The Velvet Underground, Henry Threadgill and Me

december was an intense head month for me. i had the vertigo-inducing good fortune to write at length about two of the most important musicians / bands in my listening life. at the same time. hair-pulling enthusiasm.

the velvet underground piece was for the brooklyn rail, an excellent monthly in, well, duh, brooklyn. i've done a few pieces for them. check it out, check them out, look around, scroll down to 'music' for my vu piece:

the threadgill article is, well, it's massive. it covers his whole discography and my whole two decades of listening to his whole discography. it's in the first issue of burning ambulance, an interesting jazz and metal journal edited by phil freeman and available through lulu.

sweet, huh?


Shit From an Old Notebook (Chocolates and Flowers to D. Boon)

This brief paragraph was written some years ago while watching a favorite musician of mine debut a new band that was just (I thought) terrible. The band has built a following but I still don’t like them.

Porn Rock- designed to make you like it, if only in a visceral way. Not to surprise you or challenge you but to just fucking grind a pelvis in your face. Like AC/DC, but they at least might get credit for perfecting the form when it was still in its ascendance. But like what the fuck were The Strokes about except giving you the same shit that got your dad off before he met your mom, and maybe after? Pornography is a simple formula, tried and true, and doesn't need to be anything else. At least not to attract and keep a certain audience. The same thing's true with porn rock. The only thing that changes over time is the haircuts.


Shit From an Old Notebook (Milk and Cookies to D. Boon)

My story on Sam Shalabi was accepted by a magazine in editorial upheaval. I interviewed Sam the morning after a fantastic show he did with his band and the Stooges-esque Montreal group The Donkeys on stage at the same time at the 2004 Victoriaville festival. I was watching him at the hotel bar after the show thinking he'd never make it to our breakfast interview the next morning, but he poured himself out of bed and met me. Then the magazine killed the story. Here is some of what he told he through his morning-after haze, bless his soul.

"I wanted to write something for specific people and use The Donkeys. It's the first time I composed something or put something together like that.

"I just play what I like - I think the older I get, the more I'm trying to play music that I like. In the past, I was trying to just do improv, which I love, or do electronic stuff.

"A US printer refused to do Osama [his record that uses his given name as the title]. They said it was in bad taste, which was kind of funny. I wanted some of the text [on the recording] to be for someone who's really paranoid about what's going on in politics in the States. There's a message in it.

"I can't believe how many people think the first song is about Osama bin Laden, when it's about guitar collecting.

"There's a lot of improv going on that's not documented at all, that's not free jazz or actuelle. There's all this other stuff that's a younger generation that's not documented.

"At this point I don't really see - whatever 'political' is, how do you avoid that? I don't do political music. Either you ignore it or it's banal - what you write about, what you choose to say. When people use the word 'political' they think it's got to be one thing - either it's party political or Communist. In daily life, it's the choices people make and what they do. When you do an up song, there's an element of politics in that. That happens all the time - world politics affect what people write about or choose not to write about. Even a year after 9/11, there were huge artists like Radiohead talking about globalization. There was this event, media, cultural, that they could have said something about, they could have investigated it in their own work. Bono is a good example: There's a guy who's supposed to be socially conscious and there was nothing. In interviews, in this vague way that has nothing to do with their work, they say their concerned about the world. You had this event that touched on everything that a band like Radiohead talked about and they don't want to touch it. Put your money where your mouth is. You're spouting this watered-down activism and you have this cultural event that's tangible. That's a decision. Either say something or just shut up. It was almost embarrassing. With these bands like U2, Radiohead, Peter Gabriel, there's this thing where they're supposed to be political and when there's this thing that demands a response, there's no response.

"Probably some people are going to think I'm a 'political' artist. I just don't see how you can avoid it. Art is supposed to be a reflection of life, and these things are really big in people's lives."