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Will Oldham, or Bonnie "Prince" Billy as he is known to some, is a focused individual. One can see this in the craft in which his music is made, distributed, and presented... not to mention how his own persona is established alongside it. Mr. Oldham can be an enigma at times... but I think that calls for something that he might agree with, listening to the music for itself... and setting the figure of the man or woman behind it aside.
Oldham has been very active within the last year, as recent collaborations have found him recording an album and touring with the Cairo Gang, having an appearance in Jackass 3, and appearing on a remix of Hot Chip's "I Feel Better", aptly titled "I Feel Bonnie"... amongst several other appearances.
Bonnie "Prince" Billy and the Cairo Gang will be playing Town Hall in New York City December 8th. I was able to interview Mr. Oldham via e-mail.
Profile of true meglomania. Thx Mark Morgan for the link.
On Monday morning 11/29, Liz Berg is having Viva L'American Death Ray Music (V.L.A.D.R.M.) on. The glammy garage rock group, featuring members of Golden Triangle, Polyphonic Spree, and others, are in town to promote their new record, Miles of Smiles Towns of Frowns. By the time you read this their set will have passed, but please hit the archive of Liz's show to hear it!
Later on Monday, tune into Irene Trudel's show to hear a live set of lush, melodic folk rock from Lucinda Black Bear. The band, based in Brooklyn, have a new album out now entitled Knives. From noon to 3 PM on 11/29, listen and find out why it has been garnering significant critical praise.
Justin Broadrick of Godflesh, Jesu, Napalm Death, and many other projects will join Diane Kamikaze on Tuesday for an interview. As the new Jesu release "Heart Ache and Dethroned" occupies the WFMU new bin, Broadrick takes time out between Godflesh reunion shows (the next is scheduled for 2011) to talk with listeners about his long, rich career in metal and electronic music. 11/30, from noon to 3 PM.
On Thunk Tank with Bronwyn and Jay, author and onetime WFMU volunteer (!) Rudy Delson will discuss his new book How To Win Her Love, touted as a dating manual for the McSweeney's set. Pick up some hott tips Tuesday evening 11/30, from 7 to 8 PM.
Wednesday afternoon, Kurt Gottschalk hosts a live solo performance from Chie Mukai, an improviser since 1975 whose vocals and er-hu playing defined the acoustic psych band Che Shizu in the '90s. Since then she has worked with Maher Shalal Hash Baz, the Los Angeles Free Music Society, Jim O' Rourke, and former Boredoms guitarist Seiichi Yamamoto. Hear her live on Miniature Minotaurs, 12/1 from noon to 3 PM.
Bill Kartalopolous of the Brooklyn Comics and Graphics Festival will be speaking with Billy Jam on Friday during Put the Needle on the Record. The indie comics expo, which takes place the following day, will feature panels led by the likes of Bill Griffith, Anders Nilsen, Lynda Barry, and Francoise Mouldy; learn all about it 12/3 from 3 to 6 PM!
Finally, on Transpacific Sound Paradise this Saturday, Rob Weisberg welcomes guest DJ Sam Thomas, a scholar of Sephardic traditions and the leader of the band Asefa. He and Rob will explore the roots of Sephardic Jewish music and talk about the state of the current Sephardic music revival. It happens on 12/4, from 6 to 9 PM.
HotRod did a fill-in this past week, all crammed with good dance music and her signature mic breaks of brio and funny-ness. I always like her. I am including the pop-up link to this recent show here.
During the original 365 days project, in 2003, I shared a couple of tracks by a one time well known Chicago area musician named Larry Taylor. In the years since then, I have received a number of requests to share more of his work. Summarizing what I wrote in 2003:
In the 1990's, I acquired at least two dozen tapes featuring radio performances, radio interviews, studio sessions, and at least 20 completed tracks (both originals and cover versions, instrumentals and vocals) which all featured Larry Taylor. His career included fronting Dixieland styled bands, combo jazz on the radio, and, a bit later, becoming one of the first people to release an album played on the Moog Synthesizer (although "released" is a relative term, and it appeared on one of Dora Hall's labels - Dora being a friend of his, and sometime collaborator).
