War II Detroit. By his teens he had switched to guitar and was making extra money sitting in as a session player at Motown. In 1963, he took over the Pete Seeger position in foundational modern American folk band The Weavers for what would be their final year of performances. He then moved west to study at Mills College, where avant garde composers Stockhausen and Pauline Oliveros were in residence. Soon he encountered jazz musician and inventive early analog synth player Paul Beaver, who was introducing the Moog to psychedelic pop music. They formed Beaver & Krause, an in-demand artistic partnership that released a string of utterly unclassifiable acoustic-electronic albums in addition to doing studio work with adventurous pop musicians (The Doors, George Harrison, Stevie Wonder, etc.) and composing and recording for stylish TV and film projects (The Twilight Zone, Rosemary’s Baby, Performance, etc.). After Beaver’s sudden death in 1975, Krause began to shift his attention towards field recordings of natural soundscapes.
This wasn’t such a great leap. In the late ‘60s, inspired by an idea from their friend Van Dyke Parks, Beaver and Krause had first tried to record outdoor sounds for use on their eco-musical album In a Wild Sanctuary. Now, Krause followed this thread more intensely, traveling to seemingly every far corner of the globe, innovating techniques and utilizing new technology to more accurately capture the sound of what’s left of Earth’s rapidly diminishing wild.
What Krause discovered there, and how it compares to what we now experience in daily life in the un-Wild, is the subject of his latest book, The Great Animal Orchestra: Finding the Origins of Music in the World’s Wild Places, published last year. Writing with a scientist’s precision, an artist’s poetic wonder and a human being’s persistent outrage, Krause tosses in astonishing highlights from decades of field notes (elk in the American West are into reverb; the sound of corn growing is “staccato-like clicks and squeaks…like rubbing dry hands across the surface of a party balloon”; ants sing by rubbing their legs across their abdomens; the fingernail-sized Pacific tree frog can be heard more than a hundred yards away; “You can actually determine the temperature by counting the number of chirps made by certain crickets”; etc.) as he make several interweaving arguments about the aforementioned Big Questions of Music. One thesis is that the sound of animals in a healthy habitat is organized, a sort of proto-orchestra. What follows from this is the startling argument that gives the book its title: our music comes from early humans mimicking the sounds of the soundscapes they were enveloped in—we “transform(ed) the rhythms of sound and motion in the natural world into music and dance… [O]ur songs emulate the piping, percussion, trumpeting, polyphony, and complex rhythmic output of the animals in the place we lived.” And we developed our music(s) not just by imitating animals such as the common potoo, who sings the pentatonic scale, but also by mimicking other natural sounds: in one of the book’s most striking episodes, Krause recalls hearing the church organ-like sound of wind passing over broken reeds in Lake Wallowa in northeastern Oregon. “Now you know where we got our music,” a Nez Perce tribal elder tells him. “And that’s where you got yours, too.”
This past spring, I interviewed the entity Bernie Krause via the far-from-ideal set-up of two speaker phones. Ah well. Following is some of our conversation, condensed by me, and edited with additional thoughts by Bernie via subsequent emails.
A version of this article ran in MOJO’s December 2001 issue — the one with Michael Jackson on the cover. That version was 6,000 words long. What follows is my original 9200-word draft. Also, you might want to check out “Black Flag: A 12-Step Program in Self-Reliance,” a companion piece that I assembled for a special issue of the LAWeekly. There is a bit of overlap between the two, but not too much. If ever there was a band that deserved multiple histories from different angles, it was this one, I think. Enjoy. —Jay Babcock
THEIR WAR or, Black Flag, 1977-1981. or, Black Flag: The First Five Years or, The Making of Hardcore: the problem child of punk rock
by Jay Babcock
“When I first joined Black Flag, I thought I was ready,” Henry Rollins told Mojo recently. “Greg Ginn taught me otherwise.”
During the four years preceding the then-20-year-old Rollins’ entrance as Black Flag’s fourth singer in midsummer 1981, the proto-hardcore punk rock band had already become a formidable musical and subcultural force. They’d looped across North America on epic-length low-budget tours, released a string of full-frontal, open-throttle, dark-humored EPs on their own label, and had become an underground sensation despite ongoing poverty, record industry disinterest, lead singer churn, news media hysteria regarding the violence surrounding the band’s performances and, most ominously, an ever-escalating amount of real-life conflict with local police departments. In those years, Black Flag had perfected a practice-tour-record-24/7/365-Do-It-Yourself work/life ethic that few people–even a young Henry Rollins–were prepared to adopt as their own.
