Immersion In 24 Hours Of Throbbing Gristle: A Post-Industrial “Soul Train”
Left to right: Peter “Sleazy” Christopherson, Genesis P. Orridge, Cosey Fanni Tutti, and Chris Carter
I’m writing this introduction several days after starting what I’ve termed “The TG 24 Challenge.” The idea was to listen to the Throbbing Gristle live box set, “TG 24” in a 24-hour period.
For those who are unaware, the album consists of 24 hours of music from this groundbreaking industrial group. Tackling it all in one attempt has long been a desire of mine. Spoiler: I don’t quite make it in one go.
Anyone who doesn’t know or care who Throbbing Gristle is are required to watch the following video. It should give you a pretty good idea of their ethos: confrontational, difficult, noisy, and atonal music that verges off the beaten track often to become, essentially, raw noise.
The group members consisted of Genesis P. Orridge on vocals, bass, and violin. His (then) wife Cosey Fanni Tutti on guitar and cornet. On synthesizers, samplers, and all sorts of sonic madness is Chris Carter (later husband of Cosey) and Peter “Sleazy” Christopherson.
Each group member went on to weirder and wilder things: Genesis later founded the prolific Psychic TV and is currently attempting to fuse the genders with a variety of surgical enhancements. Cosey and Chris formed Chris and Cosey to explore slightly poppier directions while Christopherson formed the beloved and similarly prolific Coil with his partner John Balance. Sadly, both Peter and John have passed away.
Moments of levity while shooting the cover to “20 Jazz Funk Greats,” an album which featured no jazz or funk: check out Peter on the left being “sleazy”
In fact, each band member’s non-TG albums far outweigh their albums as a band. If one is to ignore their reunion albums (they’re not bad, but essentially pointless to their legacy) the band released no more than four studio albums and played less than 40 total shows. However, their live work is perhaps their most important legacy and it has been cataloged in a way that even Dead Heads would envy.
That’s because the band has literally released every live show they’ve ever played. The first 24 hours are contained on this box and the next 10 are released on “TG+.” I’ve never heard of another band doing something like this, but it is understandable: more than any other group I’ve heard, these guys possessed a fantastic live chemistry that created shows that were shockingly different from the last.
The band did have limitations. First of all, none of them were really musicians. Genesis’ technique on bass sounds like he just picked it up for the first time and his violin work is aimless. His vocals consist primarily of off-key screaming, speaking, or synth-garbled gibberish. Cosey’s guitar work sounds like somebody with boxing gloves playing with an amp that is constantly feeding back. Chris and Peter come across best here, but often drift into raw sonic terror.
Then again, they were experts are overcoming their obvious limitations. The bass lines are often foreboding and ominous, creating a structure for the band to build on. The violin playing can be surprisingly eerie and subdued at times while the vocals build tension. Lack of technique aside, Cosey is legitimately a noise guitar goddess, creating an unholy racket that has to be heard to be believed: her cornet playing, while simple, does the job.
Meanwhile, Chris (mostly doing the heavy lifting with the synthesizers) and Peter (focused mostly on the samplers) alternate between providing a structure for Genesis and Cosey to react against or dropping into raw dissonance that is still shocking. Set lists seem completely improvised on the spot, with the band sometimes falling into recognizable songs, other times just exploring pulsing synthetic repetition.
What is shocking is that the band plays off each other like expert jazz improvisers and I’m not even exaggerating. A typical show starts off quietly, with Chris providing a synthesizer background. Peter lays some creepy samples on top while Genesis starts improvising vocally. It all builds up as Cosey pulls out all the stops on her guitar playing. Everything roars like the universe until it suddenly drops into near silence. Nothing remains but sampled voices describing horror.
If you have friends who love jazz, play them TG 24. Watch them stop being your friend. A great way to get people out of your house!
Obviously, this isn’t going to be for everybody and it often wasn’t even for me. But I made it through all 24 hours and plan on tackling the last 10 at a later date. Not just yet: nightmarish industrial noise is a bit too on the nose for me after that silly election on Tuesday.
During each hour (which translates to one full show, even if the show is short and you have to listen to audience members talking for five minutes) I kept notes on my impression of that show. They have not been touched or even proofread so as to keep the “real raw” nature intact.
I’m also not going to touch on historically important moments in the band’s history: that’s not what this is about. If I am inaccurate in my show listings (I’m going by what I found online) then please let me know in a polite way and I’ll correct it.
Just push play.
Hour On: London – October 10, 1976
The first hour I’m handling relatively well. This first show is recorded like garbage and the only really identifiable instrument is Genesis’ thudding bass and some synthesizer drones and some echoing vocal lines. Listening to this stuff while writing, taking a shower, or contemplating the hopelessness of modern society is highly recommended!
So far, my mental state is pretty strong. Genesis’ screaming vocals are hard on the brain, I admit, but the noise they produce remains impressively brooding. I am also impressed by their ability to react to each other live, though their instrumental skills were obviously technically limited.
I am sure, however, that I will eventually find it harder to manage this. The day is sunny and bright, the weather is warm, and later I might take a walk along the beautiful path along the lake which lies next to my apartment. With headphones on blasting Throbbing Gristle, of course.
Hour Two: Winchester- July 6, 1976 and London – August 21, 1976
Vastly different introduction to show two so far. While the bag of tricks TG integrated into their musical style could sometimes seem limited, they knew how to rearrange them in unique ways. For example, this show is introduced by some rather foreboding synthesizer wind sounds by either Chris or Peter. Genesis plays a two-note bass line that uses his obviously limited technique to its best effect.
While the first show came out with a somewhat “faster” approach when compared to this (with Genesis starting the show by claiming it was some sort of “post-cultural collapse” or some nonsense) this one immediately sets a deliberately frightening mood. Too bad I didn’t try this on Halloween…Cosey joins in (I think?) on scraping “rhythm guitar” that mimics Genesis’ bass line. This is my impression just five minutes in, so I’ll take a break to engage with it more.
Remains doom 15 minutes into the thing. Bass remains plodding and the synthesizers play noise. The textures have changed subtly, though, in an organic way that shocks me considering, as I’ve mentioned, their incompetence. I don’t have a headache yet, but I’m sitting here imagining doing this endlessly.
They are 22 minutes into the show and they haven’t spoken a word. This is doom metal without heavy guitar riffs. Cosey just played a sharp and shocking chord: she’s been muted throughout. 40 minutes in and Peter and Chris are pulling off some very disorienting and dissonant synthesizer moves. Very high-pitched, loud, and hard to listen to. Oh yeah. I got a lot more of this coming. Where’s Cosey?
Hour Three: High Wycombe – February 11, 1977
Aggressive distorted bass and guitar scrapes highlight this one. Genesis comes out singing quickly. Stop and start structure here: he screams, pounds the bass, stops to say something, and keeps going. Oh boy this is noisy so far, unlike the rather ambient style of the second album. Headache hasn’t started appearing yet and I’m somehow not quite sick of it. Writing is flowing out of me easily. He’s singing about the queen I think: the only lyric I can make out is “that’s the queen.”
Oh there’s some synthesizer noise. That song is over: a minute and a half. Genesis is apologizing for being half an hour later while Peter or Chris makes awful noises on the synthesizer. What assholes. “We’d like to welcome you to Nags End: hopefully you have a quick shag afterward.” Something about tying some guy’s cock to a string and slamming the door. Very Friendly. Starts with synthesizer drone.
A more aggressive take on one of their signature tunes. Chris and Peter seem more confident integrating terrible synthesizer noises into the pieces. They react to Genesis quite well: it’s clear that he is leading the band through the music here as they react to his changes and cues. Chris and Peter are particularly useful here, weaving noisy lines around his words and punctuating the awful lines.
Cosey is playing a supporting role, playing close to Genesis’ rhythms or playing some textural noise. She remains more of a “hidden weapon” in these early gigs. Everything churns together like one big instrument making the worst noises you’ve ever heard. It’s still shocking today, can’t imagine how they reacted to this in 1977. Boos, hisses, likely, with some becoming lifelong fans due to disenfranchisement, rage, nihilism, raw and untapped punk anger etc.
Getting hard. Lots of noise and screaming and stop and start. Again, they remain oddly in-tune with what the other person is going to do, an odd state of mind for such obvious non-musicians. Not halfway done with this one. Any pretense at “songs” has been discarded. The audience is getting antsy. Somebody just whistled. There’s clapping and cheering. “You’ll notice that for the next hour I play only one string. I don’t know why they build these with four.” That says it all. Ends with audience chatter.
Hour Four: Brighton – March 26, 1977
Abstract beginning. Probably my favorite so far. Lots of bouncing-ricochet synthesizer noise. There’s some distorted noise that is probably the bass or the guitar. Not sure yet: it’s a bit faster than Genesis has been playing, but it has a similar distorted tone and it bounces between like two notes. A vocal yelp deeply buried and synthesized. Sounds like a man being crushed to death in a black hole while screaming for help. Feedback, distortion: Cosey is back there making some awful, awful noise.
