AH, MAN: A career-spanning conversation with JACK ROSE by Brian Rademaekers (Arthur, 2013)

As published in Arthur No. 33 (Jan 2013)

Photo by Michael Chaiken

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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Arthur No. 35 … still available! $5 cheap! Safe for adults!

Cover by Kevin Hooyman

ARTHUR NO. 35 is still available for $5 from stores and direct from us. Or, read selected articles online, for free…

Contents:

ON THE TRAIL OF THE LONESOME SNOCK
Wily folkplayer MICHAEL HURLEY (aka Elwood Snock) has charmed hip audiences for over fifty years now with his timeless surrealist tunes and sweetly weird comics, all the while maintaining a certain ornery, outsider mystique. Longtime Snockhead/Arthur Senior Writer BYRON COLEY investigates this Wild American treasure in an enormous 11,000-word, 8-PAGE feature replete with rare photos, artwork, comics… and a giant color portrait by Liz Devine. Snock attack!

CHEW THE LEAVES, GET IN THE TANK
Inside Baltimore’s T HILL, new kinds of experiments with salvia divinorum are going on. Journalist/photographer Rjyan Kidwell visits Twig Harper, Carly Ptak…and the Wild Shepherdess.

BURIED ALIVE BY THE SUFIS
Swap-O-Rama Rama founder and author WENDY TREMAYNE (The Good Life Lab: Radical Experiments in Hands-On Living) wanted to understand what motivated her life-long anti-consumerism. She found the answer underground. Illustration by Kira Mardikes

GASH, CRASH, ASH
Nobody rides for free. DAVE REEVES on the price motorcyclists pay for being better than you. Illustration by Lale Westvind.

THE BIOPHONIC MAN
Guitarist, composer and analog synthesizer pioneer BERNIE KRAUSE left the recording studio to find that really wild sound. What he discovered was far more profound. Interview by Jay Babcock. Illustrations by Kevin Hooyman.

GIANT STEPS FOR MANKIND
Stewart Voegtlin on JOHN COLTRANE’s startling 1960s ascension from space bebop to universe symphonies. Dual astral/material plane illustration by Beaver.

FLOWERS, LEAVES, ANARCHISM
Matthew Erickson on the J.L. Hudson Ethnobotanical Catalog of Seeds

Plus…

* Arthur’s new regular column “Come On In My Garden” debuts. This issue, Camilla Padgitt-Coles visits Enumclaw’s Norm Fetter at his family’s Pennsylvania mushroom farm. They’re medicinal!

* The Center for Tactical Magic on demons and drones

* New full-page full-color comics: “Forgiveness” by Julia Gfrörer and Part 2 of Will Sweeney’s “Inspector Homunculus” serial.

* And, of course, the “Bull Tongue” exhaustive survey of underground cultural output by your intrepid guides Byron Coley and Thurston Moore…

The last two issues of Arthur are sold out from us. Don’t blow it, bucko. Click here to order this issue now at the Arthur Store. $5 cheap!

A TRIP INSIDE BALTIMORE’S SALVIA PALACE by Rjyan Kidwell (Arthur, 2013)

Originally published, with additional photos, in Arthur No. 35 (August, 2013).

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CHEW THE LEAVES, GET IN THE TANK
Inside Baltimore’s T Hill, new kinds of experiments with Salvia divinorum are going on.
Text and photography by Rjyan Kidwell

SO I went to the west side to meet the wild shepherdess, the strong female power. I was able to meet her in the house called T Hill, formerly known as Tarantula Hill, now officially going full-time by the nickname locals have been using for years. It’s a bit of a legendary place, and not just around Baltimore. In Providence, Chicago, Denver, and beyond there’s reverent talk of this place. It started as a run-down three-story warehouse in a far-beyond-food-desert part of Baltimore, and in 2001 purchased and then rebuilt (twice) by Twig Harper and Carly Ptak, a couple who comprised Nautical Almanac, one of the most influential noise bands during that scene’s nascent period, but who, in recent years, have attracted an interesting community of more spiritually-inclined experimentalists around their home. Besides the occasional carefully-curated concert, its Esoteric Library [see Endnote 1] (which anyone was free to borrow books from) and the handmade sauna on the roof, T Hill is also known for being nearly destroyed in a 2006 fire and, utterly undeterred, rising again within months.

twigcan

A few years ago, at a show in a different warehouse, I saw Twig [pictured above] in the kitchen with a jar of some kind of dark powder. It turned out to be something called yopo and he was inviting people to try it. Two at a time excited volunteers would sit down beside each other on a couch and inhale the powder. Then, for about five minutes or so, they would be enter some kind of pre-verbal (post-verbal?) state, utterly unresponsive to any attempt by others to communicate with them, interacting with something else none of us could see, but without leaving their seat. Moreover, these reactions seemed unique to each volunteer. I saw two of my friends sit down together—one of them, who I often refer to behind his back as Lord Byron, writhed and contorted as if he were riding an rusty rollercoaster after downing a liter of worms. The other guy barely moved at all, but giggled and smirked adorably, watching something that seemed to be hovering at eye level a few feet in front of him. I’d never seen either of them behave in a way anything like those naked exaggerations of their core personalities. I was impressed. Twig observed everything that happened in an amused but careful way and listened as everybody explained their perspective of the experience afterwards. His genuine curiosity about each person’s trip was clear. Personally, I was way too scared of what strange secret I might myself betray in that strange five minutes, so I didn’t step up to the couch. I’ve always regretted that decision.