Almost all of the songs on Black Flag’s Damaged–the band’s landmark debut album released 20 years ago this month–were written by Flag founder-guitarist Greg Ginn and/or bassist Chuck Dukowski before Rollins joined the band. It’s a remarkable, uncompromising album. But some would argue that _Everything Went Black_ and _The First Four Years_ — compilations of the band’s earlier recordings featuring vocalists Keith Morris, Ron Reyes and Dez Cadena — may have been even better.
“In my opinion, the finest Black Flag record is The First Four Years,” Rollins himself wrote in Get In the Van, his 1994 Black Flag memoirs. He still stands by that assessment today: “Greg had great work all through the rest of the Flag stuff but there’s something special about that early stuff. There wasn’t anything like it anywhere else. [Singing those songs] was a challenge because they were all great singers and I didn’t think that I measured up, really. I did the best I could.”
This is the story behind Black Flag’s first four years: how a group of self-described “geeky, nerdy beach rats” from Hermosa Beach, California took the punk rock emanating from New York and the UK and reshaped it into something more intense and single-minded. Aggressive, furious, desperate and darkly satirical music. Music completely divorced from fashion moves and art-school pretenses. Music that almost no one was ready for.
After 20-plus years navigating strange, inspiring trips across myriad underground psychedelic terrains with a host of fellow free folk, righteous musician/head MATT VALENTINE (MV & EE, Tower Recordings, etc) finally spills all possible beans in an unprecedented, career-summarizing, ridiculously footnoted epic interview by BYRON COLEY. Plus: Deep archival photo finds from the MV vaults, a sidebar wander through some important MV listening experiences with your guide Dan Ireton, and a gorgeous cover painting by ARIK ROPER of MV & EE at peace in the cosmic wild. Delicious!
Orange County, California psych rockers FEEDING PEOPLE left the church, entered the void, lost band members and returned to our reality to sing their tale in glorious reverb. Chris Ziegler investigates, with photography by Ward Robinson…
Everyone needs someone to love, and AROMATIC APHRODISIACS are here to help that lovin’ along (sans wack pharma side effects). From truffles to borrachero, author-scholars CHRISTIAN RATSCH and CLAUDIA MULLER-EBELING get in on the action. Illustrations by Kira Mardikes…
Gabe Soria chats with novelist AUSTIN GROSSMAN (Soon I Will Be Invincible) about the basic weirdness of playing (and making) VIDEO GAMES, with art by Ron Rege, Jr….
All-new full-color comics by Lale Westvind, Will Sweeney, Vanessa Davis and Jonny Negron…
Is there a way to examine the nature of existence at its very foundation? Esoteric mapmaker DAVID CHAIM SMITH says yes—but there’s a price. Interview by Jay Babcock…
Stewart Voegtlin on what (or: who) made MELVINS’ 1992 beercrusher Lysol the most unlikely religious record ever built, with art by Stewart’s Chips N Beer mag compatriot Beaver…
“Weedeater” Nance Klehm on BETTER HOME BREWING…
The Center for Tactical Magic on ANARCHO-OCCULTISM…
PLUS! Byron Coley and Thurston Moore’s essential underground review column, Bull Tongue, now expanded to two giant pages. Covered in this issue: New York Art Quartet, Don Cauble, Douglas Blazek, Rick Myers, Desmadrados, Century Plants, Richard Aldrich, Robbie Basho, Steffen Basho-Junghans, Bed Wettin’ Bad Boys, Michael Zacchilli, Pat Murano, Tom Carter, Les Conversions, Hobo Sunn, Decimus, Saifyya, Jeff Keen, Inspector 22, Yves/Son/Ace, Pink Priest, Smegma, Nouvelle Impressions D’Afrique, K. Johnson Bair, Major Stars, Endless Boogie, David Novick, Joe Carducci, Scam, Erick Lyle, Phantom Horse, Failing Lights, Tomuntonttu, The Lost Domain, George Laughead jr., Xochi, Sublime Frequencies, Barbara Rubin, Red Rippers, Linda King, Cuntz, My Cat Is An Alien, Bird Build Nests Underground, Pestrepeller, Painting Petals on Planet Ghost, Peter Stampfel, Joshua Burkett, Michael Chapman, L’Oie de Cravan Press, Genvieve Desrosiers, The Residents, Dawn McCarthy, Bonnie Prince Billy, Ensemble Pearl, Azita, Woo, Galactic Zoo Dossier, Mad Music INc., White Limo, Excusamwa, Little Black Egg, Dump, Jarrett Kobek, Felix Kubin, The Army, Bruce Russell, and Gate…
And more stuff too hot to divulge online!
