The year 2003 marked the fiftieth anniversary of the execution of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg. Their killing had a great impact on my wife Andrea Carney (see Part 1 and Part 2 of our trilogy). Somehow I learned that a major commemoration would be held in New York City on June 19, the same day they were killed. It was produced by the Rosenberg Fund for Children, founded in 1990 by the Rosenbergs’ son Robert, who was grateful for the support he and his brother Michael had been shown during the jailing of, and after the killing of, their parents. The fund’s purpose is “to find and help children today who are enduring the same kind of nightmare he endured as a child.”1 Continue reading “Rosenberg Resistance”
Exactly a year ago my discussion with a comrade about music-compelled-by-struggle led to my first original post here, Attica: Coming Together. Last Friday, talking with this same friend caused me to create a list of musics that employ the spoken word—faith-based speech specifically. After jotting down a few titles I came across an extensive list posted for Easter 2013 by one Mr. Fab, a Los Angeles-based deejay and musician. He helpfully includes the name of each orator, which indicates the popularity of two in particular, R. W. Schambach and Gene Scott. My list nearly ended with Praga Khan’s setting of the former in 1991, but Fab provides twenty more years of titles.
My Friday conversation involved Brian Eno and David Byrne’s album My Life In the Bush of Ghosts for which they used the voice of Kathryn “I Believe In Miracles” Kuhlman. While her estate wouldn’t approve licensing, a 1980 UK bootleg of the intended track and others circulated apparently before the official album was released in early 1981.1 Bush of Ghosts was completed in October of 1980 and Eno and Byrne must have scrambled to replace Kuhlman’s vocal: the substitute was an “unidentified exorcist” recorded the previous month in New York. Both these speakers are acts in their own right, with the exorcist commanding (below), healer Kuhlman exploring (at least initially).
Continue reading “Acts of Faith: Electric Evangelists 1”
Last month I saw Gang of Four for the third time.
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.”
I keep forgetting we have the realm of music at our fingertips. Long-forgotten or barely remembered works are available if I’d only think 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.”
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).Continue reading “Hair Piece”
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”
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
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”
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 also was disappointed by my hubris.
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.
What follows is the recollection and reflection of a remarkable musical work, and my work experience around it.
The 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”