Tuesday, January 31, 2006

beta remembers blind joe death

So here is my long essay about my brief week with John Fahey back in the summer of 1999 . This encounter is something that has lingered with me for many years, as it's not everyday you meet an idol and legend close-up, and seeing the hairline fissures on the face of God is a daunting though reassuring experience indeed. My time spent with Fahey was nowhere near the level of say...Glenn Jones's epiphany of working with the man, but it was still quite eye-opening for this fresh collegiate.

In my mind, little stray details have accrued, many of them enumerated in the article, and yet when I went to my journal entries for this period of time, there is a solid week with no entries. I pried one of his fingerpaintings from my journal pages but was horrified to find that I had written next to nothing about my experience. Nothing about my canvassing with Fahey, nothing about having a vegetarian BBQ with No-Neck Blues Band, nothing about the four concerts Fahey put on, nothing about the man playing my guitar at an in-store, nothing about the Captain Beefheart release party, nothing. There was however, some venting about the fuckfaces that I used to make noise with, as they showed their two-faces that manic weekend.

Another story that I didn't mention was how much Revenant hated No-Neck. One Saturday morning, the morning after their set opening for Fahey, I got a phone call from them, saying that they were utterly embarrassed by the band and their shitty pretentiousness and ramshackle wonkiness and really wanted nothing to do with them. There was talk of scrapping the entire Sticks and Stones project out of hand.

Driving around with Fahey that morning, we got to talking about the whole debacle, about how the band had been evasive about the tapes they made with Jerry Yester. So while we're at some South Austin shopping center, flipping through used records, Fahey asks me for a quarter. "I'm gonna put a stop to this whole nonsense right now," he says, marching out to a payphone. "I used to deal with bands like this back during the Takoma days, and you just have to play hardball with them." He then proceeds to dial up the house where NNCK has been staying, and while I know that the band is currently unloading gear elsewhere, he gets a befuddled person on the horn and delivers an ultimatum: "They either get the tapes to me in a half-hour or the whole deal is off." Nevermind that he has no idea where he is or who he's even talking to.

Cooler heads somehow prevail, and the Beefheart release party goes off without a hitch, NNCK getting reeeeal lost with a swordfish and stand-up bass overhead dual, and SASMBMBBWWNHM ultimately sees daylight some six months after Fahey's passing from this world.

The Man handling my old guitar.

For your listening pleasure, some tunes from the upcoming John Fahey tribute:

Fruit Bats - Death of the Clayton Peacock
Calexico - Dance of Death
Cul de Sac - Portland Cement Factory

Sunday, January 29, 2006

beta weekend

Before I knew it, I was out two nights in a row at rock shows, which has become anathema to me as of late. Winter has not nearly been the hibernation inducer that I was hoping for, meaning books and movies aplenty pile up in the cave, unread and un-watched as instead the 50 degree nights implore me out and about. Walking around in the park yesterday was fucking with my head; I mean, it's still January, and even the barren trees are confused by such sun. Sunbathers seemed to be stunned rather than basking in it. Even with all this seasonal synaesthesia, I had been staying away from rock shows, and yet here I was in the basement of Cake Shop for a friend's band, Coyote on Friday night with Man Man, and then down to the sold-out Black Dice/ Gang Gang Dance/ Bill Cosby & his White Pudding Pops show at the Syrup Room. Can you say clusterfuck?

Friday night I made a crucial layering mistake, knowing that it would be cold out but forgetting the oven-like tendencies of the cramped basement confines of Cake Shop. That brilliant idea of long johns backfired, as did wearing a coat and sweater. After watching Coyote's set, my friend and I decided that the chance to instead catch the last L train back to Brooklyn was far more enticing than watching Man Man and paying the cabfare.

Come Saturday at the sardine factory inside the Syrup Room, I was smarter, with only a thin jacket on me. Of course, in the industrial depths of East Williamsburg, where liquor licenses and smoking bans are as distant as the Jersey shore, it meant smelling like an ashtray upon arrival, kicking at crushed cans of PBR and Sparks. What was worse than that cig stench though was in venturing outside brought an even more malefic and unidentifiable industrial aroma to the nose.