Serial killer interviews. The guy they’re interviewing sounds like Billy Corgan. Weird. He’s talking about how he bashed in this girl’s head in and he uses that calm and relaxed tone most killers use. Lots of sustained feedback here, Cosey lurking, with Peter and Chris doing the heavy lifting instrumentally. Some kind of sampled public service nonsense. Can’t hear it very well and then it stopped.
Oh. Genesis is playing the violin. That’s a first for the live shows so far. About 18 minutes into it and things are actually taking a calm and almost ambient tone. Genesis is obviously quite inept on the violin but he does know how to play notes on it, unlike some people I know (i.e. myself). Creates an odd and unsettling ambiance. The synthesizers are very ugly now: God, they knew how to make ugly noises with them, the kind of stuff most people ignored. More samples about an intersection.
Near silence as the samples are used sporadically. Some kind of high-pitched noise: I think it’s just amp hum but it’s hard to tell. The audience is dead silent here: that’s impressive! Not one “ya fucking wanker!” to spoil the atmosphere. Restraint: not something I’d associated with this band before. There’s some synthesizer noise, small, faint, and annoying. Yay! Samples back “this means exactly what it implies, when you hear this signal, the attack is due now.” Echoed. Getting overwhelming. PETER.
Getting lost in it now. I think the band is getting a bit silly: “gonna be a belly dancer… romancer… romancer… romancer…” There’s no focus here: just noise for noise’s sake. Know that was always a point with these guys, but it lacks the really intriguing textures. Something about “Johnny Rotten.” Genesis is obviously improvising. Cosey is getting really thick: there’s not much synthesizer now as the guitars and bass take over. That’s probably enough for this hour.
Hour Five: Southampton – May 7, 1977
Epic ascending synthesizer opening with Chris creating a swell of sound that would be appropriate for a new age or progressive song or album. Adds a little dissonance to make it more TG and sustains it: there’s no crescendo or release here, it just starts throbbing like a raw vein in your heart or perhaps some gristle which you’re trying to chew on but can’t quite seem to get down. There’s some stabs from Peter here and other notes added. Genesis and Cosey are sitting this part out, appropriately so.
Spacier type of sound so far. The synthesizers are doing the heavy lifting, with Genesis mostly thumping out his trademark “stoopid” bass lines. Voice synthesized: Cosey doing scraping noises on the guitar and lots of whammy nonsense. Not like Steve Vai, but bending the strings beyond the appropriate bending point. Chris is going full on siren here and playing something nearly melodic. Cosey is more noticeable here with her guitar noise. Pete plays some underwater bloops and bleeps.
The whole thing is very damn tense and probably my favorite show so far. It takes the group to a slightly different arena than their heavily distorted strum und drang. That said, there’s a lot of the intuitive interactions that they can pull off at their best. Chris keeps the synths whining high and menacing. The tone is very clean for his normal style: nearly prog type tone with lots of sustained stuff. They are reworking the elements here over and over in subtle ways, continually pushing it forward.
More samples, briefly. Cars. Pure white noise synthesizer tone blends into wind. Sticking rather ambient in tone with Chris and Peter doing the heavy lifting. Cosey and Genesis could be off having a shag for all I can tell. Waves landing on the beach now. It’s getting hypnotic and I’m losing concentration, but in a good way. The mind is haunted by these tones. About halfway through now. Genesis is adding some bass (I think?) and Cosey is playing heavily distorted guitar (I think?).
Abrupt and artificial stop! More slight synthesizer noises. Bass blips. Notes there. Chris is staying in the background. Genesis keeps his bass work high and simple. Cosey is now playing some chunking guitar parts. The synthesizer parts get faster and higher and the band kicks into it a little bit more. An awkward “ahem” groove is being established. They sure could use some drums or a drum machine here. It remains exploratory, as if they are looking for the lost chord and can’t quite seem to find it.
Cosey’s presence is more noticeable here. She makes some rather awful noises on the guitar while Chris creates some rather nice arpeggios in the background. Peter is AWOL I think, while Genesis holds down the fort with his simple bass line. Though I mock his skill, he’s at least almost always on time and rhythm, even if the rhythm is simple. It creates a stabilizing element that gives the other band members something to play on. It’s surprising how pleasant this part sounds right now, considering the elements are harsh distorted guitar, repetitive bass lines, and wild synthesizers.
Some samples now: emergency line, slowed down echoed voices. Synthesizers very quiet. Probably overall the best show I’ve listened to yet. There’s a bit more to go at this point, but I think I’ve pretty successfully gotten the gist of this show down. On to hour six i.e. one quarter of the way through!
Hour Six: London – May 22, 1977
Was at Wal-Mart shopping for supplies for tonight when this one started. Very loud beginning and it has moved through quiet moments and silence and all of that. It’s starting to get to me. “ROGER DALTREY! All you need is love…all you need is what? All you need is The Who.” It sounds like a very large see saw violently moving up and down with rusty hinges. I am already tired: it’s six o’clock in the afternoon and I’m going to cook some Chinese food and play video games to avoid insanity.
Less a musician and more a rabble rouser and front man, Genesis has remained a controversial figure in England and across the country, refusing to compromise his extreme vision
Hour Seven: London – September 29
Drums of some sort and synthesizers are taking on a drone aspect. Energetic without being noisy: tribal. The chance of identifying specific tones and instruments has been limited to a conceptual possibility but the reality of doing so has been limited to theory. They float about me like the singers in a space opera caught adrift in orbit. It is space it is noise it is all containing and absolutely meaningless.
I’m losing myself in it now. They could hold this groove for the whole hour and I’d be happy. Something tells me that they will. Do it! They didn’t. All is quiet but…what I think is Cosey’s guitar. It’s so hard to tell, but I’m pretty sure I heard fingers scraping strings. No one makes a sound in the whole place. Someone just laughed. People are talking quietly. Wonder if they like it or hate it. Wonder if someone is puking in the bathroom, in the bar, outside a window, and laughing as it hits some poor old guy on the head, covering him with blood waste and rendering him impotent with rage.
Hour Eight: Winchester – November 11, 1977
It sounds like somebody sharpening a knife for an hour, a knife that hovers above your neck ready to draw blood. Harsh sounds belie gentle souls: Genesis would never hurt a fly? Somebody hammering nails into my forehead. Throwing up to the rhythm and there electronic moan doth fly!
Hour Nine: Valentino – December 17, 1977
This is the sound of death approaching. It is slow and methodical, full of quiet menace, and a British idiot screaming nonsense through a distortion pedal. Phases, up and down, bleeps and bloops, crunchy after effects, the glow of post-coital relaxation, the grunt of a birthing mother: it all sounds the same eventually and loses its effect on the imagination. The audience is hooting, though, so who am I?
There is a pulse to it. I listen to the pulse and let my mind sync up to it, my heart beat dropping and my skin cooling. What time is it? There’s a palpable sense of yearning, like fingers scraping through hay to find a needle, there’s a hope here, deep within the folds, a speck of life that can be grasped, pulled out, and gnawed on like a bone pulled from the chest of a lion. Yes. Oh yes. Randomness here.
Stasis, like a flat heart beat or the horizon of the ocean dead calm and silent. It echoes and the band takes a break as Chris lets the synthesizer do all the hard work. Have a smoke, a shag, and a hag. The noise they can make…it still gives the young ones a headache. That’s nice.
Hour Ten: Brighton – February 25, 1978
There’s some relaxation in my mind now. This particular one starts out rather low key. There’s some siren synths, but not as high pitched or insistent. Rather background noise. Cosey is very art-damaged guitar here. This isn’t easy listening. There is a drone throughout that creates menace, like the sound of bombs dropping on the countryside. Peter plays a radio broadcast or something in the background. I can’t tell. Cosey creates these great swells of sound on her guitar and Chris answers back.
How much of these swells on the last few albums were by Cosey and not Chris, as I assumed? Best not to think. There’s a genius of noise here in her work as she skillfully explores a variety of new guitar textures. The odd thing is that I’ve come to find it not only appropriate and not noise (no headache any more!) but almost as soothing as the wind in the trees. The last hour had about five minutes of silence and when it came, I felt shocked and unable to respond. I listened to all five minutes and felt the quiet hammer into my head. Then I screamed, shouted, changed the album, and fired an airhorn.
NOISE! NOISE! NOISE! If there’s one thing I love it’s noise…is there any escape, from a lack of noise? GOODNESS ME I HOPE NOT. Noise comes from the darkest parts of our hearts and warms us up for the impending apocalypse that looms deadly and dangerous on our minds. So yeah: this album is pretty good. There’s some kind of drum beat here, synthesized, I dunno. It goes on and on and Genesis is quite here. No bass or violin, just Cosey playing her casually wild guitar. Genius in her way. There’s a whole lot of babbling samples to end this out here. That’s just fine. That’s dandy. Super dooper.
