Wednesday, September 28, 2005

beta luv kim

Unknown - "Oh Girl, Stand Up"
Unknown - "Pride of the Nation"

I've pondered the Sublime Frequencies label before, be it in Burma, India, or Sumatra, their dreamworlds aswirl in my cloudy head. In discussing the music of Iraq and N. Korea down in Miami though, it was hard to remain swaddled in such sonic reverie. Stuck inside the fences and boxes provided (be it on TV or in the delivery service), it's tough to be roused awake. For once, SF eschews dream collage for ever-waking reality. Call it Mission Accomplished.

Where do these discs fit in though? Is the label trying to be relevant? As Alan Bishop put it in a recent issue of Arthur magazine: "Don't be fooled by the fear patrol out there who say that terror is only a minute away. It's all an illusion…The fear of terror being spread is a tactic employed as a mirage to keep the herd from experiencing phenomena beyond the pasture." Rather than trade in sensationalism, it reveals these highly-pressurized, brutally repressed cultures and how music comes forth under such duress. Both the Iraq and Pyongyang discs resound in the present rather than in dream. Which is a somewhat chilly way to have to wake up these days.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

beta luv bob and amandy

So, yes, the wedding was lurvely, but my memory card seems to be leaning towards the memory hole, hence no pics of the blushing bride and groom, Amanda and Brent. Ah well, it was right along the Hudson, offering a delightful view of that not-so filthy river (though I'm more of an East River man myself). Being back in nature (aka, a small lil town with American flags flapping on Main Street) was mind-clearing, unlike the Irish carbombs that went oh so well with the little handmade Nazi-Buddha chocolates for every guest. Breathing among trees and getting hypnotized by coruscating little ripples of water...guess I'm still a country boy after all.

And their vows even referenced Bob! They had to get married before the PBS thingy on Bob Dylan came on, although during would've been perfect (no vows would've been exchanged with both of their eyes glued to the tube). I mean, who else in their right mind would get married to the strains of Blood on the Tracks as done by string quartet? That's just sick!

I tried to call Amanda when No Direction Home was on, but the phone was unplugged. I was enrapt as well, even though by Tuesday night it ultimately came out as further mythologizing, scrubbed clean of such things like collector-scum thievery (in the name of "Musical Expeditionary" sez Bob as he helped himself to tons of old folk records, some of which can be heard here), punch-pulling by Dylan's manager on his own interviews, cold Joan Baez-diss (she is visibly still stung, singing "Love is a four-letter word"), and gigantic amounts of **** to keep the sunglasses affixed (though not sucked on) as camera clicks increasingly gnashed like teeth in the center gearhouses of the beast. My jaw began to clinch and grind on Tuesday's beginning, as Dylan sped through every permutation of pet and business signage in England in frantic goofy word spiel.

Monday's portion felt more vital, less linear, superimposing times past-past and past-present and eternal, featuring film of Hank, Gene Vincent, and Odetta (and the extreme wtf?ness of John Jacob Niles) that was so crisp that I almost wished it would just veer off that highway and show all that footage instead. The most surprising thing may be how great some of those folks looked (okay, I just feel young and snotty), especially Maria Muldaur, Suze Rotolo, and Dude Supreme, Bruce Langhorne. Of all the talking heads on parade, Allen Ginsburg's insights were most illumed. Who else even came close as Dylan's peer, except maybe Lennon? Who else would recognize that quality of breath and oneness, perceiving how Dylan became "a column of air" in front of everyone? I'm hoping to turn into a puddle upstate soonish.

Monday, September 26, 2005

beta and kilink in istanbul

Mort's obsession with all things Diabolik/Sadistik/Satanik/Kriminal/Killing/Kilink-related has spilled over to me (I'm a sucker for just about any movie that I can borrow). But what's not to like about D/S/S/K/K/K? That rigid, skeletal rictus; that miscreant belly-laugh that bursts forth at the hapless roadblocks that goodness erects in his path; that assured, jackbooted stride as he marches against decency and kills at will.

It's tough going to love something like Kilink in Istanbul though, and not just because it's PAL so that you have to view on the CPU. Okay, the sudden appearance of Shazam is the funniest bit of deus ex machina (or whatever they call it in Turkish) since Magnolia, at least. Even better is how the vengeful son whispers "Sajem!" to become Superhero, replete with striped-boxer shorts, puffy muscle shirt, and askant Batman mask. And his exquisite corpse outfit echoes the soundtrack, which seems to be fifth-generation dubs of Bond movie cues all chopped and screwed back together (sometimes even run backwards) like some sort of Frankensteinian aural collage. But the ending is the most anti-climactic thing I've ever seen, where Kilink's secret weapon is never displayed and Superhero never even shows up for the final battle. Instead Kilink kisses his girlfriend (chicks dig evil skeletons) and just admits that he likes doing what he loves. Guess the Turks are into frustration (and sequels).

