Thursday, April 30, 2009
Before I forget to mention it, I wrote an essay in the recent domestic reissue of Serge Gainsbourg's classic of 'la decadanse,' Histoire de Melody Nelson. For having spent well over a decade swooning to such orch-pop perfection, it was something else to finally learn about the creative process for the album, as well as its inspiration, not to mention finally unpacking all of the man's trenchant lyrics. Order it from Light in the Attic direct.
Monday, April 27, 2009
Tuesday, April 21, 2009
One afternoon, my phone rang and a voice on the other side announced: "Hello, this is Patti Smith." She was calling me for a brief interview for Nylon's 10th Anniversary, to discuss her favorite concert moment from the past ten years. Coincidentally, her's hewed very close to my own, witnessing My Bloody Valentine live.
I'm not going to get all Michael Stipe here and gush about how Patti Smith influenced me or what have you, but five years ago, when I first started writing about music, I received a fan letter from Patti Smith for this review. Radio Ethiopia aside, her own work as a rock writer and poet resonates with my own, and I can't quite put into words the encouragement I felt from her. Needless to say, it was an honor to interact with her again:
Patti Smith: I had never seen My Bloody Valentine in their own time when they first entered the scene. I was living in seclusion in Michigan so I missed that phase of MBV. When I heard their records sometime later, I loved them right away, from the very first second. And then I was lucky enough to meet, work and perform with Kevin, but I still hadn’t seen MBV.
Before they went on tour, they did a series of performances at the Roundhouse in London. I thought that these performances were the greatest things I had ever seen. The reason was because...MBV is such a beautiful projection of Kevin, who is both aware of his worth yet completely humble. And MBV, of course I listened to it with earplugs, but with earplugs it was beautifully assaultive that MBV demands sonically for you to surrender, but the universe in which you are surrendering to is benevolent, because it is not egotistical. There is no egotistical 'artist' in terms of frontal attack. It’s a sonic scape that if you find a way to surrender to it, you enter into a universe which is pure and intelligent. Of course, I would not recommend it without earplugs. Mother. Also because it’s so spiritually loud. I didn’t feel like I was compromising or losing anything because of the intensity of the experience was quite engulfing.
It was interesting for me. As a performer I find it difficult to sit still through other peoples' performances. I'm restless and agitated. It makes me want to work. It's not an egotistical thing, it just fills me with adrenaline and energy that makes me want to work. That’s what I loved about seeing them. I had no desires, to perform, work, anything, but be part of this organism.
It was a total surrender?
Yes. And surrender with return. By the end, I found that a beautiful thing happens when there is a direct communication between one and the experience, at the end, just as any kid or anyone there, you almost involuntarily lift both your hands above your head with your hands out and just receiving. Like a child, lifting up their hands to the sun. It's not a military thing, saluting Hitler, it's just pure. You're just open. You just raise your arms and raise your hands to both in affirmation: "Yes I am here!" and to receive. And it's all abstract, but I found the whole experience very beautiful. I didn't drink, I wasn't stoned, it was it's own drug. That is the ultimate experience to me, to feel as if you’ve had a blessed drug experience without ingesting anything.
I was lucky enough to see them upstate. I stood with my hands up the last twenty minutes or so.
Yeah! You do. It's not a thing where you feel dopey afterwords or feel self-conscious. It's a release. You don't feel any ego. The world of MBV is completely abstract, it's an organism. It's not some club with rules, it's just all feeling. I was right there with you and I was there, too. Especially for me as a performer, I have control over my own situation, I have a lot of control as a human being, I'm fairly in control and disciplined. To be able to submit to something so completely is rare for me. A very beautiful experience. It made me really happy, like a child.
I was very ecstatic.
It's really…I love this. It's not like a thing… it has nothing to do with peer pressure. The only question is whether one should wear earplugs. Kevin is well-aware that this is an assault, a sonic assault. It is not with malice, it just is any more than if you stand in the sun and get burnt. The sun isn't out to burn you, but it is strong.
To not be like Icarus.
Exactly. We all want to survive this experience.
To have rapture and come back from it.
Like John Coltrane. He would do a saxophone solo for 14 minutes, go out and talk to God, go through the stratosphere, but he always came home to us, to the people, to his responsibility. That's part of an artist's responsibility and a part of a human being’s responsibility unless you don't want to live anymore. If you want to be an earthling, you have to come back. Like Ismael in Moby Dick, you have to come back to tell the story.
It's really great to talk to you and have you put in words how I felt about the show.
I know Kevin quite well. And I think Kevin is just one of the most beautiful people I ever met. He's just on a…he is as his music. He is uncompromising yet benevolent. He's a beautiful person and experiencing his vision and his band's execution of that vision was one of them...you asked for my experience. The only thing that could compare to it was Tristan und Isolde at La Scala.
