Thursday, October 27, 2016

Quark, Strangeness & Charm

I'm not one to obsess much over milestones because it's a game one can play indefinitely ("The 50th Anniversary of Sgt. Peppers", "The 70th Anniversary of Hiroshima", etc.), but I'll break my rule and let you know that this Monday, October 31st, will be my 60th birthday. Sixty years of...quark, strangeness and charm (thanks, Hawkwind).

This week also marks the 60th Anniversary of the Hungarian Revolution, where I was born. I find it ironic that there was fighting in the streets as I was born, and that the cacophony of street fighting somewhat influenced me into a life-long love for playing free jazz and other areas of improvisational music. By my parents' account, I was smuggled out of the country as they escaped to the USA. Contraband is my middle name.

Now that I've turned 60 I have to confess that I've started moving slower for things. I no longer run for anything - I just take my time. I've been here long enough. What's the point of running for anything? I've seen enough shit to know how things will turn out.

But in essence the importance of getting older is that there's less a feeling of guilt in general. I find it harder and harder to feel bad about anything. And even worse, I find my self-esteem rising higher and higher. I really like myself and all the things that I've done. I've lost all sense of shame. I won't dwell on self-hatred.

But all kidding aside, I've done just about everything I've ever wanted to do. I was a rock musician, touring the country and recording several albums; I've designed and made my own fashions, many of which have been featured on this blog; I worked for every strata of American government (Fed, State, County and City); I've done private investigative work, and now I'm doing what I love best, writing punk rock crime novels. If I died tomorrow I couldn't ask for a refund. I got on all the rides.

For the celebrity obsessed I've shaken hands with John Cassavetes, helped Harrison Ford at the election polls, hugged Raquel Welch, attended Julie Newmar's birthday party at her home, attended Gene Simmons' own 60th private birthday party, hung out with Iggy Pop and Shaun Cassidy at Rodney's, danced with Patti Smith and made Sun Ra smile. Yeah, I got on all the rides.

I don't cry much over terrible things that have happened in the past. Crying isn't really that cathartic and I prefer to just keep moving. anyway. My pain is a luxury I can't afford. Life is mostly loss, anyway. You lose friends who decide they hate you. You lose parents who pass away.

So what's it all about? Sex and death. Sex - getting it, dodging it from lecherous men, singing about it, writing about it - by the way, writing sex scenes in my books have always been the easiest part of my books. I don't get writers who can't knock out a decent sex scene in their novels. If you like sex then writing about it's the easiest task in the world.

Death, not just the end of mortality but the end of friendships, relationships, marriages, i.e. anything that entails someone yelling FUCK YOU as a parting shot. Life is filled with a lot of that, sometimes just a wee bit too much of it. For fuck's sake.

But still, what's it all about? I don't know. I just keep writing about people doing bad things to each other, laughing my ass off as I type away. And this week I'm listening to The Slits...Ari Up, passed away six years ago this week...Who invented the typical girl? Do a runner, do a runner....and then I hear the answer. In the beginning there was rhythm. Silence is a rhythm too>>>>>.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

The Fish Eye

When I was young I remember when fish eyes lens album covers were a big deal. Generally meant to depict the effect of a distorted, drug-induced hallucination, the fish eye lens was developed in the early 20th century but didn't become available on the marketplace until the early Sixties.

The popular fish eye lens is the circular lens, best explained by Wikipedia:

The first types of fisheye lenses to be developed were "circular fisheye" — lenses which took in a 180° hemisphere and projected this as a circle within the film frame. Some circular fisheyes were available in orthographic projection models for scientific applications. These have a 180° vertical angle of view, and the horizontal and diagonal angle of view are also 180°. Most circular fisheye lenses cover a smaller image circle than rectilinear lenses, so the corners of the frame will be completely dark.

By the mid to late Sixties it was de rigeur for every popular band to have a cool fish eye lens photograph of themselves. Several bands released iconographic album covers employing this exciting new look.

Three album covers which immediately come to mind are Are You Experienced? by the Jimi Hendrix Experience (shot by Karl Ferris), Safe As Milk by Capt. Beefheart & His Magic band (shot by Guy Webster), and Mr. Tambourine Man by The Byrds (shot by Barry Feinstein). These particular shots expand on what would have been considered average stock rock photos.

The fish eye camera lens craze enjoyed its heyday in the Sixties and its use in the decades to follow slowly dropped into obscurity. I think we're due for a revival any day now....


Speaking of a revival I've been listening to the Edgar Broughton band a lot lately. Talk about your overlooked geniuses, they were so far ahead of their time they couldn't even catch a break in their own home country.

The band's first album Wasa Wasa inaugurated their sound in 1969. While it recalls classic stoner rock like Black Sabbath, it sounds more like what would be considered The Birthday Party's signature sound over 10 years later. Case example: Love In The Rain, shown here on Beat Club.

Although the Broughton Band was more song-oriented compared to, say, the more freeform Deviants, the lyric content from Broughton was far more outrageous. One of the more extreme examples is “Psychopath”, the recalling of the rape/murder of a young teenage girl. The track unsettled rock fans with the way the crime is recounted with more than a trace of humor. This twisted sense of humor earned the band more than their fair share of enemies and made the band fairly reviled in a scene that accepted just about everyone. The Edgar Broughton Band stepped over the line and fans were not amused.

Nor did they endear themselves to the vegetarian hippie corps by posting a photo of a line of slaughtered cattle in an abattoir on the cover of their second album. They were pushing buttons far ahead of the punk rock bands of 1977, but nobody was ready for it yet.

While the band weren’t about to unseat Donovan in the peace and love sweepstakes, they still managed to be as eclectic as possible. One of the earliest bands to cover a Captain Beefheart song, they merged Dropout Boogie with Jorgen Ingemann’s instrumental hit Apache.

But if you want to hear the proper precursor to The Birthday Party, I recommend tracks like Evil (“Evil, evil, black as night…”), Crying and Love In The Rain, where the trio play distorted acid rock with swinging jazz time signatures. And for those of you who like ballads, you may never hear a ballad more gorgeous about suicide than Hotel Room.

On the other end of the spectrum is Elysian Fields, a band led by New York couple Jennifer Charles (vocals) and Oren Bloedow (guitar and piano). Their sound is very slow, moody and torch song influenced. For the past twenty years they have produced a line of albums that sound like Julie London transmitting messages from the dark side of the moon.

Bearing an uncanny resemblance to Sixties-era Jane Birkin, Charles sings in a low whisper while the band, a revolving group which included members of Jeff Buckley’s backing group play behind her. Bloedow and Charles write haunting melodies that are both erotic and romantic, Songs for Really Modern Lovers.

Some of their more haunting torch songs include The Moment, When, and Climbing Up My Dark Hair. If you go for more of a rock sound, they do rock out in a Romeo Void-kind of way with songs like Timing Is Everything, Jack In The Box, and Bend Your Mind. You owe it to yourself to discover this great band. You won’t be sorry.