Monday, October 30, 2006

heep see

The Searchers
I've been living in New York too long when I no longer pay attention to the racism, brutality, and turmoil between man and his environment in this John Ford classic and instead realize how terrible John Wayne looks in his jeans. Especially with that Pizza Hut shirt on.

The Shooting
Ride in the Whirlwind

I watched a wretched DVD transfer of The Shooting last year, one almost swallowed up in glare and blackness. A recent Monte Hellman retrospective at BAM brought The Shooting back around though, and I found its off-the-cuff, frantic shooting pace to be intact, the evening shadows strong on some scenes, yet with just a bit more detail caught on the big screen.
What I said over at Imbidimts:
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, cruel to both man and the horse (even a bluebird is shot for spiteful sport), as Warren Oates and a ranchhand help a woman bent on revenge track the offending party that may or may not be his brother, while psychopath Billy Spears (played by Jack Nicholson) 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.
Shot at the same time as The Shooting, Whirlwind also stars Jack, and has QT citing it has his favorite western. The movie hinges on some awkward cowhand dialogue, hapless shootouts, and a meditation on innocence. Three good ol' boys get mistaken for horse thieves and are hunted down by lawful vigilantes. Such a hunt isn't nearly as desperate as that in The Shooting, but the outcome is more subtle, still as devastating. As the innocent turns into a killer, that is when the escape is finally made.

The Great Silence
It's not on the level of white hat and black hat dynamics, but this Spaghetti western deals itself some ludicrous platitudes. One of five movies cranked out in 1968 by Sergio Corbucci, we have one guy whose Xian name is "Silence," with Jean-Louis Trintignant pulling off a finely unshaved (save for that gnarly throat scar) mute, even giving Warren Oates a run for his money. His nemesis is named "Loco." Guess which one is played by Klaus Kinski? As blatant as the character set-up is, and as hokey and overdubbed the lines get, this hasn't fallen down the memory hole due to its brutal, kill 'em all ending that drops you through the floor like a gallows swing door.

The Byrds - There is a Season
Gram Parsons - Complete Reprise Sessions
David Crosby - Voyage box set

The glossy photo that flutters out of this parcel has two pictures of the Byrds; Gene Clark, the founding member and primary songwriter at the time, is in neither one of them. The Tom Petty introduction doesn't even mention the man. Joe Tangari's otherwise adept review of the box set scarcely mentions him. Imminent on the racks is a box set for Walking Proof of There Being No Cosmic Justice, David Crosby. Hell, even thumbing one of those Back Page Epiphanies in a recent issue of Paste Magazine, I suffer through Andy Whitman masterbating over the grave of Gram Parsons. Where is the Gene Clark box set? I howl. I'm not the only one, and the Byrds box mentions how taken Bob Dylan was with Gene Clark's writing, even back then, when Clark was but hoping to bite the man's style. There's a Dylan quote somewheres wishing that he himself had written Clark's meditation on the creative act, "From a Spanish Guitar," but on almost any of his peak material from White Light, The Fantastic Expedition of Dillard & Clark, Roadmaster, and No Other you can glean a searching soul peeking through. Almost any lyric reveals an astute eye with a mind not just on earthly matters, but what happens above as well. Or as Gene once sang: "There's always a reality in what you are doing. Sometimes it's so hard to see which one is the true one." It's a sad state that none of Gene's albums (aside from with the Gosdin Brothers and Echoes) are in print in the US, but only on German, British, or Japanese reissues. Tucked inside the perfect Expedition, in a lyric about a woman now gone, lies a line that acts like a gem, glimmering from inside the stanza: "A wise man said 'What isn't there is what you want to find.'" Guess that's directive enough to track these down.

This Awful DJ at Daddy's Saturday Night
He starts off playing "Do Ya Think I'm Sexy?" and at the table we laugh at where he could possibly go from there, as surely he's peaking early. How we swallow such guffaws like so much lukewarm Brooklyn Lager as the asshole in the booth turns KONO on our asses, dropping boilerplate like "Da Doo Run Run" and, no shit, "Brown-Eyed Girl."
Even if we were stuck in a van with only AM/FM in the wilds of Pennsylvania or Missouri, we'd be switching it to Christian rock or sports radio. After a night of a Daddy's DJ dropping 45s of Howlin' Wolf and Sir Douglas Quintet alongside the Breeders and Dinosaur, and with a jukebox stocked with some of the finest selections a waterhole can ever hope to have: George Jones, Charlie Feathers, Nuggets, New Orleans funk, a slew of tuff rocksteady cuts...I mean, such obviousness is unacceptable here at the Ground Zero of BK noize-hipsterdom, right?
So is this the new Sincere Irony? Is it the moustachio vs. beardo civil war that has long been threatened on the streets? Fuck, even Jack (or Bob, or whatever those random iPod radio stations keep popping up with Metallica next to "Hang On Sloopy" next to "Raspberry Beret") is more unpredictable than this guy. And yet, with our position near the ladies' room, we make a shocking discovery: as each occupant abandons her nose-powdering (both meanings), she comes out dancing!