At least two of these tapes contain an album's worth of material, only some of which is duplicated between them. One of these tapes, featured today, contains eight instrumentals, followed by six vocals. It is banded with leader, labeled "Master Dubs", and therefore appears to have been at least a collection of songs considered for an album. Indeed, two of these songs were released as a 45 ("Snap" and "The Big Walk"), and in a radio interview from the '60's, Larry Taylor talks about a forthcoming album.
However, it does not appear that this album was ever released, and the tracks on this tape, despite being presented as "masters", are not all ready for release. The lead instruments drop out momentarily in the middle of "Music to Catch Boys By", the sound weakens here and there in one channel on several of the tracks, the 13th track opens with the song winding up to the correct speed, and "Three Times a Broken Heart" is copied from a vinyl pressing. Also, the correct names to tracks 4 and 5 are unclear. The box contains three titles for these two tracks - both are labeled "Shiny Boots", as well as each having a separate title. I've eliminated the odd title "What Will Grandma Do With All These Cookies?", as it seems the least likely of the three.
Also confusing is the reference on the tape box, which could be read to credit the entire collection to Horace Taylor. This name appears nowhere else among any of the many other Larry Taylor tapes. In addition, many of the tracks on this tape are found on other tapes, credited to Larry. I really don't know what to make of this, although perhaps it means that Horace Taylor sings lead on some of the tracks. As to the female singers, I believe the one heard at the start and end of "Little Boys", and featured on "Tryin' So Hard to Forget You", is none other than Dora Hall. The female vocalist on at least one of the other tracks appears to be someone named Sheila Page.
During the original 365 days project, in 2003, I shared a couple of tracks by a one time well known Chicago area musician named Larry Taylor. In the years since then, I have received a number of requests to share more of his work. Summarizing what I wrote in 2003:
The standout feature of these tracks, for me, is the unusual sound of the production (particularly the echo effects used) and the mechanical sound of the instrumentation on some of the tracks. I don't know if Taylor was using tack pianos, early synthesizers, some sort of drum machine, or combinations of these and other effects.
As I mentioned, there are at least a dozen more produced tracks among these boxes, including the revved up version "Baby Face" which was part of the 365 days project in 2003, and if there is interest, I can share those tracks as well, some time in the future.
Larry Taylor died in December of 1989, at the age of 71.
“You guys are having fun at the expense of new travel security measures. And they are a pain in the butt, no doubt. But there is a problem and you're not offering alternatives to a real problem. Why aren't you in any way critical of the reasons for the necessity of these things? Just wondering.”
Since we’re having a special guest (Rudy Delson!) on our next show, we thought we’d answer Listener Steve here on the Blog.
1: The TSA scanners are a virtual strip search. The Fourth Amendment says, “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated ...” How is it reasonable to require every single traveler to submit to a strip search?
2. The TSA scanners are not safe. Jason Bell, a molecular biologist and biophysicist, has reviewed the TSA’s own safety reports, and has concluded that people should opt for the pat-down search rather than go through the scanners. Here are some (long) quotes:
“Essentially, it appears that an X-ray beam is rastered across the body, which highlights the importance of one of the specific concerns raised by the UCSF scientists... what happens if the machine fails, or gets stuck, during a raster. How much radiation would a person's eye, hand, testicle, stomach, etc be exposed to during such a failure. What is the failure rate of these machines? What is the failure rate in an operational environment? Who services the machine? What is the decay rate of the filter? What is the decay rate of the shielding material? …These questions have not been answered to any satisfaction …”
“… the statement that one scan is equivalent to 2-3 minutes of your flight is VERY misleading. …relating non-absorbing cosmic radiation to tissue absorbing man-made radiation is simply misleading and wrong. ... a total body dose is misleading, because there is differential absorption in some tissues. … Even more alarming is that because the radiation energy is the same for all adults, children, or infants, the relative absorbed dose is twice as high for small children and infants because they have a smaller body mass (both total and tissue specific) to distribute the dose. Alarmingly, the radiation dose to an infant's testes and skeleton is 60-fold higher than the absorbed dose to an adult brain!”
There is much more, including Bell’s call for the TSA agents to be equipped with radiation badges to monitor their own exposure. You can read Bell’s full post here.
(Thanks to BoingBoing for the link.)