Hour Eleven: London – March 3, 1978
More of the same but for the addition of a drum machine and more insistent rhythms. Gives it an early and cheap techno feel. Cosey’s guitar is intense and Genesis yells for most of it. GRIP ON REALITY IS SLIPPING INTO THE ENDLESS REPETITION OF COSEY FANNI TUTTI FEEDBACK. Now there is a bunch of samples competing for attention. Something about a kidnapper. There’s a drone there, too. Whispering. Quiet. The dynamics of their shows are getting to be quite similar.
Hour Twelve: London – May 18, 1978
The beginning of the halfway hour. It starts like DOA: the same synthesizer part, the “drump drump DEEE” thing. That plays quiet, like the sample it probably is, Peter doing it I bet. Sleazy. Chris is playing a synthesizer part that sounds like something you’d hear in Chris and Cosey: simple, repetitive, but clean. Adds a little distortion. Or is that Cosey? Genesis has been very vacant these last few shows.
This seems like a total Peter and Chris show so far. Maybe that really noisy junk is Cosey? It’s so hard to tell. It sounds more like a synthesizer with distortion on it, but again, you can never tell with bands that do so much to make it all sound like one big noise. Ah no, nevermind, there’s Cosey: playing relatively clean and simple lines in the background. No bass guitar. No violin. No screaming. What is Genesis doing? Just sitting around backstage looking at stag magazines?
There’s some vocals. Distorted note held long. He’s talking quiet, echo, can’t tell what he’s saying. Ah! Hold that note…hold it…hold it…add that distortion…there you go. Increase the rotation of spin. Nice…nice…awww yeah, more distortion, there’s some backward swoops behind that and…it’s getting really abstract now, for a moment rhythm threatened, but there’s Genesis in the back, his vocals drowned out, nothing coming, nothing going and yup: business as usual again!
There’s a simple dark and brooding goth synth line in the background. ATTENTION ROBERT SMITH. Take that, throw a “G, A, D” chord progression over it, arrange it to symphonic proportions, do your Robert Smith vocal thing, and make it a hit. You still got it in you somewhere, Fat Bob. I still love you, man, I really do. “Disintegration is the best album ever.” Cosey is playing the coronet I think on this one. There’s a church atmosphere here. I’m going insane. BUT NEVERMIND THAT.
More very early techno. Swoops. Bleeps. The cheapest drum machine ever. Genesis is sleeping on the job. Cosey is adding up royalty checks in the back. Or is that her guitar there? Again: impossible to tell. Gets into a pretty damn good drum groove with some pretty deep phased base, whining synthesizer lines, and noise guitar parts. Pretty ahead of its time and ingenious in its layout.
Chris Carter built many of his own synthesizers and is one of the pioneers of techno and “trance,” with his use of repetitive, but ever-changing, synthesizer lines
Hour Thirteen: London – July 1, 1978
Confession: I couldn’t do all 24 hours in a row. It just wasn’t going to happen: it was getting late and my mind was becoming flighty, weird, and unhappy. After a reasonable sleep I woke up, refreshed, and ready to face the challenge ahead: 12 more hours of Throbbing Gristle:
First thing I did when I woke up was start some TG. Show starts out pretty noisy right away with a lot of heavy distorted bass or guitar and synths going wild. It’s election day here in America, the presidential election, and there’s a Trump and there’s a Clinton and there’s a lot of really unhappy people, so I’m shutting off the world today and engaging with no one and listening to Throbbing Gristle all day as a way of cleansing the palate and the mind. Think of it as a spiritual thing.
Hamburger Lady. Lots of echoed voices. Threshold of pain. Coronet here and there. He was eating a chili ?? and flashed on the ?? Drone now the synths are low and ominous. Each show moves like a Grateful Dead set and I’m not even kidding. Nothing seems planned and the band moves in and out of textures and sounds at seeming random, but always at the right time. BETTER than a Grateful Dead show because there’s no songs to straight jacket them into simple melodic concepts.
Oh violin and samples. Thanks guy. That is what my life was missing. Genesis scrapes: Peter lets the voices babble. Some kind of weird noises echo and remind me that Donald Trump could be president. A bunch of noise and then this: “I swallowed the chain and then I felt like it wrapped around my spine and it was one of the only things I ever felt. I was in the cell one day and I took the mouthpiece of the spoon and swallowed it and the hospital bed I swallowed the wire.” It just goes on like that awhile.
There’s this rhythm going on now in the thing. Chunk chunk chunk chunk chunk. It gives a structure. That’s nice. Genesis is blathering and Cosey is firing off those trademark “blistering noise” solos that remind me so much of John McLaughlin or even Ritchie Blackmore. Relax, that’s a very, very bad joke that should be taken out back and forced to listen to 24-hours of live Throbbing Gristle.
Even if I didn’t do this all in one stretch, my God, doing it in a 36-hour period is just as damaging to my mental state. That’s only 12-hours of non-Throbbing Gristle listening, eight of which I spent asleep. WOW. Chris is really swelling up the synthesizer noise now or is that Cosey? If it’s Cosey, she’s a noise guitar Goddess (like duh) and if it’s Chris, he’s a synth noise God (like double duh). Peter is in the back twiddling knobs or painting an album cover or something. The audience is probably deaf or dead.
Hour Fourteen: London – July 6, 1978
Third (or is it fourth?) show to open with the “I.B.M.” noise. Probably became something of a trademark. There’s some Cosey guitar noise: brief and stabbing. Hamburger Lady. Creepy. Chunking noise again. It’s starting to blend into one: the same elements shuffled and presented in slight tweaks. The cumulative mental damage caused by the first 12 is gone now. But hey: there’s 10 more to go.
Hour Fifteen: London – November 11, 1978
Things have come to an interesting point. Genesis only sings with the “clipping” vocal effect and he announced the show briefly and rather oddly. The return of the sharpening knife effect. It’s all becoming an endless blur of noise. More vocals at the beginning. Samples. It swirls more psychedelic than pure noise at this point. The synth has a bit of an organ feel to it. There are some strange noises!
They have become professional in their approach. There is an attack to it, a fearsome rumble. Genesis rarely speaks or sings. There’s a lot of synthesized noise and some terrible guitar racket. Cosey is a devastating monster, a horrible torturer that takes the glorious beauty of the distorted guitar and squeezes it into the most twisted shapes, the most unpleasant gurgles and spasmodic allegories.
Again, the dynamics of the show are often extreme. There is heavy noise and gurgles and burbles and then near complete silence. People talking in the background: could be a sample or could be audience members trying to hook up. The sound of the audience is absolutely absent in general: no screams of protest or applause. It’s eerie, like they’re playing to ghosts.
Hour Sixteen: London – January 21, 1979
It’s another hour of the same old shit. Two-thirds of the way through! Note: this hour is more “trance” than anything, repetitive heavy techno with babbling Genesis. Less noise. No Hamburger Lady.
Hour Seventeen: Derby – April 12, 1979
According to the most recent estimates, there are about 1,025,109.8 words in the English language. At best, I know about one-percent of them, if not less. This doesn’t bother me so much (there’s only so much room in my head for collections of letters and numbers) but it does make it nearly impossible to continue making these descriptions interesting and engaging. So here’s a list of synonyms for the word “noisy” that describe this particular album:
For what it’s worth, Genesis uses more vocal echoes here and Cosey continues to stretch out as the noisiest one of the bunch, the one who really lays the industrial texture thickest. Chris and Peter become the backbones on which she can paint. They are the “rhythm section,” if you will, while Cosey and Genesis are the “front line,” to labor a particularly meaningless jazz metaphor.
Also: it is shocking how many industrial bands just took these textures and reclaimed them wholesale.
Hour Eighteen: Sheffield – April 25, 1979
More strident here. Militant. The tones are harsher and there was an extended almost Negativland-ish moment of samples. That disappeared under the heavy strain of the repetitive synthesizers and the drone of the guitar. It is grooving now, like a runner at the peak of his powers, feeling that burst of the “high” that comes when he reaches the zen-perfection of the perfect run. Yup, something like that.
There comes that synthesizer part that Chris likes using so much. High-pitched pinched “bip” that sets up a rhythm, such as it is. Boom. Boom. Boom. There is no Hell, I’m sure of that, but if there is, Satan freaks out when he hears this music because it’s a little too “scary” for him, the fallen angel that he is or was or could be when examined under a strict and polarizing microscope.
It don’t come easy, you know it don’t come easy…it cont dome easy…knou yow wit eont dome casy…Okay, that one had a really great ending. The sheer volume of noise sustained is great.
Peter was a skilled photographer who actually helped fund the band by doing album art work for Hipgonsis, including work for Led Zeppelin and Peter Gabriel
Hour Nineteen: Manchester – May 19, 1979
So Trump won. This stuff goes down really well today. Hamburger Lady is particularly scary. Packed up a bunch of my stuff to move back to my mom’s to prepare to move to South Korea. Hahaha. Scary dialogue with a racist twinge: kind of shockingly apropos considering the feeling in the air.
Hour Twenty: Northampton – May 26, 1979
Harsh noise immediately. I’m writing a lot this morning. It’s nine o’clock am and I’ve been awake since five, a weird twist for me. There are a lot of boings and springs to this one so far. The last hour went quickly because I was writing so much. People around the world are mourning and in great fear because of the election and I can’t say I blame them much. Suicidal thoughts are high for many.