One thing is that they like their heroes to be cruel. As extras are a few trailers for other Turkish films. Their Superman is malnourished, yet the thousand-yard stare, stillborn emotional core, and imminent kill-punch make for a ridiculously stony shell. It's nothing compared to the other feature that somehow pulls together an unholy triumverate of Spider-Man, Captain America, and Mexican wrestling icon, El Santo(!). No idea about the plot, but it seems to center on the sadistic kicks of the St. Patty's day green outfit of Spider-Man and his BBW girlfriend. Some exploits include: burying a woman neck-deep in sand and driving an outboard motor into her face; stomping on a bar of soap with Spidey jackboots and strangling a woman mid-shower; shoving a flesh-hungry hamster into a cardboard tube to gnaw off a man's face. All of which are accompanied by Spidey's malevolent gut-busting. Ghost Rider was never this sick.

Friday, September 23, 2005

beta gets diabolikal

Never an expert on such things as Italian cinema, much less fumetti, or the trend in Europe post-WWII to root for miscreant anti-heros and supercriminals (I'll leave all that to my esteemed colleague and lending-library, Mort Todd), I have been an avid fan of Mario Bava's Danger: Diabolik for many years. No idea how it got lodged in my head so, but my gateway must've been the snaky, wacked-out, and swinging Morricone score, which would endear the movie on the revival circuit regardless (or for its notoriety as the last movie watched by the damned on MST3000), but it stands as much more than time-period curio.

As I mentioned above, the appraisal and popularity of the miscreant anti-hero intent on destroying the government, or exacting vengeance on society at large, or thieving for decidedly non-Robin Hood ideals, or just killing people in a sadistic manner (see Fantomas, Satanik, etc.) never made it to American shores, dealing instead with good vengeance and rightful punishment, and of course, support of the government's law and order. Only with the emergence of Alan Moore and Frank Miller in the eighties did darkness begin to encroach on squeaky-clean icons like Batman and Spider Man. Two Italian sisters drafted the comic book version of Diabolik.

So that strange, striking, black-clad figure of Diabolik (played by the excellent eyebrows and chilly stare of John Phillip Law) whizzed over the heads of American audiences (critics hated it) who mostly dug its "camp" aspects, drawing misguided parallels to Batman and Barbarella, as if that was the only thing funny-books were capable of translating to on celluloid. Okay, the escapades of Diabolik are absurd, as he steals "the largest single shipping of dollars ever" just so he can shag his girl, Eva, on a pile of dough, and then tops it by heisting the biggest lump of gold just to bankrupt his country. There's also the tossed-off one-man terrorist campaign, wherein Diabolik blasts the Ministry of Finance and Tax offices, or rather, the fancy engraved marble signs in front of their respective buildings. (This is mostly an excuse to just post the absurdly great Morricone theme for Diabolik when darting around in his sports car, all surf twang, maniacal laughter, and Green Hornet trumpet spittle, the guitar feedback threatening to capsize the whole thing into delerium.)

What pushes Diabolik to something beyond period-piece is the eye of Bava. Already a master of Italian horror and gialli (a forebearer to Dario Argento), this comic book adaptation was just one of many genres Bava dabbled in, like spaghetti westerns, softcore, and uh, viking films. Not content to just recreate panelling of his source material, he plays with it, revealing depth and balancing both the foreground with the back. The documentary comments on his lens in motion versus the staid, flat shots that riddle Barbarella. Other times, he sets up almost natural shots of borders, where characters are framed by shelves, bedposts, propeller blades, giving the illusion of the page. Aside from the craft, there's a fantastical backdrop of painted glass and subtle effects, crystal spires and glistening stalagtites that comprise Diabolik's lair, created with most of the actors just moving on soundstages. This was Bava's biggest budget, and the story went that he returned most of the extra money he didn't use (catering, dude) as he returned to low-budget horror for the bulk of his remaining career.

If Diabolik needs another selling point, the Beastie Boys ripped this movie off for their video "Body Movin'". So did one of Coppolla's kids, lazily, blatantly. Of course, the terroristic aspects of Diabolik are muted, as the natural American kneejerk is to play up its campy aspect.

