The Freelance Mentalists.
Sunday, November 28, 2004
 
(Deleting duplicate posts, had to re-post; the date may or may not have changed, but the post remains virtually the same) Sunday,11/28: Riding home, Saturday night, in the afterglow of a post-Thanksgiving lunch-and-afternoon with relatives, more laidback than expected. Top the hill, tilt toward the welcome, familiar sight: well-developed truckstop, big motel, a couple of shops. In the dark, mostly, but what's visible, even to the traveler who's never been here before, is a warm garland of lights, all around the intersection down there.
Swerve into the left lane, no matter what's coming around its bend, because of having just seen a walker on the right, in the headlight's furtherest reach. Tall narrow forward-tilting flat back of a short canvassy jacket, seeming to erase the sight of itself. Wheeling away from/alongside him, dimness registers slightly spikey Beatle-y bowl hair, head still tilting slightly, but unbowed.
He's still walking the same pace, in the music of his drama, his sulk, his sub-star-so-far trek. In the music of screeching brakes, screaming curses, shooting middle fingers, craning necks, jangling nerves, already slamming memories. Last night, and life goes on, with or without the walker. Another lost classic.
 
 
One of the advantages of the internet is that each record is available. Just search for No New York or Geva Geva in Ebay or GEMM and a week later that “rare” bootleg will drop in your mail box. That feeling of finally obtaining something elusive has shortened from a lifetime to ten minutes. The day I dreamt of that pre-Fleetwood Mac BuckinghamNicks record finished when I got a DSL connection: I could download it from Soulseek before I could say “lost classic.” So I had to adapt, I had to reconsider what a lost classic is. The positive thing is that you’ll always be able to find every Boredoms side project in existence. The bad side is that Ashlee Simpson won’t disappear – you’ll bump into her record occasionally, when you open someone’s MP3 folder or think you’re downloading that Superpitcher remix.
But then there’s also the lost MP3 classic. The internet made it possible to (usually accidently) discover gems on blogs, obscure sites – click a million times and you’ll never find that Russian nerd’s homepage again – and Soulseek. I still remember hearing Res’ Golden Boys for the first time. It was as much to do with the right moment in time – I had just read Barthes so anything remotely meta hit me in the right places – but also, otherwise it wouldn’t be a classic, its innate goodness. “Golden Boys” is a warning for everyone, including the singer. Maybe that’s why Res never really hit it big? She warns about the yearning for stardom. As much as you may dream of being a Golden Boy, you’ll soon discover that all is not what it seems. Stardom doesn’t erase insecurity – something Robbie Williams exploits as much as suffers from. I love how Res snarls the words and then suddenly her voice soothes. It’s tough love she’s giving you/herself. So I guess, I shouldn’t have expected anything differently: the public demands that you beg for love. She was much too self-aware of the pitfalls of success, she didn’t really seem to need it so much. Res was my lost classic about three years ago. My next guess is Estelle, dubbed the new Miss Dynamite, who just released “Free.” The single’s message is basically put a smile on your face and you’ll soon be happy. So why does she need success?
Actually what is a lost classic these days? With forums, blogs and online magazines, you’ll always be able to find a scene where a particular record is well-known. Or what about the radio? Max Sedgley’s Happy seems to be the only thing that my local radio plays these days. Next week he’ll be replaced by something else, forever lost. Or what about losing your personal favourite/classic when your friend rummages through your record collection? Does it make you happy or do you regret losing that record? Enjoying Beyonce with a million others is one thing,but sharing No New York with others has never really appealed to me. It’s difficult to even play the record when someone’s in the same room. What can I say, I’m an egotistical bitch who doesn’t want to share her personal classics.


 
Tuesday, November 23, 2004
 
The idea that there can even BE lost classics in this age of the Internet and the obsessive record collecting and notating and such is kind of stupid. But here at The Freelance Mentalists, when we say stupid we mean stupid FRESH.

So I am going to here nominate an album that I guarandamntee none of you have ever heard; or, if you’ve heard it, you won’t think it’s THE LOST CLASSIC because you’re too busy monkeying around with SmiLE (which I haven’t heard because for me because I’m on a budget and because for me the Beach Boys fell the eff off when they stopped singing about cars and because I was reasonably sure that white people would love that shit like they loved "Cheers" and "Friends" and "Seinfeld" and "Frasier," and I love two of those shows and like another of them but COME ON NOW), or some Captain Beefheart thing or whatever.

I’m nominating an album that I’d heard most of the songs of already, but never heard it all together before the way it was supposed to be, back before we all convinced ourselves that albums didn’t need to be novels but rather collections of unlinked short stories or even books of poetry. No, this is a novel, a concept album really more or less, and it’s a good (if sappy) one, and it’d probably turn your hipster stomach if you listened to it casually without wanting to try. But if you can find it (I just grabbed it in a Baltimore store for $7.99 used, CD reissued in 1990) and you let yourself feel it, you will understand that The 5th Dimension and Jimmy Webb produced one HELL of a Lost Classic when they turned out The Magic Garden in 1968.