3. BUT! You don’t have to go through the scanners, you can opt for the “pat down.” Still an unreasonable search, and guess what? The TSA agents don’t change their gloves for each one! That hand going down your pants carries the cooties of 1,000 junk-touchings. The TSA’s own blog has a lot of posts about the problem they’ve had with spreading scabies at Boston’s Logan Airport. Scabies today, flesh-eating bacteria tomorrow, n’est-ce pas?
Finally, to address Listener Steve’s question about the “necessity” of strip searching all travelers: What is the reason for it, really? Does it really make traveling safer? Really?
Several years ago I did a zine called Generation Exploitation. It lasted about five issues until the inflation of photocopy costs crippled my hobo bank account. Generation Exploitation was never particularly significant, collecting dust in the few book stores that bothered to maintain a zine section long after the do-it-youself boom subsided. An exception was Baltimore, where it became inexplicably popular and I eventually found myself funneling dusty, unsold issues from places like Quimby's in Chicago, and sending them over to Atomic Books where they consistently sold out.
Generation Exploitation was not particularly good. However, the second issue did feature a lengthy interview with comedy record legend Woody Woodbury. I was twenty-three years old at the time I chose to interview the eighty-one year old man whose face was so familiar to thrift store vinyl sections. It was the first interview I ever conducted and it received a fine response. People were saying that I should start interviewing all the old comedians before they die. I would reply, "Yes, yes I should," and of course never did anything. I have enough anxiety palpitating through my chest when I have to phone my relatives, let alone a famous hero of mine.
Earlier this year I received a writing assignment that gave me little choice but to confront such anxieties head on. If I wanted a handsome payday, part of the deal was to wrangle an interview with Dick Cavett - otherwise the article in question would not be published. So I phoned Dick Cavett. We spoke about the topic at hand and we eventually veered off in random directions, discussing old showbiz as if we were two old nerds on a park bench. We spoke of the enigmatic unfunniness of Wayne and Shuster, the brilliance of Jack E. Leonard and much more. After Cavett missed a New York Times deadline by an hour, we closed the conversation and Cavett paid me a nice compliment when he said, "I wish [all the interviews] were this much fun." It was then that I decided to kick those anxiety palpatations in the balls and go ahead and interview every old comedian I could.
So today I present to you this transcript of a conversation I had with the comedy legend Shelley Berman. In the coming weeks, you will find more interview transcripts from several more folks including Gary Owens, Alan Young, Bill Persky, Bill Dana and so on. After the jump you'll find links to some of the other interview transcripts conducted so far.
As the days turn rather crispy and cold here on the mountain, the title of the Phlorescent Leech and Eddie's radio show "By the Fireside" has an even more pleasant ring than ever. I love experimental free-form radio shows from the 1970's and was tickled to recently find this two-hour gem, complete with many of the PSA's and bits of commercials intact at the lovely Harry Nilsson-centric page For the Love of Harry. I knew of Mark Volman and Howard Kaylan, alias Flo and Eddie mainly from my Frank Zappa-collecting days in the 1970's and from their work as two-fifths of The Turtles, but I hadn't realized what an extensive and varied singing career they had in the last 40 years, aside from their own records, vocally backing everyone from the likes of T Rex, David Cassidy, and John Lennon, to Blondie, the Ramones, Bruce Springstein and the Psychedelic Furs among many others.
I love the DJing style they used on their shows- playing rarely more than the A and B part of a song, usually amounting to less than 50 seconds, before wildly segueing off into spoken word records (at the wrong speed) or more obscure and unpredictable musical fare; within the first 20 minutes of the show I was an immediate and huge fan of their style - I had thought that I was eclectic and bizarre in my playlist construction, but this was truly madcap and smart- very challenging for 1974! All of this and a weekly guest-star, too. Which brings me to the reason I found this document at all- this episode's guest on this August afternoon in 1974 was Harry Nilsson, who had asked them to bring special records and singles to play while he was there. His album Pussycats, produced by John Lennon, was just about to come out and it turns out that Harry had a soft spot for comedian Eddie Lawrence, who it was good for me to find out more about, as I had only the vaguest idea of his work, and it turned out that his 'Old Philosopher' character had been parodied on the TV show Fractured Flickers, itself an obscure production of Jay Ward studios in 1963 and 64. There was a recurring gag on the show that is totally ripped off from Lawrence, and it's nice to know what was really going on there. A REVISION FROM 2011: Just found- an interview with Mr. Lawrence by our own Kliph Nesteroff on his blog HERE.
