Monthly Archives: January 2012

WORKING METHOD Lawrence Ball

The electronic music
composer brings Pete Townshend’s ‘Method’ to life.

 

BY ROBERT FULTON

 

Who guitarist Pete Townshend had a concept.

 

That statement on its own is not surprising. The British songwriter
has penned some of the most ambitious music in rock history, such as the concept albums/rock operas Tommy and Quadrophenia.
But what might be his boldest concept
was the never-completed Lifehouse project.

 

Lifehouse was to
be the album that followed Tommy. Set
in the future, the story involved a world that was falling apart, and rock
music didn’t exist. While Lifehouse never
came to fruition – though it spawned such classics as “Baba O’Riley,” “Behind
Blue Eyes” and “Won’t Get Fooled Again” – an outgrowth from the project was the
Lifehouse Method. Townsend envisioned a future where people could input
personal data into a machine to create an individual musical portrait. The
intro to “Baba O’Riley” is an example of what this might sound like.

 

Sound far fetched?

 

Enter Lawrence
Ball.

 

In 2007, Ball, an English composer, math tutor and founder
of the Planet Tree Music Festival, along with Townshend and programmer Dave
Snowdown, created a website called The Lifehouse Method. Active for 15 months,
more than 10,000 unique works were created on-line by users having their data
translated into music.

 

From this experiment came Ball’s own two-disc album Method Music (in stores this week), which
he composed and recorded in parallel to the Lifehouse Method website, though he
didn’t tap any of the users’ creations. The first disc – Imaginary Sitters – is a collection of 11, five-minute long tracks
using the Lifehouse Method. The second disc, Imaginary Galaxies, expands on this concept
with three meditative, ambient 20-minute songs.

 

BLURT recently spoke by phone with Ball, who was on holiday
in Santa Fe. He helped clear up
exactly what Method Music and the
Lifehouse Method are and what it was like to work with Pete Townsend. And he
shared one of his favorite jokes.

 

 

 

 

 

BLURT: What exactly is the Lifehouse Method?

LAWRENCE BALL:
Pete had an idea 40 years ago now, that there could be a way for someone’s
music to be created. You’d basically create the music of the person. There was
no Internet then. Everyone thought he was nuts, as often happens to people with
foresight. About eight years ago, he asked me, could I do it. So I said yes. It
took awhile, but we got the system up on the web that would take a photograph,
two sound files and a tapping of a rhythm.

 

When you say a person’s personal data is translated, what
do you mean?

We had different ways we could have made these portraits. In
the end we settled with something that’s more like an oracle than a
psychological test with a questionnaire. We decided simply to ask people to
input some things that were meaningful to them that would act as a personal
interface to them, so that the program created a piece of music in a way that
was connected to them.

 

When did you first meet Pete?

Pete and I have a common interest in wonderful California composer Terry Riley. He’s one of the
most important composers of the last century. He turned contemporary classical
music into something much more approachable. Pete and I both love his music,
and I brought Terry over to my music festival in 1998, and approached Pete
about sponsoring my festival that year, and he was delighted to do that. After
that, Pete and I got to talking, and after five years of talking and discussing
various things, he proposed I do this project for him.

 

Were you a Who fan or a Pete Townshend fan before all
this?

Oh yeah. I grew up with the Who, and Pink Floyd and the Soft
Machine, and all kinds of other things.

 

This might be a better question for Pete, but is what
resulted what he envisioned?

Yes, he’s very happy with it. There was an email we got back
when we first got it online, and we were able to input data and get pieces of
music out. After 30 years of waiting, he was just enthralled.

 

Pete produced Method
Music
?

He co-produced it. I did some of the production, and his
chief engineer Myles Clarke, who’s a brilliant engineer. It’s hard to know
where engineering stops and production starts.

 

What was it like to work with Pete?

Well, he’s very intense. The meetings we had were really
long and very exciting. He was very enthusiastic about the whole thing. He’s
got a lot of energy. He doesn’t always agree with one. He’s quite tenacious.
The experience as a whole was quite wonderful.

 

What was the role of Dave Snowdon?

He’s a brilliant programmer and computer systems guy, and he
knows a lot about how to do things on the Internet. The Lifehouse Method was
created with my musical design and his implementation skills. But he also made
some very creative suggestions about how we should decide on certain things.

 

How long did it take to get the album put together?

The album was running in parallel with the portrait system.
It took me about 20 months to create the music, and after that another 20
months was spent making the sound quality really, really good. It’s basically
the same quality for my album [Pete] expects for the Who of his own music. It’s
one of the most ambitious recordings ever made, actually.

 

On Galaxies,
why did you choose to dedicate the songs to Syd Barrett, Hugh Hopper and Gyorgy
Ligeti?

They’re people who have been hugely inspirational to me.
Ironically, they all passed away during the time I was working on those pieces.
As they passed away, I felt I needed to do something to mark my gratitude to
them, and that seemed the best way to do it. For me, they all have a very
important contribution to contemporary music.

 

Why was the site taken down? Why not leave it up in
perpetuity?

One is cost. The way we had it set up was actually very
expensive to run. Another one was Pete felt that it had had a good run and it
was time to take it down. It wasn’t new any more. We’re hoping that at some
point in the future the site will go up again and Pete will do what he’s been
talking about on and off – what we call 
a Method Concert, which is where people who’ve had their portrait done
come along to a large concert and they hear their own piece made into a song.

 

Is what you’ve created here something that you can take
on the road? Can you perform this? Do you plan to tour?

I have actually performed it. I performed in Austin this summer, and Santa
Fe. They’re rather difficult to replicate with musicians or
even with backing tracks. What I did was to perform with the album track
itself, but to put new layers over it, which were improvised. That was
extremely well received. I wasn’t initially convinced   that it could be performed live, but now I’m
becoming convinced that it can be. But nothing’s arranged yet. It’s all up in
the air at the moment.

 

 

 

 

 

Would you like to see this project continue? Would you do
another Method Music?

That probably depends on Pete. It wouldn’t have tuned out
the way it did were it not for his input, artistic and financial. It was a very
ambitious recording, expansive recording. I expect maybe the possibility of
doing another Method Music,
particularly if this one sells well.

 

The reception
and also to help finance another go at it.

I’ve calculated the relatively small percentage of Who fans
that are willing to get as excited about what I do as they are about what Pete
and the Who do is probably around 5 or 10 percent. But that’s still a large
number of people.

 

Five to 10 percent of Who fans is a lot of people.

These days they’re getting more Google searches than the
Beatles or the Rolling Stones.

 

One last question. You have a number of jokes on your
website. Do you have a favorite?

There are two goats on a rubbish tip, and they’re chewing
through pieces of old rubbish, like tires and boots, just old junk, soft junk.
One of them comes across a cannister of film, and he gets the plastic strip of
the film out of the metal case and starts chewing through the plastic strip,
having a great time. The other goat calls across to him and says, “Are you
enjoying that film?” And he says, “It’s pretty good, but I really preferred the
book.”

 

 

For more on Method
Music, visit www.lawrenceball.org or http://navonarecords.com.

HOLY (WHOLLY) EXISTENTIAL SENSUALIST Leonard Cohen

leonardcohenoldideas

With Old Ideas, out Tuesday on Columbia, the Bard has made the best full
album of his career. Hallelujah.

BY A.D. AMOROSI

For his first studio album of new material in eight years,
Leonard Cohen starts with a third person’s reminiscence on “Going Home”: a
deprecating quip that glove-slaps Old
Ideas
into bleakly humorous first gear as it toys with its master of
ceremonies.

 

Against a humming, plinking keyboard line produced and
played by Patrick Leonard (responsible for some of Madonna’s best), the
rasping, gravelly baritone slowly intones (as if there was any other way) the
words “I love to speak with Leonard/He’s a sportsman and a shepherd/He’s a lazy
bastard/Living in a suit.” Later in that same game song, the Zen-Buddhist
Jewish-Canadian writer-singer continues, “I want to make him certain/That he
doesn’t have a burden/that he doesn’t need a vision.”

 

Easy for him to say.

 

Vision – his old ideas, the best ideas – is what guides
Cohen in matters of sexuality, decay and renewal, always has in what’s become a
philosophical decretum. If a holy existential sensualist is required, Leonard
Cohen alone fills that niche. This is a man who chose prayer in a monastery
over releasing music for a time – he’s the king of the blank generation and can
take it or leave it each time.