There are many things I want to say while I listen to this music, most of which should be held in my brain and never released to the public. There are only so many different sentences and components and paragraphs and metaphors that can be construed and yes, I’ve labored this point before already, but I see nothing but smoke stacks blowing in the wind over soot covered bodies when I hear this music.
Mentality is rather cold and twisted due to lack of sleep. A cornet. Hamburger Lady. Oh Good. More heavy rhythm over the second half. A basic industrial rhythm ripped off a thousand times by others.
Hour Twenty-One: London – August 3, 1979
“Convincing people…convincing people…convincing people…” The sun is bright outside and the sky is blue. It was warm enough to walk without a coat on. Squirrels ran in the park and couples walked holding hands. Trump will be president. My body felt invigorated by the walk.
“Convincing people…convincing people…I’ll tell you what I’ll tell you what I’ll tell you what.” Fresh air. Glorious life! Things will be okay in an abstract way, as a fat grey squirrel twirls its tail outside. Hamburger Lady again. The shows become predictable again. I still haven’t heard “Discipline” on any of these albums. There aren’t many left. When’s it coming? I could use some, for sure.
Hour Twenty-Two: London – December 23, 1979
Very sample heavy beginning to this one. Some porno soundtracks by the sound of it. Appropriate, appropriate. The musical backing behind it is cheesy. Reminds me of a Kool Keith album, rather than Negativland, as those guys rarely went full on sex: too nerdy for that. Some of them may have never had sex, though that’s probably just mean and an unfair thing to say. Yikes! Glad my neighbors are out.
It’s been going on and on and on and I wasn’t sure it was ever going to end. Abruptly it stopped and now Chris is going wild with some whirling synthesizer part. Cosey is blasting out notes on the coronet. Abstract, like ghosts playing tag in the night. As always, unpleasant to listen to and annoying when in the wrong mood. I had to play some other music before coming to this one again.
It becomes like a fan in the background or the sound of your mother’s heartbeat in the womb: you know it’s there, you technically hear it, but it becomes nothing but noise. There seems to be actual bass guitar on this one and Genesis is very vocally noisy. Cosey is back on guitar and making it pay for all the terrible things it did to her family. The other guys are just content hanging around and letting it all hang out. Let it all hang out. Let it all hang out.
HOLY SHIT DONALD TRUMP IS THE PRESIDENT. Lots of echoing babbly babble here. Eh. Some kind of funky groove here with actual bass playing (wow! Genesis seems to be playing a real bass line rather than two notes), Cosey cornet bleats, and interlocking synthesizer footsteps.
Cosey, an intelligent, talented, and beautiful woman had a lengthy career in art, modeling, and adult films outside of music
Hour Twenty-Three: Leeds – February 24, 1980
Starts with coronet: like a dying whale burping up its only living child. Gurgles from the synths and spaces between the notes. Quickly becomes just synthesizer and there’s discordance and no harmony.
Distracted for pretty big portions of this with writing. I’ll say this: it definitely sounds like a Throbbing Gristle show. There’s a lot of noise at the beginning, Genesis yelled, then the end gets pretty ambient.
Breaking down the individual components of these shows and writing intricately about each hour is akin to decoding a DNA spiral by hand and reading the components verbally. Don’t do that!
Cosey is soloing. SOLOING. I think it’s her anyway. I suppose it could be a synthesizer. It seems guitarish. A little more melodic than her typical fair. Okay, maybe it’s the synth. Eh. Wow. Eh. Wow.
Ends with hypnotist sample. Funny. The audience claps. Even funnier: so few hands. Genesis blabs about the next band. There’s murmur about that. That’s that hour.
Hour Twenty-Four: London – February 29, 1980
Trance. The same synthesizer line for the first 45 minutes of the show (give or take) with Genesis “aahhing” over top. The rest of it is another synthesizer line (which sounds like a cello) with Cosey playing noisy guitar in the back while Genesis improvises vocally.
Perhaps their simplest show of the whole set, one that goes all in on the more repetitive aspects of their music. Coronet, hypnotist, oh shit it’s over!
Thanks for listening, sorry about the racket!
I gained a new respect for this band after listening to these shows. They are clearly not professional musicians, but they find new ways to make every show different. Almost every moment is more-or-less improvised and there are some ahead-of-their-time textures here that are still being explored by modern bands. If their studio albums didn’t quite hit me the way I’d hoped, these lives show definitely did.
On to TG+ or 10 more hours of this stuff!
H. Jon Benjamin’s “Well I Should Have” Review
Do you have a pretty good sense of humor? I mean, the kind of humor that sees the hilarity in somebody completely failing and making a total ass of themselves in a thoroughly predictable and planned way? Then “Well I Should Have,” a jazz album by comedian and voice over artist H. Jon Benjamin is likely right up your alley.
However, if you’re a jazz fan, you best stay away because Benjamin quite literally attacks the genre with his Monkian bursts of staccato piano noise, flurries of uncertain melodies, and bad, bad humor in what has to be the weirdest jazz released in quite some time.
What is so weird about this album? A few things. One: Benjamin is primarily a comedian and not really well known for his musical ability. Two: he actually doesn’t know how to play the piano. So he spent about three hours learning what you have to assume were the absolute PRIMITIVE BASICS of jazz piano and sat in with a bass, sax, and drum trio.
Hilarity ensures…mostly. Maybe he’s funnier than this album makes him out to be, but his sketches are mostly absolutely free of any humor. The first track starts with Benjamin trying to sell his soul to the devil to learn how to play piano…so that he can record the album the next day.
The sketch starts out okay: the idea that he is desperately trying to learn piano is cute. Also, the idea that he can literally just call the devil and meet him is clever. But he shoots himself in the foot with some bad puns (he meets the devil at the “Crossroads Female Boutique,” ugh) and lame sex jokes (the devil ask him to “suck my dick”) that fall flat.
Thankfully, things take an upswing when the band starts playing on the next tune, “I Can’t Play Piano, Pt 1.” Here an accomplished, it not particularly adventurous, jazz ensemble sets down a pretty reasonable groove…around which Benjamin weaves his…
It’s time to describe what Benjamin actually does on this album. At times, he tries to follow along to the melodies by playing rhythmically similar flurries of notes. But his cluelessness regarding the basics of music of music mean that it’s essentially dissonant with the backing band. It’s hard to even describe what he’s doing because it just goes against the grain of all concepts of jazz music.
Does it work? Musically, of course not. But comically, yes, it does. The funniest parts are when he almost (and assuredly by accident) coincides with the band and simply sounds like a weird, but adventurous, jazz pianist. The fact that any of it sounds even remotely similar to jazz makes his satirical point (if, indeed, he is trying to make one) well: jazz often sounds clueless and directionless to the average listener.
This type of playing can be classified his “ensemble” work. Here, he is simply playing a support role to the band behind him. Occasionally, he drops down to playing simple “vamps” of one or two chords. Other times, he slams the piano with 10-finger chords that overwhelm the rest of the band in a shocking manner.
His solos are even funnier. Without backing band members to play off (or against}, he punishes the piano by abusing it in multiple ways, including:
- Playing the same couple of notes over and over
- Running his fingers randomly up the keyboard
- Bashing out lumps of notes in unlistenable chord clusters
- Softly playing off rhythm
It’s not all just bad piano work, though. There are more sketches, such as “Soft Jazzercise” and these don’t work for me. More dick jokes and improvised nonsense like “let gravity take over…like the movie Gravity” just make it seem like he’s not trying very hard. Maybe his fans will find these moments hilarious, but I doubt it.
And I was especially disappointed by the last song, a rap/funk/metal parody song that mostly talks about gross ways of having anal sex. Not only is this stupid, but it ruins the whole concept of the album! The first time I heard it, I thought I accidentally bought a particularly bad Limp Bizkit song by mistake.
Which is a shame, because the guy obviously has a sense of humor and his approach to playing piano is often bafflingly funny: there’s one point where he just bashes on one note for about 15 seconds.
The best parts though might come from the backing members. The saxophone player sometimes actually tries to mimic Benjamin’s chaos. And occasionally Benjamin exhorts the band, like “you can do better!” The best of these moments comes after a particularly awful series of chords. He rewards himself by shouting “can’t do that!”
Rather, you SHOULDN’T do that.
So was this album worth the $8 I spent on it? Oh sure. I laughed pretty regularly and was reminded of my early days of playing keyboard. I imagine I would have played in exactly the same way, but somehow thought I was doing a great job.
But, in the end, it’s really hard to see much of a point to the album. The sketches are hit-or-miss and the one-note joke of his terrible piano playing is forced to carry most of the humor. And while I was busting a gut every time he played (especially when he actually tried to mimic the rest of the band), it is a one-play kind of thing.
Recommended to: people with a good sense of humor or those who hate jazz
Should be avoided by: anyone who loves jazz or music in general, people who don’t like doodie jokes
That was fun! I hope to start making posts more frequently…it’s been way too long.
