Peter Relic on the “sound consciousness” of Joe Higgs’ reggae classic, Life of Contradiction (Arthur, 2008)

Contradictory Victory: Bigging Up Joe Higgs’ Reggae Classic “Life Of Contradiction”

by Peter Relic

Posted Apr 3, 2008 on the Arthur blog at Yahoo


The first thing that grabs you is the title: Life Of Contradiction. In the roots reggae world where Rastafarianism ruled, righteousness and preachy absolutism—and even Rasta’s red-gold-green primary color scheme—all seem to insist that there is one true way to do things, one true way that things should be. Thematic subtlety, and the admission of the validity of alternate viewpoints, are pretty thin on the ground (though to be fair, such single-mindedness is one of reggae’s greatest sources of strength).

Simply put, contradiction doesn’t spring to mind when listing the music’s top topics. As a result, Joe Higgs’ 1975 album Life Of Contradiction, newly and impeccably reissued by the ever-attentive Pressure Sounds label, is an LP whose nuanced vision makes it stand out within the pantheon of reggae classics.

Higgs was a music biz veteran by the time he recorded Life Of Contradiction for Chris Blackwell’s Island Records label in 1972 (its release was delayed a further three years until rights reverted to Higgs, who issued himself it in Jamaica and the U.K). As a youth in the early 1960s, Higgs and Roy Wilson formed the r&b duo Higgs & Wilson, voicing numerous hits for Edward Seaga’s WIRL label, including the shining gospel number “The Robe.” The duo went on to record Higgs’ superlative compositions for the likes of Coxsone Dodd and Duke Reid, including “There’s A Reward,” a track Higgs would re-record a decade later for Life Of Contradiction. But in the time-lapse between those two renditions, Higgs made a crucial contribution to Jamaican music, one that sealed his status as a primary architect of the island’s best-loved act.

“The Wailers weren’t singers until I taught them,” Higgs is quoted as saying in Reggae: The Rough Guide, referring to his time mentoring the then-green group in the kitchen of his Trench Town home.

“It took me years to teach Bob Marley what sound consciousness was about, it took me years to teach the Wailers.” The claim could be considered self-aggrandizing were it not for the fact that Higgs alone was qualified to take the place of Bunny Livingston when Bunny preferred chilling in Jamaica to joining the Wailers on a 1972 U.S. tour. And, of course, the splendid evidence of this album.

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THE SUMMIT AWAITS: Peter Relic on Ellen Allien’s “BoogyBytes, Vol. o4” (Arthur, 2008)

RUNNING WITH THE ALLIEN

A New Mix Of Beats To Make You Run For The Hills

by Peter Relic

Posted April 28, 2008 in Arthur’s blog on Yahoo


In 2006 LCD Soundsystem released 45:33, a Nike-sponsored iTunes download specifically designed to last the length of a workout. Its headphone-friendly beats projected an arcing ebb-and-flow fully compatible with, say, hauling ass in a perspiration-wicking outfit on your programmable treadmill. Not that James Murphy ever used it for that purpose.

In its conception and execution, 45:33 implied the creation of a micro-genre: dance music made for working out instead of for the dancefloor. Of course, maybe the genre already existed. What, you never heard of maximum impact minimal techno? Intelligent disassociative cardiocentric endorphin house?

Anyway, the good news for iPod-addicted workout junkies is that the best runner’s soundtrack since 45:33 is upon us: BoogyBytes, Vol.04 mixed by Berlin beat moll Ellen Allien. Even if the iPod still behaves way too much like a wonky Intellivision controller. And nothing will ever beat having someone drive alongside you blasting the Chariots Of Fire theme out their car window.

The running time of Allien’s mix is 1:06:08, a full ligament stretch longer than LCD’s aerobic festivities. While Allien’s mix comes with no particular designation for ideal use, the accompanying one-sheet states: “The bass drum is not set into the foreground as it is not intended to dominate the feelings of the listener.” It’s cerebral listening (what Berlin techno isn’t?) but Allien’s selections all originate from some inner charge, rather than being barrages of external force. Kinda like if a cheerleading squad did their routines sotto voce.

I took the mix for a test run on a five-mile stretch of the Josephine Saddle towards Strawberry Peak in the Angeles Crest Forest–one of those places that L.A. haters would be gutted to learn is only a 20-minute drive from Hollywood.

The initial quarter mile is a hopscotch scrabble across the bed of a waterfall-fed stream. The static and breathy Kraut-talk of Agf’s “Liniendicke” comes first in the mix. No beats yet. It’s as the trail proper picks up that the pulse of Vera’s “In The Nook” kicks in. The path is über-narrow, the ascent equally steep. A take-off tone crescendos into a steady ponging pulse. The music demands a steady stride and soon I’ve gained enough elevation to be afforded a view. What began as an overcast morning is breaking up, sunlight flaring purplish green tints across the scrubby chaparral. Gorgeous. A few minutes of running later I’m navigating a crumbly ledge dropping off to a dark rocky pool hundreds of feet below as the byte-diced voice in Sozadams’ “Eyes Forlon” quips “What kind of sh*t is that?” Excellent question.

Running downhill can be tougher than going up, but when the trails drops off to cross the stream the momentary respite is welcome. Then the uphill begins again. This is the second, more gradual half of the climb. Nevertheless as the circuitous path spools upward it’s hard to get a sense of distance gained. Long minutes pass. Lizards skitter underfoot. Goldenbush blooms multiply. Hamstrings announce their stress. The chant “Music is improper!” (from the Friendly People track of the same name) brings some well-timed comic relief.

With its black oaks and snowy peaks, the Angeles Crest offers a wonderfully varied landscape. A little bit Andes, a little bit Appalachia. The blinkered darkness of Sascha Funke’s “Double Checked” shares a seam with the pep-club handclaps of “Withdrawl” by Gaiser. As in nature so goes the mix, its diversity maintaining a strong sense of congruity. Now running close to the hour mark, I’m hoping the percussive pops I’m hearing are coming from my headphones and not my kneecap. When I finally see the top of the tree-line, I’m convinced that the mountain top is around the next switchback.

Of course it isn’t. Before me stands a cliff wall cross-hatched by the fading path. Nevertheless this is the last push, the summit awaits, and the bass-line from Kassem Mosse’s “A1” insists put your back into it!

At the top, hikers rest atop a concrete obelisk. Finally I reach them. The last track, Little Dragon’s “Twice,” arrives with optimum timing. It’s a gorgeous piano ballad to begin with, but Allien has twerked out a new beat-free intro to the song, an unadorned wash of sculpted tones. As it fills my head I spy a thread-thin trail extension. I scramble up. Another minute and I’ve got to be close to 5000 feet elevation. There’s no one here, nowhere left to go. The temperature drops precipitously as a cold mist whips away all visibility. A moment later the fog passes. A gorgeous panorama is revealed, rays of ragged light shifting across the dozen interlocking vales below. It’s gotta be more sublime any light show in any nightclub ever. Little Dragon’s Yukimi Nagano sings her weary but soul-refreshing hymn, repurposed here by Ellen Allien as a reminder: Live to run another day.