 

The willing flesh. The weakened spirits. Making that closer
walk with thee. Standing in the shadows of love. Looking for the cash he lost.
(I was struck silent, though I’m uncertain why, during “Darkness” when veiled
matters of money came up a la “I thought the past would last me/ But the darkness
got that, too.”)

 

Those ideas happily haunt Old Ideas. This time though, the epiphany – bliss meeting the
banal, an elder’s blunt symphony to the beyond – calls “bullshit” on itself.
Honest and odd as it may be, the epiphany is a gamble, a canard. “He will speak
these words of wisdom/Like a sage, a man of vision….Though he knows he’s
really nothing.”

 

Two scenes form two different Woody Allen films come to mind
here – both reliant on the enlightened, both a trick of the truth. One, Love & Death, has Allen asking the
town’s wise rabbinical elder the secret to life only to get the answer “blond
12-year-old girls.”

The other comes in the more modern Crimes and Misdemeanors where Allen, after spending years filming a
philosophical genius recalling his philosophical screeds, faces the suicide of
his subject with disappointment. It seems as if the master has left one last
note to his believers: “gone fishing.”

 

Old Ideas has that
sort-of devilishness about it, in that it’s an exaltation and an assault on Cohen’s
sacred/profane intellectualism. There is forgiveness. And then some. That
rubbed-raw richness is most prominent on the cool carnival of “Amen;” dire for
certain, apocalyptic, even, but
playful. “Tell me again that you know what I’m thinking,” he grumble-purrs
before coughing out “the filth of the butcher/is washed in the blood of the
lamb.”

 

The words trickle so effortlessly perhaps because they are
canonical. A priest rarely stumbles during his sermon, a rabbi rarely blunders
his prayer. There are surprising references to the tower of song he erected as
a young opportunistic folkie (most particularly on the softly acoustic “Crazy
to Love You”) then a synth-stringing crooner of what he once called European
blues. Sonically, the ghosts of delicate sympathetic instrumentation (this is
his best, most diverse sounding album since the country/gypsy cabaret mix of
1985’s Various Positions) and deeply
memorable melody aid his cause. Rather than rely on dense, stern synthesizers
and heavy girl-voice backgrounds, those are kept
to a spare minimum here. Everything is kept
to a minimalist’s delight on Old Ideas. Ten short songs. Get in. Make the
message count. Get out.

 

 

 

 

The southern gospel groove and cheerfully funeral piano line
of “Show Me the Place” sounds as if it had been grandfathered in from Tom
Waits’ “I Wish I Was in New Orleans.”
The nylon-strung blues of “Darkness” with its leering organs and barroom tinkle
seem like a snippy counterpoint to its lyrical please for joy in the face of
being gypped. There are plenty of blues to found within Old Ideas – the slow swinging kind on “Anyhow” where a fretless
bass comes across as the voice of hopeful forgiveness; the yawning countrified
sort on “Banjo”; the waltzing, harmonica-honking “Lullaby.”

 

By the time the finale crawls along (and there is a theatrical
start-finish feel to this: thank Cohen the novelist and poet for that sense of
drama) and “Different Sides” unfolds, a steadily pumping organ’s sinister
melody gives us the story of a couple on opposite ends of a line that nobody
drew and nobody knew. Cattily meretricious in a fashion that would do Noel
Coward proud, Cohen rumbles churlishly. “Both
of us say there are laws to obey/But frankly I don’t like your tone/You want to
change the way I make love/I want to leave it alone.”
The gaudy division,
the great divorce; once one under a higher eye, here they are two. Yet before
the song’s end – and who knows for certain if Cohen is returning to the third
person of that first Old Ideas track,
“Going Home” – the bard sucks the air from the verse when he states, “Stop
writing everything down.”

Hallelujah.

 

With that, Leonard Cohen has made the best full album of his
career (song for song, sound for sound, lyrical point for point; yes, this is
true) and most certainly the best album of 2012. If at the end of this year you
find otherwise, correct me. I’m certain though that my righteousness, like
Leonard Cohen’s is irrefutable.

 

PIECES OF APRIL Adrian Younge

Dig the sound of 21st century blaxploitation music.

 

BY RON HART

 

As film editor
and music composer for the hilarious 2009 indie comedy Black Dynamite,
Adrian Younge has helped to revive the 16mm essence of ‘70s blaxploitation
cinema in the 21st century by perfectly recreating the vintage feel of classic
soundtracks by the likes of Willie Hutch, Lalo Schifrin and Isaac Hayes for the
best movie of its kind since I’m Gonna
Git You Sucka

 

For his latest
project, the Los Angeles native, who also teaches Entertainment Law and co-owns
a hair salon/record shop with his wife (how’s that for a retail hybrid!),
revisits his limited edition 2000 EP Adrian Younge Presents Venice Dawn (available
for free here:  www.waxpoetics.com/blog/free-tracks/adrian-younge-presents-venice-dawn)
with a full-length album that brings his one-man band’s psychedelic dream-funk
template to a new level of sophistication and songcraft. Entitled Something
About April
, the Venice Dawn moniker is honed to its moody perfection as
Younge levels a steady balance of his loves for Ennio Morricone, Portishead and
Marvin Gaye to tell the aural tale of the travails of a mixed race couple in
the height of the Vietnam era with the assistance of such names as singer
Rebecca Jordan, beatmaker Shawn Lee and legendary Motown guitarist Dennis
Coffey. 

 

BLURT recently
had the opportunity to speak with Mr. Younge about his latest release as well
as the development of the forthcoming animated spin-off of Black Dynamite that
will be featured on Adult Swim and working with Delfonics singer William Hart
on a forthcoming album from the legendary soul group. 

 

Something About
April
is out now on
the Wax Poetics record label. 

 

 

 

 

BLURT: How did you initially come up with the concept for Something
About April
?

 ADRIAN YOUNGE: Upon
completion of the first Venice Dawn EP (2000), I promised myself that my next
album would be an album depicting the ups and downs of an interracial
relationship (black & white couple), circa ’68.  The Black Dynamite album ended up being the follow up to Venice Dawn; hence, the follow up to Black
Dynamite
is the original interracial relationship idea. 

         Something about April represents
the female’s perspective regarding their relationship.  She represents
April, or springtime; the male character represents winter.  The entire
album explains how the seasons reflect the ups and downs of their
relationship.  Listen to the title song, and it wraps the complete story
together. 

 

 

I understand that your love for Italian film
soundtracks played a key role in the creation of this record. Which ones in
particular do you find most inspiring and why?

Actually, it’s
my love for European soundtracks.  Many people use the term “Italian
Soundtracks” but there was a lot of other similar and great music being created
in surrounding European countries.  For inspiration, I have always
followed the composers work.  Composers such as Francis Lai, Ennio
Morricone, Pierre Bachelet, Nico Fidenco, and Peter Thomas created great music.
Their music had feeling and served the purpose of enhancing the audiovisual
experience of film.  They had to make music that moved the listener and
made the films more interesting.  As great composers do, they captured the art of creating stimulating music with
mere chord changes. 

 

What is your favorite
Morricone soundtrack? 

Ennio Morricone is my favorite composer of all time.  I can’t pick
one favorite from this guy; however, I will say that I have been listening to Revolver since ’98 and have not
stopped. 

 

What is your favorite
soundtrack by Lalo Schifrin?

He has a great and vast discography.  As a record collector, I
like to search for the more forgotten soundtracks from these types of
artists.  For Schifrin, I can’t really pick one as my favorite.  I
can say that I greatly enjoy studying his compositions for Magnum Force and Bullitt

 

 

 

   

As a self-taught musician, what was the first
instrument you learned on?

  First instrument was a bass guitar, then Fender
Rhodes, then acoustic guitar, drums and so on. I just purchased
instruments and played them until I sounded like a professional player. 
By taking on the challenge of becoming a multi-instrumentalist, I had to learn
how to play like a session player.  There is no genius involved here; just
discipline.  A basketball player becomes great with practice.  Some
players innately have more talent than others, but practice is what takes great
players to the next level.  It’s the same with music. 

 

How did you come up with the
design of your own keyboard, The Selene?