Kool Keith’s Sex Style – Get Ready to Take a Shower
Hey hey, quick question: do you all like porno?
I don’t mean to shock or offend. Certainly I’m not interested in drawing this blog into the gutter with such filthy talk. It’s more of a rhetorical question. Because I’m sure in the course of your life, you’ve probably seen some. It’s okay: it’s natural. There’s no shame in it.
Rapper Kool Keith (aka Dr. Octagon, Dr. Dooom, Mr. Gerbick, Keith Thornton) understands this. In fact, if you were to ask him “do you like porno?” he answer would be an unqualified thumbs up.
To prove it, I’m going to share a little anecdote told to me by my friend Chris about three or four years ago. At the time, we were both living in Grand Rapids, Michigan. I was a freelance writer while he did Army Reserve work and got extra cash by working at a pharmacy.
During on Chris’ shifts at the pharmacy, an unmistakable figure walked through the door: Dr. Octagon himself. After a few tentative moments, Keith walked up to the counter looking like a man in need of assistance.
Chris: “Hey, you playing a show in town tonight?”
Mr. Gerbick: “Yeah man yeah, listen, you know where I can find the nearest porn shop?”
If that story left any doubt that Keith was a dedicated porno fanatic, his 1997 album “Sex Style” should wipe it away. I can honestly say that, out of the over 10,000 albums I’ve heard in my life, this is one of the most authentically dirty.
Just take a look at the cover for a minute: it looks like something you’d find in a stained cardboard box in a seedy restroom next in the strip club you’re mother has nightmares about you attending.
The back cover is even worse: the snap shots look like outtakes from a never-asked-for Kool Keith sex tape. And the album itself is littered with samples from endless porno films and even features “skits” (if you want to call them that) of dirty phone talk and perhaps even simulated (or real) sexual acts.
Mr. Thornton himself defines the album early on in the title track: porno core. Of course it’s brilliant. Thank you for asking.
If you’ve never heard Kool Keith before, the first time is always shocking. The sheer volume of words that spews from his mouth in an average song is immense: there’s a reason he’s one of the top three rappers by vocabulary. Sometimes his lines follow the beat and meter: sometimes they sprawl all over the place.
But, his imagery and wordplay is inspired, deep and bizarre. Just check out the first few verses of what many consider his signature song “Earth People” from his first album “Dr. Octagonecologyst”:
First patient, pull out the skull, remove the cancer
Breakin’ his back, chisel necks for the answer
Supersonic bionic robot voodoo power
Equator ex my chance to flex skills on Ampex
With power meters and heaters gauze anti-freeze
Octagon oxygen, aluminum intoxicants
More ways to blow blood cells in your face
React with four bombs and six fire missiles
Armed with seven rounds of space doo-doo pistols
You may not believe, livin’ on the earth planet
My skin is green and silver, warhead lookin’ mean
Astronauts get played, tough like the ukulele
As I move in rockets, overriding, levels
Nothing’s aware, same data, same system
The hook for this song is: “Earth People, New York and California, Earth People, I was born on Jupiter” repeated four times. Happily, he uses the word “doo-doo” twice in about 30 seconds. “Doo-doo” is among his many weird humor devices which sees him contrast absolutely impeccable word play and disgusting subject matter with child-like phrases and imagery.
Doo-doo is all over “Sex Style.” The album stinks, but in a good way, in the way that Keith intended. Because Keith isn’t just a pervert: he’s a dedicated pervert on a mission. It’s his third album in a row where he invents a new rap style: “Dr. Octagonecologyst” invented “sci-fi-core” while “First Come, First Served” invented horror core.
Each album is as dedicated to that theme as possible and dedication is what sets this album apart from other “porno rap” acts (like “2 Live Crew”). You see, normally, I’d roll my eyes at an album this gross and dismiss it as a novelty. Not in offense (because I’m no prude) but because albums of this type often seem lazy, slapped together and boring no more than a year or two after their release.
But here, Keith dives in head first and swims among the filth. He bathes in it, drinks it up and lets it inhabit his essence. These aren’t simple “hickory, dickory dock” style dirty rhymes. No, a man this dedicated to pornography obviously has a vast vocabulary of filthy words to slip and he doesn’t let down.
The litany of disgusting and vivid sexual metaphors never stops. They just tumble out of Keith like he’s breathing air or reading the phone book. In the title track, it sounds like nothing could be simpler to him than endlessly describing all the perverted things he is going to do/is doing/has already done to … competing rappers.
While it may seem strange to hear Keith describe these acts, it actually fits in well with the tradition of “battle” rapping. In this style, rappers would come up with creative ways to put down their opponent while showing off their rapping prowess.
On this track, and others (including the appropriately titled “Still the Best”), Keith is constantly throwing down the gauntlet to his competing rappers. He just goes to a pretty severe lyrical extreme. Even stranger is the backing track: Kutmaster Kurt works creates an ominous tone with his squeaky-spacey-horror synth sounds. As a result, it musically sounds like something you’d hear in a horror movie..
Those kinds of wild contrasts are what drive the album to extreme states of confusion. For example, the song “Make Up Your Mind” have a funky groove that’s catchy as hell, but features “tortured” lyrics about a guy trying to get his girl to choose between him and the other guys she’s been seeing.
As the album goes on, one would be tempted to think that the notoriously inconsistent (especially in later years) rapper would start to slip up. And frankly, tracks like “Still the Best” and “Plastic World” don’t adhere to the theme, though both are fine songs.
However, the constantly engaging music and the legitimately wild, complex and disturbing wordplay Keith indulges in creates an atmosphere I’ve never heard in any other album: steamy and wet. If this album was a person, it would walk around all day wearing nothing but a trench coat.
With a rapper less dedicated (and talented) the album would have been a mess. But Keith gives in totally to his perverted side and lets loose with his typically left-field observations and word combinations to create a one-of-a-kind album.
Holding a Dance Party with MC Cartney!
If there’s anybody that knows anything about dance music, it’s Paul McCartney.
Clearly a man who knows what it means to dance. Courtesy Strange Cosmos
While it looks like his boy toy dance partner has two left feet, Paul has consistently shown he has a great ear for music that gets you on your feet and, to paraphrase George Harrison, “shaking your ass.”
So, when it comes time to create a dance mix you can trust, it’s obviously time to turn to MC Cartney himself. Paul’s career spans a whole bunch of crap, from hard core dance tunes, to rockabilly, to silly love songs, “Silly Love Songs,” synthesizer experiments, classical waltzes, and beautiful ballads.
Honestly, you could make a tub thumpin’ dance mix from his first 10 solo albums alone. However, we’re going full career spanning here, simply to maximize potential annoyance. And no Beatles: that’s too easy.
(I apologize for the mean spirited Linda McCartney joke: she was a lovely person, with a warm heart, real photographic skill and pretty.)
1. “Dance Tonight.”
Perhaps this comes across as a little cloddishly obvious: after all, the word DANCE is right there in the title. But hey, it’s catchy, I like the guitar solo and it’s so charmingly freaking PAUL that I can’t help but love it.
Besides, it’s kind of a nice warm up to later block-rocking-beats: the tone is low key, laid back, and rather chill. And if you’re more inspired to do the Charleston than you are the Dougie, that’s just fine. We’ll wait for you to stop.
2. “Transpirtual Stomp”
Raise your hands if you knew Paul did an acid house album. For those of you who have your hands up, kick yourself right in the arse because that was a trick question. Paul didn’t do an acid house album: Youth did in 1993, when he took samples from Paul’s superb “Off the Ground” and created “Strawberries Oceans Ships Forest” nine tracks of long, relatively throwaway electronic music that asks one question: do you know bogey music?”
3. “Bogey Music”
Because Paul certainly did! Get out your air vocoder, because we’re getting stupid! Ah, the early 80’s! Was there a more fun time to own a whole bank of synthesizers? During this period, Paul said “what the hell, I’m game” and tried his hand at creating some form of nascent synth pop.
Did it work? Sure! I definitely want to bogey after hearing this flawless masterpiece. The Sistine Chapel’s got nothing on getting down and dirty with the bogey!.
See also: “Dark Room” from the album album, “McCartney II: The Synthening.”
4. “Run Devil Run”
Oh my! Listen to those shouts! Paul is ready to kick down the door of artistic credibility by slamming together his own rockabilly standard. After two (or three, if you delved into “Dark Room”) songs of electronic trance strum und drang, it’s refreshing to hear an old-fashioned “shake yer hips” style dance tune. Your parents probably danced to songs like this the night they conceived you. GET INTO IT.
5. “Maybe I’m Amazed”
By now, your blood should be pumping. For many elderly MC Cartney fans, that’s not a good thing: it could mean they are close to a serious coronary infraction.That’s why we’re going to slow it down a bit with this jam.
It’s cliched as all hell, but what can I say? The song still works. So, let your favorite lover out of their lock box, stand cheek to cheek, and slow dance the night away.
So, “Maybe I’m Amazed” didn’t slow your heart rate enough? You’re still gasping for air? All right, let’s take a dance party break to avoid a true party foul heart attack. While you relax, listen to this piece of pseudo-classical nonsense. I won’t turn it off until you start dancing again. That should get you going.
