Monthly Archives: January 2009

PANDROGENOUS ZONE Genesis P-Orridge

Eighteen months after the passing of Lady
Jaye, the Psychic TV founder talks about her, about pandrogeny, and about the future of PTV3.

BY BRIAN STAKER
& RANDY HARWARD

In August 2007, we interviewed Genesis
P-Orridge for Harp about the
Pandrogeny Project, for which P-Orridge underwent gender reassignment surgery.
As with everything P-Orridge has done in the past four decades with visual and
performance art in Thee Temple Ov Psychick Youth, and music with Throbbing
Gristle and Psychic TV, the Project is many-sided, a complex construct as
detached and analytical as it is intimate and emotional. And it transcends mere
corporeality.

“With pandrogeny,” said P-Orridge, “we’re
trying to strip away all the masks and reveal the inner self, the original
person which is, of course, a designed hermaphrodite. It’s much more about
neutralizing gender and glamour to reveal what’s underneath, the internal
self.”

Pandrogeny goes deeper than that. It’s no
simple tit job. Nor is it gender reassignment, a correction of some genetic
glitch in which the physical and sexual self was mismatched. “One of the great
delusions of Western consumer society is if we somehow create stereotypical
beauty for ourselves, that we are dealing with the self,” says P-Orridge, who
now identifies by the pronoun ‘s/he.’ Behavior, s/he says, is “the key to
everything” and “the most difficult thing to change of all.” To find purity
inside oneself, he furthers, one must go back to DNA, and consider “the
different ways that your imagination has been suppressed or distracted from
becoming individual and unique.”

Usually, as with everything Genesis P-Orridge
has done, there is a mischievous through-line, a devious tripwire lying hidden
and taut beneath the leaves, ready to invert or subvert or plain eviscerate
societal mores. Pandrogeny practically screams this. In fact, P-Orridge followed
up that last quote with this deliciously typical line: “And, when in doubt, be
extreme.” Considering the lengths to which P-Orridge has gone in the past, such
as using bloody tampons and maggots as an artistic statement, pandrogeny could
be another obvious ploy. Or the devil’s greatest trick.

If there is a booby trap beneath all the
weighty sociological, sexual, political, scientific implications P-Orridge would
like us to consider, it’s that as the Pandrogeny Project thumbs its nose at
convention, it has a root in what we might think rebels like P-Orridge have
neither the capacity nor need for: romantic love. P-Orridge’s motivation for his
surgery was to become one with his wife, Lady Jaye Breyer P-Orridge. One idea
behind it was that, via physical resemblance, a higher rapport is achieved. Over
time, Genesis and Lady Jay both were modified, each choosing some of the other’s
features to assume until they truly did look like each other’s doppelganger.

It was as sweet, though not nearly as
cloying, as a Hollywood love story. Sadly, two months after our enlightening
conversation with Genesis, s/he had to make an announcement regarding Lady Jaye,
his “other half” of fifteen years:

Genesis Breyer P-Orridge and her reactivated
Psychic TV a/k/a TV are terribly sad to announce the cancellation of their
November North American tour dates. This decision is entirely due to the
unexpected passing of band member Lady Jaye Breyer P-Orridge. Lady Jaye died
suddenly on Tuesday 9th October 2007 at home in Brooklyn, New York from a
previously undiagnosed heart condition which is thought to have been connected
with her long-term battle with stomach cancer. Lady Jaye collapsed and died in
the arms of her heartbroken “other half” Genesis Breyer
P-Orridge.

It was a tragic end to one of the greatest
loves in history. To know it is to share P-Orridge’s grief. As s/he said at the
time, they were “two parts of one whole… each other’s half.” Yet like the
Project rises above simple physical existence, so too does their love. Since
Genesis and Lady Jaye conceived the Pandrogeny Project in order to experience
each other in the most powerful way possible, the connection achieved in life
should continue beyond this mortal coil.

And, as Genesis tells it in a new interview a
few weeks ago, Lady Jaye saw fit to make it clear that Psychic TV (or PTV3, as
they called it) carry on with their music. Mr. Alien Brain vs. The Skinwalkers (Sweet Nothing/Cargo), album number 31 for the band, reprises the career of
PTV by re-iterating all of the band’s stylistic phases, from the psychedelicism
of “Thin Garden” to the techno sound of “The Alien Brain” to the influence of
their predecessors, with Velvet Underground and Syd Barrett covers. All these
periods were landmarks, and the group’s work at every point has been incredibly
influential themselves on other (especially British) bands. But Mr. Alien Brain is much more than a
synopsis of their career; it’s one of the strongest sets in an impressive
discography, as well as a loving tribute to Lady Jaye.

***

Genesis P-Orridge: Where are you?

BLURT: Salt Lake City.

GP: Right, I remember it!
It’s a nice place, with lots of creative people.

I think so, because we
have a heavy hand of authority, so that just causes a reaction.

GP: It was the same thing
with my public (English private) school education. From the upper class I got a
covert knowledge of the way authority works. We only appear to live in a
democracy. For instance, in Spain once PTV was playing a concert, in Madrid,
and the rest of the band were surprised at how famous we’ve been. In 1984 or -5
we were commissioned to do live music for a TV program (filmmaker) Derek Jarman
directed. It was the story of the Catalan flag.

The designer of the flag took four
fingers in blood to make the four red stripes on the flag. Before World War II
Franco was the fascist ruler of Spain, and people forget that after the war he
remained in power until the 80s. He had banned the Catalan flag, and thousands
of people waved the flag at his funeral.

The TV show in Spain was to show one film, then an
interview, then a music mix live for 90 minutes. We were in the dressing room
and were all of a sudden told not to leave. The Spanish national TV network
went black. The Catholic women’s league had taken out an injunction, because
they were afraid of sacrilege in the program. There was a lengthy debate, and
we were finally allowed to play. No one could see, but behind the stage were
Franco’s armed guards. They still had some power after he was gone. The
following morning, just before breakfast, we were grabbed by security and told
there had been death threats against us. We had to stay under house arrest.
Every Spanish newspaper had it on the front page, in outrage and support. Some
people remember that, when there was a population involved in politics.

That’s an amazing story.

GP: The implications are that
you’ve had a remarkable life if you are able to say you’ve been a part of
something like that. It’s not often that art can do something like that; but
art is about change. Well thanks for listening to me go on with that story.

Oh, thank you. That’s an
amazing story; I’m so glad that I was able to hear it. I mean, that’s
surprising, the power of art, that they felt threatened. You’re not trying to
overthrow the government; you’re just showing a TV program, and the powers that
be felt so threatened by you, that’s what is amazing about it.

GP: Everyone’s talking about
change in America now, but you should still be wary. My position is the 1960’s
position, that no matter who you elect, a politician’s gonna get in. The huge
bureaucracy is the real power. There is a basic inertia.

Right. I went to see Ralph
Nader, and he really captivated me. He seemed to have some ideas that hopefully
could change things, but he’s left out of the conversation largely.

GP: Yes, and people like that
are kept out. We need a complete rethinking of how we view the species in
relation to the planet. Nations are archaic. We are a human species trying to
survive, but we are going to destroy ourselves.

And there I really agree
with that, there are certain groups that are threatened by the idea that
there’s a possibility of evolving into something more progressive. There are
groups that are really threatened by that, like fundamentalist religious
groups, like the Mormon church here…

GP: The Catholic church…

The things that the Mormon
church did for Proposition 8 in California…

GP: Is that the gay marriage
one?

Yeah, that’s the gay
marriage one, the Mormons were really outspoken in taking the point of view
against gay marriage.

GP: Why are they threatened
by that?

Well, they’re threatened
by anything except the traditional male-female union.

GP: William S. Burroughs, who
I met, said “whenever you are thinking about some sociopolitical situation,
look to the vested interest.” Religions are using the ideal of the 1950’s
suburban family, the image that comes from advertising, but the housewives were
on tranquilizers and speed, the children turned into the rebellious 60’s, and
the men were repressing their sexual urges. It was a miserable time, and that’s
why the 1960’s exploded as a reaction against so much pressure. It didn’t just
happen gradually, little by little; it was a real explosion.

What is the fear of gay marriage
about? Over 50% of marriages end in divorce; their ideal is fabricated, not
reality. The LDS Church, what is their interest? Well, they want to feel
protected and secure, and it gives them power and a feeling of importance to
have control over others. They are afraid of losing their control, money, and
power over other people.

I wanted to ask you about
Lady Jaye, and I wanted to tell you that I’m really sorry to hear about her
passing.

GP: If it’s all right I’d
like to save that for the end, in case I get broken up about it, and then at
the end at least the whole interview won’t be ruined.

Ok, sure. I wanted to ask
you about the new album…

GP: Did you like it?

Yes, I enjoyed it quite a
lot. How does the album relate to the Pandrogeny Project?

GP: Well there’s the CD
version on Cargo, and the vinyl double album on Dais Records, to get the
complete story. The vinyl includes three extra tracks: “Jumping Jack Flash”
live, our song “Roman P” live, and a cover of a song by 60’s garage band the
Monks. Theirs was “Boys Are Boys” but we changed it to “Boys Are Girls and
Girls Are Boys.” The CD and vinyl together make the full manifesto.

I see.

