October 23, 2012 | by Brian Cullman
There was a fascinating if incomplete musing on the New Yorker website this week regarding Neil Young’s insularity and on the incomprehensible idea that he never reads. It seemed strange that someone who doesn't read would decide to write a book, though it’s often true that writing and reading aren’t necessarily two sides of the same coin. They are often very different coins, operating in very different currencies. When you go to a bank to make change, the exchange rate is never in your favor.
I forwarded the piece to my friend Bill Flicker, out in Los Angeles, who wrote back that he never listens to Neil Young’s words, that they are simply placeholders or crumbs that are scattered on a walk through a musical forest. Actually, I do listen to his words. Not always. But when I listen, they’re remarkably visual and evocative:
Blue blue windows behind the stars.
Yellow moon on the rise.
Purple words on a grey background
To be a woman and to be turned down
How did those windows get behind the stars? I don’t know, but I can see them clearly. Sometimes as a child's drawing. Sometimes as a reflection on an airplane window. There may not be logic involved, but there is something deeper than that. Read More »
September 5, 2012 | by Brian Gresko
I was born in a house with the television always on. The lyric comes from “Love For Sale,” a song penned by David Byrne and recorded on the Talking Heads album True Stories, but the same could be said for where I grew up, in suburban Philadelphia. My dad watched television even when cooking dinner, which seemed crazy to me, minding an open flame while keeping one eye on some “reality” courtroom drama—not sure you can rightfully call those staged scream-fests real. Judge Judy was such a constant presence, she feels like a family friend. I hear her gravelly voice chewing some idiot out and smell Dad's stir-fry.
Our house was small enough that, unless I played music, I couldn't escape the tube's empty murmuring, not even in my room, which abutted my parents'. As a teenager, then, it made sense that I'd fall in love with Talking Heads' song “Found A Job,” from their 1978 album More Songs About Buildings and Food. David Byrne, the band's vocalist, guitarist, and songwriter, doesn't so much sing as sing-narrates the story of a couple, Bob and Judy, frustrated watching television because “nothing's on tonight.” Byrne as narrator intrudes upon this domestic scene like one of those omniscient charlatans on infomercials—But wait! There's a solution to their problem!—suggesting they “might be better off... making up their own shows, which might be better than TV.”
By the song's end, Bob and Judy are collaborating, creating their own TV program, a show that “gets real high ratings.” They've saved their relationship and turned their whole lives around. “Bob never yells about the picture now, he's having too much fun,” the narrator tells us. He wraps it up like a fable, inviting the listener to “think about this little scene; apply it to your life. If your work isn't what you love, then something isn't right.” While Byrne tells the story, his guitar noodles on the edges of a funky, bass-driven rhythm, until, at the end, a six note melody emerges like an epiphany over the groove. Bob and Judy have learned to sing a new tune.
August 15, 2012 | by Michael Spies
Occasionally, when my mind is feeling overrun, flickering and buzzing like a dying electric light, I go down to Fat Cat on Christopher Street, in the West Village. Of the standard venues one goes to see jazz in New York City, Fat Cat is not one of them. The club is a huge recreation center, a dark and boozy suburban fantasy basement packed with pool tables, Ping-Pong tables, foosball tables, plush couches, dusty rugs, shuffleboards, chess boards, and booths where skinny NYU students play Backgammon or Scrabble. If the alcohol were removed, it would be a perfect place for a children’s birthday party. Above the music swirl youthful, exuberant screams of delight, punctuating either a winning serve or an eight ball sunk in its intended pocket. And off to one side, like an afterthought, is a makeshift bandstand, and at a certain late hour on most evenings there is a jam session in progress. Most of the drinkers busy themselves with games, but a few hang around and listen to a group of nomadic musicians riff on, say, “Polkadots and Moonbeams.” Nearby, expectant bass players hug their encased, cumbersome instruments, impatiently tapping their feet, waiting to get in on the action—they’ve just come from a low-paying gig across town, seeking a real payoff.
It is a high-art frat party, a safe zone where all kinds of New Yorkers can, for a night, indulge in what they may loathe, but perhaps long for: a sense of cultural superiority on the one side, or a bit of dumb Greek fun. No one seems particularly interested in jazz, save for the sidelined musicians, who are restless because they have talent to burn, if only they were given the opportunity. Because I’m myself restless, a writer waiting his turn, I have, more than once, gone to the club alone to stand with them in an improvised support group. Together we watch those musicians onstage take up their instruments. We watch them get acquainted and blunder and stumble into the opening bars of the tune, trading insecure glances, wondering if they’ll find the groove. We watch the trumpet player step forward for the first solo, puff out his chest, and raise the bell of his horn. We hear his first notes, typically tentative, as if he’s dipping his foot in the melody, just testing it out. And we hear him finally dive in, headlong, committing to the sound.
July 24, 2012 | by Christine Muhlke and Leanne Shapton
July 12, 2012 | by Noah Wunsch
Heading to the Cribs show at Santos Party House, I could feel my brain wired like a motherboard. I was coming off of a two-week caffeine withdrawal, freshly rejuvenated by two black coffees. My fingers danced with anxiety as uncontrolled memories popped into my head. I thought about my camp counselor, Jared, who slap-boxed the kids in our cabin. If one started to cry, he’d play his usual trick: forced flatulence. He’d curl up on the floor like Grotowski’s cat, red faced, concentration veining out of his forehead, sucking in air, ass cheeks flexing until he let it rip. Inevitably, the kid would stop crying and Jared would slap-box another camper.
I thought about my first Cribs show. In 2006, they opened for Death Cab for Cutie and Franz Ferdinand at Hammerstein Ballroom. I was supposed to take my high school girlfriend, but she had called me that day to let me know that she and my best friend of fourteen years had been playing a little game of hide the loose ends. I went alone and screamed along to “Mirror Kissers.” Read More »
June 27, 2012 | by Jonathan Gharraie
I’m the one who comes on Radio 1 late at nights and plays records made by sulky Belgian art students dying of tuberculosis.
This was how John Peel introduced himself to a family audience, on one of his occasional forays into British television. He can’t always have been graying, or bearded, or balding, but this is how most people continue to visualize him. He seemed, to those of us who listened to him, to have been born avuncular. For nearly four decades, until his death in 2004, Peel shared his musical enthusiasms with the ever-changing audience of his late-night show on BBC Radio 1 and made his personal collection into a truly representative historical document, like a latter-day Alan Lomax. Except that in this case, the field came to him: homemade cassette recordings sent from across Britain, and beyond, to Peel's door. This didn’t mean that no hard work was involved. Peel listened to them all, working through an avalanche of audio slush, with a heroic commitment to the aesthetically new.
Now, though not for long, we can experience the chaotic variety of Peel’s taste. Over the course of the next four months, the first hundred records for each letter of Peel’s alphabetized and rigorously ordered collection of 26,000 are to be presented online, replete with their owner’s personally devised catalogue number and, occasionally, remarks. The John Peel Archive has been supported by the Arts Council and curated with the assistance of Sheila Ravenscroft, Peel’s wife. For each letter, Ravenscroft has selected an artist of special significance to Peel, such as Dick Dale or Fairport Convention, and hosted a short corresponding film. There are links to Spotify as well as to short films, video footage, and audio files from the famous sessions recorded for his show, including an early performance by David Bowie.