Ennio Morricone - "Main Theme"

Ennio Morricone - "Driving Decoys"

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

beta grows his own

The Skatalites - "Beardman Ska"

It started out as a joke between myself and an unapologetic beard-lover, on the occasion of her upcoming vows. Somehow it sprouted into this verdant thicket.

Monday, September 19, 2005

beta hears more ethiopiques than reggaeton

Mulatu Astatke "Tezeta"
Mahmoud Ahmed "Kulun Mankwalesh"
Alemu Aga "Yeemebetatchen Selamta"

It's strange to try and explain that thonka-thunk sound of reggaeton to all my Texan visitors. I find it incredibly difficult to fathom that down south, they haven't heard that beat, that telltale clave and snare that pounds through The City at all hours. Especially in SA, where you can escape neither tejano nor conjunto nor salsa nor rancheros nor whatever strand of Latin rhythm is overtaking the state, much like fire ants and killer bees and cucarachas. It seems less likely that border country hasn't been hit by reggaeton and just more likely that my friends don't listen to the radio, much less the Latino stations. Guess they're too busy with the Walkmen and Brian Jonestown Massacre. Sigh.

But how could they avoid it up here? Who knows, but I do know that nearly everywhere we went, they seemed to be piping in various volumes of the Ethiopiques. Eating dinner at Mama's, it was from Volume Four, featuring the big band sounds of Mulatu Astatke. And while waiting for the Arcade Fire to come on, out blared Mahmoud Ahmed through the park, one of my favorites of the series. Sounded phenomenal over the PA, too.

No one seems to have much love for Alemu Aga though and his King David harp. Even the eMusic Dozen has no mention of it. Quite honestly, his music is about the closest thing I have found to late period Arthur Russell, all murmur and holy buzz. How great would this sound coming out of a tricked-out Navigator with chrome rims?

Friday, September 16, 2005

beta imagines bowie in his funk

My only planned night of CMJ is inside the VIP pen on the side of the SummerStage. I am trying to figure out a way to cover Bell Orchestre in the near-future, but their live set does little to help, as there's nothing to endear or earmark it to me. Yes, it strikes me as a few more of the Arcade Fire playing even more instruments. And when's the last time you've seen two bands in a night both use a French horn player? Alright, I got that you guys are from New France; I don't need it shoved down my daggummed Texan good ol' boy throat all night long.
Speaking of TX, my boys SOUNDteam (a/k/a the other Screwed-Up Click) must have the H-town connex, opening up for the Arcade Fire in a humidity that feels like home. The 'team are crisp, even on such an open stage, getting a crowd that has never heard a peep of them nor been told to like them to nod and clap.
Everyone is waiting for the Arcade Fire, and while I have only come across one song that strikes me, the devout are in full-force, selling out the show months beforehand. Perhaps I've avoided really big, corwd-pleasing concerts in the recent past, but I always get chills when I hear a crowd chant back all the words of songs (I never remember the words). What amazes me the most is how the Arcade Fire is sold on their own concept, whether it's just spazz-goth or something more (or less) profound. They've sewn their own flag, pounded their own marching drum, conceptualized their story and art from the start. They shout along and writhe, stomp and shiver, loose howls towards the light riggings of heaven, just as their fans do. As if mere recitation could save lives.

I saw David Bowie backstage, just drunk enough to convince the girls that I would get a Polaroid of them with Bowie, but then he moves towards the sidestage and I'm not that drunk to test my slobbery silver tongue then. Even knowing what's next (or what happened before), to feel the roar that washes over me when Bowie takes center in crisp Panamanian white to offset their sweaty black digs mewling about that queen bitch is a fitting peak to the long night to follow...

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Lee Dorsey - Yes We Can

Lee Dorsey
Yes We Can

Lee Dorsey
"O Me O Mi O"
"Games People Play"