Bill Cosby is cut from the Tra La La mold, if said band was only into "I Want Candy," all Neanderthal thud and Godz-like lobule non-think. The band must all be under 5'6" or something, as I couldn't tell who was doing what, nor could I hear most of the Neil Hamburger-esque jokes being cracked.

The prevailing thought of the night with Gang Gang Dance, who had been hibernating as of late too (incubating more than being simply dormant though) was how amazing their show at the Bowery last spring had been. That was a long time ago, and no one really knew what they were up to. Apparently, creating a whole new set, which they debuted on Saturday. It's definitely a continuation of previous themes, digital and roto-tom spikes that inspire snaking guitar and vox about them, twisting like helixes and fanning out like wasp swarms.

At times, I wonder what they would be like as a live grime band (see the Myspace page linking to Lethal Bizzle), yet they remain intent on doing Houdini-esque escapes from cheesy presets. "Andean pan pipe," "Steel Drum #3," "Zen Bamboo," "Orinoco Flow," might be some of the presets they spring from, rising above the beginning sounds with deft though ridiculously intricate rope tricks and levitation moves. Unfortunately, the band is simply doing more complicated versions of God's Money peaks right now, meaning longer songs, more polyrhythms, more prog parts, more vocal gymnastics, more busy-ness. Hopes of them locking into deeper dance grooves or becoming catchy don't appear to be part of their agenda.

Black Dice are as quiet as I've ever encountered them, meaning no chairs rattling beneath my ass or migraine-levels of bass, no irritable bowel tones. They still remain one of the more difficult bands I've ever encountered, mind-wiping me the moment I stop being able to keep up with the sonic overload of miniscule movements. Apparently, there's a new 3-track release on the way from DFA, and while they distend Broken Ear Record to gnarly extremes tonight, there's new noises creeping up as well. Danny Perez's ever-fracturing fractals and hilarious fuzzed-out hair metal loops make any rational thought irrelevant though; the senses simply overheat.

Saturday, January 28, 2006

beta gets rabid

Demurely covering the dog dick in her armpit anus.

The Peanut Butter Wolf got me to go for Videodrome a few months back, but it's taken forever to track down other Cronenberg movies (and of course, since I'm a good decade behind pop culture, I still haven't seen History of Violence either, which I thought for the longest time was an adaptation of this), and it was not until this week that I finally tracked down Rabid. It's Cronenberg's 1976 horror flick starring Marilyn Chambers as Rose, the motorcycle mama with an emergency experimental skin graft surgery that gives her a fresh flesh wound in her armpit, a moist red puncture that opens and puckers up (remind you of anything?) replete with an odd needle-tipped dripping wet red protuberance that slides out of it like a dog dick, sucking at the new blood of her victims. Of course, it meditates on a constant Cronenberg theme of technology meeting the ancient human flesh and what happens when the two mutually mutate together.

Coming out from behind the green door to again try her hand beyond one-handed flicks, it wasn't too long before Chambers went back to where she was already a legend. Her gig as an Ivory Soap 'pure' poster girl are notorious now, and apparently all of her movies feature a brief instance where she happens upon a box of the stuff, though I can't be certain if there's such product placement is on set here. There is however an allusion to the actress originally up for the role of Rose, Sissy Spacek.

One wonders how such a casting would have completely altered the movie's trajectory. Rabid would simply be a movie with green foam capsules jizzing out of the mouths of the infected were it not for Chambers' porn star fuckability that sizzles every frame of the flick. Alternately a seductress and an innocent who feigns she doesn't understand her newfound vampirism, she struts through Montreal in her fur and zip-up boots, cruising the malls, park benches, apartment halls, and the darkened porno theatres for that most odd coupling she performs on her johns. We wait and watch, mesmerized, for the next appearance of that needle-dick to pop out of her armpit anus.

Such a mutation reflects that other groundbreaking porno, Deep Throat, where Linda Lovelace has a similar sexual mutation (the clit deep down her throat) that can only be satiated by subversive means. Note there is never physical penetration in either of these movies, suggesting a new way of stimulating sexual pleasure and release. Body consciousness, questioning the sensual stimulants, things that happen inside your body, both mentally, chemically, and physically, that's what Cronenberg cooks up. His horror is never a monster movie, per se, save that your own physical body is the monster. In an interview extra on Videodrome, he says that the psychological possibility of the body to become monstrous, that is the new horror.

