Hey little buddies. Been sick as rat turds for a while now, but the covers are peeling back and we are breathing again. Nice.
1. We have made no secret of the boundless enthusiasm with which we embrace Vermont’s Mr. Dredd Foole and all his works, so it should be no surprise to hear that sparks fucking burst when these two new slabs arrived at headquarters. Songs to Despond Ya (Apostasy) is a brilliant solo live LP, with Dredd on acoustic guitar and howler, which demonstrates the warmth of smoke and the magic of his sound. It seems bogus to repeat the mantra for the nth time, but Dredd really takes the impulse of Starsailor/Lorca/Blue Afternoon-era Tim Buckley and throws it into the stratosphere. As casual as it is amazing. And it is icing to report that there is finally graspable evidence of the Dredd & Ed experience, after a couple decades (almost) of scattered live tapes and buzzing memory bulbs. That Lonesome Road Between Heart & Soul (Bo’ Weavil) is a CD by Dredd Foole and Ed Yazijian, who may be known to a few folks for his work with Kustomized or his Gladtree solo LP, Six Ways to Avoid the Evil Eye. Anyway, Ed is a string maestro inside this conceptual bonding, doing violin, lap steel and other guitar stuff, while Dredd uncorks spirals of upful phlegm. It’s glorious buzzing, droneful music, and a great companion piece for the LP. Of course, it should have been an LP itself, but what the hex?
2. Recent trip to that poetry fest in Cleveland went okay. Thanks for asking. Saw a bunch of good stuff. Drove many miles. Got an excellent book. Actually, got a few good books, but we have favorites on our minds right now, and that is a camp into which we will always place the great Valerie Webber and the equally smokin’ Elaine Kahn (late of 50 Foot Women). The pair has collaborated on a solid new volume called Convinced by the End of It (Big Baby Books), split in twain, shared half by each. And it is a motherfucker of a read—one of the best things we’ve read in a long time. Their voices have been very different in the past, these two, but there are similarities here never noted before—a slowly twisting surrealism, combined with casually strident orgone boil. This is powerful, funny, mean and possessed of a magical quality we associate with the incredible early work of Erica “Rikki” Ducornet. This is writing in its highest form.
3. For whatever reason, new jazz/improv disks have not been finding us as regularly as they once did. Maybe we complained about the format too much, and since no one apart from SIWA, QBICO, Eremite and a coupla other places even understand that jazz should be available on LP, it’s usually no big deal. But recent car travel has made CDs a somewhat more useful format (at least in the short term), and we got these three new things from the Porter Records label (previously noted for reissuing a few key Philadelphia pieces), and figured they’d ride as well as anything. And they did. Opus de Life by Profound Sound Trio which documents a show from June ’08. Saxophonist for the date is Englishman Paul Dunmall, who doubles on bagpipes, and really blows like a maniac. Long mired in my brain as a second tier freebopper, Dunmall presents a much weirder surface here than expected, creating raw melodicism with an almost primitive grace. The rhythm section is Andrew Cyrille and Henry Grimes (Cecil Taylor’s legendary Blue Note-era backline). Cyrille sounds as good as always—alternately multi-dimensional and hammy—and Grimes puts in a very solid arco-heavy performance on bass and violin. Had not paid much attention to the rediscovered Grimes, but his work here is fine. Julu Twine by Alan Sondheim and Myk Freedman finds Sondheim’s various strings (he’s been playing, writing and creating in various fields since the early ’60s) paired with Freedman’s lap steel to lovely weird effect. Tones get bent so far they curl back on themselves, and eternity’s whistle is always just a psychedelic heartbeat away. Sondheim’s reactivated musical career has been very interesting to track, and this album’s a good one. Not jazz, but good. Even less jazzic is Folkanization by Francesco Giannico. This young Italian electro-acoustic composer in whose work we can hear tendrils of everything from Luigi Nono to Toru Takemitsu. Filled with odd details, the music is fascinating. Good for the car, anyway.