GP: Alien Brain is not as much about the concept of pandrogeny as Hell is Invisible, Heaven is Her/e was. Alien Brain is more relating to (Lady
Jaye) Breyer P-Orridge. Intimate aspects had come out in the recording. The
album is evidence of pandrogeny, rather than ‘about’ pandrogeny. Bryan Doll did
the studio mastering, and as I was walking out the door to go to the studio I
dropped a stack of CDs, and noticed one I’d never seen before, labeled “Jaye’s
Samples.” It was as though she was talking to us.

We were rendering tracks and had a
half hour free, so we listened to the samples. They were a bunch of rhythmic
loops, backing tracks, but the last one had a really alien and electronic
rhythm, and strange syncopation. We thought it would work to put on the track
at the end of the album. While recording, I was unconsciously banging on a wine
bottle with a ring, and that ring was the first gift Lady Jaye had ever given
me. So we recorded it. Alice Genesse added the bass line. We had thought at the
end of the song would be a sample of Lady Jaye saying “I love you,” because the
rhythm of her speech fit the song. But then Bryan told me to say “I know” in response, as
though I’m answering her.

About pandrogeny, keep in mind how
it began. Lady Jaye and I were crazy in love. We’d say things like, “I wish I
could eat you up,” and literally wanted to blend into one. As we explored it,
we found more wide-ranging implications. Love is the infinite, unconditional
surrender. But it’s also an evolutionary imperative for the human species to
live as one. We need to evolve, and move from mastery over survival and use our
knowledge to become one forward-thinking species.

We need an end to the binary, greedy way of life.
This is a cry for common sense, and inclusivity. Human beings are really
amazing, the way we’ve survived; it’s something to be proud of. On the album,
Mr. Alien Brain is a visitor from outer space with no agenda, just to observe
and understand what the humans are trying to do. The Skinwalkers on the album
are corrupted leaders, shaman and sorcerers from the Four Corners area. Their
initiation includes human sacrifice. The werewolf grows another skin to have its
powers. It’s animalistic and cruel, self-centered and power-hungry.

So where did that concept
come from? Is that from Native American mythology?

GP: I have to apologize to
the Native Americans that it’s not meant to be anthropologically accurate, the
mythology comes from several different sources. We’re not taking sides; we have
an interest in magic. It’s about balance. Pandrogeny in the album means
blending a little of everything.

Yeah, and all the songs on
the album, it’s almost in a way a retrospective of Psychic TV, its history,
stylistically, it has from psychedelic through the more dance-oriented. It
really includes a little bit of everything that makes up Psychic TV. Even the
covers-the Syd Barrett and the Velvet Underground [songs] show where your
impulses come from.

GP: The Syd and Velvets
covers show where our heart is. Since the Internet, and downloading, more young
people have less connection with the historical story of music, and things that
aren’t on MTV. Captain Beefheart and Velvet Underground didn’t have a Behind the Music. Just as with TOPY
[Thee Temple Ov Psychick Youth], we give hints; don’t think this is happening
in a void. Part of the ever-evolving kaleidoscope is to look at sources. Then
you get a much more satisfying view of music.

We met some young people recently,
and when they asked us we told them our music was industrial, and they said
“Like NIN?” Then we said some of our music was psychedelic and they asked,
“like Modest Mouse?” The youth are isolated and separated. Rock after the 60’s
became a totemic call to rebellion, but now it’s just a business.

Music should be about joy and pleasure. This
version of PTV, all the band now, for the first time in my life, that we’ve
just let go, that every second has to celebratory and joyful. Now I enjoy
singing just for the sake of singing; it’s been really liberating. It’s all
done with joy.

The album is also a statement of
relaxation of the serious tone. We live in such dark times that joyful equals potent.
Pleasure is a weapon. People are so concerned with fashion, and a PTV gig is a
safety zone. The most common thing we hear is, “You guys look like you’re
having so much fun.” We have a lot of joking and playfulness on stage, where
we’ve allowed life and art to keep blending.

We’re still showing videos about
pandrogeny; even at the silliest moments it’s still there. It’s a way of
engaging with the public. We think it’s all psychedelic, like the band The
Doors were named after Huxley’s book The
Doors of Perception
.

I was wondering, do you
have a direction that you see the band moving in, or do you look ahead that way
at all?

GP: How far ahead?

Just the near future…

GP: We try to make each album
a picture of where we’re at then, a document. This one is of us playing for
Lady Jaye. It’s an outpouring of love, a very healing process, a work of
shamanism. Mr. Alien Brain also symbolizes the future, and led us to looking at
evolution. Like William S. Burroughs, we believe we have to colonize space if
we want to take control of our genetic software, our DNA. We have to accept
that the body is not saved-it’s a cheap suitcase. The only thing really human
is the spirit.

A space journey is so long, would we
have to hibernate? Would we become cold-blooded? We can’t colonize space until
we resolve our conflicts on earth. We have to look at the future positively or
there’s no point in going there. Our future direction? PTV is truly organic,
like the cell walls between members is broken down, and we are becoming a
molecular being. The last two weeks on tour, an idea for an encore was
improvised on stage. A lot of music happens that way, an accidental riff during
sound check.

The song “Trussed” came about that
way. On the tour bus we get bored and read books. Lady Jaye was reading a book
about Houdini, and told me she was always interested in him, and he is buried
near our house. Part of the story was a conflict with Arthur Conan Doyle. Doyle
was non-critical of magic, and Houdini said some were fakes, and thought the
fakers ruined it for the real ones. Houdini would go around unmasking the
fakes. There’s the theory in the book that Doyle paid people to kill Houdini,
did you know that?

No, I never was aware of
that.

GP: Live, we do a song called
“Arthur Conan Lies.” In the song “Trussed,” the concept of being bound, and
trust in people; I like polymorphous words. The song began as a word, and its
implications. Like the way Houdini was bound in cords.

The future of PTV? In my honest
opinion, this is the most complete, the most pure. We listen to the new album
as though it was someone else, and usually I never listen to our albums. It
makes me feel, whatever the direction is, I like it. I’m lucky to be in Thee
Majesty. They still do carefully scripted poetry and alternative theater. In
April TM is commissioned to play in France what we call ‘The Second
Book of Genesis,’ a version of the creation myth that’s pandrogynous.

I’ve studied anthropological
research, and a lot of paintings of the Garden of Eden originally pictured Adam,
Eve and God as hermaphrodites. That was the original version of perfection! The
whole conception of male and female was in error. Of course, most of those
paintings were destroyed by the Inquisition. But there was something about it
in that old 60’s mysticism magazine Man,
Myth and Magic
. Have you ever seen those?

Yeah, I think I’ve seen
some of those. I was wondering, how would you describe Lady Jaye’s legacy to
the Pandrogeny Project?

GP: People assumed that the
only reason Lady Jaye was involved was because she was my girlfriend. The two
of us had an idea to write a book like Gurdjieff’s Meetings With Remarkable Men but of all the people I’ve met-Timothy
Leary, William S. Burroughs, Bryon Gysin, Derek Jarman… the most remarkable of
all was Lady Jaye.

So what will happen to the
project without her?

GP: We had pondered that, and
she proposed that after death, the final result is that, post mortem, we both
evolve, after death, the two merge consciousness, absorbed into a new spiritual
unit; each other’s half. She always hated titles like wife, girlfriend, even
partner. She preferred to call me her “other half.”

She’s already gone into the next
phase. We had worked it out to be able to contact in case of death, and she’s
contacted me already. I have three prerequisites: there have to be witnesses,
it has to be something physical, and it has to have some private, personal
meaning. Wouldn’t you say that’s rigorous?

Yeah, I would say.

GP: For example, three days
after her funeral, my children were trying to talk me into going to California,
and I couldn’t decide. I went to our bedroom to our ‘kissing wall’ where we had
pictures of the two of us kissing, one in particular in Katmandu, both of us in
red, one big blob of red. I was going to take it with to remind me we are still
one, but I couldn’t decide. All of a sudden, a picture flew across the room and
fell on the floor in front of me, and I took that as a message to ‘stay home.’
Six other people saw this.

Another one, last May I was in Paris playing with
Throbbing Gristle, and Ryan Gelick from Dais Records was staying at my
apartment looking after our dog Big Boy. One day he came home to check on the
dog and the bed was turned back in a perfect triangle, and two rainbow-colored
bedsocks parallel to where we used to lay.

Yeah, I wanted to ask, did
you consider, you mentioned earlier, when the CD, maybe it wasn’t the same kind
of incident, but when you dropped the CD when you were going out the door, when
you dropped the CD on the ground and found those tracks of hers…

GP: No, when the CD dropped
there were no witnesses. The future of pandrogeny? A few months ago I went to
see a plastic surgeon to see if he could make me as close as possible to [how
she looked] before she died. I’ve had a little breast reduction, and some
tweaking of the face, and may have more surgeries as needed.

On the first anniversary of her
death, November 9, a mutual friend, Ghost, did a tattoo of Lady Jaye’s face on
my arm right above the psychic cross in white. Ghost said he got really
inspired. Isn’t that nice?

Yeah, very nice.