Can you imagine one of your favorite artists making you a mix tape? While maybe not exactly my all-time all-time, a handmade package from Van Dyke Parks would be sweet, me thinks. His knowledge of worldly musics is encompassing and exact (see The Wire #163 Invisible Jukebox for an example). Add in his production work with the likes of The Mojo Men, Rufus Wainwright, Little Feat, or Cher and it gets more wondrously varied! This is to mention nothing of his co-writing many of the legendarily fractured Beach Boys’ Smile tracks like “Heroes and Villains,” “Cabin Essence,” and “Surf’s Up.”
But why imagine a tape when his actual albums work as mixes of whatever music and themes he happened to be pondering at that point in time? His first, Song Cycle, spun bluegrass, Stephen Foster, McCarthyism, “Canto a Vera Cruz,” and Ives into a kaleidoscopic, post-colonial Americana head trip. And his second, Discover America, goes it one better by picking up the shuffling rhythms of Trinidad, Jamaica, and Barbados and dashing them into his pot (literally). It is still distinctly American though, with homage paid to icons like Bing Crosby, the Mills Brothers, J. Edgar Hoover, and New Orleans songwriter Allen Toussaint, with the inclusion of his “Riverboat” and “Occapella.” These two songs always perplexed me over the years, as Parks never seemed to be one to light on the same subject twice. So what was it about these songs that required two nearly-consecutive trips to the bayou?

As wont to do with cover versions on mix tapes, I went looking for the originals. While Toussaint began to step out from behind the console in the early 70’s to sing his own songs, these two selections were still the domain of singer Lee Dorsey. A World War II sailor and featherweight prizefighter by the name of “Kid Chocolate,” Dorsey hooked up with Toussaint (after his own draft duties) after stints for Rex, Fury, and Minit to cut the instant strip-joint anthem, “Ride Your Pony,” for the Amy label in 1966. From that moment forth, Dorsey would be the main vocal conduit for the prolific pen, production, and piano playing of Allen Toussaint. Add to the mix the ultimate practitioners of second-line funk, the Meters, and you have a potent triumvirate of Naw’leans power. While Sundazed has so far reissued both The New Lee Dorsey and Ride Your Pony, the pinnacle of this tandem remains the obscure Yes We Can LP of 1970. Woefully distributed by the overseas Polydor back then, even the CD reissue on Polygram Chronicles is now nearly ten years gone. And it is a shame.

Kicking off with the title track, “Yes We Can” shows Toussaint writing an anthem of sorts, although it stays just shy of being an overtly political song. While not surprising, considering the timeframe, New Orleans music always enjoyed a bit of distance from the rest of the world, focusing more on the good times that comprised life in the Big Easy. That laid-back feeling permeated every aspect of their sound. There is a look out onto the world at large here, but the resulting view is non-judgmental, unaligned neither with revolution nor with the powers that be. There is no rage or riling in sight. Proffered instead is a call for kindness and consideration for the people around you. Even in the midst of the decade end’s upheaval, Lee Dorsey’s voice soothes with his sage-like flow:

Help each man be a better man with the kindness that you give
I know we can make it, I know darn well we can work it out
Yes we can.

The bouncing beat, organ swells, “bop ba doo bop” scats, and triumphant horns all reinforce the positive message without a hint of false hope or disbelief in a good outcome. Already the qualities of voice noted by Burke Johnson are evident: “(Dorsey can) project both joy and sorrow and literally take you out on a limb of fantasy, still keeping the intended mood of the composition intact.”

But once the drum kicks in for “Riverboat,” you realize that there is a whole ‘nuther level at work in the music. We are already far down the Mississippi by the time Dorsey bursts in after two measures:

Big wheel justa keep on turnin’
And the fire justa keep on burnin’
Opportunity knockin’, Big Boat justa keep on rockin’

It is at once overwhelming and reassuring. The earthy banks and levees are nowhere to be heard, just the Big River itself, and every instrument in Cosimo Matassa’s studio (the ONLY studio in New Orleans at the time) becomes a component of this sound vessel as it cruises the mighty waters. The horns bleat out steam and smoke, the wah guitar warbles like eddies alongside the boat. Drums cycle and churn like pistons, hi-hats hiss, and Dorsey floats on it all, comfortable against such enormous surroundings. Amongst the Big Wheels, Big Boats, and Big Opportunities surrounding and nearly swallowing the passengers on this voyage, it is the miniscule grain of love in his eye that is most important. That cinder renders all these other enormous, uncontrollable elements harmless. Tumultuous as it might be out there, Lee just wants to let you know that there’s a party going on y’all, and as long as we keep cool and stay together, we’ll all flow through this mess without capsizing:

We just keep right on huggin’ ‘n kissin’ ooooh, cuz we got love, yes we have

Other songs comment on the balance between the individual and society. “Who’s Gonna Help Brother Get Further?” addresses the troubles of being poor and predisposed to trouble, and wonders how a person faced with such odds can make it out there. The answer that comes at the chorus is succinctly put: “One Another.” “When the Bill’s Paid” is a similar meditation on economic situations, as Dorsey imagines how easy things will be (for him and his woman) once he is free and clear. The almost-bitter invective of “Games People Play” is the most world-weary of the lot, wondering about the less-pleasant tendencies of human nature and how to deal with them. But even in the face of such negativity, Dorsey and the arrangements that Toussaint surrounds him with never get bogged down by the impending negativity. The buoyancy that laces all these bayou tracks is nothing short of inspiring.