I have a lot to say about this record but this isn't really supposed to be a review, so here's some history. Bones Howe hooked the 5D up with Webb from the very beginning ("Up Up & Away," people!), and thought this second record could be a masterpiece along the lines of Pet Sounds and Sgt. Pepper. But Webb was hip-deep in depression stemming from a bad breakup, showing up for meetings with holes in his shoes, and the singers were like dood OMG WTF, and Webb was pulling out utopian craziness like the title track (lyrics like "it's the place I've made for you / from pipecleaners, hearts, and dominoes / and it won't fall down") and hippiedelic stuff like "Orange Air" and "Summer's Daughter" and pretentious orchestral insanity like the suite called "Dreams/Pax/Nepenthe" and "Requiem: 820 Latham." There's also a couple of amazing singles: "Carpet Man" got to #29 (not bad, but their first single went #1, so kind of a disappointment) and "Paper Cup" stiffed big-time. Oh, and a funked-up label-insistent cover of "Ticket to Ride"!!!

Listen, this is nutso. The arrangements are over-busy but GORGEOUS, sitars everywhere and soaring strings and the lushest vocal charts ever heard -- seriously, the 5th Dimension is the top vocal group of all time, every one a winner but magic together. Billy Davis Jr. is the main voice, this is a guy album because it's rife with Webbian self-pity, but he lovingly gifts Marilyn McCoo (THE MOST BEAUTIFUL WOMAN IN THE HISTORY OF POP MUSIC GOSH DARN IT) and Florence LaRue (also hottt, but no one can beat MMC) with a beautiful but demeaning tune called "The Girls' Song" that talks about how she's gonna take the dude back if he ever calls her, oh poor long-suffering woman, geez, Webb was a schlockster when he was in a misogynist mood! But Billy D. is in TOP FORM, as are Lamont McLemore and Ron Townson, really they were so wonderful.

And ambitious! This is a group that sang the Declaration of Independence at Nixon, y'know, and this was pretty brave of them (okay, they were tools of their label, but whatever) to enlist their fine un-hip un-funky talents in the service of a mad genius like Webb. If he hadn't hated women quite so much, this would be one of the top five greatest pop albums in history; as it is, it's in the top 20 probably, but it sank like a stone, even with the Neil Diamondisms of "Carpet Man" ("she walks all over you, she knows she can") and the popularity of "The Worst That Can Happen" (a big hit for The Brooklyn Bridge a year later, causing the label to reissue this album under that title, which sucks but whatever).

It's hard to describe how great this album sounds. It's a unified piece (except for "Ticket to Ride," which fits in anyway) describing a casual descent from hope into hopelessness, from letting her walk all over you to accepting your new place at the bottom of society, doing drugs and living like a homeless bum. All fantasy stuff for Webb -- 'what if I could just drop out from sadness and heartbreak, depriving the world of the wonder that is me?' -- because he was incredibly rich and famous anyway, and sadly this album is hoist on that petard...but it's still so pretty in its self-pity! This might be as sad/pathetic/angry as Marvin Gaye's Here, My Dear or Allison Moorer's The Duel or Dylan's Blonde on Blonde, might hate people and society more than any punk record, Hal Blaine whacking the snare on "Requiem: 820 Latham" like he's tapping the nails into the coffin of innocence, it kicks ass on both Sgt. Pepper AND Pet Sounds, it might be one of my top fivers after all.

And NO ONE TALKS ABOUT IT. Oh it's too lovely, and it's lost. Find it, dig it, reestablish it in whatever canon you want...or don't. Leave me alone with it if you want. I won't mind. I feel a lot like sad depressed Jimmy Webb these days. Life is always looking up from inside my paper cup.
 