Peter Relic is a poet, journalist, trombonist and contributing editor to Arthur Magazine.

"Rage, Rage Against the Stuffing of the Couch" by Peter Relic (Arthur No. 22/May 2006)

Originally published in Arthur No. 22 (May 2006)

PETER RELIC’S BOOK CORNER

Rage, Rage Against the Stuffing of the Couch
Two poets delve deep into worlds of work and non-work

Reviewed:

Alex Mitchell
Life Is A Phantom K-Mart Horse Starting Up In The Middle Of The Night
(Yahara Design Press, Madison, WI)

John Tottenham
The Inertia Variations
(Kerosene Bomb Publishing, Los Angeles)

If their styles couldn’t be more contrary, they do have one thing in common: poets Alex Mitchell (neckburned nailgun grindhouse tripper) and John Tottenham (couch-crowned prince of lethargy) have both created, by force of will or resigned declension, their own poetic form.

Mitchell is a rock’n’roll addicted sweetly emotional fellow traveler. His poems are as much about himself as the characters they co-star: a mushroom-juicing buddy from back in Pompano Beach with a suicidal brother; a friendly transvestite crackwhore outside a Hollywood 7-11. He is as much of the barroom as he is anti-boardroom, his impulsive tales [impulsions] leading us through corners of associative memory emotional and imagistic. There is a lot of power in his poems—they inspire you to write, my highest praise. In a poem called “if penguins could talk” Mitchell is a bruiser with a bruised heart (“once a speedfreak, always a speedfreak,” he writes) trying to quit Starbuck’s. After going without coffee for two weeks (“although I was feeling better physically I was jonesing for a blast”) he caves: “I greedily slammed down some of / evil black poison.” And then he’s off on a tale that goes for five pages.

Tottenham’s eight line withdrawals from ambition barely give the reader time to get out of bed, and he wouldn’t have it any other way. A resigned indentation is what he wishes to leave (if he aspires to anything at all). In poems like “Time Moves, But Not I” and “I’m Not Tired,” he discharges himself of will, while subtly sublimating his own state of stagnation. He declares he lacks the energy required to laugh, and one chuckles. The brief nature of his poems allow him to maintain the guise that he isn’t doing shit—but when you read them together, you feel the import of the block he pushes up against the eternal pyramid of poetic ambition, and one realizes: all progress is incremental…to the point of imperceptibility..despite any onanistic self-recrimination.

"There Ain't No Sanity Clause" by Peter Relic (Arthur No. 17/July 2005)

Originally published in Arthur No. 17 (July 2005)

PETER RELIC’S BOOK CORNER

“There Ain’t No Sanity Clause”

Reviewed:

Rat Scabies and the Holy Grail
by Christopher Dawes
(Thunder’s Mouth Press)

And so, with Monty Python having set the appropriately demented historical precedent, Damned drummer Rat Scabies and his over-the-road mate Dawes set off in search of that most infamous, perhaps mythical tin cup. The premise is tidy: punk legend Scabies is now a boundlessly enthusiastic treasure hunter, Dawes a rapidly aging music journalist (followers of the now-defunct Melody Maker will have read him under his nom de plume Push) of no fixed ambition. The resulting picaresque travelogue, taking the pair from the planning stages at Scabies’ kitchen table to Paris brothels, a rain-lashed Scottish countryside, the mystical French village Rennes-le-Chateau and a Knights Templars induction ceremony is a pretty fine “edutainment” yarn—right down to the reproduction of Scabies’ hand-drawn map of “Grail Country.” With Dawes playing the straight man and Scabies getting off endless one-liners (describing Christian Crusader Godefroi de Bouillon as “one of ZZ Top with a halo” and the hidden message in Sauniere’s parchments as “like a medieval FCUK”), the classic buddy scenario develops into a slightly sentimental (unpunk alert) attachment between neighbors. Initially the passages of historical exposition drag compared to those detailing wine-and-weed fueled hi-jinks, but all is eventually integrated, until a description of deceased opera singer Emma Calve’s bee obsession seems relevant to Ratty’s midnight graveyard raids. And if it all sounds as dodgy as the emasculating height at which Da Vinci Code author Dan Brown wears his slacks (ever checked out the man’s dustjacket photo?), well, Scabies does carry a copy of that airport bestseller around for most of this book. Not to read though—only to tear off bits of the cover to make filters for his spliffs.


http://www.peterjrelic.com/

"The Turntables Might Wobble But They Won’t Fall Down: A Jam Master Jay Fan Remembers" by Peter “Piper” Relic (Arthur No. 2/December 2002)

Originally published in Arthur No. 2 (December 2002)

The Turntables Might Wobble But They Won’t Fall Down: A Jam Master Jay Fan Remembers
by Peter “Piper” Relic

A few minutes before four o’clock on Halloween afternoon 2002, I realized I’d better do the crosstown hustle in grandma’s Nissan if I was gonna bumrush rush hour to Beachwood Place Mall. Cooped up in the lab all day, I ran outside—foliage in full flame and wind whipcracking off Lake Erie—Cleveland represent!—and drove east past the granite gryphons lording over Carnegie-Lorain Bridge.

Fiddling the radio dial of the broken cassette deck, I struck immediate jackpot as the “blazin’ hip hop and R&B” station spun Missy Elliot’s new single, giving me my fix of elephant trunk calls, backmask raps, and well, that chubby cheeked happy feeling Missy’s voice always gives me. Thing is, my favorite bit in “Work It” is the part at the end when Missy shouts out “to muh lay-deez!” and Timbaland’s track flips into the beat from Run DMC’s “Peter Piper.” Woomp! Damn if radio plays anything anymore that hits as hard as Jam Master Jay’s cuts—you know that sound, like carpet needles cutting through a bituminous bite plate? Of course, that sheer fierceness may be the reason the ending is usually chopped and faded by some dumbo-eared radio bungler to make way for a Liberty Ford commercial.

Eff ‘em. Hearing that snatch of “Peter Piper” got me hyped. I snapped off the radio and busted the verse embedded in a shell-toed part of my memory bank:

“Doctor Seuss and Mother Goose both did their thing
but Jam Master’s getting loose and DMC’s the King,
Adult entertainer, child educator,
Jam Master Jay king of the cross fader,
He’s the better of the best
Best believe he’s the baddest
Perfect timing when I’m climbing on my rhyming apparatus
When he cuts girls move their butts
His name is Jay, here to play, he must be nuts
On the mix real quick and I’d like to say
He’s not last but he’s fast and his name is Jay!”

