Friday, December 14, 2012

Deep Breakfast

Since I heard about the massacre three hours ago, I've had a hard time figuring out how to move on. Things lose meaning and I want to dig a hole and forget about the pain people have to experience. There's a horrific war in Syria, North Korea's launching missiles, ultra-nationalist parties are legit in Europe, and now there's another comfy American enclave with dozens of mourning family members. And it's fucking five year olds this time. God help us.

Frances asked me recently what "ordinary" means. It's the things you see every day, that you are used to, accustomed to. Ordinary things do not threaten or frighten. They sit there benignly and do their regular operations. Unusual things have less definition so it's harder to predict what they're going to do. Muslims. The "inner city". Food that isn't chicken. Ordinary is a safe sheep's skin that things close to you wear, but my experience of reality tells me that ordinary things can be dangerous, or evil, or insidious just like the things that are far away. We accept the risk because really, actually, everything in the world kills you eventually, but it takes a long time, so the nearby things just keep doing their ordinary things and you get the news about the horrible things that happen in the other places and you say thank God I'm not there. God has chosen me and surrounded me with ordinary things.

Ordinary things like guns. Like other people. White people. Rich motherfuckers that squeeze you for every penny and complain that you're not doing your part.

Which isn't to say that living in comfort, insular, safe, isn't a blessing. No sir. Security is pretty fucking awesome. But there is a cost, and someone is paying it.

Hell, man. There's no response.

Well so, either you pass and you're not in this world anymore, or you're still with us. If you can read this, you have to continue. Music helps me. Deep Breakfast is one I can keep coming back to. It's not hard at all, totally easy.

I know a guy who has dealt with trauma, physical and psychological. He told me once that this record had brought him peace in difficult times.

It's not about the cheezy synth tones. It's not about the difficulty. Fuck all that. This world needs to take a bath and fucking relax.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Genre Confusion

My hair is long for my gender and age. It causes confusion. Little kids tell me I look like a girl, solicitors that come to the door ask my if my mom or dad's at home, kids at punk shows think I'm a hippy. I mean I guess I am, you know, comparatively. In that I don't really dig Discharge.

When I go to flyover country, I get the sense that most folks make me as a metalhead. It's comforting, kinda, like there's a box I can fit in there so people don't look twice. There's no box for me in the liberal elite city spaces I typically inhabit, so I find myself being asked for excuses or explanations from time to time.

Guys, what I'm going for is wise old sage. Mystic. Dude that gives not a fuck. I haven't done anything to my hair, except, you know, wash it, in twenty years. All the time and money I save on haircuts goes into thinking deep thoughts about stuff. It's true. Grow your hair long and you'll see.

Zodiac Mindwarp reinvented himself, so the story that I read goes. He wrote about rock and decided he wanted to be a rock star so he went on and be'd a rock star. Simple. Adoration, groupies, drugs, the whole bit.

I don't have the stamina for that. Also I kind of don't like metal. My plan is to continue self-actualizing by calmly writing about music, and maybe take up yoga if my lower back keeps flaring up. That and some other stuff.

Metal or no, I dig this record. Tattoed Beat Messiah. Yeah! One thing that's cool about this band is how they abet genre-confusion. You hear the name of the band and the title and you're like, summer of love, dude, pass the hashish pipe, man, one love, bro. Zodiac Mindwarp and the Love Reaction! Heeeeeaaavy! Then on comes the record and it's hard-ass dudes in leather jackets spitting out chunky riffs and odes to bad girls and breakin' the law. You know, like Priest, man. Dananananananana WOW WOW! Reeeeee-diddleiddleiddleWAAAAAHHHH! Fuck, man. Priest.

Genre confusion. Let's spread some more of that, please.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

What's That?


Kwassa Kwassa - Quoi Ca! What's that?

Nimble guitar, with lines that prance and play. Limber and happy, frolicking, bouncing; the organ fast, the bass like popcorn. Each in isolation would be hypnotic but this music resists psychedelic groove, stacking the lines to keep you in the front of your mind instead of the back. The vocals party with joy.