4. Much recent fume time has been spent amidst the pages of Steven Brower’s Satchmo (Harry N. Abrams), a book largely dedicated to the visual art of the last century’s premier pothead—Mr. Louis Armstrong. Brower was also responsible for that cool book of Woody Guthrie’s visuals a few years back, but this one is even bonnier on the peeps. Armstrong was an insanely gifted collage artist, who created hundreds of self-referential pieces to adorn reel-to-reel tape boxes, scrapbooks and even—until his wife pulled it down anyway—one of the walls of his house in Queens. The text Brower conjures is cool, but it’s really just a context generator for the wild wild art that crawls all over the pages of this book. Been showing this to everyone who falls by and they’re all blown away. You be, too.
5. If you held a gun to our heads and yelled, “Quick! Think of a great whiskey!” We’d have no problem rolling out a list that would make you weak in the knees. If, however, instead of whiskey, you asked for a list of great Colorado punk bands, the list would peter out in an embarrassingly short time, even if we stuttered a lot. Consequently, it’s no lie to say we were shocked (SHOCKED!) by the amazing contents of Rocky Mountain Low (Hyperpycnal)>. This 2 LP set is an insanely great insider’s view of the Colorado underground scene of the late ’70s. We’d never even heard rumors about half the bands here, but Joseph Pope (of Angst “fame”) was an active participant, and along with Dalton Rasmussen, he pulled together a great set of unreleased nuggets from demos, rehearsal tapes & whatnot. Like lotsa scenes in their early days, the sounds here are heterogenous—’60s style pop, hard garage, weird experimentalism and Brit-damaged lunge are all part of the mix, just as they were in the day. The book/zine included is a great blend of history, attitude, crappy-looking fliers and the best picture of Jello Biafra you will ever see in this lifetime (or any other) (although this one is good, too). Every town deserves this kind of deep investigation. Superb shit.
6. One of us (not telling who) recently made the trek down to New Orleans for the Ponderosa Stomp, which is an annual event tracking the trajectory of oddball roots dudes of all stripes. Two stages, ten hours a night at the House of Blues added up to 30-40 hours of solid listening insanity, but the absolute highpoint was the…well, not reunion of the Flamin’ Groovies (pic’d above), exactly, but it was the first time that founding members Cyril Jordan and Roy Loney had been together onstage since ’71, when Loney split in the wake of the Teenage Head LP. They were backed by the A-Bones, with Ira Kaplan on organ and former Groovies fanclub head Miriam Linna, banging the beat, and man, it was insane. Jordan and Loney both have a crazy sorta look going (check the youtube vids), but the sound was so right on you could just cry. They played almost all stuff from the first three LPs, but at show’s end they tackled “Shake Some Action” (from the long-post-Loney days), “Teenage Head” and “Slow Death” (which was recorded after Roy had left). It was unbelievably great. People were screaming like babies and Miriam was singing along with everything and just looking like the cat who ate the canary. There are going to be a couple of reprise shows coming up this summer, and you would be well advised to be there.
7. Many peeps out there may know something or another about the legendary NWW list. This was a printed insert of recommended obscurities Steven Stapleton included in copies of the first couple of Nurse With Wound albums. The list has been a touchstone for a lot of people over the years, and various attempts to reissue bits and pieces from it have been made. Right now there are actually a goodly number of them available in one digital format or another, but shamefully few have been blessed by vinyl reissue, which remains the king of all known formats. Thankfully, De Stijl has taken the time to do a lovely, lovely LP reissue of the sole album by the Finnish experimental band, Sperm. Entitled Shh!, the album features one side of kosmiche-tinged free-rock with many electronic asides. The flip replaces the kraut proclivities with some free-jazz reed-gush, and it all sounds utterly jake. The original had a silk-screened sleeve, but this one looks dandy and sounds better than any original we’ve ever laid ears on. Gut stuf!
8. The story of Mad in its EC days is pretty well known. The early issues, edited by the insane Harvey Kurtzman have been reprinted in whole and also in various anthologies frequently during the past 50 years. Kurtzman’s next few projects have been less well documented. He left Mad to do a glossy humor mag called Trump for Hugh Hefner. Hefner killed the mag after two issues, but he allowed Kurtzman to use free office space. As a result, Kurtzman organized a bunch of other artists to pool their funds to create an autonomous humor monthly. It ran for 11 issues in 1957-58 and was called Humbug. We’ve seen occasional loose issues of the ‘zine, but Fantagraphics has compiled the full run in a new two-volume box set, and included lots of interviews, historical context, and info about Kurtzman’s next project, Help! (among many other things). The reproduction quality is great, and the contents—by Kurtzman, Will Elder, Arnold Roth, Al Jaffe and Jack Davis—are far more sophisto than Mad, and less pop-culture-oriented than Help! In a way, Humbug almost feels like a goof-humor version of The New Yorker or something. There’s a lot of fairly serious political/social commentary, cloaked in wry rainment. It’s a blend as interesting as any cocktail, and it’s goddamn great to have this stuff easily available. Hats away!
