Gang of Four Part 1: Natural’s Not In It

Gang Of Four photo image

Last month I saw Gang of Four for the third time.

1980

The first was at a small club, probably their show at the Starwood in West Hollywood, capacity 400–800, May of 1980. Earlier that same year, the band had opened for the Buzzcocks and later, Iggy Pop, both at the much larger Santa Monica Civic. But those garnered lousy reviews by the Los Angeles Times, the first due to bad sound, the second to fatigue. The Civic could put a lot of distance between the stage and the floor. And it ostensibly seated 3,000, but when I saw the Clash there, the seats were replaced by metal plates; when we bounced, so did they—and there were a lot more than 3,000 bouncing.

Obviously that Starwood show in 1980 featured the band’s original lineup: Hugo Burnham on drums, Dave Allen bass, Andy Gill guitar, and Jon King vocals. It was riveting. The stage was small enough to bridge the Civic’s divide, but broad enough to allow Jon King his signature sprints between microphones. If King was a gazelle, Gill was a beast of prey, exactly as described by poet Ted Hughes in his “Second Glance at Jaguar”: “He coils, he flourishes/ The blackjack tail as if looking for a target.”

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Chef Boy-Ar-Dee and the Red Diaper Baby

Jon Appleton photo image

I keep forgetting we have the realm of music at our fingertips. Long-forgotten or barely remembered works are available if I’d only remember to search online. Not long ago I went crazy looking through my LPs for the electronic manipulation of a Chef Boy-Ar-Dee jingle sung by the Andrews Sisters—not remembering I could have DuckDuckGo-ed the keywords. I couldn’t even remember the name of the composer. Turns out it was Jon Appleton, and I had it on a CD…

Tonight I finally wised up and did the search, which led me to a YouTube stream by way of Smithsonian Folkways Recordings, the label’s founder Moses Asch having recruited Appleton to help in the release of electroacoustic works. Chef d’œuvre (1967), the object of my pursuit, is emblematic of such manipulations, being so well known perhaps due to its popular-culture source material. In the notes for his CD collection, Contes de la mémoire (Memory’s tales, 1996), Appleton complains good-naturedly “that composers are often saddled by others with a ‘signature’ work.” And so it is with Chef d’œuvre. “It is my Boléro,” he writes. Its now-doubly-ironic title translates roughly as “masterpiece.”

Appleton’s various compressions in this composition can be seen themselves epitomized three decades later by rock musician Robert Fripp’s five-second condensation of what surely was a much longer “First Inaugural Address to the I.A.C.E. Sherborne House” by J. G. Bennett, included on the album Exposure but understandably absent from YouTube in our era of attention deficit, the Age of the Feuilleton (a newspaper’s necessarily lightweight literary pages), as Hermann Hesse put it. And as they say, “That’s five seconds I’ll never get back.”

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Hair Piece

Cognitio still image

Last night YouTube suggested I watch a new short, Cognitio. I reCOGNIzed one of the actors as having appeared in the 2014 Kadie Elder promo for the song “First Time He Kissed a Boy” (from which I lifted this blog’s header image of four pastel-clad youths). The actor is Lasse Steen Jensen and in the promo he plays a slight thing with an almost-mod mop of hearty hair atop a triangular, angular mug, contradicted by an upturned nose; likewise in the promo, his cruelty is contradicted by his curiosity.

In Cognitio Jensen is presented as the psychically slight, artistically bright Tobias, with an unruly mane that suggests a feral nature. This time curiosity is not rewarded, via the darkly seductive yet elusive Emil (Lior David Cohen).

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The Pageantry, the Spectacle

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Back in the 1980s I was given tickets to a Southern California kitsch institution, Pageant of the Masters. The concept intrigued: an amphitheater stage filled with “ninety minutes of tableaux vivants (living pictures), incredibly faithful re­creations of classical and contemporary works of art, with real people posing to look exactly like their counterparts in the original pieces,” as described on the event website. But the execution, meticulous as it was, underwhelmed. I guess I wanted more vivants in the tableaux, which occurred too infrequently. But it did occur in a sort of sideshow.