Cronenberg has a way of extinguishing my sexual desires though, or at least reveling in the hideousness of the human body, even if it is also simulatneously worshipping the new flesh. Which I guess brings me to the events of a past night, one wasted Tuesday night in Brooklyn, slumped over somewhere feeling the effects of the 'combo platter,' so to speak, sipping at a whisky and going through my smokes so as to dull the quivering edge just a bit.

In walks three girls, dolled up and in denim hip-huggers, tight baby tees. My drinking buddy starts up a conversation with them, nevermind that his girlfriend is waiting for him uptown, and we come to find out that the girls all work at the Coyote Ugly. Guess the leather bras have be unlatched for more acceptable tops, but they are busting out at the seams still. The girl closest to me has razor slits all along the outer seam of her skin-tight jeans, thigh flesh like shut eyes every inch or so up her leg.

By this point, I cannot recollect how I wind up in a cab with all three girls while my friend stays behind at the bar, since doing shots and more drugs with three party girls is way more his idea of a fun weeknight than mine, but I am well on my way to their apartment, for God only knows what. My heart races, and I go to the bathroom for that last lick of a freeze, to reinstill some semblance of chemical order to my head. When I come out, the girls are all gathered around the TV, and we're soon watching The Brood. Any sort of nervous sexual tension is immediately replaced with straight nervous system tension as the movie goes on, and the thought of even touching one of the girls appals me by movie's end.

About the only thing I can recollect about the end of the night comes at the movie's climax, when the husband pulls back his ex-wife's long skirt to reveal the horrific, palpitating alien queen formation that makes up her vagina and lower half. "Every man is afraid that this is what happens to their ex-girlfriends," I say.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

beta catches a tiger by the tail

Friday, January 20, 2006

beta burnt on bootlegs

Sure, I miss any and all current music videos, and yet I seem to be catching up on my bootleg DVD watching this week, revisiting the evergreens and mistletoes of mythic music-making, musicians I have heard forever but never really seen much footage of their craft. Even while glimpsed now, some dance tantalizingly just out of sight.

The first is a French documentary about Tropicalia, probably from the early eighties. My high school Francophonics challenged yet recollected just enough (brushed up with recent Bunuel and Godard viewing) to follow the translated Portuguese dialogue as the music is set against the political upheavals and tank-fueled (and CIA-funded) coups and the slow calcification of Joao Gilberto's revolutionary ideas in bossa nova.

It's getting nigh on a decade since I first heard the beguiling/ befuddling "La la la la"s of that opening Mutantes song, yet I remain giddy and agog all over again when Os Mutantes rip off astounding versions of "Panis et Circencis" and "Fuga No.II" in front of a studio audience, their prowess evident as they ply at the taffy strands of each song, tweaking it and taking it out further (there's also a surreal music video for "Don Quixote" involving diesel fill'er ups and windmills). The footage of Caetano, young and vibrant on the soundstage as he and orchestra recast "Tropicalia" is swell, but it's Tom Ze's ensemble, in Devo-esque hard hats and boiler suits, that is truly revelatory. Finally, I can glimpse that music laid out with musical saws, poinging hammers, and witness Ze's mythical blender engine doo-hickey device instrument, triggered with a primitive switch box.

The disc is a tease though, as it still doesn't have the Tropicalia television specials that you always see stills from in any documentation of the music. Instead, tacked onto the end is a good half-hour of nth generation VHS dubs of live musical performances from Mutantes, Roberto Carlos, Chico Buarque (playing the ugliest guitar I've ever seen), and Os Novos Baianos, but all seen through a mirror darkly, all warped and distorted tape. Fuzzed out, the whites blinding, the blacks crumbling, all this catchy pop never to be recollected by public consciousness and moth-eaten by time, it transmits from an unimaginable past. But I'll save my Ariel Pink observations for another day.