So, we hear Nilsson spin some rare goodies, including some singles that he wrote for others, and cassette tapes are even played live over microhones, presumably from hand-held players (I love alternative formats on the air); and the show gets more and more wild and sloppy as it goes on, but considering the partying nature of an LA radio station in 1974 I'm not surprised. Mark Volman comments more than once, when the din of everyone talking at once reaches a peak, that "you're not really hearing two stations at the same time- this is just how we do our show". To make the whole thing more bittersweet- at the end we hear that next week's guests were Becker and Fagan from Steely Dan, who the hosts promised would be revealed as just as funny and nutty as the usual gang. Ooof-- I want more episodes! Enjoy this slice of radio history.
Deeply saddened to hear of the passing of Peter 'Sleazy' Christopherson, 55, in Thailand last night. His contributions to Throbbing Gristle, Coil, Psychic TV and Hipgnosis made him a major player in the realm of modern music; he visited WFMU's Fabio a couple years ago with TG, which is archived here.
If I say so myself, and I do, last week's MCoQ broadcast, woven as it was around a 72-minute performance by SSPS (aka Porkchop Central, aka Jon Nicholson, Excepter operative) was a Kosmische continuum, a final transmission from a marooned crew, forced by dire circumstances to stay behind and foster a new civilization on a new globe. The civilization was built, flourished, the inevitable unrest then brought changes, babies were born, and paintings expressed the heart of the people. Yes, I am still talking about a radio show.
Any and all labels being reductive, though just to give you an idea, I can say that Jon's sound brings together primordial techno, with its electronic drumbeat Danceteria-in-the-80s vibe, while also pulling in all that has come since and before, cleansing noise washes and Krautrock pulsations to name only a few.
How gratifying it was for myself to invite the man down to WFMU's studio B, and just say, "go!" This is an audio artifact of something Jon does perhaps as often as once a week in nightclubs, and I'm proud to present it to you here, as one continuous mp3. Please note that the many song titles incorporate in the set are noted in the comments field of the mp3 tags (Windows users only.)
Tremendous thanks to Diane Kamikaze Farris, for once again engineering a Castle session with aplomb. Thanks also to Sarah Z. for production assistance. Tracy Widdess spit-shines my artist photo, as per usual.
(photo via achrntatrps, Creative Commons BY NC SA)
Frankie Rose has played drums with the Vivian Girls, Crystal Stilts, and Dum Dum Girls... but I think it is safe to say, in the long run, she is more of a songwriter than she is a drummer. For instance, I found "Where Do You Run To?" to be the best song on the Vivian Girls first record, and while I liked the rest of the tracks on the album... that number had such a resonance to it, such a "catchy" immediacy... it was instantly stuck in my head for days on end when I first heard it, and with each time after that as well...
Now, Ms. Rose has started a career with her own group, The Outs, whose self-titled album is full of songs like "Hollow Life", "Girlfriend Island", and "Candy"... songs that have the same feeling as "Where Do You Run To?" but with enough variety and dynamics to make a full album interesting. There isn't a song I don't like on Frankie Rose and the Outs. She is definitely someone to keep an eye on.
I interviewed Frankie Rose via email.
A couple weeks back LA noise titans slash cultural lynchpins Robedoor did me the honor of recording a live session in WFMU's studios during a rare and excessively brief East Coast tour. Although Robedoor began as a two-piece drone band with dozens of releases on just about every cool noise label out there, the recent addition of Geddes Gengras as a drummer has brought the band closer to the unholy realm of doom metal.
Alex Brown supplied (among other things) keyboard riffs that form the backbone of the jams - his rig is so bass heavy that I actually couldn't tell whether he was up too loud in the mix or whether the floor was just shaking. Britt Brown played guitar and vocals, with a slew of pedals to throw off any semblence of the concept of a "song". The track "I thought you were the Devil" is off Robedoor's recent LP on Important Records, Burners. Parallel Wanderer, by far the longest track in this session, will appear as a full side of a yet untitled upcoming LP. This seems to be following Robedoor's usual method of writing songs: jamming it out with live improv until the completed song idea emerges from the murky depths.