Please keep in mind… Arthur is no longer distributed for free anywhere. Those days are (sadly) long gone. Now you gotta buy Arthur or you won’t see it. Our price: Five bucks—not so bad!
This piece was originally published in Arthur No. 13 (Nov. 2004), with cover artwork by John Coulthart and design by William T. Nelson, pictured above (click image to view at larger size). A correction involving Cosmic Charlie published in a later issue has been embedded in the text here at the most natural point. I’m sorry that I’ve been unable to include the many fantastic photographs from the print article here. However, I have added a still from the film “Will the Real Norman Mailer Please Stand Up” by Dick Fontaine, which we did not have access to at the time of print publication into the text, and there are more stills from various films appended. —Jay Babcock
Clip from Arthur No. 13’s Table of Contents page, featuring photo by Robert A. Altman.
OUT, DEMONS, OUT!
On October 21, 1967, the Pentagon came under a most unconventional assault.
An oral history by Larry “Ratso” Sloman, Michael Simmons and Jay Babcock
* * *
INTRODUCTION BY MICHAEL SIMMONS By Autumn of 1967, the “police action” in Vietnam had escalated. The United States of America waged War—that hideous manifestation of the human race’s worst instincts—against the small, distant, sovereign land. 485,600 American troops were then stationed in Nam; 9,353 would die in ’67 alone. We were there under false pretenses (the “attack’ at the Gulf of Tonkin that never happened), operating under a paranoid doctrine (the Domino Theory, fretting that Vietnamese Communists fighting a civil war in their own country with popular support would envelop all of Southeast Asia and end up invading Dubuque, Iowa). Seven million tons of bombs would eventually be dropped, as opposed to two million during World War II. Indiscriminate use of gruesome weaponry was deployed, most infamously napalm, a jelly that sticks to—and burns through—human skin. Saturation bombings, free-fire zones, massive defoliation with the carcinogen Agent Orange. “Destroying the village to save it,” as one American military man put it.
For a generation that remembered the Nuremberg Trials of Nazi war criminals after WW II, something had to be done. Genocidal fugitive Adolf Eichmann’s “I was just following orders” excuse would not fly. The draft was sending 18-year-olds off to die. A domestic anti-war movement emerged, as had a counterculture of hairy young people who rejected the militarism, greed, sexual repression, and stunted consciousness of their parents and leaders to pursue Joy and Sharing as well as Dope, Rock and Roll, and Fucking in the Streets. Pundits spoke of The Generation Gap. A quaking chasm had split the nation.
San Francisco painter Michael Bowen had a dream of people coming together to celebrate his city’s burgeoning hippie subculture, and so he and his wife Martine initiated the Great Human Be-In on Sunday, January 14, 1967. Sub-billed as A Gathering of the Tribes, 10,000 hippies, radicals and free spirits convened in Golden Gate Park. Beat poets emceed (Allen Ginsberg, Gary Snyder, Michael McClure, Lenore Kandel), rock bands rocked (Grateful Dead, Big Brother & the Holding Company, Quicksilver Messenger Service, the Charlatans), Hell’s Angels returned lost kids to their mommies – and the cops busted no one, despite rampant open marijuana use. For many, the realization that there were other Martians was transcendental. Berkeley anti-war activist Jerry Rubin gave a speech, but his narrow political rap was dubbed “too histrionic” by Ginsberg and many in the crowd. It fortuitously forked Rubin’s direction. “It was the first time I did see a new society,” he said later. “I saw there was no need for a political statement. I didn’t understand that until then, either.”