I worked with Jack Waterson (band member and owner of Future Music, a
vintage instrument store in Los
Angeles) and Luke Jones (a design engineer at Ken Rich
Sound Services, a custom keyboard and repair center).  I had a vision,
regarding the utility of the instrument; Jack Waterson had a broad design
concept; Luke Jones synthesized the requests and led the crafting of the
machine. 

 

You started out producing hip-hop. Who were some of
the artists that you created beats for and how would you describe your style as
a beatmaker?

I created beats
for local artists; no one that was known.  When I was making hip-hop
beats, I aspired to be a combination of producers such as RZA, DJ Premier and
DJ Shadow.

 

 

 

 

How did the Black Dynamite cartoon series come
about and what is the primary impetus for the series in correlation with the
film?

The producers
of Black Dynamite, Ars Nova, came up with the idea to create a cartoon. 
The primary impetus for the series is to expand the Black Dynamite brand.  There are so many ideas/concepts that the team wanted to explore;
this proved as a viable format, and will debut on Cartoon Network in July of
2012.

 

 

How did you link up with Dennis Coffey?

His manager
contacted Wax Poetics about a potential collaboration with another Wax Poetics
artist; my name came up and somehow, I was fortunate enough to have him on my
album.  He played guitar on the track, “Lovely Lady.” 

 

 

What is your favorite piece of work by Mr. Coffey?

He has too many
for me to have one favorite; I will say that I love his work in general. 
I love his Motown work as well as his Sussex/solo work.  Of course songs
like “Scorpio”, but even simple guitar sounds and instrumentation
that he blessed the Motown label with fall into my favorites category. 

 

 

As someone so versed in ‘70s blaxploitation cinema,
what film from that era do you feel does not get the respect it deserves and
why?

The Mack.  That is a great film period.  The subject
matter, acting and soundtrack alone make it one of the best movies
period. 

 

 

What is your favorite scene
from The Mack?

“You better shut the fuck up
while grown folks is talkin’!”

 

It has been said that Something About April harbors
a King Crimson influence. What Crimson were you listening to that may have
filtered into the sound of April and what other prog rock acts do you
dig?

I love early King
Crimson work, especially In The Court of
the Crimson King
.  I also love the work of Bo Hansson, Gandalf,
Syrius, Felt, Iron Butterfly, etc.  I’ve been listening to this music
since the mid ‘90s, so it is just in my soul I guess.  A lot of it can be
heard on my initial Venice Dawn release.

        My first real taste of prog rock
was Bo Hansson.  In 2000, I was performing as Venice Dawn at the famous
Whiskey A-Go-Go in Los Angeles. 
After my performance, an older lady approached me and said that my music
reminded her of Bo Hansson.  Thereafter, I searched and became obsessed
with Bo Hansson and prog rock; however, this wasn’t my first taste of prog
rock.

        Ironically, hip-hop heads
have been turned on to so many kinds of music (including prog rock), due to the
various sampling choices employed by many producers; however, a lot of heads
never searched for the sample.  I was the kind of guy that searched for
the sample and it greatly expanded my musical palette. 

 

 

How did you come into meeting William Hart and
producing a new Delfonics album? Can you kindly talk about the direction the
album will go sonically and how you intend to usher the Delfonics sound into
the 21st century?

William’s son,
Khalid Hart, has a friend named Bux; Bux contacted me on Twitter because I
posted a topic concerning the Delfonics.  Bux proposed the idea of hooking
us up in order to do an album.  I didn’t believe it, but a week later, I
was on the phone with William.  Three months later, I flew him out from
Philly and we recorded 7 songs together.  We are finishing the album in
March.  This Delfonics album will be my greatest artistic achievement to
date.  The depth of the music
and his vocals give me chills.  He sounds as good, if not better than he
did in the ‘60s.  The guy has a warm heart and is very musically
intelligent.  This album will synthesize the vintage tone of the Delfonics
with that of Wu-Tang, Portishead, Ennio Morricone, and Something About
April.  I can’t wait to finish this thing. 

 

 

What other legendary acts would you consider entering
the studio with? 

That list is
endless. I’d like to do a hip-hop album in the near future with someone like a
Ghostface or a GZA for sure; Also, I would love to do an album with David
Axelrod or Aretha Franklin. 

 

 

Have you been approached by any modern pop acts for
production work?

Not
really.  My fanbase is very niche and I doubt that many of these acts
would consider working with me.  However, you never know what the future
holds and I am always down for a collaboration that makes sense; not a
collaboration to merely pay the bills and tarnish my name.  I’m a big
proponent of good music, new or old….we will see what happens!

 

 

How did you get together with Wax Poetics?

Wax Poetics
served as the record label for the Black Dynamite Score.  Upon meeting, we
all became pretty close.  I love those guys and we look at each other like
a big family. 

 

 

Are you an avid reader of the magazine? Is there a
particular article or feature that sticks out in your mind?

I read every
word of Wax Poetics, without even skipping a page.  I’m not sure if you
are talking about wax poetics or Blurt; I have never read Blurt…send me a copy?
Ha. 

 

What kind of music is played
in the salon you and your wife own together?

At The Artform Studio, a record shop and salon, we play everything from
classic hip-hop to breaks.  We get new inventory every week, and we focus
on the hard to find records; the kind of records music nerds go crazy
for.  We play a lot of that kind of music.  I have a serious record
digging addiction because this is how I find “new music.”  I generally
don’t listen to brand new music; the old stuff, that I’ve never heard, serves
that purpose for me. 

 

As a professor of
Entertainment Law, what is your thought and stance on the Stop Online Piracy
Act and Protect IP Act? How far do you feel they go with regards to the
infringement on our civil liberties?

It’s stupid.  There will be one day when my grandkid will say,
“Granddad! Did you guys really pay for music when you were a kid?”  This
is an unfortunate stance, but I understand that it will be this way. 
Sampling laws are ridiculous as well because it requires the producer (using a
sample) to acquire a master use license (from the true owner), even if the use
is de minimis.

        I do believe that artists
should be paid what they are worth; however, the consequences for infringement
should not be extreme, unless the offenders are infringing on a grand
scale. 

 

Where do you stand in
regards to digital music? 
 

Everything digital sounds thin to me; the kind of soundscaping that I
appreciate encompasses a wide dynamic that only analog media captures. 
For example, I’d rather listen to a Portishead album that was recorded to tape
and pressed to vinyl, opposed to a Portishead album recorded to Pro Tools and
available as a digital download. 

 

 

ROCK ‘N’ ROLL VETERAN Nils Lofgren

Grin guitar god, Bruce Springsteen/Neil Young
stalwart and musical lifer Lofgren returns with his first album in five years.

 

BY REV.
KEITH A. GORDON

 

At this
point in a career that has now spanned five decades, singer, songwriter, and guitarist
Nils Lofgren is better known as the trampoline-jumping,
comically-large-hat-wearing, guitar-wielding member of Bruce Springsteen’s band
than he is for the string of critically-acclaimed solo albums that he released,
pre-E Street, between 1975 and ’85.

 

His status
as a buddy of the Boss notwithstanding, the fact is that Lofgren has the sort
of rockin’ credentials that younger musicians would sell their souls to Old
Scratch to put on a resume. A musical prodigy who studied jazz and classical
music as a child, Lofgren picked up a guitar at age 15 and dedicated his life
to rock ‘n’ roll, forming the acclaimed D.C. area band Grin at age 18. Grin’s
popular live shows brought the guitarist to the attention of Neil Young, who
brought Lofgren in to play on his classic After
The Gold Rush
album.

 

Grin
recorded three acclaimed albums circa 1971/72 but scored only a single minor hit
with the Lofgren song “White Lies.” In the wake of that band’s
break-up, Lofgren toured with Young and contributed to the singer’s Tonight’s The Night album. Lofgren
launched his solo career with the 1975 release of his self-titled debut, an
album notable for original songs like “Be Good Tonight,” “Back
It Up,” and “Keith Don’t Go,” a musical plea to Rolling Stones
guitarist Keith Richards. The following year’s Cry Tough won equal critical acclaim as the debut and experienced
similar modest sales, but subsequent releases like 1977’s I Came To Dance, 1979’s Nils,
and 1983’s Wonderland would result in
declining commercial fortunes, and in 1985 Lofgren accepted
Springsteen’s offer to join the E Street Band.