Saturday, November 20, 2004
 
These Aliens ain't gonna fall for love, man. If we humans were truly dedicated to the whole universal domination deal we would’ve nailed it by now. It's our humanity that's held us back, cuz we got way too wound up with religion and war and feudalism and yes, love, to ever get it together enough to go space invading. And that's unlikely to change in the foreseeable, we're regressing right now, so the chances of us ever getting unified enough to achieve something as cataclysmic as inter-planetary conquest are pretty much nil. And when I say unified, I'm not talking the O'Jays utopian Unity, I'm talking Triumph of the Will-ing, Pyramid construct-ing, Jonestown breakfast-ing type togetherness. A mindless, fascistic devotion to achieving something ostensibly beyond ourselves, or at the very least the ability to impose the semblance of such a state upon all the other inhabitants of our bio-sphere. The Aliens didn't get here by singing, or caring much for culture beyond its most base and utilitarian elements. They got here by corralling their resources and focussing on the end goal. Trans-galaxial warfare ain't no picnic, ok?
I think these Aliens are gonna be looking for some hint that we humans might be more useful alive than dead, as slaves or whatever, rather than just raping our planet for its raw resources (our ability to do just that may already have impressed them enough to give us a run in the first place.) So I figure we hit 'em with our best shot, our most technologically advanced, inhuman (=Alien) anthem of recent times. Cuz to justify humanity's continuing existence doesn't necessarily mean to demonstrate what we consider to be the most valuable traits of humanity, but in this instance primarily our ability to transcend them. So rather than show our capacity for forgiveness, reflection, reason, or whatever other 'enlightened' aspects of our character we've grown fond of, we need to stress our more militant and servile traits to let the Aliens deem us useful. Then maybe we can whack 'em when their backs are turned, using guile, cunning and subterfuge.
Regardless, the song which most powerfully combines these sentiments must be Elephant Man's Bun Bad Mind. The old testament religiosity that is the songs bedrock has got to appeal to the Aliens, combining as it does fierce devotion ('Make a joyful noise unto the Lord') with the kind of combative instincts that might prove useful in battle ('Every weapon that rise against me shall fall'). In addition there's a refreshing blankness to the whole affair, and us and them approach which makes humans look both malevolent and malleable ('Rebuke them, rebuke them, them no like we and we no like them'). So it looks like a lock to the Aliens: convince them you're the Lord (which, having descended from the heavens, shouldn't be overly difficult); and bam, instant army.
Then there's the feel. Bun Bad Mind is subtlety's arch nemesis. There's a bed of blaring synthesised carnival horns that make like a 4am fire alarm: impossible to ignore, and imploring you to move. The vocals are similarly agitated, multi-tracked, mostly tuneless screeching that is nevertheless packed with that nutritious energy that sends you happily off to battle. As for the inhumanity, he sounds like a freaking alien to begin with: manic, inexplicable and dangerous; yet with an intensity and animalism that render him utterly irresistible. A perfect field-marshal for the post-Alien generation. If they take his pronouncements, and the song, at face value we'll look like a race of imbeciles, insanely committed, yet once corralled so docile and contented as to be an ideal acquisition. Bun Bad Mind relates to other pop music, past or present the same way Don King relates to other humans. The can just about co-exist, but you'd be hard pressed to confuse to the two. We simply cannot reveal the tangled web of hurt feelings, weird sex and cold murder that make up contemporary pop. They'll think we're wimps, kinks or way too tough, and off us in an instant. What we need to focus on is deception. With Ele's outstanding oddness on our side they'll never see the rebellion coming.
 
Wednesday, November 17, 2004
 
"Welcome, my Lord Ambassadors! For your first gift, may I present you with the Key?"
((Is it strictly necessary. We have miles to go, and promises to keep.))
"Ah! To be sure. But--it is not merely for show, great Workers."
((Very well then. What does it unlock.))
"Itself, first and last. Everything else, in between."
((We have heard such claims. Is this worth doing.))
"I cannot say, ultimately. Only you, my Lords, are truly capable of answering all the questions you ask."
((True enough. Demonstrate.))
"Very good! This is the code with which it activates itself. It is what it calls a 'mix.'"
All along
Your Mercury mouth
I left without my hat.
((()))
"My Lords?"
((()))
"Have I offended thee!"
(((mmm...no.)))
"Ah!"
(((Tell us...how many turns does it take to open.)))
"That, again, only ye shall answer. But, it is every song the key has teeth for, every one its maker ever found, and will find. For they call him, 'King of the Road.' "
((You forget: we have a schedule.))
"Yes, yes...I am sorry, I did forget. For my memory is but a flicker, like my life. It is you who hover eternal."
((Do not grovel. Our lives are very long, compared to yours, it is true.))
"So it is, and shall be. Then as I leave, I leave this ."
((Very well. One good turn of such a key deserves another.))
Thus, around the flagpole they are turning, in an instant of their time, while generations pass through the turnstiles of the Ticketmaster, still pleased to see our King.
 
Tuesday, November 16, 2004
 
I didn't really have to think about this one at all. "Have You Seen Her," by the Chi-Lites, is not my favorite song (that would be "I Can't Stand the Rain" by Ann Peebles), nor even my second-favorite (the Zombies' "She's Not There"), but it is the only one I would play to melt those alien hearts of stone. There is no other song that could save humanity.

I first heard it when I was five. The Chi-Lites, led by the silver clarity and undeniable songwriting of Eugene Record, had bounced up onto the national consciousness in 1969 with "Give It Away," but I was three and living in Idaho then, so I don't think I heard it then. But I do remember how hard "Have You Seen Her" hit on the AM radio, what acreage of loss and heartache it covered for me even then, a white near-sighted skinny kid with poofy 1971 hair, riding in the back of a wood-paneled station wagon. It was always the only song in the world.