GP: So it’s
ongoing, as far as the implications of what might happen next. I’m still
grieving, but at least I’m able to keep creative. I’ve found pandrogeny an idea
that seems like it’s the right time. There are art exhibitions about it. I’ve
given lectures at Rutgers, Columbia and NYU. I gave a keynote at a gender
studies symposium at Cornell. In Spain, Madrid’s national newspapers did a full
page on pandrogeny. Lady Jaye is still as active as ever. As usual, the death
of someone young is an inspiration to others.

[Photo Credit: Kevin Henson]

LEMON PERSPECTIVE Modey Lemon

The Pittsburgh psychedelicists bank experience.

BY MIKE SHANLEY

After several years of intensive tours-domestically and
abroad-the Modey Lemon waited a lifetime (in band years) to release album
number four. Season of Sweets (Birdman)
came out in 2008, three years after The
Curious City
, and it shows the Pittsburgh band moving into a hard driving
psych-rock sound while still holding close to their Who-meets-Suicide style of
their earliest work. “One thing I like about this album is I think it puts our
other albums in perspective,” says guitarist/vocalist Phil Boyd. “You could…
find elements of each one in this album.”

Since Jason Kirker (bass, synth) joined Boyd and drummer
Paul Quattrone four years ago, their sound has evolved from a primal roar to
something heavier. Once a wailer, Boyd has developed a subdued low register
vocal approach. As a result, the sound of their last album has developed even
further on Season in songs like “Live
Like Children” and “Ice Fields” where Quattrone’s pulse leads to some space
grooves in the middle of songs that could even be called pretty.

A well-received performance at South By Southwest
anticipated the release of the album, and they spent nearly a month on the road
this summer, traveling the periphery of the country. After Quattrone finished a
tour as the drummer of !!!, the Modey Lemon headed to the UK for nearly a month in September.

Boyd says, of the group’s current touring regimen, that he
isn’t banking on anything more than a return to cities where they sustain a strong
following. “At this point, we’re really grateful for the opportunities that
we’ve had,” he says. “I don’t know if there’s some sort of professional
objective in mind. It’s more for the experience.”

***

Check out the Modey Lemon’s awesome “Sleepwalkers” video:

NOT FROM BEIJING: Chinese Indie Rock

So there’s great rock
‘n’ roll in Beijing-what about the rest of China?

BY JOEL HARTSE

In 2007, America
discovered Chinese indie rock. Every major publication, it seemed, was sending
writers over to check out what was going on in Beijing. And although we now know that the
cute little girl at the Olympics opening ceremony was lip-synching, China’s
indie rock bands are, more or less, the real deal. Rock ‘n’ roll is being made
here, and it’s a refreshingly uncommercial enterprise.

Most of what reaches the US comes from the relatively
insular Beijing scene that orbits around bands like Carsick Cars who play
regularly at the rock club D-22, where almost any night of the week you can
join a crowd of expats and locals to see the new talent this scene is
developing. Still, China is a country with 1.3 billion people in it, and more
than a handful of non-Beijing-indie-scene records released this year are worth
paying attention to. Here are some bands worth keeping an eye on in preparation
for the Chinese Rock Invasion.

***

The Honeys

Water (ECRSC)

www.myspace.com/tianmidehaizi

Started by musicians from Hangzhou and Shanghai, the Honeys
have been around for decade and their new album is ambitious, with big-rock
production that almost reaches a Bon Jovi-like bombast at times, but keeps
itself grounded with the smooth, laid-back sounds of Chinese stringed
instruments on the title track and others. Not the most groundbreaking indie
release of 2008, but a solid introduction to the genre.

The Swamp (and
Friends)

The Metamorphosis (Self-released)

www.zhaoze.com / www.myspace.com/theswampcn

This Guangzhou-based band released a remix album featuring
re-imaginings of their previous work (which leans toward psychedelic rock and
morose, atmospheric pop) by artists from the mainland, Hong Kong, and Taiwan.
Although the Swamp have existed since 1996, they’re just now coming into their
prolific own; in 2009, they plan to put out a new studio album featuring an
experimental symphony written for electric guitar and guqin, a traditional
Chinese stringed instrument.

Various Artists

Noise is Free: Mini
Midi 2008
(Kwanyin Records)

http://www.subjam.org/archives/327

A compilation from the Mini Midi Festival (admittedly held
in Beijing) an experimental offshoot of China’s biggest music festival, this
handmade limited run of CDs features compositions from a number of sound
artists, ranging from a squonking sax improv to an amusing noise piece which
incorporates an oft-heard recording from a Chinese phone company: “Sorry, the phone you dialed is not answered
for the moment.”

The Rogue
Transmission

Illicit Intercepts EP (Self-released)

www.myspace.com/theroguetransmission

Can a group of white dudes be a Chinese rock band? The first
release from these Shanghai-based expats manages to capture the energy of their
sweaty, beer-soaked live show. Impressively mustachioed frontman Dan Shapiro
yowls like a more impassioned Dave Grohl, and the band’s tight, aggressive
power pop is stirring, whatever their nationality.

Wang Wen

IV (Fox Tail)

www.myspace.com/wangwenchina

This four-piece post-rock group from the northern coastal
city of Dalian,
released maybe the best non-Beijing record of 2008. Starting off in Explosions
in the Sky Territory, Wang Wen makes the genre
their own, adding flourishes like playful jazz drumming and melodica to their
celestial guitar twinklings and drones.

[Pictured: Wang Wen]

MOST FUCKED UP THING I'VE EVER SEEN: The Ettes

Coco Hames reminisces
about the Albino Creep of Motel 6, Memphis.

By COCO HAMES

We were in Rochester, NY in the middle of a long winter tour.
It was snowing and extremely cold. We were at the Motel 6 near the airport, which
was hands down the creepiest, gnarliest Motel 6 we’d been to, and that’s saying
something: Its gnarliness even beat that of the still-wet bloody carpet of the
Motel 6 in Memphis.

Poni and I were watching TV and Jem went to get something
out of the van. When he came back, he had this really disturbed expression on
his face and was really quiet. Poni and I were like, what’s
wrong with you?
He looked around the room all nervous and said, “There’s
this crazy huge tall bald albino guy fucking this doll thing, I don’t know.” We’re
like, “What?!

His hotel room door had been open, and we realized all of
the doors on the hall were open, like we’d come to the annual Rochester truck
driver Motel 6 swinger night. When we walked out to the van to head to the
show, Jem said, “His window is wide open, keep your head down, don’t look.” But
I looked up just as he said it and saw him: A giant white naked hairless man
furiously fucking a small pale doll with all the lights and TV on. I was like, Well, I won’t be forgetting that for a while.

When we came back after the show, his window was dark and
covered, but had been completely shattered. Maybe someone else saw him and
broke the window like, “Close your goddamn window you creep!” Or maybe the guy
got so carried away his white moon of an ass broke the glass. All I know is, we
had to take a lot of pills that night to make sure we all could sleep
peacefully-because it occurred to us that the still, small thing he had been so
violently fucking may not have been a doll.

This is the second
installment of a BLURT recurring feature, the Most Fucked Up Thing I’ve Ever
Seen. You can read the previous one, penned by Ben Weaver, HERE. The Ettes’
Look
At Life Again Soon (Take Root) is still a
hot item-but look out for a new EP and a Dan Auerbach-produced limited-edition
single in March 2009. Catch �em at SXSW, too. Meanwhile, check out their latest
video, below.

DREAM ON Bruce Springsteen

The Boss delivers a stirring exploration
of love in the face of time and space itself.

BY ERIC
SCHUMACHER-RASMUSSEN

Working on a Dream is the most confounding album Bruce
Springsteen’s ever released-a lush, orchestrated, collection of pop and rock
songs whose profound statements swirl beneath the music rather than float on
its surface. Musically, it’s a logical extension of the road he’s been
traveling since he started working with producer Brendan O’Brien on 2002’s The Rising and continued on with 2007’s Magic. But where The Rising was explicitly tied to 9/11 and Magic explored the state of the union even in its non-overtly
political songs (am I the only one who kept hearing “You’ll Be Coming Down” as
Bush left Washington?), Working on a
Dream
‘s concerns are more eternal-it’s not so much a meditation on “love in the time of Bush,”
as Springsteen himself called “What Love Can Do,” as it is an exploration of
love in the face of time and space itself, a “big string of shining stars,
rusting in red out of arms,” as he sings on “This Life.”

And while it
carries echoes of all of his past work-from the glockenspiel in the title cut
harkening back to “Born to Run” to the bonus track “The Wrestler,” which, save
for its synth intro, would have sounded at home on The Ghost of Tom Joad-it’s also unlike anything he’s ever done.
Minus the opener, the eight-minute “Outlaw Pete,” it’s the kind of record Steve
Van Zandt has said he always wanted his boss to make, full of concise pop
melodies, rich harmonies, and hooks straight out of the mid-1960s. Sonically,
its debts are most deeply owed to the Beach Boys, Turtles, Byrds, and, on the
reckless and raucous “My Lucky Day,” the Rolling Stones.