Two guitars played by Ringo Star and Diblo. Ringo plays "twin lead" to Diblo's "lead guitar". Ringo Star isn't even the only guy named Ringo in the band - one of the two drummer/percussionists is Ringo Yaya Pezo. Ringo party y'all!

The back also credits "Pepe Solo/Fifi" (not sure if that's one person or two) with "Animation" (the quotes around it are in the listing). Man, what did Pepe Solo/Fifi do? Dance? Actually figuratively bring the music to life? Video accompaniment? Synth? There's no credit for organ, but someone played it. It's a supporting character for sure but pretty prominent in some of the tracks.

In case you didn't know, I came up on Floyd, Zeppelin and the Beatles, followed by Guns n' Roses. My lizard-brain is a sucker for barbecue rock. The lizard-brain eats comfort food and novelty smells bad. Other genres require a leap across a chasm. Here, hear popcorn bass, not a "rhythm section". Still the low-end anchor but freer, not locked with the drums. You gotta switch gears and maybe you don't have that gear. You can party, but you can't party hard.

Kwassa kwassa, stripped of its relevance context, becomes a hard sell, despite its obvious awesomeness when you put the record on. It's hard to hear, you know? All you hear is what's different from the stuff you know. That's a blocker on relaxation and peace. It's a blocker on party hardy y'all.

I want to bring peace by uniting, exploding, and evolving genres. I really want to do that. Also by trying to make context less relevant as a blocker. I want to give you the kwassa kwassa party. What's that? All you need to do is relax. Receive.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Now, This Strange Effect

It's time to teach my child about value and resources. We need to leave for work and school in the morning, minding the constant clock. The time can be spent on procrastination, or on the tasks at hand. We use cotton balls that progressively disappear, because she can't quite wrap her mind around the abstraction of 7:30 yet. She's learning that the present must sometimes be spent on the future. It is the beginning of the death of childhood: a death which is, like all deaths, death. But also it is the beginning of freedom, of agency, of life.

Of this pick, Frances said, "I picked this because it has a sheep without... I mean, a cow without a head." Does it ever! This confounding piece is all experience, all surface. What appears to have happened is that the record store I got it from (it's been 20 years now, and the early 90s are hazy, but I know I was mostly shopping at Mystery Train and In Your Ear in Harvard Square back then. The object is not inconsistent with their vibe. I also may have gotten it that one time I went to RRRecords in Lowell) had this amazing object, a 78rpm disc with a handwritten label identifying the musical group as "De Zingende Miljonairs" (that's Dutch for The Singing Millionaires, right? Or German?) and they just went on and blammed out this mind-scramble of a cover.

So yes, headless cow. The "title": "Disco Music". Also: "Met de Hit Bookhit" (for years and years I said it in my head as "book shit" - no idea why my brain saw that). The back ups the drama: "Now this strange effect: This stereo album can also not be played". The cherry on top: they did it on a Santana cover turned inside out (Borboletta, the one with the shiny blue butterfly cover).

It's true, by the way: I can't play it. Technology has moved on and I don't have a turntable that goes to 78, or a stylus that won't damage the surface. Those singing Euro-millionaires are tantalizing me just out of reach.

(It's not true that it's stereo, or that it's an album. But: art confounds.)

About a year ago, I read this piece by Natalie Hopkinson taking off from Paulo Nazareth's work "Banana Market/Art Market" at the 2011 Art Basel Miami Beach show (the money quote: "Sounds like a lot of bullshit to me"). We do a lot of hand-wringing, as a culture, over the unholy coupling of art and hedge-fund managers, the outsourcing of decisions about the value of experience.

To me, it seems that a key aspect of the issue is an over-reliance on received opinion. Gnarly too, and intimately bound up in this problem, is the conflation of monetary value with experiential value, and this is the aspect of the problem that I've witnessed from the front row, via record stores (speaking of which, I just love this whole tumblr, and this particular post really captures the experience of running a store and buying used records from people better than almost anything I've ever read). Look: records are perfect. Like anything that's pefect, they are misunderstood, and sometimes, people over- or undervalue this or that aspect of their perfection. They deliver music. People love music. Before there were "easier" ways to get music, that was a pillar of their value. Now, us record lovers find other excuses to charge insane prices, like:

They deliver beauty.