9. One of the less-known documentaries by D.A. Pennebaker is the hour-long Sweet Toronto, which was filmed at the Toronto Rock & Roll Revival festival in 1969. It has just been issued on DVD under the title John Lennon & the Plastic Ono Band Live in Toronto ’69 (Shout Factory) and is a rather good eye-felch. Pennebaker is a great framer of live concerts and this is no exception. It opens amidst a somewhat half-assed looking group of bikers who seem to be escorting the Plastic Ono Band to the outdoor concert, but soon settles down to matters at hand. There are segments with Bo Diddley, Jerry Lee Lewis and Little Richard to start things off (the full line-up was: Milkwood, Nucleus, Whiskey Howl, Cat Mother & the Allnight Newsboys, Chicago Transit Authority, Screaming Lord Sutch, Tony Joe White, Doug Kershaw, Alice Cooper, Junior Walker, Diddley, Gene Vincent, Lewis, Richard, Chuck Berry, Onos and the Doors. MC was Kim Fowley. Wonder where the other footage is?), the Plastic Ono Band hits stage with a boom. It’s crazy to see Yoko crawling around in a white bag while Lennon and Clapton howl through “Blue Suede Shoes”, and the vibe of the whole thing is gorgeously bizarre. By the end, when Yoko’s singing “John John,” Clapton has his guitar off and is kneeling, back to the audience, nudging feedback from his amp as though he was in the Skaters or something. Fuckin’ A!
10. Just got a little package with three issues of Brian Walsby’s Manchild comics (Bifocal Media), the third and fourth issues of which come with CDs by the always exquisite Melvins. Walsby was extremely active in artifying the punk underground of the mid-‘80s onward, and his books are densely scripted and great reads. Some of the stories are about Brian’s early years, but most are detailed accounts of hardcore bands, what happened to them, interactions Brain had with them over the years, etc. Kinda inside baseball, but totally fantastic if yr into the noise at all. We don’t agree with all of Walsby’s assessments, but we defend to the death his right to say that the Descendents improved over time. Now that’s funny!
Alright, please be a good egg – if you want it licked, send two (2) (TWO) copies to:
SCREAM AT THE SKY Thurston Moore & Byron Coley talk with YOKO ONO
Photography by Eden Batki
Originally published in Arthur No. 26 (Sept. 02007)
Yoko Ono is a beauty. When we walk into the room for our interview she is stunning, vivacious, delightful and welcoming. We discover her handlers have deemed us worthy of only half an hour of access. Because our interests lie in focusing on specific, somewhat more arcane aspects of Yoko’s career, particularly those related to her access points into the avant garde of the 1950s and 60s, we are bummed about these time constraints. Yoko is an extremely significant figure in the flow of much that is radical and/or experimental in visual art and musical culture of the last half-century. Our century, the century where media, performance and multi-disciplinary expression was galvanized into wholly new alloy.
The avant garde and its attendant testing, prodding, trapping, releasing, liberating and wildly intriguing vocabulary is something that looms large in Yoko’s history. It was a driving force for her transformation as an artist, and is an exploratory philosophical stance she has embraced for well over 40 years. Her physical trajectory took her from Japan in the 1940s to America in the ’50s and ’60s. There was a momentary return to her homeland in the early ’60s, then back to America (specifically New York City). After that there’s her mid-’60s visit to London, where she meets John Lennon, and all that transpires henceforth—famous and infamous. Hers is a spectacular timeline through the counterculture of the late 20th century.
The celebrated flash notes of her life with Lennon have been obsessively documented and analyzed. Yoko’s own, autonomous history as an academic, musician, artist, filmmaker and a radical innovator in all of those fields has been perenially overshadowed in mainstream journals. It has only been within the last decade that serious consideration of Yoko’s work by above-ground culturistas has even been considered. But it remains a subject that most media-types approach with mincing trepidation and uncomfortable jokes.