 

In between
Springsteen tours, Lofgren toured with Mrs. Springsteen, Patti Scialfa; as part
of Ringo Starr’s All-Star Band; and again with Neil Young. During his lengthy
tenure playing behind the Boss, Lofgren largely put his solo career on the back
burner, but he still managed to release a handful of albums during the 1990s
and 2000s, studio efforts complimented by various compilations and live
material from the archives. Lofgren’s last album was 2006’s Sacred Weapon, and now five years later
the rock ‘n’ roll lifer returns with his 15th studio album, Old School.

 

Much like
fellow Bruce-buddy Joe Grushecky, Lofgren is a grizzled veteran of life in the
rock ‘n’ roll trenches, an elder statesman with a snowball’s chance in hell of
scoring that ever-elusive, career-making hit. Also like Joey G., however, Lofgren’s
role as cult favorite frees the artist from undue commercial expectations,
resulting in as honest and sincere a work as one can expect in these jaded
early years of the new millennium. Old
School
is exactly that, a collection of largely original material that
doesn’t stray far from Lofgren’s signature sound and breaks little new ground,
but rather wraps the listener in a familiar blanket of classic, guitar-driven
rock.

 

The title
track opens Old School, the song’s
funky groove and hot git licks barely concealing the singer’s lyrical laments
about these darned kids today, Congressional critters, reality TV, and
dysfunctional families. While Lofgren sounds like an old man screaming
“get off my lawn” at anybody walking down the street, the performance
sizzles with a fat rhythmic groove, timely blasts of horns, and a slight vocal
contribution from Foreigner’s Lou Gramm. The following “60 Is The New
18” fares slightly better. A mid-tempo rocker with a tempered perspective,
Lofgren is self-effacing at times, concerned at others, as he faces coming out
the other side of middle age with an edgy, rocking, jumpy new wavish sound that
hits the ears like it’s 1981 all over again.

 

Lofgren
finds his usual introspective groove by the time the lovely, acoustic
“Miss You Ray” rolls around. A heartfelt tribute to R&B legend
Ray Charles, the song is really much more: a fond reminiscence of life and family,
delivered in a gentle, quivering voice and accompanied by Lofgren’s elegant
fretwork. The charming “Love Stumbles On” veers the closest to
Lofgren’s beloved mid-1970s solo work, evoking a sort of musical and lyrical
cross between Grin, Grushecky’s Iron City Houserockers, and Springsteen’s early
albums. While the lyrics are Dylan oblique, there’s no mistaking Lofgren’s beautiful,
plaintive vocals and bittersweet guitarplay.

 

One of the
highlights of Old School is Lofgren’s
take on musician and songwriter Bruce McCabe’s hauntingly beautiful “Irish
Angel.” A romantic ballad of heartbreak delivered with a slight Celtic
lilt, Lofgren’s gruff, forlorn vocals are matched by his delicate piano and
Spanish-tinged fretwork. Another master stroke is provided by the muscled,
hard-edged soul-rock romp “Ain’t Too Many Of Us Left,” Lofgren joined
on vocals by Stax Records great Sam Moore. An autobiographical tale that tries
to make some sort of sense of aging in a rapidly-changing world, Moore’s
soulful backing vox add a wonderful gravitas behind Lofgren’s fierce guitar
riffs.

 

Old School closes with the mid-tempo “Why
Me,” another nod to Lofgren’s 1970s work, with maybe a dash of 1980s-era
Springsteen thrown in on the lyrical phrasing for good measure. The song asks
more questions, perhaps, than it answers, the protagonist staring down his
mortality with an almost fatalistic acceptance,
humble yet defiant. Lofgren’s guitar screams and howls angrily in the
background, lending a sort of Dylan Thomas, “do not go gentle into that
good night” spirit to the song, the artist delivering one of the
strongest, emotionally-charged performances of his lengthy career.

 

While
Lofgren’s Old School won’t set the
charts on fire, it offers plenty to chew on for the guitarist’s long-time fans
while providing enough contemporary style and grace to attract some new
followers. Lofgren’s voice has dropped somewhat from his high-pitched teens and
20s, weathered into a more soulful instrument, and his guitar playing has never
been better, displaying great elegance and grace. An artist definitely ripe for
rediscovery, Old School is a vital,
engaging work by a rock ‘n’ roll veteran.  

THE MOST FUCKED UP THING I’VE EVER SEEN: Mannequin Men

In which Miles Raymer tells
the story of The Mound.

 

BY MILES RAYMER

 

I’ve always been one of those people who for whatever reason
loves watching fucked up shit. Scenes of stomach-churning violence towards the
human body both staged and actual. Pornography centered around fetishes so
obscure that it’s hard to believe they exist even as you’re seeing them
performed. Japanese movies that combine both of the above. Compilations that
combine all of the previous elements, along with things like senior citizen
jazzercise videos and clips of James Brown on talk shows high out of his mind
on angel dust, all diced up and edited together in a way that reminds you both
of MTV reality shows and the film they showed Alex at the end of A Clockwork Orange.

 

Usually you know what you’re getting into with these types
of things. They come in a case marked “BANNED IN 32 COUNTRIES” or in the case
of stuff so far underground you can’t buy copies of it – say, the on-camera suicide-by-gun
of former Pennsylvania
state treasurer Budd Dwyer – with a verbal warning from whoever’s showing it to
you that it is in fact some deeply fucked up shit. The most fucked up video
I’ve ever owned came with neither.

 

It came from my friend Aaron, who got it from some guys we
both know back in Detroit.
I first saw it at a party at my friend Aaron’s house when he waved me over to
his laptop with a stupid grin on his face and told me he had something I had to
check out.

 

The story is that the guys we know back in Detroit played in a band and like a lot of
guys in bands when they weren’t touring they used their van to run a part time
moving business. They were hired by this man whose brother had recently passed
away to clean out his late brother’s house. From the way I was told it the man
didn’t want to anything from the house, or even to know what was in there, and
just wanted these guys to remove everything from the house and dispose of it. I
was also led to believe that the man seemed complexly sad in the way that
people are when they lose a loved one with major troubles, where there’s more
than a little relief mixed present alongside their grief and they obviously
feel guilty and terrible about it.

 

When the guys got to the brother’s house it was apparent
why. The brother had held a job at a Detroit
auto plant for a long time back when a strong industry and strong unions made Detroit auto workers some of the best-paid people in the
state of Michigan,
and probably the best-paid blue collar workers in the country. He also had
something out of whack deep inside his brain, and so had used his hefty salary
to buy a split-level house in a suburb just outside the city and fill it floor
to ceiling with women’s clothing.

 

Our friends’ job turned out to consist almost entirely of
loading up vanful after vanful of women’s clothing and hauling it away for
disposal. Typically for someone with a native Michigander’s fashion sense it
was all tacky stuff sourced largely from the ladies’ section of J.C. Penney.
Apparently a lot of the pieces still had their sales tags attached.

 

During the course of cleaning out the house our friends
discovered a video cassette. This is where the footage on a DVD-R on a spindle on a shelf underneath my TV came
from.

 

The video opens with a man standing in front of a mirror
dressed in white high heels, black pantyhose, a white corset, and white
panties, which he’s pulling his erect penis from. Penis freed, he sits down on
a chair and masturbates. The scene may have been considered freaky in the
Eisenhower years, but if you’ve spent any time on the Internet at all you’ve
probably seen video of a masturbating man in fancy lingerie without even
meaning to.

 

The weirdness becomes pronounced at the beginning of the
next scene. The man is wearing a outfit based around a gold bodysuit, and has
added a wig to his ensemble. If you’re a Kids in the Hall fan, he’s about on
the level of the Sizzler Sisters in terms of believability as a woman. The
weirdness creeps in as you realize that the mirror, where he can watch himself
masturbate while dressed as a woman, is an essential part of his kink, and when
you notice that there are piles – huge, avalanching piles – of women’s clothing
covering most of the room’s horizontal surfaces. It becomes acute when he
starts getting really worked up.

 

Having reached some sufficiently aroused state the man sits
down on a chair next to one of the clothes piles, reaches over, and starts
frantically grabbing armfuls of clothes and building a new pile on his lap.
When it’s as big around as his arms can reach and tall enough that it threatens
to tip over he begins to fuck the mound of clothes.