They deliver documentation.

They confer status.

I mean, these are convincing arguments.

So many things that records do, in only that one particular way. Beware though, lest you tie up too much of your own self-worth in whatever value you perceive these things to have. Value is slippery, intangible. In this absurd time, art can be a sounder investment than the stock market.

As the eternal moment continues to unfold, your task remains: what do you want to do? You can experience your life, or you can store up that experience for future use. You can model your experience on that of others, or you can decide that the activities you want to do are worth doing.

Look out for the free market: it will fill you with anxiety so you have no choice but to store for the future. One never knows when want will strike. In giving you this anxiety, the free market will deprive you of present experience.

A sheep without... I mean, a cow without a head.

Now, this strange effect: this stereo album can also not be played.

The Singing Millionaires.

Disco Music.


Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Actual Reality

Lucky Dragons came to town last month - on my birthday! - and I didn't know about it!

I think I saw them before. I vaguely remember Luke rolling around on the ground and exhorting everyone to hug and hold hands and stuff. Everyone I know in LA is into loving.

When they came two times ago, two years ago, to Chicago, the Reader's Jessica Hopper did a nice feature on the piece they were touring with, "Make a Baby", a work designed to resist boundaries and definition. A messy work that can't exist in your mind, only in the world. A being:

Every version of "Make a Baby" is unique, determined by the way the audience participates. The performances are nonhierarchical, free-form, and welcoming...

The CD, A Sewing Circle. Uncontrolled sobbing phases in briefly in "Theme from 'Sleep Through Me'". Luke says something like "What's wrong?"

People sometimes think answers are what you need, that what you have is questions. But maybe more asking is more reassuring? Is it? Uncontrolled sadness seems from the outside to require definition; a state away from normal out of bounds. Names and structures.

LD has another piece called Actual Reality.

I’ve had a google alert for the words “actual reality” for several years now, every day receiving an email digest of newly discovered instances of the phrase in context. It is a candid and democratic view of the internet. The term is used by diarists, pundits, analysts, self-help gurus and angry blog-commenters alike, as a lets-get-serious reference to the common background against which imaginary things come together momentarily. Everyone should be able to recognize actual reality, or to compare things against it, to measure when we’ve moved too far from it.

Yeah as truth runs further away now and no fact is apolitical and no politics is factual, peace will come in the form of embracing the questions. Framing the mess. Giving a loving tone to the happening. Too much information is what's gotten us here. Nature is in danger. Artifice is all we can do, by definition.

Actual reality: temps are high, and the month is October. "Fact": it's Indian Summer. Unpack: "climate change"; "Indian". "October": whose calendar?

This is what they say:

lucky dragons are about the birthing of new and temporary creatures--equal-power situations in which audience members cooperate amongst themselves, building up fragile networks held together by such light things as skin contact, unfamiliar language, temporary logic, the spirit of celebration, and things that work but you don't know why.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Bombay the Hard Way

In the late 90s, a friend of mine produced a cassette mix of Hindi film music, featuring classic item numbers and songs by heavy hitters like R.D. Burman and his dad S.D., Shankar Jaikishan, Laxmikant Pyarelal, and others. Circulated among our little group of discerning, college-radio-staffing friends, the tape made waves. Tiny waves, but waves. The same friend was the first person who said the name "Lata Mangeshkar" to me, when he told me that she had recorded more songs than anyone else in history. He and another buddy from the same circle had gotten to know this music cause it was cheap and it ruled.

My theory about why it was cheap: it hadn't been contextualized. No one wants music if it's not for them. The hipsters of the West have caught on that Bollywood music rules now, and the prices have shot up. (Those of us who prefer to remain on the cutting edge have had to find other stuff that, by "sucking", is more resistant to cooptation/contextualization/someone convincing everyone that it rules.)

