Videos for Watching

Here's two bit of Christmas cheer from my radio show:


A Shelley Hirsch X-mas On WFMU! from WFMU on Vimeo.

Here's a short clip from Patrick Grant's "Tilted Axes" guitar parade that happened on the solstice, but you might need a Facebook account to watch it. I can be seen in the back, wearing a hat.

and here

is the premiere performance of Bitchprints at the None More Eleven Spinal Tap tribute!


Report to Hair Shoulders

As we approach the end of the fourth quarter of FY2011, we thought it might be best to relucidate some of the recent staff accomplishments accomplished by our staff. This report is in no way meant to replace or circumvene upon the official annual report, which indeed is unlikely to be written.

After the rousting success of our first volume of fictional stories (as opposed to the journalistic works staff have long produced which might also be seen as fictive) (that being Little Apples: A Story Cycle, of course) (the referrant there being not the journalistic but the priorily mentioned fictional works), we were pleased to see not one but three more fictional writings appear during the fourth quarter, with a fourth completed by our Czech office and submitted to a journal of some repute, details of which will follow if and as they develop. A new, experimental eBook is also expected to occur in the first quarter of the coming year.

The works made public during the current quarter were “Vampyre Storie,” “Six Hundred Words” and “Amore.” “Vampyre Storie” was written for a Halloween radio broadcast the name of which is “The Thunk Tank” on partner media outlet WFMU radio and was subsequently published on our inhouse weblog Spearmint Music. A different tact was taken with “Six Hundred Words,” (the work of our Finland branch) which was distributed as an eBook even though it is quite short by means of our longtime working partnership with the publishing house Lulu for the mere price of $1.25. Staff was able to meanwhile procure facilities for the making freely available of “Amore” through the woodshed worksite Red Lemonade.

While all of these outreach efforts were considered a success, administrators are considering withdrawing at least some of the projects from public presumption with the new year to make room for future works or perhaps one of those wicker beds with a fitted cushion for a mama cat and all of her adorable newborn kittens.

The issue of off duty staff using staff bathrooms has been raised several times, however we have been unable to work out a resolution which meets with the approval of all concerned parties. The issue of staff having parties in the staff bathrooms is also still under deliberation.

In less optimismal news, we have been discouraged to see a downturn in music journalism, which we chalk down to the fact that no one likes music anymore. A midyear effort to launch a blog covering music coverage was quickly stalled, but plans are underway to relaunch this enterprise with the coming year.

The target for performing music live in performance was reached in 2011 and no more need be said on that count.

We’ve also been heightened by the launching of a new newsstand of sorts the goal of which being to turn barter items procured by publishing outlets into materials with which rent might be paid. While it is currently only a list of available items posted on the SM, Inc., blog, there are no plans to elaborate it into more of a “presence.”

We would also like to take this moment to give momentary thanks where surely hourly thanks are due to the many patrons and onlookers who have had kind words to say about our words during the 2011 year. We have every expectation of writing more words with the coming 2012.


Closet Cleaning Sale

I'm trying to empty some bins of stuff I've worked on. I have less than 10 copies of most of these things. Priced to move, baby! Postage not included. Message me (kcgottschalk @ gmail or any other means you have of hollering at me) with your desires and to be sure I still have what you want. Free gift with every order.


White Fungus #12: 156 page journal from Taiwan (printed in English) with my profile of David First. Also includes interviews with Carolee Schneemann and Pauline Oliveros, comics, art and a CD with tracks by If Bwana, David Watson & Sean Meehan and Our Love Will Destroy the World. $9

Signal to Noise #62: 82-page magazine with my cover story on the ICP Orchestra, also pieces on Liturgy, Time-Lag, Andrew Ford, Erdem Halvacioglu and Nick Hennies. $4

Little Apples: A Story Cycle (Spearmint Lit) by Kurt Gottschalk: 17 short stories which might also be a novel, also includes original artwork by Gill Arno, Ben Owen, MP Landis, Cooper-Moore, Peter Evans, Steve Dalachinsky, Yuko Otomo and others. 180-page paperback, $12.


Haunted House: Blue Ghost Blues (Northern Spy) Man, this kills! New album by the great quartet of Loren Connors, Andrew Burnes, Suzanne Langille and Neel Murgai. Thunderous avant blues. I produced and wrote liner notes. Sealed CD, $10

The Spanish Donkey: XYX (Northern Spy) Blasting session by Joe Morris, Mike Pride and Jamie Saft. I wrote the liners. Sealed CD, $10

VA: Clandestine Cassette #2 (Northern Spy) Compilation I produced of tape-manipulation artists. Exclusive tracks by Aki Onda, Nonhorse, Bonnie Jones and Jason Lescalleet. Cover design by MP Landis. Cassette, $5

Yuganaut: Sharks (Engine) Inventive out jazz by Stephen Rush, Tom Abbs and Geoff Mann. I wrote liner notes. Sealed CD, $8

VA: Dictaphonia #2 (HalTapes) 24-track compilation of pieces recorded on mini-cassette, includes my piece “Difficult Fortnight” performed on alto saxophone and radio. Mini-cassette, $5

VA: Dictaphonia #7 (HalTapes) 13-track compilation of mini-cassette works, includes my “Magnibanjoscope” recorded with dictaphone placed inside a banjo, plus a found recording by Stephanie Stone on piano and voice. Mini-cassette, $5.

Kurt Gottschalk: 24b Abstract blues recorded at home, solo electric guitar. CDR $5

Kurt Gottschalk: Bluefly Variations Abstract blues recorded on a riverbank in Vermont, solo acoustic guitar. CDR $5


Otomo was on my show!

Otomo Yoshihide played live on Miniature Minotaurs on WFMU on Nov. 18, followed by an interview with him, Christian Marclay and myself. Watch the performance below or listen to the whole show here.

Otomo Yoshihide On WFMU! from WFMU on Vimeo.

Thanks to Yvonne Szymczak for videoing, and to the Japan Society for helping to coordinate.


That's Amore

A story I wrote for the holiday season, in which Dean Martin figures prominently, is up at Red Lemonade.

To celebrate the occasion, here's a downloadable gift for all my friends. I found the white label promo record pictured above in the basement of my building. It seems to be the audio from the first episode of Judy Garland's short lived TV show, although I'm not sure why they would have pressed a vinyl disc of it. In any event, you can get your very own mp3 of it right here.

And here's a little more Dino cheer, a TV ad embedded below, or go this way for a song.

Thanks to Kristen Persinos and Mary Wing for reading early versions of the story and Yvonne Szymczak for taking a picture of my record.


Week of Wonders: Prelude

Kurt and His Week of Wonders
(with an unwitting soundtrack by Harris Eisenstadt)


I spent the first week of September between Ostrava, the Czech Republic, New York City, then Guelph, Ontario. I carried with me a record by Harris Eisenstadt called “September Trio” with Ellery Eskelin and Angelica Sanchez (released by Clean Feed October 25). The track titles spell out the first week of the month (“September 1” through “September 7”) so it seemed natural to listen to one track a day as I kept my travel diary, beginning on the 1st, which was the 8th day of the Ostrava Days festival. The only edits from what was written out in longhand in the little notebook I bought in Chinatown were made for clarity. My personal context (mood, surroundings, geography) was allowed to influence me as much as it wanted to.