So now that the slavering tentacled beasts want to raze our civilization, I give them this gift. The acid-rock guitar notes simultaneously with the rising falsetto harmonies give you a glimpse of where you're going right away: sandpaper and honey, it's gonna hurt, but it's the truth. Sometimes, you have to wallow in the pain to remember the love. This is pretty much Usher's "Burn," 33 years ago.

The monologues make this song. The first one wastes no time:
One month ago today, I was happy as a lark.
But now, I go for walks: to the movies, maybe to the park.
I have a seat on the same old bench, to watch the children play.
Heh, you know, tomorrow's their future -- but for me, just another day.
They all gather round me, heh; they seem to know my name.
We laugh, tell a few jokes, but it still doesn't ease my pain.
I know I can't hide from my memory, though day after day I've tried.
I keep saying, "She'll be back"...but today, again I've lied.


This is not just a man in pain. This is a homeless man. This is a street cat, one who is down with the brothers shooting hoops in the park -- but he's got nowhere to go, he's got nothing to do, he is a shattered shell of a man. Give it another couple of months, and he won't look so good. Give it a year, and he'll be frozen to death on that park bench. Now THAT, my friends, is careless hopeless love. THAT is crazy in love. THAT is epic romance.

The singing is impeccable, of course, we expect that in an early 1970s soul song. But the production work here is typical Eugene Record/Carl Davis work: not flashy but clean, evenly spaced echo effects, sound nailed to a cross. It's a bit overdone perhaps, but intentionally, the way Brett Favre will underthrow Javon Walker on purpose because he knows the cornerback thinks he's gonna throw to the outside so he goes back-shoulder and then boom touchdown -- well, that's the Chi-Lites style. Here, the continuo is formed by what appears to be a proto E-bow effect, which ratchets the tension up a huge notch, but the aliens will also be impressed by the way the drums barely seem to be there at all, how the bass is getting quietly funky so as not to disturb anyone -- because this song belongs to the human voice.

Record's lead voice is always as humble as it can be, understated and soft, while the backing harmonies are all involved in weird stuff that sounds avant-garde now if you're all into that but the radio was F.U.L.L. of stuff like this back then. There are periodic explosions of pain, like the classic "Why oh why / Did she have to leave and go awayyyyyyyyyyyyyy?", but he keeps trying to damp his passion back down, so as not to draw the interest of the tough Afro-ed characters on the court.

He sees her face everywhere, even at the picture show. He feels the cold wind blow. She left her kiss upon his lips, but left that break within his heart. This vocal performance could not possibly be more OTM; Record nails the feeling of someone trying to trace back the breadcrumbs of his life out of the forest, someone singing as the sun goes down to keep the wolves away. He's been used to having someone to lean on, but he's lost. Baby he's lost.

He's got help, too. The rest of the group (Robert Lester, Marshall Thompson, Creadel Jones) are the golden cloud for Record's silver leads. Sometimes, they say what he can't: "Oh I see her hand reaching out to me / Only she can set me free"; sometimes, they say what cannot be said: a soulful hum behind the main melody, or the bridge when the group goes "bup bup bup" and answer themselves "bup bup bup" and then repeat it and then leap up an astonishing octave "bup bup bup bup bup BUP bup," way the hell over the top but that is what they want, they have to shake you out of your complacency, to make you understand that This man is going to die for the lack of love.

Haven't you ever felt like that? I feel like that ALL THE TIME, and my wife hasn't even left me. (Yet.) This is the naked fear of all human beings: that we will die without love, with no one to lean on, all alone like in Gregory Corso's dope-ass poem "Marriage," all alone with pee stains on our underwear. When you look in our hearts, when we open up our hearts, at the end of the day, at the end of the world, what we want is to get back what we've lost, that love that we think will complete us and make us whole and make us beautiful. And nothing is sadder than someone who has had it, and lost it, and knows what he has lost, and has to live with that knowledge.

This is made clear with the ending monologue, which has hit me like a stepdad ever since I couldn't even tie my own shoes:
As another day comes to an end,
I'm looking for a letter, or SOMETHING, anything that she would send.
With all the people I know, heh, I'm still a lonely man.
You know, it's funny: I thought I had her in the palm of my hand.


And then comes the saddest sound I have ever heard on a record: Eugene Record singing "Have you seen her?" softly twice over the closing vamp. Singing to himself, because he knows the answer. He's not even singing, really. He's carving it, carving it into himself, writing his own epitaph right there on the park bench.

If the aliens can't feel that, the deep dark pathos of loss and fear and love so strong it drives you into a downward spiral for days or months or years, then screw 'em, they don't deserve us. Let them burn it all away and make room for their icky Up With People world.

But I have a feeling a lot of tentacles will be wiping saline excretions from huge freaky eyes. I bet Eugene Record saves our fuckin' lives. Then, I put on "We Are Neighbors" and we dance.
 