Maybe those aren’t the letter-perfect lyrics, but hey. I also doubt that my Run DMC experience was wildly different than that of many other kids lucky enough to tune in during the salad days of Hollis, Queens finest, but here goes:

It was the fall of 1985. I was a freshman at a suburban Connecticut public high school. Out of nowhere one day a way-beyond-me junior girl came up to my locker and without saying anything just handed me a tape. It was not Huey Lewis & the News. This 60 minute Memorex piece of black plastic included Beastie Boys’ “She’s On It,” Original Concept’s “Knowledge Me,” Skinny Boys’ “Jock Box” and Run DMC’s “Sucka MCs”—all songs that crunched. I listened to it on my Walkman while delivering the New Britain Herald (pumped me up to break my fastest time record on my route), on a D-battery powered Tandy tape recorder while playing driveway hockey against my brother (it made my slapshot nastier). I listened to it endlessly, and when Run DMC Raising Hell came out the following year, I bought the cassette at Strawberry’s. It took me forever to get through the entire album because I kept rewinding “It’s Tricky” and “My Adidas.” (I remember the look on my mom’s face when I told her “You be illin’.” The first time was the last.) But finally I made it to the awesome closing track, “Proud To Be Black.” Jam Master Jay’s slashing stab-scratches cut like brass tacks through a whitewashed history text as Run proclaimed “George Washington Carver made the peanut great, showed any man with a mind could create!” I loved peanut butter and I loved funky beats, just like Run DMC! They became the first heroes I ever had who weren’t pro athletes.

Thinking about it now, Jam Master Jay’s beats and cuts were essential for Run DMC to get their message across. Heck, Run and DMC knew it—they shouted Jay out all the time. Run DMC and Jam Master Jay exemplified synergy, syzygy and symbiosis—like Public Enemy and the Bomb Squad, their music hit as hard as their lyrics. It had to. I doubt today’s average teenage hip hop fan can appreciate how awesome Run DMC were, because I don’t hear anything that comes close to their power on commercial rap radio. I mean maybe I’m an ageist kook, but damn…

Back to Halloween ’02. As I pulled into the mall parking lot, an announcement came on the radio: “We will now have 60 seconds of silence for Jam Master Jay who was shot and killed this morning.” The words hit like a brick to the head. I parked and walked dumbstruck into Dillard’s. The first two brothers about my age I saw I went up to and said, “I just heard…Jay Master Jay….” One fellow lowered his eyes while his buddy shook his head slowly and whispered, “I know.” I drifted over to a 70% off reject rack and found a black t-shirt that said I’VE GONE TO FIND MYSELF—IF I GET BACK BEFORE I RETURN KEEP ME HERE.

At the video store, I did what I’d come to do: buy Donnie Darko on DVD. I asked the girl ringing it up, “Are you a hip hop fan?” She looked at me. I went on: “Can you believe…Jam Master Jay?” She gave me a sorrowful, sympathetic smile and said, “He brought a lot to the game.”

He brought a lot to the game.

I drove home, flipped the stereo on and got into the shower. The Chronic 2001 disc I’d left in the player started up and I heard Dr. Dre’s voice: “I moved out of the hood for good, you blame me? Niggas can’t hit niggas they can’t see, I’m out of they sight now I’m out of they dang reach. How would you feel if niggas wanted you killed? You’d probably move to a new house on a new hill and choose a new spot if niggas wanted you shot…I ain’t a thug—how much Tupac in ya you got?”

That’s when I cried. Bad meaning bad not bad meaning good. Jam Master Jay, not being a gangsta, must have felt safe staying in the hood with his wife and kids. When Tupac and Biggie died, it wasn’t a shock like this, and didn’t hurt the same. I guess because with Jam Master Jay, it hurt the fourteen year old inside me. And that 14 year old who fell in love with hip hop (and the girl who gave me that tape; thanks Mary) is still fundamentally me. I feel Run DMC’s records like I feel my younger self: dated but never played out.

Watching Donnie Darko that night, I noticed that at one point in the movie Donnie—a suburban kid living in the mid ‘80s—is rocking shell toes. I can only assume Donnie also agrees with the on-record unison appraisal of Jam Master Jay by Run and DMC: “Goddamn that DJ made my day!”

For my friend Jeff Seifert. Rest In Peace.

INSIDE THE INVISIBLE EMPIRE: My Travels With Rock ‘N’ Roll Legend Tav Falco And His Unapproachable Panther Burns by Richard A. Pleuger (Arthur, 2006)

Originally published in Arthur No. 21 (May 2006).

Inside the Invisible Empire: My Travels With Rock ‘N’ Roll Legend Tav Falco And His Unapproachable Panther Burns
Text and photography by Richard A. Pleuger

Ingenious original layout by W. T Nelson
Special thanks to the indefatigable Peter Relic

* * *

THE LEGEND OF THE PANTHER BURN

“Around the turn of the last century—1900 or so—they started clearing more land for the cultivation of cotton and other crops around the Mississippi River. These big piles of trees and bush were left there to be burned later. And the animals that were living in these areas—foxes, bears, rabbits—had no place to go.

“There was this wild cat, a panther, who was very cunning and howled all night. Faced with the destruction of his own habitat, the panther started to raid the farmers’ chicken coops. The animal became a general nuisance. They tried to hunt the panther down, but he eluded their traps.

“One night the farmers ran the animal into a canebrake, a stand of wild cane bamboo growing there, and they set the canebrake on fire. The shrieks of the panther were so intense that it was unforgettable. The location became known from then on as The Panther Burn. In essence, it was a symbol for the downfall of the last vestige of frontier America and the onset of European civilization in the South. And this is were we derived the lore of the Panther Burn.”

—Gustavo “Tav” Falco, in conversation with the author, 2002

* * *

The story begins in Germany in 1981, a full five years before I met Tav Falco. At the time, I was studying art and film in Düsseldorf, but often traveled to Berlin. There, I discovered the mythical power of rockabilly music along with a tight group of friends who had formed The Legendary Golden Vampires, the most hated band in Berlin. While their peers Einstürzende Neubauten exorcised their German demons by eating rusty metal, the Golden Vampires had been authorized to use the honorarium “Legendary” by an obscure relic of American music, The Legendary Stardust Cowboy of Lubbock, Texas. The key influence on the Golden Vampires was The Cramps, whose musical psychosis was highly seductive at a time when New Wave felt mighty pretentious.

I was blasting my own head open with music by The Sonics, The Droogs, Link Wray, Benny Joy, The Gun Club and the darker side of country music. Not only did these artists provide me with the outsider anthems I required, they seemed to suggest a code of ethics that was cemented further by Robert Mitchum’s performance in the film Night of the Hunter, which we watched obsessively.

In essence, my friends and I lived in our own world of American underground pop culture. We identified with the dark anarchy underlying the birthplace of Rock’n’Roll, and I was particularly haunted by the work of American bandleader Tav Falco, whose first EP “She’s The One to Blame,” released on his own Frenzi label in 1980. Tav tunes like “Bourgeois Blues” and “Hairdresser Underground” contained a transformative energy found in only the most truly unpredictable Rock’n’Roll.