 

As he has his way with the pile the man continues to add
more to it. He accumulates a drift of high heels on his chest while breathlessly
repeating the word “shoes,” then heaps even more clothes upon himself until the
mound is taller than he is, and from where the video camera’s positioned his
face is almost entirely obscured. After a few minutes he comes to a grunting
climax and then pushes the assemblage off his lap.

 

The guy having sex with an enormous pile of clothing is only
partly responsible for the video’s fucked-upness, and the fact that it’s
women’s clothing barely factors in at all. What’s unsettling is the complete
abandon with which he acts on his fetish, the desperate abandon with which he
piles clothing upon himself. Here is a man so in thrall to his own desires that
he’s lost a sizable chunk of his humanity, who’s so devoted to his own
masturbatory fetish that he’s alienated family and presumably friends and has
by all available evidence made it the centerpiece of his whole existence. The
ecstatic, dead-eyed look on his face while he goes at it is beyond words, but
once you’ve seen it it’s hard to shake.

 

And then there’s the fact that he’s videotaping his
masturbation ritual at all. If you stop to think about it at all the only
possible purpose for the video documentation that makes any sense is that he
would jerk off to them. Imagining a man masturbating to videos of himself
masturbating while watching himself in a mirror is enough to make you dizzy.
It’s an ourobouros of warped desire, something like the visual feed that
happens when you point a video camera at the TV it’s plugged into, except with
an infinite loop of boner stroking. Trying to follow the man’s train of thought
will give you serious vertigo.

 

Before my brain had even recovered from being blown to bits
by my first viewing of the video I had already asked Aaron to make me a copy.
Before he turned the DVD over to me he made me swear I wouldn’t put it on the
Internet, which was of course exactly what I wanted to do with it. Apparently
the guilt over taking the tape from the man’s house, and the possibility of it
getting back to his poor, already-guilty-feeling brother who hired them was too
great for our friends. Discovering evidence of a new flavor of human sexual
deviance is for most of us a once in a lifetime situation at best, and to have
to give your word to not spread it around on the Internet – human sexual
deviance’s natural habitat – was like discovering evidence of alien life and
being told by the government that it was top secret.

 

Despite the temptation I’ve stood by my word. I’ve never
even ripped the DVD-R labeled “Mounding” onto my hard drive. But occasionally
when someone comes over to my apartment, especially when they’re intoxicated
and therefore more psychically vulnerable than normal, I’ll find it on the
spindle it shares with other, less thoroughly fucked up DVDs. I tell them that
I have something that they have to check out. And I never let them know how
fucked up it’s going to be.

 

 

Mannequin Men’s
self-titled album is out now on Addenda Records. Visit the band at their
Facebook page: www.facebook.com/mannequinmen

 

 

MANNEQUIN MEN INTERVIEW FROM NOISEY.COM:

 

 

LIKE TWO SHIPS PASSING Stew and the Negro Problem

Heidi Rodewald and Stew
talk about their award-winning Broadway musical, their extremely personal new
album
Making It, and their upcoming
return to the theatre.

 

BY DENISE SULLIVAN

 

Heidi Rodewald and Stew, the backbone of self-described
Afro-pop, “Blackarach” band, the Negro Problem had it all:  Love, creative partnership and attention from
a prestigious arts foundation for a stage musical that was eventually bound for
glory – Broadway, Obie and Tony awards – and even a Joint by Spike Lee.
Somewhere in that order of things, Stew and Heidi’s love hit the rocks, but the
show must go on and became Passing
Strange
(it ran for 165 performances on Broadway before closing in July
‘08).

 

And then it got a little stranger:  “The end of the play was when I could really
hear the door slam,” says Stew, his voice reduced to a hush.  “The art had to end before I realized it was
over.

 

For Stew, the nights on Broadway with bassist, vocalist and
creative collaborator Heidi were rehearsals for the retirement of their
romance. “It’s a fact that we broke up during Passing Strange and we had to be in a play for two years together
which is pretty intense,” he says, matter-of-factly. “Making It is largely about that experience…Not every song, but most
of it.”

 

“Yea, it was a little bit of a drag,” is Heidi’s response to
opening up the door on her and Stew’s life together.  “I mean, we didn’t decide to do the show, Stew decided to do the show, but I love that
about Stew, that he can put into words the way I feel,” she says, though in the
case of Making It (just released on
Stew and Heidi’s TNP label), he took that process one step further.

 

Explains Stew, “I showed her my part to ‘Leave Believe’ and
asked her, ‘Do you think you could maybe write lyrics that are your version of
that?’  And Heidi’s response was, ‘That’s
exactly how I felt.’ Consequently they both sing the song’s sole lines – “It
took a little while for me to see, you stopped believing in me/I wasn’t left
with much to do, so I stopped believing in you” – to stunning effect.

 

“Stew had starting saying that writing a show about us
breaking up was like his therapy and I told him that therapy only works if you
tell the truth,” says Heidi, who remains unsettled by airing the confines of
her heart for art’s sake. And yet, when Stew turned Heidi’s jabs and other
phrases into songs, he sweetened the deal a bit by arranging to open up some
space in his word-jammed verses for her to sing the truth from her own lips.  Somehow, Heidi bought the idea and wound up
on board with the project, and it’s her add that allows Making It to claim space on the continuum of great break-up albums,
from Marvin Gaye’s Here My Dear and
Richard and Linda Thompson’s Shoot Out
the Lights
to Beck’s Sea Change.  Spitting her embittered lines (like “I’m
tired of waiting around, for nothing to change” from the sweetly melodious
“Love is a Cult”), there’s a power in the jarring rawness and fly-on-the-wall
intimacy. Stew’s frankness is just as unnerving, even for someone whose
stock-in-trade is walking the razor’s edge between life and art. But lest you
think Making It is his diary of a mad
artist, or exegesis on fame a la Kanye or Gaga, it’s not: Rodewald’s crystal voice simply doesn’t allow for Stew
to wallow in too many teardrops. 

 

Opening with a song about “Pretend,” and “stupid little
songs that’ll make you break down and cry,” Stew sets the stage: “Plays are
real if you pretend/you are too, until the end/trapped in a homegrown
masquerade, costume’s wrong but so well made, curtain fell but who got played…”

 

“I had my fun,” admits Stew, about the immediate
post-break-up freedom phase, “but the bottom line was, when the play closed, we
didn’t know if we were going to continue together.”

 

Both parties were pained, as evidenced by the album’s
set-piece, “Curse,” which sways as heavy as a funeral dirge as it proclaims,
“You don’t need a new girlfriend, what you need is a nurse”.  But there’s more to Making It than the depth and drama of coming undone:  The double sword of trying to get over finds Stew rocking a litany of contentious real
life subjects: “Pretend” feeds back into “Black Men Ski,” Stew’s
impressionistic musings on the New Black and the post-racial thing: “I have
poems about sunsets, flowers, and the rain, I’ve read them to policemen, but it
was all in vain…” Other matters on Stew’s desktop are death and injustice,
empire and war, subjects that get a good going over in “Suzy Wong” (featuring
California-bred rhymes like “BART rider” with “brush fire”) and the exploding
“Pastry Shop,” concerning “rage against coffee machines” among other crimes,
all enveloped in strains of pain and desire (which when you think of it, isn’t
so unlike breaking-up after all). 

 

Of course, all the songs are threaded with the kind of
wordplay that’s contributed to Stew becoming admired abroad, laurelled and
wreathed on the Great White Way, and assigned by The New York Times to report from his trip to Kenya last
summer.  And yet, he’s still the one
Negro who can’t get arrested in LA…

 

As the narrator of Passing
Strange
, Stew told the story of his character The Youth, who lives like a
refugee in South Los Angeles till he gets wind of the idea that a black artist
can live more free in Europe  (though
when he gets there, he gets hipped to other realities).

 

 

 

As a theater piece Passing
Strange
is iconoclastic; an unlikely hit that contributed to rock’s new run
on Broadway; the play is a timeless, coming of age drama with a killer score,
largely informed by Stew and Heidi’s close to the ground relationship with LA
rock ‘n’ roll.  Both were fixtures on the
rock scene there, first as teens (Stew was conversant in Bowie and the Beatles
and caught hell in his old neighborhood for it, while Heidi was a bassist from
‘burbs who made her initial mark with the Paisley Underground-styled Wednesday
Week).  As Mark Stewart (Stew changed his
name officially when confusion reigned between him and the other Mark Stewart,
of The Pop Group/On U Sound-fame), he motored around the city, taking in all
forms of live rock ‘n’ soul and connecting up with like-minded musicians who
understood the Technicolor nature of rock.  He formed the Negro Problem in the early ‘90s
and debuted with Post Minstrel Syndrome in ’97.  When Heidi joined the group, he
found the perfect collaborator for his whimsy as a songwriter.  