I was in the Czech Republic to cover the Ostrava Days festival for New Music Box. The review can be read here. My review of the Guelph Jazz Festival appeared in the New York City Jazz Record, a PDF of which can be downloaded here.

It was a week that caused me to question my own preferences. Is it improvised music I gravitate toward (a delineation which brings up innumerable questions)? Or is it small group music? Perhaps, but not only that. I found myself surprised, maybe even embarrassed, by the simplicity of discovering that it's contemporary music, current, modern, post-modern, music of the now that attracts me. There's a sense in which freely improvised music is as now as it gets. But perhaps Morton Feldman's music was so infused with the now that it resonates even today, even … now. Or perhaps, as Keith Rowe suggested to me in an interview I did for the NYC Jazz Record shortly before leaving town, “If you pick up a composition by Shostakovich written in 1950 or 1960 and open the pages in 2011, it's alive at that moment. The past is continually changing before us.” But then a composition by the composer Lucie Vítková, heavy with rock drumming and techno-sounding clarinet, seemed a rather dated piece of pastiche. And yet I enjoyed it quite a bit. Was it of the now, or yesteryear? Could it be that Feldman – who would be 86 if he were alive today – is more of the now than the 26-year-old Vítková? Does that even mean anything?

Traveling from a classical festival in Europe to a jazz festival in North America gave me a lot to think about – things I'm still trying to resolve.

Week of Wonders: September 1

September 1, mid-afternoon

This afternoon I ate shmaky. The server – a friendly woman who smiles a surprising amount for an employee in a Czech restaurant – told me, in halting English punctuated by giggles that she didn't know what it was either but assured me it didn't have meat in it. “Number three is always vegetarian,” she said. Shmaky, as it turned out, was a pasta dish, a sort of mushroom stroganoff.

I've been in Ostrava a week – my first time in Eastern Europe but within the familiar festival bubble: Lost on the one hand but on the other with people around who are ready to make things easier for me. Hosts.

Suddenly I'm hearing Big Star's “The Ballad of El Goodo.” Probably inappropriate for a festival of contemporary classical music, even if the song is only playing in my head.

I took the train to the old section of town called “Přívoz” this afternoon. After a bit of walking around I stopped in a café for an espresso. A well-mustachioed man inside may have yelled “al fresco” at me, or perhaps it was something in Czech, but in any event I took a seat in the small garden where another man scowled at me while a third slept. After five minutes under his blurry gaze (and with no waiter emerging) I left and found another café more willing to serve me and after a bit of charades – not two espressos, one double, please – I sat down to take on my afternoon assignment.

An opening soulful wail from Eskelin is followed by a repeating, somber phrase from Sanchez. Eisenstadt sets a couple beats of the bass drum and he and Sanchez fall behind Eskelin. In short order, though, he drops out and I'm reminded on the one hand of Marilyn Crispell and on the other of all the wonderful duets Irene Schweizer has done with drummers. All female pianists. Interesting – unless it isn't. Upon Eskelin's return they find a more equal footing.

It's 2:45 pm in Ostrava, which means its 8:45 am in NYC, but this sounds more like 2:45 am. Where is it 2:45 am right now? And why doesn't Eisenstadt provide times of day for the pieces. This should be done more often. Didn't Blue Note only record people after 2 am in the early days? I know they're pros – next week at Guelph I'll be attending 10:30 am shows, for the love of Pete. Ah. Six minutes in and they've surprisingly picked up the pace, if only momentarily, and then a return to the repeating piano figure. It's quite beautiful, and there's something appealing about a piano trio without a bass. Less push from the back. And then it's over.

Week of Wonders: September 2

September 2, mid-afternoon

Classical festivals are different from jazz festivals. [A symbol here indicates something was to be inserted, perhaps some bit of text scrawled on a napkin and soon lost.]

Sometimes I'm relieved to hear a record that is so plainly jazz, plain good jazz. I mean, there are plenty out there, but to find one that has a purity to it, that's not trying to be jazz plus anything or to question or undermine (jazz minus something?). Jazz that's inventive but easy. The second track begins with a melody line, nice and easy, it's slowly dismantled into component parts, but not in a way that is jarring. Wow, and Eisenstadt's brush work here is beautiful. It's a ballad. I think yesterday's was as well. It's also brief – just five minutes. Nice.

Week of Wonders: September 3

September 3, late afternoon

Another ballad.

I'm sitting on Nádražní, the main street in the Ostrava center. It's funny how a place can become so familiar and how fellow festival goers and performers become the stand-in townspeople in the festival bubble. I know Ostrava, but it's an artificial Ostrava. Is that sad? Are ballads sad? Tomorrow I leave. In nine hours, even – 3:45 am train to get to the airport in Prague.

Angelica Sanchez is reminding me of someone here. Paul Bley? Paul Bley is as much a mood to me as he is a person. I wonder if I'll ever be here again. I may not, but I will know that the Americans I met here – Lisa, Beau, David, Larry, George, Pauline – all in or near New York, I'll always know I met them here.

I wasn't feeling sad to go before I sat down. It's not a street where people sit. It's time for dinner. A nice flutter at the end of the tune. This song is somber.

Week of Wonders: September 4

September 4, mid-evening

I have left the festival bubble and entered the travel bubble.

The festival bubble is a great one. Artificial in its way or perhaps more real than real if we allow the artistry of expression to outrank the ordinary. But that is of no consequence now because that bubble has popped and I find myself now in the travel bubble, which can be a weird one.

After last year's expedition, I should know better than to go somewhere further than I can walk. Nevertheless, at the airport in Prague this morning I accepted an offer to take a later flight in exchange for a travel voucher. It would put me into New York about six hours later and would also give me a free ticket to get to this conference where I'm invited to speak on a panel but there's no stipend for travel. I also got an upgrade to business class, which is nice when crossing oceans (which you shouldn't really do unless you're walking).

It seemed like a perfect plan, so I should have known it wouldn't work. (Who was that guy whose heels would melt when he got too close to the sun? It's like that.) The flight to Paris, where I should have connected to NYC, was delayed, leaving me with about six hours in the Paris airport and with about 10CKZ (roughly 65 cents) in my pocket. Of course I could have gone to an ATM, and I did have American money with me, but I also had something else: a business class ticket which I was pretty sure would get me into the Sky Lounge which I didn't really know what meant but it had to mean something.

I'd been up about 20 hours, and wasn't going on much sleep the night before, and the fourth dimension was starting to distort. The Sky Lounge, however, had everything, or at least some things. Sandwiches, snacks, espresso, Scotch and computers. I fixed a little plate of food, made a double espresso, sent some emails and then headed back down to check on my plane. Another delay, so I headedback up and was glad to see Johnny Walker was still hanging around the lounge as well.

I'm not a daytime drinker by any stretch, but here's the thing. Inside the travel bubble, there is no day or night. In fact, I wasn't even in Prague any more than I was in Paris now because airports (and airport hotels) aren't cities. They are islands, they are – what was it they used to call Tangier? An international zone? They are just earthly holding points. Espresso or Scotch, day or night, it doesn't matter.