“Tears, Tears, and More Tears” reminisces over the heartbreaking little things of a lost love. From thinking about her first thing in the morning, to the phone call that will never come, the thought of “It’s really over” rises up in his throat as he swallows to hold it back. No more holding hands or drinking wine or speaking sweet nothings, and that absence becomes more concrete as he calls upon the only thing he has, memories, which rends his heart even more. Yet somehow the song is upbeat, as if the continual outpouring of tears will be cathartic, alleviating the heartbreak, and the saddened Dorsey will rise again, cleansed, wiser.

While the heartbreaks have their upside, so do the good times have their troubles as well. With the drunken thuds of bass under him, Dorsey warbles about “hanging out all night long, hanging out till my money’s gone/ O Me O Mi O, what am I gonna do oh?” Despite the ever-present loneliness and dead-ends of night’s pleasurable oblivion of drink, Dorsey somehow sees through to the other side of the tunnel. It’s no blinding revelation or morning-after empty promise, just a simple parry to life’s painful cycles of brief joy and persistent despair: “Another failure, another try. Just keep on trying.” While the world surrounding hits him, floating like a butterfly, and then pounding down again, Kid Chocolate, even with blood on his teeth, just keeps smiling, swinging only as he must. He was undefeated after all.

While dabbling a tad in social issues and breakups, the moments of sheer happiness on the album come to the forefront often and with a rollicking sense of play. From the good-timing indiscretions of “Sneakin’ Sally Thru the Alley” to the raw-funk swamp-pheromone physicality of doin’ the “Gator Tail,” the album also exudes a positivism that is infectious. While the former are bawdy and boisterous, the movement of the other song Parks’ covers, “Occapella” is gentle, though no less delightful with its bubbling spirits:

Pardon me, but you could use it, we’re gonna make a little music
You got soul, why don’t you use it, we’re gonna make a little music
Everything gonna be mellow, we’re just gonna sing it a capella

The percolations of the steel drum in the Discover America remake are instead the deep waters of the backing voices merging into the song’s very essence: how music (specifically the voice, both solo and merged into chorus) can uplift, empowering the song with that very sound of which it sings. The hmms and ahhs abstract beatifically here, levitating the song to a higher ground that is reverent and festive at the same time. It is that Sound of Joy so often looked for yet lost in secular music!

And what better person to embody that feeling of joy than Lee Dorsey? “If a smile had a sound, it would be the sound of Lee Dorsey’s voice,” Allen Toussaint recalled, “No wonder he inspired so many of my favorite songs.” Van Dyke Parks attempted to harness that same easy feeling so prevalent in New Orleans, showing how even the normally stiff American music can be as laid-back as the multitudinous rhythms of the Caribbean. Not a surprising connection between the two regions then, considering writer Gene Santoro’s remark that: “New Orleans is really a Caribbean city…where music is a more natural part of the cultural fabric than in any other US place.” It is a pleasure worth seeking out the originals (Soul Jazz’s excellent New Orleans Funk series holds two of the songs found here), so as to experience the sound of Lee Dorsey’s voice and feel the joy and wisdom that it instills on each listen.

[originally published in Sound Collector Audio Review Issue #3 Summer 2003]

Sunday, September 11, 2005

beta feels oates with the hired hand and the shooting hand

While a truly awful film transfer, bordering on a taped TV show quality, (and who is really going to go back and properly archive every two-bit TV western that strolled into a plywood town like some mean, squinting, dusty stranger, especially a Roger Corman one?) it was worth tracking down the hokey DVD titled "Big Screen" Cowboys just to see the early Monte Hellman western that was tacked onto it, entitled The Shooting. (Hellman would go on to cult classics like Two Lane Blacktop and The Cockfighter, as well as executive produce this little film called Reservoir Dogs.) It's the earliest Jack Nicholson appearance I've ever seen, playing a murderous gunman named Billy Spears. Of course, Jack's entrance midway through is all but lost in the evening shots that the transfer destroys any and all subtlety of, the shadows but indistinguishable mottled blobs. Now Jack is the quickest draw, but the real star is Warren Oates, who apparently is the quickest bare-handed grave-digger in the West. Just like in The Cockfighter, Oates chews up the most scenery when he's silent, his face just a flicker to suggest those freight trains of emotion that tunnel below the surface. So accompanies a Feldman-esque soundtrack of cycling motifs, full of anxiety and heightened edginess.

