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Friday, December 30, 2011

Rock & Roll Confidential Part 8

In 1969, one of the biggest records to hit FM radio in Los Angeles wasn’t from a new singer-songwriter or Next Big Thing from England, but from a 42-year old jazz pianist named Dick Hyman. The track was called “The Minotaur” and it was one of the earliest records to use the Moog synthesizer in a swinging format. I stress the word “swinging” because up til then the Moog was only played in serious, academic recordings like Wendy Carlos’ groundbreaking “Switched on Bach” LP or in TV advertisements from guys like Van Dyke Parks. No, “The Minotaur” had a relentless groove working for it because a jazz dude got his hands on it and made it move in directions nobody ever heard before. Hearing it on the radio in 1969 may have been one of the most exciting sonic breakthroughs in music.

Hyman’s approach is playing the theme, going off into blues comping, and then stretching notes while bending the tones until he blasts into playing pure white noise, all over an electronic bass pulse with a hypnotic rhythm machine backbeat. If Jimi Hendrix was here to tell us we would never hear surf music again, then “The Minotaur” was here to tell us we may never want to hear long guitar solos again.

“The Minotaur” comes from an album titled “Moog: The Electric Eclectics of Dick Hyman”, and was released on ABC Records’ schlocky subsidiary label Command Records. It was the biggest selling album in Command Records history, and for good reason: each track is absolutely awesome. Hyman produced one more album of synthesizer sonics, but by that point many more artists were getting into the act, learning from Hyman’s example that the synth can swing as hard as any other cool instrument. The last I heard about Hyman he was scoring several Woody Allen movies, no synth but mostly jazz piano.

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When people think of John Sebastian of The Lovin’ Spoonful they usually think of sunny, happy, good time music. Songs like “Younger Girl”, “Daydream”, “Did You Ever Have To Make Up Your Mind” and that TV show theme song immediately come to mind when his name comes up. The only real rocker I can think of is “Summer In The City”, but that’s another story. I remember when his first solo album came out and hearing a track on it that didn’t sound like anything he ever did before.

Last month I had a strange nightmare and all through the dream I heard that song from the Sebastian album playing through it. What made it so creepy was the fact that I completely forgot about the song until it haunted me in my dream. The song is called “The Room Nobody Lives In” and it’s pretty weird by anyone’s standards. It’s a very slow, quiet, and almost funereal drone with an unsettling harmonium track, recalling Nico, who had released “Desertshore” around this time.

The song is either about someone who is dead or long estranged from their family. The words go like this:

“The room nobody lives in is up the stairs and four doors down the hall

And no one ever goes there, except for linens when the family comes to call

The room nobody lives in is always empty, but immaculately clean

And all is softly silent, except for buzzings of the flies between the screens"

The next part reads like some kind of John Cheever nightmare straight out of “Bullet Park”:

“But there´s a feeling, even breathing in the air, like there´s someone, when there´s no one even there,

And I'm hearing the cheers for the heroes, of scenes going down in this room, for so many years

But now nobody goes there for forty years or so, this room has been alone,

And starving for a moment, completely human...and completely all her own."

Maybe after playing with The Doors on their “Morrison Hotel” album John Sebastian picked up on their brand of suburban dark nightmare. It’s the most atypical track he’s ever recorded and easily one of the creepiest things ever recorded. Once you hear it you can count on it haunting you in your dreams.

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Two giants in music passed away this past month; one was Hubert Sumlin, arguably one of the original guitarists whose work laid down the foundation of what would eventually become rock ‘n roll. Brandishing a Gibson Les Paul as early as 1955, he strangled some of the raunchiest electric guitar of that era, distorting it to sound like a skillet full of eggs frying in bacon grease. His work with Howlin’ Wolf is some of the most exciting blues guitar ever played, influencing rockers from Keith Richards to Jimmy Page to Jeff Beck.