Monday, November 15, 2004
 
I never felt magic as crazy as this

Stop smirking. I know it’s a cliche to connect aliens with Roky Erickson. Oooh that kooky Texan guy who watches a few dozens televisions at the same time and they are turned ON! Whatever, I don’t give a zombie’s ass what you think. At the moment I am too busy helping you guys and girls out.
At first I thought Chris Bell would help me out. But then I realized “I am the cosmos” was a bit too etereal. His sound is too fey for some buffy aliens. I need something more rootsy, more grounded, but at the same time still non-human. Then I pondered over Trout Mask Replica. But I soon realized it was too consciously disjointed. Don was thinking about reshuffling an existing language, not really connecting with something out there. His sound is pure studium (for him and the listener), whereas Roky’s sound is all punktum (for me anyway).
Roky Erickson’s music may never have existed without his spazzed-out brain, it was a way to propel me outerspace. A decade ago I wasn’t using any blunted material, so the only thing that could help me half-way there was You're Gonna Miss Me and the Eraserhead soundtrack. Both warped my vision/hearing eternally. Roky’s records are all about psykedelick blooz trying to break out of the garage. Whereas Captain Beefheart was about creating a post-modern blues project, Roky didn’t need to think about it, he just needed to replicate the voices in his head. So if anyone would be the perfect guide, Roky’s the dude to chaperone me towards the Alien Tribune. Not that I really believe Roky or even I could justify humanity. Music is never about proving a human being is worth living, it’s about helping you get through whatever shit you’re dealing with. Or not want to deal with. So I guess, maybe, I could tell’em that “Don’t Slander Me” will make the aliens deal with whatever problems they have at the moment. Probably a broken down spaceship.
To be honest I don’t get Roky at all. Does anyone? Do you? You do? Then explain to me what “Don’t Slander Me” is all about. To me the song just sounds otherworldy. Maybe from the planet those aliens came from.
 
Saturday, November 13, 2004
 
"Wait. This is that Vanilla Ice song. That Chuck guy already made us listen to that. It's a great song, but we hear he stole those lyrics from a black fraternity. Plagiarism isn't a trait of your culture we find admirable, not to mention the whole race thing..."

"No, Zoltax, this goes dee-dee-dee-diggy-dee-dee dee-dee-dee-diggy-dee-dee. Ice goes dee-dee-dee-digy-dee-dee DEE-dee-dee-dee-diggy-dee-dee. It's totally different."

"I see."

"But it's great, right? And that's even before the guitar lick and the scatting."

"Yeah, nice build up. PRESSURE! I like that. Who's the singer?"

"Two singers. David Bowie and Freddie Mercury."

"We only know what we we read in Rolling Stone, but aren't those guys fascists?"

"Well, David did toy with the imagery and Queen did release this questionable song called 'One Vision,' but do you really take Dave Marsh seriously?"

"His logic in that Jazz review did seem dubious. Not to mention the song he played us."

"Yeah I would have gone with 'Dancing In The Dark' myself. Shorter, funnier. Anyhow, I'm pushing the track, not the artists. We've been talking a lot. I'm gonna start the track over. Focus."

"Man, that is a GREAT intro."

"Dig the lyrics, too. All the sympathy and empathy there. It's the terror of knowing what this world is about. Watching some good friends screaming let me out. Pray tomorrow - gets me higher. The conflict between the interests of the individual and the community is something we haven't totally tackled."

"We noticed."

"Yeah but ok, here's Mercury - check this out."

"Ok, what...ignoring the oddity of what we CAN figure out, what exactly does he say before the verse starts and right after these are the days it never rains but it pours?"

"NOTHING! He's SCATTING! Don't you love that? The guy's in the studio making this big collaborative statement and he throws in a couple bars of operatic gibberish! This song has carefree joy in it too."

"It is a beautiful sound."

"Oh yeah, there's few things in music I find more endearing than a singer playfully revelling in the sound of their own voice. Mercury was the GOD of that."

"The best part of that one Eminem song is when he just starts going neh NEH neh neh nyeh..."

"Wow, Zoltax! I feel the same way! Anyhow, we've set up the scene: misery, anxiety, futility. Turned away from it all like a blind man. Sat on a fence but it don't work."

"But what DOES work?"

"LISTEN! Keep coming up with love but its so slashed & torn. God that line kills me."

"Yeah, it's like the edge of surrender...wait...woah...what the...oh man, that's a build-up!"

"TOTALLY! Bowie drama! Queen drama! INSANITY LAUGHS UNDER PRESSURE WE'RE CRACKING!!!"

"Oh wow, Mercury...oh, that's beautiful..."

"and how he fades out and Bowie fades in..."

"This is giving me chills..."

"Love is the answer! It's really cliche but it's something we've got and something that hasn't died and we might still make things better..."