 

Difficulties with their handle notwithstanding, TNP, as they
are sometimes called, continued to release albums and gig, finding an audience
among industry insiders, fellow musicians and the clubby KCRW set (Adam Duritz
of Counting Crows is a friend and fan), though they remained only a moderate
draw at the black box rock clubs.  And so
it was at mid-life, the pair set out for New York and something better – a
second act, perhaps – where they might find a home for their sophisticated
sounds and a space to work on their musical. The rare opportunity to workshop
twice what became Passing Strange, once
in 2004 and again in 2005 at Robert Redford’s Sundance Institute, is what
brought them into the orbit that landed them in theaters – Berkeley Rep, New
York’s Public and eventually Broadway’s Belasco, where Spike Lee filmed the
final night of Passing Strange and
cut it into a film. By then the circumstances that provoked the themes of Making It were heating up like charcoal
on a broiler.  An initial performance of
the songs as a stage piece at St. Anne’s Warehouse became the springboard
toward completing Making It as an
album.

 

And while it’s a little frustrating for Stew and Heidi to
have to explain to their newly converted theater fans that it isn’t really “going
back” to rock since they never really left it, fans of Passing Strange as well as the Negro Problem may be interested to
know that following the release of Making
It
, Stew and Heidi are scheduled to return to the theater. Their new
musical, The Total Bent, begins a
three-week preview run at New York’s Public Lab next month.  Concerning the journey of a gospel turned
rock singer occupying “the complicated space from the sacred to the profane,”
it’s set in a period of historic political and social unrest, “just south of
the Twilight Zone.”

 

It remains to be seen what awaits around the bend for Stew,
Heidi and the Negro Problem, though from rock ‘n’ roll to theater, to rock ‘n’ roll
and theater again, for now their collaboration is secure; they’re making it
work.

 

 “I don’t consider
myself a confessional songwriter by any means, but Heidi’s the person I thought
I was going to grow old with,” says Stew. “In some ways she still is because
we’re in this band. I’m hoping we are going to grow old together – onstage.”

 

Denise Sullivan is the author of Keep on Pushing:  Black Power Music From Blues to Hip Hop.

 

HAPPINESS AS DEFIANCE – A MANIFESTO Otep

“The past, present,
and future belongs to those still willing to get their hands dirty.” What do
you believe in, America?

 

BY OTEP SHAMAYA

 

You wake up with a knife at your throat. A gun in your
mouth. A necktie noose draped over your face hitched to the bed. You paw at the
knot to loosen the grip but your fists are full of pills. You try to stand but
you are chained to the floor. The icy tides of a rushing current rise above
your neck.

 

The world is on fire.

The sky is falling.

We are doomed.

 

The crusted black punctures where your eyes once soaked in
the world now absorb nothing. Here in the lawless dark, the weight of reality
and its immensity and density of pain, injustice, and fear press the breath
from the lung of your ever-shrinking spirit.

 

A pile of unpaid bills. Empty cupboards and empty pockets.
Questions but no answers. Hazy dreams drifting away.

 

Desperate times, desperate souls. 10 years of post traumatic
stress in the New World Order. 10 years of rebuilding and reinventing who and
what we are. 10 years of waiting for the next disaster, the next great wave of
tragedy to surge over the shore and take us all to the murky bottom. Clawing
for light, sucking inky sludge into the pink tissue of our screaming lungs. 10
years of war. 10 years being overlooked, overworked, over taxed, and
overwhelmed. 10 years of Bush fatigue. 10 years losing our way. 10 years hoping
our elected officials would fix the breech and right our course.

 

10 years of
disappointment and heartbreak.

 

September 11 still soars and detonates over our collective
memory in 10-second media clips disguised as nightmares. Every day we wake
crucified to a new reality, each nail represents a contradiction, ideas
hammered into us with such force we feel helpless to escape them.

 

The poor are
freeloaders.

Corporations are
people.

Kill for peace.

 

This is America.
You’ve earned it.

 

Indeed we have. Leveraging this for that, sucked it up and
sucked it in, carried the load & saluted the flag. Meanwhile, the Greedy
Elite sat in the shade, soaked in treasure baths, and painted Patriotism on
every item imported from China.

 

Out of work, out of hope, we silently comply with the insane
and inane decisions of a broken political system lathered in gold leaf.

 

We are the children
lost in the amnesia of heaven.

We are the wandering
tribes of the American dream.

We are kindling
crackling in the fire.

We are the 99%.

 

 

 

 

The rich get richer and the poor eat shit and die in the
debris. A feast for the flies and bloodsuckers.

 

This is America.
You paid for it.

 

A nation of toadies, cronies and thugs of Corporate Kings
and their shadow empires. Work, Buy, Consume, Die. Results are guaranteed, 60%
of the time. A half-life warranty for platinum members only. Side effects
include subjugation and greed.

 

And we, the 99%, have had enough.

 

Life is too short and too valuable to squander another
fraction of a moment feeling helpless. Life is nothing but time. Each moment we
waste suffocating on emotional paralysis ignited by the lies and injustice
moralized by the Greedy Elite is a moment that should be used to enjoy every
precious second of life we have left and to fight for what’s
ours.        

 

They benefit from our paralysis.  

 

Remember that when they say there’s nothing to do, nothing
to be done, or that can be done. That nothing changes.

 

When they point their crooked fingers in your face and
bellow that you cannot directly create change, you remember that renegades
built this nation. Dreamers and believers that rebelled against an empire of
gluttony and inequality carved out this country. That it was the indignant
minority who changed the face of America and who are still fighting
for equality and justice for all.

 

You remember this is the spirit of who and what we are.

 

We do not quit.

We do not sit idly by.

We fight.

 

It has been said that the past, present, and future belongs
to those still willing to get their hands dirty and I believe it. Those that
know how to take advantage have and are exercising their opportunistic
insurgency every moment of every day. So be it. Do we blame the fox for
catching the field mouse? The vulture for picking the meat from carious bone?
No. It is their nature.

 

And likewise it is our nature to stand up when we see
injustice, to speak out when the walls close in, to strike back with righteous
indignation when they come to take our liberty away.

 

But we must refuse to sink. We must let joy carbonate our
hearts. We must let our passion burn the chains of apathy away! We are alive.
We have all that we need. And we can make a difference. Together. We can bring
about change. And that’s exactly what they are afraid of.

 

We can outsmart the fox, we can frighten the vultures away,
we can reclaim our nation from the culture of corruption that has infected our
society.

 

The first step is to exhale and remember just how powerful
we are. The second is to inhale and feel the strength of life invigorate our
senses. Then, follow your heart, follow your instincts, bring your dreams to
life, and be ready to fight for them.

 

This is America.
We’ve earned it.

 

You wake up with a smile on your face. A song in your heart.
A wildfire passion burning within you.

 

We are the dreamers.

We are the believers.

We are the guts and
glory of America.

We are the 99%.

 

 

Read OTEP frontwoman Otep
Shamaya’s Blurt blog, “Battle Ready.”

 

 

 

LIVE BY THE BLADE To Live and Shave in L.A.

A posthumous discussion about the
notorious noise band with Tom Smith, including a non-phallic cameo from Ron
Jeremy.

BY LOGAN K. YOUNG

To Live and Shave in L.A. just wasn’t built to last. (Ironic,
considering they stole their name from a Ron Jeremy porno.) But with a
certifiable noisenik like Tom Smith as the foundation post, how could they?
Alongside firebrands like Rat Bastard, Ben Wolcott and Don Fleming, the
collective’s genre-hopping skronk was the epitome of careening; at any moment,
things could not only fall apart, they would be decimated. Past tense is proper
here because by the time you read this, To Live and Shave in L.A. will be shorn. After twenty years and as
many records, their center could hold no longer. Of course, once a rebel,
always a rouser, and Smith ain’t going nowhere — save for overseas where we
caught up with the expatriate madman.