The other passing is Sean Bonniwell of The Music Machine, one of the finest singer-songwriters in garage rock. Although he was known by many just by his single “Talk Talk”, the three albums he released, “Turn On”, “Beyond The Garage”, and “Ignition” are unparalleled garage rock records. Amusingly enough, his fashion gimmick in The Music Machine was wearing one leather glove, predating Michael Jackson by a good twenty years. His life was more private than Roky Erickson or Sky Saxon, making him the ultimate garage rock mystery man. They will both be missed, and I thank them for all the great music I’ve enjoyed from them through the years.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Dogville and "The Resurrection Shuffle"

When former computer programmer Anders Breivik went berserk and killed 69 teenagers in a Norwegian Islamic camp, film director Lars Von Trier freaked out. Breivik, a religious fanatic, listed “Dogville” as one of his top three favorite films. Von Trier already had an angry mob of critics and theater goers who thought the movie was strongly anti-American with its images of impoverished Americans during the end credits. But what really freaked him out was not the fact that the film was deemed anti-American, but that Breivik caught on to Von Trier’s real message: in “Dogville” Jesus is back, and he’s pissed.

Staged not so much as a narrative film but more like a passion play, “Dogville” is the story of a woman named Grace and her escape from an overbearing, powerful father, known only as The Boss. She hides in a town called Dogville, where the residents are, by and large, terrified and hateful of strangers, even when they look like Nicole Kidman. Like any passion play, the next three hours chronicles Grace’s trial and suffering at the hands of the awful residents of Dogville (an anagram for Evil God).

Grace accepts her abuse and punishment from the residents of Dogville in a passive, virtually Christ-like manner. Towards the end of the film she's shackled to a wheel, recalling the cross Christ carried on his back. The similarities end there, of course, because she’s freed by Her Father's gangsters once they've caught up with her. Her Father, The Boss, demands an explanation in the privacy of his confessional booth-looking limousine and she makes a deal with him. She will take over The Rackets (religion) if she can waste all the townsfolk that degraded and defiled her. The film ends with her exacting her revenge by having the entire town killed. So, this time Jesus gets even, kicking ass and taking names. The ultimate revenge flick, and it's religious, too.

“Dogville” presents a vindictive Son of God, which someone sick, like Breivik, could misinterpret as a reaction to non-believers. Christ as Charles Bronson. That’s not to say Von Trier made a dangerous movie, but that a violent film that criticizes religion could send a fundamentalist nut on a killing rampage. Von Trier still makes movies that broach religious subtexts like “Antichrist” and his new release, “Melancholia”, but personally I’d rather watch “The Idiots”, his fusion of Ingmar Bergman and Johnny Knoxville.


In the early Seventies hippies moved towards forsaking drugs for a more transcendental lifestyle, namely religion. The born-again Christian movement hit the scene influenced by rock musicals on the order of “Jesus Christ Superstar” and “Godspell”. Even the previously meditating Beatles got into the act with “Let It Be”, ad nauseum, so a backlash was imminently due. Around this time a band of seasoned and jaded rockers called Ashton, Gardner & Dyke released “Resurrection Shuffle”, an insane piss-take on the now trendy Jesus Freak craze. As pop songs go it’s actually pretty solid, sounding a lot like The Jim Jones Revue, who should cover this song ASAP if they had any brains.

Nobody predicted that the most unexpected rockers were so enamored with this wild rocker that covers of this nutty parody proliferated like crazy. Lulu even got into the act. Check her out:

Tom Jones had to wrestle his vocal cords in this one, too. I think he acquits himself nicely on this version. By the way, notice how everyone seems to sport a shit-eating grin on their face whenever they cover this crazy number. It thumbs its nose at the God Rock trend of the time.

In the long run nothing compares with the version rendered by those nice Mormon boys The Osmonds, adding this brilliant rocker to their “Crazy Horses”–era repertoire. Merry Christmas Everybody! Don’t let your back bone slip!

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Freezy's Big Day

In 2006 I posted a video on YouTube called "Freezy's Big Day". Rebecca took a series of photographs illustrating Freezy Sliddle delivering packages for Santa Claus to all the Liddle Kiddles. I wrote the text to this series of pictures and compiled it for a video on iMovies.