I got food vouchers at this hotel in the bubble. One for dinner and one for a quick 6 a.m. breakfast before I go back to my home planet. And a glass of wine with dinner, of course, this being “Paris” and all. I go to the lobby and put on my headphones (they do a good job of drowning out “Time of the Season” on the P.A.) and order a beer (€6?).

It's another ballad. I suppose this record might not step up. I suppose that's appropriate enough for September. This one is all full of Eskelin tenor phrases, jumping register so easily (actually reminds me of David Murray in spots, which is unexpected). There's a nice angularity to this one, though. It's not really a ballad so much as you can tell it could be, even wants to be, but there's too many curves in the road and they can't quite relax or speed up too much. Ah, they are picking up the pace a bit, though, even more Murrayesque. Is this something that's always been in Eskelin's playing? No, I don't think so. He's not usually this liquid. I wonder if Eisenstadt pushed him this direction. Funny, I haven't checked for composer credits yet. Yep, all by Eisenstadt. Oops! Song's over.

Week of Wonders: September 5

September 5, lost in time

Today is a very long day. Today is 30 hours long. It comes out even because I had a day that was 18 hours long last week. Even Steven. But what if I were flying from Prague to New York one way, not round trip? Then I'd be ahead of the game. Six hours up! It's hard to imagine that it all evens out, that for every one-way passenger heading east there's a one-way passenger heading west. The airlines have enough to worry about without that kind of headache. And besides, it hardly seems fair robbing hours from Peter to give to Paul, so to speak. The only thing that seems plausible is that if you make a trans-oceanic flight, or even a shorter one, really, without a return trip, that you die a few hours earlier than you otherwise would have. Or later. That's the only way it could realistically even out.

The name of this song is “September 5.” I am listening to it 37,000 feet up in the air. 2,012 miles to New York, 2,019 miles from Paris. Sanchez opens, another simple piano figure, simpler cymbal work behind her, sax coming in and out again. I'm finding an appeal in the simplicity on this record – or maybe I'd already found it but it's here again. Lovely solo from Sanchez, bits of discordance, surprising, subtle rhythm shifts – they all shine within the surface conventionality. Sanchez's solo continues as the other two drop out, then the theme returns. Eskelin was the perfect horn player for this. It's not his usual thing, but he's got the smarts for it, he's good at drawing from styles and making something new. Then a surprising deconstruction, a new energy for about 60 seconds before it returns and resolves.

Week of Wonders: September 6

September 6, evening

Forty hours in NYC and it rains the whole time. Try to work on a Sun Ra remix for an upcoming WFMU fundraiser but nothing comes together as imagined. Tried to digitize an LP that I have to write about so I can take it along, but somehow ten minutes gets cut off each side. How does that happen? Forty hours in NYC and all I got done was laundry.

Is there a new energy this late in the week, or am I just in a different place? Eskelin opens, still midtempo but seemingly with more zeal. Could the exact same recording sound different in different places? I bet it could at different altitudes. Wouldn't the density of the air, the available oxygen, affect the hearing? A nice 2½ minute solo intro before Eisenstadt and Sanchez come in, laying a grid over the sax solo which Eskelin conforms to at length. Then they modulate together. Then a wonderfully uneven piano line. This is shaping up quite nicely. It's the longest track on the album by at least a couple minutes, and so far by far my favorite – although I don't exactly feel as if I remember the others Perhaps this whole exercise was a mistake.

But in truth the last five tracks day by day felt a bit samey to me. This one stands out. The others were in sentences – this one's in paragraphs. This moves in – oh, what is that song? I hate that song. “She moves in mysterious ways”? God, I don't know who that is but I know I hate it. A return to form, return to the A section (if the intro isn't counted). I wish I had counted – four parts? five? What day of the week is this Sept. 6? I wonder if the tracks are tied to a particular year. Did Eisentadt write one song a day? Song's over.

Week of Wonders: September 7

September 7, mid-afternoon

There's a language to hotels. It's another kind of bubble. There's a few things to learn: Do they do the towel recycling thing here? Are there any interesting local TV channels, preferably public access, with arts programming? (Victoriaville, Quebec, has excellent public access.) What's in walking distance? But for the most part, you know how things work. That's what hotels are for, to make you feel at home and not confused. At least in Europe and North America. I stayed in a hotel in Morocco without a clock or a telephone – and my watch had broken – but I don't know the North Africa rules. Another hotel in Lisbon inexplicably hung the “Do Not Disturb” signs well above eye level in the bathroom. It took me two days to even notice it was there. This was a violation of the common code, a grammatical error in the language of hotels.

But this, this is a Holiday Inn on the bypass in Ontario, which feels distinctly like where I grew up in central Illinois. I know how to negotiate the space, and have just enough time for a quick rest before the first concert on the first night of the Guelph Jazz Festival. And enough time for the last song on the CD, the shortest one here. But this feels more sinewy today, unless “September 6” just changed my perceptions. So brief I'm nervous to write because it seems it should have ended already. Eighty seconds, right? No. Two minutes. I misread. And the fastest two minutes on the record, I think. I wish I could remember the record. I did like it, though.


Vampyre Storie

I was asked by Bronwyn C., curator of the Thunk Tank on WFMU, to craft a story for their Halloween show, which we did live last night. So much fun! You can listen to the whole show (with Brownwyn, Jay, and Amanda Nazario also reading their great stories) here, or read the monologue I crafted below.

Thanks to Urania Mylonas and Lea-Beth Shapiro for their input while I was working on it.

Vampyre Storie

by Kurt Gottschalk

People always want to talk about things they don't know anything about. It's ridiculous. Other animals don't do that. Other animals' whole thing is using what they do know. I mean, that's their whole strategy for survival. But people don't usually have to worry about survival so they have time to spend acting like they know things they don't have any idea about. Like have you noticed how if a white guy gets together with a black woman, or the other way around, the white one all of a sudden starts talking about the diaspora all the time? Or how people are surprised if they hear someone from Japan swear? If they're not Japanese, I mean. Yeah, people from Japan swear sometime. People are pretty much the same everywhere, you know? I guess. I mean, I don't really know that, and actually that's kind of the point. I thought I knew that, but I didn't. And I said it anyway.

I think about these things a lot, lying here day after day, about how arrogant people are and how they're really not very smart, they're just inventive. Inventive, but stupid. Like, it's obvious we don't belong in the water, in the lakes and oceans, because we don't have gills, right? But we couldn't leave them alone, we had to keep screwing with them and now we're running out of drinking water, as if there hadn't enough to begin with. Or you are, anyway. I haven't had a drink of water in like two years. Haven't needed it, I guess.

I'm not saying I'm any better than that white guy who hooks up with a black woman, or a black guy for that matter. That's not really the point. I mean, I lie here thinking, listening to the radio, talking to myself, talking to myself, going on about how all the books and movies and stories are wrong. About how what I used to think I knew was wrong. 'Cause the thing is, vampires are nothing like what people think they are.

I'm not a vampire. I say this in my vain make-believe game that there's someone I'm talking to. But I'm not. I'm not sure what I am, really. I'm not quite dead but I'm certainly not of the living, not in any real way. I'm kind of – in between.