Or maybe the secret to Robedoor's success is putting beer in every meal they eat? Alex runs an excellent and hilarious food blog called Hot Knives that seems to indicate a predilection for hoppy breakfast dishes. Speaking as somebody who loves nothing more than the rhetoric of high end menus, the Hot Knives archives are great because you get classy dishes with rock and roll commentary. For god's sake, he teaches you how to make the "über pre-choucroute", Kimchi from scratch!
Then again, Robedoor's ability to touch on a hundred genres at one is probably because Robedoor members are so involved with underground noise culture. Britt Brown runs Not Not Fun records, which has released a ton of material from many perennial WFMU favorites. I'd explain more, but there really aren't words. I'd recommend blasting this live session over your best sound system while nerding out to lists of releases from Not Not Fun and Robedoor on discogs.
Thanks to Jason Sigal for these photos and for help with engineering the recording.
...seems a bit obvious to title this thing, but hey, I'm not really sweating it. Apologize, but under the gun. I had this huge plan to post my Best of Brooklyn Botanicas list, but well, had cold feet and thought I would sit on it for another week.There is this part where I explain that I was conceived in a rainforest notorious for UFO activity and I am on the fence on if I want to share that with WFMU blog readers or not.
So yeah, I'll tell the story in the afternoon in the comments, but this thing is beautiful. Giant statue of the Stella Maris in Windsor, Ohio.
More pics inside!
Not long ago I picked up on a gig announcement that Easy Action would be playing The Acheron in Brooklyn on Monday, November 15th...yay! I contacted them immediately and inquired if they'd be interested in playing live on the Fun Machine on the next day; Tuesday the 16th. And so it was. The band, with John Brannon of Negative Approach and Laughing Hyenas on vocals, has a perverted blues-punk sound that is so mesmerizing you could set your own face on fire and never notice. I've had the pleasure of seeing them play over a dozen times (6 of those shows at SXSW 2 years in a row), and can honestly say there is no pretense or even intention of having, wanting, or needing a stage show with these guys. Brannon is as terrifying as he was in Negative Approach, and sounds even more caustic now, possibly because he's all grown up, and he still howls like an animal fighting for it's life, but this time you know it's premeditated and not simply a reaction to teen angst. EA features the rhythm section of Tony Romeo on bass and Matt Becker on the drums, and Harold Richardson's sick, greasy and intense guitar sound to round off the spectacle. Easy Action just get down and dirty and give their performances the Detroit treatment: 100%-period. They rule, and really-- they can't help it; it's so authentic that it shows. Here is the set fresh off the Free Music Archive; yours to download, yeah, Christmas is early this year. Easy Action also graced the WFMU airwaves in 2005 on the Pat Duncan program, hosted by Andrew Listfield that particular night, and John and Harold also were here in Negative Approach for their appearance on Brian Turner's program in 2008.
On Tuesday, they arrived at WFMU early, "That's how we roll"; set up their gear, played and left the studio begging for mercy... and at the end of the afternoon after all was said and done, John Brannon, the fiercest voice in the universe, turns around and says to me "here's your pen, Diane." It may not seem like much of a gesture, but this is coming from a man who'd basically bitten off the head of your mother, or would have if she was here; paid homage to and fistfought every drunken gambler, pimp and derelict either side of the Mississippi; successfully and creatively edited his vocals for the live performance (I said Easy Action are great, but yeah, they're dirty... in the just the right way), and pulled off the most burnt out sounding cover of 10cc's "I'm Not In Love" - remembered that I lent him a pen to write out their set lists with about 4 hours before. Shucks, what do you say about that except, come back soon! It's a crime these guys aren't huge. Send your friends to this site, check out the playlist from the show itself -more photos there- and have them check out Easy Action. It can be your own dirty secret and hopefully one day it will be everybody's. Accompanying are a few shots from the WFMU studio as well as the Acheron show on November 15th. From Richmond? Well get your ass out to see them tonight; Saturday November 20th at the Triple. Obey.
Jay's out of town this weekend and is expecting me to post something about Putin, but I thought I'd feature the Thunk Tank Reenactors doing the opening of the 10/12/10 show instead.