The music originally chosen for the video was The Beach Boy's "The Man With All The Toys", but unfortunately it was too short to pad out the duration of the film, so I had to choose another song. At the time Steve Jones of The Sex Pistols had a radio show called "Jonesey's Juke Box" and he was playing a lot of hoary old glitter chestnuts on his show like Showaddywaddy and Alvin Stardust, but the one that brought back the best memories of Rodney's English Disco was Mud's "Dynamite". Perverse soul that I am, I decided to use "Dynamite" as the music to accompany Freezy's Yuletide flight to help jolly St. Nick to deliver packages to all the kids of Christmas.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Christmas With The Hip Chicks

Saddle up a satellite, baby, and I’ll spin you a wild yarn about two hip chicks, the Scooby Dooby Sisters, why they might be the craziest chicks you ever did seed, keed. It was Christmas Day and Ellie and Millie bugged out on making the scene at their Mom’s humble three-story pad. They stayed in and sipped their holiday espressos, digging their crazy Christmas branch, a thick branch from an elm tree with a red balloon on it with glitter. There were four presents under this Christmas branch. One for each of them from their mother and one they bought for each other.

Ellie, the blonde with the ironed hair, opened up her Christmas gift from Moms, and pulled out a beautiful black Christian Dior formal. “Dig this. What am I supposed to do with these crazy threads?”
Millie, her sister with the ratted out auburn locks, shook her shoulder. “Zilch! She laid a century on you, though”, and pointed towards the $100 bill that fell out of the package.
“Crazy! Benjamin Franklin, dig those crazy shades. Never did make the presidential scene”.
“What a drag”.
Millie opened up her package from Mom and another $100 bill tumbled out along with a necklace of double string pearls. “Pearls? Dresses? Man, somebody GOOFED!”

Ellie picked up something that looked like a pair of bongos poorly wrapped up in some newspaper scraps stuck together with scotch tape that had blonde hair strands stuck on the ends.
“Hey, sis, dig this crazy present”.
“Man, that’s one suave-looking gift, lay it on me, chick”, Millie grabbed it and tore off the wrapping. “New bongos! They’re the most!”
“Lay some sounds on me!” Millie drummed wildly on the bongos while Ellie did a wild interpretive dance. This went on for five minutes until they both got tired.
Millie picked up her package and thrust it at Ellie. “Dig my bodacious bundle. Merry Commercial Christmas!”
Ellie tore open her package and it was a stolen library book called, “Famous Presidents In American History”.
“Ooh, solid, baby! All my faves are here: William McKinley, James Buchanan, the only swinging single President ever, Millard Fillmore –“
“-and don’t forget Zachary Taylor, the coolest President alive. He split the scene seven weeks after he got elected!”
“Yeah, he cut out right after he copped the Big Chief gig!”
The chicks got so jazzed that Millie picked up her dirty bongos again and Ellie went into her abstract expressionist dance with her book in her hands, the very stern face of Abraham Lincoln peering out of the cover. Her wicked dance cast shadows set by the flickering candle in the room, the shadows playing against the cheap Picasso prints and bullfight poster on the wall of their humble beatnik apartment.

Well, the dolls got so tired from dancing and crashing from their caffeine jag that they both sacked out on the sofa, making the sandman scene, both snoring more atonally than Brubeck, Mulligan and Kenton all put together.

___________________ _______________________ ______________

Millie and Ellie stood around a dark ballroom with brightly colored gels projected on a stage. There were hipsters of all sizes wearing brightly colored clothes and the men had hair as long as the girls they were with.