It was Elizabeth who brought me here – here to this dark apartment in Chinatown and here to this state of being on the verge, on the edge of being. Elizabeth is a vampire. Whole hog, bloodsucking, daytime-sleeping, death-stinking vampire. Elizabeth. The love of my life. Well, that's a weird choice of words, but she is. And as her boyfriend I have a claim on that politic. I get to look down on all of those romanticizations of the vampire life – there's that word again – the vampire existence, anyway. It's not all glamor. It's pretty lonely, really. Vampires tend to gather together, well in the city anyway, at least for practical purposes. Making rent is a real issue for them, so they live in these rundown places with as many coffins as will fit side to side. But they don't talk to each other much. They don't share anything. There's no ... conviviality among them. They're pretty lonely. I mean, it seems that way anyway.

It might be obvious to say, but anything pleasurable usually has to do with being alive. That's what they crave, and that's why they're so sad all the time. When they get living blood in their system, they can be kind of alive for a while, kind of feel physical and emotional pleasures. It's not – well, I don't know what it's like, but Elizabeth says it's only kind of like when she was alive. But they don't have any support system to keep the blood alive so it wears off before long.

I met Elizabeth at a bar in the meatpacking district, one of those blue neon places. I knew as soon as I saw her I wanted to spend my life with her and within a few hours she was telling me she felt the same way. When the club closed at 4 and I suggested we go for breakfast and she bit her lip and invited me to her place instead, I thought I was the luckiest guy on Earth. I still think that sometimes.

We discussed the arrangement that night, as soon as we got upstairs. She told me all about the vampire thing, the basics. Yeah, the basics are like in the movies. She bites me, she feeds on me, and I become one of them. And I was game, really. She made it all sound sensual somehow. But that wasn't what she wanted. She told me about the vampire life, about living in the shadows, about being a shadow It wasn't just blood that she needed, it was the blood of the living, it was life. She told me about how feeding on the living temporarily gave her the feeling of being alive again.

She said didn't want that for me. Other vampires – she motioned around the room and I realized, my eyes having become somewhat accustomed to the darkness, that what I thought was furniture was just a roomful of caskets – other vampires are cold, boring, lifeless. She didn't want to make me into that, she said. She wanted to be able to love me. And to love me she needed me to continue to be warm-blooded.

But I was under her sway and I insisted that I wanted to live in her world, that I wanted to be of her kind. That's how the deal came to be, although it seemed like something she'd given thought to, something she thought might work. The arrangement was this: she would take enough of my blood to feel myself coursing through her, and leave me with enough to remain on this side of the divide. It wasn't a precise process, but she told me she'd felt the life drain out of people enough times that she thought she could tell when it was about to happen. And if it didn't work? I'd just become a vampire, which was what I wanted, at the time anyway.

And that's where, or how, how I live. A few pints of blood to keep me animated, but not enough to thrive. Not enough to get up even, really. Certainly not enough to walk. I am, well, I'm awake. I spend nights waiting for her, usually listening to the overnight BBC broadcast on the little radio in the casket we share. Sometimes I'll put on a music station but I'm not really that interested in listening to music. Music makes you want to move, and moving usually makes me tired.

It might not sound like the greatest situation from the outside but when Elizabeth comes home just before dawn, those are happier times than I ever had when I was alive. I can actually smell her while she's still in the hall. I mean, I hear her too, but I know her scent. And when she climbs into the coffin and lays beside me, her skin warmish, more than it will be in a few hours anyway, and her eyes electric ... In the first few hours after a kill everything about her is alluring. She'll lie down next to me, arm across my chest, one leg over mine, so soft, so feminine, and kiss me so lightly, on the cheek, on the lips, forehead, eyelids, maybe a quick lick along my temple, the kisses growing more passionate until I feel her teeth sink into my flesh. It's surprising, the localized heat when she pierces my skin and begins to draw, and she does this thing that I can only think is her own invention. She starts pulling my blood out of me and then pushing it back in again, mixing it (I guess) with the blood she'd taken in when she was out, and I feel this warmth growing inside me. It reminds me of blowing up a balloon, like she was blowing up a balloon inside me. I feel it grow, through my chest, through my arms, into my brain, and then lower, the warmth, coursing down below my waist, awakening me, and then she moves on top of me.

It's hard to say what she gets out of it, of the sex, and I certainly wouldn't ask her. But I mean, I guess it's kind of a pantomime. It's like doing something that the living do – doing something that makes life, even. I know I don't feel much physical sensation, but I do like feeling close to her like that.

Once we're done, she feeds me. Still lying on top of me she'll kiss me again, long, deeply, and then I'll feel a sort of wrenching inside her, her ribs convulsing against me, and she'll regurgitate part of the night's kill into my mouth. My throat opens automatically to receive the raw and partially digested flesh, of a human, of a dog or a rat, I really don't know. I guess it sounds gross. But honestly? I don't think I could digest food on my own. I think I need her to begin the process of breaking it down. Like a mama bird, my frail little mama bird.

It seems sad at the times I stop to think about it – times like now – but really it's not like I was a grab-life-by-the-horns kinda guy before. Am I – I don't know if I'm better off now or not. It makes me think of that Joni Mitchell song. Man, she would have made a great vampire, or a great Hollywood vampire I mean, all pale and gaunt. She's not – I mean, vampires aren't like that, don't look like that, they're – I know I shouldn't say it but they're uglier than that. I mean, they're dead, right? Elizabeth – I wouldn't say this to her, of course, but her eyes don't really fit right in the sockets anymore, and you can pretty much see every bone under her limp skin. And of course she smells like hell. Like wet rust. Times ten. But you've got to figure she's spending at least part of each day rotting, when the blood levels get low, right? The thing is, though, you kinda don't know what it means to love life until you try living without it. And vampires? Nobody loves life like vampires. I mean, you don't see them going out gay-bashing or conducting tribunals or fatwas or inquisitions or lynchings or anything. They hunt, sure. They kill to eat, but they don't kill out of hate. Because they don't hate. It's kind of beautiful. They hunt life, they seek life out, which is more than you can say for most living people. Like, oh right, like the Joni Mitchell thing. “Don't it always seem to go / that you don't know what you got till it's gone?” For real. I don't really know how long I can stay here. I mean, I don't know if what Elizabeth and I have is really a forever thing. And I don't know if I can really leave either. But if I ever go back to the daylight life, I'm really gonna live it. You know?


Oscar Wilde

"Is criticism really a creative art? Why should it not be? It works with materials and puts them into a form that is at once new and delightful. What more can one say of poetry?"


Ecstasy Mule @ Word Up Books - The rest of the set

Parts two and three from the XMule set last month. Part one is in the post below.

Thanks to Lena Adasheva for videoing!


Good, good, and yourself?

Here's a couple few things.

Ecstasy Mule played its first gig since April, 2009, at the most righteous bookshop Word Up in Washington Heights on August 19. The first piece we played can be seen right up there. Big thanks to Lena Adasheva for the video. We'll be playing again on Sept. 25 at Downtown Music Gallery.