That this album
is more about music than lyrics is made clear from the album’s opening notes,
the locomotive chugging of cellos that kick off epic “Outlaw Pete.” The song
begins as a comic tall tale-by the time he was six months old, Pete had spent
three months in jail for robbing banks in his “diapers and little bare baby
feet”-and ends as a reckoning of our inability to escape the sins of the past.
What it is mostly, though, is an Ennio Morricone film score writ small, Roy
Bittan’s barrelhouse piano and
Springsteen’s reverb-heavy guitar working in concert with strings to create
a sonic spaghetti western. The real payoff comes in the song’s denouement,
bells ringing and Springsteen’s harmonica playing virtually the same notes as
Charles Bronson did in Once Upon a Time
in the West
before the full band and strings come crashing back in.

It’s pretentious
and overblown, to be sure, but then again, so was “Jungleland,” and “Outlaw
Pete” works nearly as well. (That blowhards like Bob Lefsetz are trying to drum
up controversy by claiming the song’s melody is a ripoff of Kiss’s “I Was Made
for Loving You” misses the point of the song, which isn’t about melody but
orchestration, and of Kiss, which was never about music anyway.) Still, it’s a
weighty song with which to open an album, and “My Lucky Day” blows away
pretention with the most straightforward rock on the album and one of the most
unabashedly optimistic songs Springsteen’s ever written. The dirty guitars, Soozie Tyrell’s sweet
fiddle line, and Steve Van Zandt’s ragged harmony vocal are the antithesis of
“Outlaw Pete”‘s studied perfection.

As orchestrated
and ornamented as most of Working on a
Dream
is, it’s driven by a band playing live. Springsteen recorded the core
tracks live with Bittan, bassist Garry Tallent and drummer Max Weinberg before
adding overdubs to flesh out the productions, and it shows. That’s one of the
things that makes the album sound so deceptively simple on first listen; rarely
have such layered arrangements sounded so effortless. From “My Lucky Day”
forward, it’s a wild, not-so-innocent ride through examinations of eternal love
(the meditative “Kingdom of Days” and “This Life”), transient life (“The
Wrestler”; blues shouter “Good Eye”; and a heartbreaking acoustic tribute to late E Street organist Danny
Federici, “The Last Carnival,” which ends in a soaring, wordless chorale), and,
lest we get too lofty, the supermarket.

“Queen of the
Supermarket” is one of the sweetest, strangest songs Springsteen’s ever
recorded, a stroll through a world where “aisles and aisle of dreams await you”
and “the cool promise of ecstasy fills the air.” Never has grocery shopping
sounded so alluring, with a lilting melody and strings carrying us to the
counter where the object of the narrator’s fantasy awaits. But something else
lies beneath the bright lights and materialist fantasy; the singer catches a
smile from the cashier at song’s end that “blows this whole fuckin’ place
apart,” and the profanity shocks us out of our reverie, reminding us that all
of it-the market, the fantasy, the checkout girl’s job-is a dead-end. The
guitars and harmonies dissolve into legato strings and the beeps of a UPC
scanner that sounds more like an EKG monitor, another version of “wounded, but
not even dead.”

And while
Springsteen reckons with death literally on “The Last Carnival”-the first time
he sings “we’ll be ridin’ the train without you tonight” in concert, you can
bet there won’t be a dry eye in the house-and on “This Life,” whose chorus
refers not just to this life but “then the next,” he only sounds fearsome when
he faces up to the death of the spirit and of faith in “Life Itself,” asking
“Why do the things that we treasure most slip away and die/ ‘til to the music
we grow deaf and to God’s beauty blind?” He doesn’t have the answer, and only
finds the antidote, as always, not in the abstract but the human, clinging
desperately to his love as he sings “I can’t make it without you.” Again,
though, it’s the music that makes a more powerful statement than the lyrics. A
sinister, Byrds-y 12-string sizzles throughout and is joined on the bridge by a
backwards guitar solo reminiscent of the Beatles’ “Tomorrow Never Knows.”

He
also steals the title of that song for another of the album’s tracks, one
that also shares the Beatles’ tune’s imploration to live in the present, as
death is always around the corner. A bouncy country shuffle, “Tomorrow Never
Knows” and the birthday tune “Surprise, Surprise” offer the breeziest
moments on what initially appears to be a pretty breezy collection.

But
like Born in the U.S.A. almost 25
years ago, Working on a Dream is an
immediately accessible collection of pop songs whose depth is belied by their
simple charms.

[Photo Credit:
Danny Clinch]

BRIGHT ORANGE LOTUS PARTY Volcano Suns

A pair of long-overdue reissues – out next
week on Merge – brings the Boston band back into the limelight.

BY MIKE
SHANLEY

“I
always felt like the one place the lead singer should not be is behind the drum
kit, but there was nothing to be done about it,” says Peter Prescott, with his
trademark wry wit. The Boston
drummer launched the Volcano Suns in 1983, a year after he and his Mission of
Burma bandmates ended their initial run. Despite Prescott’s reservations about
singers, the new trio frequently often found him handling most of the lead
vocals as he pounded away, punctuating his snare rolls with a loud yell.

The
band went through four different lineups in eight years (with Prescott
as the mainstay) and recorded for Homestead,
SST and Touch & Go. Their first two albums, The Bright Orange Years (1985) and All Night Lotus Party (1986) are being released on CD for the first
time January 27 as two expanded reissues via Merge Records, each including
numerous live and unreleased studio tracks. Both provide significant looks at
the music that paved the way for what would be labeled indie rock over the next
five years, and the blend of overdrive and harmony still sounds remarkably current
two decades later.

Jon
Williams (guitar) and Jeff Weigand (bass) played on both albums, replacing
founding members Gary Waliek and Steve Michener, later of Big Dipper. The
band’s sonic qualities owed something to Mission of Burma. A crunch of feedback
the opens “White Elephant” on Lotus Party could pass for Roger Miller, for instance. But the trio advanced beyond their
predecessor’s Wire-inspired art punk, singing in harmony over the wall of noise.
“The Suns were almost sing-song, almost like nursery rhymes sometimes,” Prescott says. “It was
even more melodic than Burma,
but layered with something skuzzy on top.”

That
top featured an absurdist lyrical streak that, along with Prescott’s bellowing voice, became his
calling card. “Cornfield” and “Jak,” from their debut, sung about the foibles
of human nature and the struggle to survive day-to-day routines. Lotus Party got more diverse, from the
somber cynicism of “Sounds Like Bucks” to “Cans” (with the chorus “I wonder
what’s inside”) and “Walk Around,” which has few lyrics beyond the title. “Burma was known
for being serious. And I think the whole thing [with the Volcano Suns] was to
take that ball of anger and funnel it through a funhouse,” Prescott says. “It was more lighthearted
because it was ridiculous. Burma
tends not to be ridiculous.”

Both
discs each include another album’s worth of bonus tracks that give a greater
picture of the band’s outlook. A live version of the Amboy Dukes’ “Journey to
the Center of the Mind” sits near “The Ballad of Bilbo Baggins,” a cover
originally sung by Leonard Nimoy on one of his own albums. Prescott was on a prolific streak during
these years. Songs that were rerecorded for Bumper
Crop
, album number three, appear on both discs. The Bright Orange
Years
also rescues some of his best from oblivion: the catchy/chunky between-album
single “Sea Cruise” / “Greasy Spine” and “Tree Stomp” which appeared on a
compilation.

Prescott,
who continues to play with Mission of Burma since their 2002 reunion, prefers
not to consider himself the leader of the Volcano Suns. “I think I just ended
up writing more stuff and I was the guy that people knew from somewhere,” he
says. “I like the fact that the band mutated as it went along. And these
records are me and those particular guys. Their personalities are definitely in
there.”

A later
version of the band, with guitarist David Kleiler and bassist Bob Weston (now the
sound and tape manipulator in Burma),
reunited for two shows in 2005 at the behest of Yo La Tengo’s Ira Kaplan. But Williams
and Weigand live in different cities so the reissues won’t trigger any new shows,
which is fine by their bandmate.

“As
much fun as it is to be nostalgic, I don’t expect anyone to be, and ultimately,
they shouldn’t be,” Prescott
says. “You’ve gotta move on.”

HURRICANE BOBBY Bobby Charles

The New Orleans legend wants you to know that the
truth will set you free.

BY ALEX RAWLS

The brass alligator that serves as a grip on his cane-a gift
from a friend-reminds you where you know Bobby Charles from. Chess Records had
a hit in 1956 with the Abbeville, Louisiana native’s “See You Later, Alligator,”
which was later a smash for Bill Haley and the Comets. Charles was only 15, and
Chess signed him sight unseen. According to Charles, now 70, Phil Chess met him
at the airport with a pretty young blonde girl when he flew to Chicago.

“After everybody had left, Phil Chess came up and said, ‘You
can’t be Bobby Charles.’ I said yeah,” Charles recalls. “He said, ‘motherfucker.’
First time I’d ever heard that in my life. He dropped me and the girl off at a
hotel and gave me $200 and said, ‘Have a good time.’ That’s the way it was.
They weren’t going to bring a black girl for a black guy. They knew what he
wanted.”

His days touring as part of Chess package tours were intense.
He was the only white man on tours that included Chuck Berry and Frankie Lymon
and the Teenagers. He was still a teenager, but he played black clubs, stayed
at black hotels, and was turned away from white restaurants that saw him get
off the musicians’ bus. “I thought I was going to get hung trying to buy 50
hamburgers,” he says. When Charles effectively retired from performing after a
few Chess tours, he started doing promotions work for the label. Once, while
promoting an Etta James record in a southern city, a station manager asked, “Hey
man, want to come to a hanging? They’re going to hang this black dude.”