When word on the street went out that Twig was doing something similar at T Hill with Salvia divinorum—as of right now, a totally legal, unregulated Mexican mint—I contrived a way to check it out, under the pretense of writing an article for Arthur. As you can probably guess, the plan worked like a charm.

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OUT, NOW, EVERYWHERE

a35cvrstore

ARTHUR NO. 35

Click here to order this issue now at the Arthur Store

Cover by Kevin Hooyman

Contents:

ON THE TRAIL OF THE LONESOME SNOCK
Wily folkplayer MICHAEL HURLEY (aka Elwood Snock) has charmed hip audiences for over fifty years now with his timeless surrealist tunes and sweetly weird comics, all the while maintaining a certain ornery, outsider mystique. Longtime Snockhead/Arthur Senior Writer BYRON COLEY investigates this Wild American treasure in an enormous 11,000-word, 8-PAGE feature replete with rare photos, artwork, comics… and a giant color portrait by Liz Devine. Snock attack!

CHEW THE LEAVES, GET IN THE TANK
Inside Baltimore’s T HILL, new kinds of experiments with salvia divinorum are going on. Journalist/photographer Rjyan Kidwell visits Twig Harper, Carly Ptak…and the Wild Shepherdess.

BURIED ALIVE BY THE SUFIS
Swap-O-Rama Rama founder and author WENDY TREMAYNE (The Good Life Lab: Radical Experiments in Hands-On Living) wanted to understand what motivated her life-long anti-consumerism. She found the answer underground. Illustration by Kira Mardikes

GASH, CRASH, ASH
Nobody rides for free. DAVE REEVES on the price motorcyclists pay for being better than you. Illustration by Lale Westvind.

THE BIOPHONIC MAN
Guitarist, composer and analog synthesizer pioneer BERNIE KRAUSE left the recording studio to find that really wild sound. What he discovered was far more profound. Interview by Jay Babcock. Illustrations by Kevin Hooyman.

GIANT STEPS FOR MANKIND
Stewart Voegtlin on JOHN COLTRANE’s startling 1960s ascension from space bebop to universe symphonies. Dual astral/material plane illustration by Beaver.

FLOWERS, LEAVES, ANARCHISM
Matthew Erickson on the J.L. Hudson Ethnobotanical Catalog of Seeds

Plus…

* Arthur’s new regular column “Come On In My Garden” debuts. This issue, Camilla Padgitt-Coles visits Enumclaw’s Norm Fetter at his family’s Pennsylvania mushroom farm. They’re medicinal!

* The Center for Tactical Magic on demons and drones…

* New full-page full-color comics: “Forgiveness” by Julia Gfrörer and Part 2 of Will Sweeney’s “Inspector Homunculus” serial.

* And, of course, the “Bull Tongue” exhaustive survey of underground cultural output by your intrepid guides Byron Coley and Thurston Moore…

The last two issues of Arthu

THIS ONE TOOK A WHILE TO BAKE

a35cvrstore

ARTHUR NO. 35 / AUGUST 2013

Click here to order this issue now at the Arthur Store

Streets: Aug. 19, 2013

Cover by Kevin Hooyman

Contents:

ON THE TRAIL OF THE LONESOME SNOCK
Wily folkplayer MICHAEL HURLEY (aka Elwood Snock) has charmed hip audiences for over fifty years now with his timeless surrealist tunes and sweetly weird comics, all the while maintaining a certain ornery, outsider mystique. Longtime Snockhead/Arthur Senior Writer BYRON COLEY investigates this Wild American treasure in an enormous 11,000-word, 8-PAGE feature replete with rare photos, artwork, comics… and a giant color portrait by Liz Devine. Snock attack!

CHEW THE LEAVES, GET IN THE TANK
Inside Baltimore’s T HILL, new kinds of experiments with salvia divinorum are going on. Journalist/photographer Rjyan Kidwell visits Twig Harper, Carly Ptak…and the Wild Shepherdess.

BURIED ALIVE BY THE SUFIS
Swap-O-Rama Rama founder and author WENDY TREMAYNE (The Good Life Lab: Radical Experiments in Hands-On Living) wanted to understand what motivated her life-long anti-consumerism. She found the answer underground. Illustration by Kira Mardikes

GASH, CRASH, ASH
Nobody rides for free. DAVE REEVES on the price motorcyclists pay for being better than you. Illustration by Lale Westvind.

THE BIOPHONIC MAN
Guitarist, composer and analog synthesizer pioneer BERNIE KRAUSE left the recording studio to find that really wild sound. What he discovered was far more profound. Interview by Jay Babcock. Illustrations by Kevin Hooyman.