Taj Mahal Travellers
Travel to the Taj Mahal

I missed this most-hallowed celluloid documentation of the mighty Taj Mahal Travellers when it played at the Anthology last year (due to a certain barbecutie), but finally get to watch the waves coming in now. Otherworldly ensemble spacetime-suspension music that today's longhaired groups (be it Jackie-O, NNCK, WWVV, whatevs) have no hope of even fucking with, I guess this is also an argument for Japanese tourists taking pictures of everything, as the group is basically travelling from the Netherlands through Tehran and Afghanistan to Taj Mahal. The footage of them playing inside some sort of geodesic dome to an audience where everyone looks like Delia, Gavin, or Will Oldham is lobe-blowing. And when it pans to reveal that they are actually performing with Don Cherry, it's pure vents of cosmic dust. Of course, they don't actullay play at at the Taj Mahal, so it's anticlimactic in that regard.


Funkadelic on Say Brother!

I can still recall hearing those echoing words of sucking souls and licking funky emotions for the first time on a road trip to the Dodgeball Fest in College Station, Texas, site of innumerable musical epiphanies, all of the punk rock sort. And even though I picked up the reissues of those first four Funkadelic records last year, coming across this unreleased track (as originally posted here) burned my 'fro something fierce. For those that missed it:
"The Rat Kissed the Cat"

And recently some early live footage of that Parliament/ Funkadelic thang has popped up as well, linked here. Takes forever to load, but it's a sweaty, fonky, flop-hatted affair of the highest caliber. Their hyper-medleys would make for an intense kinetic DJ set these days (think Cherrystones, Andy Votel). It's a mix that burns but never ages or becomes ash.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

heep see

Robert Altman
Secret Honor
Tanner '88

Used to the ensemble sprawl and clamor of Nashville, M*A*S*H, The Player, and Short Cuts, the smallness of these is almost shocking. Downsizing in the 80s? There's these little details: the quick, overheard asides like "What television can't cover is change"; how a joke unfolds in the mirrored shades of a Secret Service detail as they clean their guns. Altman'’s work with Garry Trudeau dovetails nicely, the mental comic strip boxes still intact inside what Trudeau notes is Altman'’s "“cubist sensibility."

Nicholas Roeg
Bad Timing

Re-watching Performance reveals scads more info each go, but still remains truly wtf? in its haltingly early attempts to portray schizophrenia and LSD-induced loss of identity. I'm a sucker for such films (Bergman's Persona and Altman's desert-delirious 3 Women spring to mind at present). It's clumsy at times as the language isn't necessarily there just yet, but by Bad Timing, Roeg melds his characters together deftly to where fleshy boundaries disentegrate as they really do appear to be a three-sided identity (or, as you cannot quite tell each character's impetus, it kaleidoscopes into something six-sided), rather than just being Art Garfunkel, Theresa Russell, and Harvey Keitel. The jumpcuts are those of a master, awash in vibrant colors (in Vienna, no less) the movement of bodies and hues as rhythmic and as graceful as any modern ballet.

Eureka is more troublesome, more lugubrious and weighty. While allusions to Klimt and Billie Holiday in Timing are subtle, the Qabbalic underpinnings in Eureka are heavy-handed. Right, Rutger Hauer happens to have on a shirt with the Tree of Life stitched into it, and then there's the Tarot card that Gene Hackman draws of the Hanged Man, its prophecy echoed when his burned corpse photo is hung up at the trial, the angle nearly upside-down. But Roeg is usually more nuanced than this.

Jafar Panahi
The Mirror
Abbas Kiarostami

Condi's head talking about the nuclear negotations with Iran; an NY Post political cartoon staking its claim that they know where the WMDs are, past the dotted Iraq line towards a mushroom cloud labeled 'Iran'; the game already afoot. But what do they see in Iran? Kiarostami is perhaps most well-known, but both men are working within stringent parameters here. And the viewer is taken along for the ride, literally. Amid the maze of streets in Tehran in these two films, the camerawork is really claustrophobic, trapped in a car in traffic, stuck on either the woman driver or any number of her passengers and the agitated conversations they have, touching often upon the plight of women in the country. Simple, and yet I can't help but feeling that there is far more brimming under the surface of each film, allegories so immersed under layers so as to escape the notice of censors and all but the most-attuned.