But besides the music, Tav himself seemed to have a deeper connection to the historic evil heart of Rock’n’Roll: he came from Memphis, Tennessee, the heart of the American South. His voice evoked the spectral quality of “Strange Fruit” hanging from poplar trees, and the haunted sound of crickets chirping in hundred percent humidity on a night when a race-related killing has taken place.

Tav Falco oozed American authenticity. His brand of music seemed simultaneously experienced and unpredictable. When I saw Tav staring down conspiratorially from the cover of his first album, 1981’s Behind the Magnolia Curtain, I felt a deep inner connection with this slightly melancholic, Chaplin-‘stached Southern Gothic Dandy. In those dark and sluggish days in ’80s Germany, Tav Falco and his Unapproachable Panther Burns inspired me, and in fact ended up drawing me to the other edge of the Western world and into the dark undercurrents of American pop culture.

* * *

In the mid-‘80s I had sung in my own ’60s-style garage band C.H.U.D., named after an obscure American horror movie. (We had our moment when our song “Rumble at the Love-In” was included on Lee Joseph’s Sounds of Now! compilation in 1986 on Dionysus Records.)

My interest in Americana eventually took its toll, as the fierce focus of my obsession contributed to my girlfriend leaving me. After that, there was nothing keeping me in the Heartbreak Hotel called Germany. I applied for a grant to study in the States, got it, and was on my way.

I landed in San Francisco in 1986 to study filmmaking at the Art Institute with George Kuchar. On a cool late summer night, I went to see Tav Falco unleash his unique blend of rockabilly and country blues in a club down on Broadway. Sporting a big black curly pompadour, Tav proved to be an even more powerful performer than I could have imagined. He drove his group the Panther Burns, in his own words, like “the last steam engine train on the tracks that does nothing but run and blow.” The power of the music propelled the crowd into other realms of fierce, ritualistic reality. During the a hypnotic rendition of “Jump Suit,” Tav proclaimed: “Panthermen and Pantherwomen, this is the Invisible Empire!” The audience then stormed the stage to sing along.

After the show, I introduced myself to Tav, and was pleasantly surprised to find this feverish performer to be highly approachable. Warm and welcoming, Tav invited me to come along to a small informal aftershow party being thrown by a friend of his in an apartment by the beach not far from Golden Gate Park.

There, we sat and talked. Lorette Velvette, a warm and lanky Southern Belle and Tav’s muse at the time, sat curled in a chair strumming country blues songs on her acoustic guitar. Tav, dressed in a smart blue-and-white striped dress shirt with a white collar, long-sleeved vest, black cigarette pants and pointed black boots, stated his specific fondness for German Film Expressionism. He enthused about the trance-like states achieved by the medium Cesare (played by Conrad Veidt) in Robert Wiene’s 1920 silent classic The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari. We bonded over a mutual affinity for the under-appreciated storytelling titan Erich von Stroheim and his romantic stylization of Vienna in the late Austro-Hungarian Empire. I played a mix-tape of obscure ’50s and ’60s music, including the melancholy, almost Viennese, Hawaiian song “White Birds” that Lorette later adapted on her debut album.

Tav told me in his characteristically refined Southern drawl that he had at one time been an assistant to famed Memphis photographer William Eggleston. I knew of Eggleston and his status as the man who’d introduced color photography into the world of fine arts. I mentioned my fascination with a particular Eggleston photograph of an older, forlorn-looking white man standing beside his car close to a river, while behind him, with reverent distance, stood his white-uniformed black driver. Tav explained that Eggleston had taken the photograph at a funeral ceremony not visible in the frame, thus accounting for the somber atmosphere of the scene. We spoke about Astor Piazzola and Tav’s fascination with tango. Tav also wrote down a list of books I should read, including Against the Grain by Anthony Dunbar, Elmer Gantry by Sinclair Lewis, As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner and Walk on the Wild Side by Nelson Algren. Outside, the Pacific Ocean lashed the beach in dark waves.

We continued to hang out over the next few days, and by the end, Tav had commissioned me to film a movie/video clip for “Shadetree Mechanic,” the lewd double-entendre blues by Z.Z. Hill on Panther Burns’ new “Shake Rag” EP. We made a plan: I would fly to New Orleans, get picked up by Tav, go on tour with Panther Burns to Baton Rouge and Atlanta, then return to Memphis to shoot the movie. Almost all of the photographs that accompany this article were shot during this two-week adventure.

* * *

Tav had a rich background in filmmaking. Back in 1974 he’d recorded a black and white open-reel video of Delta bluesman R.L. Burnside (whose first name Tav pronounced “Rural”) performing in Burnside’s own honky-tonk, the Brotherhood Sportsmen’s Lodge near Como, Mississippi.

“R.L. used to play acoustic guitar in the ’40s and ’50s,” Tav told me, “but the first time I saw him, he was playing electric.” While I was staying at Panther Burns headquarters in Memphis, Tav screened his Burnside footage for me (some of it was later used in the Fat Possum documentary You See Me Laughin’). It blew my mind: I saw poor people dancing barefoot on a sawdust floor to the hypnotic beat of the local master, escaping life’s misery into the sanctuary of moonshine and cheap beer, entranced by a volatile, mass hypnosis-inducing, one-chord Blues in a wooden shack somewhere deep in Northern Mississippi.

It was Burnside, Tav told me, who had inspired him to pick up the electric guitar. The instrument became one of Tav’s primary tools during events that normally might be termed gigs, but because of Tav’s particular methods and aims he referred to as “art actions.”

It was during one such event in 1979 at the Orpheum Theatre on Beale Street that the Panther Burns were born. There, Tav delivered a frenzied solo performance of Leadbelly’s “Bourgeois Blues.” Recalling the event, Tav says: “I did an art action with Jim Dickinson’s band, Mudboy and the Neutrons. I performed alone in full evening clothes, wore white gloves with the fingers cut out. I wanted to express publicly the frustration, alienation and discontent I felt, being some kind of trash from Arkansas, an artist and living on the margins.

“I got tired of the bourgeois thing happening in the States at that time. I was trying to work as a photographer and filmmaker and felt thwarted. I was a product of the ’60s, a time when I met a lot of people on the road. There were these mass movements of people across the country then, and a great deal of that time was dedicated to the rediscovery and the celebration of the Blues. I took up a guitar out of frustration. Bought this five dollar Sears Silvertone guitar and thought, I’m gonna give notice to the people, I’m gonna destroy my guitar and tell them, it’s a sad bourgeois town, and they can kiss my ass!“

“I was alone with the guitar, a police whistle, a SKIL saw and a chain saw, all put in use against each other. And little Bill Eggleston was there on my own Televista camera, videoing the entire event. He was videotaping onstage and it was being played back in real-time on a massive television monitor that I brought to the stage and aimed at the audience. So the powers-that-be could not control what I was feeding back to the audience, since I had my own video. Then immediately all three television stations descended upon my performance with their broadcast TV cameras. Many people noticed my gesture, like they were thinking the same thing, of doing some kind of spontaneous action. I hadn’t been thinking too much about it, because I was already living in that kind of art-action way. Alex Chilton was in the audience that night and we formed Panther Burns with Ross Johnson.”