Events ending with the suffix “In” became the rage. Bob Fass hosted the hippest radio show in the country, “Radio Unnameable” on New York’s WBAI. The all-night gab-and-music fest was Freak Centra, functioning as a pre-internet audio website. Regular guests included Realist editor Paul Krassner (dubbed “Father of the Underground Press”), underground film director Robert Downey Sr. (father and namesake of…), actor/writer Marshall Efron (arguably the funniest man on the planet), and a manic activist-gone-psychedelic named Abbie Hoffman—all rapping madly, verbally riffing and improvising like musicians. One night after participating in a UsCo avant-garde multi-media show of projections, movies, music, etc., at an airplane hangar, Fass stopped by nearby JFK International Airport and noticed a group of three dozen young people—clearly ripped to the tits—communally entranced by a giant mobile centerpiecing a terminal. The vast open spaces of an airport, with jet planes and stars in the sky, were the stage for dreams to come to life. Fass flashed on the infinite possibilities.
He conceived a Fly-In at JFK and announced it on Radio Unnameable. Though Saturday night, February 11, was freezing cold, 3,000 of the underground’s finest came to sing Beatles songs, torch reefers, dance the body electric, and groove with their sisters and brothers. “One of the things that happened,” Fass observed, “was that there was such a colossal amount of human connection that there was something akin to feedback that happened, and people really began to experience not ‘happiness,’ but Ecstasy and Joy. We’re planning another one at your house.”
New York responded to San Francisco’s Be-In with its own. Key to its success was Jim Fouratt, a young actor who’d become one of the most effective hippie organizers on the Lower East Side. Promotion for the event cost $250, which paid for posters and leaflets. On Easter Sunday, March 27, 10,000 full and part-time hippies came together—some in the carnal definition—at Central Park’s Sheep Meadow. It was a glistening, no bad vibes, lysergic day. Fouratt was central to virtually every NYC hip community event, including the infamous Soot-In at Consolidated Edison, where he, Abbie Hoffman, and others dumped bags of nasty black soot at the coal burning, energy company’s offices, in a protest that prefigured and influenced the birth of the environmental movement.
Emmett Grogan was a brilliant and enigmatic prankster/con man at the heart of San Francisco’s do-goodnik anarcho-rogues the Diggers. He suggested to his friend Bob Fass that a Sweep-In would strengthen the momentum the Fly-In had sparked. The idea was to “clean up the Lower East Side” area of NYC where the hippies dwelled. Fass conspired with Krassner and Abbie and listeners on his radio show, and they chose Seventh Street, where Krassner lived. The buzz grew louder and one day an inquiring bureaucrat from the Sanitation Department called Radio Unnameable. The potentates of garbage at City Hall were nervous about these beatniks with brooms taking their gig. While appearing cooperative on the phone and in a later meeting, the city pranked the pranksters on the day of the Sweep-In, April 8. When thousands of mop-wielding longhairs appeared at 11 a.m., they beheld a garbage-free, sparkling fresh, squeaky clean street of slums—courtesy of the Sanitation Department. Fass and Krassner were amused that they’d actually forced the city to do its job. Unfazed, they moved the Sweep-In to Third Street. When a city garbage truck turned the corner, the street peeps leaped on it and cleaned it as well.
No single human—other than Tribal Elder Allen Ginsberg—was as influential on this emerging culture than Ed Sanders. He led the satirical-protest-smut-folk-rock band The Fugs with East Village legend Tuli Kupferberg, ran the Peace Eye Bookstore (and community center) on 10th Street, published Fuck You: A Magazine of the Arts, made films like Mongolian Clusterfuck, wrote poetry, rabble roused for myriad peacenik causes and cannabis legalization. Sanders—one of the first public figures to live seamlessly within realms of Politics, Art, and Fun—was a first cousin to Che Guevara’s paradigmatic New Man—albeit thoroughly American and anti-authoritarian.
But the Life Actor who embodies the Revolutionary Prankster in 20th-century history books is Abbie Hoffman. And he is where our story begins…
One Texan Band, Under God Lift to Experience, the greatest art-rock band since Sigur Ros, talk about the Passion with Jay Babcock
Josh Pearson, the 28-year-old singer-guitarist-songwriter for the extraordinary Denton, Texas-based art-rock band Lift to Experience, works in a world positively drenched in Judeo-Christian allusion and metaphor. So of course he’s conducting a mid-tour interview on a cel phone from a Manhattan pub called The Slaughtered Lamb.
“Yeah, it’s perfect,” he says, with a chuckle. “It’s like, ‘Where do we go? Oh, there’s a spot.’”
Lift to Experience are in New York City on their first-ever extended tour of America. It’s a tour that’s been a long time coming, in support of a debut album—the audacious, double-CD concept record The Texas-Jerusalem Crossroads—that itself was a long time in gestation. The songs that made it onto the album were originally composed in 1998, after Pearson had moved out to a ranch to work as a farmhand.