The Mirror is similarly focused (not surprisingly, since both gents work together) with Panahi's camera handheld, almost Cassavetes-like in its clandestine coverage of street scenes, the beginning of the movie scanning the little schoolgirl, moving along at her eye level. Viewers are as perplexed and lost amid the urban din as she is; almost all of the adults are out of our viewline right around their shoulders, similarly calloused and faceless to her plight and struggle to go home. Tracking shots continually lose her behind the broadsides of passing trucks and buses. Some 38 minutes in, it all breaks apart, as the movie bursts outside of its own framing, just as life always does.

Saturday, January 14, 2006

beta luv jack

Realizing now that the newest issue is on the shelves (this one all about Chicago), perhaps I'm a tad late in mentioning that I wrote a piece for the Auteur issue of Stop Smiling Magazine about producer/ arranger/ soundtracker/ session man/ Rumpelstilskin/ pill-popper/ alchemist/ Angel of Death/ Oscar-winner all around genius Jack Nitzsche. A purt-sweet issue, that one, featuring pieces on Robert Altman, Terry Gilliam, and Nic Roeg, so if you still see copies, grab it.

While it's not my first piece, or my second, but my third piece on Jack, in its original form, it was perhaps my most ambitious piece to date. Unfortunately, the film script portions of it were excised for space, and so I figured I would post the original edition now, along with some soundtrack selections.

Jack Nitzsche and his soundtracks

Scene opens in wide shot of landscape, an expanse of America. Wheat ripples like gold. A lake is luminous in the background, reflecting the setting sun.
Strange, ephemeral, spectral sounds stir, ripple like the fields, the water, as if arising from the earth herself.
A glint of light appears on the horizon: a will o’wisp? No, just the sun off a windshield.
A Studebaker crosses through the landscape shot, heading west. It traverses through what was once Indian land, the pale-faced pioneer trails cut and paved into black highway. The car rolls cross-country towards the promised land, its human cargo speeding toward destiny.

Cut to a man hunched over the steering wheel of the Studebaker. BERNARD ALFRED “JACK” NITZSCHE, age 19. JACK is scrawny, with thick black-plastic glasses and sheepdog bangs over his brow and ears. Pan over a backseat with all of his worldy possessions, including saxophone case from his nights honking R&B in smoky Muskegon, Michigan steel worker joints. A stack of sheet music reflects Jack’s correspondence homework for the Westlake College of Music out in Los Angeles, which is his final destination. As we watch, the wind flaps the stack free.


JACK’s sheet music flutters out over the highway, slowly settling on the landscape as the Studebaker plunges into the darkness ahead. Fade out.

Well, it could be a scene out of a movie, Jack Nitzsche’s life. How the first generation American, born to German immigrants (who dropped the “e” from their surnames to avoid comparison to their Zarathustrian-obsessed kin) was reared on his father’s opera and classical record collection, igniting a powerful addiction to music in the boy while he also excelled at piano, saxophone, and clarinet. Classical studies went out the window though when he heard the Penguins’s “Earth Angel” on the radio. Young Jack could hear what was hidden below: “It had death in it. Death is always a part of the music I make. Death means a lot.”

As did being a rebel. Stealing James Dean’s insouciant and sullen pose from Rebel Without a Cause, Jack headed to LA and quickly fell in with a foppish A&R man and songwriter Salvatore “Sonny” Bono, as well as madmen like Kim Fowley and Lee Hazlewood, before landing a role as arranger for the most rebellious and megalomaniacal of them all, Phil Spector.

Recording session in full swing, twenty-one musicians jostling as the song is recorded.

Jack ascended to become the main freemason of Spector’s Wall of Sound, erecting the mono-lith for him. He was the alchemist that could turn Phil’s every whim into notes on paper, scurrying to every lead sheet during sessions at Gold Star. That was the crucial element, gold, and Jack was Spector’s Rumpelstilskin, arranging “four guitars (to) play 8th notes; four pianos hit it when he says roll; the drum is on 2 and 4 on tom-toms, no snare, two sticks -heavy sticks- at least five percussionists” and spinning it so that the resulting single shimmered like that rarefied substance. It was not just din, but the sound of money flowing out of the speakers. When “Specs” (Phil’s nickname for him) was not being hired to dopplegang and replicate the sound of Spector for Doris Day, Bobby Darin, Jackie DeShannon, he ran with the nefarious Wrecking Crew and the Rolling Stones, England’s newest set of long-haired, blues-reared miscreants. The Queen of Beatniks, Judy Henske, recalls the chemical concoctions that fueled her recording sessions with Nitzsche: “We were both drinking (wine) heavily and were taking pills that were half Nembutal and half Desoxin…Desbutol. So, if drinking hadn’t made you crazy enough, the Desbutol would keep you awake so you could continue drinking.”