Banged out in 1967, you wouldn't be able to guess its place in American history unless you could tap into the edginess of the times, and then the fear and loathing is not just palpable, but seething and bile-forming. It's a ride of attrition, cruelty to both man and the horse (even a bluebird is shot for spiteful sport), as Oates and a ranchhand help a woman bent on revenge track the offending party that may or may not be his brother, while psychopath Spears trails the party. Weary bodies, already sick of the killing (the cruelest threat is getting your face shot off) are trapped to struggle along with and depend on for survival with truly awful sorts. A simple man like Oates (who is just searching for his brother) is forced to associate with sociopaths and vengeful people, where revenge is the only principle, the taste of blood paramount to slaking of hunger, thirst, sanity. He becomes one of them, not killing Spears when he has the chance (and exact revenge on him for killing his buddy in cold blood) but instead smashing his right hand so that he can never shoot again. The slo-mo ending feels like one of those dreaded dreams where your body won't respond to stop the madness, much less salvage itself. All feel helpless and staggering afterwards.

The next weirdest Western then (aside from High Plains Drifter, I reckon) must be this one that Peter Fonda made after Easy Rider, The Hired Hand. Maybe Jack wore off on him, as I still haven't seen a genre flick that readily incorporates a Bruce Conner-like transparency of film images, an invocation to the four elements, and a reading from the ancient Gnostic text, the Gospel According to Thomas into its fibers quite like this. And of course, there's Warren Oates again. And looking back to my original discourse, I realize I've basically looped myself, so I'll just post some of this Americana cosmisch musick from the reeaaaal Mister Tamborine Man, Bruce Langhorne:

"Three Teeth"
"Arch Leaves"

Friday, September 09, 2005

beta do not want what he has not got

I'm on the press list at Joe's Pub, which means they put you behind some velvet rope in the giant crow's nest booth at the back of the club. Loli and I laugh at Bettye LaVette's backing band and the total Frank Zappa studio dude on guitar, and she says they remind her of lounge bar bands in Japan, totally cheesy dudes playing blues and soul and jazz standards as slick as velvet jackets. The cover of Bettye's new album would make you think she was on her deathbed, but live she's fiesty and packing her black jumpsuit with some seriously stairmastered gams. She looks great some forty-four years into the biz, belting randy deflowering tales in her backyard and off-mic holding these eerie cry faces, using the shadows under the lights to accentuate her mask. Her voice is still powerful, getting into the little crevices and hidden pockets of words from Fionna and Lucinda the way she learned from listening to Frank Sinatra records, and her breath conveys it exactly, in either a breathless plea or cathartic, though still heatbreakingly human howl. There is a chill to hear Bettye send the words of Sinead O'Connor towards the void, defiantly stating "I do not want what I haven't got" all by herself, into a bar dropped into reverent, breathless silence, save for that exhalation of vents, the event suspended in time for that second in-between her gasps.

At some point in the night, whether in the rasps of her Dolly Parton or Sharon Robinson cover, or else covering Joe Simon, she draws forth tears from the crowd (no comment). She jokes about having all women songwriters on her newest album, even though she has no girlfriends otherwise. She jokes about Allen Toussaint, which I think strange, until she reveals that both he and Elvis Costello are in attendance.

I have not really talked about New Orleans, thought much about New Orleans, never been to New Orleans, and so I would rather not meditate, much less discuss, such an unknown and unquantifiable place that has become a spiralling media image of floodwaters and helicopters and fixed images of graves multiplied into infinite numbness. Such is the cycle of media madness, and having to devour A Current Affair and the Post and media news special catchphrases like "Disaster on the Delta," "Floodwatch 2005," "American Tsunami," and "Sold Down River: Ferreal" is enough to induce nausea. When I first heard that Allen Toussaint was among the numerous musicians missing and un-accounted for, I did become dizzy and severely nauseaous. I have few musical heroes and Mr. Toussaint is a beacon, a craftsman, a conveyer of benevolence, the beatific, and le bon temps roulet in song, and to think that he might not have made it out of the city before the flood made me reel at the depths of a true cultural loss. (aside: The work he did with Lee Dorsey is still profound for me, and one album in particular was my first print-published piece. Perhaps I'll dig it up one of these days and post it here.)