“Dig this crazy fallout shelter!” Millie’s crazy orbs got big clocking the weirdo establishment they were standing around in.
Ellie nodded. “Like nervous, baby, nervous! These cats got some caveman action going on, hair down to their-“
“Say girls”, a hippie with a bushy beard and Ben Franklin shades walked up to them. “I’ve never seen you chicks make the scene at the Fillmore West before. What’s shaking?” He handed them both a dirty, wilted flower that smelled like sweaty dogs.
“I dig your glasses, Clyde, you got that presidential thing going on, bippity bop, boop bop”.
“Far out, sunshine! They call me Star Sailor. Hey, are you going to the Love-In at the park by Haight Street this Saturday? The Dead are gonna be jamming.”
“You wanna transpose that in another key, Long Hair Daddy. Why would you be loving a place called Hate Street? That’s abstract!”
“Dead people jamming, chicky”, Millie added, “that’s some freaky rebop!”
“Later, chicks, much, much, later”, the hippie walked away, disgusted.
“What’s his scene?” Ellie asked.
“Too many test patterns. Sold American”.

A voice came over the PA as a band got on stage. “Give a warm Fillmore West welcome to Big Brother and The Holding Company”.
The band tore into their opening number and Janis Joplin started squalling. “Why-ie-ie-ie I need a man to lo-ove…”
“Man, dig those crazy branches! I gotta have a major pow-wow with her”.
Janis shrieked for two more numbers. "Love's like uh bawwwllll-een-chayunnnn- waw-wowow..."
“She’s flipping out!”
“What a drag!”
“When does she make with the finger cymbals?”
A stoned girl in a huge mu-mu crashed into them and fell flat on her back, prompting our two hipsters to split towards the back of the club.
“Flip city!”
“Bugsville, like too bugged out!”

They looked around the club near the back and noticed one of their heroes double-fisting beers and chatting up an acid-bleached hippie hag.
“Neal Cassady? What’s he doing here?”
“Man, he looks beat, like more beat than he’s ever been beat”.
“What a drag. Mayhaps Sal Paradise or Ginsberg are making the scene, too”.
“Man, Cassady, he looks like fell off one of Kerouac’s crazy peaks and didn’t miss a boulder”.

“You chicks made the scene! Far out!” a familiar voice piped up behind them. They spun around and smiled to see –
“SCRUFFY!” they both yelled. It was their beatnik crush, Scruffy aka Sterling Holloway Scarborough IV, hipper and even richer than them with a large trust fund. His hair was a little longer than they remembered, but his cooler looks were still as solid as ever.
“Man, what is this tee-pee we’re at? Clue us in”, Ellie asked.
“It’s 1967, you’re in San Francisco, it’s the Summer of Love, dig? This is the Fillmore West, where it’s all happening. Those crazy test patterns are called a light show and these kids are grooving to Janis on some prime psychedelic Owsley, baby”.
“Acid, baby, acid!”
“No coffee? Bongos? Poetry readings?”
“Negative, but all the interpretive dancing you ever did see”, he pointed at a 300-pound girl nine months pregnant doing an Arabic snake dance with herself. “Dig that crazy way-out doll, she strips at a groovy club to all the square johns down on North Beach".
“You must be putting us on!”
Millie looked perplexed. “But why is it 1967? We're from 1955”.
“Just let your mind flow, dig the ride while it lasts”, Scruffy smiled. “Have some love beads”, and he placed love beads on both their necks. “Gotta split, like dig ya later. OOOOOM".

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Janis finished her set and the girls moved up towards the front. The stench of pot was overwhelming, hemp stank of marijuana so thick you could cut it with a saber.

A short, thick Japanese girl with fried black hair down to her ankles got on stage with a guitarist playing noisy feedback. “Don’t worry, Don’t worry, Don’t worry, Don’t worry, KYOKOKYOKOKYOKO, AIEEEEEEE!” She shrieked and wailed like a cat caught in a threshing machine. The Hip Chicks clutched their ears and winced with pain.
“Bad scene!”
“We gotta split from this oxygen tent, like, NOW!”