For the Stones (who he turned onto grass), Jack played piano. It was his ‘gypsy style’ on keys that helped them paint it black and he had the Stones ask of the shadows: “Have You Seen Your Mother, Baby?” (which Jagger considered “the ultimate freakout”). The energy expended on their weeks-long recording sessions was revelatory to Nitzsche, as he realized that such force could be focused in the recording so as to alter consciousness through pop music. Arranging and commingling the teen music of Chuck Berry, Marvin Gaye, James Brown, the Supremes, the Stones into a commercial behemoth for The T.A.M.I. Show; turning Monkees’ chirps into porpoise songs; making Marianne Faithfull into Sister Morphine fulltime; Jack’s unseen hand is there, alchemically transforming sound, in (Marianne’s words) “an attempt to make high art out of a pop song.”

He did the same for the only member of Buffalo Springfield that he gave a flying fuck about, Neil Young. Jack believed in the songs, that the shaky singer could stand solo, and so he made that epileptic Canuck hold steady at the edge of an eagle feather.


He swaddled Neil with the aurally-hallucinated soar of flight, aiming him towards an effervescent choir of brown-eyed nymphettes, the listener ultimately far from heaven. He would later overdose Neil on the London Symphony Orchestra’s strings on Harvest, much like he did to the Stones on choirs and French horns on “You Can’t Always Get What You Want.” Such opulence opened portals though, and as pop and rock’n roll divulged all of its mysteries over the course of the decade, Nitzsche dabbled deeper in musical magic, entering his next career phase: soundtracks.

Very dark, cluttered, only vague shapes of bizarre frightening statuettes and masques can be made out. Smoke enshrouds everything. Close-up as JACK inhales cocaine off of knife-tip. He laughs wickedly, leans back over his lead sheets. From his neck dangles a locket taken off a voodoo woman’s tomb.

Contracted to score Donald Cammell (Aleister Crowley’s godson) and Nicolas Roeg’s Performance, Nitzsche concocted the soundtrack while ensconced in a witch’s cottage down in Laurel Canyon. Fueled by Cammell’s coke, possessed by malevolent spirits and in possession of a prototype device called a synthesizer, Jack rooted deep, invoking crossroad blues, sitar-trance states, sinister sinewaves, voodoo drums, and wails of ritualistic sacrifice for the soundtrack. Nitzsche’s cauldron bubbled as he brewed it all together; call it goat’s head soup. “I was trying to capture the effect of taking one breath in and letting two breaths out.” Such hyperventilating exacerbated the synesthesia of the film and the dark world portrayed on celluloid carried beyond the frame: Jagger embodied the vile role of Turner full-time, fucking Keith’s girl and co-star, Anita Pallenberg. She swore off of movies forever afterwards. Star James Fox turned to Christ to save his soul. Nitzsche’s powers were crescent.

The schizophrenia of LSO strings on his disorienting St. Giles’ Cripplegate (from 1972), became Jack’s calling card. Even Bernard Hermann dug it, and it secured him the gig scoring One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. Again, strings convey a psychologically precarious state, where the mentally unstable are dosed with staggering amounts of pharmaceuticals (a condition Jack knew recreationally). Loopy, spongy waltzes maintain the placid status quo of Nurse Ratched. Woozy, staggering slippery motifs are arranged for wineglass, singing saw, dobro, fiddle, Indian drums. Brilliantly dazed, regal in its madness, Nitzsche’s score missed out on Cuckoo’s Academy swoop, losing out to John Williams’s cello undertow from Jaws.