When lights come up, I lean over from our booth into the one with Elvis Costello and Allen Toussaint and reach out my hand to gush with thanks and praise that he is alright. I can't believe how soft and assured his hand is when I shake it, and he thanks me. I am but one of many people that appraoch him and give thanks and praise for his music and his well-being. Don't see anyone approach Elvis.

It's one of those nights where the mind almost reels from the possibilities and impossibilities of going out (totally miss Luciano at APT), as I then head back to Brooklyn to see Grachan Moncur III play for free. I had already been warned that Moncur seemed to have some mouth problems, or an inability to pucker up and play like he did on his still-stunning Blue Note sessions he cut in the early sixties. Okay, so there is reduced lung power, no more of those syrupy, plunging bass peals, languorous and bayou-deep, that he used to dive into back then, with Jackie McLean and Bobby Hutcherson, or Lee Morgan and Herbie Hancock, playing those intricately crafted and curious compositions of his. Not quite hard-bop, not quite the fiery models that would be taken up soon after in jazz, but hanging in-between like some stunningly modular, gently turning, almost Alexander Calder-like mobile. Which is very much the way that Moncur can suspend time.

Now, Moncur moves in more shallow registers, closer to shimmering surface. His backing band is sometimes too propulsive, makign for less pronounced curvature, less obtuse angles and tighter space. Partially that's due to Moncur's shorter breaths. Even his introductions are hard to parse, nearly inaudible in the bar's din, but he works for his music, sops the sweat off his face as often as the aerobic LaVette did. A girl comes up to me at the bar to blurt out how amazing he sounds, talking over his breathless, sometimes lost in the air, solo on the Fender Rhodes-powered version of Miles' "So What." I tell her that for some people (like myself), Grachan is a legend, but I don't really discuss what I suddenly realize about the trombone itself.

While folks like Moncur and Roswell Rudd brought the sliding, slurry timbre of the trombone into the vernacular of modern jazz, the instrument has rarely left its Dixieland roots, and no matter what its present surroundings (or even in Don Drummond's cheeks down at Studio One), it evokes New Orleans for me, echoes it in every breath. The tentacles never spread too far from its home (though how crucial were the radio broadcasts of Naw'leans R&B on the future island sound of Jamaica?), where it remains the perfect voice of the funeral dirge, the muggy air, the original screwed sound. No matter the condition of these folks, I'm glad they are still among us.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

beta smiles off (again)

Black Dice - Smiling Off (Luomo remix)

I yabbered about this a month back, so I'll let Nibs blab instead:
"This is the best psych-house track ever made, and my favorite DFA release of 2005. Yeah, you can dance to it all right; you can put your head in a lion's mouth too."

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

beta grows finns again

Not that I've really parsed exactly what goes on in Tampere, Finland, much less Nashville, Tennessee, but finally such twains meet for my piece about the former playing down south in the latter.

beta love egg scepter cream

I swear I do more than just push the vast Brooklyn noise conspiracy by writing about Excepter:

for the Initiate
for the Elder

beta has an appetite for Luv

At a neighbors' barbecue, the lovely young couple in sweet airbrushed tees confess to me that they "totally met over this" cassingle. She queues it up and blasts "Me So Horny," in the clean version. Since 2 Live Crew was my favorite shit as a freshman (along with this dude), I instantly had all the words come back, only to realize I didn't know the non-randy words. (side note: my local punk rock store in HS was the one that had the obscenity charges brought against them that brought the album to court and national attention).

Funny how the crude juvenile lines, whether it's "Sitting at home with my dick on hard" or "Put you lips on my dick and suck my ASSS-hoooole too," actually struck me as something more uh...everlasting and relevant than either "watching Arsenio Hall" or the oddly wording that urge of "having an appetite for love." The neighbors then did a bump'n grind move to it, meaning I may just have to head over here and download some of that choad.

Monday, September 05, 2005

beta feels single, sees the double

Saturday was a day of doubles. I'm at the Twisted Ones vacant lot party with Nabisco and Pinky. It's not enough that Nabs is talking about Goldfrapp being an evil double, he has to go and bump into a girl that he appears to have met in another life. Or maybe it's her twin, as she admits to having one.
Soon after, Pinks tells me that her Freudian double is present, the dark-haired version of herself, as if it's going to turn all Mulholland Dr. on a Saturday afternoon. Of course, it has to happen during silencio of The Double's set, right? And when Black Dice and I talk about the next wave of rock, we decide that it'll all be about squawkboxes that make neat-o noises in addition to the guitars and drums. No one can think of any bands that fit this description though, other than Comets on Fire and The Double.