"Ok, wait but Anthony he's asking a question: why doesn't love work?"

"But then David answers it! Cause love is such an old fashioned word and love dares you to care for the people of the edge of the night"

"Edge of the..."

"Look it was the eighties and it was David Bowie. And love dares you to change our way of caring about ourselves."

"Oh shit, I wouldn't have noticed that if you hadn't said it."

"I know. This was my favorite song long before I ever got Hot Space and saw the whole lyric sheet. The musical drama alone has killed me since middle school. By the way, if you don't blow us all up I've got to play you this song called 'Dancer' on the album..."

"Back to the song..."

"Ok, yeah. So they know love is a struggle and the pressure and everything. Through their combined powers they create this gorgeous backdrop, cut out the sanctimony with tossed-off lyrics and the inherent hilarity of Mercury and make the best damn argument for hope and optimism and love and trying to get through this thing we call life. It sounds so uncalculated, so absurd and yet succeeds. It sounds like they fell ass-backwards into the best song ever. If that ain't a vote for optimism about humanity, what is? And at the end."

"dee-dee-dee-diggy-dee-dee."

"This song is so great that a sliver of it grew into something fascinating itself."

"I thought you said they were totally different."

"Whatever. Does it pass? Cuz it's really all I've got."

"Well is it still popular?"

"There was some UK phone poll I read about recently where it was the 10th most popular song in the country."

"It placed? Despite all that Beatles stuff?"

"Beat anything by Radiohead too."

"Ok, The UK is in the clear. But the U.S., what about there?"

"It still gets on the radio, but plagiarism or not we made 'Ice Ice Baby.' Gotta give us that."

"Alright, alright. What about the rest of the world?"

"Queen is huge EVERYWHERE. Africa, Asia, South America, Europe, Australia. EVERYBODY loves Queen. This girl I know in New Zealand is mad about A Kind Of Magic."

"Fine. You win."

"Can I play you guys 'Dancer' now?"
 
Friday, November 12, 2004
 
When I die, I believe that I'll go to heaven. And I believe that when the gates to heaven swing open, it will make the sound of the drum roll that sends 'This Is the One' by The Stone Roses galloping into its second verse. I really believe that's what I'll hear when I cross over to the other side ... but I've asked my family and friends to play the song at my funeral, just in case I need a little help on my way.

Assuming the aliens don't care much for our physical forms or our intellects -- two things they're perfectly capable of assessing on their own -- our only hope is to convince them that humans are divine beings. 'This is the One' is the best evidence I have for that argument, the product of human endeavor that has most clearly and completely slipped from the bonds of the earthly. The structure is amorphous and the lyric unclear, but the song's spirit is more certain than death, mightier and more eternal. I can't be sure that it was recorded to tape or played on instruments, but I know deep down that it is the sound of something perfect, beautiful, and divine, something that I've come from and will return to.

I think the aliens will hear that too. If they don't, fuck it, at least I've got the right song playing when they incinerate me.
 
Thursday, November 11, 2004
 
Nicky Siano, turntable prodigy of the early 70s, graduated from the dancefloor utopia of David Mancuso's Loft, and then set up The Gallery. Not (despite the acid, balloons, and food bar) that The Gallery's scene was (necessarily) as merely blissed out as the term "utopia" implies. In the booklet included with Soul Jazz Records' new collection, NICKY SIANO'S THE GALLERY, Nicky describes how his innovative sound system logically arrived at the space he had to work with and from.
Post-grad wiring that still hears these songs, mostly recorded when "disco" was still embryo lingo, like "punk" and "heavy metal." "We can make it," Loleata Holloway proclaims. "I can understand it," Bobby Womack decides. Can ain't canned, the deal's not done. In Gloria Spencer's gospel (the one out-and-out such here, despite the Ray Charles Express, chugging past conga lines and mutable horns, back and forth from Glory's halos and holes, on so many of these tracks),is it not said:"I got it! I don't understand it." Hallelujah! Because she's come to where she sees that she must and can and *does* say that she doesn't know, and (downwind from the Temptations' "Law Of The Land," "made by Almighty Man"), that's a fitting place to try your wings.
Fitting because: a)despite aforementioned "logic," and b)though here unmixed, so that we don't get a taste of Nicky's vaunted three-record-monte skills, these uncut cuts are c)to z) about making the most of surprises. Sometimes at the literal last minute, songs suddenly surpass "themselves"(as prematurely profiled by me). Sometimes all along, sections of other songs keep bursting through walls of plausibility and acceptance.(I like this, I think I'll keep it, and I'm well-trained, by trends/samples/beats/ideas/premises/promises, by now, to "go" with repetition.)
In either kind, any kind of song picked here, hot grapeshot and grapefruit sections of sections come whirling through the webs in my headphones; singers come singing (never as histrionically as in the historically correct Age of Disco), dancers keep dancing, DJ is the pilot, spinning is the navigator, rattling roulette (on Bonnie Bramlett's "Crazy 'Bout My Baby," the whole band's a tambourine, 'til the dobro arrives and applies slo-mo, then it's a wheel in a wheel, that just emitted sparks).
Ah yes, young people getting together. Dealing with Freedom's opportunities and frustrations. The Exciting Adventures Of My Heart! Or somebody's. Better you than me, when it comes to some of these lyrics, but we're not *that* young, we've all been there, honest! Past the dogends of the 60s, alongside the cautionary Motown strings, still skittering across mirrorshades skyscrapers, we're moving into our prime, ready for more. Tonight it's true like it never was (for one thing, I never heard or looked for this stuff back in the early 70s, or since). To Be Continued offscreen I hope.(PS: Nicky disappeared for a long time, but now he's performing again. See timlawrence.info, Tim's book, LOVE SAVES THE DAY: A HISTORY OF AMERICAN DANCE MUSIC CULTURE, 1970-79, and, to get this CD, try for instance forcedexposure.com)
 