This past September WFMU traipsed up to Kutshers Resort in Monticello, New York for a third yearly broadcast of the grand All Tomorrow's Parties, and we were especially excited to be plugging in the recorders Friday night as we'd landed permission from Kim Salmon to broadcast and archive the legendary Scientists! Starting off as a Perth-based punk band of the 70s, a move to Sydney in the 80's (and eventually London) found the Scientists morphing into one of the best Australian bands of all time. Like kindred spirits the Gun Club, and fellow countrymen the Birthday Party, Salmon and company defined blooze-ooze and gutter dwelling while equally purveying a lofty sense of style and poetry; their timeless nature easily defined by putting on a platter like Blood Red River (played in its entirety this night), or seeing their image floating around the DNA of later bands like Mudhoney, Chrome Cranks, Blues Explosion and many more. At ATP, we heard rumors of minimal (or no) rehearsal, but from the first scrape of "Set It On Fire" the timespan seemed nonexistent and Salmon's yowl no less bone-rattling. Take a dig via the Free Music Archive, where you can check out more archived sets from WFMU's 2008, 2009 and 2010 broadcasts. You can also check the WFMU site and stream of some of the non-downloadable sets we aired from this year here, including Hallogallo, Fursaxa, Sonic Youth, Mudhoney and White Hills.
With Human Eye, Timmy "Vulgar" Lampinen takes the raw punk spirit he brought to his earlier Detroit bands (Clone Defects & Epileptix) and steps into new dimensions that reflect reality through science fiction. So one of the songs they performed live on Talk's Cheap this week is "about goin' to the party store in Hamtramck," while another deals with impregnating the Martian queen.
With deft wah-control, Timmy's guitar transforms into a laser cannon, and he's backed by a team of Detroit all-stars: alien pianist Johnny Lzr also fronts 70s glam-rockers Conspiracy of Owls, whose debut LP on Burger Records is one of Evan "Funk" Davies' top albums of the year (which is an extremely high recommendation if you dig 70s rock, punk and power pop!). Drummer Billy "Hurricane William" Hafer also plays in ET Habit, and The Big Bang, an "adult percussion" group. Bassist Brad Hales runs People's Records, a second-hand shop in Detroit specializing in northern soul (so he sees a lot of Mr Finewine, host of WFMU's Downtown Soulville).
Human Eye's debut full-length was released by In The Red in 2005 and their latest, Fragments of the Universe Nurse, came out on Hook or Crook. They stopped by while in town recording a new 7'' with Ivan Julian, and jetsetting around playing free shows courtesy of Scion...which is funny, cuz I was just talking the other day about how brands are like the new record labels.
Meanwhile Timmy's Organism -- originally conceived as Timmy Vulgar's solo 4track recording project -- has taken off with a nice set of 7-inches and the brand new Rise of the Green Gorilla LP (on Brooklyn's Sacred Bones label). The organism has blossomed into a three-piece, and plays Brooklyn on Saturday November 20th for "The Return of Detroit" with Tyvek, Terrible Twos, The Mahonies and guest DJ Mick Collins (Gories/Dirtbombs). [details]
Thanks to Hamish Kilgour and Simon Sean Coffey for this visual slice of New Zealand South Island greatness; the band existed from 1981-84 and featured Roy Montgomery, Ross Humphries (the Great Unwashed/Bailter Space) and Peter Stapleton (who was in the Dead C's Bruce Russell's Handful of Dust). One of the few bands who could pull off versions of the Red Crayola's "Hurrican Fighter Plane" and War's "Low Rider" and put you against the wall with 'em. Theirs was the first ever 7" to be released on Flying Nun. Live versions of "Ambivalence" and "Coat" here, aided by Christchurch poet Desmond Brice.
Intercutting incredible street footage of Chicago African-American life with a staged interracial party, CRY is part essay, part manifesto, and as startling today as it must have been in the late 1950s. Music is provided by the singular Sun Ra and his Arkestra, who are seen and heard performing at the height of their swing heyday. Shot with practically no budget by a volunteer crew numbering some 65 people, THE CRY OF JAZZ was the only film made by Ed Bland who went on to have a distinguished career as composer, arranger, and producer for the likes of Dizzy Gillespie, Elvin Jones, and many, many others...