I've interviewed the masterful Keith Rowe three times. Or tried to, anyway. The first time I was supposed to meet him at Newark airport to chat during a layover in his flights, but I couldn't find him. The second time I interviewed him on the phone just before a hard drive crash and lost the whole thing. Damn it all. Those were both several years ago and I finally got another chance to speak with him for the New York City Jazz Record (a free pdf of which can be downloaded here.)

I've also been super happy to be working with Northern Spy records. I wrote liner notes for the amazing debut by Spanish Donkey (Joe Morris / Mike Pride / Jamie Saft) and had the superdistinct honor of producing and writing notes for the first Haunted House record in more than a decade! Damn. It's so good. And I curated a cassette release with tracks by Aki Onda, Nonhorse, Bonnie Jones and Jason Lescalleet.

I'm in the Czech Republic right now, covering the Ostrava Days festival and having a great time. I feel kind of weird missing the hurricane, like I deserted my city when it needed me. If I would have been there, all 8 million of us could have linked arms and refused to let Irene in. Would that work to play Red Rover, Red Rover with the weather? I'm pretty sure it would. But I wasn't there so it doesn't matter.


txt fst: fxtrt (!)

It is without undue deliberation that I say look the hell here for the latest installment of the txt fst / Triangulation radio collaboration, which is a Foxtrot with works by Mikey IQ Jones, David Moscovich and Tamara Yadao here for the bemusement of your verbages and textual titillations. Thanks to Tmm Mulligan for making it all happen. All of it. Except for the parts that Mikey IQ Jones, David Moscovich and Tamara Yadao did, which they did.

It is also perhaps not unworth mentioning that you can keep occasional tabs on txt fst actions and reactivities by paying attention to us on the Facebook.


7 Punk Haiku

Their world is shrinking
but as they dance the dollar’s falling.
Do you love me?

Their world is shrinking
but as they dance the dollar’s falling.
Do you love me?

— Gill / King

The areas where the water flowed,
so petrified
the landscape grows.

The areas where the water flowed,
so petrified
the landscape grows.

— Lewis / Newman / Gilbert

Infatuated by madness
I danced in flames
and drunk in the depth of love.

Infatuated by madness
I danced in flames
and drunk in the depth of love.

— Albertine / Pollitt / Forster / Romero

Fuck this and fuck that
fuck it all and
fuck a fucking brat.

Fuck this and fuck that
fuck it all and
fuck a fucking brat.

— Rotten / Jones / Vicious / Cook

I wrenched the nylon curtains back
as far as they would go
and peered through perspex window panes.

I wrenched the nylon curtains back
as far as they would go
and peered through perspex window panes.

— Styrene

Down in the playground, the hot concrete,
bus ride is too slow.
They blast out the disco on the radio.

Down in the playground, the hot concrete,
bus ride is too slow.
They blast out the disco on the radio.

— Ramone / Ramone / Ramone / Ramone

Machines disregard my problems.
I am defeated,
I am the cool damp clay.

Machines disregard my problems.
I am defeated,
I am the cool damp clay.

— Watt


Maybe it's worth mentioning a few things

I reviewed an AACM festival for All About Jazz. I wrote an essay for a great new DVD by MPLD, and liner notes for a new CD by Joe Morris, Mike Pride and Jamie Saft. My story on the ICP Orchestra is the cover story in the new issue of Signal to Noise magazine. And two nice reviews are linked on the page for Little Apples, my little book of fiction. There's also a link for a new blog, The Bird Cage, over there on the right.


The Day I Read a Book

Brian McGackin is, I’m all but certain, a real man. He and I probably read different sorts of things, though. He has a book coming out called Broetry: Poetry for Dudes which makes me think he might not be the goto on feminist literary theory. But he also wrote a column in the June 6 issue of the New York Daily News that got me thinking. Thinking things I’d thought before, if now with different words.

Under the headline “When writers were real men” (weird, I never noticed the News favors Euro capitalization rules), McGackin argues that the publishing world is wanting for manly writers. “Where have all the booze-swilling Dylan Thomases gone?” he asks. “Without the kinds of drinkers (Faulkner), brawlers (Hemingway) and lotharios (Bellow) who used to write our greatest works of literature, it’s no wonder that masculinity has bone elsewhere (say, Kid Rock) for self-validation.”

The fact that times have changed doesn’t figure into his argument, and he (unsurprisingly) makes no mention of José Saramago, Paul Auster, David Markson, or Don DeLillo, any one of whom could broaden, if not entirely bolster, his argument. Even Milan Kundera could provide him with some of the action for which he yearns. And while McGackin is playing it for laughs, he writes an interesting column, hinging on a supposition that is worth consideration: that it is women who buy and read novels, and so it is women to whom the industry caters.

In that regard, he may have a point. McGackin quotes a 2007 National Public Radio story which claimed that 80% of fiction is consumed by women. I can point to nothing which would suggest that’s wrong. Of the fiction-readers among my friends, most are women. My male friends more often than not read nonfiction, news magazines and tech journals, or else say that that’s what they would read if they were to read.

I was reading McGackin’s op-ed on the subway at about 5:30 pm Monday. I decided to using the train as my own covert polling ground — hardly scientific but, I think, fairly unbiased (unless, perhaps, New Yorkers are more or less likely to read than people in other regions). My survey took place on one downtown A car and two cars on the F, and here is what I found. Six people I saw were reading books, four of whom were female. Thirteen people were reading newspapers or magazines, seven of whom were women. And I saw five people portable electronic readers, three of whom were women. (I excluded people who might have been reading from smartphones because, I decided, it was likely — although not certain — that they weren’t reading published material. The ones I counted were reading from larger, tablet devices.) So in my unscientific study, women edged out men in each media. More people, of course, were listening to headphones, perhaps one of them even listening to an audiobook. But the majority of them were just sitting, taking in nothing, or taking in everything. Perhaps they were letting time slip by unused — or maybe they were the better people, not succumbing to any distraction as they rocketed underground with their fellow citizens.

I was reminded, then, of a discussion on my Facebook wall after I posted an article entitled “250 Books by Women All Men Should Read.” The fiction website and publisher Joyland collected reader suggestions for the list, and scrolling through it I was sad to discover I’d read about one-fiftieth of the suggestions (and that’s if you round up for Djuna Barnes’ Nightwood, which I didn’t finish but always say I’ll go back to). In fact, most on the list I had read years ago when I was, frankly, more driven toward horizon-broadening. I read Kate Chopin’s The Awakening, for the love of Patricia! But that one didn’t make the Joyland list. And while I got a point for Margaret Atwood’s Surfacing, I thought Cat’s Eye would have been a better candidate. Still, I was left — as is so often the case — with the feeling of being less than well read.

The Joyland list came about in response to a list in Esquire magazine of “75 Books All Men Should Read.” So, continuing in my pseudosociopolitical literary self-evaluation, I clicked through to that list to discover I’d read the wrong Dostoevsky, the wrong Studs Terkel, the wrong Philip Roth, the wrong Hunter S. Thompson, the wrong Ernest Hemingway, the wrong William Faulkner, the wrong Leo Tolstoy and the wrong Don DeLillo. Still, I had read 20% of the selections on that list, or ten times better than I fared on the Joyland list.