Sunday, October 29, 2006

vega beta

And just when I was questioning the notion of physicality at a concert, I wound up at PS1's Music is a Better Noise opening, with Alan Vega playing live. Now Vega's schtick is old, old like Iggy Pop, like the Dolls, arising out of the early 70s scene and based on confrontational rants. As I'm standing near Nibs, I express my fears that Alan Vega may actually be bald, his scully cap actually containing a dark mullet stitched into its seams. Today, even as his body no longer stands up to the strain of flinging himself into that most dreadful see, the audience, Vega does like he always does, rants and conjures breath, revels in his voice bouncing off the physical entrapment of the space, of the stage. In a way, it reminds me of another NYC noise-maker/ performance artist, Charlemagne Palestine, who is known more for his suspended dream-baby drones now (due to a slew of reissues on Baroni, Alga Marghen, and others) rather than his early performances of shaping notes in his throat and then flinging himself against walls or hardwood floors, the impact changing the sound. Similarly, Vega's painful to listen to, and almost everybody rolls eyes as his distorted, echoing caws grow in intensity, though only leading to the B-Boy slogan: "Fight for your right!" he squawks, leading to crowd titters. Or maybe it's a Flavor Flav joke now.

I tell one girl that it's like drawing a scalding hot bath, painful to dip into, yet soothing once you've slipped in, but she replies, "It's never too hot." Okay then, it's like prison sex with a duct tape condom, awful and yet --like former Texas governor Clayton Williams once said about being raped-- "as long as it's inevitable, you might as well lie back and enjoy it." It helps that Vega mumbles something about Bruce Springsteen before launching into "Dream Baby Dream," attaining such an edgy though relaxed state.

Next, we are led outside to watch a video from the K Foundation, yet another Bill Drummond project from his glory days in The KLF, this one about their public stunt burning a million pounds. Stephen O'Malley, almost naked sans his SUNN O)))) robe, hides behind a bank of eight amps. The DVD starts, and the 1995 shoot is tedious indeed. Who woulda thought that burning "a million quid" would be so boring? Jeff from Excepter leans in and whispers one word, "Work." To make that money? To un-rubberband it all? To crouch in front of that hungry fire and dump in fistfuls of dollars? To stand and listen to O'Malley fart around on a Moog? Yes. The 8 amps set-up is as ludicrous, as is the act of burning paper money, and nothing worth a shit is happening, to the point where I start to call "Bull Shit!" on the whole endeavor.

It's then that the sound of those words gets stuck in my throat. O'Malley doesn't hit the brown note per se, but he elevates into that register, the chilly autumnal air turned into a clear aspic. Ribs begin to fibrillate, all of our voices chopped and screwed as if we are yelling in front of some god's summertime fan, rattling in our necks and making everything sound funny. The vibrations also kill the DVD player. The massage continues unabated as they have to reset the K Foundation movie. Myself and a few others continue to howl along inside the thick air, reveling in the sound of our voices getting throttled out of us.

Thursday, October 26, 2006


Mister Tamborine Man hisself

I have written about Bruce Langhorne before, regarding his soundtrack for Peter Fonda's dusted western, The Hired Hand, which I consider to be one of the most succinct moments of American Kosmische Musick (alongside Sandy Bull's E Pluribus Unum, John Fahey's America, Henry Flynt's "You Are My Everlovin'" and a few scant others). Langhorne was a cornerstone for the Village scene in the early sixties, playing with Richard and Mimi Farina, Fred Neil, Odetta, and Dylan himself. That's his solo on "It's All Over Now, Baby Blue" and he also guitar slings on Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid. Bruce, with giant Turkish tamborine in hand, is the figure addressed by Dylan on "Mr. Tamborine Man."

Stopping at Other Music the other day, I noticed a bucket with Bruce's visage taped to it. Having suffered a stroke back in the summer, Bruce Langhorne has had all of his savings sucked out by the subsequent medical bills and he's not out of the woods yet. I dropped in a few bills and if you happen by the shop, I suggest you do the same. Being a legend doesn't pay the bills, as Mr. Tamborine Man could tell you. Updates on Bruce's condition can also be found here.