“AAAIIIIIIEEEEE, PEACE PEACE PEACE PEACE PEACE PEACE, GET IN THE BAG, KYOKO!” She growled and screamed, her demented Japanese witch face all screwed up. The high-pitched frequencies of her shrieking coupled with her grotesque features made our girls cry.
“Cut the rebop, Kabuki Witch!” Ellie cried, tears streaming down her face.
“Make with that square Hollywood jazz, sister, say it!”
“There’s no place like home, there’s no place like home”, Ellie chanted, clicking her scuffed moccasins over and over again. “There’s no place like home!”

_______________ _____________ _____________

Millie and Ellie both woke up from the sofa to the piercing whine of the test pattern with the Injun head on their tiny television set.

“I just had the craziest dream, sister”.
“I dig, like ditto. It was wilder than that test pattern on the boob tube”.
“Scruffy was in mine, and–“
“Me too, and Neal Cassady was in it making like a dirty old man, dig!”
“Yeah, and this beat geisha witch was screaming about bags and peace–“
“Ditto, chicky baby, ditto! That voice of hers jammed my wavelength.”

“Let’s cross our paws and wish it stays 1955 forever”.
“I dig, 1967 sounds like a stone cold drag”.
“All I gotta say is, we wish you a real gone gasser this Yuletide”, they both smiled and said. “And a groovier New Year”.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Every Picture Tells A Story

Rex Reed once remarked in his review of the film “Out of Africa” that the cinematography was so beautiful that every frame was a picture suitable for framing. The same thing, in my opinion, could be said of Kenneth Anger’s films. Unfortunately, at his show “Icons” currently exhibiting at the Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA) you don’t get huge printed stills from his films, but rather a few screens erected in a dark room playing his films on a loop.

Kenneth Anger's films have influenced a wide range of directors from Terry Gilliam to David Lynch to Tim Burton, and artists that have appeared in his films include Anais Nin, Donald Cammell, Marianne Faithfull, Anton LaVey, and Manson Family killer Bobby Beausoleil. Titles to some of his films are "Kustom Kar Kommandos", "Invocation of My Demon Brother", "Rabbit Moon" and "Scorpio Rising".

I thought the installation somewhat deadened the impact of a great artist who pioneered images that amalgamated fetishism with male sexuality and threw in the dark arts (read “occult”) for good measure. Let me just repeat, a bunch of cool blown-up stills from his movies would have made a much better show.

Anger made a very rare public appearance on November 19th playing theremin in a two-man performance group called Technicolor Skull. I missed it, as usual, but I heard it was very visual and very DTLA. The room adjoining it was dedicated to his legendary book “Hollywood Babylon”, displaying movie stills, newspaper clippings and other memorabilia showcasing early Hollywood movie stars and their various vices and deaths.

I hope the next time Kenneth Anger exhibits his work it’s done in a more satisfying format. If you really want to experience Anger at his fullest, invest in the two DVD compilations, “The Films of Kenneth Anger, vols. 1 and 2”. Both volumes have great commentary from the master himself and provide a much more exciting audio than the dreary doo-wop and syrupy orchestral tracks dedicated to those films.


Far more satisfying down the hall was Weegee’s “Naked Hollywood” show. This exhibit was significant in being the very first exhibition of Weegee’s photography in a major museum. Weegee, if you don’t know by now, was a crime photographer named Arthur Fellig who could usually be counted on to be the first guy on the crime scene to take snapshots.

Crime reporting lost its glamour for him so he turned to Hollywood, shooting intense pictures of stars and their manic fans. He even pioneered the tabloid photographer strategy of shooting movie stars blowing their cool in public, i.e., Dean Martin jamming food in his face, Jackie Gleason writing down horse track faves on a pad, and Shelley Winters putting the “fug” in fugly.

Weegee had quite an ego for a reporter, titling himself “Weegee The Famous”, even rubber-stamping this weird handle on the back of his photos. He was a bit of a Rodney Bingenheimer-type, too, posing for photos with a newly married Tony Curtis and Janet Leigh, a ravishing Leslie Caron, and many more.