“It wasn’t a career move,” he says. “I just needed a place to be alone and not have to talk to anyone, to have enough time where the good ideas could become great ideas. I was alone and isolated and living in this little barn. It wasn’t glamorous, it was just mindless work: shoveling up the shit and taking the horses out to pasture and feeding them hay. It’s real therapeutic working with horses…”
Soon, the songs came. And with them, the concept for the album. No brief summary of The Texas-Jerusalem Crossroads can do it justice, Texas-style or otherwise. The album’s opening, spoken announcement is: “This is the story of three Texas boys busy minding their own business when the Angel of the Lord appeared unto them saying, ‘When the Winston Churchills start firin’ their Winston rifles into the sky form the Lone Star State, drinkin’ their Lone Star beer and smokin’ their Winston cigarettes, know the time is drawin’ nigh when the son shall be lifted on high.’”
Pearson says Texas-Jerusalem is “a concept album about the end of the world, where Texas is the Promised Land—the final battleground in the war between good and evil.” But it’s about more than that. The double-album’s lyrics are full to bustling with freight trains and incoming storms, strange prophets and fallen feathered angels, blood and fool‘s gold. Its protagonists are an ambitious Texas rock band desperate for a smash hit, ready, metaphorically at least, to deal their souls to the devil at Robert Johnson’s crossroads in exchange for material success. But Satan doesn’t show. Instead it’s the Angel of the Lord, announcing “just as was told/Justice will unfold.”
“Don‘t you boys know nothin’?” the angel asks the band, puzzled by the news of imminent holy conflict on Texas soil. “The USA is the center of JerUSAlem.”
Then, the music volcanoes. The rhythm is muscular, spacious, dynamic; the guitar is meditative, gossamer drone parted by noise mass and riff shapes; and the vocals are uniquely full and rich—triumphant yet resigned—sung in a beautiful voice of steady comfort. The lyrics—the metaphors, the literary and contemporary allusions—are relentless and poetic: the simple word ’star’ means, at once, the Lone Star state, the Jewish Star of David, the Christian Star of Bethlehem and, of course, Rock Star. A lot of work was put into this album, obviously. Taking it all in is a dizzying, overwhelming experience.
“It worked out real well with what I wanted to do with the metaphors,” says Pearson. “Texas being the place of last stands, from the Alamo. And Texas being an individual nation in its own, with freedoms that it celebrates that the other states don’t have—it can secede at any time, the only flag allowed to fly the same height as the American flag, that sort of thing, cuz it was a nation before it merged with the States.
“I started writing songs and they were all pointing to a place and then one night, I realized where it was headed. It made itself known. It’s one of those things where your body is just sorta following intuitively. I wouldn’t say you’re channeling it, but you’re trusting in your intuition that it’s headed in the right direction. Sometimes you never know why you’re headed that way, but it works out. All the pieces fall into place.”
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Incredibly, Lift to Experience does the album one better in a live setting.
The first time I saw them was at 7:15 on a Saturday night in a small bar on Sunset Boulevard in Silver Lake. A stained and horned bullskull sat at stage-center; a Texas flag draped over a bass amp. Behind and above them was the bar’s neon-lit sign that read (of course) “Salvation.” As the sun dipped into the smog horizon outside, Lift to Experience began playing to an audience of no more than 100, most of whom were unfamiliar with the band‘s music.
They began suddenly, with almost notice. And they began with a no-vocal, power trio cover of—I shit you not—“Kashmir.” It was intense, immediate, absolutely massive. There was Josh (The Bear) Browning—a bass throbber of burly frame, serious beardage and eyes-closed close concentration; there was Andy Young, a drummer with the build of the sturdiest steakhouse either side of the Rio Grande, leaning forward off the stool Keith Moon-like, switching between mallets, drumsticks and handclaps, his cymbals in perpetual perpendicularity; and there was Josh T. Pearson, a gangly lanky framed, scraggly-haired guitar-vocalist in biker Nudiewear and bracelets, his beaten cowboy hat ringed by thorns.
They seamed straight from “Kashmir” into an instrumental version of their own majestic “Just As Was Told,” without breaking. It was that rare kind of performance that dapples your skin with goosebumps. All the stuff on the album was there: the long builds and graceful a cappella interludes, the churning muscularity and psychedelic overload. We’re talking presence.