Another young bro, a producer of some renown and not incidentally a record collector, got into Hindi film stuff around the same time for (I would guess) similar reasons. Dan the Automator. A year or two after I had got the mixtape from my friend, the Automator-produced Bombay the Hard Way: Guns, Cars & Sitars showed up. I got it because it seemed the obvious thing to do: the documentation and validation of my mini-trend's "thing" status had arrived.

The thing about this record is, it sucks. The title, cover art and song titles ("Fists of Curry", "Swami Safari") reek of orientalist hipster-racist bullshit. The music is boring: stripped of the song-craft, arranging genius, and dramatic motion that make the Hindi film music genre so astonishing and compelling; in their place, a crass exploitation of otherness, Indian-flavored incidental music from action films broken down and reconstructed for maximum ambience, smoothed over with pointless drums and electronic post-production. What a mess!

I dunno. Am I being too hard on the record? Here's what DJ Shadow says about it:

The marketing campaign for this Dan the Automator remix project implied massive DJ Shadow involvement, which was far from the case; Shadow played drums for 30 minutes one day in the studio, elements of which were resampled and applied to various tracks. Shadow was dismayed by the record company's blatant exploitation of his name, and distanced himself from the project.


What's funny about all this is that the record is kind of about exploitation. The liner notes:

India's answer to our action movie was dubbed the "Masala" ("mixed spice") film - creating its own unique blend of "Brownsploitation". Almost overnight, the predictable family drama formula gave way to movies filled with Kung-fu, gunfights, car chases, loose women, badass dudes in smoke-filled opium dens...

In reality, Bollywood was controlled by gangsters who acted as loan sharks to producers and directors who couldn't get bank loans. In effect, they used the film industry as a cover-up for their money laundering schemes. If that wasn't enough, these thugs would hang around the set, muscle in on writing meetings and demand that certain changes be made in the script to make the on-screen gangsters more like their real-life counterparts.

Hell, if we're gonna throw around the charge, the blog you're reading is an exploitation-fest too. I'm exploiting the coolness of the records in my collection (and the people who made them) - not to mention my daughter's cuteness. Sorry about that!

Wait, was there a point? I guess yeah. Context is everything. Appropriate with respect, please.

Postscript. When we did the photo shoot for this post, Frances was fascinated with the images from Hindu mythology. We're gonna look for some books now. Vishnu eventually prevails over crass misappropriation, apparently.

Friday, October 12, 2012


Here's what I think about lotus, without help from the internet: there's something about forgetfulness, and something erotic. There's lotus position, lotus eaters, and flying lotus. It's a flower.

I have two CDs of screaming and screeching, heavy on the sawtooth, with the occasional chugga guitar sample. The LOTUS. The one I have on is Garbage In, LOTUS Out.

Silver Spring, motherfucker!

What I'd really like to get across is how awesomely well the guy from the LOTUS (Keith or Mat? Both maybe?) can screech. I mean if screeching was regarded highly in our society, this band would be at the top of the charts. It's like this:



That's right. And bloopa lines on the burble-synth, and so many sawtooths and squares. It's a harsh ride, this CD. Also it's 17 minutes long so I can just put it on. It's not trying to put me on.

There's so much I could be doing. So many CDs I could be listening to. So many meals I could be eating. So many buses I could be missing. Streets to walk down, awkward interactions to sit through, fried food, beer, wine, dirt to get under my nails. Seventeen minutes of yyeeeeeaaaaaarrrrrrrrrhhhhhhhhhhhggggaaaaa! instead. Why? Why me?

"Sometimes I just need to..."

I saw this one band play called Reptile, and the deal was that they were lizards. They sang about eating humans and moved around all twitchy. The guy from Reptile is in The LOTUS too.

This: what matters to a lizard? Does a lizard make decisions? Harsh reality, man. We've got to live or die. Confront your body.

The variety of our experience is infinite in its potential, shockingly limited in its reality. Every second is another decision. We can't hold it. Mind blown, again and again. Ten years on my shelf, seventeen minutes in my ears. Ten times that time to make it. A billion records and they all took time to make. Frozen experience. Something erotic, something forgotten, a flower.

You can possess but you can't own. It will all go away. It will all melt. "Sometimes I just need to..."


So I mean if that's what you need, this is where it is.