I'll also use this as an excuse to post an mp3 my friend Mark sent me after I raved about some live performance of another Bruce that I found on YouTube a few months back, doing a mesmerizing, resilient cover of "Dream Baby Dream."

Bruce - "Dream Baby Dream"

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

beta beta dance

Gang Gang Dance (City Pages)

Jandek (The Stranger)

A week or so ago, my friends Mark and Julie came to town, on the occasion of Julie's dance performance down in Dumbo. My only exposure to that art form occurs only on such a perennial visit. Seated in the first row, so as to help tape off a square plot for her piece, I fidget uncomfortably watching the other dancers get limber. I'm not the most uptight dude, having done yoga for many years and still doing a stretch routine that lasts longer than most of my gym workouts, yet watching the pliant bodies disinterestedly contorting and expanding on planes I've never dreamt of in my own skin, I feel more aches and tight spots. The deft ease with which the dancers move can only make the observer's muscles tighten. But wait, when's the last public art that evoked such an unconscious physical reaction to it?

While the seven other performances have a sense of removal (not unlike playing touch football in McCarren Park and then watching Chad Johnson or T.O. tightrope a catch in traffic), of distant admiration for their abstracted movement and whorled grace, an aesthetic ease in the well-drilled effortlessness of each gesture, Julie's performance only ratchets up the discomfort level. Her piece stands out from the others in a few ways: her attire is normal, workaday business-casual; there is scant music to accompany her; and while the other dancers can be heard breathing intently as they move, only Julie has a recitation to it. And while grace and swanlike glides are the common language among the others, Julie's movements are rote and jerky, not unlike that in the house or at work or in transit, awkward, agitated, yanked from bodily awareness. My own body tenses, teeth dancing in a grind as her movements become more frazzled and crazed, her huffed words caught up in that feedback loop of daily thought. I feel like my rubber band might snap itself from the pressure.

Afterwards, I exhilarate in such anxiety, in her performance having such a grating effect on me. She talks about the feeling of being trapped, of a state not unlike "Yellow Wallpaper," an allusion to the short story by proto-feminist Charlotte Perkins Gilman. I remain at a loss to think of a recent musical event that inspired both such tension, release, and acute physical awareness and so in homage to both Julie and Mark, here are two tracks I snaked off the sadly-defunct 12 AM Maternal blog. The former is the perfect marriage of Mike Love and Arthur Russell, the latter...well, words can't quite grip its 13 minutes of dancefloor delirium.

John Forde - Stardance

Bohannon - Maybe You Can Dance

Sunday, October 15, 2006

betiamese twins

Not to get all English 1304: The 19th Century American Novel on you, but seeing as how I had to take one ramshamble interview with Califone's Tim Rutili and exact two different features from it (okay, a fancy conceit for double-dipping), here I link to my two Califone pieces by invoking Mark Twain's true classic, as messy, unresolved, and ultimately adhering to the Jim Crow status quo as Huck Finn, the unheralded Pudd'nhead Wilson: And, Those Extraordinary Twins.

(Unfortunately, the above feature turned out to be my last for The Stranger's music editor, Dave Segal. For as wretched as this calendar year has been for such a 'profession,' what went down out there was most unfortunate, not to mention stupid.)


Andy Stott
Johan Johannsson

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

joe beta man

It requires two eyefuls to fully absorb the pandemonic Joe Coleman show at the Tilton Gallery, not to mention two rides above 14th Street to the UES (yes, I got nosebleeds from such heights), two hours to try and process the info crammed inside each small panel of acrylic pain(t). I may be the only person in the gallery without the two marks that denote most of Coleman's audience, tattoos or piercings. Although, when I arrive at the gallery for the second time, I see the man himself standing outside. He eyes my tee shirt with its image of Kali the Destroyer and approves.

How to attempt words that will properly convey the overwhelming sensations of his work? Familiar with artbooks that attempt to capture the madness coursing through each panel, seeing Coleman's collection up close (and I do mean up close, the eyes mere inches from the wall) is crucial to grasping his demons, his inspirations. As dense and prodigal as Bosch's visions, as brilliant as any illuminated manuscript, Coleman erects his own pantheon of gods through this portraiture. They serve as both biography and shrine, these devil-detailed studies of the most hallowed of sick-fucks: Henry Darger, Carlo Gesualdo, Hank Williams Sr., George Grosz, John Brown, Ed Gein, Hasil Adkins.

More like paintings to be appreciated by the four horsemen rather than mere humans, each slate gushes information and noise like an aneurysm in the brain of a schizophrenic. Writing and musical bars enframe each picture, some set against scraps of cloth (an American flag for John Brown, some girlie fabric for Darger). One work, reflecting on the Atomic Bomb like Gertrude Stein, invokes renderings of readiation sickness and mushroom clouds and surrounds them with swirling quotes and images: the Bhagavad-Gita, Boris Badanov, Timothy McVeigh, Alfred Nobel, and the lyrics of "Secret Agent Man" all conspire in Coleman's post-apocalyptic world.