Experiences like those and various rip-offs made Bobby
Charles a reluctant member of the music business. He recorded sporadically and,
as is the case with his new album, Homemade Songs, released music on his
own schedule. When he works, it’s out of friendship, as is the case with the
six songs he co-wrote or contributed to Dr. John’s recent City That Care
Forgot
, or because ideas come to him whether he wants them or not. “When I
write, I write,” he says. “I can’t help that.”

***

Shucks in Abbeville is a non-descript room of mid-’80s
vintage except for the small, glassed-in room in the corner with “Whole lotta
shuckin’ goin’ on” painted in script on the window. The seafood restaurant
specializes in oysters, and Bobby Charles has his table at the back of the
room, where he sits three to four days a week-“sometimes more,” he says with a
conspiratorial grin-and staff and regulars alike pass by to say hi. It serves
as his unofficial office, and when singer Shannon McNally was in Abbeville to
record an album of Bobby Charles covers late last year, he’d often take her to
Shucks. “He’d come round me up around noon every day and want me to sit there
until two or three in the afternoon,” she remembers, laughing. “He sits down
there and has his sautéed oysters or fried oysters and his martinis and holds
court.”

Dr. John-Mac Rebennack-produced the McNally album (which is
currently in need of a label), and it’s a project she had long wanted to do.
Ever since her husband gave her Bobby Charles, the album he recorded in
1972 in Woodstock
with co-producer Rick Danko, she has wanted to re-record that album. “That Bobby Charles record he did is one of the best records ever made,” she
says. “It should be as important to the alt-country world as Grievous Angel.
It’s one of the top five records of an entire genre. It’s overlooked because it’s
not really available.”

The album is now downloadable as an mp3 at Amazon.com, and
it shows how much the Band vibe was in the Woodstock air. The songs groove
loosely, and Charles’ songs have the sly wisdom of the country bumpkin who
slowly lets on that he knows more than he seems. It’s in his voice, and it’s in
the songs, which are written in the common tongue to such a degree that they
seem artless. “There’s something very Gump about him, and I mean that in the
best way,” McNally says. “He’s a very simple person, but in the highest form of
simple. It’s no small thing to get Mac’s attention, but when Mac talks about
him, Mac would shake his head and say, ‘Dat muddafucka can write. He just
couldn’t go wrong.'”

That was his musical life, though. Charles gets vague when
he talks about dates and places because he has spent some time on the lam. He
ended up in Woodstock after a pot bust, and when he arrived, no one knew who he
was because he used an assumed name. He quickly fell in with neighbor Paul
Butterfield and a houseful of musicians including Amos Garrett who introduced
him to Bob Dylan’s manager, Albert Grossman. Charles was suspicious of Grossman
from the start, but he signed with him to deal with his legal issues. According
to Charles, Grossman heard his songs and asked, “‘Why don’t you make a record
for me?’ I said, ‘Why don’t you get me out of the trouble I’m in and maybe I
might?'”

The album’s high point is “Tennessee Blues,” the song that
convinced Grossman he wanted to manage Charles. It’s a sweet, wistful song of
longing:

If I had my way, I’d leave here today.

I’d move in a hurry.

I’d find me a place where I could stay,

not have to worry.

A place I’d feel loose.

Some place I could lose

these Tennessee Blues.

His simple, quiet hope for a home was also a comment on
being on the run from the charges hanging over him, which were filed in
Nashville. “It’s like living in jail in your mind.”

After he found a loophole in Grossman’s management contract,
Charles said, “See you later, alligator”–literally–and set out for more
adventure. He spent time in Arizona, California and Tennessee, but he’s fuzzy
on where, how long and why. At some point–likely in the 1980s–he returned to
Abbeville, and in the early 1990s, he started recording one-off sessions at
Dockside Studios in Vermillion Parish with guitarist Sonny Landreth leading the
band.

“For me, he’s the quintessential South Louisiana
singer/songwriter,” Landreth says. He’s also a challenge to work with because
Charles writes only the words and the melody, often by singing them into a
recorder. When he has ideas and a recorder isn’t at hand, he sings them into
answering machines. It falls to Landreth or guitarist Sam Broussard to figure
out chords and an arrangement. Once, Charles told Landreth he had the song
written out. “He brings in one sheet of ‘String of Hearts’ but it was in a
picture frame,” Landreth says. “Here’s our chart, so we had to wing that. That’s
classic Bobby Charles.

“Working with him is a creative circus that shows up in the
town, and you don’t want to miss it. It’s
chaotic and we’re making all this stuff on the spot. The thing about him is,
when he’s excited about the song and has that feeling, that’s what you want to
get. When he starts trying to polish it, that’s not what he’s about and you
lose that magic. Sometimes he’ll start singing and we’re still tuning up and we
haven’t got that far with the song, but that’s part of the ride. It wouldn’t be
as special if it were any other way.”

While the return to Acadiana was good for Charles
creatively, he suffered more setbacks in his personal life. His house burned
down in 1996, he was treated for cancer (currently in remission), and in 2005,
his home at Holly Beach on Gulf of Mexico was wiped away along with the rest of
the community by Hurricane Rita. Back and dental problems have slowed him down
and limited his mobility. He canceled a scheduled appearance at the 2004
Ponderosa Stomp, and he surprised everybody when he agreed to perform at the
New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival in 2006. Sonny Landreth was the
bandleader, and Marcia Ball, Dr. John and Shannon McNally were invited to help
carry the load. To no one’s surprise, Charles backed out of the show and at the
last minute, it became a tribute to him. It was one of the highlights of Jazz
Fest, particularly McNally’s segment, as she approached the plaintive,
unassuming quality of Charles’ voice, but the set was more spontaneous than the
audience realized. “I was finishing up the set list as they were calling my
name onstage,” Landreth says.

Missing recent shows doesn’t stop Charles from making plans
to perform, though. “Bobby called me up and said, ‘Man, I want to go to Europe.
Let’s get your guys and go to Europe,'” Landreth recalls, laughing. “I said, ‘How
about we try one closer to home first?'”

Like 2004’s Last Train to Memphis, Homemade Songs is a collection of new songs, new recordings of old songs, and recordings that
were never released. The title track was demo’ed for Bobby Charles, but
this version was recorded in Nashville
in 1975 with a band that includes Willie Nelson’s harmonica player, Mickey
Raphael. “Here I Go Again” has already been recorded by Paul Butterfield and
Gatemouth Brown, but the album also includes “The Truth Will Set You Free
(Promises, Promises),” which reflects his general hostility toward politicians.
He started co-writing the song with Willie Nelson when he commiserated with
Nelson on his tour bus. “‘The road to the White House is paved with lies,’ I
said. He said, ‘Write that down right now.'” When Nelson suggested the next
line–“the truth will set you free”–the collaboration was underway.

Charles’ political concerns find fuller expression in his
collaborations on Dr. John’s new album. For Rebennack’s lacerating look at the
world that abandoned New Orleans, he contributed “The Truth Will Set You Free,”
and collaborated on a number of songs including “Time for a Change.” Though its
subject matter is pointed–politicians selling their asses to Big Oil–it came
out of good times. “We were just talking on the phone, sitting right here,”
Charles says, pointing to his table at Shucks. As they traded lines, each
nudged the other into places they might not go on their own, resulting in
commonplace anthems that forego Dr. John’s hoodoo so that no one misses the
point. “Mac’s a lot of fun to work with, a good friend. Once I get the right
inspiration, it doesn’t take me 10 or 15 minutes.”

While Rebennack takes on greedheads of all stripes, the
songs he co-wrote with Charles focus on the environment, particularly the
Louisiana wetlands, a pet concern for both. An ongoing frustration for Charles
is Louisiana politicians’ unwillingness to take him up on the “Solution to
Pollution” song and book he wrote with school age children in mind. “The
government’s not much of a government these days,” he says.

And as happens in every barroom in America, one complaint
about the government begets a dozen more. “We’re going to have another civil
war. Looks like they’re sure trying to start one,” he says. “We’re lucky we
lived in the times that we do. I don’t know if I want to be around in 10 years.”
He likes Obama, has no love for McCain, but he’s interested in the ideas in T.
Boone Pickens’ ads on television. But as befits someone who has found his
identity in his songs whether he wanted to or not, talk of Washington circles
back to “The Truth Will Set You Free.”

“I’m glad I wrote it,” Charles says. “I tried to do
something right. I feel good about that. I feel a lot better than a lot of
other people walking around, people who still have Bush and Cheney stickers on
their cars. I can’t handle that.”

THE BLURT BULLY PULPIT Ben Nichols

The prolific songwriter
and Lucero frontman sat down to blog, scratched his head and got… nothing. So
he decided to tell us about it.

BY BEN NICHOLS

I should be writing a song right now.

Guys, thank you very much for the offer to write my thoughts
down and publish them on your website but I just don’t know if I’ve got it in
me. Never kept a diary or a journal. Never wrote a zine. And at bars I’ve
discovered I’m usually much better off listening to stories rather than telling
them. So I’ll try to explain why I can’t write a blog and maybe that’ll be good
enough for now. Actually, by the time you’re done reading this it’ll probably
be obvious why I shouldn’t be writing a blog even without my explanation.

