1. Been a while. We realize that, and there are various excuses we could proffer, but we won’t bother. Suffice to say, we’re sorry. But time flies. Been receiving much good stuff. Have even written some of it up here and there, but in truth, there’s a book that came out a while back which we wanted to review. But it was such a long, horrible slog to get through the thing, we were totally thrown off our game. It took actual physical months to read the bastard, and we were so fucking upset by the very idea of evaluating it when we were done, we considered giving up reading FOREVER. Since reading and writing are linked at the hip ‘n nip, well…you get the idea. That book is Through the Eyes of Magic (Proper Books) by John “Drumbo” French.
On one hand, the book has an insane amount of new detail about the machinations and evolution of almost everyone involved with Capt. Beefheart & the Magic Band, and that’s good. French was in many of the group’s line-ups, and he interviewed pretty much everybody, except Jeff Cotton and Don himself, neither of whom speak to him.
Beginning long before the Magic Band came into existence, the book tells the saga of the early ’60s high desert rock scene, then goes into the saga of Beefheart-proper in staggering detail—pretty much gig-by-gig and session-by-session (excepting the years French was out of the band in the early ‘70s). The legends surrounding Beefheart’s creative process have already been pretty well debunked by now. Indeed, the privations the band endured were common knowledge by the time Trout Mask Replica turned 25 in 1994. French, however, has the inside track. And that’s fine. But it’s clear his publisher decided at some point to exercise absolutely no editorial oversight, all but destroying the book’s worth to anyone excepting the most fact-crazed Beefheart fan. And that’s bad. The book is full of digressions, pointless personal anecdotes, whiny chest-thumping, repetitions, Christian bullshit, and is organized in a discursive format we found maddening. At one point, French comments, “I don’t think that will make it past the editor,” and we can only groan and wish someone had seen fit to liberally red-line this unwieldy 864 page opus. With a complete re-write, Eyes could have been a fine book at a third of its current length. As it is, it’s a mess, albeit a perversely compelling one. The facts and photographs add substantially to our working knowledge of the Magic Band’s history, but man, getting through this monster was about as much fun as french-kissing a duck. And to cap it all off (SPOILER ALERT), French gets himself exorcised at the end of the book, loudly barfing Beefheart’s evil mojo straight out his mouth. What the fuck was Kris Needs smoking when he blurbed this book so positively? Kris?
2. Not too long ago, we made the drive down to Maxwell’s in Hoboken to see When Giants Walked the Earth, a brilliant one-man show put together by Andy Shernoff. Although he was very mean to rock writers in the course of the evening, it was still funny as hell. Shernoff’s personal history is pretty rich. He went to grade school with Johnny Thunders, hit high school with the Fleshtones, ran the legendary Teenage Wasteland Gazette fanzine when he was in college, and founded the Dictators in ’73. The Dictators were a band whose aesthetic (cars, girls, surfing, beer) was immediately embraced by Sandy Pearlman and Richard Meltzer (among others). The band was signed to Epic before they’d played a singe live gig and uh…well, you should listen to Shernoff tell the rest. Andy has done lotsa stuff, from producing Joey Ramone’s solo LP, to touring the UK with the Stranglers at the height of the Gobbing Era, and even opening for Rush in Atlanta—which is not the least incongruous of the Dics’ early live pairings. He told excellent stories and interspersed them with acoustic versions of his songs. From “Master Race Rock” (whose opening lines—“Hippies are squares with long hair/And they don’t wear no underwear”—sounds exquisite in this format) to “Baby Let’s Twist,” the tunes smoked.
Shernoff’s gonna be back working with his current band, The Master Plan, for the next few months, but he promises more of these solo shows ‘fore long, and you would be a goddamn square to miss an opportunity to glom the wit and wisdom of the man who wrote so many immortal tunes.
3. Steve Lowenthal first appeared on the scene in NYC as the editor of Swingset, which was a fairly boss fanzine. Unfortunately, Lowenthal-the-man sometimes reminded me of Terry Southern‘s great short story, “You’re Too Hip, Baby.” Lately, though, Steve has returned to school and he recently visited to do some interviews for his thesis work on John Fahey. He was a changed man, in our estimation, and he has also embarked on producing a very cool series of solo acoustic guitar records for the Vin Du Select Qualitee label. The first volume is by Joshua Emery Blatchey, a California-based dude who plays in Mountain Home with Greg Weeks and Marissa Nadler. On this LP Joshua plays very much in the American Primitive tradition, evoking Epstein-Barr-era Fahey as well as anyone this side of Terry Robb.
Volume Two is by Mark McGuire, the steroid-drunk baseball player who founded the band Emeralds soon after he left the major leagues. On this solo set, Mark’s playing has some of the same kosmiche moves as his work with Emeralds, but the tools are stripped down to guitar and pedals, so the smoke glows with a distinctly volky quality, a la certain periods of Ash Ra Temple, Popol Vuh and others. McGuire unpeels notes and lets them pile up in shimmering coils, awaiting trans-substantiation through listening. Nice trope. Volume Three documents work by the brilliant journeyman, Chris Brokaw.
Chris’s take on the project is the most song-like of the three. His pieces are shorter, generally more evolved melodically, but still simple, stark & lovely. They also take some unexpected stylistic turns (as on the percussive “Undrum”), and pleasure is the sweet result.
4. Not sure how we missed this for so long, but the From Tapes & Throats LP by Ludo Mich & Blood Stereo (Giant Tank) is a woggle-fest that won’t let you down. Mich is a Fluxus-related sound artist from the depths of the Low Country underground who has been active from the ’60s onward. Blood Stereo is this hideous coupling of Dylan Nyoukis and Karen Constance, and the racket the three create when gathered in a single lump is inelegant, malformed and harmful to aesthetic health. That said, the album is a gas. One side’s live, the other was recorded by Ludo at home, then sent to Brighton, where the Bloody Duo fucked with it until it squoke. The sonics are relatively sane (inside the given parameters) and this will flow past yr ears like a river of steaming tapioca. Also more recent than several diseases we could name is Nyoukis’s solo LP, Inside Wino Lodge (No Fun).
Again, this is less gibberous than you might expect, and is a nearly-beautiful melange of brillo’ed electronics and vocals, weeviling into occasional acoustic drones, and trying to surge underneath everything like blood clots. Something like the Three Stooges trying to take a serious whack at the Angus Maclise songbook with tuned shovels or something.
Also, very nice to have an easily available domestic issue of an LP by thee great insane couple of the sound-art field—Kommisar Hjuler and Mama Baer, Amerikanische Poesie und Alkoholismus (Feeding Tube).