* * *

Tav always collaborated musically with his idols. Beside playing with Chilton, Charlie Feathers and James Luther Dickinson, he had blues singer Jesse Mae Hemphill (a.k.a. Shewolf) and the marching drummers of Napoleon Strickland’s Cane Fife Band heavily destabilizing the already raucous rendition of “Bourgeois Blues” on his band’s debut album, 1981’s Behind the Magnolia Curtain. But despite the band’s impressive collective pedigree, Panther Burns was not about musical virtuosity, it’s about an aesthetic.

“To this day I regard myself more as a performer than a musician,” Tav told me in 2002. “It takes a special individual to play in the Panther Burns. You can’t just plug a musician into this music. To play this music is hard work for musicians, but easy for an artist. I would rather work with someone who’s got more of a philosophical orientation than sheer musical virtuosity to display in the band. I’m looking for something ineffable.”

* * *

My two-week trip into the world of Tav Falco and the Panther Burns was an inspirational fever dream that was over too soon. Yet the Panthers Burns themselves have never stopped.

Astoundingly well preserved over the last 20 years, the result of a physically, intellectually and artistically stimulating lifestyle and vegan diet, Tav Falco could be the true Dorian Gray of Rock’n’Roll. Now rumored to be approaching sixty years of age, he appears about two decades younger, especially energy-wise. Surrounding himself over the years with a set of arresting if not controversial men and women, this consummate entertainer continues to present his plethora of personas: rockabilly psycho, Italian crooner, heartbroken tango shadowdancer, country-blues aficionado. Like any intelligent original artist, he has explored different musical paths over the last 25 years, and now has the understated authority of a man who’s survived a quarter of a century worth of artistic dread and cultural homogenization.

There still is a fire burning in the Panther’s eye, and I admire him for that. And now, through the passage of time, his fire burns with a finer grain. I feel a bit like Claude Rains, talking to Humphrey Bogart at the end of Casablanca. I never met a finer Southern gentleman than Tav Falco, and those days almost twenty years ago were the beginning of a beautiful friendship that continues today. As Tav himself signs his correspondence: Panther Burns Forever Lasting!

* * *

[HERE ARE THE CAPTION/ESSAYS TO THE PHOTOGRAPHS— SORRY, WE CANNOT PRESENT THE PHOTOS ONLINE — IF YOU WANT TO SEE THEM, STOP BEING CHEAP AND BUY A COPY OF THE MAG FROM THE ARTHUR STORE!]

1. Pages 32-3:
Tav Falco and Lorette Velvette leaning on Tav’s 800 Norton, with their armed neighbors in the back, as photographed by James Chappell.

2. Page 34:
Lorette Velvette, leader of the Hellcats, and Panther Burns’ Italian drummer Giovanna Pizzorno drive over the train tracks somewhere in Arkansas.
Tav Falco was born into Italian roots in Gurdon, Arkansas, a sleepy railroad town between Little Rock and Texarkana, east of the Interstate on Highway 67. While driving through rural Arkansas in his 1964 Ford Thunderbird, the sight of the train tracks just outside of Bluff City, Memphis brings him back to his childhood:
“I was living out in the backwoods between Gurdon and Whelan Springs, Arkansas, a whistle stop on the railroad where the cannonball freight ran through it, way in the backwoods and not much bigger than Panther Burns in Mississippi.
“When a steam train came through, it covered the whole town in black smoke, you couldn’t see anything. It was like a fantastic mist that transported you into the netherworld of the imagination and the unconscious.
“Even today, the whole essence of the Panther Burns is to stir up the dark waters of the unconscious mind. That’s why we’re here. You can have a party, you can have sex, you can find your husband or wife—all this happens at Panther Burns shows. You can get spaced out. You can get drunk. You can lie on the floor, get stomped on. You can intermingle with the races, you can dance your ass off. But the essence of it is: stir up the unconscious mind.”
Childhood experience inspired young Tav to become a brakeman on the Missouri-Mississippi railroad, not unlike Jimmie Rodgers, the great country singer of the 1920s. In fact, in the beginning Tav and his band were billed in Memphis as Tav Falco, the Beale Street Blues Bopper and The Unapproachable Panther Burns. Later he changed it into Tav Falco, the Steppin’ Breakman and the U.P.B.
Tav: “The brakeman separates and couples the cars together. He climbs up on the car and sets the big round handbrake. He gives hand signals when to do what. A very romantic job.”

3. Page 34:
At an after-concert party in San Francisco, Lorette Velvette curls up in a chair, playing country blues, on a guitar while Ross Johnson listens.

4. Page 35:
Tav at home in Memphis wrestling with his Panther.
Tav’s Panther Burns Memphis HQ was a modest house at 2425 Princeton Avenue close to Overton Park. After having dinner at the Arcade on Calhoun Street, one of the best preserved ’50s restaurants in Tennessee, Tav screened the director Rudolph Mate’s glorious 1953 Technicolor riverboat classic Mississippi Gambler (starring Tyrone Power as gallant gentleman and quintessential showboat gambler Marc Fallon) as inspiration for a video shoot with the author.

5. Page 36-7:
Tav, stretched out at Sam Phillips, 639 Madison Avenue, Memphis.
Richard Pleuger: “After another fine fudge ice cream at the Arcade, Lorette, Giovanna, Tav and I went across the street to Candleroom 14, a local gris-gris voodoo shop. Inside it was pitch dark with the exception of weak neon tubes barely illuminating some glass cabinets displaying magical herbs for every possible evil deed and thought. The complete silence in the shop was only interrupted by an insanely old German shepherd licking one of the cabinet windows.
“The owner, a sophisticated older black man, appeared from behind a dark curtain and gave quiet instructions on different mojo hands and magic candles. I purchased a special book on herbs and a black candle in the form of a naked woman.
“During a photo session on the first floor of Sam Phillips’ studio on Madison Avenue, lawless elements broke into Tav’s Thunderbird and stole money and my book on herbs. We cursed the robbers to get ‘stinging nettle-afros’ and ‘thistle-mullets.’ I still don’t know what god or entity had a problem with my acquisitions, but he, she or it clearly did not want me to have them.”

6. Page 36:
After frustrating experiences telling German barbers how to carve something that looked like early Elvis (and oftentimes winding up looking like a sprouting potato), the author retreated to sporting a full-on Brian Jones-meets-Dave Aguilar-mop during his time in C.H.U.D.
Richard Pleuger [right]: “Upon my arrival in San Francisco I went to an old hairdresser on Market Street, showed him photographs of rockabilly singers Tex Rubinoviz and Billy Lee Riley [further right] and got exactly what I wanted: a straight old duck’s ass, lubricated into aerodynamic, jaw-dropping shape with gel and Final Net. I now had a tornado-proof helmet of defiance against all unnecessary trendiness.”