That sideshow was not the companion Fine Art Show, which we took in before the Pageant and from which Andrea and I bought a couple of hand-altered Polaroids that hang on our walls today. Allow me to digress…

Boom Boom Room

The Fine Art Show was conspicuous by the omission of skin: many of the artists appeared to be too well constrained by a bland family-friendly bubble-wrap envelope, but not so well contained that we couldn’t detect hints of riskier work. Hell, Laguna Beach (the Pageant/Show’s site) was home to the Boom Boom Room, which OC Weekly (formerly a sibling to Denver’s Westword via Voice Media Group) claims to have been “the oldest gay bar in the Western United States,” its host hotel, the Coast Inn, having opened in 1929, per the founders’ granddaughter’s timeline. Laguna even had its own chapter of the Mattachine Society beginning in the ’50s. Continue reading “The Pageantry, the Spectacle”

A Taste of Honey

A Taste Of Honey photo image

I recently found I could stream films through Kanopy by way of my public library. The first film I watched was A Taste of Honey, Tony Richardson’s 1961 award winner set in Greater Manchester’s Salford. Jo, played by Rita Tushingham, the daughter of a libertine mother, Dora Bryan, moves out on her own after her mother remarries. While at home Jo has a fling with a ship’s cook Jimmy (Paul Danquah), who soon sails away slowly (if not into the sunset). At her shoe shop job she meets Geoffrey Ingham (Murray Melvin), a textile design student who’s been kicked out of his flat apparently for his own liaisons—with men—and thus Jo invites him to room with her. And room they have—it’s a top-floor studio apartment—but squalid, as only the black-and-white camera can capture, softened somewhat by Geoff’s student’s style.

I recall Tushingham from her less-free-spirit role of Dot a couple years later in The Leather Boys. And Melvin is instantly recognizable from Barry Lyndon (1975) as Rev. Samuel Runt, the “failed Rasputin” for Marisa Berenson’s Lady Lyndon. But what surprised me were two lines in A Taste of Honey uttered by Jimmy in response to Jo’s urge to “Dream of me” upon their second leave-taking. “Dreamt of you last night,” he says. “Fell out of bed twice.” The lines also appeared in the film’s forebear, Shelagh Delaney’s popular play by the same name. But music fans like me otherwise would remember these from the middle eight of the Smiths’ first song on LP, “Reel Around the Fountain.”

I dreamt about you last night
and I fell out of bed twice

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Seeing Things

This Liberty still image

This past summer in Cheyenne my uncle Richard Hughes told me of his hallucinations. That a man going blind might also view visions seems an insult to injury. Yet his condition has a name—Charles Bonnet syndrome—after an eighteenth-century Swiss naturalist and philosopher. As profiled in ACNR (Vol. 8, No. 5, 19) Bonnet first listed his grandfather’s

silent visions of men, women, birds, carriages, and buildings, which he fully realised were ‘fictions’ of his brain. Bonnet himself later underwent visual deterioration and experienced hallucinations typical of the syndrome named after him […].

(Compare with “Blinky” Watts, the sound effects technician character from David Lynch’s short-lived TV series On the Air, who suffers from Bozeman’s Simplex, which causes him to see “25.62 times as much as we do.”)

Six months prior I came across a song by Richard Dawson, which I wanted to write about tonight only to find that he too sees things (due to a genetic defect), but through a glass darkly, as Dawson told The Guardian‘s Michael Hann, who remarked, “There’s an almost hallucinatory clarity to his writing.” Continue reading “Seeing Things”

Bad Rap

Age Of Consent photo image

I’m a terrible interviewee for the most part. Recently I was contacted by a radio news editor about homophobia in hip-hop, based on my involvement in the 1980s rap group, Age of Consent. I can’t imagine any sound bites from that conversation will end up in the final piece, but the dialogue got me thinking. In the course of subsequent riffling through AOC archival material and updating our website I came across a profile of our group from 1983 in which I actually was cogent. And I was surprised that I articulated a notion I thought I’d only come to hold more recently. But I was also disappointed by my hubris.