The best part of the exhibit, however, was an ultra-cool documentary of Weegee pounding the pavement, Hollywood Boulevard, to be exact, looking for “interesting” people to shoot. He seemed to great delight in hounding some old coot with long, white hair and an even longer beard - a “hermit” by his description. The thing that killed me was his way of prepping a shot. He spit on the lens and then shook his camera like an unruly child, which may ne the first time in photography that abusing your gear guarantees a great shot. And yes, he still used flash in broad daylight which is also pretty weird. So that was the show: Kenneth Anger and Weegee, a billing that could have been curated by James Ellroy.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Holiday Leftovers

When it comes to posting blogs a small surplus of pictures and other supplemental material begins collecting like a crowded garage. Sometimes you toss out the extra material and other times you let it sit around on the oft-chance it might get used again in some capacity. For your entertainment I offer you assorted leftovers from blogs I've posted in the past six months.

In my blog "Rock & Roll Confidential Part 7" I posted a mail-out flyer from The Screamers celebrating the Christmas season, but that wasn't the only artifact I had in my vast punk rock collection. In addition to other Screamers goodies I owned was this terrific Screamers Fan Club entry blank. To the best of my knowledge nothing ever got sent out to their fans, but what an easy way to get $2 out of people.

While we're on the subject of Christmas, I always found it ironic that the band the symbolized fun in the summertime, The Beach Boys, had such a great Christmas-y sound during the later days of their Capitol Records career. "Pet Sounds" up until "20/20" had so many pretty choral arrangements that verged on the spiritual it's uncanny: "You Still Believe In Me", "Cabinessence", "I Know There's An Answer", and many more tracks sound so seasonal. In fact, I strongly urge you to listen to any Beach Boys circa 1966-1969, five albums in all, while sipping spiked egg nog and signing your holiday cards and dressing up your Xmas tree or any other weird religious arboretum.

When I was a teenager I used to get the Los Angeles Free Press regularly, and one of the highlights was reading "Notes of A Dirty Old Man", Charles Bukowski's weekly column. It wasn't really thought of as high art back then; to be perfectly honest Buk was considered a bit of a crank back in the day, which probably suited him well. Nevertheless, I still followed him avidly, even catching him at a reading at The Troubadour in 1976. Memories are made of this. (Click on image to enlarge)

Another weekly column I followed loyally in the Los Angeles Free Press was The Glass Teat written by the irrespressible Harlan Ellison. I had the pleasure to expereience the sci-fi legend in the flesh at The Silent Theatre (aka The Cinefamily). The Silent Theatre was a very tiny and intimate place to see this dynamo of speculative fiction. Mister Ellison spent the beginning of the show hanging out with the fans waiting in line to see him, channeling Don Rickles and Shelley Winters with his extremely extrovert exhortations to one and all. Just writing about him makes you write like him. Crazy, baby!

Harlan talked about his career writing for television, with brief video clips showing past works, including a great "Burke's Law" segment written for Buster Keaton that completely honored and respected Mr. Keaton's comedy schtick, even for a silly cop show. Ellison related a tale of scamming Gloria Swanson out of retirement to do a "Burke's Law" segment, no small feat as she had no intention of returning to movies or TV at all. He was also humiliated by a "Flying Nun" credit which he couldn't run away from, and finally confessed he only wrote it in the hopes of getting into Sally Field's pants. Who could blame him?

A great time was had by everyone, even Harlan. The only criticism I had of the show was that questions about the current explosion in sci-fi/fantasy/horror in popular culture was never breached, because everyone thought it was more ntertaining listening to Harlan talk about his past crazy antics. A little more writer and a lot less personality wouldn't have hurt.

In my blog post on "Christopher Milk" I mentioned John Mendelsohn's band The Pits playing The Starwood and actually doing the freakbeat/heavy metal hybrid before Cheap Trick. Well, here's the handout set list (programme?) handed out at the show. It was a night to remember.

Before I go I'll leave you with yet another great yodelling performance from the fabulous DeZurik Sisters from my "American Yodeling" blog. Here they are singing "Hillbilly Bill". Enjoy!

The DeZurik Sisters performing "Hillbilly Bill".