I total appreciate it. (tell her about writing me a fan letter)
Thanks for writing about Patty Waters. I don’t write that many messages, but just to show you…in 1970, I read a beautiful piece on a capella music in an anthology about rock'n'roll and I thought this piece was so beautiful that I found the number for the writer of that piece and called him up to thank him. And that writer was Lenny Kaye. You know, he became one of my best friends and we composed most of the songs on Horses. When I'm moved to thank somebody, it's because it really touches me. I was quite touched by your piece.
Thanks. It means the world to me. I knew you were a critic and poet as well, and it was really profound to get a response like that from you.
It was profound for me to see someone acknowledge Patty Waters. It wasn’t just for Patty Waters, I have some kin somewhere. You’re the only other person I’ve seen write about her. There we are, two MBV nerds, raising our hands to Kevin and Patty Waters.
To Kevin and Patty Waters then.
Tuesday, April 14, 2009
The late Marilyn Chambers, demurely covering the dog dick in her armpit anus.
In remembrance of the passing of Ms. Chambers on Sunday, I dug up this old post I had written over at Imbidimts (my old blog) over three years ago.
I watched Videodrome a few months back, but it's taken forever to track down other Cronenberg movies (and of course, since I'm a good decade behind pop culture, I still haven't seen History of Violence either, which I thought for the longest time was an adaptation of this), and it was not until this week that I finally tracked down Rabid.
Rabid is Cronenberg's 1976 horror flick starring Marilyn Chambers as Rose, the motorcycle mama with an emergency experimental skin graft surgery that gives her a fresh flesh wound in her armpit, a moist red puncture that opens and puckers up (remind you of anything?) replete with an odd needle-tipped dripping wet red protuberance that slides out of it (sorta like a dog's hard-on), sucking at the new blood of her victims. Of course, the film meditates on a constant Cronenberg theme of technology meeting the ancient human flesh and what happens when the two mutually mutate.
Coming out from behind the green door to again try her hand beyond the world of one-handed flicks where she was its queen, it wasn't too long before Chambers went back to porn. Her gig as an Ivory Soap 'pure' poster girl are notorious now, and apparently all of her movies feature a brief instance where she happens upon a box of the stuff, though I can't be certain if there's such product placement is on set here. There is however an allusion to the actress originally up for the role of Rose, Sissy Spacek.
One wonders how such a casting would have completely altered the movie's trajectory. Rabid would simply be a movie with green foam capsules jizzing out of the mouths of the infected were it not for Chambers' porn star fuckability that sizzles every frame of the flick. Alternately a seductress and an innocent who feigns she doesn't understand her newfound vampirism, she struts through Montreal in her fur and zip-up boots, cruising the malls, park benches, apartment halls, and the darkened porno theatres for that most odd coupling she performs on her johns. We wait and watch, mesmerized, for the next appearance of that needle-dick to pop out of her armpit anus.
Such a mutation reflects that other groundbreaking porno, Deep Throat, where Linda Lovelace has a similar sexual mutation (the clit deep down her throat) that can only be satiated by subversive means. Note there is never physical penetration in either of these movies, suggesting a new way of stimulating sexual pleasure and release. Body consciousness, questioning the sensual stimulants, things that happen inside your body, both mentally, chemically, and physically, that's what Cronenberg cooks up. His horror is never a monster movie, per se, save that your own physical body is the monster. In an interview extra on Videodrome, he says that the psychological possibility of the body to become monstrous, that is the new horror.
Cronenberg has a way of extinguishing my sexual desires though, or at least reveling in the hideousness of the human body, even if it is also simultaneously worshipping the new flesh. Which I guess brings me to the events of a past night, one wasted Tuesday night in Brooklyn, slumped over somewhere feeling the effects of the 'combo platter,' so to speak, sipping at a whisky and going through my smokes so as to dull the quivering edge just a bit.
In walks three girls, dolled up and in denim hip-huggers, tight baby tees. My drinking buddy starts up a conversation with them, nevermind that his girlfriend is waiting for him uptown, and we come to find out that the girls all work at the Coyote Ugly. Guess the leather bras have be unlatched for more acceptable tops, but they are busting out at the seams still. The girl closest to me has razor slits all along the outer seam of her skin-tight jeans, thigh flesh like shut eyes every inch or so up her leg.
By this point, I cannot recollect how I wind up in a cab with all three girls while my friend stays behind at the bar, since doing shots and more drugs with three party girls is way more his idea of a fun weeknight than mine, but I am well on my way to their apartment, for God only knows what sort of encounter. My heart races, and I go to the bathroom for that last lick of a freeze, to re-instill some semblance of chemical order to my head. When I come out, the girls are all gathered around the TV, and we're soon watching The Brood. Any sort of nervous sexual tension is immediately replaced with straight nervous system tension as the movie goes on, and the thought of even touching one of the girls appalls me by movie's end.
About the only thing I can recollect about the end of that night comes at the movie's climax, when the husband pulls back his ex-wife's long skirt to reveal the horrific, palpitating alien queen formation that makes up her vagina and lower half. "Every man is afraid that this is what happens to their ex-girlfriends," I say. Needless to say, I am relieved to go home by myself.