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The article, by Samir Hachem (1956–1992), provides a good introduction to what AOC was about, so I won’t duplicate that here. I knew Samir’s work from radio and his love for the Lebanese singer Fairouz. As KCRW’s Tom Schnabel (the station’s first music director and creator of Morning Becomes Eclectic) recalls in his tribute to Hachem, “Samir told me of how Fairouz could perform for one faction in the Lebanese civil war of the 1970s, then cross over to the other side and perform there, too. Such was her fame and the respect she commanded.” In addition to radio Samir wrote for The Hollywood Reporter and The Advocate, in which the AOC profile appeared.

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Attica: Coming Together

Coming Together cover image

What follows is the recollection and reflection of a remarkable musical work, and my work experience around it.

Prison Strike 2018 poster imageThe prison strike of late summer 2018 was in part a commemoration of the killing of prison organizer and author George Jackson on August 21, 1971 as well as the uprising his death sparked (in part) at Attica nineteen days later on September 9. Having just turned 16 at the time, although I was involved in antiwar activity in Boulder, Jackson and Attica were two coastlines away and easy enough for me to ignore. Two years later I was reacquainted with those struggles—through music. Continue reading “Attica: Coming Together”

1952: A Triad

1952 was a watershed year for the Mattachine. The organization had begun its engagement with the larger community by standing in solidarity with Mexican Americans who, like homosexuals, were targets of the Los Angeles Police Department. With the arrest of its cofounder Dale Jennings in March of that year, the Mattachine had a test case of its own to rally ’round, but in that effort the group turned inward rather than outward. I examine this dynamic in the first of three articles, “Harry Hay Meets His Match.” I also look toward the remarkable woman Hay met along the way.

The gamble to back Jennings paid off. His superb legal representation—bankrolled by Mattachine fundraising—resulted in a hung jury, allowing the organization to capitalize on an impossible dream: an admittedly homosexual man beating a charge of lewd vagrancy. “Blown Cover: The Arrest of Dale Jennings” reviews some of the particulars of the case, including the identity of his arresting officers. I also examine LAPD’s liberal employment of the lewd vagrancy allegation as well as its use of a tactic known as the “third degree” and brutalization in general.

In the fall of 1952, emboldened by Jennings’ success in court, the Mattachine once again turned its gaze outward, this time to civic leaders and local candidates for office. The vehicle of outreach was a brief survey known to have been completed by only three or four respondents, but when it came to the attention of a local newspaper columnist, the concerns he voiced about the Mattachine turned out to reflect those already in the minds of its members, as discussed in “Queer Questionnaire and Coates Column.”

The above three articles are adapted from my work-in-progress with the working title The Feeble Strength of One: Bob Hull, Chuck Rowland, Maxey, Marx and the Mattachine. Because their length likely would prevent their eventual publication as-is, I offer them via The Tangent Group.

Gerry Brissette: Mattachine Momentum, Misgivings

Brissette-Freman Letter

A profile of Gerry Brissette.

Gerard “Gerry” Brissette (November 12, 1926–September 20, 1980) almost singlehandedly organized what we now know as the Mattachine Society in the San Francisco Bay Area.

With his direction, facilitation, and participation the organization in Northern California grew from a virtually useless mailing list in mid-February 1953 to being active enough to send delegates to the Mattachine’s constitutional convention in April and May of that year. Nearly as quickly, following the conventions, Brissette became disillusioned with the organization’s trajectory and fell away. Due to a series of letters between Brissette and Mattachine cofounder Chuck Rowland in 1953, we are privy both to Brissette’s early biography as well as his motivations and challenges in building the organization in San Francisco and the East Bay. A 1976 interview of Brissette conducted by historian John D’Emilio aids in the latter regard as well.

This profile of Gerry Brissette is adapted from my work-in-progress with the working title The Feeble Strength of One: Bob Hull, Chuck Rowland, Maxey, Marx and the Mattachine. Because its length likely would prevent its eventual publication as-is, I offer it on The Tangent Group.