WIZARDS OF OZMA: Stewart Voegtlin and Beaver on MELVINS’ heaviest record (from Arthur No. 34)

As originally published in Arthur No. 34 (April 2013)

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WIZARDS OF OZMA
What made MELVINS’ 1992 beercrusher Lysol the most unlikely religious record ever built? STEWART VOEGTLIN pays attention to the men behind the curtain…
Illustration by BEAVER

Discussed:

Melvins
Lysol
Boner Records, 1992

Melvins
Gluey Porch Treatments
Alchemy Records, 1989

Melvins
Ozma
Boner Records, 1987

Melvins
Eggnog
Boner Records, 1991

Earth
Extra-Capsular Extraction
Sub Pop, 1990

Melvins
Joe Preston
Boner Records, 1992

Thrones
Alraune
The Communion Label, 1996

Used to fight flu in early 1900s. Used as douche, disinfectant, “birth-control agent.” Toxic to birds, fish, and aquatic invertebrates. But commonly consumed by alcoholics as alternative to more expensive tipple. Taken off grocer’s shelf. Popped open. Sprayed into its cap. Thrown back. Used and reused because—or in spite of—its overpowering carbolic taste worsened with a burn weaponized and wince inducing. And, finally, used, infamously—but not orally—by Buzz Osborne (guitar, vocals), Joe Preston (bass), and Dale Crover (drums) as title of Melvins’ fourth full-length record, Lysol, released in 1992.

Lysol is Melvins’ biggest record. It’s their heaviest. While being “big” and “heavy,” Lysol inadvertently questions what exactly constitutes “big” and “heavy” records. While being intentionally cryptic, Lysol questions what it means for records to be unintentionally accessible, and why a record’s content must posit a “message” that not only means something, but also purports to uncover some semblance of truth. The dialectic is reluctant. That it’s as “big” and “heavy” as the record itself, and actually does threaten to posit a “message” that masquerades as truth, is an unexpected payoff from a record that satisfies as many aesthetic criteria as it eliminates.

Harold Bloom could’ve been talking about Lysol when he praised the completeness and finality of Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian. The book fulfilled Bloom’s idea of the “ultimate western.” All genre criteria were not only satisfied; they were eliminated. Anything published on its heels was not a western at all, but futility in the form of mechanics, ink, paper. Lysol was released in 1992; the two “heaviest” records released that year other than itself are Black Sabbath’s Dehumanizer and Eyehategod’s In the Name of Suffering. Their sound is distinct. They work within the confines of their carefully cultivated worlds, and thrive in doing so. Lysol’s sound? Also distinct. Also works within its world. But does so in such manner that the construction that defines its world falls, like a ladder kicked away after its ascendant looks down on what they’ve climbed out of, and becomes not meaningless, but too meaningful.

What Melvins accomplish with Lysol, particularly its 11-minute opener, “Hung Bunny,” is a sort of Heavy Metal as religious music. When “Hung Bunny” isn’t stomping inchoate distillations of “God’s silence,” it’s spreading śūnyatā out as endless horizon. When “Hung Bunny” isn’t indifferent about “theophany,” it’s providing the conditions necessary to understand, or receive, the divine in the first place. Not surprisingly, it’s an attentive record. A concentrated record. A ceremonial record. It’s the most unlikely religious record ever built, as its cover tunes (which account for half of the program) easily constitute the band’s bulletproof belief system, while “Hung Bunny,” recreates Tibetan Buddhism’s ritual music, and stillbirths one of the more unfortunate subgenres, “stoner doom,” without even taking a toke.

It’s a risky hyperbole. (Aren’t they all?) Somewhere in a suburban basement, a kid’s pulling tubes, crushing beers, Lysol spraying through ear-wilting wattage. It may not initially present as enigma, even in the midst of buzz, but it will always require interpretation. How that kid understands Lysol may be no different than how orthodox monks understand the Jesus prayer. In a deceptively simple way, the kid and the monk make sense of their lives through external power, with or without what Richard Rorty calls “an ambition of transcendence.” That we struggle, unprovoked, through these self-imposed puzzles, is what binds us, despite the disparity of aesthetics we are geared towards through fate’s random generation. Ultimately we gravitate towards that which lends our lives meaning—even if meaning is undone in its meaninglessness. Realizing the kid’s and the monk’s “road” to sense is the same path carved out by, and because, of the “big” and the “heavy” is the first step out onto the yellow brick. Continue reading

AH, MAN: A career-spanning conversation with JACK ROSE by Brian Rademaekers (from Arthur No. 33)

As published in Arthur No. 33 (Jan 2013)

AH, MAN
A career-spanning conversation with JACK ROSE, American musician, recorded just a few months before he died in 2009
By Brian Rademaekers

When I started covering music in Philadelphia in 2007, my beat—the city’s crumbling post-industrial river wards—felt like a veritable nexus of weird folk and psychedelic experimentation. The Espers clan and their compound, Fern Knight, Fursaxa, and heavy-hitters like Bardo Pond were all there, churning out a storm of beautiful, strange music that seemed in part a product of the ancient, twisted alleyways of Fishtown and Kensington.

Here, Jack Rose was the benevolent, unassuming King—a master set apart from his peers by a massive presence and an indomitable, mystical talent that elevated him from mere musician to magician. He was a dark alchemist, transforming calloused flesh, polished wood and taut steel into the intoxicating, intricate worlds of sound that were his music. Not that Jack — Jack the giant, hulking Virginian — would ever presume to wear a crown; it was just something that he brought into the room with him, disarming all with a humble warmth offset by a blunt, caustic confidence that he wielded like a knife at just the right moments. These days, most of the musicians from that scene are gone from the neighborhood, though none as gone as Jack.