 

***

 

BLURT: Perhaps the most
pressing question is why now, with a new record out, are you shuttering the
band?

TOM SMITH: To Live and Shave in L.A. began in 1990, and ended in 2010. The
Cortège
and all subsequent releases are thus posthumous.

Should we hear The Cortège as some kind of
farewell then? Did you know it would be your last?

The elegy wasn’t for TLASILA. Rather, it was for a
nation. A copy of Ray Brassier’s essay accompanies both the vinyl and CD
versions of the album. Read it if you’ve the time or inclination.

 

 

People single out the Andrew WK or Thurston Moore
cameo, but is there any particular TLASILA lineup you consider classic?

The 1994-1995 lineup (me, Ben and Rat) toured widely,
but [that lineup] was seen by very few people.

While there’s some vestige of musical tradition
TLASILA is after (even if it is to destroy it), your lyrics and vocal stylings
reference very little. Whom might you consider a forebear in that department?

All of my groups tend to flow into one another: Boat
Of into Peach of Immortality; Peach of Immortality into TLASILA; TLASILA into
Rope Cosmetology. It’s impolitic to reference one’s influences.

 

 

Going back to your days in Pussy Galore, how have
you seen your scene change? Is it really any easier for difficult music now?

Early Pussy Galore operated in much the same sort of
aesthetic vacuum as did TLASILA circa 1992-1995 — no scene at all.

Retiring to Germany, ultimately, what’s next
for Tom Smith? I can’t imagine it’s going to be a shuffleboard-all-day,
in-bed-by-8:30 kind of twilight.

I moved to Germany in October 2008, in the
aftermath of TLASILA’s three-month European tour. I fell in love with a woman I
met in Hannover. We’re still together. Karl
Schmidt Verlag, my label, was begun here in December of 2008. To date we have
172 releases, including a burgeoning selection of books. Three Resurrected
Drunkards, Kevin Drumm/Tom Smith and a plethora of other configurations were
formed. All of these entities have multiple releases. I haven’t retired
anything, save my once-boyish demeanor. I’m doing the Charles Ives thing,
toiling within the soulless corporate labyrinth and funding my activities with
the proceeds.

Finally, has Ron Jeremy ever threatened legal
action for using the name To Live and Shave in L.A.?

I met Ron in New
York City in 1999 at a porn convention, and I gave him
all the then-extant TLASILA albums as a gift. We posed for pictures. He seemed pleased.

 

 

FAREWELL TO THE LINEMAN Glen Campbell

With his final tour resuming this week, singing/guitar
legend Glen Campbell looks back on a long, brilliant career. Regrets? He’s got
a few – but not many.

 

BY A.D. AMOROSI

 

Memory fades. Sifting through
images and ideas is no easy process, not for the young or old, not where the
distant past and recent immediacy is concerned.

 

When Glen Campbell announced that
he has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, that his new album, Ghost on the Canvas, would be his last
and that his recent tour would put a cap on his long career, the desire to
mourn – to treat him differently – kicked in. This was, after all, the golden
boy of epically cosmopolitan country pop whose every ‘60s hit from Chris
Gantry’s “Dreams Of The Everyday Housewife,” John Hartford’s “Gentle on My
Mind” to the soaring subtlety of Jimmy Webb’s “Wichita Lineman” and
“Galveston,” the latter two reminiscent of Bogart’s phrase at the end of Maltese Falcon – “the stuff that dreams
are made of” – became the soundtrack to my youth.

 

These sonic gems were only made
bolder by knowing that Campbell – a masterful guitar picker – was a touring
Beach Boy that nearly replaced Brian Wilson and had played on hits by Dean
Martin, Bobby Darin, Frank Sinatra, the Monkees and Elvis Presley, the latter a
fellow country boy whom Campbell befriended. Campbell’s image, too, is burned into the
collective retina as he had starred in the original version of the revenge
western True Grit and his own network
TV show The Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour.

 

Certainly he had his Rimbaud-esque
season in Hell – the post ‘60s comedown of boozing, drugging, carousing
(notoriously with firebrand country howler Tanya Tucker) and various arrests.
Yet, Campbell
had commercial hits into the ‘70s and ‘80s with “Rhinestone Cowboy,”
“Southern Nights,” “Sunflower” and “I Have You.”
He kept the live fires burning with gigs in Branson, found God, a good woman
Kimberly Woolen to whom he’s been married since 1982 with three kids who have
their own Arcade Fire-y band (Instant People) currently backing Campbell on
tour. This latter day joy – to say nothing of the potency of the deeply etched Ghost and its ruminatively ratcheting
lyrics and still expressively clarion vocals – made Alzheimer’s an even more
heinous verdict.

 

Look into Campbell’s eyes and despite the lines in his
face (he’s 75) and his occasionally forgetful demeanor and you see a man not so
much struggling with memory but more alive with the past then the present. This
author isn’t trying to soften the blow or demystify the disease but seriously,
I have a better grasp on what I did ten years ago then what I did ten minutes
ago. Yet here they are, Glen and Kimberly sitting before me, frankly discussing
the problem without letting it ruin their future.

 

Campbell, his producer Justin
Raymond (who worked with the singer on his previous recording Meet Glen Campbell) and a crew of
instrumentalists such as Dick Dale, Brian Setzer and Chris Isaak were already
at work on the riveting Ghost when
the diagnosis was announced. Suddenly the press made a big deal out of it,
something that doesn’t affect the Campbells
– as long as the disease doesn’t overshadow the work,

 

“No. it doesn’t bother me,” says Campbell with a slight
cough. “I’m used to it by now. I leave it in God’s hands that it’s gonna be the
way He wants.” His wife Kim follows that with an understanding of an audiences’
curiosity – how the disease works, how it affects her husband. “We understand,”
she smiles. “But the music is just so good we hope they get to that message as
well.”

 

Mention the contribution of songs
from Paul Westerberg, Jakob Dylan and Robert Pollard along with self-penned
tracks with Raymond (culled, interestingly enough, from the producer’s daily
diaries of what the singer/guitarist said), and you’ve got quite a set of
messages. As Campbell
starts singing the new album’s title track in a strong burst of melody, he
states. “I’m really not a songwriter so if I hear a song, I feel it and like
it, I’ll do it. But I’ll make it the way I want to hear it.”

 

Part of this comes down to asking
songwriters if he can turn negatives into positives (“but with their permission
of course,” says the gentlemanly Campbell) and
accommodating where Campbell’s
heart is now. “She’ll be running around the mountain” just doesn’t sound
right,” he laughs. “It ain’t the way the song goes. “She’ll be coming around
the mountain,” is more like it.”

 

Campbell slowly and deliberately
tells me how he takes songs one a at time and lets the good ones carry him
away, the songs of other writers as well as the tunes presented by Raymond, a
hands-on laid back producer who, during Meet
Glen Campbell
, started writing down what the singer said about life,
confusion and happiness. “Julian wrote down the meaningful things that Glen
would say about being baffled by what was going on in his head, as well as how
life was good to him,” says Kim who recognized that Campbell’s memory was slipping during those
2008 recording sessions. “We’re so glad Julian got those meditations down and
put those verses to music.”

 

 

“I need the ones I love more and more each day.”

 

“This is not the road I want for us.”

 

 

Mention Campbell’s famed sense of perfection and he
laughs. “Nah. I may sound like one,” he laughs. “But I want it be natural. If I
get a song – a GOOD song – I just sing it the way I hear it in my head. If
anybody else wanted to add whistles and bells and chains rattling that’s fine.
Just not too much. I actually just do things as straight ahead as possible. You
add the ifs, ands or buts.”

 

To that end, Ghost has the richly orchestrated jangle of Pet Sounds with a country twang.

 

Campbell knows he’s been blessed with great collaborators and
productions, a powerful clear voice that was forever gifted with dynamic songs
that suited his vocal range and challenged his playing skills.

 

“Things turned out pretty well,”
says Campbell.

 

***

 

Pretty well indeed.

 

Blame, in part, his having come
from a large all-singing all playing Arkansas family who took Glen to church
regularly to express him self in song. Other than getting his first guitar at
age four, a seminal moment for Campbell
came when he nearly drowned at age three: his Army-bound brothers dragged him
out of the water, pumped the water and did CPR on the young Glen. “That night
back at the house while keeping time to the radio, I didn’t say anything. I
just sang. Something had changed me.”