7. “Rock Show”
Yeah! Put those lighters in the air! Whistle to the main synthesizer melody. And then get ready to grind, grind, grind on your favorite scratching post. What the hell did any of that mean? Who cares! MC Cartney is in the room.
Paul goes glam without make up and tames the genre to his rules by making everything as bogey as humanely possible. Or as lush. I get the two confused from time to time.
8. “Silly Love Songs”
Every dance party needs to have the “sell out” song that everyone outwardly hates, but secretly loves. This is that song. SHAKE YOUR ASS.
9. “Monkberry Moon Delight”
After that silly little frothy cash cow, it’s time to stomp your feet to something a bit weirder. Yet still danceable. Can’t you just imagine doing some variation of the “two-step shuffle” to this glorious little ditty? I know I certainly can: because I certainly AM. Let it all hang out.
(See also: “Let it All Hang Out”)
10. “Another Day”
It’s the end of the dance party. Everyone is worn out: they’ve danced to their ultimate limit. It’s time to ride out into the sunset and to celebrate…that’s right, the rise of a new day sun.
What better way to float away than nodding off to this feather-weight ditty? Just imagine the credits are rolling on your own private movie: it works better that way.
Well, that’s it. Hopefully, you danced so hard your pants fell off. Or at least you got wacky enough to put a lampshade on your head. Yeah. I hope that happened!
Inexplicable Albums: The Grateful Dead’s “Infrared Roses”
What a long strange trip…
You know what? I’m not going to throw down that hoary old quote like it’s some beatific mantra that distills the essence of life into seven simple words. It’s a petty and banal way to start a review and I won’t stand for own laziness. Especially as this is, indeed, my first review after a two-year break.
And, of course, I decide to review the Grateful Dead for some reason. And not only a Grateful Dead album: but one that has no recognizable songs and is, instead, edited together as one long continuous suite of keyboard noise, bass thumps, drum paradiddles and guitar scrapes.
What a way to reintroduce myself to the reviewing world! Indeed, what a long strange trip…
It’s been so long since I reviewed anything that my fans are likely unaware that I went and did something incredibly stupid and ill-advised: I became a Grateful Dead fan.
It started out small: just a single live album, “Live/Dead.” Then some MP3’s. Then all the studio albums… right now, as I type, I’m plotting how to afford the next massive multi-concert box set they’re sure to release soon. After all, who doesn’t need 17,000 variations of “Sugaree”?
How did this happen?
The Grateful Dead have a way of working their way into your mind and your musical sphere. Their songs are pleasant, melodic, harmonious, well-played and varied. They have pretty good lyrics. Sometimes their songs are excellent. They’re almost always good.
But then you listen to a live album. And it clicks: Jerry starts soloing, Phil starts zooming, Bob starts chicka-chicking, whichever soon-to-be-dead keyboard player they had was tinkling and the double drummers were thumping.
And off you went, on some musical adventure! Sometimes it really sucked, but it was usually listenable. Sometimes it was transcendent.
Jazz in a rock format.
Not jazz rock. Not fusion. But rock (and roots music) played as if it was jazz. Nothing quite like it.
Another reason the band is so addicting is due to what I call the “Walt Whitman” effect: so much of them, and all so luscious. Because the band was constantly up to…something. There was always some kind of music they were working on or a side band with which they were jamming.
Simply put, they released a ton of studio albums (better than most people think), recorded almost all their shows and had baffling solo careers that veered from Grateful Dead stylization straight up into funk, jazz and even mainstream AOR.
Jerry probably did the best: his literally all-solo self-titled album is a winner and one that that mixed folk songs with avant-guard noise. He also had a collection of standards with an orchestra, helped invent modern bluegrass and toured with his own band (imaginatively titled “The Jerry Garcia Band”) when the Dead wasn’t.
And Weir released a handful of solo albums (including the classic “Ace”) and was in half a dozen different bands that often released only one album before he got bored and wandered away. The best of these is probably “RatDog” which takes the Dead jam aesthetic and slams it into Weir’s surprisingly complex songwriting.
However, no record produced in the band’s camp (be it a Dead release or a solo album) was as strange as “Infrared Roses,” beyond, perhaps John Oswald’s legendary Plunderphonic “Gray Folded.” But that’s a topic for a different time.
“Infrared Roses” is a collection of the “space” and “drum” sections that started appearing in the band’s concerts in the 80’s and 90’s. These sections took the place of the standard “Dark Star” sonic explorations in the 60’s and 70’s, popped up at any time during a concert and were easily the most “out there” moments of the band’s decline.
For some reason (I’m not near my copy and am not willing to look it up for religious reasons), the band decided they would edit some of the best sections together and release it as an album. The producer (again, blanking on his name) skillfully slapped together weird jams and noise making and made it sound like…weird jams and noise making. For about an hour.
Such a description is, likely, very uninviting. In fact, this was the second Grateful Dead album I ever owned and it was quite a shock to hear what often sounded like harsh industrial synthesizers droning into a near Amon Duul II-type soundscape. Where the hell was “Uncle John’s Band”?
Probably playing to the time in a different dimension.
After the initial terror of the album wears off, it becomes surprisingly listenable and even diverse. Sometimes, it’s just Billy and Mickey locked into some interminable drum groove.
Other moments, it’s Jerry soloing dissonantly while Phil lets his bass feedback.
Occasionally, Michael McDonald look and soundalike Brett Myland runs his hands across the keyboard aimlessly while Bob Weir screws around with ridiculous midi sounds.
After awhile, the mind starts focusing in on the little details. That’s the secret of Grateful Dead jams: they go on so long that your brain starts focusing on the small things, picking apart weird little details and entertaining itself with moments it might not have noticed otherwise.
It’s very intuitive and, at its finest, something like meditation: that is, focusing your attention on something so fully that you grasp its essence intuitively.
Or maybe it’s just a bunch of noises. Could go either way. And don’t get your hopes up for a big epic solo or crescendo. After an hour, ust kind of ends after what seems like an eternity spent listening to the band make goofy noises for an hour.
But hey, it’s a journey that beats Journey, a long strange trip that beats “Strange Brew” and a noise rock experiment from a band that was square enough to regularly cover (the sublime) Marty Robbins.
So, it’s pretty epic.
From the Ooze of Time Itself…
It’s amazing to me that it’s been two years since I’ve updated this site. Two years! Oh, how much things have changed in that time. And how much they’ve stayed the same. For a long time, I considered the site essentially abandoned, like a boat out in the rain. I figured rust would set in and that it would stop getting hits or interest.
Much to my surprise, I found it actually got pretty steady traffic. Oh, nothing mind boggling: maybe 20-30 hits a day. But, it was clear that people were coming and reading. There have even been a handful of non-bot commentators.
As a result, I’ve been trying to get back into the habit of regular updates. There’s no way I could manage the mad daily update schedule I created in the beginning. I not only work too much at my full time job, I also have two busy freelance jobs, have a great girlfriend and am experiencing a fiction writing renaissance.
So, life has been pretty good for me, but things haven’t been perfect. I’ve moved at least three times since the last update. I’m probably moving again soon. A beloved family member died. Another beloved friend died not long after. I’ve gained weight. My dad is sick. And my finances have been a wild roller coaster of uncertainty that forced me to stay active as a writer primarily for profit.
But all that is going to change soon. My reemergence as a fiction writer has gotten my literary juices flowing. My confidence level is growing exponentially daily: not just in myself as a writer, but in myself as a human being. I’m attempting to find some source of peace and comfort in Eastern schools of thought and it does seem to be working.
2014 was basically one big great self-improvement experiment and I’m happy to say that it was very successful. Not perfectly successful. It wasn’t flawless. There’s still things I need to do, parts of me that need updating and changing. But I now believe I can do it. And that’s huge.
However, I’ve always wanted to come back here and start posting again. Just something here and there. Now and then. Maybe a post every week. Maybe two. Something I spent more than an hour on, something I didn’t just blaze through as quickly as possible and leave it as is, with annoying errors, word repetition and wildly inaccurate opinions left intact.
Start expecting weekly posts here again. Reviews of albums, mostly. I’ve been constantly listening to music, as always. And, as always, I have something to say about it.
Attention Deficit Diaries Presents… ‘Raucousness & Rape’
The Gospel According To Presents… ‘It’s Not The Band I Hate, It’s Their Fans: A Look At The Culture Of Jandek’
Sorry for the delay in new content, folks: I’ve been trying to get my life back together lately, and my other writers have been busy as well. However, Jonathan has some great bile to spew towards a certain subset of fandom, while Danielle Bakker has pics that we shall post tomorrow! And now, without further ado…
I hate humourless, closed-minded people, and I continue to be amazed by how many of them I still encounter at the extremes of taste.