I know it seems like a stupid writing tool: “A blog about how I don’t write blogs.” Well,
it seems that way ’cause that’s exactly what it is. I’ve sat here all night
trying to think of something worth writing down and the only way I can get
anything on paper is by simply describing the trouble I’m having with the
process.

Part of the trouble is I’m supposed to be writing a new
batch of songs for Lucero (my band in Memphis)
right now. Songs I can usually write. Lately I can’t. Did ten demos over the
summer, half of which are ok and the rest will need major overhauls or be used
for spare parts. The label wants ten more within two weeks. I can write you ten
songs tomorrow and they might not be horrific but they sure as hell ain’t gonna
be inspired. Yeah… it’s been two years
since we put out a record. Nine months since we signed this new record deal.
Yeah… I should’ve been writing this
entire time. But the simple fact is I haven’t been. We’ve been busy on the road
and the time and energy just haven’t been there. Not to mention the fact that,
like I said above, finding something worth saying is extremely difficult. I
mean there’s a lot of really worthwhile stuff being said out there already and
I haven’t even heard a fraction of it. How am I gonna catch up on all that and then try to add to it? The thought alone
makes me real sleepy. So with songs and blogs it’s the same problem…

My first idea was to write about my little brothers. I got
two of them and they both live in Austin.
One’s a defense attorney and one’s a filmmaker. Matthew, the attorney, has been
the wildest and the quickest brother. Extremely witty and extremely thoughtful
in his own way. Life of the party. Jeffrey is the filmmaker and he’s been the
best at tackling his ambitions head on. He wrote and directed a film called Shotgun Stories that made Ebert’s top 20
movies list of 2008. Not bad for his first film. I love �em. What else can I
say?

Next idea was to rant about my obsession with the eighties’ movie
promise of a post-apocalyptic world. Never happened. Feel kinda slighted.
Growing up on Mad Max and Red Dawn and Dawn of the Dead you kinda figure either you’re not gonna make it
through the end of the world or if you do who gives a shit if you never passed
calculus. I bought a shotgun and some
shells but that’s all I’ve really done to prepare. Stocking up on water and
canned goods just isn’t as fun as buying a gun.

Alright… about two
hundred and sixty words to go. Just got done with a nation-wide acoustic tour.
Fifty-two shows in Fifty-six days. Wore my ass out. Chuck Ragan from Hot Water
Music, Tim Barry from Avail, Tom Gabel from Against Me! and Austin Lucas and
me. Along with my pedal steel player Todd Beene, a fiddle player named John
Gaunt, and an upright bass player Digger Barnes. All of us on a bus for two
months. I thought for a split second about telling the
funny-road-antics-drunk-stories but quickly dismissed that idea. Again, it
ain’t nothing you haven’t heard before. Licking the sand off of the shuffle
board table after a show in Phoenix… yeah. No.

Just recorded a solo record for the first time. It’s the
first record I’ve put out with my name on it. Talking about it in interviews is
one thing but writing a whole blog about it seems sleazy. What I don’t feel bad
about mentioning is that it’s based on Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian. That book made a big impression on me. The record
in no way covers all the ground the book does. The record doesn’t come close to
encompassing even a part of the book. It was simply inspired by it. But I’ve
enjoyed McCarthy’s books immensely. Just finished the Border Trilogy. If I was
more scholastically minded I coulda written a blog on McCarthy’s western
novels. Hell no, I ain’t tackling that.

And there you go. Ha. Haven’t done that much writing since
’96. And I’m gonna try and never use the word blog again.

Ben Nichols’ new album The Last Pale Light In the West will
be released Jan. 20 by The Rebel Group. It was recorded with Rick Steff (Cat
Power, Lucero) and Todd Beane (Glossary) and features Nichols accompanied by
his acoustic guitar, plus Steff’s piano and accordion, and Beane’s pedal steel
guitar.

[Lucero Photo Credit: Anastasia Laurenzi]

COBRA VERDE, PUTA MADRE: Sundance Festival

Blurt’s
sleuthy sources dish on Sundance 2009 buzz flicks.

By
RANDY HARWARD

It’s
January in Salt Lake City, Utah. Wafting off the Wasatch Mountains,
from a crevice called Parley’s Canyon that leads to Park City, is an enticing
bouquet of hope, desperation, delusion and pretension… or maybe it’s just AxeTM body spray and swag bag perfume samples. It’s time again for the Sundance Film
Festival, a veritable three-ring circus of the stars, where films are made and
broken, and stiff smiles and firm handshakes-in even firmer, newly purchased
ski gloves-are exchanged. Here’s a peek at what Blurt‘s shadowy
sources say will be the talk of Park
City.

Cobra
Verde, Puta Madre

Quentin
Tarantino presents this grindhouse-meets-arthouse film in which Klaus Kinski
and Cheech Marin play an odd couple who run a temp staffing agency as a front
for their private investigation business. When a tile setter goes rogue and
starts taking side jobs, Kinski and Marin set out to teach the fucker a lesson,
only to learn a little something themselves-from a Zen Dadaist who calls
himself The Last Slice of Pizza. (R, 87 minutes, dir: Werner Jodorowsky)

Anything
is Popsicle

A
young music blogger with a Jew-fro (Napoleon Dynamite‘s Jon
Heder) gets a once-in-a-lifetime chance to write a cover story for a national
magazine but clashes with his editor, who requests numerous rewrites and
refuses to let the young scribe use his affliction-malapropism-as an excuse. A
subplot follows a mother-daughter rock crit/groupie team that gets interviews
via unscrupulous front-row slurping. (R, 101 minutes, dir: Charlie Kaufman)

Excreted

From
the producers of An American Carol and Expelled comes a film
about how we all came from Ben Stein’s droning anus. (PG-13, 61 minutes, dir:
Alan Smithee)

Itty
Bitty Titty Kumite

Loosely
based on Joe R.
Lansdale’s
short story The Pit. Four flat-chested barely-legals
and their chaperone (Kate Hudson) on a post-high school trip to Alabama take a wrong
turn and are abducted by a snake-handling preacher who forces them to fight
each other in underground, to-the-death cage matches. Hudson falls for a toothless Cajun with
literary aspirations while the girls come to grips with their heterosexuality.
(R, 89 minutes, dir: Harmony Korine)

Our
Band Could Fuck Your Wife… If You Enroll In Our Super Special VIP Fan Club

Exploring
the phenomenon of VIP fan clubs, in which fans pay money for the privilege to
pay even more money for VIP ticket packages, worthless tchotchkes and
maybe/maybe-not backstage meet-and-greets. It doesn’t stop there: Our Band…reveals
that some artists-such as kabuki-rockers KISS-plan to take the fleecing to
ridiculous levels. (NC-17, 78 minutes, dir: Miranda Azerrad-Meltzer)

Doll
Farts: The Ringer 2

Penniless
and even more desperate, Courtney Love (Courtney Love) blows an appellate court
judge and wins the right to replace Kurt Cobain (played in flashbacks by Kurt
Cobain’s exhumed skeleton) in Nirvana. Remaining members Dave Grohl (Aziz
Ansari) and Krist Novoselic (Aaron Eckhart) figure “fuck it” and allow the
hijinks to ensue, hoping that by the end of the band’s second meteoric rise to
fame, Love will blow her head off, too. (R, 114 minutes, dir: Benjamin
Silverman for Reveille Productions)

Pop
Rocks

Popstar
puppy mill Disney answers Before
the Music Dies
with an apologist documentary about the New Bubblegum,
the cloying yet flavorless style of pop music where a pretty face is all you need.
Miley Cyrus, the Jonas Brothers and Demi Lovato argue for the fair use of
Auto-Tune
, with Cyrus paraphrasing the famous Elvis quote about her
McMusic: “Like, 50 billion Cyrus fans can’t all be tone-deaf.”

Each screening to be preceded by the short film Hannah Mantegna, in which character actor Joe
Mantegna plays a cross-dressing tribute performer with a stutter. (PG, 90
minutes, dir: Walt Disney’s frozen head)

Wigger

Melvin
Van Peebles (Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song) directs this tale of a
twenty-year-old, rail-thin, albino Jiffy Lube employee in suburban Utah that experiences a
downward spiral when his rims are stolen from his Datsun B210 Wagon, his own
mother calls him a wigger and kicks his ass, and Soulja Boy’s career tanks.
(Unrated, 79 minutes, dir: Melvin Van Peebles)

Just
a Juggalo

The
tagline for this horror show is “They’re dumb… and they’ve come (for
handouts).” Forget Jimmy Buffett’s “Parrotheads” and David Archuleta’s
“Archies”: Insane Clown Posse’s “Juggalos” are most devoted (and retarded) fans
of all-and they’re breeding. Juggalo Julz (The Sopranos’ Aida
Turturro) is a heavyweight Juggalette [Editor’s Note: Redundancy?]
whose favorite pastime, other than being a Juggalo-is washing down Xanax with beer.
Julz discovers she’s pregnant on Valentine’s Day and delivers on Mother’s Day.
When the baby-named Annabelle Lotus after ICP side project Dark Lotus-dies
after only 13 minutes, she gives her “little Ninjette” an ICP-themed funeral… then blames the doctors and calls ICP’s
WFuckOff Radio to announce the news-and use it as
leverage when she complains about not receiving promised swag
. Based on a true story. Seriously… we couldn’t make this shit up.
(NC-17, 105 minutes, dir: Jorg Buttgereit)

MAKING THE MARSHALL STACK SWEAR Ron Asheton

The legendary Stooges
axeman, 1948-2009: he didn’t just play the guitar.