Of course, there’s nothing saying these lists were particularly important, or even good. There were many titles on both lists that I just don’t want to read (although maybe I’d be happily surprised if I did). This is the problem with Googling when you could be, well, reading. I was, however, very glad to see Flannery O’Connor made the Esquire list (unless I missed somebody, the only woman on the list). And while doing my subway research I was happy to catch someone reading Hunter Thompson, arguably the Hemingway of the late 20th Century. I was all the more pleased, as I repositioned myself on the crowded car, to see the face behind the book, to discover that it was a woman reading it. I’m not sure how that figures into the syllogism, but I liked it.


rahrahree! @ X>TRIANGULATION>X

rahrahree!, the sum total of Tamara Yadao, Kurt Gottschalk and their guitars, was as a unit jointly pleased to perform on Tmm Mulligan's Radio Triangulation. The set is right there to be downloaded and listened to, which really would be a totally reasonable thing for you to do. (Peek through the red numerals with your eyes to find it with your ears.)


Holy Hell, I Wrote a Book!

Little Apples is a collection of 16 stories about New York City, about lives that unknowingly intersect, about things that are important and things that aren't. It's available in print and pdf at Lulu (and if you click on one of the options, you can read a 10 page preview).

This lovely image of pixelated apples comes courtesy my uncle, Roger Gottschalk.

There's No Buskiness Like Show Buskiness

A collection of YouTubes I created over at Network Awesome is available for your enjoyification.

Or right here:


Guitarists Rule the World

I got an email from my friend Lena the other day with the subject line “Guitarists Rule the World.” It included a link to a guitarist I’ve never paid much attention to. I’m not sure whether or not she was teasing me. Her jazz tastes lean more mainstream than mine, and she listens to opera where I’m more inclined toward contry and punk. But she had just accompanied me to photograph Marc Ribot while I interviewed him for Guitar Player magazine, and so was forced to listen to Marc and I talk about guitars for 90 minutes. So there was common ground.

And guitars had been on my mind anyway. The week before the meeting with Ribot, I got to interview another phenom of the outre guitar, James “Blood” Ulmer (this time for the newly christened NYC Jazz Record). I was gearing up to write about the Guitar Heroes luthier show at the Met and the Picasso Guitars show at MoMA for the NY Press. And I was three through a run of four Prince shows (over three months) at Madison Square Garden, which I was covering for the Brooklyn Rail. The night after the fourth of those shows, I went to see another fave guitarist of mine, Andy Gill, with Gang of Four. And I found myself thinking, yes, guitars do rule the world. Whatever Lena meant by that, she was right in the end. And I thought maybe I should write. About guitars. And guitarists. And first encounters.

Guitarists Rule the World, Part I: Kurt Rosenwinkel

I kinda panic when people have the same name as me. It’s rooted, I suppose, in revisiting Kurt Vonnegut’s work as an adult and finding it (I don’t even want to type this) ... adolescent. I don’t understand the attention lauded upon Kurt Elling. Kurt Russell’s OK, I guess, but Kurt Schwitters is the only really good one.

Having watched the clip Lena sent, I’ll say yes. Kurt Rosenwinkel is a good guitarist. That’s not really a question. Way better than me, for sure. And definitely a better player than some of my favorite guitarists, such as Loren Connors and Haino Keiji, who aren’t really relying on “chops.” But I don’t find myself wanting to hear more Rosenwinkel. I’m not interested. And I guess that is something I was thinking about when I was looking at guitars and talking to guitarists and writing about all of it.

The notion of playing an instrument as being a form of storytelling is a well-worn cliché, especially in jazz. And somehow, if I hear someone say a soloist was “really saying something,” I somehow suspect that they weren’t. Storytelling isn’t just reciting an Aesop fable everyone knows, or reading Dickens aloud. It’s more than just conveying information. Storytelling involves convincing a listener to follow you when they don’t know where you’re going, and then having them be pleased, shocked or grateful, but having them understand why they were brought to this place.

I want to be told a story, and I didn’t get the feeling that Mr. Rosenwinkel had anything to tell me. I don’t necessarily have to understand the story. I’m not even sure I have to like it. But if the only adjectives in it are “flatted” or “diminished” or “augmented,” then I’m probably not going to be concerned about the characters. I’m about as interested in how technically proficient a musician is as I am how good a typist a novelist is. Mr. Rosenwinkel, best to you. I wish you no ill will, and there’s plenty of people out there who love arpeggios.

Guitarists Rule the World, Part II: James “Blood” Ulmer and Andy Gill

I first heard James “Blood” in college at my friend Jim’s house. I had known Jim in high school, but fell into a kind of love for him in college. He seemed so genuine. In high school I dressed up like a punk rocker. He listened to Talking Heads, Jimi Hendrix and Syd Barrett and didn’t dress like anything. I fumbled at playing guitar. He played fairly well and painted for crissakes. I used to actually consider, as I worked on repositioning myself from punk to beatnik, if Kerouac felt lucky to have meet Burroughs and Ginsberg the way I felt lucky to get to hang out with Jim and our friend Kevin.

And so it was that one afternoon I was at Jim’s house. We were, along with Kev, cutting up Jim’s roommate’s pornographic magazines to make collages. Jim went and put a new record on the stereo and out from the speakers came a jangle of loose, rubbery strings and a moaning voice. Unable to admit my lack of cool and ask what it was, I glanced at the stack and memorized the white-and-yellow cover with the name “Jazzateers” and a picture of a pistol across the front.

It took a few months, but I found the record and discovered it to be some British post-punk thing on Rough Trade. And so I had to own up and ask — that or never hear the blang of those strings again. I called him up and he said to me: Tales of Captain Black.

A few years later I got to see Ulmer’s blues band play, but the first time I got to hear that electrified warble live was in a matinee garden concert at the Brooklyn Museum of Art where he was playing material from the remarkable 1993 record Harmolodic Guitar With Strings. I sat focused on that huge thumb dragging across the strings of his electrified hollowbody and realized something crucial. While the music wasn’t loud, the guitar was. At times he was barely brushing the strings, and we got to hear every subtle scrape and waver he produced.

I don’t know what I expected before I went over to Ulmer’s SoHo loft to interview him in January of 2011, but I know I didn’t expect to have as much fun as I did. I didn’t expect to laugh so much, and I suppose I didn’t expect him to laugh so much either. At one point during our long and freewheeling conversation, I asked him about Hendrix. Specifically about how he’d been quoted saying no one had done anything to advance the guitar since Hendrix. Ulmer has a way, however, of not answering questions but moving on to something more interesting.

“The way he played the guitar was the same kind of way I’m trying to play guitar,” Ulmer told me. “He wasn’t trying to play it on no old ideas. His guitar playing was more advanced than anyone. He made it possible for people to go out and play with just bass and drums. Before that, we had to go out and play with an organ trio and we was just playing chords. It’s because of Jimi Hendrix really trying to change the texture of the guitar from people like Charlie Christian and Wes Montgomery. Jimi Hendrix didn’t have all them pedals. He has a wah-wah and chewing gum and a cigarette. And he took the guitar out of the background and made it possible for people to go out front and play.”

I also asked him about my theory that one technique he used was turning the amp up extremely loud and playing softly. As he did in response to so many of my questions, he just laughed and talked about something else.