Amazed, but sadly, not surprised: I’ve been seriously listening to music for fifteen years (I turn twenty-five in a little over a week and I was ten when I bought my first Beatles albums; even though I’ve been a ‘Weird Al’ Yankovic fan since I was eight, I obviously wasn’t drawn in by my cognizance of his strength as a musician or brilliance as a satirist – just that the sound of his work made both inches of my pre-pubescent member shiver in juvenile delight), and it becomes apparent through conversation or analysis that most people don’t ‘get it’ in terms of the things that they digest, that there’s an innate quality to most things that becomes overlooked in peoples’ mission to derive a superficial pleasure from stimuli, in the process forsaking the infinitely fuller satisfaction from grasping the depth, context, intention, and consequent integrity of a work. It is in this regard that most people become complacent consumers instead of self-aware digesters of work – there is much to be gained from picking out and tasting the various flavours of a meal as opposed to indiscriminately shoving food down your gullet because you’re hungry, and although I’m spending my weekend indoors giving the shallowest of listens to my The Sea And Cake CDs (one skipped and needs to be replaced, so now I have to make sure that they all function), my approach to any sort of art is to try and get inside the head or heads of whomever dictated the artistic direction and process of the work.
You would think that the more difficult that a piece of art is to enjoy by conventional merit, the more scrutinizing and intellectual the individuals at the other end of the experience would be. I would hope this, too – it’s very difficult to find anybody to converse with that’s a fan of anything that isn’t able to engage in any sort of rational, balanced discourse that deviates from the party line or consensus. I’ve never been somebody that seeks to fit in or belong at the expense of blindly drinking in any opinions, as I wouldn’t want be held in reverence for holding my tongue on any matter in which I felt obliged to speak up about: as such, I have no issue poking holes in arguments or tipping sacred cows: in fact, I relish pointing out when I feel that the obvious solution or answer contrasts greatly with the accepted (which are generally easy) notions of what something stands for. Like I said, you would think that the more esoteric that one’s predilections stretched, the more amenable they’d be to constructive, enlightening debate – or, at least, to boast enough maturity to handle disagreement in a mature matter.
I would think this, too, but you and I would both be very wrong, and it is particularly related to my experience with Jandek fans that they have cemented themselves as the most myopic, blindly faithful, and ultimately pitiful group of people with whom I’d had the misfortune of consorting with.
Which is not to say that everybody that enjoys the music of Jandek has been a shitty person to deal with, per se: there is one notable Jandek fan of whom I’m fairly fond whose YouTube videos exhibiting his vast collection of every Corwood Industries product was one of the main influences in me pursuing my digestion of Jandek’s work when initial attempts to swallow it were met with results more befitting ipecac than the more-realistically vinegary nature of the artist’s catalogue. He’s also a fairly eccentric guy, and though we don’t see eye to eye on every matter regarding the artist (there is a very clear inherent bias on his end that needs to afford Sterling Smith – the man behind the Jandek moniker – an almost superhuman amount of proficiency given that he is convinced that the musical nature of most [if not all] of the work is both deliberate in composition and repeatable, if the constant player involved was at all moved to do so). It’s not that he’s untalented, this person opines, but that his talents are on a different plain.
While I wouldn’t call Sterling ‘talented’ in that he would be able to play conventional music with ease, I will certainly agree with the notion that he is capable on a level that is entirely his own: as a musician that straddles the lines of folk primitivism and free-improvisation without enough verve or understanding of what he’s doing to reach the logical ‘free-folk’ conclusions that the work of more traditionally competent acts like Thuja or Sunburned Hand of the Man has been designated to qualify as, the work of Jandek – particularly any record in which he is performing alone and on a stringed instrument – undoubtedly occupies a rather unique, inimitable territory: not inimitable because it’s hard to do, but because most people (especially those who are already musicians) would lack the ability to perform such convention-free music with serious, unwavering conviction, not to mention the self-release of 73 albums (that are repressed when one run sells out, too – and they actually do sell out!) since 1978. Even if one disagrees that there’s qualifiable or quantifiable integrity in the content of Jandek’s work, I can think of very few artists operating in any realm – never mind avant-garde music – with a comparable integrity in regards to work ethic or ensuring the availability of their work.
But, I digress – it’s not only this one individual with whom my fraternizing is owing to a mutual interest in this artist and his output. I’m friends – as in I actually encounter these people in my physical existence with some regularity – with an older, married couple, the female of whom is pursuing her doctorate in ethnomusicology with an academic dissertation relating rather specifically to the tunings employed on the early, definitive Jandek records. They have managed to accumulate the original vinyl pressings of the 23 Jandek albums that were issued in that medium so as to have the best possible sources from which to gauge the intervals (the sound quality is markedly better on the vinyl – not because vinyl is a better medium [it’s not], but because whoever is mastering the CDs is doing a very bad job). My first comment regarding my friend’s goal to determine the tunings used on the records was that it was a fool’s errand (Jandek is theoretically bereft and the microtonal tunings used on the albums are a result of his aleatory experimentation and not based on any aforethought science or contemplation), and I still hold to this, but I’ve come to learn that she didn’t necessarily disagree, preferring to catalogue the information as it’s a curious facet of the work that has been talked about for ages but never academically scrutinized. My point was that it wasn’t like the only factor precluding Sterling Smith from playing any previously-released material was his inability to recreate the tunings. After all, the improvisatory nature of the work in tandem with the necessary ineptitude of its principal performer guarantees the one-shot nature of any musical outing he takes.
But, you get a bunch of people – especially some denizens of the Jandek mailing list group on Seth Tisue’s otherwise wonderful (if not outdated) fansite – who refuse to subscribe to any beliefs or conversations that don’t give the Corwood proprietor anything less than omniscience and an ungodly amount of intentionality and control regarding his work. And heaven forbid you think of him as a mere mortal: there was a fantastic article published in 2009 by Houston-based singer/songwriter Andrew Karnavas wherein he turns a chance encounter at a bar with the man from Corwood into a philosophical conversation that gives a rare look into his process as an artistic entity as well as an even rarer degree of insight into how he perceives his work. As a fan, a musician/artist/what-have-you, and someone who gets a particular thrill from dissecting the intentionality of a work based on the instinctual stimuli of the listening experience in combination with what I can psychologically process from the artist’s mindset, an article like this was especially exciting. For me, held against some personal correspondence I’ve had with the man (I’ve been writing him since right before my first order in 2009), it confirmed for me Jandek had a strong work ethic and considerable naïveté regarding the sheer otherworldliness of his art. I found it to be an enthralling read and it made me feel positive about the man and his project. You’d think that other people would have found the encounter and its subsequent recounting as invigorating and empowering as I did, right?
Nope: the comments section for the article was flooded with hateful, arguably violent Jandextremist ranting and derision.
One user, Benjamin, was the first person to express dissent, albeit reasonably: do you really think Jandek would say it is okay to publish this private conversation?
You can see a bit of that ‘overprotective fan’ thing come out, but not in any way that attacks or persecutes the publishing. Given Jandek’s historical preference for privacy (which – since his initial 2004 live performance in Glasglow – have seen further precedents of undoing), this was a reasonable ethical consideration when held to the standard of his earlier days, but now – especially in the internet age – it hardly seems like a big deal. It’s not as if he’s truly a ‘recluse’ as was painted by the media: an introvert, yes, but he’s always had a public address and phone number. He doesn’t live behind a gate like your Tom Cruises, your John Travoltas, and innumerable other closeted Hollywood types, after all: I’ve always made the argument that Jandek’s an easier artist to have a direct interaction with than most other people working in the entertainment world – it’s just the aesthetic of the work that intimidates.
Another user, going by the pseudonym ctopshelf, completely embodies what I’d like to call sheer cunthood. I will publish their idiotic comment as it originally appeared, care for punctuation be damned:
I got lost in the blog thinking this was sneaky.Interesting your recollection of the conversation, maybe you recorded and transcribed, right? Nice. You got him though, he never suspected you to blog out his personal views, and of course you never asked. Even got a pic. Pat yourself on the back, but be careful there’s not much backbone there.
This person is clearly a member of the Jandek mailing list (or at least shares in their myopic dissent towards anyone daring to shed light on their proud little secret), because this is the sort of asshole that posts there: someone who – due to their own idiocy or their inexplicable need to elevate another human being to idol status – holds an artist as a sacred being worthy of more courtesy than anybody else they’d meet on the street. This phenomena isn’t only unique to Jandek fans, but I’m heavily into many acts, and I’ve only ever witnessed (both firsthand and otherwise) the level of overreactive drama – and to something as innocuous as a retelling of a simple meeting with an artist that all parties involved admire, no less! – with this pathetic, ultimately sad fanbase.
And I mean, as far as the sad thing goes, one clearly has to be sad or have considerably sadness experience to get Jandek’s work (I mean, it only clicked for me after my first relationship ended) but people like these – people who have the double-whammy of not only being shitty people to begin with, but also pitiful, emotionally-unfulfilled people who need to treat the artist as an enigmatic figure to replace a God (actual or metaphorical) that failed them, and they take it out on those who aren’t as conservative with the man and his image by denigrating our interest as predatory or of low ethical standing. Regarding the circumstance of the article, I think it’s fantastic that Sterling is open to discussing his work in public, and as relatively few Jandek fans exist to begin with, those of us with any knowledge of him beyond what the records may or may not provide are a privileged few to start with: the Karnavas encounter was the first published of what I’d hope would be many meetings with Jandek, but whether out of fear of reprimand or people realizing that ‘hey, this was just a conversation with another human being’, anything further is few and far between.