Sunday, September 04, 2005

beta hate milk

In the past two days, with two different sets of friends, I have gotten into lengthy discussion-cum-arguments about this album. If I were to bring it up again tonight, in either polite or mixed company, I'm sure I could pick even more fights about Neutral Milk Hotel and In An Aeroplane Over the Sea.

And it's nothing specific against NMH (save for the fact that I get those initials mixed up with Neil Michael Hagerty and think the discussion is about the Trux), except that I find the album almost-unlistenable and far too precious, precocious. Given its status in most folks' (either friend or foe) minds as perfect, classic, amazing in concept, mind-blowing, etc., as opposed to that other one they did, just some little record that you could just ignore and soon forget, as even the Aeroplane-devout are wont to do, I feel a slight dislocation, unable to find any sort of toe-hold in it. My friends can't fathom my utter disavowal of the thing either, almost shocked at my bale for the thing.

Perhaps my reaction stems from a bigger problem I have with the sea change that came over indie-rock in the mid-90s. When I was coming up, it was still in the early days post-Nevermind, when all was grunge-metal, as opposed to hair-metal. Even among the HS elite, the coolest bands were the Pixies, the Pumpkins, the Chilis, the Beatles, and other sixties' rock, from Hendrix to Zeppelin to Janis to the Doors. My best friend in HS and I bonded not just over Nirvana, but far more clandestinely, the Beach Boys, and in particular, Pet Sounds. While it would be no deal to put on The Doors when you were smoking joints and drinking everclear, no one in their right mind would drive around, much less drop to the strains of that barbershop, fake-surf, "Kokomo" wash-up un-cool bullshit.

Even then, we knew between us that what the Beach Boys were up to, with their harmonies, their arrangements, their cellos and kettle drums, their really sloooooow ballads ("Don't Talk, Put Your Head on My Shoulder"), their naming of God, their weird bright sunniness, what they were up to was some serious and irreducible scripture. They were cool to us, even if we couldn't convince anyone that when the Beach Boys wanted to do some harmonizing, they could be as avant as Sonic Youth. They recorded a Manson song! The hippies hated them! And we hated the hippies! Since he had a hand in that Humpty-Dumptied, fractured and scattered to the four winds of that most Holy of Grails, Smile, we even dug Van Dyke Parks and his two early records of Ives-tinged Americana and Hollywood imperialism as Caribbean carnival kookiness. This was our punk, since the sound of them infuriated everyone else.

As you erect such critical fortresses though, waters rise and the great unwashed breach the walls. As people swamp the Beach Boys and also recognize their greatness (and it seems impossible that Mojo would ever rank Sgt. Peppers over Pet Sounds again, though maybe both albums now lose out to Forever Changes), incorporate such overwraught productions and layering of vocal harmonies and goody-gumdrop golly-gee outlooks on life, you move onto outposts further away. Say...Nick Drake, or Vashti Bunyan, or Chad & Jeremy or the Everly Brothers, or whomever these days. As much as we loved the Beach Boys (and would now say "oh wait, Pet Sounds isn't their greatest album, but Sunflower is, or else Love You," or "They totally went downhill after Today."), we could not get with their revitalization. We won, and it was the emptiest feeling.

Whether it was in the form of Sean O'Hagan's High Llamas, Apples in Stereo, or anything out of Athens' Elephant Six, be it Olivia Tremor Control or Neutral Milk Hotel, the emulation just smacked of exactly that, and our distaste was great. Who cares if you add a French horn or mellotron or have banjo and accordion? Do the complex backing harmonies on four-track? Did it matter to me that what the Beach Boys embraced uncooly suddenly became the template itself for the dorky and disenfranchised of how to make perfect-pop? If I was still into indie-rock by that release date, would I have found the album life-affirming and mystery-of-existence-embracing (as say, the Palace Brothers were to me)? I didn't care then if it was a teenage symphony to God and I still don't care if it is a tweenie ode to Anne Frank. The most recent time I heard IAAOTS, it still struck me as pretentious, over-thought and cluttered, too aware of itself and how important it was dressing itself up as, and aside from their grating idea of 'song', just the sound of his voice made me curdle.

beta walks the streets

Overheard phone conversation by a guy in camouflage pants:
"You take care of the lady.
Or I will come there and spank you nasty."

Found clipping near the Twisted Ones outdoors show:
"Want the Biggest Dick She Ever"