 

His distinct guitar playing,
inspired by the likes of Barney Kessel and Django Reinhardt (“Django was my
main influence”) gave him the confidence to form western swing bands and, by
age twenty-one, head to Los Angeles
where he quickly became a sought-after session musician. “I think I mainly got
all that work because I was the only guy who could use a capo,” he laughs.

 

As he was just starting to make
his session-man bones, he recorded a single for the Crest label. When I mention
that 1961 track to him, “Turn Around Look at Me,” Campbell flashes a big smile. “Well I thought
that was ‘it’ you know,” smiles Campbell who starts singing the lines “there is
someone/walking behind me” so mellifluously, it’s as if he’s a kid in 1960
again. “Even then I did songs that I liked, never tunes that I didn’t care for.
Otherwise it wouldn’t be satisfying.”

Campbell stops,
leans into me and turns to his wife. “Excuse me, honey,” says Campbell who then
turns from his wife and conspiratorially pulls me forward. His long fingers
become a circle with another finger on his other hand barely peeking through
the top. He’s made a tiny cock of it all.

 

“It’s like a guy going into a
whorehouse with THIS little thing and the woman says, ‘Well who you going to
satisfy with THAT?’ And he says, ‘ME.’ That old joke, that stupid analogy –
that’s the best way of describing what I want to do: satisfy me.”

 

Campbell fast-forwards and says he did things he didn’t want to do:
lousy albums, hell-raising backstage antics of cocaine, booze and sex. “I spent
some time in Hell,” he smiles. “I got so high I could fart in a Martin box,” he
starts slapping his knee. “I’m glad that’s over with – it was a stupid place. I
drowned,” he starts to say, realizing that he told me that story before. Then
again, perhaps he meant the psychic drowning that led to the rejuvenation of finding
God and his wife. (He teases about meeting her on a blind date. “I thought she
was blind,” he yuks, then quacks like Daffy Duck.)

 

Dipping backwards to his session
career and “Turn Around,” he mentions how he stayed in the studio and played
for the greats so that he stick close to home and make more money doing session
work than he could promoting a struggling single on the road. The wrongs of the
road remind him of Elvis Presley, an old friend whose “Viva Las Vegas” he
played on. “He was a good man but I understood the peril his career had taken
on. I didn’t have the luggage he had, that entourage he had to take care of. I
should’ve kicked his ass from here to Japan to get some sense in him. His
old friends from Memphis
were just bringing young girls backstage and crap like that – distracting him.”

 

Campbell went on to work and play with the Beach Boys and was
nearly the front man when Brian Wilson broke down and left in 1965 yet Campbell was more into doing his own music than joining a
band (Capitol wound up signing Campbell
on the basis of his strong showing with the Beach Boys). “Plus, you know, Mike
Love was there. He’s talented, but,” Campbell
scrunches his face.

 

The young Campbell continued to play on records by
Frank (“Strangers in the Night”) and Dean (“Everybody Loves Somebody
Sometimes”) guys a generation before him – the establishment – before the
counter cultural hippie-dippie movement took hold. He was no hippie but he was
a young cat. What was he thinking?

“They were the tops. If you heard
their stuff up close and saw them on stage – they were incredible actually,”
says Campbell
of the Rat Pack titans. “There was no mistaking their voices or their
presence.” Campbell
was hanging on the musician side of everything, playing guitar by their side.
.But he got wise watching those men that singing would get him farther.

 

Enter guys like Jimmy Webb and
John Hartford, songwriters whose best work came through the conduit of Campbell’s rich voice. It
was a blast according to Campbell,
wonderful those melodies at his ready and those sorts of storytellers in his
corner. “If you have guys like this in your corner, you better have your chute
together or you won’t get down,” he laughs. In particular, Campbell has a warm long smile reserved for
Webb’s longing literate lyrics and winnowing melodies. “My wife will tell you.
I pray to the Lord and thank Him for letting me do those songs. When my dad
heard those tunes he said “it’s a good thing we didn’t throw you back in the
water.” (Kim reminds me how, famously that Webb used to pray, after hearing
“Turn around Look at Me,” that Campbell
would sing his songs)

 

Though the Ghostly songs of Westerberg and Pollard aren’t quite the stuff of “Galveston” and “Wichita
Lineman” they are crucial, rare and deeply ruminative. They feel like the
contemplative stuff of a finale. At 75 – anybody at 75 – the level of winding
down that the Campbell’s
plan on doing would seem essential and right. While Kim confides to me that she
wishes they did more recording during the Branson days, she also mentions more
tracks featuring Campbell and their kids, might be recorded at tour’s end. “We
still have a few special tricks up our sleeves. Other than that, we’re happy to
go to Hawaii,
watch Glen golf and sit by the side as the kids start their career,” says Kim
Campbell…

 

As for Glen Campbell, a singer and
guitarist whose recent tour finds him in strong voice and ticklish guitar
skills, he’s content to go out with an album as rich as Ghost on the Canvas. “I want to slow down – you know, it’s really
about whatever she wants to do – but the record? You throw them out to the
world and hope it comes back positive. I’m glad it turned out as well as it
did. I have to listen to it, you know.”

[An edited version of this story
originally appeared in BLURT #11, featuring exclusive photos by Scott Weiner,
who shot the image, above.]

 

Glen Campbell’s farewell tour resumes this week, starting
Jan. 19 in Bloomington, IL. It is slated to run via selected dates into May,
and then a pair of final ones at the end of June. Go to his official website for the full itinerary.

 

SWEATY AND DELIRIOUS Jeff Antebi

The photojournalist shares
his
Fever Dream.

 

BY RANDY HARWARD

 

“I did sort of drop out.”  

 

In order to become a photographer, something he never
intended to do, Jeff Antebi had to abandon his successful 15-year-old
label/management firm Waxploitation (Gnarls Barkley, Danger Mouse, Broken
Bells) and just shoot. It began as an
impulse buy en route to China
for a business trip. With his “simple camera” Antebi was the usual tourist
shutterbug for a few minutes before wandering into deeper, darker places. “I
would get onto buses and get off at random stops and continue to purposely get
farther away from my starting point, very much wanting to become lost before
taking photographs.”

 

Captivated by the scenes inside alleys, doorways, and
cul-de-sacs, Antebi braved the hard stares of strangers and kept clicking the
shutter. “The more lost I felt, the more enjoyable it was,” he recalls. “Something
about the experience made me feel closer to people, more in touch with life
around me. It’s hard to express what a life-changing thing it was for me.”

 

That feeling led Antebi deeper into the rabbit hole. He
bought better gear and booked more trips. After a 2009 trip to Haiti, he
realized his heart wasn’t in entertainment anymore. “The non-entertainment world
seemed to have more urgency to it. Every time I read about something compelling
happening ‘out there,’ I wanted to [go].”

 

After much soul-searching, Antebi boarded up Waxploitation
and split for Afghanistan.
There, he shot scenes of strife like those of photojournalists Sebastião Salgado, James
Nachtwey and Paula Bronstein. In Juarez, Mexico he snapped shots of drug cartel murders (pictured
below) and elections; in Thailand,
Malay holy war. Similar pictures developed from shoots in Havana, Cuba
and Los Angeles.
Together, they comprise Antebi’s debut photography book, Fever Dream (JeffAntebi.com).

 

 

 

 

The gorgeous, strikingly composed shots evoke compassion,
anger, fear and joy in a way that creates that titular feeling. Antebi puts you
in his subjects’ shoes, then his own, back and forth until you’re sweaty and
delirious. How does anyone live like this? How could Antebi go from music big
shot to risking his life documenting people in such dire straits? That’s an
easy one: Once you see it, you can’t forget it. Antebi shares these photos as
catharsis.

 

Now back in the States, Antebi has revived Waxploitation.
“It was impossible to stay away for too long.” One reckons he feels the same
about photography. No matter how hard or harrowing it was in these
poverty-stricken or war-torn places, “the hardest part was knowing that I’ll be
leaving, and the people around me usually can’t. It’s very hard to be
face-to-face with anyone’s suffering. There’s so little you can do, but as a
photographer, I think you can hope that a photograph might somehow create more
positive outcomes.”