BY TIM “NAPALM” STEGALL

The first thing you noticed, after seeing the perfect
picture of teenage delinquency in quartet form on the cover (and how much the
band depicted resembles a prehistoric Ramones, if you’re of a certain age), was
the sound: Corrosive, brittle, brassy, seemingly untamed. It was the sound of
an electric guitar being punished more than played. And the noise got particularly
nasty once Mr. Guitar Flogger stepped on his wah-wah pedal. Because unlike
whenever Jimi Hendrix stepped on a wah, this guitar didn’t talk. It snarled and
spat and attacked like a cobra.

As the six string engine that drove The Stooges, Ron Asheton
didn’t play guitar. He played the amp. And the fuzztone. And the wah-wah pedal.
In the process, he didn’t just give singer Iggy Pop a sonic playground in which
he could run riot and push the boundaries of then-acceptable rock stagecraft. (“Ron
provided the ammo,” says Rolling Stone Senior Writer David Fricke. “Iggy
pulled the trigger.”) Ron Asheton also changed the way rock ‘n’ roll was played
and energized a few generations to pick up guitars themselves, creating several
subgenres in the process.

Ron Asheton was found dead in the wee hours of January 6,
2009, in the Ann Arbor home he and brother Scott
(The Stooges’ drummer) and sister Kathy (muse to a few late Sixties Detroit
rockers and lyrical inspiration for The Stooges’ classic “TV Eye”) grew up in after
the family relocated from the guitarist’s native Washington, DC.
Asheton’s personal assistant hadn’t heard from him in several days and called
Ann Arbor Police, who broke into the home around midnight. Asheton was found
dead on his living room couch. He had apparently been dead for many days. The
Ann Arbor News
reported police as stating “the cause of death is
undetermined but investigators do not suspect foul play.” At press time, no
autopsy nor toxicology results were available. Asheton was 60.

The grief expressed and tributes were immediate:

“He wrote the riff to ‘I
Wanna Be Your Dog,'” ex-Damned guitarist Brian James told veteran UK
rock journalist Kris Needs. “That’s enough for me.”

“”Ron Asheton will certainly go down as a fantastic
figurehead and innovator,” said former Captain Beefheart and Jeff Buckley
guitarist Gary Lucas. “That was The Stooges’ sound, really, Ron’s guitar. That
was the hallmark of the music, from the first statement of principles on that
first record…. The songwriting, too: Those are just classic riffs, indelible
riffs. They’ll never die. The first two (Stooges) records are like primers of
very effective but deceptively simple rock songwriting that verges on the
anthemic. Besides being a great guitarist and a pioneer, he’s a great
songwriter. It defines an era, a transition into the punk era. (The way he
played,) it felt like all the pain and joy of the universe in your face.”

“For me as a guitar player, the first thing I pick up on is
tone,” Social Distortion’s Mike Ness remarked to The Los Angeles Times. “He had this
primitive, high-energy sound. It was pre-metal, but still a metallic sound.
It’s just so awesome. That was definitely what caught my ears….Everything he
played — it wasn’t like it was a rehearsed solo. It was always very
spontaneous, I feel, very organic.”

As for The Stooges themselves, Iggy Pop issued a simple,
two-sentence statement: “I am in shock.
He was my best friend
.”

“Ron had a purity of intent in his playing that no one
else could have, because it was HIS,” says Fricke, who’s written more than a
few words on The Stooges over the years. “One of the things that’s outstanding
about him is that he never played guitar in any other way, certainly not on
record or onstage. He discovered a quality in noise and movement, in how a
chord and a riff could have such titanic life. And then he stuck with it, to
the point that he didn’t really play much with any other people or in any other
style. So many of the things that he ended up doing – like Destroy All Monsters
and New Race, and later the band that he had with J. Mascis – ultimately,
everything he played was Stooges music, music that he invented with Iggy and
Scott and Dave Alexander.”

Singer/guitarist Mark Arm of Seattle’s
Mudhoney (who have more than a little Stoogeness to them) concurs: “I
remember stumbling across those first two Stooges records in 1980, and they
were totally unavailable (in the US). Found ’em on Canadian import
in a small town in Oregon – they weren’t even
available in Seattle!
And it’s a weird thing to say” – Arm pauses to laugh – “but they definitely
changed the course of my life. I was an English major, and I thought I was
going to be a writer….Like a lot of Sixties things, you’d discover there’d be
a bunch of other things like it. And I kept looking for other bands like The
Stooges, and THERE JUST WEREN’T ANY. It was just a totally, completely unique
thing.”

***

The basic facts: Born in DC in 1948, moved to Ann Arbor with his family
sometime before his teens. Originally aimed for a military career, but poor
eyesight put paid to that. With the British Invasion washing over him and every
other American youth, a shift in priorities kicked in. In 1965, Asheton and
classmate Dave Alexander went to London
to check out the scene. Ron brought back, among all the heady sites and sounds,
a particularly telling talisman: A piece of Pete Townshend’s shattered
Rickenbacker, snatched from a typical destructive end to a Who gig they’d
witnessed. Which sealed the deal: Asheton was going to become a rock ‘n’ roll
musician.

“In the early days, we were teenage friends,” says guitarist
Wayne Kramer, of That Other Great Detroit Band, the MC5. “He played in another
band – he was the bass player in The Chosen Few when I met him,” Asheton
playing bass because (as he informed Guitar World magazine 40 years
later) “Dave already had a guitar. Down the road apiece, we switched off.” That
piece came after Asheton and Alexander reconnected with high school
acquaintance Jim Osterberg, a record store clerk who had gone from being a
clean-cut honors student to a shaggy-haired drummer with local white blues
outfit The Prime Movers, and started to be known locally as “Iggy.” After roping
Ron into The Prime Movers’ bass slot for a brief spell, the trio created a psychotic
splinter faction with younger Asheton brother Scott on drums and Ron and Dave
making the crucial instrument swap. Hence, The Psychedelic Stooges, a
more-performance-art-than-rock prank that grew into a primal force all their
own. Mostly due to the guitar philosophy Ron was developing with his buddy
Wayne Kramer.

“It was something we worked on a lot, that we talked about a
lot,” Kramer says. “I turned him onto all the free jazz I was discovering
myself, with Coltrane and Pharoah Sanders and Archie Shepp and Sun Ra. And we
would smoke reefer and listen to these records and talk about what these
musicians were doing, and then we would talk about how maybe there was a new
way to play the electric guitar that had more to do with the SOUND than with
the NOTES. We didn’t talk about scales and chords and harmony. We talked about
what kind of sounds you could get out of a certain guitar and a certain amp if
you adjusted the amplifier a certain way. I think we kinda pioneered the school
of guitar playing that said, ‘I don’t just play the guitar. I play the amp,
too.'”

Fricke: “There was a certain reductionism in what he
did. But I think people overemphasize the simplicity of it. There’s so much
going on in terms of the harmonics and the actual tone of the distortion that
he got. For all of (Stooges producer) John Cale’s complaining about how to
control that band in the studio when they made the first Stooges record, if you
listen to the tone of Ron’s guitar – particularly the way he uses wah-wah –
THERE WAS NO ONE MAKING THAT SOUND ON RECORD. ANYWHERE.”

Absolutely. Not to take away from what Kramer and his fellow
Fivester Fred “Sonic” Smith accomplished in their own harnessing of overdriven
tube amp scree and caustic fuzz mongering, Ron Asheton figured out how to make
a Marshall double stack swear. And as The Stooges discovered How To Write A
Song in the studio as they recorded their debut album, then polished
their essence to a fine art on the monstrous follow-up Funhouse, the
curse words he coaxed from his Marshall
connected deeply with the handful of delinquent souls who bought those records.
“If you were a weirdo or a nerd or a deviant or an outsider,” Kramer chuckles,
“then you identified with Ron’s approach to the guitar.”

When hard drugs began creeping into The Stooges (much to
hardcore beer-and-weed man Ron’s dismay), the band fell apart for a time. But
not before a brief period that saw fellow ex-Chosen Few member James Williamson
come in on second guitar. When David Bowie took Iggy into his patronage, Williamson
became part of the package, sealing a new songwriting partnership. Upon moving
to England
to begin what would become Raw Power, the pair could not find an English
rhythm section of suitable strength. A call was placed to the Ashetons, Ron
finding upon arrival he was moved to bass and would not be required in any
songwriting or ideas. Asheton remained bitter about this for life, refusing to
play any Raw Power material when The Stooges got back together in 21st century.

“Well,” chuckles Mike Watt (Stooges’ bassist in their
latterday reformation), when asked for his take on the Williamson-Asheton era,
“Ronnie wasn’t so pissed off that he didn’t play his ass off on the bass!”

“He was a GREAT bass player!” says Kramer.