GIANT STEPS FOR MANKIND
Stewart Voegtlin on JOHN COLTRANE’s startling 1960s ascension from space bebop to universe symphonies. Dual astral/material plane illustration by Beaver.

FLOWERS, LEAVES, ANARCHISM
Matthew Erickson on the J.L. Hudson Ethnobotanical Catalog of Seeds

Plus…

* Arthur’s new regular column “Come On In My Garden” debuts. This issue, Camilla Padgitt-Coles visits Enumclaw’s Norm Fetter at his family’s Pennsylvania mushroom farm. They’re medicinal!

* The Center for Tactical Magic on demons and drones…

* New full-page full-color comics: “Forgiveness” by Julia Gfrörer and Part 2 of Will Sweeney’s “Inspector Homunculus” serial.

* And, of course, the “Bull Tongue” exhaustive survey of underground cultural output by your intrepid guides Byron Coley and Thurston Moore…

The last two issues of Arthur are sold out from us. Don’t blow it, bucko. Click here to order this issue now at the Arthur Store!

NEW BROTHER JT FOR YOUR EARHAIRS

Hot damn. Brother JT of the United States of America returns to rock us after a few eternities in the wilderness of other-investigation. Here is the lead track from his forthcoming album on Thrill Jockey (info here).

Brother JT was featured in Arthur No. 8 (Dolly Parton cover), published several universes ago, with an interview by Jay Babcock and a guide to JT’s discography by David Katznelson. (Copies of this magazine still exist. You can buy one here.)

And, lookout Ma, JT’s started up his TRIPPIN’ BALLS series again. New episode here with guest MIGHTY TWIG HARPER…

A unique opportunity to fund legal and unregulated exploration of consciousness in an urban setting…

Info from Twig Harper & Co in Baltimore about the extremely worthy fundraiser they are conducting:

Our goal is to give people a safe space and the tools to discover, explore and develop a sense of the subtle inner worlds. In the hectic commodity-driven world we live in this is a rare and unique possibility. There are no other places like this in the area and we believe we can provide a valuable service to the many people.

We are in the process of purchasing a Samadhi flotation tank and now we need to build it a home. Our plan is to renovate the first floor, install the tank, move the cedar sauna downstairs, build a new meeting area and shelves for the Esoteric Library, and create a safe session room for continuing research with Salvia Divinorum. The entirety of this fundraiser will go toward purchasing building materials for this project.

When T-Hill started almost 12 years ago we mostly focused on building a community around music, art and performance and created a space which included a performance venue, music studio, artist residencies, and more. We have done all of this out of pocket from our own love and passion and operated without grants or loans. Learn more about the history of T Hill here: http://heresee.com/tarantulalink.htm

As the years have gone by our focus has changed as we have become more deeply interested in exploring consciousness and connecting with alternate realms… We rarely host performance events anymore and have decided to change the space to reflect our own interests as well as foster exploration in Baltimore and surrounding communities. A flotation tank offers the user a place free from all sensory input where the internal domain can be more fully explored. The Samadhi Flotation Tank is the first commercial company which began building tanks based on the research of John C. Lilly, and the tanks were named and co-designed by him. There are very few float centers in the area, with the nearest one over two hours away. To learn more about floating check out http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Isolation_tank or http://www.samadhitank.com/

Due to a lucky find of cedar wood at the Loading Dock we have had a sauna for many years (though it has been inoperable for the last two) and have had many community sweats. We plan on moving the sauna near the tank and making it smaller and heating it with an electric heater. This will make it easier and safer and open up the ability for more frequent use.

We have had the T. Hill Esoteric Library free and open to the public for over four years. Here you can browse and borrow a specialized collection of books focused on many subjects including entheogens, spirituality, ancient civilizations, herbs, occult studies and much more. During Hurricane Sandy our entire west wall was leaking water and we had to remove all of the books from the shelves to save them. In the new plan the books will be safe on the east wall and also in a much cozier space for perusing and reading. Visit the library website here: http://heresee.com/libraryindex.htm

The new plan also includes space for working with Salvia Divinorum. There is a space to grow plants as well as a room dedicated to administrating chewed salvia sessions. Most of the research on salvia has focused on the vaporization of one extracted compound ‘Salvinorin A’ which is intensly active for short amount of time making the experience difficult to navigate and integrate. Chewing salvia leaf leads to a much less intense experience spread out over a longer time. We initially will be focused on mapping out the effects of the chewed method with a small group of people. From there we will see what areas the experience can be applied to for transformation. The current research into entheogens has been mostly limited to government regulated studies, many of them taking place at nearby Johns Hopkins University. There is also a large community of underground self experimenters who mostly work with illegal compounds. At this time Salvia Divinorum is completely legal in Maryland and it offers a unique opportunity for legal and unregulated exploration with a plant teacher. With our new space we will be able to provide a safe context of experimental work that falls somewhere in between the established communities mentioned above. We hope to start a new relationship between these two communities while furthering the research of both.

More info: http://www.indiegogo.com/tarantulahill/x/2064889