Monday, April 13, 2009
In the new issue of Tokion, I conducted an interview with Texas/ New York artist Andy Coolquitt. For those with elephant memories, he was profiled in the Sunday Times Magazine last year for his 'art house' in East Austin, though my piece focused more on his recent work with light and his forays into abandoned 'crack houses.'
Was the house in E. Austin your first convergence of art and abode?
Andy Coolquitt: No. The installations were tending towards interior architecture for a couple of years before.
When you were a kid, did you behave similarly with your room? Or was there anything you saw that made you snap to the concept?
No, it was a culmination of growing up in a series of unimaginative architecture: the houses, the church, the mall, were all designed from the same sterile worldview that most professionals had at the time. To add to that, my family although very kind people, had no education/exposure to cultural life. I grew up in a working class, Baptist, mostly white suburb of Dallas. Which I still consider as my handicap! My parents were just simply not interested in visual culture.
Lisa (Cooley, gallery owner who represents Coolquitt) talked about the idea of friends, a community, and most of the NYT photos arrange themselves as so. Which came first?
The house was initially designed for multi-use, I had the idea of building the kitchen in a separate structure in the middle of the property, from the beginning. I didn't know exactly how it would develop but the idea of creating an alternative to institutional community was key: the place or the need for a place?
Lisa also talked about the notion of 'crack houses' and I'm hoping you will say a bit about it. Is it the energy of the places, the way refuse is made to serve a purpose again, the desperation of living and consumption, etc.?
I'm not interested in crackhouses per se, but for lack of a better term 'crack spaces.' These are spaces that are outdoors, usually in the center of most American cities, usually these sort of non-spaces, undeveloped and undevelop-able, that exist next to public architecture. in-between spaces, especially in the south where density isn't an issue, or sometimes just overgrown neglected residential lots.
I'm interested in the residue of a gathering of people the night before who came together to share the crack pipe. There is always this intensely lame attempt at creating a living room. The most common solution is a piece of cardboard placed on the ground or against a wall to create a primitive sofa. Often a log will be positioned for a bench, and sometimes it's simply the markings in the dirt left from people laying down, the shuffling of feet, or a small clearing of debris.
Almost always there are 3 or 4 and sometimes up to 20 spent crack lighters. I call them crack lighters as opposed to cigarette lighters because they are used to smoke crack: the fuel valves are always removed to allow for a larger flame, and sometimes the plastic tops are melted and warped from holding the flame too long. They are always just left there, casually placed in these living rooms adding touches of color. I read this as well, as an attempt at domestication, the idea of creating comfort through collection and object fetishization.
Texas: where are you from exactly? How deep do your family roots go there?
My parents and great-grandparents grew up in East Texas, farmers and sharecroppers. My parents were the first to move into the city (Dallas) after they graduated high school.
Thinking of 'iight' (his last gallery show in NYC) and the way you have your objects lean, emphasizing the imbalance and disorientation of the pieces, I was curious if you were familiar much with Houston's chopped and screwed music or Texas hip-hop (and its vernacular) in general? Maybe I'm just coming at it as a music person...
Yesyes! Great connection: leaning against wall, speaking the bare minimum with utmost clarity, rethinking minimalism as chopped and screwed! You are brilliant. I will investigate this.
Can you compare scavenging between NYC and Texas? Did you do much in Austin? It's such a regular activity up here, from scoring terrible paintings, or records or household objects or what have you off the street corner and putting it in your own home. I have at least three paintings this way, dishes, lamps, etc. I don't really remember it much in Texas though (save for dumpster diving behind photomats).
Yeah, scavenging is really different in the two cities. It is a constant activity in both places, but in NYC it takes less effort. With this newer body of work using painted metal pipes, NYC is def a better place for gathering. There's just so much cheap furniture that gets put out. And like you say, it is so regular.
I love it when an old man will stop what he's doing and help me strap a huge load of crap onto my bike. Every old man in Bushwick thinks he knows the perfect way to tie down scavenged furniture. I think New Yorkers love to see someone re-using their trash. I usually get approving nods and sometimes cheers when riding down the street with a full load strapped on.
Of course, in Texas it's a bit tricky, peoples' notions of private property and all. And it's much more racist. When I'm in black or Mexican neighborhoods, I'm always perceived as an outsider and these negotiations sometimes prohibit the process.
Friday, April 03, 2009
Kieran Hebden (a/k/a Four Tet) playing in the Treehouse.
First Treehouse party was a total smash. Much thanks and praise to the peeps who came out in the drizzle and danced their asses off. For those curious, the first two hours are up now (thanks to Moose at Chung King for making it happen). Alas, Four Tet's set, filled with heaps of new and unreleased bangers (including one he made with Burial that's about to drop on his own label), will not be going up. You just had to be there.