7. Pages 36-7:
Panther Burns perform live in downtown Atlanta.
The club was full of A Flock of Seagulls-type New Wavers who had never seen anything like The Panther Burns. The band had Giovanna on the drums, Rene Coman on bass, George Reinecke on special claw-hand guitar and a red-caped Tav thundering through “Cuban Rebel Girl” (named after the Errol Flynn movie filmed during the Cuban revolution in 1959), “Dateless Night” from Cordell Jackson’s Memphis-based Moon label, “I’m on This Rocket” (a cover suggested to Tav by the Cramps’ Lux Interior) and a version of Z.Z. Hill’s “Shadetree Mechanic.”
L.A. rockers Kip Tyler and the Flips’ rockerbride-anthem “She’s My Witch” got Tav’s eerie dessert nightwind treatment which tested the hairsprayed new wave happyhelmets of some listeners in front. Tav finished the set with the upbeat dance numbers “Mona Lisa” and “Tina, The Go-Go Queen,” climaxing with the psychosexual tango “Drop Your Masque.”
After the show, the band and their young hosts — architecture students and big Alex Chilton fans — ate at a restaurant close to the venue in downtown Atlanta. My rockabilly pompadour raised many an eyebrow in this Southern establishment.

8. Page 37
(From right to left: ) Lorette Velvette, Tav, New Orleans blues radio DJ Melinda Pendleton (who was going with PB guitarist George Reinecke at the time), and the author.

9. Page 38
Tav and a Kingrider inspect the Thunderbird’s engine during the video shoot.

10. Page 39:
Tav’s neighbors: Sammi Lee Williams, wife Jeany and daughter Sharee Ann.
Richard Pleuger: “When Tav and Lorette introduced me to their neighbors, it dawned on me that these were the people on the porch behind them in the photograph on the back cover of the “Sugarditch Revisited” EP, an image that I had enlarged and hung on my wall in Germany.
“Sammi Lee Williams was an Indian from Mississippi. His massive frame was sat either on his porch or in a wheelchair. Years before he had wrecked his Honda 450 on a stormy day in Memphis. He was thrown through the air after hitting a car and came down in a liquor store parking lot. They put him into two plastic bags and thought he was dead. Sam survived somehow, but never healed. His leg always had an open, gangrenous wound in which strange things grew.
“Sam collected trash for a living and stored most of it in a rusty school bus in his backyard. Sam had a coyote called Blue Eye, a couple of dogs, and about eighteen overexcited puppies.
“His wife Jeany and daughter Sharee Ann were very nice, mentally handicapped people, who under Sam’s direction had built a huge fence around the property. Those ‘goddamn young hippie-redneck’ neighbors had apparently been drunk out of their mind two months back and had a ball shooting two of his beloved dogs in the early morning hours. Since then Sam’s paranoia had risen. He told all of his visitors—including us—not to make any sudden movements in the house, and to step lightly. The fuses of the live hand grenades he had stored in sawdust “somewhere in a backroom” could go off any second. (Tav told me that Sam had also molded his own bullets out of liquid lead, but I never saw them.)”
“A year later, Tav recorded the rockabilly song Warrior Sam by Don Willis and the Orbits and wrote in his liner notes that ‘Warrior Sam lives on the porch next door.’ When Tav returned from his first European tour, Warrior Sam was no more. Sami had the habit of slapping Jeany and Sharee Ann with his crutch when he was displeased with their work on the high fence. Apparently, he had done that once too often. Jeany knocked him over in the wheelchair, took all the money in the house and left for Mississippi with their daughter. Sammi Lee Williams had a heart attack and was left to die, which he did.”

11. Page 39:
Drummer Giovana Pizzorno, Tav Falco and Lorette Velvette at Sam Phillips Recording Service.

12. Pages 38-9:
Tav Falco and friends during “Shadetree Mechanic” shoot. Right: Tav and a Kingrider inspect the Thunderbird’s engine during the shoot.
“Say you ain’t had a tune-up in a long, long while/ I’ll give you good service with a smile.” —”Shadetree Mechanic” by Z.Z. Hill
Richard Pleuger: “The idea of the “Shadetree Mechanic” video was for me to show a day in the world of the Unapproachable Panther Burns: their women, house, cars, hogs, dogs, garage, music, bodyguards and rituals.
“The film begins with Lorette and Giovanna getting out of bed in the morning with their wire-haired dachshund Daniac. They cruise around Memphis in a Thunderbird, buy an ice cream and drive through the surrounding countryside in Tennessee and Arkansas. They pick up hitchhiking love-starved guitarist George Reinecke, who behaves badly and is thrown out quickly near a pigsty. On the way back to Memphis, their car breaks down and they have to take refuge in an enchanted garage with several engineering professionals. One in particular, Tav, gets the attention of Lorette.
“The shoot took place at night in a warehouse garage in an industrial area in Memphis adjoining the black neighborhoods that were complete ghettos. A very dangerous place. The garage was inhabited by Randy, the mechanic who went with Diane Green, one of the guitarists in the Memphis girl-band The Hellcats.
“Filming at night in the end of November in Memphis quickly put the mechanics of Tav’s own 16mm Bolex camera to the test. The spring-wind, with which you wind the camera up until it runs for about 30 seconds without electricity, did not work properly at times due to the freezing cold. The Stroheim-like precision with which I swore I would make this video clip into a dark Southern Rock’n’Roll masterpiece went unnervingly out the proverbial window in this windowless garage.
“We had assembled a strange mix of people, meeting then and there for the first and maybe the last time. Tav Falco, the Hellcats, Sammi Lee Williams with his blue-eyed coyote on his thigh, Sam’s daughter and his wife holding the stick with the all-seeing hand (an emblem of Panther Burns lore), and Ray Dayton, president of the all-black Harley Riders Motorcycle Club, along with his fellow Club members.
“Lying on a board fixed to the wall overseeing the whole scenario underneath me, the malfunctioning Bolex brought me to the verge of inner hysteria. Yet any possible volatility among this crowd I had envisioned beforehand was replaced by a camaraderie and kinship that only Tav Falco could have created. Meanwhile I did my best in directing and created the desired precision later on the Steenback in the editing room.
“Two days after the movie shoot two members of our film crew were beaten up and robbed. It seemed like yet another example of Sleepy John Estes’ statement that Memphis is the leader of all dark going-ons in this world.”