When I first heard Jack’s 2005 album Kensington Blues, I was thunderstruck, lost in awe that such a masterpiece not only existed, but that it was made in my time, by a man whose elbows polished the same bar counters as mine. Listening to Jack’s recordings was great [see sidebar for a complete discography] but best of all was seeing Jack live, spreading his gospel in church halls or little clubs or living rooms and, finally, along the banks of the Delaware River for a summer concert series shortly before he died.

Watching him amble up to his chair with guitar in hand signaled the start of near-religious experience. He would hunch over the instrument, cock his head to the side and, with closed eyes, unleash wild syncopated layers of rhythms, leaving listeners rapt in a sort of devastated trance. Here was this giant bearded man suddenly becoming seamlessly enmeshed in his guitar to create these idiosyncratic spells that were at once as delicate as flowers and as forceful as hurricanes. Seeing that miracle in the flesh, there was nothing else like it in the world. For me, it was like being a jazz freak in the ’40s and living down the street from Charlie Parker.

So began a years-long obsession. I felt compelled to document this genius quietly living in our midst. And Jack obliged. It never seemed to bother him that some reporter from a little local paper was always pestering him, asking for details about a show or politely begging for an advance copy of a record. In that way, Jack betrayed the appearance of a dominating, cocksure master and revealed a man with a very big heart.

My pretext for interviewing Jack in the summer of 2009 was his forthcoming long-player on Thrill Jockey, Luck in the Valley. Jack was elated. He and his wife, Laurie, had just bought a tidy little brick rowhouse a few blocks from the city’s blasted Port Richmond waterfront. He bragged about his new car, a Honda that he loved for its efficiency in carrying his guitars from gig to gig. He raved about a pizza joint he’d found down the street, about how quiet his block was. To him, the Thrill Jockey release was the milestone he’d been awaiting, a culmination of years of hard work and mastery that meant he could finally say he was making good bread on the merit of his music.

For three hours, he let me follow him around the house, tape recorder in tow, as he smoked and poured tea and pulled LPs from his wall of records. He was a man satisfied, a musician reveling in the feeling that his art was finally about to find the place in the world that it deserved.

When Jack died a few months later, I groped through the shock, looking for some way to respond to the ugly, gaping hole that had so suddenly appeared, and decided on transcribing the whole of our conversation from that summer day on Ontario Street. That tape is presented here, and captures Jack in a bright mood at the peak of his career, ruminating on everything from his first lessons to his labor on “Kensington Blues” to the joy of landing the Thrill Jockey deal.
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Two hours with Terry Riley, in the 1970s

The first hour of this program is a conversation with Terry Riley, outdoors on his land. The second half is performance.

More info on the series this is from, via Ubu:

Music with Roots in the Aether, an artwork by Robert Ashley, is comprised of seven two-hour programs featuring noted American experimental composers, created during the 1970’s.

Each program is two hours long and consists of one part Landscape / Interview (one hour) and one part live performance (one hour).

TERRY RILEY & PANDIT PRAN NATH, 1981.

Terry Riley and Pandit Pran Nath relaxing at the Houston Astrodome, 1981.

Photo courtesy Marcus Boon. Originally published in Arthur No. 22 (May 2006) to accompany the 5-page article “Master of Breath: The life, work and inspiration of Pandit Pran Nath, guru to Western minimalists La Monte Young and Terry Riley” by Peter Lavezzoli, an excerpt from his book The Dawn of Indian Music in the West. Arthur No. 22 is available for $5 from the Arthur Store

Arthur Radio Transmission #31 w/ ARP

When you close your eyes, music emanating from speakers takes on its full 3D form. Physical vibrations reach your muscles in invisible waves, aiding in relaxation. The laser arc of a new sound being introduced pierces your mind’s eye and opens visions; it is possible to recreate an entire scene, part imaginary, part from memory. An isolated ocean in a desert, palm trees swaying against an open horizon. Circuits producing not only the sound of wind, but the feel of it brushing up against your skin, the filling of a vast expanse of sky…

Above: A teaser from this episode’s live set by special guest ARP (aka Alexis Georgopoulos), who recently released his LP The Soft Wave on Norway’s Smalltown Supersound. Order it in the US here.

STREAMING: [audio:http://www.arthurmag.com/magpie/wp-content/uploads/2010/12/Arthur-Radio-31-w_-ARP1.mp3%5D

DOWNLOAD: Arthur Radio Transmission #31 w/ ARP 9-26-2010

Playlist below…
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Arthur Radio Transmission #23 w/ Prince Rama of Ayodhya

At the center of a wind tunnel, we find ourselves stuck between perspectives. Is the world moving at a million miles around us, or are we the ones who are flying? This week, join hands with Hairy Painter and Ivy Meadows as they plunge into the unknown, fortified by Prince Rama of Ayodhya‘s ancient primordial howls, growling synthesizer moans and consciousness-melting pulsations, which swirl like electrified streams of sonic debris in the positively charged atmosphere… “Give yourself. Lose yourself.


STREAM: [audio:http://www.arthurmag.com/magpie/wp-content/uploads/2010/07/Arthur-Radio-Transmission-23-w_-Prince-Rama-of-Ayodhya-6-27-2010.mp3%5D

DOWNLOAD: Arthur Radio Transmission #23 w/ Prince Rama of Ayodhya 6-27-2010

playlistum lyeth beneathio…
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