“We kinda forget is that he continued to (drive The
Stooges), even when he WASN’T playing guitar,” adds Fricke. “When he played
bass in the Raw Power period, everything he played on guitar, he played
on bass. Which is why the Raw Power band has such a ferocious quality of
its own. You can talk about the melodies and the riffs that James wrote with
Iggy, but still, that music would not have had the movement or the force that
it had without Ron’s bass playing in lock with his brother on drums. I think
ultimately, what Ron stood for was a purity of intent in noise that everybody
was influenced by, but nobody could replicate.”

Not that this stopped many from trying, especially after The
Stooges finally ground to a halt in 1974, the tires worn smooth on the vehicle
from years of bad management, commercial neglect, and Iggy’s own destructo
trip. The part of the punk rock blueprint that wasn’t synthesized from the
Ramones’ reductivist locomotion and the New York Dolls’ teengenerate Stones
mutation was fueled by the idea of Iggy launching his blood-and-peanut-butter-smeared
torso into the third row as Ron cranked out pure malevolence, standing stock-still
in a full-dress SS uniform.

That Ashetonian malevolence was the sound of punk rock. Note
The Stooges tunes UK Punk Generation Number One chose to cover: “No Fun,” in
the Sex Pistols’ case; “1970,” for The Damned. Sure, Brian James may tell Kris
Needs he was “more of a Williamson man,” and Sex Pistol Steve Jones may have
had his initial crash course in rock guitar from popping speed and playing along
to Raw Power. But was it “Search And Destroy” they were covering?

Asheton, for his part, stayed active, playing with MC5
drummer Dennis Thompson in The New Order (not the Joy Division spinoff) and
then the New Race, a short-term “supergroup” filled out by members of Radio
Birdman proving the symbiosis between Detroit
1969 and Australia’s
punk scene. He also spent several years with visual artist Niagara
in Destroy All Monsters (between The New Order and New Race) and later Dark
Carnival. He also appeared in a number of low-budget horror films, with Mosquito showing up most often on cable. He continued living in the home he grew up in,
taking care of “a lot of cats” (as Mike Watt explained), indulging a lifelong
yen for firearms and Nazi memorabilia. The latter interest was always a subject
of controversy, and an odd contrast to the quiet, humble, unpretentious man he
was. Watt believes it stemmed from Asheton’s deep interest in history, and
fondly recalls visiting Normandy
on D-Day’s anniversary with Asheton as a tour guide during one of the reunited
Stooges’ European tours.

Still, what the world wanted was The Stooges. It kept
trying, even finding excuses to create pseudo Stooges like The Wylde Ratttz, a
one-off band formed to do Stooges numbers and Stooges-like numbers for the
soundtrack to Todd Haynes’ cinematic glam fantasy The Velvet Goldmine.
In The Wylde Ratttz, such Stooges scholars as Watt, Thurston Moore, and Mark
Arm would find themselves learning the fundamentals of Stoogerock straight from
bandmate Asheton, to their continued awe: “There’s two songs out there credited
to ‘Asheton/Arm’!” Arm laughs. “That’s a mind-blowing thing, for me!” When Watt
and Asheton joined ex-Dinosaur Jr leader J. Mascis on a tour basically centered
around performances of Stooges material in the early years of this century,
Iggy Pop finally put in a call to the Asheton brothers to bury the hatchet and
see if (via the production of a few tracks for Iggy’s last solo LP, Skull
Ring
) it would be possible to be The Stooges in a new millennium.

The world certainly rejoiced. With Watt on bass, The Stooges
took to stages across the planet, playing in an atmosphere electric with joy
and happy disbelief, in contrast to the bad vibes death trip which reportedly
stank out most shows played by the Williamson-era Stooges. The show I witnessed
at Jones Beach in 2003 certainly felt like a religious pilgrimage, the trains
to the show loading up with Stooges t-shirt-clad rockers at every stop, me
writing at the time that “it’s not often we get to touch the hem of Jesus.” It
was obvious, after years of seeing Iggy play his early catalog with some solid
rock bands, that you just haven’t heard these songs until they’re played
by The Stooges. Meaning that you need Iggy and The Ashetons.
Accept no substitutes.

And The Stooges clearly enjoyed playing to overjoyed
audiences: “Oh, bless you! Bless you! Bless you!” Iggy would gush
repeatedly, when in the past he might have let loose several hearty
“fuck-you’s.” That’s okay: Iggy had Ron Asheton onstage with him again,
stock-still as ever in trademark aviator shades, looking like a Michigan militia member
in his sawn-off camouflage. Ron’s guitar said “fuck you” all night, instead of
Iggy. Just like on The Stooges’ records.

Three months later, I would meet the man. I’d sat across
from Iggy on many previous occasions for print, and always had a wonderful
time. But this would be the first time I’d face the guy whose licks had proven
elusive to me as a budding 14-year-old punk rock musician. (“Fuck this! This is
JAZZ!,” I muttered to myself. “Where’s my Ramones records?”). And after the
core Stooges trio minus Watt played their classics in a stripped down format
(Scott playing on buckets and boxes, Ron through a pair of ’50s Fender practice
amps), they got down to signing the newly released Skull Ring for those
of us gathered that November midnight at Tower Records on Broadway in NYC. I
made a special point of talking to Ron Asheton.

“Ron,” I said, shaking his hand and looking him in the eye,
“I’ve waited all my life for this moment. When I was 14, you changed my life. I
just wanted to thank you for helping show me there was a whole world out there
beyond the small Texas
town I grew up in. Thank you so much.”

The way he beamed and the genuine joy he expressed at my
words, you’d have thought he’d just been told he could have sex with Jayne
Mansfield that night.

“Oh, he LOVED that!” says Watt, when I tell him the story.
“He loved when young guys told him that. He would tell me, ‘I feel like one of
those old blues guys! That’s how I learned, taking pieces from them. So, it’s
great to know someone took that from me.'”

“When I was a young guy coming up, going to the Grande
Ballroom every weekend,” Asheton would tell the Detroit Free Press in
2003, “I got to see my heroes play. Jeff Beck, the Who, everyone. I didn’t want
to be a fanboy, but I’d stand there and wait – ‘I just want to say hi, this was
great.’ I saw them walk by me with blank stares like they were zombies. I said
to myself, you know, if I ever make it, I’ve got at least one minute for
everybody who wants to say something. So I talk to people, and that’s what’s
exciting now.” He would
tell BLURT
‘s own Fred Mills in 2005, “It’s cool to hear that people
like Mike Watt, Thurston Moore and Jack White were inspired by what we did.
Call it punk, hard rock, or psychedelic or whatever; it’s just good to be
remembered. Hopefully as something original and innovative.”

***

A few more Stooges recordings were issued in this life,
including 2006 full-length The Weirdness and two superb, completely
different takes on Junior Kimbrough’s “You’d Better Run” cut for a 2004 tribute
CD, Sunday Nights – The Songs Of Junior Kimbrough. And of course, many
ecstatic tours. But now? Who knows what the future will bring the surviving
trio. It’s hard to imagine them continuing The Stooges without Asheton.

“The Stooges without Ronnie?!” snorts an audibly
distraught Mike Watt. “You can’t! Just as you can’t do the Minutemen without D.
Boon! It’s impossible!” (Watt would issue a MySpace bulletin stating that
he was “thinking of ron asheton, a beautiful man who I learned from much and
shared many joys w/and always played my heart out for him. he was a pioneer w/a
guitar sound all his own and was very very kind to me… ‘you’re a good sailor’
he would always say. I can’t find the words to really put it right here but he
was truly a righteous brother, much deep respect. I miss him so so much….I’m
plowing on w/gigs to keep some kind of focus.”)

“You heard it right on the first record,” says David Fricke,
“right on ‘No Fun.’ What does Iggy say just before Ron plays the wah-wah solo?
He says, ‘C’mon, Ron! C’mon, Ron!’ That’s right in the thick of the first
Stooges record. Iggy put Ron’s name right up front, right on the first record.
To me, that’s got to be one of the highest compliments.”

“He had an influence on a generation of musicians, or guitar
players,” says Wayne Kramer. “The most admirable accomplishment for anyone is
that they had contributed to the belief that originality matters. The Stooges
came up in the shadow of the MC5, and found a way to have their own sound and
their own expression, and time has proven that their ideas were credible and
sustainable. 10,000 bands have come and gone that just followed the trend. The
Stooges bucked the trend. And Ron Asheton bucked the trend for guitar players.

“Anyone that tells their story and has their own sound has accomplished
a great deal.”

Then I knew the meaning of loneliness. But Bobo’s words
came back to me from the tomb, the sibilants cracking gently. ‘No one is ever
really alone. You are a part of everything alive.’ The difficulty is to
convince someone else he is really part of you, so what the hell? Us parts
ought to work together. Reet?”
William S. Burroughs, Queer (1985)

***

TIM STEGALL (aka Tim Napalm) is a punk rock musician and
sometime rock journalist living in Austin,
TX. He has written about The
Stooges on many occasions and performed their songs in several of his bands.
All he wants for Christmas next December is the Reverend Ron Asheton Model
Guitar.

[Photo credit, middle: Robert Matheu. Special thanks to Kris Needs for additional research.]