13. Page 41
The historic Showcase Lounge in Memphis, photographed in 1974 by Tav.
When talking about Memphis, where he honed his creative fire and which formed the mythical basis for his work, Tav becomes ominous.
“When B.B. King, Bobbie Blue Bland and Jacky Wilson headlined at the Memphis Auditorium in 1966, there were only three white people there: Randall Lyon, Robert Palmer from the New York Times and myself.
“In 1968, I went to the Showcase Lounge at Orange Mound to see Howlin’ Wolf. Only six white people in the joint that night, nobody else.
“Memphis is a place of murder and death. They kill artists there, it’s documented. They tried to kill the great piano player Phineas Newborn, broke his hand. They killed supreme guitarist Lee Baker, who used to play with Jim Dickinson and his Mudboy and the Neutrons. A kid who was renting a house from Lee shot him.
“They killed the great painter Dwight Jordan. Shot him, point blank range. Race plays a part. ‘Cause he was going with Connie Gidwani, one of our go-go dancers. He was a black artist and she was a white girl. Jordan was a quiet man, a gifted painter from the Oakland School of Arts and Crafts who studied with Diego Riviera and became a mural painter. This wealthy art patron from Memphis took him in and he painted murals in banks. Connie’s brother, a convicted felon just out of jail, shot Dwight in her living room.
“Memphis is full of crazed random violence. Memphis killed Elvis. He died of loneliness there. Memphis will never be safe. Maybe this is good for Rock ‘n’ Roll, I don’t know.”

14. Page 41
Tav Falco and his fully extended “Tapir Billy” hair, at William Eggleston’s villa.
Richard Pleuger: “We drove to William Eggleston’s villa on motorbikes. I was riding Tav’s 1968 Triumph Trophy 650 that he’d bought off a deputy sheriff in Bryant, Arkansas. Tav took his 600 Norton. I told Tav that in the ’30s and ’40s my uncle was known as ‘The Race Tiger’ on his NSU-cycles and cars, made by the company that is now Audi.
“It was the first time I rode a motorcycle, and we had to duck bats going through a city park. Tav came up with the name Bat Marauders M.C., and later integrated this imaginary gang into his movie script Girls On Fire.
“After arriving at Eggleston’s villa, we were treated to a listening session to the music of then-hot country band Asleep At The Wheel on Eggleston’s newly self-created speaker-system. The debonair photographer then showed us some of his newest 11×14 color prints, containing his usual trademark empty spaces and mysterious depictions of urban and rural boredom.
“I asked Eggleston how he worked, and he laid down the law: ‘Shoot every subject only once.’ (A few years later he titled his next book, The Democratic Forest.) He then played Bach on his 17th century piano in an adjoining room. Atop the piano was a literal army of ’40s and ’50s Leica cameras. One had a brown suede lining with a Swastika.
“We went outside to Eggleston’s garden overlooking the empty pool. I couldn’t help but be reminded of the atmosphere of Sunset Boulevard. Eggleston showed us his six new engraved York shotguns that he was going to use on his next hunting outing in Spain. Tav took a photo of me with Eggleston with my Asahi Pentax. Eggleston complimented me on the camera, saying he used the same one often. As we left, I remember Eggleston swearing on his way up the spiral staircase about his son’s blaring punk rock music.”

15. Page 41
Alex Chilton enters his parents’ house.
Richard Pleuger: “Tav introduced me to his friend Alex Chilton in a Memphis guitar shop. I remember Chilton as a very gentle and intelligent man, genuinely interested in issues not related to music (although he did tell me I should listen to Slim Harpo).
“On the way to Chilton’s parents’ house, where he stayed when he was in town, Chilton told me about the urban renewal that had changed certain areas in Memphis in the ’60s and ’70s. The black slums became white slums, and the path Martin Luther King walked from Clayborn Temple AME church to Beale Street was paved with concrete. Even the little shortcut to the house of Chilton’s parents was blocked by construction.
“I wasn’t feeling sneaky when I turned around and photographed this tragic hero of timeless music entering the house. It was just the right mood in the last light of this late autumn day. A few years later, Chilton’s mother, a former gallery owner and one of Eggleston’s earliest champions, burned to death in this house.”

BONUS PHOTO CAPTIONS, UNPUBLISHED DUE TO SPACE CONSIDERATIONS:
1. Charlie Feathers and Tav, photographed by Gisela Getty.
Tav Falco: “We deal with truth in Panther Burns. Some people ask, how much of this is parody? Parody is a high art. But nonetheless, art is predicated upon truth, whether it’s parody, satire, written poetry, Rock’n’Roll, or a short story. Shredded truth—that’s what you have to deal with in the Panther Burns.
“We know it takes a good song and we know this song has to have truth in it. That’s what Charlie Feathers told us in the beginning in Memphis. Once Charlie Feathers tells you what’s required of a good performance, you don’t forget it.
“Charlie Feathers said, ‘If you are not doing something different, you are not doing anything at all.’ There is a lot of ritual and repetition in what we do, for effect. The point is: the totality of what you do has to be different and original. And there is no band like Panther Burns.”

2. The Lore of the Panther Burns.
This painting depicts the four elements of the Cult of Dionysius: Pinecone, Panther, Mask, and Snake. The painting was made in 1983, when Tav was a resident of New York City, living in a Chinatown apartment Jean-Michel Basquiat had just vacated, leaving behind his paintings on the walls.
Tav: “I was staying there with Kai Eric, an artist who played bass with the Panther Burns. We did this painting between the apartment and an artificial bubble we had built on the roof of this building. That’s where I also slept during that summer, with a girl from The Clitts, a Rock’n’Roll band from Memphis that Alex Chilton had put together.”

On the Road With The Black Keys and Sleater-Kinney, by Peter Relic, with photos by Melanie Pullen (Arthur, 2003)

MAY THE ROAD RISE UP TO ROCK YOU
Peter Relic rolls out for a week on tour with The Black Keys & Sleater-Kinney

Originally published in Arthur No. 4 (May 2003), with original photography by Melanie Pullen shot at beautiful Amir’s Garden in Griffith Park (these photographs were later optioned to Fat Possum Records for promotional purposes)

“Rule Number One: Never make friends with a journalist.” I wagged my finger and slurped my coffee, assuring the two young men across from me I knew of what I spoke. “Rock hacks are fretful freeloaders out to steal your shine and misquote you every time.”

We were sitting at a back booth of Dodie’s, a greasy spoon on Market Street, Akron, Ohio. It was the final hayfeverish week of May, 2002. I had driven down from Cleveland to find out how the hell these fellas—Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney, co-captains of the two-piece band The Black Keys—had created such a thrilling slab of raw-dog fatback juke joint blues as The Big Come Up, their brand new debut album. To hear the Keys tell it, simplicity was the key.

“We stopped talking about time signatures a long time ago,” Auerbach said.

“We’re de-evolving,” said Carney, a Duty Now For The Future glint in his eye.

“We’ve even removed the word ‘repertoire’ from our repertoire,” Auerbach added.

The following week The Cleveland Free Times ran my column about this band yet to play a gig outside Ohio who had made, quite simply, “one of the best American records you’ll hear this year.”