When the fantastic Yes Yoko Ono exhibition (and its amazing catalogue, published by Harry N. Abrams) was realized at Japan Society in New York in 2000, art critic Michael Kimmelman reviewed it succinctly in the New York Times (October 27, 2000), detailing Yoko’s rich art lineage. He noted how Yoko established, alongside La Monte Young, the first real artist’s loft, where music and performance were united with the shock of art-as-action. This was where Yoko created works such as “Smoke Piece,” where the audience were asked to burn the art and the self-explanatory “Painting To Be Stepped On.”
Yoko’s loft is where the iconoclast George Maciunas—an amazing outsider force in his own right, who ran the AG Gallery uptown—first became entranced by Buddhist positivity with its smiling, gentle nature. This was an element he immediately grabbed and threw into the berserk counterculture soupcon he christened “Fluxus.” If there’s anything that prefigures punk rock, it’s Maciunas, Yoko and the Fluxus movement. And even more than punk, they’re the direct antecedents of No Wave, that hermetic period in New York City between 1977 and 1980, where actual rock music, regardless of sub-genre, was temporarily obliterated. Yoko spoke of how the Fluxus movement consisted mainly of a single small group of individuals, most of whom were somehow connected to the scene’s own creative process. This is basically the same script the No Wave scene followed in its day, in terms of being part of a small, consistent and almost-fully-participatory community. The biggest parallel is that both scenes, as marginalized as they were at their times, continue to be living underpinnings (or secret histories) of contemporary avant-garde activity.
Interestingly, Kimmelman blows his cover as one art critic who might fully grasp Yoko’s genius, by denouncing her musical activities. He proclaims her visual art, in retrospect, to be underappreciated. He posits her marriage to Lennon as a leap into celebrity, but one to which she absolutely brought an awareness of celebrity-as-performance. He even opines that her films are her greatest achievements (alongside her brilliant, pre-feminist performance masterwork, “Cut Piece”). But he negates these opinions by tossing out a dismisssive kneejerk comment about her music, one whose idiocy is not mitigated by its wide currency. “The music is unbearable,” he writes. “And let’s leave it at that.”
An art critic without the ability to assess musical art with the same aesthetic consciousness he applies to visual art is, to some degree, crippled. But Kimmelman’s myopia is not confined to the compartmentalized world of conventional art critics. There has been a general idea batted about that Yoko Ono’s art, particularly in its musical form, is not worth much or is some kind of cruel joke being played on the public. This idea is so foreign to our ears that it’s almost ungraspable.
Yoko’s music and her visuals have always been stunning, and not easily separable. Yoko Ono as musician, as composer, is inhabiting personae explicitly integral to her life and career as an artist. The ideas and sounds that run throughout her compositions are as filled with wonder and humor and ingenuity as her most engaging work in film, object art, et al. Indeed, her vocal concepts, inside the context of Beatles recordings—the highest profile pop music recordings in history—are astounding, not only for their organic thought-tongue individuality, but also for their ability to deliver genuinely avant-garde statements to a mainstream world.
The fact that this person is female, Japanese, an artist, and was married to John Lennon is something people are still trying to figure out. For many, it’s just a weird bit of proof that there’s a world out there (somewhere) far more fascinating than Main Street. But Yoko’s music is still regarded by the straight press and the bulk of its adherents as an anomaly, some sort of eccentric affectation. The truth is that Yoko studied and practiced traditional composition in the 1950s, while simultaneously exploring ideas of alternative notational theory. This places her right in the same class as such acknowledged transitional thinkers as John Cage, Henry Cowell and David Tudor. Yoko’s compositional work, perhaps especially the “instruction pieces,” and her sharp-edged performances, were profound by any measure. When you factor in her ethnicity and gender, it’s easy to believe her efforts were more functionally radical than those of any contemporaries. In the context of her partnership with John Lennon, we got to experience a premier avant garde artist’s attempt to unify her own process with a rock n’ roll dynamic. Which, alongside the art/music relationship of Andy Warhol and The Velvet Underground and the influence these mutually beneficial connectives have had on the modern state of art/rock, is pretty goddamn great.
Anyway, the time constraints meant we were only able able to get a small taste of Yoko’s incredible history. But with Yoko a taste is way more than a mouthful.