Tuesday, November 09, 2004
 
Hero Takes A Fall

I don’t believe in heroes. Or maybe I do. But then I need to redefine what a hero is. If a hero is about courage, strength and perfection, I don’t have’em. But if a hero is about detachment, then I guess Daan Stuyven fits right in. When I pick out a person as hero, it’s usually about the distance that seperates them from me. Maybe it’s because I want to remain ignorant of their life so that I can fill in the gaps in the record. It enables me to interpret the music how I want to. I never really aim for obscurity when looking for a hero nor for popularity. I don’t want to be in a dingy club feeling oh so special when gawking at my hero. Nor do I want to be in a stadium with a gazillion punters trying to make out if that dot is my hero. Music is not a point of view - I don’t want to look up, down or even at my hero. Nor do I want to emulate them.
My first face to face interview was with Dead Man Ray’s Daan Stuyven. Who? Exactly, Dead Man Ray is underrated. Looking back, I still cringe. I only glanced at him, fearing that he would detect I was more a fan than a proper music journalist. The interview was over in 15 minutes because I couldn’t manage to really make him talk. Or myself for that matter – I pushed the words out of my dry throat. Whatever, I had managed to come into direct contact with my... uh... idol and realized I didn’t want to relive the experience. The interview debunked the detached image I had of him: he was there, in front of me. He wasn’t really friendly – I already knew from the lyrics, he wouldn’t be – nor insightful – whatever depth I had found in Trap he would laugh off. He was aloof, making up answers just to fill the empty space between us.
Dead Man Ray is not really about content. The sound and words are about texture and, thus, creating a distance between the band and the listener. There’s never a moment when you can understand what he’s singing about. The words are English, the sentences are just appearance. It’s about self-awareness. By creating a new language – in lyrics and sound – Dead Man Ray set themselves apart from the others. It’s about accentuating that they are different. That’s what attracts me to their sound. By using this cut’n’paste language I find a companion. I never really feel part of the pack when I discuss/listen to music. I am aware I can never really get 70s NY Punk because I don’t live there/then, or Folk Rock because I haven’t followed the Grateful Dead around in the 60s. I understand Dead Man Ray because I don’t. It’s about detachment. It’s about being The Other.

Reading this again (and again and again) I can’t find any truth in what I am saying. I realize why. Having to pick an underrated hero – or even a canonized musical god – pushes me into a corner. I don’t like to be linked to anything. So whatever I said about Dead Man Ray and Daan Stuyven, forget about it. Over- or underrated, heroes haven’t given me any comfort. Especially in times likes these.
 
Friday, November 05, 2004
 
My underrated musical hero: Curtis Mayfield.

I know, you've already heard of him. I know, he's not exactly obscure. But bear with me. I still think Mayfield is underrated; I know he's my hero.

I've been adrift the last couple of days, we all have. For me, the solar plexus punch of this election just built on some other sad things happening in my life lately, family things and personal things and private things. My heart's been a mess, and I've responded in that age-old Cibula way: cover it over, build a wall, over-intellectualize. Don't let yrself feel it burn. I never used to be like this but now I am.

The problem is, it hasn't been working. I realized (even before the election) that I needed help with all this. What I've usually done is dive even further into my music. We all have totemic albums that we play just to make sure they're still there, that we still fit into our world -- I've been running through all of mine lately, and they've all just bounced off. It never used to be like this but now it is.

I blasted silly new Mexican dance music and old gentle noble soul music, and they did nothing for me. I tried bossa nova and it didn't calm me down, I tried techno and it didn't pump me up, I tried grungy-ass garage rock and elegant disco and everything I could think of, every favorite record and song, and none of it struck a chord. I really started to give up on myself a little. Because if Happy End of the World and America Eats Its Young and Fabulosos Calavera and Let's Stay Together and Strictly Business and Nos and Electric Ladyland don't work, what's the damn point of anything anymore? If London Calling cannot protect me from eight years of a Bush presidency, what can?