Pretty soon they did play outside Ohio. I tagged along to those Detroit and Chicago shows. By the end of ‘02, the good word about The Big Come Up had gotten around; Janet Weiss, drummer for Sleater-Kinney, testified in Rolling Stone that the stuff was up to snuff. 2003 was happily wrung in playing with Guided By Voices at a New Year’s Eve beer bash in Indianapolis. Then the call came: Would the band like to open up for Sleater-Kinney on tour? The Black Keys would fly with their equipment to Portland, Oregon, rent a van, and the West Coast leg would start there in Sleater-Kinney’s hometown. Perfect. Except that contract liability on the van stipulated that no one under 25 could drive the thing. But by then Rule Number One had been broken. And so 22-year old drummer/producer Patrick Carney and 23-year old singer/guitarist Dan Auerbach cannily roped in their over-30 Cleveland journo pal to act as de facto tour mensch. Best as I can remember, it went a little something like this…

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North American droners GROWING, profiled by Peter Relic (Arthur, 2006)

Happy Mediums
How nature droners Growing found their flow

Text by Peter Relic
Photography by Eden Batki
Layout by W.T. Nelson

originally published in Arthur No. 22 (May 2006)

If Plato had had the necessary resources back in the day, he would have definitely buffed out his philosopher’s cave with black lights and fog machines. The old Greek dude never got the chance, but in the new millennium, Growing have done it for him, figuratively speaking.

Growing is Joe DeNardo, 26, and Kevin Doria, 27, two gentlemen who met at Evergreen University in Olympia, Washington. DeNardo is originally from the suburbs of Chicago, while Doria grew up in Richard Nixon’s hometown of Yorba Linda, tucked deep inside Southern California’s Orange County. Together they play a slug-paced, ocean-deep drone music without drums or traditionally recognizable melodies that nonetheless projects a palpable pulse and a sense of pro-biotic harmony. Over three albums, and assorted tapes and EPs, Growing have united the foreboding heaviness of doom metal with the reassuring beauty of placid ambience in songs stretching up to 20 minutes in length. The unlikely arranged marriage actually works. Call it life metal, or nature drone.

“We chose the name Growing because it seemed all-encompassing,” Joe DeNardo says, on the cel phone from the duo’s live-in bunker in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. “A lot of people didn’t like it at first because they thought it was a reference to marijuana or boners. Not so. It does seem to describe the process of living and dying without being heavy and ominous. Which is nice.”

For their newest album, The Color Wheel, Doria and DeNardo have expanded the Growing sound to encompass even more: now, discord and rhythm join the Edenic shimmerblasts and underlying thrum of their past work. If Growing is an entity, The Color Wheel is the sound of it in adolescence: the bucolic innocence of childhood mostly lost, replaced by awkwardness, dark intimations of mortality and, of course, new joys. Adolescence is beyond volition—it just happens, whether or not you want it to—and Growing’s growth seems to have happened in the same way: the band’s sound has unfolded in ways its makers didn’t contrive or foresee, yet nonetheless accept.

Speaking with DeNardo and Doria is not unlike listening to Growing: it ain’t gonna work if you’re in a hurry, and the less you pry for insight, the more revelations are likely to come. Then again, these guys are don’t confine the big slowdown to their guitarwork. They do everything slowly, including going though college (Doria: “Took me seven years and I’m not even a doctor!”).

“We’re not very conscious guys,” says DeNardo. “Like, we’re not very aware of ourselves. We just kind of…float. We don’t articulate ourselves all that well. We don’t talk to each other much about this stuff; we don’t line everything up like ‘Okay this is the idea: I’m thinking about the French Alps right now, I spent time in the caves, we can make some music like…’

“We don’t do that. It’s just all kind of melts and flows together.”

* * * * *

Growing was birthed in Olympia, Washington. For two years—or maybe three years, no one’s really sure—DeNardo and Doria lived in a house with Joe Preston, a legendary musician with arguably the heaviest resume in guitar history, one that includes work with early Earth, mid-‘90s Melvins, White1/2-era Sunn0))) and now, High On Fire (which features an ex-member of Sleep), as well as his own one-man noise-drone-riff unit, Thrones.

“For the most part it was really just mellow times,” says Kevin Doria. “We played video games, went to Taco Bell…just hung out for the most part. He never practiced, not once. Okay, I think he did once when no one was around, for like 15 minutes. I guess he just didn’t like the way it sounded in the basement.”
DeNardo and Doria didn’t mind the basement sound.

“Before Growing, we had a little tape thing called 1,000 A.D.,” says Doria. “It started out as Joe [DeNardo] and me fucking around in the basement: a lot more riffage, no drums or anything, just guitars and bass, really long tedious parts that went on for hours. We were simultaneously doing this other band called Black Man White Man Dead Man which, when it started was more hardcore stuff: fast, loud. As time went on, it evolved into slower heavier jams. Finally we realized that having two bands comprised of the same members was really stupid, so whatever, let’s just have one band. The writing didn’t dramatically change as far as the songs were concerned, but everything did get slower. I’m not particularly good at playing fast, or playing parts even—that had something to do with us getting slower—but also, we just kind of got bored playing hardcore. We got older. It was natural.”

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Stan Lee's writing process

stanleesun

Peter Relic writes:

Stan Lee, aka Staggerin’ Stan Lee, is the 86-year-old writer and co-creator (with Steve Ditko and Jack Kirby) of more classic Marvel Comics characters than you can shake a Galactus-caliber prong-horn at, including Spider-Man, the Uncanny X-Man, the Fantastic Four, Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk, and the homey Doctor Strange. Last year I had the chance to meet Staggerin’ Stan at his Beverly Hills office, where, looking like a grinning, perma-tanned carny barker covered in liver spots, he sat behind a desk covered in photographs of his offspring (his comic book creations, that is, not his actual family). Preparing for the interview, I’d run across the old photograph above, of Stan standing at his typewriter in his backyard in Long Island. Figuring it might provide some insight into his process, I asked Stan about the photo, and this is what he said.

Q: Did you feel you got more power from typing standing up?

Stan Lee: I didn’t do it for power, I did it because I knew a few writers who were terribly out of shape, had potbellies. I didn’t want to get like that. So I put a bridge table on the terrace behind my house, and stacked a stool upon that, and put my portable typewriter upon that, and that was just the right height for me to type standing up. And I loved the sun, in those days I didn’t realize how dangerous it was. So I’d keep moving the typewriter a little bit so I could keep facing the sun. I worked for hours out there in the sun. My wife would have company, she’d have her friends over and they’d frolic in the yard and I would type, and they would pay absolutely no attention to me. I’m standing there trying to write and they’re talking and singing and yelling at the kids and partying and I’m enjoying it while I’m writing. It was a very strange situation but I loved it.

I had a Remington noiseless portable. It had a small carrying case. It wasn’t really noiseless, but it didn’t make as much noise as typewriters that weren’t called noiseless. When you wanted to use it you took the lid off, then there was a little knob on the side and you pushed the knob towards the back and the keys lifted so you could type. When you were finished you pushed the knob back again and then the keys went down and you closed the set.

Because of that typewriter I came closer to getting a divorce than any other time in my life. One day my wife got angry at me, I don’t remember why, and she grabbed the typewriter and threw it down and it shattered. I said to her, “If I don’t divorce you for that, there’s nothing you could ever do that will make me divorce you.”