Jack’s next big project was William Friedkin’s The Exorcist. Though it had demonic possession as its theme, the split pea spew and crucifix humping held significantly less darkness for Jack than Performance. Mad with demons during the latter movie, for The Exorcist, it was just a job. With a wave of the wand, a counterclockwise motion on crystal chalice, he delivered what original composer Lalo Schifrin failed to give, the aural effect “like a cold hand on the back of the neck,” as Friedkin put it.

Jack was up to his neck beard in darkness, though. Living out at Neil Young’s Broken Arrow Ranch, he would drink to the brink of madness, grind his hands into smashed glass for kicks, tell his son Jack Jr. that he himself was “the Angel of Death.” Every substance at hand was mixed together in his bloodstream. He was the last living soul to speak to Crazy Horse bandmate Danny Whitten before his valium overdose, and in a limousine with Gram Parsons on the Time Fades Away tour, Jack presaged his fate: “You look like Danny…and Danny’s dead.”

He also wound up shacking with a woman he despised, Young’s ex-wife, Carrie Snodgrass. Coming to her house with both pistol and head full of gunpowder one night in late June, 1979, he found her in bed with another man. Foggy though the subsequent details were, Jack soon found himself facing five criminal charges, the most lurid being “rape by instrumentality.”

The Hollywood Babylon-esque debacle and debt eventually cleared, and Jack finally lifted an Oscar for Best Song, Joe Cocker and Jennifer Warnes’s “Up Where We Belong” from 1982’s An Officer and a Gentleman. Boilerplate though it may sound (producer Don Simpson hated the tune), it was the culmination of Jack’s singer-songwriter side; sentimental, sappy, yet soaring, hailing the great spirit of the eagle in song. It marked a return to the top of the charts, to a peak not glimpsed since his days with Spector.

That gold statuette was but a false idol. Getting into an entanglement with some young punks who swiped his hat, Jack flashed that pistol once more, and his last public appearance was in an old episode of COPS. Hogtied in the middle of Hollywood Boulevard, Jack impotently summons his new, feeble god.

ARRESTING OFFICER pushes at a handcuffed JACK.
OFFICER: “Keep moving, Academy Award winner.”

Extended Play:
Captain Beefheat - "Hard Working Man" from Blue Collar
Jack Nitzsche "Miryea" "Whorehouse & Healing" from Revenge
Jack Nitzsche "The Razor's Edge Suite" from The Razor's Edge

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

beta polishes off that bottle of ketchup

Friday, January 06, 2006

beta (gong bangs)

Right before the Christmas holidays, I had the rare opportunity to check out a Balinese gamelan recital at the Indonesian consulate, thus reliving my own time spent playing with a gamelan (though my experience is with the more subtle seductive everflow of the Javanese strain). Now, I could waste my time talking about how the orchestral gamelan music of Indonesia (a bit redundant, as the word gamelan merely denotes ensemble; my program also notes that the four Indonesian words to enter into English usage are amok, orangutan, gong, and uh...ketchup) broke open whole new vistas for European composers and musicians as diverse as Debussy, Harry Partch, Steve Reich, Lou Harrison, Aphex Twin, and Four Tet, but why not just hijack John Fahey’s explanation from How Bluegrass Destroyed My Life instead?

“Gamelans are large ensembles of idiophones and metalophones. Instruments which you hit…as far as I’m concerned, there is no music more beautiful than Gamelan music…I could tell you lots of things about gamelans. But I don’t want to waste time. One thing, though. Gamelans are not tuned the way Western instruments are tuned…they are not built so that they are exactly in tune…and so when you hear a gamelan, all the ‘phones give off a shimmering effect…the tonality is strange but quite beautiful and very soon you find yourself seduced by the tones.”

First coming across Golden Rain in the mid-90s connected my high school love of Sonic Youth’s dissonant looming blooms to the mathematical patter of Steve Reich and breakbeats. Finding out that my alma mater was soon acquisitioning the largest, most complete orchestra of five-tone and seven-tone scaled instruments for a Javanese gamelan in the United States had me lined up to play in the ensemble the first day of the semester, nevermind that I was neither a folklorist nor musicologist and had to fight to get into the class (for the record, the ensemble also included future members of Charalambides and Black Lipstick). I just wanted to learn for myself how such music can be created, to see the mechanics behind the magical spell, to be in the room with those immense four-foot cast iron gongs and to feel the vibrations of the struck metal as it permeated the entire room and buzzed my body. To constantly remember that music is first and foremost a vibration.