And then, today, at work, inside the case of my Little Axe album, I finally found the disc for Curtis Mayfield's album Roots. I put it into my CD player for the ride home and cranked it the hell up. And Curtis was there for me.

Curtis was always there, for everyone. He wasn't the greatest singer -- some of his control was spot-on, but some of it is just yeesh -- nor were his melodies the prettiest, although there are some chord changes on "The Makings of You" and "Freddie's Dead" that just slay everything else ever. Nor, in fact was he the best poet in rock history; plenty of clunkers mixed in with the good stuff.

But his songs manage the impossible: they make uphill struggle sound like the most fun ever. Tired and politically depressed and feel like crawling under a blanket for many months? "We who are young / Should now take a stand / Don't run from the burdens / Of women and men." Dude covered the Carpenters' "We've Only Just Begun" and made it about the black people's struggle and made it WORK on his Live! album. So one vote for "optimism" in the column.

There's more to Curtis Mayfield than just blind optimism, to be sure. His realistic streak, as shown in songs like "Underground" and "If There's a Hell Below We're All Going to Go," was deep and wide. Honesty is the bigger reason to love Mayfield, the honesty born from piercing the veil of everything's-gonna-be-all-right-ism. And when you get both, like in "Underground" and "We the People Who Are Darker Than Blue"...well, it hit me that if this man growing up in the 1950s and 1960s in segregated-ass Chicago could still do songs that beautiful, that full of hope, then fuck it: I can handle four more years of Bush. Especially when he gets impeached.

And, yeah, underrated. Everyone wants to pull What's Going On and Innervisions out of their butt, like Marvin and Stevie INVENTED the soul protest album...but Mayfield formed his own Curtom label to release his solo albums IN 1970, predating either of them. And Curtis is a better album than at least What's Going On: harder, more acidic, funnier, scarier. It sounds like Chicago, it sounds like pain and joy...and all without the assistance of the Funk Brothers or Berry Gordy's money (or daughter).

And criminally underserved in the CD era. Rhino's done some good reissues, but there are many Curtis Mayfield albums that have never seen digital encoding, much less are available readily.

This scares me a little, to know that Dave Marsh and I have the same musical hero. But dammit we're both right. I might also have picked Gilberto Gil or Yasuharu Konishi or Carol Kaye or Grandmaster Flash (people STILL don't know what that dude did) or Ann Peebles...but I didn't. When I need to reach for something, it won't be a gun or a drink or an easy answer that I think "solves" everything. No, I'm reaching for my Curtis Mayfield CDs.

I'm seeing the light at the top of the canyon. It's gonna have one hell of a soundtrack, this future we're in.
 
Monday, November 01, 2004
 
There are few moments in my life that are etched in my brain more than my firsthand experience with radio making. Apart from the few recollections that are just memories of told stories, my first few seconds behind a microphone in a dingy radio booth are proof of why I will always love radio more than any other medium. It enabled me to overcome my insecurities. If I messed up, the error had already evaporated into thin air. It was all about the present and, of course, the music. The focus was never on me, only the song that came before or after my mumbling ad-lib. Sure, blogging is/can be close to the improv style dj-ing of radio (if you are inclined that way). You should be, blogging has never been about permanent thoughts stamped on a screen, it's poetry in motion. But that's a whole other story. So, anyway, back to those few delirious seconds. The moment my friend threw something - a GBV boxset maybe - against the glass to get me talking, radio as I loved it was already dying. After a few weeks of doing the show the guy running the station had struck a deal with a commercial radio chain. Feh. Luck (???) had it that I was invited to do a show at the new station. Apparently I had a pleasant voice. Gone were the days that I could compile my own lists. I had to follow a track list. After a few shows slipping in the occasional indie single in between Michael Jackson and Celine Dion, I just quit. Commercial radio is devoid of anything human: There are no slip-ups, just computer programs spitting out the perfect lists. Add to that the deejay doesn't really need to know anything. In the words of former Studio Brussel boss, Jan Hautekiet, the computer does the show, the dj just needs to talk two songs together. So why would I (you) listen to the radio or make a program? The time when I listened to Radio One to discover what was new, what to look out for or avoid, are just a sepia tinged memory. Radio is not meant to educate, just to fill the silent walls. So yes, on a personal level radio is dead because I am getting too old to muster up the energy to force Helen Fordsdale or Who Loves The Sun onto some poor souls who happened to find my radioshow. But then switching on the radio - from the other side - I discover that even stations like Studio Brussel have changed their format trying to go for broadness instead of specialized/genre shows. I know I am just a grumpy cynic who refuses to accept change. Whatever, as with everything else it goes in cycles. I'll probably be deaf from listening to too much Slayer when the tides turns.
 

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