Joe's invocation of Jayne Mansfield is framed in angelic revelations and stanzas about Venus appearing on sea foam, her cunt surrounded with a crown of thorns. Coleman seeks to return her to a virginal state even as he surrounds her with soundbites from her b-movies as well as pentagrams and Anton LaVey (she was a high priestess in his Church of Satan), reveling in her sumptuous proportions while also showing her decapitated body already in decay. His other major subject is himself, turning his own story into mythology, much as his favorite subjects already have. Crafted with jeweller's loupe and one-bristle acrylic brushstrokes, Coleman accepts the fate of his faltering flesh and its precarious health; he both renders and rends him and his wife in more recent works, suggesting himself to be Vulcan to her Venus. He accepts the imminent decay of the body while also elevating it into that realm of demi-gods.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

beta can't help it

The readers of Beta Blog, the silent dozens, they generally don't turn to this illuminated page for unsigned hype, for the hottest four bars by fourteen-year-olds, for tomorrow's four-digits-sold indie rock sensastions, but I decided to finally embrace my job as a blogger to tell you about the next sensation. I just saw him spit, I think it was on YouTube, though it mebbe he was selling mixtapes outside the Film Forum, near the handball courts. You heard it hear first: Fats Murdock is gonna be huge. His single "Rock Around the Rockpile" is some sick trap-hop meets Hollywood musical shit. He's even cross-marketed into movies already with The Girl Can't Help It.

Never mind what he is actually saying. Okay, he's talking about rock, and how every day he's hustling. Never mind about his skills, what's important here is that he's been in lockdown after thirteen of his boys got gunned down in some St. Valentine's Day type of shit. He's even been shot! The street cred is thick, like Robin Thicke. To finally break out and rush the mainstream, he's even about to mix up his thug profile (which is part Big Pun, part Fat Joe, part Biggie, part...uh, Heavy D) with some R&B crooning. His girl is Jayne Mansfield, who's like the white Foxy Brown, the J.Lo if J. Lo had a front shelf rather than a back, Fergie if Fergie worshipped Satan (and perhaps had some good metaphors).

Okay, so I'm 50 years too late to hype Fats, but The Girl Can't Help It has been popping up around the blogosphere as of late (check the YouTube links here and here) and despite it's half-century age, the revealed machination of music biz hype really hasn't altered all that much. Mafioso muscles, behind the scenes shoving, even the movie itself is but a vehicle to showcase reccording artists. As a historical document, the footage is fascinating: Eddie Cochran, Gene Vincent, Julie London, Abbey Lincoln, Little Richard, Fats Domino, etc. gratuitously plunked into scenes to showcase their newest hits for a broad audience (and not just because Jayne is in attendance). Also intriguing are the failures that are trapped in the celluloid, such as the rock 'n' roll band with the accordion player.

So why does this age better than other documents? Like Mansfield herself, she's not built to last. We laugh about this the other night, watching recent arcana like You've Got Mail and snickering about the sound of dial-up; seeing Kyle MacLachlan use a brick-sized cell phone in Showgirls; watching Jerry extend his antenna on his cordless phone in Seinfeld, seeing how quickly technology renders the moment obsolete. Can you make a movie fast enough to reference Friendster before it plunges down the memory hole irretrievably? A thriller's plotline built around Napster heads straight to video (Tara Reid plays the downloader who accidentally hears an mp3 of a murder; Lou Diamond Phillips plays the streetwise and embittered RIAA agent sent to track down the killer who uploads watermarked CDs, known only online as the "brb killer").

And yet some things never change: that obscure object of desire (Jayne), brute strength (Fats), the new sound of noise (rock'n'roll, trap-hop). Working in a post-production office at the moment, where the editors are cutting a promo video for IDJ, pushing Q4 product like Rick Ross "Hustlin'"; The Killers "When You Were Young"; Rihanna "SOS"; Under the Influence of Giants "Mama's Room" so that the songs repeat all damned day in one form or another, slicing of precious seconds and perfecting segues between unrelated artists, the hypnotic effect of such cut-ups would make Burroughs and Brion Gysin smile. I almost wish that there'd just be a movie instead with everyone making blatant appearances for the sake of the product. Surely some dialogue could connect the above singles. At least then there'd be a chance of such noise resounding as glorious cinematic art in 2056. Will we have to learn to appreciate EPKs and promo videos then? Will there be revival houses for old YouTube clips?