But, for every person like me who wants to piece together whatever we can regarding a great, prolific, and ultimately peerless artist like Jandek, there will be a ‘david ames’ to say ‘[y]ou violated his privacy. You are a lowlife.’
On that same mailing list, sometime in the Fall of 2010, you can find messages from various beta male pieces of shit condemning me to death based on a tongue-in-cheek review that I wrote for Jandek’s Chair Beside A Window – the version that they saw no longer exists because I didn’t think it was worth stoking the flames of their stupidity with further defiance (and also it was frightening to have such heavy hatred levelled at me over creative writing), but the gist of it was that ‘[a]t this blog, we respect Jandek, so you’ll have to go elsewhere to find out that his name is Sterling Smith; and don’t even think about finding out that his phone number is…‘ et cetera – all with published information. The kicker was that at one point, the article says ‘on an unrelated note, here’s what his house looks like’, with the Google Maps applet embedded underneath and set to view the lovely townhouse that he occupies in Houston.
Yes, my independent article was apparently worthy of my receiving death threats. My review of the fourth Jandek album had become the hobby-journalist equivalent of Rushdie’s Satanic Diaries.
Also, the new Jandek album – the 9-disc The Song Of Morgan – wasn’t particularly good. For starters, it’s just him fucking around on the piano (no vocals) for eight-and-a-half hours without any preconceived direction or thought. It’s pleasant at best and excruciatingly dull at worst. Anybody that thinks that the work has any merit beyond its volume is listening to the artist’s biography on loop in their head as they take it in: unless you were someone who was drawn into the artist’s fanbase because of Glasgow Monday (and nobody was), this is not what you signed up for and you wouldn’t even consider buying it if the box said Yanni or John Tesh on it instead. You are not a special snowflake because you enjoy a difficult artist. No matter who you are, you become pitiful when your idolatry of another human being (for whatever reason) causes you to encroach on anybody else’s feelings of security or safety.
This is going to get more hits than anything else I’ve done because Jandek fans – whether they want to admit it or not – have a ravenous appetite for any Jandek information they can get their hands on, so long as it’s not part of anyone else’s knowledge: I’ll be the first to say that I’m aware of (and have heard one firsthand) bootlegs of unreleased or extended Jandek material circulating, copied from tapes that were allegedly stolen from the man himself, have learned elements of his family history, as well as have accrued other miscellany about the fellow from conversations. Information like this – truly privacy violating stuff that is procured and traded by the same ‘fans’ who throw a shit fit when someone takes a picture of the Rep shopping at Whole Foods or recount an anecdotal conversation that they shared – is not the sort of stuff I’m willing to divulge (partly because a lot of it is speculative), and I also don’t want to create problems for anybody else.
In short, if you’re a Jandek fan who wants to attack somebody else because they wish to humanize the man behind the project, feel the need to express their natural curiosity about our shared hermetic hero (and we all have our curiosities; don’t lie), or – like myself – take humourous jabs at the ridiculous situation we’ve helped to create, you should go fuck yourself. Preferably with a bullet.
Doesn’t feel so good, now, does it?
Introducing ‘Attention Deficit Diaries’
Lucille Riley is an Oregon based photographer who has studied fine arts in the best schools in Canada, and who also has years of experience working in nurseries. She will be taking pictures for Culture Fusion sporadically. She prefers that her pictures speak for themselves, so without further ado, here are her photos!
All photography is the sole property of Lucille Riley and are licensed by handshake agreement to Culture Fusion.
Stuff That Doesn’t Suck Presents…#1 Record by Big Star
The greatest power-pop album ever created is #1 Record by Big Star. This may seem like a bold, definitive statement, but I really don’t care. You can dispute me all you want, but if your opinion is otherwise, you’re wrong. I feel as if I could write a long essay about why “The Ballad of El Goodo” and “Thirteen” are two of the greatest songs ever written, but it would just turn into me rambling and repeating myself. Instead, here’s a concise discourse on why you should be listening to this record right now.
Before I start gushing about how great this record is (too late – ed.), I’ll give you a little background information regarding it. Big Star were initially formed as Icewater in Memphis, Tennessee in 1971 and consisted of Chris Bell, Jody Stevens, and Andy Hummel. Subsequent to their founding, Chris Bell met guitarist Alex Chilton at a recording studio while they were both playing on different sessions where Bell – being impressed by the latter’s songwriting skills – invited him to join the band. Upon Chilton joining the group, they changed their name to Big Star, which was taken from a grocery store that the band often frequented when they wanted to purchase snacks. Bell and Chilton were the main creative force of the band and were both disciples of The Beatles, who were a huge influence on both of them; in fact, their stated mission was to be a songwriting duo with the same force of Lennon and McCartney.
Although they were certainly a team, the two had very disparate styles of songwriting. While, as I said, they were both extremely influenced by the Beatles, the Fab Four had a much bigger impact in Bell’s contributions to the band than Chilton’s. Chilton would write rough versions of songs, and Bell’s job would be to polish and refine them with pleasant vocal harmonies and arrangements. Bell was much more involved in producing the record than anyone else in the group; as such, his influence is very apparent on #1 Record. Chilton became more involved in the post-production of the following albums, and because of this, they sound much more rough and unpolished.
The one sentiment echoed by most scholars of rock and roll is history is that Big Star should have been huge (in fact, they should have been big stars and their records should have all been number one, hurr durr). After #1 Record was released in 1972, it received numerous critical accolades. Billboard went as far as to say that every song on the album could have been a hit single. Unfortunately, due to poor distribution, #1 Record sold less than 10,000 copies during the period surrounding its original release. Because of this, Bell and Hummel left the band. The group tracked two more records, Radio City and 3rd (Sister Lovers on some reissues), though only the former would come out during the band’s initial lifetime. Due to frustration with their label, poor sales, and a general lack of palpable success, they completely disbanded in 1974.
Of course, as most bands are wont to do, the Big Star banner was re-activated in 1993 – after nearly 20 years of silence – with a new line-up. Unfortunately, as Chris Bell died in a car accident in 1978, they were without his contributions. However, the revitalized lineup did contain some original members in the form of Alex Chilton and Jody Stephens.
That’s enough history for now – back to my ranting.
My personal highlights of #1 Record – as I mentioned before – are “The Ballad of El Goodo” and “Thirteen”. The former is track two on the record, and while I have no idea who El Goodo is, Bell and Chilton sure did write a beautiful song about him. This piece is the best example of Bell’s beautiful falsetto harmonization on the album: they really shine through on this track. On the surface, it is just a simple ballad, but the arrangements and harmonies on the track really make it into something special.
“Thirteen” is even simpler than “The Ballad of El Goodo”. It utilizes acoustic instrumentation and has its lead vocal duties handled by Chilton. This track holds a special place in my heart, and I would say that it’s one of my favorite songs in general: it’s a beautiful, little portrait of teen love and perfectly captures the innocent spirit of the record as a whole.
Every other song on the record is fantastic as well, but those are the ones that really stand out for me. The lush production really shines on tracks such as the bright “Watch the Sunrise” and the somber “Try Again”, which sounds like it could have been an outtake from George Harrison’s All Things Must Pass. And, of course, who could forget the nostalgic teenage anthem “In the Street”? If you can get past the fact that a cover version of it was used as the theme song for That ‘70s Show, I daresay it is one of the best tracks on the record.
The thing that’s amazing about this record is how well it still stands up, even if you only listen to it for the first time later in your music-devouring career. If you’re like me, you probably heard a good number of the countless bands who were influenced by Big Star before you actually listened to this record and, because of that, one would think that this wouldn’t seem special at all. Yes, there have been countless other groups who have tried to imitate this sound; the simple pop structure, jangly guitars, and tight vocal harmonies were all oft-employed musical elements during the college radio days of the 1980s. However – even with all of the similarities to groups who found much more fame than Big Star ever did during their short career -, even being as familiar as I am with its derivatives, this record still feels magical to me. Most of the tracks on the album feel like adolescent anthems worthy of being blasted in a car filled with your best friends at age sixteen. (Yeah, yeah. Now I’m picturing That ‘70s Show). Chris Bell and Alex Chilton were magnificent songwriters, and their collaboration on this is truly wonderful.
As I write this article, I’m sitting in a coffee shop with my headphones on, and it just doesn’t feel right that I’m not singing along with it. I suppose that I could start belting out the lyrics, but I don’t think that the girl working on her chemistry homework across from me would appreciate that. #1 Record is just one of those perfect, infectious pop albums that begs to be echoed by an appreciative audience, whether that be one of the large crowds that saw them during their reunion concerts… or a single listener like me. In fact, I think that it’s time I finish my drink and go perfect my Alex Chilton impersonation.