I’ve only seen that “speak softly, carry a big stick” approach used by one other guitarist, one from a somewhat different world. Not an entirely different world: Blood did open for PiL and Capt. Beefheart in the ’80s, but that seems more a product of a moment in time than anything deeply stylistic. Either way, though, the other guitarist I’ve seen isolate so much power with so little gesture was Andy Gill.

I was introduced to Gang of Four and Gill’s guitar as a freshman in high school. My junior high art rock (Bowie, Eno, Kate Bush) rammed up against Tom’s Britpunk (The Jam, Wire, Gang of Four) in an effort to find a common stream where the only other one was the main one. We fed off each other, and others in our little clique (Sharon the head cheerleader referred to us as “nons,” which we embraced gleefully), loaning each other albums and negotiating who would buy which of the new releases.

I was devouring hungrily, but Gang of Four I couldn’t quite get to. In hindsight I was intimidated. I liked their music. I loved the harsh, icy guitar. But I didn’t understand the lyrics and I feared how thought-through their post-revolution world seemed. It was easier for me to connect with the post-revolution world of The Clash in which, I assumed, we’d all just hang out.

But as I grew a bit more worldly, I came to appreciate Gang of Four’s paranoia party, and by the time they reunited for a 2005 tour, I was pumped to see them for the first time. Working on a piece for Signal to Noise magazine, I got to sit in for their soundcheck after interviewing singer Jon King. When I walked in, Gill was alone on stage, playing “Paralyzed,” and I was alone on the large floor of Irving Plaza — alone and in awe. His hands, his right one especially, didn’t move any more than necessary. He was hardly bashing along in punk manner. He wasn’t playing hard, the amp did that for him. As with Ulmer, it wasn’t like he was playing loud. It was like his guitar was born loud.

Guitarists Rule the World, Part III: Marc Ribot

The difference — well, one of them— between Gill and Ulmer is that Gill plays with laserlike precision. He might not be a machine (Gang of Four isn’t Kraftwerk), but he’s still a laborer doing a job. Ulmer is a bluesman, playing from the pit of his stomach. One is cerebral, the other is soulful, and the soul doesn’t always work in linear equations. Unlike the brain, the soul knows that things don’t always make sense. Marc Ribot is a deeply soulful player who doesn’t feel the need to always make sense.

There was only one question I really wanted to ask him when I interviewed him for Guitar Player and I struggled over how to word it. What was it about his playing that seemed — sloppy? reckless? I settled on “haphazard.” He knew what I was getting at, although I’m not sure he liked my phrasing.

“When other people are laying down the groove, I can mess with it,” he said in response to my half-formulated question. “But when I’m playing solo, I have to build the building and destroy it. I try to be precise rhythmically in everything I do. Sometimes with Spiritual Unity I go into solos with pulse, but I’m not a fan of rubato. My hero is [James Brown trombonist] Fred Wesley, who’s all about timing. It takes a lot of artifice to create the sensation of haphazardness.”

The first time I saw Ribot play was around 1987 with Elvis Costello. I was down on Costello at the time, but friends were going and I had to see what this guy who wedged notes sideways and backwards all over Tom Waits records was all about. The show was at Poplar Creek, a huge outdoor theater in the Chicago suburbs, and “seeing” Ribot wasn’t really what happened. But several years later on a trip to new York, I discovered a record store called “Downtown Music Gallery” and the manager, an amiable fellow named Bruce Gallanter, told me that Ribot would be playing in the store that evening. I hurried my touring about and got to the small and packed-to-the-walls store just as Ribot was about to begin. With no concern for propriety (this was my New York vacation) I pushed my way through and sat on the floor, my nose inches from Ribot’s shoe as he sat cross-legged on a stool, and revelled.

I was in town for a friend’s wedding. The dinner was the following night at Marion’s in the Village. More lost than I wanted to admit, I kept going into a restaurant named “Mary Anne’s” looking for them, thinking a Mexican restaurant was an unusual choice but still thinking that it had to be the place. Each time I walked in, I made eye contact with Ribot, who was having dinner there and who seemed to be trying to figure out why he recognized me. That or he was trying to ward me off from sitting at his feet again.

Guitarists Rule the World, Part IV: Prince

Sheer talent doesn’t really mean that much to me. But the talent to convey complex ideas and emotions through a wordless and abstract medium means the world to me. What makes me love Derek Bailey’s playing more than just about anything is not his prowess but his expressiveness. Those two qualities aren’t independent of each other, of course: it takes some technique to translate your soul into sound. But with my favorite players, there’s something that comes before instrumental prowess.

There are, however, some things that are so perfect that they transcend personal tastes. Aren’t there? It seems to me that people who doesn’t understand this are aesthetic infants believing that everything is here for them to put in their mouths. Not liking mysteries shouldn’t have anything to do with recognizing the mastery of Alfred Hitchcock. Not liking smooth jazz shouldn’t have anything to do with recognizing the mastery of Ella Fitzgerald or Frank Sinatra. Not liking folk music shouldn’t have anything to do with recognizing the mastery of Joni Mitchell. And liking architecture shouldn’t have anything to do with questioning the mastery of Frank Gehry. You can hate jazz, but you can’t deny “Lush Life.” You can hate Dylan, but you have to own up to “Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright.” And not liking funk, or disco, or dance music, or pop, or jams, or whatever it is you want to call it shouldn’t have anything to do with recognizing the sheer mastery of Prince.

In other words, talent-in-itself doesn’t hold enormous sway over me unless you’re as good as Prince. He can spin Santana into pure honey. He can twist Marc Bolan into a smirk and a grind. He can loosen up James Brown and tighten up P-Funk, and do the reverse as well. He could sweet talk your mama and leave your sister dizzy, all with nothing but his Hohner.

One thing about Prince is he doesn’t have a lot of guitars. Or he does but he likes them to look the same. There’s a couple of colors of Strats, there’s the occasional acoustic, there’s a couple designers that seem to be put to bed (the sweet-ass guitar Apollonia bought him in Purple Rain and the happily retired “symbol” guitar of the ’90s), and there’s his mock Tele. The Hohner Tele, with its bookmatched curly maple, is easily my favorite axe to see slung over his shoulder. Of course they’re reworked and rewired — the man can afford it. But he just looks good with an off-the-rack looking guitar, and his Strats are always stupid colors.

Isolating him as a guitarist, however, is oddly difficult since it’s so much a part of his mythos. Ever since Purple Rain exploded close to 30 years ago, it’s been part of the thumbnail sketch: eccentric, effeminate, great dancer, great guitarist. You didn’t have to think about it, which can lead to not thinking about it. Sure, I marveled at the solos. That was just what you did. But the first time I actually internalized it was in college. While listening to Lovesexy, my roommate pointed out how often there’s a guitar solo going on through the background of a song. There’ll usually be a solo in its proper place, out front and after the second chorus, there’s also one half buried but carrying on throughout. It’s as if he can’t stop playing, like Coltrane going backstage after a solo to keep playing rather than having to stop.