Anthology Film Archives has restored and is currently (Friday-Sunday) screening its new 16mm-35mm blow-up of Ed Bland's THE CRY OF JAZZ. A curious short from 1959, hailed early by Jonas Mekas as part of the new avant-garde along with Frank and Leslie's PULL MY DAISY (also being screened) and Cassavetes' SHADOWS, Bland's film has not enjoyed the same repertory status. Yet like each of these films, it dramatizes a tension between the rehearsed and the improvised, freedom and constraint.
Centered around a debate between black intellectuals and white jazz fans in a nondescript Chicago apartment, its actors are mere mouthpieces for Bland's thesis (taken directly from his book, "The Fruits of the Death of Jazz") that jazz is dead because it has exhausted its own inner structure. The paradigm stated again and again is the coexistence of repetitive chord changes with melodic improvisation. Didactically, the character Alex (and Bland through him) wants his naive white interlocutors to grasp jazz's deft balancing act of a "futureless future" for the African-American (the chord changes) with his "deification of the present" (the solos). Accordingly, at the historical juncture that would give birth to the Civil Rights Movement, jazz is dead because jazz as a defense mechanism no longer suffices to give the black his due. But in its heyday, jazz displayed "the incredible genius of the Negro" and was "the one area of American life where whites must be humble to Negros." Consequently, the white characters evince an amusing form of what I like to call "suffering envy," suddenly saddened that their treatment of the Other as a soulless animal throughout history has inevitably led to their own soullessness and lack of comprehension.
In many ways, THE CRY OF JAZZ is far more restrictive than its peers in the early phase of the New American Cinema. The black characters seem overly militant, the white ones paper-thin at best. This irritated me as I watched the film, but in hindsight strikes me as a structural necessity. For cinema is astonishingly similar to Bland's conception of jazz--it stages a tension between an organized conception (directing) and a recalcitrant reality (the image itself). And indeed Bland pairs his rather stilted dialogue with candid scenes from black Chicago life in the late 1950s. The film's most striking moments take place outside the pad, in the streets, bars, and poolhalls where the voice of dissent is most pronounced. Indeed, its thesis is crystallized in the image of billiards, where multi-colored balls have seemingly infinite freedom of movement within the narrow confines of the rectangular game table.
Jazz, that "damaging commentary on the human wastelands of America," is given voice by a young Sun Ra (billed as "Le Sun Ra"). Ra's music was relatively conventional at this point in his career, but already adventurous enough for Bland to distinguish him from the dominant style of the period. It is ironic that Bland did not foresee the sudden explosion of classical jazz aesthetics which Ra and Coleman would shortly achieve, heralding the violence of the next decade in their music. In any case, both the sounds and politics of black liberation are contained in the embryo of this 34-minute film essay. Love it or hate it, CRY OF JAZZ is one of the most historically significant examples of African-American filmmaking, and like many a great work ignored or scorned at its inception, it went off like a bomb several years later, seemingly transcending its own limitations.
Heavy Medical are a band that would have 46-year-old me careening for the pit, embarrassing myself and acquiring injuries to my brittle bones. Their riffs are potent and catchy, and their songs are short, crafty and repetitive; as repetitive as one can be in two minutes, that is.
Despite a mysterious technical handicap on the vocal-effect chain, HM played hard and urgent, and Dave and Dave rendered their set with passion and intensity. You have two more opportunities to catch them in the NY area this time around, 11/18 @ Silent Barn, and at the Nyack Village Theatre, on Friday, 12/3, with electronic pulsators EndlessEndlessEndless.
Though modestly spoken and full of laughs, Heavy Medical play it big and strong, and I highly suggest that you download their Threats e.p., or even better, order a CDr hard copy here. Our friend Diane Kamikaze Farris, quickly becoming an indispensable force in The Castle, engineered Heavy Medical's set with punch and professionalism.
The two Daves (this would have been a field day for The League of Gentlemen's Papa Lazarou, who calls everyone "Dave"), broke the trend of, uh, théâtre d'intoxication that is usually our interview segments on My Castle of Quiet, and you can hear the good, old-fashioned, hobbnobbing and absurdity in the full-length program archive here.
Watch out for these guys. Since Big Business have already rendered the feat of going from accomplished bass-and-drums duo to being 1/2 of Melvins, Heavy Medical will just have to blissfully (or dourly) go on being themselves, and they're quite good at it. Snaky and articulate they are. Many thanks to Dave and Dave, and to Tracy Widdess for breathing new life into my band photo.