Gamelan was described in our concert program as comparable to only two things: “Moonlight and flowing water; it is pure and mysterious like moonlight and always changing like flowing water.” As beginners, we learned that the music is a division of labor and is segmented into quarters like most Western music, the instrumentation in different ratios: sixteenths, eighths, while the bulk of the metalophones play quarters and gongs bong on the one.

Simple mathematics and deceptively easy to hammer at (how could this not have arisen out of the industrial revolution, I wondered) but as Fahey notes about the tuning, the bowls, pots, and gongs ring out with slightly-off frequencies, a roiling effect created as tones merge and shimmer. As we worked, my master (Rasito Rasito, we called him, unable to pronounce his three other last names) would slowly draw one section to flow faster, while another would slow their pace ever so slightly, giving a tidal motion to the proceedings as we slid to and fro. Even only playing one note per measure on the kemong (which nestles at the midway point between gong hits), I found it excruciatingly easy to get swept downstream by the undertow and constant flow of the gamelan, quickly caught up and disoriented in the coruscating sound.

As an untrained musician, or at least enough of one to quickly unlearn whatever I picked up on piano and guitar in just a few years, what struck me (ha!) about playing gamelan and instruments like the saron demung is that it's not just about striking a note but erasing it before you strike the next in succession. As the mallet comes down on the next note, your other hand snuffs out the previous one. It’s very tidy, the gamelan is, one hand creating, the other destroying. Think “Erased De Kooning.”

Stuck to the recordings, and the academic rote-practicing of gamelan, the role of the music in Indonesian society was lost on me, and seeing the Gamelan Dharma Swara perform with dancers showed what other nuances were previously lost on my ears, or what is lost without the eyes and body. Female dancers perform intricate though minute variations with their fingers and foot placement, and eyes denote turns in the rhythmic patterns. That boom-bap that you always hear in the Balinese variant on the gamelan, with sudden explosions of percussion are sparked off by the widening of eyes.

While the consulate does offer workshops for outsiders (re: offays) that are hypnotized by the sounds of the gamelan and want to participate, I demured from taking up the mallets again. Not that the concert experience wasn’t a pleasant one (it was, though the complimentary dumplings served tasted like mothballs and the gooey orange sweet tasted salty instead), but I get lost in the noise just crossing the street these days.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

beta luv beards

My love for Ol' Willie never dies.

Sunday, January 01, 2006

Dear Andy Beta:

Thank you for your submission - your votes have been recorded.

Your Pazz & Jop albums ballot was submitted as follows:

1. Thelonious Monk Quartet with John Coltrane-at Carnegie Hall-Blue Note (24)
2. Cam'Ron - Purple Haze - Def Jam (12)
3. Mannie Fresh - The Mind of Mannie Fresh - Cash Money (11)
4. Animal Collective - Feels - Fat Cat (10)
5. The Mars Volta - Frances the Mute - GSL/Strummer (9)
6. Isolee - Wearemonster - Playhouse (8)
7. Tod Dockstader - Ariel - Sub Rosa (8)
8. Ennio Morricone - Crime & Disonance - Ipecac (8)
9. Clipse - We Got it for Cheap, Vol. 2 - Mixunit.com (5)
10. M.I.A. - Arular - Interscope (5)

Your Pazz & Jop singles ballot was submitted as follows:

1. The Game feat. 50 Cent - Hate It or Love It - Aftermath
2. Amerie - 1 Thing - Columbia
3. Three 6 Mafia ft. Young Buck, Eightball & MJG - Stay Fly - Columbia
4. Mike Jones ft. Slim Thug and Paul Wall - Still Tippin' - Swishahouse
5. Trick Daddy ft. Ludacris - Sugar - Atlantic
6. Tori Alamaze - Don't Cha - Universal
7. Fannypack - 718 - Tommy Boy
8. Gwen Stefani - Hollaback Girl - Interscope
9. T.I. - Bring 'Em Out - Atlantic
10. Ying Yang Twins - Wait (The Whisper Song) - TVT