And, of course, it’s not just about the playing. Prince is so about the guitar. The scene in Purple Rain where Apollonia buys him the curly axe he’d been coveting is dead-on geek cool romantic. There’s the scene on the b-side track “Shockadelica” where he is under the sway of a woman named “Camille” (who is also his alter ego, figure that one out) until she does the unthinkable and he yells “Get up! You be layin’ on my guitar!” How could she not know she was laying on a guitar? I used to wonder if maybe she has scales instead of skin. Years later, on the album Planet Earth, he warned a ladyfriend that he loved her, but not like he loved his guitar.

But where he got to me, and where he melts me every time, is on a single he released during the throes of his dispute with Warner Bros. “Pink Cashmere” is a fantastically catchy ballad, dripping with syrup and strings, and with a blistering solo. The distorted guitar against violins (real or fake) is electrifying. I don’t know what guitar he plays on it, but it sounds like the way the one Apollonia bought him looks.

Guitarists Rule the World, Part V: Derek Bailey

Recently I was lured into one of those conversations while waiting in line for a show. This one was “favorite guitarists.” Ribot was mentioned, as was Richard Thompson, for whom I’ve also been known to swoon, and others. But when it came around to me, I said only one word: “Derek.” Even giving a last name would have diluted my message.

There’s plenty of guitarists I like, of course. But only one that I really wanted to be my answer. I’m not really sure when the first time I heard Bailey play was. It may have been the record Yankees with George Lewis and John Zorn. But I know for a long time I didn’t get it and I didn’t like it. The first time I heard him live was with pipa player Min Xiao-Fen, playing inside a pedestal of the Brooklyn Bridge. And that’s when I got it. He wasn’t playing with her, he was playing against her. And suddenly the whole music changed.

Bailey was brilliant, of course, as a player, a listener and provocateur. After his death in December, 2005, I wrote a piece for All About Jazz. In it I talked about how inviting his playing is and quoted Ben Watson, who wrote in his crucial tome Derek Bailey and the Story of Free Improvisation that “like a truly interesting conversationalist, Bailey’s guitar-playing does not flatter the musicians he plays with, or attempt to make them sound good in a facile way: he attempts to understand what they are playing by contradicting them. ... The source of his ‘spikiness’ is his interest in repartee; his negations are productive because they are grounded in musical comprehension of his interlocuter’s logic.”

It's that sense of logic, that conversation (even when it’s a monologue) that makes Bailey’s music so exciting to me. I’ve got loads of his recordings, but I still don’t have them all. I’m glad. Once in a while I still get to hear him play something “new.” I get to hear him tell a story I haven’t heard before.


"Up yours, smile, that's right, you're a star!"

Four Prince shows in three months. Bet your bottom dollar I wrote about it. Did a little Hello for Brooklyn Rail, and my main Purple Party Planner David Wilson posted a very nice response.


I did a show for the most awesome Network Awesome!

Check out "Monsters, Martians and Masked Men," a collection of live performance videos I collated, collected, maybe even curated, for Network Awesome.



Cee-Lo's "Fuck You" performed in ASL or on sped up video or by William Shatner or...

(thanks tom shad)

or on banjo

or on violin

or solo cello

or like a video game

or by screwy mctwistyface

or ike'n'tina style


The 2010 Piss and Pap Joll

I spent more time reading the 2010 Village Voice “Pazz and Jop” poll this year than I have any year since Robert Christgau’s dethroning, and that includes back when I was being asked to contribute. Since I hadn’t really read it in some time, I can’t say it’s better than it had been, but I can say this: It’s been a long time since I’ve been as interested in reading about mainstream (yes, “mainstream,” VV) pop as I am in the wake of the just-past fun and fascinating year on the charts.

I don’t mind that I don’t get to contribute to the annual critics’ poll anymore. I’m not really a good juror for the pool, and after I took to the WFMU's Beware of the Blog to chastise not just the Voice’s abandoning of jazz in the poll (I do contribute to Frances Davis’s stopgap jazz poll) but the whole idea of annual besties lists, I didn’t really expect them to keep calling. (For further reading, see my Brooklyn Rail colleague Katy Henriksen’s drawing and quartering of the Top 10 tradition.)

But now — do I wish I could get back in on the cool kids’ table so I too could talk about Cee-Lo and Bruno Mars, and say that M.I.A. is getting short shrift and Nicky Minaj is getting long shrift even while she’s barely getting any shrift at all? Yeah, I kinda do. It’s not just that there were more songs in the mainstream last year that I wanted to hear (enough to allow for the luxury of not having to try to like Katy Perry just to feel some connection with the pizza parlor and America at large). It’s that a cultural shift has been happening tantamount to the Nile reversing its current (which didn’t really happen), and that’s that blacks are making records with guitars and drums while the white are singing over anonymous backing tracks.

Are there exceptions? Sure, scads of them, shut up. And my point is not that the Gaga/Beyonce “Telephone” video was not the greatest thing since Pulp Fiction. But a thing has been going on within the trappings of hip hop which isn’t about rapping anymore and is about bands, instruments and songs. And I don’t care if we call it “Urban” or “Adult Contemporary” or “Newer Jack Swing” or “21st Century Soul.” It is fresh and sweet as a honeydew.

Sometimes it’s easier to make a point using mediocrity as an example, so take as Exhibit A Keri Hilson’s "Pretty Girl Rock” (seen here on Letterman because the band didn't make the video):

It's a cute song, catchy enough, but not great. While the white kids have taken pensive nerdcore to an exhausting level, however, Hilson delivered a straight-up pop song, hovering over the race line like the ghost of Diana Ross, and with people playing instruments. Real people playing real instruments. And I’ve got not a thing against turntables and laptops. But how refreshing is this to see?

Round Two: Will.I.Am vs. Mark Ronson.

Two of 2010’s hottest hits. “Check It Out” vs. “Bang Bang.” Titles that don’t deceive. These are songs designed to make you have fun now. And each has the added plus of a weirdee girl: Minaj (aka Onika Maraj aka Roman Zolanski aka The Harajuku Barbie) in the first instance and Amanda Warner (aka MNDR) in the second.

Maybe what it really is is a Motown revival. Sweet soul sounds abounded in 2010, and the young and pretty genius tunesmith Bruno Mars, with his Strat strapped on, was behind a lot of it. The 25-year-old Hawaiian-born Hispanic singer/songwriter is nominated for seven awards in the upcoming Grammys. He released his own album, Doo-Wops & Hooligans, with the hit “Just the Way You Are” and was behind, and in front of, the gorgeously catchy “Nothing On You” with B.o.B.

Sweet little Bruno was also behind Cee-Lo (look hard, you’ll see him) (sorry) for his smash hit “Fuck You,” who plays it with a band that puts Robert Palmer’s ’80s attempts to shame. The video for the song is equally great, but this clip (from British TV, where he didn’t have to change it to “Forget You”) shows the band at play.

Of course, there’s one man who’s never given up on having a band, even if more often than not he’s the whole band himself. He released a new album, but you can’t buy it (thanks to my British friends who got me copies from the Daily Mirror), and there’s no videos or TV appearances. Since he’s declared the internet over, the best out there is a fan vid. But it’s all supposed to be about your ears anyway, right?

Sorry I havent posted in a while

I took some time off in hopes of making Cory Arcangel's blog.